Sunday, April 10, 2016

Buggy Whips and Black Gold

The analogy goes that when the automobile exploded on the world, the buggy whip manufacturers all went broke. I'm sure plenty did, not seeing the coming shift in transportation. It's an old story where the old guard thinks that a new technology cannot push the old one out of the way, and they just kept making those buggy whips until one day the orders stopped. 

But I'm willing to bet a few smart people looked at automobiles and said "Uh-oh, we better find something else and soon" and started to divest their buggy whip departments. 

I don't know what they went in to, but they had a warehouse full of buggy whip supplies. Want to bet they went into overdrive making as many buggy whips as they could as fast as they could to empty the warehouses? 

But why would they do that?

The resulting glut of buggy whips on the market would have driven the price into the ground, but at least they would get something for those buggy whips, otherwise the components in the warehouses became stranded assets. You still have to pay for the buggy whip parts, you still have to pay for the warehousing, so sell it and get rid of it is plan A, even if you sell at a loss you get something. Plan B is to send all that stuff in the warehouse to the dump, and you have to pay to send it there. 

It happens all the time. Flip Phones all but wiped out the bricks that we used to have for cellphones. Feature Phones wiped out the Flip Phones, and the Smart Phone killed the Feature Phone. Want to bet some manufacturers got stuck with a warehouse full of the old type cellphones?

Stranded assets. You paid for them, you have warehouses full of the bits to make 'em, but nobody wants your crappy old cellphones.

I keep coming back to this because of the pipeline debates. 

I often wondered why there was this sudden rush to ship oil, especially dilbit, to anywhere?  Keystone was a "no brainer" until it stalled and now it appears all but dead. The pipes to the West to waiting China bound tankers was plan B, but that got mired down too. Plan C is Energy East, but that has opposition too. 

But still, why? The oil would still be there years from now, everyone was just talking about Peak Oil and we'd be sitting on a pile of gold. Or at least Alberta would. 

And then the Saudis struck. They started pumping oil as fast as they could, the prices dropped and oil dependant economies got hammered. They had (and have) no choice. They need to sell oil or they swirl down the toilet, they don't have a Plan B. 

So what happened?

Did the Saudis see something on the horizon that made them collectively say "Uh-oh"?

A disruptive technology could explain what's happening. 

Every time someone suggested processing oil and dilbit in Alberta, they were promptly shot down because it was too expensive. Refineries last a long time, surely it couldn't be that bad. If the pipes were to carry good oil as opposed to dilbit East to the refineries in Ontario and beyond, I don't think the opposition to those pipes would have been half as strong. Keystone might have actually happened. 

And somewhere between Keystone and Energy East, the Saudis happened. Their oil, the good stuff is being shipped around Africa instead of the quicker Suez route because the tankers are backed up at the ports in Europe. And yet the Saudis keep pumping. 

I don't see the economic argument for sending dilbit East or any other direction for that matter. It sells at a discount because it has to be double refined to remove the diluents before you can process the heavy crude into useful oil. It's slower and more expensive than processing lighter crude. The refineries in the US that do handle dilbit only do so when they have excess capacity. If there is sufficient light crude available, the dilbit waits. 

And so, can someone explain how having dilbit sitting in tankers s better than having bitumen in the ground? Those boats are going to sit and watch the tankers with the good oil coming and going until the Saudis turn off the taps. When that happens, will there even be a market for oil?

Something is happening. The Saudis aren't pumping like crazy for fun. If they thought they could make more by leaving the taps alone, they would have. They put us over a barrel years ago by tightening supply causing the original oil crisis, now it's the opposite. 

Is this the buggy whip scenario for the 21st century? Are the Saudis betting the farm (or the whole country) on getting rid of their oil and moving on to the next thing? And will the other oil producers who don't move on quickly enough going under like the buggy whip makers of yore?

We're lucky. We've got an economy that is only partly dependant on oil. It will hurt Alberta, but they're already starting to adjust. It will hurt the provinces in the East as well, they were hoping their offshore oil would be a Cinderella story for them as well. 

It's going to be rough for a while, but as I said, we're not as dependant on oil production like some in the Middle East or Venezuela. We have options. If we are agile enough, we might even catch the wave that the Saudis seem to be watching.

At least we have a shot at a Plan B.

Cheers, BC

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Beartopian Democracy

I wrote this a few weeks ago with the intention of posting it as a blog.  After I had finished, my first thought was that it scared the bejeezus out of me…
My second thought was that this cannot be right.  I wrote it off the top of my head, so if I’m making some mistakes here, be good enough to point them out to me

I really hope this isn’t all true.



I would like to tell you about my country of Beartopia.

Beartopia is a small country made up of a number of regions gathered together under the Federal Government of Beartopia.  Each region has legislative Houses that handle the regional laws and whatnot, much as your provincial or state governments do.

Items that fall beyond the Regional Governments’ purview rise to the federal level and are dealt with by the Government of Beartopia. 

The federal system of government in Beartopia is bicameral with the Representative House of Beartopia (the House), the Senate of Beartopia (the Senate), and the Head of State of Beartopia.

The government is formed by the party that amasses the greatest number of seats in the Representative House following a general election as long as they can gain the support of the majority in the House.  Usually the government is headed by the leader of the majority party in the House, who in turn selects his or her Secretaries to head the various Departments.  This group, headed by the First Minister is referred to as The Government.   All others are referred to Members of the House.

While most laws and amendments to existing laws can be generated by either the House or the Senate, all financial bills must come from the elected Representative House.  This is because the House is an elected body and the Senate is a made up of appointed members.

Now the fact that the Senate is an appointed body shocks many people, but I calm them by explaining that this is the way it has been done in Beartopia for many years and that it is enshrined in the Constitution of Beartopia and that the Constitution is a bugger to amend. 

Often the next question is “How does one get appointed to the Senate?” 

The process, I reply, is quite simple.  The First Minister selects a person from the region he or she is to represent and gives that name to the Head of State who installs them.  Easy.

“And does the Head of State check them out?”

They needn’t bother.  We only elect responsible people to the House and besides, the First Minister names the Head of State as well.  I mean you have to trust the person who gave you your position, am I right?

“So the First Minister names the Head of State, the members of the Senate, and who else?”

Just the Justices on the Supreme Court of Beartopia, oh and the Secretary of Justice names the Federal Judges as well.  It works perfectly well.

“And these people, the judges and the Justices are vetted by some committee or another?”

I chuckle when people don’t understand Beartopians.  We only elect responsible, honourable people to govern us.  The First Minister has his office vet these people before naming them.

At this point they often take a deep breath and ask “By ‘his office’ you mean the Government, right?”

Oh certainly not.  His office is made up of people he’s hired to take care of the niggling day to day stuff, so he can concentrate on running the Government.  They take care of small things like writing speeches, providing fact sheets to members of the First Minister’s party so they can easily answer questions on policy, and other stuff.

“Dare I ask what else the First Minister can do?  Is he in charge of the military? Can he take Beartopia to war?”

The Head of State is in charge of the military, but the First Minister can decide to enter a conflict if the need arises.  Usually the First Minister will hold a debate before sending our troops into action though.  It would be unseemly to do otherwise.

Let’s see, the Federal Police, their head is named by the Secretary of Internal Security, so that’s not the First Minister’s job.  Ah the top General in the military is named by the First Minister!  And let’s see, oh yes, the committee that oversees the domestic and international Security Services, the First Minister names them too.  There may be more, but that’s all that I can think of for now…

“So let me get this straight.  By virtue of being the leader of the party that has a majority in the House, the First Minister get’s to name just about everyone who is supposed to be a check on the power of The Government?  I suppose he names the Head of the Post Office too?”

Goodness, I forgot about that.  Yes he does, and the Directors of the Public Broadcaster too!

“It seems to me that you have an awful lot of power concentrated around one person, the First Minister that is and his office.”

It might look that way to you, but I must remind you that Beartopians only elect honourable, responsible people to represent them.  And besides, our system works so well, there is barely a hiccough to be seen in the running of our little nation.

“Just to satisfy my curiosity.   How did you manage to cobble together such a… shall I say, unusual system of governance?”

It was easy.  We just did what Canada does.  Canadians seem like such nice people, very polite, very level headed, they would never elect representatives that are not honourable and responsible.  Would they?

We have a nice Charter of Rights as well.  Would you like to see it?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Not Another Bill C-51 Rant. Well Sort Of.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Today I’m going to ponder a bit on the Anti Terror legislation also known as Bill C-51.

Now I’m not going to go into detail slagging at this bit or that bit because so many already have and they make their points far better that I ever could…

Like the airline people who object to the idea that this law would make them do anything that the Minister tells them to…

Or the people who raise concerns that just taking part in a protest could get you branded a terrorist…

Or the people who wonder that if just repeating the opinions of people who support things like ISIL could get you into trouble with the law…

And the people who say that the judicial orders that the police or CSIS would be able to ask for could put the judges in the position of granting powers to security people that would go beyond what is allowed by the Charter of Rights…

The list goes on.

Nope, today I’m going to ponder on what a fellow I know has been quietly screaming about for a while now, thinking that no one was hearing him.

Some people heard.

My first question to you good reader is “How many terror plots have been carried out against targets in Canada in the last, say 20 years?”


My second question is “How many terror plots have been stopped by our police and security people?”

All of them.

Do you see the point?  Our existing laws work.  No yelling, screaming, or Charter challenges necessary, just some good old fashioned police work.

The police stopped the Toronto 18, the VIA Rail plotters, the couple that were going to set off bombs at the BC legislature.  The police are doing OK without all these special powers that Steve insists that our security forces need in Bill C-51.

They don’t.

But what about the guy in Quebec that killed the Canadian Forces soldier with his car?  What about the Ottawa attacker who killed the Canadian Forces soldier guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before attacking the House of Commons?

Those were not plots.  Plots have more than 1 person involved, and CSIS even says that these “lone wolf scenarios” are almost impossible to intercept before they happen.  They are in the same category as the people who gunned down RCMP members in Moncton and Mayorthorpe.

One day these people decided that it would be a good thing to go kill some people.  C-51 is no help here.

What else does the fellow quietly scream thinking no one is listening?

That Bill C-51 is a political pageant by the party leaders to try and grow their bases.  Steve hollering that He is the Law and Order Guy, Tom trying to sound like he’ll be able to bring this bill to its knees, and Justin trying to thread his way through the landmines in between.

The only one making sense is Elizabeth May who is saying pretty much what I’m saying.  The Bill is unnecessary, it is poorly written, and it’s a show piece for Steve just in time for the election.

For what it’s worth, we’d be far better served by looking at the existing laws and just tweaking the ones that could use some help.  And we’d probably avoid the useless costs of dragging them to the Supreme Court of Canada only to have them struck down.

And while we’re on about money, I figure Bill C-51 is going to be a massive fizzle if the government doesn’t step up with some serious funding.  Without C-51 the government has made the RCMP move manpower from the Organized Crime Unit to the Terrorist Unit.  We’re already borrowing from Peter to pay Paul for our policing.  Moving the officers who were watching the bad guys who sell drugs to your kids to the room where they watch the terrorists instead.

With more laws we’re going to need more people to enforce them Steve.  You can’t spin around that.  Police cost money.

And the then there is the current fiasco surrounding our CSIS involvement in Turkey?  Well a bit of oversight might just be a good idea too?


So that’s about it for now, quietly screaming fellow.  It would be nice if we could give everyone special glasses that would make them colour blind when it comes to politics, but they’d just start wearing T-shirts with the brand in big letters.  It’s too bad, because you’re right.  When you strip the colour coding from the bills and start looking at the words, things change dramatically.

Thanks for the idea


Disclaimer:  I often steal my ideas from other people, but I only steal from the smart ones.  You’ll probably notice that I don’t steal from politicians, with the possible exception of Elizabeth May.  That woman is scary smart.  I’d like to have coffee with her sometime.



Friday, February 27, 2015

A Religious Rant

Rant in Three… Two… One…


I’ve about had it up to my blessed eye holes over this nonsensical Muslim bashing that we’re seeing from Steve Harper on down to the morons people populating the comments sections of every freaking article on Islam.

The one that set me off is the idiot judge in Quebec who threw a woman’s case out of her court because she was wearing a hijab.  She wasn’t suing someone nor was she charged with a crime.  She just wanted to get her car out of jail.

He son had been caught (illegally) driving the car without a valid licence.  The police had impounded her car.  I have no issues with that.  My issue is this piece of work told the woman she could not be in their court with a hijab on because the court is a secular place.

Just to get her car back.

Now tell me, do you think if someone was wearing a yarmulke or a turban for religious reasons this judge would have told them to take off their hat?  Maybe her honour should call Steve Harper and warn him about the guy in the second row of the House of Commons who has the temerity to wear that blue thing on his head.

After all, this is Canada.  The House of Commons is a secular place, well isn’t it?

Maybe I’m way off base here, but a secular society doesn’t mean you can’t live your religion, you just can’t jam it down my throat.  It means we don’t base our laws on some book written hundreds or thousands of years ago by someone who had a mystic vision or maybe just gathered up a bunch of legends and said this is the word of Diety.  Simple, no?

We’re also supposed to have Freedom of Religion or Freedom from Religion (whatever floats your boat) but that seems to be changing too.

What this means is neither the Queen nor Steve nor anyone else gets to tell you or me what religion we have to belong to, and they can’t tell us what religion we can’t belong too.  That part still seems to be working, at least for the most part, but now it’s turning into you can still have your religion, but only if you do it our way!

When people first started to come to North America, a lot of them were trying to get away from people who told them they were doing religion wrong.  People are still coming here for the very same reason.  And what does Steve and Jason and Chris say?  You’re doing religion wrong!

Isn’t that what’s happening in Iraq right now?  ISIS isn’t running amok killing everyone, just the ones who do religion wrong.  ISIS is religious bigotry on steroids, the same religious bigotry that we get from Steve Harper’s minions.

Think about it.

Look, if it is so all fired important to see the faces of people taking the citizenship oath, wouldn’t it be a lot simpler to have a woman judge with an all woman staff to handle these events?  We wouldn’t need many, a few teams that would go out every few months or when the need arises to welcome the new Canadians into our citizenry. 

I almost use “our family” there, but Steve has gone and tainted that too.

And as for the judge in Quebec who doesn’t like hijabs?  She’s as bad as the rest.  She claims that his court room is secular, but I’ll wager there’s a Bible sitting on the corner of her desk.  It isn’t all that long ago we had to change the rules to allow atheists the ability to promise to tell the truth because they wouldn’t swear on a Bible.

I’m no Biblical scholar, but I have read the stories.  Remember when Jesus told the story about the Samaritan? From that story, I’d say that Jesus wouldn’t have stopped the Samaritan from getting into heaven.  He’d probably welcome that Samaritan with open arms.

Why do I mention this?  Well you see the Samaritans were a lot like the Jews at that time… But they did religion wrong.

The way I figure it, when we shuffle off this mortal coil, the first question at the Pearly Gates will not be which book did you follow or whether your house of worship had pews or mats.  The first questions will be were you kind to strangers?  Did you help your neighbours?

And I think that Steve, and Jason, and Chris, and the Quebec judge are not going to have comfortable eternities.

End rant.