Sunday, November 30, 2008

Conservative Rhetoric

Well we may be getting another possible election. The current ruling party has made a law that has made the other three political parties so upset that they are ready and willing to join together to make a coalition government. The Conservative Party is using the rhetoric that Canadians voted for a Conservative government and the Canadians rejected a Liberal government; under this logic, if the Liberal Party joins with the other two political parties to form a coalition government, then they are "stealing" power through the backdoor and ignoring the Canadian electorate who have made their choice.

This rhetoric disappoints me. One of the responsibilities of a political party in Canada is to educate Canadians on the realities of our political institution. Our current institution is one that has a parliament and this parliament is determined by members who are voted in. The parliament then takes the party with the most members and makes it the ruling authority. Coalitions are not illegal and it is not impossible to have a minority government fall and be replaced immediately by another minority government without going through elections. Our system has this already in place. Our Governor General has the power and authority to decide 3 possible choices if the Conservative Party loses a vote in parliament. Choice 1, new elections are called and we all vote for our favored delegates (1 month after the last election). Choice 2, the Liberal Party forms the new government (yes the Governor General can invite the Liberal Party to form the next government as a minority government but this is unlikely because the tradition is that the choice is given to someone who can maintain parliamentary majority). Choice 3, a coalition is formed to become a majority and the Governor General accepts this new coalition as the next government.

This is our system, right or wrong, this is how we do things. If the Conservative Party does not like this, they had since 1867 to make its case and try to inform us of any possible flaws in that parliamentary system. To claim that power would be stolen from Canadians and that they had not voted for this particular turn of events is irresponsible. The political party is there to educate how the system works and THIS is how the parliamentary system works. I personally find it ironic that the Liberal Party and the Bloc Quebecois would even consider becoming allies after being so adamantly opposed to each other on the sovereignty issue and that the Conservative Party actually conceded the most to Quebec since 1982 while the Liberal Party historically got the Constitution into Canada without Quebec's signature.... but hey, I guess integrity of their beliefs can be melted down if they can only taste the power of governing for even a few months...

I could see the NDP joining any of the political parties and form a coalition because they have the most consensus methodology in their mind. They believe in socialism and can support certain ambiguous laws if they can promote a pro-socialist law alongside with it.

What will happen? Who knows, but to make the claim that Canadians did not vote for a coalition government is to disrespect the whole notion of parliamentary government. Canadians did not technically vote for a Conservative government either.... they voted for individual members of parliament who accidently were part of a political party who managed to be the largest minority out of the other minority parties.... and so it goes.

Ya win some, ya lose some. Don't complain about the rules after you have lost the points. And remember, it is the Governor General who will make the final decision, not any particular political party. That is how our Canadian system works..... theoretically (wink wink).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bad Design

In a previous blog I mentioned how in the past we had 10 people to do 10 people's jobs and this was gradually changed through downsizing where today we would have 4 people to do 10 people's jobs. There are other ways to get to that situation, one of them is to keep 10 people working 10 people's jobs but then increase the service or workload without hiring new people. If this is done gradually we get 10 people eventually in a situation of working the equivalent of 27 people.

These hypothetical examples do not consider technology but the equation ends up being the same. You work more than humanly possible and are expected to maintain this overwork for long periods of time. Even if technology helps out by taking the place of 3 humans, we still downsize and get rid of 7.... so we are in the same situation. Also notice that the owner or a high level boss would never tolerate such conditions in their own work environment they expect the lower managers and the employees to submit to this. If you are a rook, a queen or a king, you are never mistreated.... if you are a knight, a bishop or a pawn, then you better work harder than ever or else you will be sacrificed on the board.

Now that we have the recap out of the way from my previous blogs, here is another possible hiccup we can have overwork: the bad design of the workstation. The example I offer is Tim Hortons, before all you could get from Tim Hortons was coffee and donuts.... all that was needed was 1 cash register and away we go, rushes can still be managed and lineups are not too long. If they get too long, we open up another store. This is sensible. McDonalds, on the other hand, has 20 cash registers and they offer entire meals that need to be cooked and when there are lineups, they open up more cash registers (not all 20 are in use but they anticipate potential use of up to 20 in this illustration). So in essence, if the lineup gets too big, a new cash register is opened up and away we go the total wait time for the customer does not increase even during rushes. So far, the design works.

But Tim Hortons has decided to offer new products so that they can compete a bit more with the McDonalds clientele. Why? Why not? The problem is that Tim Hortons has not changed their internal design, or if they have, they have not changed it properly.... lets assume that they added 2 new cash registers to deal with the extra time. That becomes 3 cash registers to deal with customers who now want more than just coffee and donuts. The total wait time for everyone increases. I have seen many who walk in, look around and tell their friends, lets go to the competing coffee place next door, then they leave.... the lineup is that long and it don't move very quickly.... and for whatever reason, the customer in front of me always seems to want the most complicated meal of the establishment so that I have to wait those extra 3 minutes before I get my turn..... and all I want is my coffee (I go elsewhere if I want a meal.... why? why not?)

Now the workers at Tim Hortons are in a similar position as the 4 who work for 10 or the 10 who work for 27.... but this time it is not based on hiring less than needed or firing and having the remaining few keep up the same production.... this time it is based on bad design. The customers are growing angry and frustrated and the workers are trying to move quicker than what is healthy. Perhaps many customers are willing to tolerate this extra time because they enjoy the Tim Hortons experience.... but that is not the wisest thing to do if you rely on a customer's tolerance level to keep a bad design..... Its easy, how would a rich person handle this? A rich person who makes about 1 million dollars a year, would walk in and if he doesn't get served yesterday, he walks out.... no argument, no fuss (he might even hire someone to stand in line for him so that when he arrives, he gets what he wants yesterday and not a moment later)..... now if the rich person expects this treatment and usually gets it (but not at Tim Hortons or McDonalds.... he gets this treatment at 5 star restaurants that charge 50$ for the coffee)..... The customer at Tim Hortons would definitely appreciate being treated like the rich person..... so it would be wise for the design of this coffee place to undergo some serious change to make the customer feel rich before the competition picks up on this flaw and serves the customer in less time than Tim Hortons.

Imagine the wait time at McDonalds if they only had 3 working cash registers during rush hour.... (I never saw less than 7 and they were overwhelmed with only 7). Of course places with low populations don't suffer from this compared to big cities.... but still, it should be looked into..... and fixed.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Video games the cause of social ills?

Here we have in recent news, a child who was found dead. Apparently this child ran away because his parents prevented him from playing some video game for a day. The news media kept bringing up the issue of video games as being addictive and that people should look into it. This is one of those examples where the news media functions more on sensationalism to sell their news programs or newspapers to make money. Facts go out of the window, no thought is processed and we all spend our time listening to rhetoric and never go beyond the surface.

Now I don't want to get into the issue of how most of the news we hear is usually misrepresentation and that if you really want to know what really happened in something or other it is usually best to find out for yourself. The issue of the blog is the aftermath of this tragedy: after the child was found dead. The father goes on TV and explains that his child was into sports but because he didn't grow up physically as fast as others of his same age group he was rejected from the sports team. This rejection brought the child into the world of video games and its alleged addictions which created the social ill we all have witnessed (the child running away and being found dead). Yes, the child running away is tragic and the fact that he is found dead later on is beyond tragic (words can never describe the agony). The father wants to start up a fund to allow children who may not have the same physical development as others their immediate age range and allow them to participate in sports programs. This is noble and great and highly encourageable. What I find distasteful is that the video game is transformed once again into the scapegoat that causes social ills.

Before someone gets into a debate of whether or not video games are addictive or cause violence or whatever.... my argument is not whether video games are this or are that, my argument is that you can find the same components: the addictive elements, the encouragement of violence or lack of both etc., and find them in sports as well as video games. The ratio of addicted would be the same, the over-zealousness can be found in one as well as the other. The only difference is that sports are "socially acceptable" and that video games are "fringe activities". Our North American culture presumes that the sport is an adult activity and that the video game is a childish activity.

If the child had been into a music band and was rejected because he was not skilled enough in music for whatever reason and this child became enamoured with baseball and spent all his waking hours thinking breathing eating baseball (none of us would call that an addiction, we would call that dedication and we would encourage him in this activity). But because it was a video game, it immediately becomes suspect because the parent in question never took the time to get into his child's new interests. (See my previous blogs on how our society steals our time away from our families so that we can produce more and enjoy less of our produce) Lets continue this hypothetical situation by introducing the fact that the parent of this baseball lover is himself a musician or has a strong musical background and never understood sports or the camaraderie that you can get in sports. The child is neglecting his chores, or neglecting his studies or neglecting something (the child is unable to balance his time properly for whatever reason). This parent, who has no understanding of sports, wants his child to get some perspective so he prevents his child from doing any baseball for a day. How does the child react? It is not beyond the realm of imagination to see that this child under these circumstances may run away. Remember, he was rejected in one activity and has fallen in love with the new activity where he is accepted and he is successful and now his grump of a dad has dared prevent him from playing baseball or practicing outside with friends. "My dad spends all his time at work and never with me, why can he do what he wants and I can't?" So the child rebels and runs away.

Ideal? Of course not, but this illustration shows that the same situation can happen from being "too-involved" in another activity. Is video games to blame? Of course not, any activity could have been practiced. It is unfortunate that the communication breakdown occured between the parent and the child which brought about these events. But blaming video games is cosmetic and only deals with the symptom of the real problem. The parent did not understand the issues of the child while it was happening and thought by eliminating the one thing that seemed to isolate the child from the rest of the family would solve the problem.....

The real problem is that we don't have time to heal or to investigate our immediate relationships because we must continue to produce, produce and produce. Take the quick fix, it will solve the problem.... if it doesn't then you mis-diagnosed the problem, take the proper quick-fix for the proper problem..... you can't discern the problem properly? No problem, we have psychologists, day cares etc to take away your problem so that you can continue to produce, produce and produce!

If the parent was given the time by his society to develop a healthy relationship with his child, he would have played video games with his child, then brought him out to play some sport as well and encourage him to read up on his studies at school etc and lead by example the balanced lifestyle. The parent was not given the time and now the parent thinks that video games were the problem and will continue believing that because none of us will give him the time to "think" about it for a few minutes.

Great! A program is invented to allow disadvantaged children to play sports! But if you dump your child off in that program because you think it will avoid the video game addiction, you may have just replaced one addiction with another and a similar tragedy will not be prevented in the future. The ideal solution is to give us time to enjoy our families, our work produced, our citizenship responsibilities.... instead we proceed to take away time from what truly matters--> to work, work and work (which in reality is no longer work in the healthy sense but "produce, produce and produce!!!" in the self-destructive sense).

Sympathies to any parent who loses a child in such tragic circumstances. Encouragement offered to this new sports program.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What Political Science can't do

In one of my previous blogs I mentioned the flaws of Economics and how the whole discipline started with a false premise, an unproven assumption. Under the rules of basic logic, if one of the premises are false then the whole argument is false.... even if the argument as a whole is valid. Which means as you build logical and rational arguments that make sense and has a consistency to its argument, it becomes a fragile building if the foundation is flawed. Build a house with a cement cellar and compare it to a house built with packed sand for its cellar. Economics as a whole started on a false foundation. Some of the architecture that followed is rational and works, but its building should not be open for living in but instead it should be seen as art to be admired from afar. (Which was never the intention of the builder as he wanted us to live in its building)

Now Political Science has a more complex beginning than Economics. You could make the argument that some schools of thought within Political Science have the same flaws as Economics (Economics itself is a school of thought that came out of Political Science). Other schools of thought are less constrained in their "architecture", some have never gone beyond their foundations and are still discussing which kind of cement should be used for the foundation while those around them are already putting in the finishing touches on the attic. Nonetheless, one can make two major distinctions in Political Science. The example used in first year classes at university are to look at "Justice".... the first major grouping in Political Science will look at what is happening: how many judges are there, what laws have been enacted, how many police officers arrest offenders, how many crimes are reported.... compare to year and area. This grouping is the more popular and is the most consulted and they use statistical methods similar to Economics. I don't want to get into the flaws of statistics again because I already wrote a blog about it before (consult my archives if you are interested). The second major grouping will look at what should be happening, what is "Justice", can it be achieved, how do we organize ourselves to achieve this concept.....

As you can see, the first school of thought is functioning upon a silent assumption: we already know what justice is and we are progressing to a better place as history moves along. We were bad, then we got less bad, now we are ok and tommorrow we will be better and next week we will achieve the ideal. The first school of thought is not focussed in the direction of our travel but rather if we are efficient in the way we travel. The second school of thought is philosophical and is not willing to jump in so quickly towards any direction. They don't care how efficient the current system is operating if the current system is going in a "wrong" direction, in fact the higher the efficiency is often proof of the wrong direction of travel. A possible argument that could come out of the second school's mouth: "While Hitler was in charge, the trains did run on time. Does that mean efficiency should keep Hitler in power?" The first school would just answer that this is just a hiccup in history and that in general things progress towards the better.

The first school of thought is the more popular and when people want to ask questions from a Political Scientist, they usually go see this school. Now as much as it is interesting that they catalogue everything they can, I find it presumptuous that they assume that they can answer questions with as much authority as they claim. The Political Scientist does not have access to current confidential meeting minutes, so how can they know what is discussed or how a decision will be made within the government? The Historian eventually gets access to this information 50 to 100 years later but the Political Scientist never looks at History: "that was then, this is now". Lets see what history teaches us:

400 years ago we have stories that the government made its decisions upon corrupt principles and the experts of that time period claimed that the decisions made were rational and everyone believed them.... check.

300 years ago we read about another government making its decisions upon lustful ambition and the experts of that time period explain that the decisions are of the religious betterment of society and everyone believed them.... check.

200 years ago we are told about yet another government making its decisions upon conspiracies amongst the governments and the experts of that time period explain that the decisions are based upon human progress and that the opponents are uncivilized and everyone believed them.... check.

100 years ago we know about one more government making its decisions upon national pride and that no one else will belittle that wondrous nation and the experts of that time period explain that the deicisions are based upon strategic considerations and everyone believed them.... check.

Today, decisions are being made but we do not have all the facts so we listen to the current experts who tell us that the decisions are being made through this process and that process and we believe them.... point out history and we all believe that this was the past and that today we have progressed.... we aren't as uncivilized today as we were yesterday. The first school of thought in Political Science perpetuates this myth.

In a previous blog I used the imagery of a theater to portray our political system. The actors were what we call the politicians. The Political Scientists would be the critics in the audience pointing out the current actors on stage and commenting upon their performance, the problem is that they won't look at the other components and stick with the actors that everyone can see on stage and ignore all other things. This does the audience a great disservice because the audience assumes that the critic is knowledgeable. If you ask who the director of the play is, they tell you that this is not relevant to the stage, if you ask why the lighting is controlled that way when the actor is on stage and they tell you that it is not relevant to the actor's action etc... This particular Political Scientist will not consider that some decisions are made during supper while the rational is buried and the emotional is teased, that some decisions are blackmailed or bullied, that some actually deliberately record lies within meetings to protect the integrity of those involved.

If you cheat on your spouse (try to imagine it if you can), do you not think that you will make decisions to hide this indiscretion? Anytime someone asks you why you made your decision the way you did, do you not think that you will lie and find a plausible sounding explanation to convince others that you made your decision based upon moral principles.... when in reality you were cowardly trying to conceal your indiscretion or continuing it secretly? Well imagine government decisions being made on the same level with underhanded motives. How can the Political Scientist of the first school find statistics on these motives? He can only focus upon the obvious public action and then invent rational sounding theories to explain the motives.

So in short, Political Science can not determine the theater for what it is while they stay focused upon the stage.