Sunday, August 31, 2008

What is the cost of a Federal Election in Canada?

Last week Stephen Harper announced that a Federal Election would most likely take place in Canada on October 14th. After reneging on his own government’s legislation fixing October 2009 for the next election, Harper has received a lot of criticism from his political opponents and many Conservatives in Canada. Conservative anger is understandable after all as one of the Reform Party’s platforms was fixed election dates.

It seems that neither party will have the upper hand in this election. Even Harper admits that a minority government is the most likely outcome. So how much will a minor rearrangement of the House of Commons cost taxpayers? According to Elections Canada, the Federal Elections in 1997 and 2000 each cost approximately $200 million and the 2004 election cost $277 million. The 2006 election cost $270 million, but it is likely that a 2008 election will be even pricier.

For argument's sake, let us say that a 2008 election will cost about $300 million. There are approximately 30 million people in Canada, so that is a cost of about $10 per person. Obviously, this is a very ad-hoc and incomplete way at looking at the cost of an election. However, $10 does not seem like all that much for political entertainment. As a political junkie, I would gladly pay $10 to enjoy an entertaining election.

That is not to say that I want an election every year, or that I even think that an election right now is even necessary. At only $10, a month’s worth of political entertainment seems like a reasonable price.

> Continue Reading: What is the cost of a Federal Election in Canada?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Do Teeth Whitening Toothpastes Actually Work?

Last year I asked my dentist what I could do to whiten my teeth. He suggested that I use Crest’s Extra Whitening Toothpaste. I have been brushing my teeth with this toothpaste for almost a year now without any noticeable effect. Do whitening toothpastes actually work, or are they just a fraud to swindle the vain and gullible?

Whitening toothpastes are mostly ineffective. Whitening toothpastes use strong abrasives and chemicals to remove stains on the outer layers of a tooth. However, for significant whitening these chemicals need to penetrate the teeth. Brushing does not give the whitening agents within the toothpaste the proper time to act. Whitening toothpastes may be able to remove a few outer stains, but they cannot change the colour of your teeth.

The only effective way to whiten your teeth is to pay for cosmetic tooth whitening.

> Continue Reading: Do Teeth Whitening Toothpastes Actually Work?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No Demonstrations Allowed

The Chinese government set aside three areas in Beijing to be used as protest zones during the Olympics. However, none of these zones have been used. Why? Everyone who has applied for a permit has been denied or arrested. According to the Xinhua news agency, 77 people have submitted applications to protest, but none were approved.

Recently, two elderly Chinese women, Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying, were sentenced to a year of re-education through labour because of their applications. The Beijing police rejected Dianyuan and Xiuying applications five times before they were charged with “disturbing the public order.” Dianyuan and Xiuying’s homes were demolished and they wanted to protest what they felt was inadequate government compensation. While it is unlikely that Dianyuan and Xiuying will have to toil as hard labourers, they will most likely be sent to a farm or a factory to reflect on their dissention.

The Olympics are a source of prestige. The Chinese government wanted the Olympic to show the world the new China of the 21st century. However, China’s human rights abuses will continue to deny the Chinese leadership the prestige they feel the country deserves. The Chinese government may have felt that any protests would hinder the party to mark the country’s reemergence on the world stage. However, the inability to protest has been what has hurt China’s image the most.

China has become a political and economic juggernaut. China’s remarkable transformation over the last few decades has earned the country a great deal of respect. However, the Chinese government needs to make further inroads in regards to human rights to fully join the international community. The Olympics would have been a fantastic venue for China to improve its Human Rights record. Sadly, it appears that little has been done with this tremendous opportunity.

> Continue Reading: No Demonstrations Allowed

Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band Compatibility

On October 26, 2008 the much famed Guitar Hero World Tour launches. This time around, Activision, the publishers of Guitar Hero have decided to copy Rock Band outright. Like Rock Band, Guitar Hero World Tour will come with a drum kit and microphone in addition to a guitar.

Guitar Hero’s entry into the world of basement bands will cost $189. Comparatively, Rock Band costs $169. Rock Band 2, comes out late 2008 and will cost approximately the same as World Tour. The instruments for both games will be compatible with one another so if you already own Rock Band you can use the same instruments for Guitar Hero, and vice versa.

Even the Rock Band drum kit that has only four input pads (the World Tour kit has five) will be compatible. This is a rather smart move by Activision. The people who already own Rock Band would be less likely to invest in Guitar Hero if they knew that they had to buy all new instruments.

After the recent squabbling between Activision and Harmonix over compatibility, this move is somewhat of a surprise. In December, Activision even squashed a potential patch to allow the Rock Band guitar to work for Guitar Hero III.

The compatibility between instruments will be present across all the platforms.

> Continue Reading: Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band Compatibility

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Hulu for the rest of us

Hulu is a smart idea. Tap into the growing demand for streamed media by providing legitimate high quality videos. The only questions are why is Hulu only available for U.S. users and why has it taken so long? Something like Hulu should have emerged years ago.

The television, music, and movie industries are struggling against internet piracy. While certain outlets, like the Comedy Network, have made some inroads in catering to the online demand for mass media, the response on whole has been sluggish and rather pathetic. If the major media outlets want to survive the current transition, they need to learn to take more risks on the internet. Streamed media could be highly lucrative if managed properly. However, it seems that many of the major media outlets are too concerned with trying to work through old models to regain lost market share.

Hulu was an innovation when it first came out. A little late, but still an innovation. Apparently, Hulu is planning to make its content available to international users. However, it will still take a long time for Hulu to work through geographic content issues. In the meantime users will have to continue to rely on programs like HotSpot Shield if they want to watch videos outside the U.S.

> Continue Reading: A Hulu for the rest of us

How much is a Medal Worth?

This weekend Canada’s medal drought ended, as Carol Huynh won the Gold in Wrestling, Scott Frandsen and David Calder won the Silver in Rowing Pairs, and Tonya Verbeek won the Bronze in Wrestling. Now that Canada has a few medals, all the hand wringing about funding for Canadian athletes, or the lack thereof, will probably subside. While many Canadians want to see a strong performance from Canada, many Canadians, including the current Harper government, aren't interested in paying for it.

Currently, the Canadian government spends about $166 million dollars a year on winter and summer sports. However, a sizable portion of this money has been devoted to Winter Sports as part of the “Own the Podium” initiative to dominate the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Per year, approximately $20-$30 million dollars is spent on developing Olympic athletes. Compared to other countries this is not a lot of money.

Australia spends about $250 million dollars on sports annually and invests a lot more in its summer Olympic athletes. The United States government does not spend any money on its athletes. Corporate sponsors and private donors fund the athletes, as does money left over from the 1984 games in Los Angeles.

While many athletes attest that a medal is priceless, how much does a medal cost? Is Canada currently getting the most bangs for its buck? Though this question cannot be answered definitively, it is possible to draw some conclusions.

The Olympics are a long-term investment. Quick cash influxes do not pay off in the short or long term. To develop a strong Olympic team a country needs to spend money over long-term period. The best example of a country that has had a great deal of success developing a team is Australia. After a poor showing in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Australia developed a long-term program to develop athletes called the “Road to Excellence.” Australia’s increased funding did not start to pay off until 1996, when Australia won 41 medals. Since 1996, Australia has become an Olympic powerhouse. Australia won 58 medals in 2000, and 49 medals in 2004.

Canada’s trajectory has been the opposite. After winning 22 medals in 1996, Canada won only 14 in 2000 and 12 in 2004. The current projection is that Canada will win approximately 12 medals at the games in Beijing. However, Canada’s lackluster performance thus far suggests that this number may be far lower.

Richard H. Field, from the University of Alberta, suggests that compared to other G8 nations Canada is not getting a very high return for its investment. By comparing total population to athletes sent to the 2004 Olympics and the number of medals won Field determines that Canada is sending too many athletes to the Olympics. However, Field does not take the amount spent on Olympic athletes into account in his calculations.

Craig R. Mitton, H. Dele Davies, and Cam R. Donaldson in an article about Australia’s Olympic bottom line conclude that although Australia spent more on its athletes in the 2000 games than Canada, the money to medal ration is similar. For both countries, a medal costs approximately $4 million dollars.

It seems that Canada is getting a reasonable return for its investment, though we are sending a few too many athletes. Though Canada’s recent performance in the 2008 Olympics seems to suggest that Canada may not have hit rock bottom yet, and that this year’s medal performance may be worse than 2004, with worse performances in 2012 and 2016 still to come.

Ultimately, Canadians need to decide whether a strong showing in the Olympics is worth the long-term costs. If Canada wants a world class Olympic team on par with the Australian team or other G8 countries, it will have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to do so.

*At this time Canada now has seven medals at the 2008 games.

> Continue Reading: How much is a Medal Worth?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic Style Sex

While the pundits and commentators provide endless analysis of most of the sports at the Olympics, the most popular sport among the athletes rarely receives any attention. I am of course talking about sex.

This year, organizers have supplied Olympic athletes with over 100,000 condoms. While this may seem like a lot, the 70 000 condoms supplied at the Sydney Olympics ran out so quickly that more had to be ordered. As more athletes attend the games, the number of condoms necessary seems to be increasing. Olympic organizers have supplied condoms since the Barcelona games in 1992 in an effort to raise AIDs awareness.

There are 11,028 athletes participating in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Many of these athletes are disqualified quickly, which gives them plenty of time for you know what. The condoms these athletes have been supplied with range in style. Some of them even have the Olympic mascots printed on them. So as not to offend, the condoms are not in the individual athlete's room. Instead, athletes have to pick them up at the various athletic centres in the Olympic Village.

> Continue Reading: Olympic Style Sex

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Stupid-er

On Friday August 8, 2008 something fantastic happened. Bell finally retired the spokescritters Frank and Gordon. The beavers Frank and Gordon, voiced respectively by Norm MacDonald and Ken Campbell, premiered in 2006 during the Turin Winter Olympics.

While occasionally spokescritters are endearing, Frank and Gordon were anything but. The only thing worse than these ads was the sad feeling that this was the only work that famed comedian Norm MacDonald could get. In their farewell address in the Toronto Star Frank and Gordon stated: “It’s been a blast.” However, “Nature is calling, and we have been invited back to the forest to become teachers for a whole new generation of spokescritters.” Frank and Gordon even provide an email address so their loyal friends can wish them adieu.

Although the thought of more Bell spokescritters is horrific, Bell’s new ad campaign proves that there are things much worse than annoying 3D animals. Taking a page from the highly successful Obay ads from Ontario Colleges that blanketed Toronto half-a-year-ago, Bell posted similar ads. Before the Olympics began, Toronto residents could see thousands of ads with mysterious and seemingly random blue lines with the letters “er” scattered about.

After the Olympics began, Bell revealed that it was behind the ads and dozens of phrases appeared across Toronto sporting Bell’s new logo. “Let the cheers begin.” “Today just got better.” “Apple Eater.” (The last ad is in reference to the Samsung Instinct, a device similar to the iPhone.)

It seems that things just got lamer. Not only is this campaign occasionally grammatically flawed, it's downright annoying and at times nonsensical. One of the television spots Bell had been playing repeatedly is particularly grating. In the ad, a man begins to converse with the cowboy in the movie he is watching. The TV also seems to be imbedded in the “l” of the Bell logo. Despite the fact that I have watched this commercial a dozen times I am not actually sure what happens. As every time the ad comes on, I tune out.

Bell’s new campaign has received mixed reviews from marketing experts. Only time will tell if this advertising campaign continues past the Olympics, but it seems that Bell just spent a lot of money on a lamer duck.

> Continue Reading: Stupid-er

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

China and Human Rights


Recently Slate Magazine asked the question: are the media being too mean to China? Well, the answer is yes and no. There has undoubtedly been some Western bias in the coverage of the Olympics. Criticism sells. With American economic decline mirroring Chinese economic expansion, Americans have demonstrated an interest in stories that show China’s negative side. However, China deserves the criticism it is getting.

China designed the Olympics as a coming out party; a festival of extravagance designed to show the rest of world that China deserved to be treated as a world power. However, the prestige that China seeks is best earned by addressing its own dismal human rights record than by spending billions on a show that will fade from memory. When the IOC awarded China the Olympics, the country promised that it would address human rights. Unfortunately, China has only swept what it considered problems under the rug, and has made very few lasting changes. According to Amnesty International, China has committed more human rights violations in 2008 than in the past decade.

In anticipation of the games, China promised that the internet at Olympic venues would be uncensored. It appears that China has broken this promise. While foreign journalists have been given more freedom in China, domestic journalists continue to be cracked down on. Even the freedom given to international journalists was curtailed after the situation in Tibet in March and the Sichuan earthquake. Even the areas where citizens can supposedly hold demonstrations are highly suspect. People who have applied to demonstrate in these areas have been imprisoned and the Chinese government has created a spy network to report on any individuals who desire to demonstrate.

As Tim Wu from Slate Magazine puts it: “the West wants to see the dirt, not the rug it was swept under. It's the dishonesty, as much as the substance of what's wrong in China, that seems to get under the skin of Western reporters.”

> Continue Reading: China and Human Rights

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

From Respectable to Sleaze

The McCain campaign has finally started to show its teeth this election. The McCain campaign’s recent decision to attack Obama’s celebrity reeks of desperation and sleaze. What happened to the McCain who challenged the Bush tax cuts and brought an air of respectability to the Republican Party? It seems that McCain has decided that the only way to win this election is to tow what has been the Republican strategy of the last eight years. The once thoughtful and respectable McCain has become a cardboard cutout, devoid of depth.

By adopting the typical Republican strategy of painting Democrats as aloof liberal elitists, McCain has backed himself into a corner. While the latest ads comparing Obama to Paris Hilton and Charlton Heston’s Moses have proven successful. The media has driven their success. A recent article of Time Magazine claims that this is “a whole new McCain” who has started “throwing [the] heat,” with a “hardball strategy.” However, polls have not yet indicated how the American public has perceived these ads. While the increased attention may help McCain in the polls, it seems that his message has been lost along the way.

In a season where most voters seems to be upset with the current Republican administration it makes sense that McCain could make the most impact as maverick; a republican outsider ready to reinvigorate the party. However, McCain’s strategy is straight out of Karl Rove’s textbook. Support the typical republican causes and turn the other guy into an out of touch east coast liberal.

> Continue Reading: From Respectable to Sleaze