Archive for August, 2013

Winning at casinos is not impossible.

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

There was an outraged response from a reader to our recent suggestion that problem gamblers needed to learn how to gamble. This person swears he is never going to go near a casino again in his lifetime. Okay, that is one solution. Just stick to it.

But the urge to gamble is very human. We always want to challenge the law of averages.

And that is all that gambling is about. The almost impossible odds of 14-million-to-one for the top prize are hardly stopping people from buying Lotto 649 tickets? You have a better chance at being struck by lightening or run over by a garbage truck.

While you might have a better poker face, you get dealt from the same deck of cards as every other player. A pair of dice has the same six sides and the same probabilities as any other pair. Casino games are based on the odds favouring the house. If the odds do not favour the house, the house can not afford to offer the game.

What the smart gambler does is take advantage of the groups of wins among all the losses. If you make the same bet every time you play a game, you are feeding the house. The law of averages will ensure that eventually you lose.

But if you bet more when you are winning and less when you are losing, you can often overcome the law of averages.

Blackjack is a good example. If you bet $10 and win, why not take half your winnings and make your next bet $15. If you win the second bet, you can make the third bet $20. You should stop increasing at $25 so that you can accumulate some more winnings. The person who wins five hands with the same $10 bet will win $50. The person who increases reasonably can win $80. Since the major winnings in the game are when you get a blackjack or can split or double your bet, these increased earnings can fund some of those even more profitable bets. Nothing guarantees a win but you can take advantage when you do.

And you should stay away from traps like playing two spots on the blackjack layout. It is a guaranteed way to lose twice as fast. Also watch out for these new propositions that the casinos come up with such as letting you bet on getting a matching pair in your first two cards. The odds are something like 35 to 1 yet the casino will only pay you 25 to 1. Why not just increase your blackjack bet; the odds are better.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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The long hot summer of M. Mulcair.

Friday, August 30th, 2013

It has been a tough summer for our parliament’s Leader of the Opposition. Thomas Mulcair of the New Democrats has been leading from the rear. We have seen more of some of the party’s spokespeople than we have seen of its national leader. It has been a time of Canadians coming to the realization that of the two national party leaders from Quebec only one is a natural leader. And it is not Mulcair.

While the House of Commons was sitting, Mulcair could use his official opposition position to keep the guns blazing over the Senate woes. It was a safe subject for the New Democrats as they carry no brief for a body that has no New Democrat Senators. The only problem was that he had a much smaller audience after Parliament recessed for the summer. It is tough time to keep issues alive and to find a receptive media audience.

It was even more frustrating when the leader of the third party took the marijuana issue away from the NDP. Justin Trudeau was doing barbeques and town halls for the summer and he spiced up his dialogue with the promise to legalize and control marijuana. Here it was an NDP issue all along and all Mulcair could do was complain and mutter.

Mulcair has been counting on being able to refresh and renew the attack on the Senate when the House was to resume in September. He was obviously less than pleased when Harper once again prorogued Parliament to extend his holiday into late October. Harper is taking an inordinately long stretch to write a new throne speech.

But Mulcair’s more serious problem is Quebec Premier Pauline Marois. As a former Quebec Liberal Cabinet Minister, Mulcair is expected to speak out about Marois’ proposed legislation against wearing religious symbols by people paid by the province. If he speaks out against Marois’ legislation, it could cost him the support of many of the former Bloc Québécois who voted NDP last time and could also cost him more than 50 seats in Quebec in the next federal election.

Of course, he could keep quiet about the Marois legislation and anger fair-minded NDP voters in the rest of Canada. He is stuck between a rock and Justin Trudeau. Quebecers expect Trudeau to oppose any such draconian legislation and it will not change the level of support he is building across the province.

Mulcair might as well enjoy the perquisites of being Leader of the Official Opposition while he can. His time will be limited unless he can find a way to come out of the 2015 election ahead of the Conservatives.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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The Hair is hawkish on war.

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Is war just a telephone call away? Is it that simple? Can the Canadian Prime Minister just call up the President of the United States and say, “It’s okay. You can go to war with Syria. Canada is behind you. In fact, since we are hiding behind you, you might just say we have your back. Can we make sandwiches? Or knit socks for the troops?”

If President Obama is really serious about showing Syria’s al-Assad regime that chemical warfare cannot be tolerated by the civilized world, he has to move as soon as the proper proof is available. If the U.S. and its European and Israeli allies do not have sufficient assets on the ground and eyes in the skies to report thoroughly on this, they are not serious in seeking peace in the Middle East.

Building this tension for war smacks of the flimflam about weapons of mass destruction that led up to the Second Iraq War. More days of delay are questionable and it is obvious that the scientific evidence is quickly degraded. The longer the delays, the more questionable is the punishment. If Obama waits until after the meetings in Russia next week, he might as well send troops to Damascus to publicly spank Bashar al-Assad and his generals. Are there many other options available after weeks of warning?

While the West prepares, Syria can move its airplanes to hardened cover. Ammunition dumps and troop concentrations can be dispersed. And they have already assured al-Assad that they are not aiming at him.

It has been obvious for some time that the U.S. and its allies are supplying the rebels in Syria. The rebels have just not had the tanks, training and leadership they need to topple the oppressive al-Assad regime.

But hawks like the Hair are missing the more serious point. If al-Assad falls, who takes over? Would the West not be trading one oppressive regime for another? While people rejoiced at the Arab Spring, nobody liked the Arab Summer.

Rather than egging on Obama in his revenge for chemical attacks, what Canada should be doing is working on the diplomatic front to convince al-Assad to make accommodation with the rebels. Surely he is not so foolish as to continue to want his country destroyed.

Let those involved in the chemical warfare business resolve their issues. Canada can show leadership for peace.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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The boring battle over bitumen.

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

It is really not our favourite topic. Bitumen is boring. The conundrum we are facing is that the Harper Conservatives are so bereft of any solutions to our country’s economic malaise that they are putting more and more reliance on selling the output of the Athabasca Tar Sands. As long as this was a minor activity and the problems with pollution were kept in Alberta, it was of merely academic interest. Now it is becoming a serious problem for all Canadians.

This came to mind this morning while contemplating a full-page color advertisement in the Toronto Star for TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline. What do these people think they are selling? The writers, reviewers and approvers of this advertisement do not seem to know the difference between hyperbole and lying. They certainly spend a great deal of money on whichever. And the full page picture of a blond lady seems to bear no relevance to the copy but what does that matter? It caught your eye did it not?

The headline “What is the Energy East Pipeline?” is neither catchy nor clever. It is just to lead you into misleading copy. The opening line about TransCanada planning to build a pipeline that will transport oil from Western to Eastern Canada does not only appear to be misleading but it promotes the big lie. It is not oil they want to send in that pipeline. They want to convert the old cross-Canada natural gas pipeline to push bitumen slurry to the East coast. The only new section is from Montreal to Saint John, New Brunswick.

While the tar sands companies and their pipeline pals like to call bitumen by other names, it is not oil. It is not heavy crude. It is not some made-up name such as ‘Dilbit.’ The ultimate objective of this pipeline is to ship bitumen slurry to Saint John, New Brunswick where the Irving interests will build a loading port to put the stuff on ocean-going tankers. Nobody wants the serious pollution concerns of refining that stuff into synthetic oil in Canada.

But how can Canadians hold up their heads before the world and ship this stuff to countries that do not care about the pollution?

Maybe that blonde lady in the color picture is a tourist checking out one of the old world cities before the black rain of pollution makes that part of the world uninhabitable.

What in God’s name are these people thinking?


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Joining the Fords to defend democracy.

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Issues often make strange bedfellows. You would have thought that the entire left wing of Toronto Council would have voted with Mayor Ford on Monday. Instead, most of these people just reacted to the mayor’s position rather than taking a position of their own. Anyone who believes in democracy was expected to bite the bullet and vote with Rob and Doug Ford to have a civic by-election in Etobicoke this fall. They did not. Democracy was defeated.

It was like when their narrow minded hypocrisy denied Toronto a casino. That was one of the left-wing’s more telling moments. There were holes bigger than a football field in the mayor’s position but all the left wanted to do was vote against him. Instead of looking intelligent, they just made sure that Toronto lost. And Toronto lost a great deal. Forcing people to travel out of town to legally gamble was narrow-minded and costly. Leaving illegal gambling places in backrooms around Toronto was pandering to criminals. Their actions were ignorant, anti-democratic and paternalistic. And now they have proved it again by refusing a by-election to replace former Councillor Doug Holyday.

And what was the point? What did they save the city? What did it mean in a city with a budget of close to $10 billion? If this was about a matter of some six or seven months, it would be silly not to appoint someone.

But the voters now have more than a year of not being represented properly. Who was speaking for them in that hollow debate?

Frankly, this writer would never have voted for Holyday as a councillor let alone then help elect him to Queen’s Park. Giving Tiny Tim Hudak one more voice of negativity in the Conservative caucus at the pink palace was a waste of time, effort and proved nothing. Voters will be back at the voting places within the year to hopefully make a decision for Ontario.

And next fall, Toronto voters can make a judgement on Rob Ford. A single, strong opponent should be able to take him. He has no overwhelming support. What he has is a rather ignorant base vote that has a low opinion of politicians anyway. In the cynicism department, Ford is a winner.

But Toronto needs leadership. Hopefully this can be intelligent leadership. It can hardly be left in the turmoil of a confused future. We know that Ford has no future. And nobody can effectively lead that unruly mob on the left.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Marois bares Quebec bigotry.

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Bigotry in Quebec has deep roots. In the past week, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has been testing those roots. Her planned ‘Charter of Quebec Values’ is nothing but a bigot’s demand to ‘speak white.’

It hardly matters if her phony charter wins the approval of the Quebec National Assembly or not. Marois’ point has been made. She has drawn her line in the sand. The Parti Québécois has always had bigotry in its back pocket to use when needed. It was probably the facet of the Quebec psyche that destroyed René Lévesque in his final years. He could lead the strong but he could not quell the weakness.

Quebec’s is not a racial bigotry. It is tribal. It had its beginnings in the days of the Voyageurs. It was the battle over the early years of this country with the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was the Square Mile of Montreal. It was the blockheads. It was conscription.

From a province of piety, Quebec is today a secular society. It can, also now exclude those who do not speak the language and dress the dress. It can disdain the clerics and look down on those who show a difference. They can revile the trappings of the Semitic. They can reject the excesses of the extremist Christians. Their future, their confidence, their crutch, they are told, is their language, their culture and the politicians who pander to their insularity.

It is this base of bigotry that Marois needs to hold on to power. She equates this new charter of ‘values’ to Law 101 that said it was designed to protect the French language while stripping the province of much of its Anglophone professionals and leadership. This proposed charter denies the right of a person in a public position to wear a headscarf or turban lest it be construed as a religious symbol. It denies the Hasidim their identity. This, she says, is to protect Quebec in its freedoms and diversity.

Marois sees this charter as just another step in dividing Canada. It can only serve to enslave Quebec as an insular island in a progressive North America. She obviously sees Quebec as a quaint pocket of French civilization transplanted from Europe. It does nothing for the Quebecker who wants to share in the growth and freedom of opportunity available to all Canadians.

Our Quebec can do much better.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Whoring with the Ottawa press gallery.

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

You used to be able to take a story to the Press Gallery bar. It was right there on Wellington across from the Houses of Parliament. The drink prices were reasonable. You met on the media’s turf. The conversations were relaxed and casual. It was a convivial relationship back then.

It is no longer convivial. Today, a public relations person willing to buy the drinks and with a story to tell is suspect. The atmosphere in Ottawa is more confrontational. The government and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) are now in the propaganda business. The media can buy into it or bug out. Compromise is impossible.

Look at the incident with the Chinese reporter at the end of that “news event” travesty across the Arctic with the Hair, the hairdresser and the PMO. The tame and cowed news media had been told that they would be allowed five questions at the end of the Prime Minister’s non-news conference. It was agreed among the media that they would let the Chinese reporter ask his question as they were also curious about the possible answer.

They did not count on the discrimination and lack of common sense by the Prime Minister’s propagandists. They not only denied the Chinese reporter his question but sent a woman to tell him to get out of line where he was waiting patiently to ask his question. Current media chief in the PMO Andrew MacDougall still has a lot to learn about international media. Canadian reporters might be whores but they also have no concept of ‘face.’ To this Chinese gentleman, the loss of face in this situation was the equivalent of emasculating him. He had every right to be damn mad.

And the RCM Police should have stayed out of it. They had no right to manhandle the reporter away from what was left of the non-news conference. They had the good sense to let the gentleman go once he had calmed down but the damage was already done. They had aided and abetted totalitarianism with a person who knew all about that type of system. RCM Police who we used to work with showed better judgement.

And goodbye, Mr. MacDougall. Your replacement at the PMO will probably be just as ignorant as you. Treat the Canadian media people as whores if you wish. We should warn your replacement though that people sometimes find ways of evening the score with those who mistreat them.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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It’s always April Fools’ at the Fraser Institute.

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

You have to wonder how anyone could come up with anything as ridiculous as the Fraser Institute. For these people it is always April Fools’ Day. For the past 35 years, the Fraser Institute has been the antithesis of public policy think tanks. It has built its questionable reputation on a premise of denial.

This sudden interest in their sodden soliloquies is spurred by the high humour of their latest findings. In an effort to promote parenthood, the Institute has published a study claiming that it costs much less to raise a child than we previously thought. In fact, the Ontario professor (a senior fellow of the Fraser Institute) says that you should be able to raise a child for between $3000 and $4500 per year. It really makes you wonder if this professor has any children that survived.

Obviously the study could not include some of the critical factors in raising a child. Providing adequate shelter, clothing, video games, health care and treats from the ice cream truck might have been missed. And obviously, the professor did not include any early childhood education. Maybe he has never had to keep growing children in properly fitting ice skates and related hockey gear. And if he does not think that is a necessary expense for a Canadian kid, he has not been in this country more than a month.

If Adam Smith—the guy who invented capitalism—were alive today, the sage old philosopher would have drummed this professor out of the field of economics. Even a right-wing ideologue like Stephen Harper gets photographed taking his kid to play hockey. Just wait until the Prime Minister finds out he is only supposed to spend up to $4500 per year to raise each of his kids. Next thing you know the government is going to reduce the tax deductions for having kids.

Please, please do not send a copy of this blather to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Can you imagine how Flaherty could get rid of the deficit by ending subsidies for kids and allowing more child labour?

Now that we think about it, we have never seen one of these silly ‘studies’ for the Fraser Institute that was supposedly done by a woman. If the institute can find a female academic—one with children—who will do a follow up on this study, we would be most interested in the findings. The only proviso is that we get a listing of the budget items and the associated costs.

If the results are anything similar to Professor Sarlo’s findings, we intend to sit down with the wife and find out what the hell she did with the rest of the household budget.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Remember Justin, pot is just small beer.

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Ok, point made. Moving on, Canadians have far more important issues to consider than legalizing marijuana. Let us not keep gilding the cannabis. Sure the news media are always in a rut with their questions but there is certainly more exciting news. What about the way Prime Minister Harper is saying things in the high Arctic unchallenged by a responsible opposition. You cannot allow him free rein up there to destroy peoples’ lives and livelihoods.

But we are also concerned about the current process Canadian Liberals are using to develop their policy options. Where are the open discussions taking place? What are you doing to ensure that all Liberals get an opportunity for input? Who is posing the questions that need to be asked?

You have to remember that rebuilding a largely moribund political party requires the best thinking of academics, politicians, community leaders and the rank and file. The same as candidates having to come from the electoral districts so do the policy ideas—from everybody and not just selective elites.

One of the Liberal policy team members came to Babel recently and was fed a number of ideas. It was not a broadly based discussion but supposedly involved those capable of thinking. One of the suggestions proffered was to depoliticize our federal civil service.

While Canadians have always maintained a certain fiction in regards to how politicized the senior levels of bureaucrats might be, this suggestion was that we deny the politicos of the day the right to hire and fire those senior bureaucrats. The gentleman proposing this was suggesting the system used in the United Kingdom model as the ideal. (It was also the system that suggested the hilarious British television series Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister in the 1980s.)

There are some of us still around who remember when Canada had a Chinese wall between its senior civil servants and politicians. It ended with the Pierre Trudeau era in Ottawa in the 1970s. There is a reasonable balance between these positions.

The only good thing about that suggestion was that the person suggesting it thought it was particularly good because he did not think it would cost anything. And that Justin is why policy needs to be more thoroughly discussed before you wing it!


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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How to tell if the publisher is angry.

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

The best gauge newspaper people have to tell the publisher’s mood is by the placement of his signed editorials. If it is on the editorial page, he probably has just a mild case of heartburn. If it is on page two of the paper, this is serious dyspepsia. And if it is on page one, save the women and children first. This came up yesterday when Publisher John Cruikshank used page two of the Toronto Star to rail against Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He feels that the PM is mistreating Cruikshank’s telecommunications friends at Bell, Rogers and Telus.

Of course, Cruikshank discloses that he owns shares in Bell Canada. (Doesn’t everybody?) What he fails to add is that the three cell-phone purveyors are also currently spending an inordinate amount of money on full page advertising in the Toronto Star to vent their spleen at Stephen Harper for being an ideologue. Being somewhat out of touch with display advertising rates, we can only suspect that these ads are paying the publisher’s salary each month with money left over to pay half the Star’s editorial staff.

Frankly, Cruikshank is behind the curve on this subject. Mr. Harper has passed the baton in this relay to Industry Minister Jimmy Moore. The nice young man from B.C. has been sharpening his teeth to take on Canada’s telecoms. Like Shakespeare’s three witches toiling over their cauldron of trouble, Bell, Rogers and Telus have brought this on themselves. Yes, they will tell you that they love Big Brother but that is not going to make them better citizens.

What Moore and his boss understand as well as most Canadians is that our three home-grown telecoms have been screwing their Canadian customers for far too long. Their collective greed is the stuff of legends. If one does not get you, one of the others will. They conduct a triumvirate of terror in the cell-phone industry.

But, to be fair, Harper’s choice of Verizon to whip the Canadian telecoms into shape is not Cruikshank’s choice, nor is it ours. Bell, Rogers and Telus might think they are the experts at rape and pillage in the telecom business but Verizon leaves them in the dust. The company is neither a better corporate citizen, nor any cheaper in price, nor does it have better technology nor does it do any better at customer relations. As we have explained before, Verizon is the Walmart of cell-phone sales. It might be five times as big but it is also five times as ugly.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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