Wine Writers Behaving Badly, the Natalie MacLean Story

Let me start this with full disclosure. Although I am not a member of the wine writing community, I have close ties to it. I have a business relationship with two of the writers who have complained about theft of their content, and I know several more personally. Additionally I have business and personal relationships with several small wineries and winemakers.

I’m also a wanna-be writer, although not in the field of wine journalism, or more accurately in the field of writing about wine. I say that because calling some of this “journalism” would be an insult to the word, even the watered-down definition that has emerged in the Internet age.

Natalie MacLean stands accused of appropriating wine reviews from other writers, reproducing excerpts without permission or acknowledgement. The details can be found on this article from Palate Press. Interestingly, another set of allegations emerges in the comments, but that’s for others to pursue. (more…)

Unifying the Liberal and Conservative Perspectives on Government

Conservatives typically look to shrink the role of the state. Their favourite tool of choice is the reduction of revenues through tax cuts. The theory appears to be that a reduction in tax revenue will lead to the elimination of the services that are not essential to the operation of the state. This is in many ways a perverse application of the principles of the free market system. Not only does it not work as planned, it frequently results in structural budgetary deficits.

Liberals tend to look at increasing the role of the state. They see the state as a tool for ensuring the well being of the populace. Their favourite tool of choice is the introduction of new services or regulations, with a corresponding increase in revenue from taxation. The theory appears to be that centralized management can be efficient. This is in many ways wilful ignorance of the merits of the free market system. Not only does it not work as planned, unbridled growth of taxation is an impediment to economic growth.

By and large, that’s a capsule summary of politics in the West. Two diametrically opposed, equally incorrect, deeply flawed models for government, alternately taking control of the apparatus of the state, making a set of ill-informed changes before being turfed out by dissatisfied voters to let the other side repeat the process from the opposite perspective.

This is an unstable system that will never reach equilibrium.

The fundamental issue is one of semantics. So let’s start with an axiom: nobody enjoys paying taxes. Aside from extremists who either envision a magic state that functions in the absence of revenue or an equally improbable state that functions in the absence of variable rewards for variable work/value, most of us accept that some level of taxation is inevitable. The problem is that we think about taxes in absolute terms — usually as a percentage of our income or assets. It seems to be that both liberals and conservatives could find a lot more common ground if the discussion was framed in terms of Return on Taxation, much like business measures Return on Investment.

Surely everyone, left or right, wants to ensure that their tax dollars are used to achieve the greatest value.

While it is true that this approach will generate ongoing argument on which methods should be used to arrive at a measurement of “return”, my suspicion is that liberals and conservatives will find that when viewed through the lens of value, their policies will be less divergent. In an ideal scenario, we can focus our efforts on getting more value per tax dollar and adopt more rational — and stable — policies.

The left and right seem to find it increasingly difficult to find common ground, but it is only by doing so that a democratic system can function effectively. Let’s make Return on Taxation the objective we all share.

Six Degrees of Redirection

This is a story of feature creep. We started with an idea that was truly useful: link shortening services. These services allowed people to take bloated SEO-laden links (like the ones on this blog) and reduce them to compact links under 20 characters. Perfect for pasting into an e-mail, even better for a length-limited Tweet.

But link shortening isn’t rocket science, and I’m guessing even the US Patent and Trademark Office thought the idea too obvious for a patent (I mention this only because that in itself is an anomalous achievement, but I won’t digress into another patent rant here). So competitors emerged pretty quickly. How do you distinguish yourself in the link shortening business? Simple, add statistics! (BTW “statistics” is the plain old boring word for “analytics”, which is a made-up crapword designed to fool marketers into thinking they’re not doing math).

Then after statistics, some brain cell thought up the idea of loading the target window in a frame, adding a “value-added” toolbar. Not that the value add was provided to the user, who got to lose a little screen space and not see the actual target URL, but for the person providing the link, who presumably could track minutiae like how long you spent on some page.

Next, services hopped onto the bandwagon. Twitter, Facebook, RSS feed aggregators and others all started adding a link-shortening, information gathering layer to any links posted on their sites.

So now we have a link on Twitter that goes to a short link generated by the author of the tweet. The author of the tweet has copied a link found on Facebook, which then redirects to a short link to a blog aggregation that goes to the bloggers short link that then goes to the post.

Six degrees of redirection. Each one making the web more brittle, more subject to the loss of an intermediary, less permanent, less connected. Every time one of these services goes out of business, hundreds of useful connections between content will get lost forever. None of this is good.

Why Justin Trudeau Should be Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada

Justin Trudeau is entering the race for the leadership of the Liberals. Polls within the party are said to show that he’s likely to win. While this might not be a great thing for the Liberals, it’s great for the country.

If the Liberals elect Trudeau, they’ll be sending a clear signal: that their collective wisdom favours the iconic over substance. It will show that they believe – as a whole – that a descendant of the Marilyn Monroe of Canadian Politics (no I’m not talking about Maggie here) will lead us to the nirvana of the centre left.

The challenge with Canadian politics is that our multi-party system won’t work as long as the method of electing representation is the primitive first past the post system. With our irrational fear of coalition governments, and an increasing tendency to move the locus of power from Parliament to the Prime Minister’s Office, it’s virtually impossible to construct a government that is representative of the will of the Canadian people unless they’re presented with a binary choice: Leftish or Rightish.

The Right suffered from this for years, with votes split between the Progressive Conservatives and Reform; now the Left suffers with a split between the Liberals and the NDP.

Justin can fix all that. In one decisive stroke, the Liberals can transform themselves from a crusty dynasty in need of renewal into a national joke. One can only hope that the liberals will subsequently poll in the range of the Natural Law Party. Centrist voters will be forced to choose the NDP in spite of it’s soft socialist heritage, the Conservatives will be back in opposition, and we’ll have a government that is less unrepresentative of the national character. Refugees from the Liberals will join the NDP, taking it further toward the centre, and all will be well.

So go for it, Justin, for the good of the country.