Thursday, October 30, 2008

This scares people?

I had to stop and scratch my head when I heard John McCain speaking at a rally a few days ago. He was telling his supporters that they had to stop Barack Obama because he believes in wealth distribution. So what he is saying is that the concept of paying taxes to support those in need is something to be feared. So is that why they need to pay for their own healthcare? Then I see an ad on a Spokane network channel for Dino Rossi, the Republican candidate for Washington state governor. Apparently his opponent, Christine Gregoire, Democrat, was once caught on tape supporting the concept of income taxes. It wasn't only mind boggling for me that a candidate should be lambasted for supporting income taxes, but I immediately asked myself 'What, Washington State has no personal income taxes?'. That can't be true. Well it is. Right from the website of the Washington State Department of Revenue comes the following: "Washington State does not have a personal or corporate income tax." What? How do they pay for anything?

It turns out that nine American states do not collect personal income taxes: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wyoming, New Hampshire, and Tennessee. I must be Canadian. The whole concept blows my mind.

Did you know about this? Sure surprised me!

We're Bullfrogged!

We're now officially BullfrogPowered! In an ongoing effort to reduce our impact on Earth and teach our children about sustainable living, we have signed up with BullfrogPower. It is one of those completely selfless acts of green living. It costs us money and we benefit in no direct way. This is how it works: BullfrogPower tracks our power usage through our regular electricity provider. At the end of the month they add up how many kWh of electricity we used. They then send us a bill for $0.02/kWh. What does this pay for? In return for what we pay them, they inject the exact amount of kWh we used in electricity onto the grid from a renewable source. In Alberta, they have produced a large wind energy generation system. So if we use 500kWh in electricity one month in regular electricity, they then produce 500kWh in wind energy and inject it onto the grid. Now a larger portion of Alberta's electricity is coming from a renewable source. Since most of this power is generated down south I benefit in no way and it adds $10 to my monthly bills, but it sure feels good knowing I'm supporting the growth of the renewable energy industry in Alberta.

While you are signing up for BullfrogPower as I know you'll do, hop on over to OneMillionActsofGreen. It's a social networking site for greenies! You setup a profile and then document all the green acts you've done. It gives you a running total of how many kg of carbon emissions you've prevented from entering the atmosphere by your acts. I've listed all acts that I've done recently that I would think the average person has not. I have done a total of 81 green acts and saved 10473kg of carbon emissions. That's 10 tonnes of CO2! That's almost the equivalent of taking two cars off the road completely. Not bad for one person!

By the way, I'm not trying to toot my own horn or trying to make you green with envy (oh, that was a lame joke). I'm just trying to show how easy it is for us to change our ways to make for a more sustainable future for our children. I'll leave you with a wise phrase from the Great Law of the Iroquois:

"In every deliberation we must consider the impact on the seventh generation."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's true!

It's true, his daddy is a pharmacist!

Nice idea, but....

When you read as much as I do about personal finance, you see a few constants. The first is that you should never buy loaded mutual funds from a financial 'advisor' because they have an inherent conflict of interest. In fact, the constant advice you hear is that if you are going to buy mutual funds at all, they should be no load mutual funds with low management expense ratios, purchased from either an online discount brokerage or through a fee-based financial planner, one with a certified financial planner designation if possible.

So when my Edward Jones advisor contacted me this week to tell me he could not keep us on as clients due to not having an Alberta licence (we met him in Ontario), I was kind of excited. I had signed on with this gentleman because I felt I could trust him as a person. And don't get me wrong. He did well. But he did have me in all service charge mutual funds and they were lagging the index. Besides, being as far away as he is, it wasn't really working out. Here was my opportunity to start fresh. My idea was to find a fee-based financial planner and purchase my funds through QTrade, the top ranked online discount brokerage that charges nothing for buying mutual funds.

Easier said than done. In Peace River, there are no certified financial planners except one that only does tax planning. In Grande Prairie there are some, but they all work for full service brokerages, that is, they're paid by the commissions they receive from selling you loaded mutual funds. OK, broaden search. There are some nationwide that will service clients in Alberta. But here's the kicker. I think I'd rather pay the high management expense ratios on my funds than pay the kind of fees these guys want. $2000-4000 a year was the range of quotes I got for a full financial management arrangement.

Holy moly. Not that it would not be worth the money, but for someone that only invests $8400 a year, that is like 50% of my investment. The highest MER I had in any of my funds was 2.35%. I have one last lead with a lady in Grande Prairie so we'll see. But for now, it looks like I might have to go it alone. It looks like fee-only financial planning is only for the big boys with millions of dollars in assets. What a shame.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Best investment going

In this volatile investment climate, many people are wondering if there is a surer thing than the stock market and mutual funds. Well, there are only a few guaranteed investments out there.

1. Guaranteed investment certificates (GICs)
2. Paying off any kind of debt (get guaranteed rate of return equal to the interest rate being charged on the remaining principal)
3. Making unscheduled lump sum payments on your mortgage
4. Improving the energy efficiency of your life

Now, the last one is one some might not have considered. I thought of it, but did not think the numbers were as impressive until I read one of the best books I've read this year: The Carbon Buster's Home Energy Handbook by Godo Stoyke. The book presents two approaches to improving the energy efficiency of the things you use in your life; the Carbon Buster approach and the Carbon Miser approach. The former will take more carbon out of the air but not give you as high a rate of return. It will save you more money in absolute terms, but cost you more to implement. The Carbon Miser approach, however, still removes a respectable amount of carbon from the atmosphere, and gives you an impressive rate of return.

Let us go back to the whole concept of efficiency as an investment though. Many opponents of the Kyoto Protocol feel it would be to costly to implement, to the tune of $359 billion for the US alone. However, many efficiency experts, the author included, feel that the figure may be correct, but that it actually would represent a net financial gain not a loss. Some impressive examples of this approach in the corporate world are given in the book:

"-3M saved $827 million and improved efficiency by 58% per production unit.
-Shell reduced emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels at NO net economic cost.
-British Petroleum (BP) saved $650 million just from emissions reductions

Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil spent $12 million to lobby against action on climate change. Go figure.

By implementing the approaches in this book, the average family can exceed the Kyoto Protocol requirements by 860% and save tons of money. The measures by and large are simple (replacing most of your light bulbs with compact fluorescents, using cold cycles on your washing machine instead of hot, unplugging all power suckers when not using, LED Christmas lights, computer in sleep mode, etc). And the rate of return is impressive.

So here is my plan, and you can hold me to it! Keep in mind that some measures are incremental, meaning I'm buying a new car, for example, anyways, and my savings are based on comparing my efficient purchase to the average vehicle. I will denote an incremental measure with an I. If it is a new measure, meaning I'm replacing something that is working perfectly fine, I'll denote it with an N. Returns are calculated over 5 years.

1. I-Replace secondary vehicle (Kia Rio) with a Smart car: only when primary vehicle is paid off and if Rio seems to be kicking the can: annual rate of return (ARR)=93%
2. N-Eliminate 90% of power vampires by putting them on a timer power bar: 83.8% ARR
3. I-Replace electric stove with natural gas stove, but only in more than 5 years when we might need a new stove: 27.9% ARR
4. I-Replace electric dryer with gas dryer: 23.1% ARR
5. N-Put computer in sleep mode and turn off when not used: 1372% ARR
6. N-LED Christmas lights: 35.3% ARR
7. N-Seal air leaks in house: 74.3% ARR
8. N-Add R40 cellulose insulation to attic: 15.5% ARR
9. N-Install shrink foil on 50% of windows: 58.2% ARR
10. N-Tune up furnace: 51.3% ARR
11. N-Get electric ignition tankless hot water heater: 16.9% ARR

Total cost of all measures: $3109
Total 5 year savings of all measures: $7608
Total 5-year rate of return: 244.7%
Average annual rate of return: 48.9%

The longest time to payback of any of these is 6.5 years. That is not that long if you are thinking long term, as you should be with investments. There is no mutual fund available on the Canadian market that has a 5-year annualized rate of return of 49%. Only 5 large cap Canadian and 25 large cap American companies have seen their stock price change by more than 240% in five years, and you would have had to have the insight to invest in them five years ago. Besides, with the efficiency approach, you are doing something good for the planet at the same time.

I'm happy to say my family had already implemented some of the measures recommended in this book before I even read it. We had done the following:
1. Bought Toyota Prius as primary vehicle
2. Replaced all lights with CFLs
3. Got front-loading washer and dryer
4. Use cold cycles instead of hot
5. Bought high-efficiency furnace for new house
6. Got low flush toilets for new house

Just doing those few things we were able to realize a 5-year annualized rate of return of 25.9%.

You should really pick up this book. It has given us so many great ideas of ways we can improve our energy efficiency. What simple things could you see yourself doing?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My dream for a fairer electoral system

As the results from yesterday's election show, Canada's electoral system is antiquated and unfair. Not only that, but its main defense, that it produces consistent majority governments, is now moot, given our production of 3 successive minority governments. So if we are going to elect minority governments anyways, why do we not elect them in such a way that represents voters intentions?

Look at Alberta for example. We elected all but one Conservative, but only 64.6% of the population wanted a Conservative MP. The results show that 448 997 Albertans voted for nothing but a measly $1.25 to the party they supported. That's 35% of all those who voted. Talk about disenfranchisement.

One way you can quantify the distortion of electoral results created by our current system is to determine how many votes it took to elect 1 MP for each party nationally:

BQ: 27590 votes per MP
Conservatives: 36400 votes per MP
Liberals: 47763 votes per MP
NDP: 68029 votes per MP

You want to see distortion? In Alberta, only 30 402 votes were needed to elect each Conservative MP. The NDPers in Alberta had to amass 161 409 votes just to win 1 seat.

Shouldn't all votes count equally? And don't think I'm upset merely because I support the little guys. Harper lost because of the system too. In Quebec, 78 456 votes were needed to elect each Conservative MP, but each Bloq MP only required 27 590 votes. In Newfoundland he was completely shut out despite receiving almost 17% of the vote.

So why not use a mixed-member proportional system like in New Zealand, where each voter gets two choices on the ballot: one for a local MP and one for the party they like? I envision it as follows:

1. Canada would still have 308 seats in the House of Commons. However, 180 would be electorate seats (where we would directly elect the MP) and 128 would be list seats. Party votes on each ballot would be used to calculate the percentage of popular vote for each party. Using a calculation method like the Saint-Lague method used in New Zealand to avoid rounding, it would be calculated how many seats each party deserves based on their popular vote. All local races would be tallied and the number of directly-elected MPs for each party would be subtracted from their total seat total. Any directly elected MPs would be removed from the party list, and the remaining candidates would be placed in enough list seats to give the party the number of seats they deserve. Say 10% of the population voted for Party A. Based on that, Party A is entitled to 3 seats in the House. But they only directly elected 1 MP. So the top 2 candidates from their list would then be given the remaining 2 seats in the House for that party.

2. Party lists would be published before the election day and widely available to the public, including a fully transparent process explaining how the list was constructed. Parties would have to provide regional lists, and seats would be apportioned for popular vote by region, in order to respect the great regional differences in Canada and to assure that list MPs were appointed to serve the province in which their support existed. This would avoid the loss of local representation that would come from losing numerous electorate seats.

3. Both electorate MPs and list MPs appointed within each region would have to meet regularly during Parliament to discuss local issues.

4. For every 3 electorate MPs, there would be 2 regional list MPs originating from the region composed of the combined electoral boundaries of all 3 constituencies. In smaller provinces, this would differ, but the idea would remain the same.

I see the seat breakdown as occurring in the following fashion:

Ontario: 62 electorate seats, 44 list seats
Quebec: 44 electorate seats, 31 list seats
BC: 21 electorate, 15 list
AB: 16 electorate, 12 list
SK: 8 electorate, 6 list
MB: 8 electorate, 6 list
NB: 6 electorate, 4 list
NS: 7 electorate, 4 list
PEI: 3 electorate, 1 list
NL: 4 electorate, 3 list
Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut would all maintain 1 electorate MP each.

The beauty about this system is that, unlike New Zealand which is a small nation, the mathematical method used to allocate seats proportionately would be applied in each province, and not nationally, to avoid national distortions that do not reflect regional differences. In this system, no party without 5% or more of the popular vote would be calculated into the system to prevent the emergence of one-issue parties and the fragmentation of parliament.

How would last nights results translate into this system? I'll just list the total seats in each province for each party, not breaking them down by MPs versus list MPs. It's hard to proportionalize it to this systems actual results. In brackets will be the real results.

Nunavut: CON 1 (1)
NWT: NDP 1 (1)
Yukon: LIB 1 (1)

Conservatives: 42 (51)
Liberals: 36 (38)
NDP: 19 (17)
Green: 9 (0)

BQ: 30 (50)
LIB: 18 (13)
CON: 17 (10)
NDP: 9 (1)
IND: 1

British Columbia:
CON: 16 (22)
NDP: 10 (9)
LIB: 7 (5)
Green: 3 (0)

CON: 18 (27)
NDP: 4 (1)
LIB: 3 (0)
Green: 3 (0)

CON: 7 (13)
NDP: 4 (0)
LIB: 2 (1)
Green: 1 (0)

CON: 7 (9)
NDP: 3 (4)
LIB: 3 (1)
Green: 1 (0)

Nova Scotia:
IND: 1 (1)
LIB: 3 (5)
NDP: 3 (2)
CON: 3 (3)
Green: 1 (0)

New Brunswick:
CON: 4 (6)
LIB: 3 (3)
NDP: 2 (1)
Green: 1 (0)

Newfoundland and Labrador:
LIB: 3 (6)
NDP: 3 (1)
CON: 1 (0)

LIB: 2 (3)
CON: 2 (1)

So, after all that number crunching, where does that leave us nationally?

CON: 118 (143)
LIB: 81 (76)
NDP: 58 (37)
BQ: 30 (50)
Green: 19 (0)
IND: 2 (2)

I think this is a much more reasonable Parliament that would reflect the will of Canadians. If you compare the percentage of seats to percentage of popular vote now, it is much more in line. In fact, it almost exactly lines up, with some rounding due to voting that occurred in small amounts for other parties like the Libertarian Party, etc.

Not only is this system simple, but it ensures better representation, it produces governments that reflect the will of the people, and most of all, I think it will improve voter turnout. Let us hope we never have to implement a law like in Australia, where voting is enforced by law.

As well, because minority governments would almost be guaranteed, politicians could stop working toward majority governments as their sole focus, and just accept that they are in a minority situation in which compromise and civility will have to rule the day, not antagonism and disrespect.

I do not know if anyone that can make such decisions will ever read this, but I do think it's a system that would work well in Canada. And you can bet the day I run for office (some time in the distant future) I will be proud to put it forth as a policy plank.

What do you think of it? Are you currently scratching your head at how someone can be this much of a nerd? I know I am. Off to bed with me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

If only

I've heard more than one person state that if only Gilles Duceppe were a federalist, they would vote for him. The Bloq Quebecois mopped up in Quebec tonight, and I must say, I could not be happier, because if it were not for them, Stephen Harper would have a majority. Thank you Quebec. Like M. Duceppe said in his victory speech, democracy won tonight. And even though some may disagree with the validity of the existence of the Bloc Quebecois, obviously the support is there among the people of Quebec. And since Harper blew his face in Quebec, he blew any chance of getting a majority. It was literally the fortress against a Harper majority in this election. Like some commentators have stated, Harper blew his chances of getting a majority for a measly $15 million. When he cut $45 million to the arts, $15 million of those cuts affected Quebec. The Francophone press tore that apart. And then Harper said he would like to lock up 14 year olds for life for violent crimes. While that flies in the West, it does not in Quebec, and you can see the result. And how fickle was Harper's supposed strong support in Quebec that he could be totally shut down over a few minor policy issues?


I love Rex Murphy. He is phenomenal. If you don't know him, he does the rants on CBCs the National and also has a radio show on CBC Radio called Cross Country Checkup that I enjoy from time to time. He also writes in the Globe and Mail. He had the following to say about the result of the Conservatives again getting a minority government, thus wasting tons of our money and our time.

(This is roughly what he said, not verbatim.)

Here you had Stephen Harper up against Paul Martin who was widely considered to be an inept leader. He managed a win, but a small one and a minority at that. Then you have him up against Stephane Dion who most people believe makes Paul Martin look like a genius. His support is as low as it possibly can be. Then the economy tanks in the middle of the election, and Stephen Harper is a university educated economist. If after all this, he can still only squeak out a minority, what does that say about his leadership? I think Canadians are saying "Sorry you asked, this is the best we'll give you, now leave us alone."

I love you Rex Murphy.

PS-I believe the leadership of both Stephane Dion and Stephen Harper will be questioned after this election.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Final election prediction

Paulitics has published his final election prediction based on a metaanalysis of all election predictions out there. He published two projections. I'll take halfway between them.

CPC: 128
LPC: 84
NDP: 39
BQ: 55
IND: 2

For interests sake, here are the calls from my other three favorite sites:

Election Prediction Project
CPC: 125
LPC: 94
NDP: 36
BQ: 51
IND: 2

CPC: 128
LPC: 92
NDP: 34
BQ: 52
IND: 2

UBC Election Stock Market:
CPC: 131
LPC: 88
NDP: 38
BQ: 49
IND: 2

For what it's worth, here is my prediction.
CPC: 128
LPC: 93
NDP: 36
BQ: 49
IND: 2

I also optimistically predict a win for NDP in Edmonton Strathcona. I can dream too you know.

Why do I not live there this time?

Back in 2006, I volunteered for the campaign of Linda Duncan, a newcomer on the federal electoral scene. She was up against Rahim Jaffer, the popular Conservative incumbent for the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona in which I lived at the time. She ran a great campaign and ended up coming up only 4814 votes short, which in the Conservative heartland of Canada is a really good result. This time around, Linda and Rahim are back at it again. The battle is so close, the election prediction blogs I read are hesitant to make a prediction at all, and all the major networks have called it one of the most important ridings to watch tomorrow night. I will oblige.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Are doctors salaries really that high?

Thought I'd point you all toward an excellent article I read over at Million Dollar Journey. It shows how doctor salaries are not as high as one might think, due to the massive overhead they incur in their job. Food for thought.

What if McCain wins?

There has been talk of what would happen in the Democratic states in the US if McCain actually becomes president. This video is a hilarious result of that talk.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Waste of time?

Although I love me some election, my political junkieness can only take me so far. And when I look at current seat projections, I am dismayed. My best sources lead me to predict the following come October 15.

131 Conservatives
90 Liberals
47 Bloc Quebecois
38 New Democrats
2 Independents

In case you are wondering, here's how things stood when Stephen Harper dissolved Parliament, some say in direct contravention of the fixed election date law he championed:

127 Conservatives
95 Liberals
48 Bloc Quebecois
30 New Democrats
4 Independents
4 Vacant

The only guys to suffer a real blow due to the election will be the dust bunnies on the vacant chairs. They never even had a chance. Their campaign funding just wasn't on par with the big boys.

This election is going to cost how much money and take up five weeks of time just so a couple of white guys could have a pissing contest, fling puffin poop, and call each other names. Instead of utilizing ad hominem attacks, they should have been in the House, working together, and guiding this country through one of the worst financial crises in a generation.

The lack of consensus based, issues driven governing that occurs in North American politics is appalling and almost makes me want to abandon my self appointed political junkiehood. But it gives me such a fine high, I just can't fathom it further.

Nuclear energy

Below is an article from the Peace River Record Gazette, and below that, my response to the reporter.

German doctor diagnoses ­— proposed plant deadly

Posted 1 day ago

By Curtis Haugan

The closer you live to a nuclear power plant, the more likely your children will get cancer.

That at least is what German pediatrician Dr. Ernst Iskenius is saying after the release of a 2007 study by the German government.

Iskenius, a member of the international organization Physicians Against Nuclear War, has traveled from Germany to Regina, Whitecourt and Peace River, speaking on the findings of the study and warning community members of the impending risk a nuclear plant would facilitate.

The report found that during the years of 1980 to 2003, children under the age of five, living close to a nuclear power plant were 120 per cent more likely to develop Leukemia, and 60 per cent more likely to develop other forms of cancer.

“They found there was a significant risk to get cancer,” said Iskenius.

“And the nearer you lived, the higher the risk.”

The report was funded by the German Federal Radiation Protection Agency (BfS) – the government’s main advisor on nuclear health, and was conducted by the German Register of Child Cancer – a branch of the Federal German Health Ministry.

The several doctors involved in administrating the four-year study were a mixture of those against nuclear plants, and those who were proponents according to Iskenius.

Because of that, and the fact 16 nuclear power plants – one in each of the 16 German states – were analysed, Inskenius said the world has never seen a study like this.

“It is an extraordinary study,” he said.

“The results were quite different than (the government) expected.

“They expected no evidence like they did in prior studies, but what they found was they took all 16 plants and found there was a significant risk to get cancer (in children).”

The study also observed children downwind from the plants, up to 50 kilometres, and found similar results.

Despite the findings, there is still uncertainty within Germany.

The emissions, according to BfS, that are emitted from the nuclear plants are far too weak to cause cancer, but other conceivable factors could not explain the heightening of the risk across distance.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he would call for additional research to explain the increased number of child cancer cases in August of 2008.

He, like much of the scientific community is perplexed by the findings, as the radiation levels are regulated rigorously.

“The population’s radiation exposure due to the operation of a nuclear power plants in Germany would have to be at least 1,000 times higher to be able to explain the observed increase in cancer,” he said.

Dr. Iskenius said a common argument is perhaps one or two plants are the ones making the problems.

However, the way the study was conducted – a closed control study where, by process of elimination, all factors are isolated from on another – in all 16 plants individually, the same results were found.

“We found the very same results in all of them,” he said.

“And this is amazing.

“There must be something in nuclear power plants coming out of them, not in one or two or three, but all of them that is causing this.”

Iskenius spoke to Peace Riverites Thursday Oct. 2, hoping to inform members of our community to lobby government to reconsider allowing a proposed nuclear reactor be built near Lac Cardinal, north of Peace River.

“If this nuclear plant is too dangerous and there is a risk for all children then we either accept these things as very dangerous or we higher the standards,” he said.

“On the international level we are fighting to shut down all of these installations because the risk is too great.”

Re: German doctor diagnoses-proposed plant deadly

I'm not yet sure how I feel about nuclear power coming to Peace River. When dealing with a contentious issue, emotion is sure to be involved, so having straight facts to consider is certainly helpful. I thought I'd check out the article on Dr. Iskenius's presentation last week. I found what was presented interesting, but I decided to go to the source: the study from the German government cited in the article. Now first let me explain that I believe the studies that are out there warrant concern for residents of both Peace River and Grimshaw (which is closer to the proposed location of the nuclear plant). One study, Childhood Leukemia in the Vicinity of the Geesthacht Nuclear Establishments near Hamburg, Germany, Environ Health Perspect. 2007 June; 115(6): 947–952, showed that the cases of childhood leukemia within 5 km of a nuclear plant in the studied location were 3.5 times more likely. And even though that only represents 11 more cases of childhood leukemia, I would say that is 11 too many. However, because of the obscure mathematics of epidemiological statistics, the true value is likely not 3.5 but lies somewhere between 1.9 and 5.9. So cases could be anywhere from 2 times to 6 times more likely. Another study published in the European Journal of Cancer Care, issue 16, pages 355-363, entitled "Meta-analysis of standardized incidence and mortality rates of childhood leukemia in proximity to nuclear facilities" combined data from all the research that had been done on the issue to date and came up with some conclusions in the same direction as those mentioned by Dr. Iskenius, but less significant. The largest risk increase was in children age 0-9 living less than 16 km from the facility, but it was 1.23, and the lower confidence interval was 1.04, with the upper interval reaching 1.46. This is entirely outside of the confidence interval of the previous study, but it has more weight because it combined results from numerous studies, which allows it to congene somewhere closer to the true value. Having said that, this risk increase was in mortality rates, so it must again be stated that any increase in deaths of children caused by an energy source that may or may not be necessary is certainly alarming. The study did find increases in the incidence of leukemia in children 0-9 living within 16km of the facility, but the result was not statistically significant, meaning we cannot be entirely certain it was not due to chance. So, clearly, there is something to be concerned about.

However, I believe that a couple of the statements attributed to Dr. Iskenius in the Record Gazette article are either false or in the least, misleading.

The article states that the research Dr. Iskenius presented (it must be stated that Dr. Iskenius was not involved in the conducting of this research, nor is he listed as a coauthor) even showed increased risks when the effects of each nuclear plant studied were removed one by one. In fact, he is quoted as saying "
We found the very same results in all of them". This is not true. The original research article, published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2008, issue 1220, pages 721-726, shows that when the effects of one particular plant are removed the lower confidence interval of the correlation drops down to 0.14, drawing close to 0 which would suggest no impact. However, Krummel itself is cause for concern because there has been a well publicized increase in childhood leukemia cases there since 1990. Finally, Dr. Iskenius, or at least the Record Gazette article about Dr. Iskenius states that "The study also observed children downwind from the plants, up to 50 kilometres, and found similar results." That again is not entirely true. The odds ratio for all leukemias in children living within 5 km of a nuclear plant was found to be 1.76, meaning they had 1.76 times the odds of developing leukemia compared to the control group, children living more than 70 kilometres from a nuclear plant. When you move further away to be 5 to less than 10 km away, the odds ratio is 1.26. For those living 50 to less than 70 km away from the plant, the odds ratio is 1.03 and not significant, meaning there is no statistical proof that they have any higher odds of developing leukemia than those living more than 70km away. As the odds ratio steadily declined the further one got from the nuclear plant, I'm not sure how Dr. Iskenius is justified in stating that the study found similar results in children living downwind from the plants. Peace River falls roughly 40 km from Lac Cardinal, meaning that the figures quoted in the paper (120% more likely to develop leukemia, and 60% more likely to develop other forms of cancer) cannot necessarily be extrapolated to our situation. Grimshaw would be of somewhat greater concern given its proximity to the proposed plant, but it still falls outside of the most dangerous range that has shown up in studies.

Having said all this, I wish not to argue in favor or against nuclear power. I simply do not know enough about the pros and cons to make a reasoned stance (and in case you're wondering, I do have 2 young children). Let us not forget too that Alberta's main means of producing energy, oil sands, is not exactly spic and span on the environmental or health front. A Fort MacMurray physician reported in 2006 that he felt that leukemia, lymphomas, lupus, and autoimmune diseases were abnormally high in Fort Chipewyan, a fact he attributed to oil sands production. The oil sands use more water every year than the entire city of Calgary. They are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. So maybe we just need to forgot about environmentally damaging and health-risking energy sources and focus on longer term goals, like reducing our energy requirements by using less in the first place, and expanding the use of renewable energy sources.

All I know for sure is that when dealing with as complex an issue as nuclear energy, one needs to have a proper foundation on which to base his/her stance. So don't take things at face value. Take the time to investigate for yourself. Because at the end of the day, if a position is based on false pretenses, it is that much harder to defend.


Tony Nickonchuk
Peace River, AB

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

We actually agree on something

Stephen Harper and I actually agree on something: the current turmoil in the stock market really only presents some great buying opportunities for those of us who have the time to ride out the volatility. I said previously that when stocks are low is when you should load up on bargains, but I also said that for those who were close to retirement or in retirement, that this would not be a great situation because much of their nest egg has been destroyed.

But never would I go on national television during a federal election in which I was quickly losing ground to my opponents and say the following to Peter Mansbridge, one of Canada's most respected newsanchors:

Harper: "The market will sort itself out. I suspect some good buying opportunities are opening up with some of the panic we've seen in the stock market in the last few days."

Mansbridge: "Do you really want to be heard saying that? Are you suggesting people should be buying?"

Harper: "I..I...I....just happened to attend a business luncheon where a number of businessmen said exactly the same to me. We always know that when stock markets go up people end up buying things that are overpriced and then when the stock markets go down people end up passing on a lot of things that are underpriced."

Brilliant, Steve-O! Your main opponents have been pounding away on you that you are out of touch with average Canadians, that you lack empathy and an ability to connect with the average voter, and you pull out that show stopper. Terrific. I mean, it is not that there was anything factually incorrect with what you said. In fact, for once, you were telling the truth. But, ouch, what a bad time to pull that one out.

The Liberals and NDP leaped all over that one. Stephane Dion said "Rather than acknowledging the fear and hurt being felt by Canadians, Stephen Harper said yesterday that he saw buying opportunities in the stock market. He is completely out of touch with the impact the current economic turmoil is having on the lives of everyday Canadians."

Way to dish it up on a silver platter buddy. Keep it coming! I love this stuff.

(The above quotes were taken from the audio podcast version of Politics with Don Newman on CBC. Yes, I am a nerd. I listen to this on podcast every evening.)

It really is that sad

I always heard the stories from parents about how impossible it is to get through Robert Munsch's classic book "I'll Love You Forever". I thought, "Can it really be that bad?"'s.......that.......bad.

I was sitting in the quiet room with Sacha during church last Sunday. He likes to go in there and stretch his legs a bit and play with the toys. He wanted me to read aforementioned book to him, which he shortly became bored with. I continued to read it though.

I didn't make it to the third page and already my eyes were welling up. When the kid got older, my vision started to get a little fuzzy due to the tear monsoon filling my eyes. And then they show the kid packing up his stuff into a moving van. Are you kidding me? That's like torture for a softy parent. I totally lost it. I was done, finito, kaput. A complete mess. Couldn't finish it.

Now I understand what my mother always said about that book. It makes you cry so readily, but yet, you feel drawn to read it, just to experience again and again the intangible joy of raising children. Have you had a similar experience with that book? Feel free to tell your story.

Party platforms

I always find it helpful to get a point form comparison of the various party platforms in any election. You can find a good one here.

Hope it helps you make up your mind.

(I must say this is the first time since I turned 18 that I'm truly uncertain of how I will vote.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What to watch?

Oh what shall I watch tomorrow? Sarah Palin do a face plant on national television or a debate among leaders that will actually impact my vote on October 14? Although I cannot vote in the American election I do think it impacts me and watching Sarah Palin speak is funnier than a night at Yuk-Yuks. She is really clueless. Her only response when asked how her experience as governor of Alaska gave her an appreciation for foreign diplomacy was that you can see Russia from some points of Alaska. Brilliant.

I think though I'll settle for the debate. Oh wait, it's on during bedtime. Fanfreakintastic. No political junkie fix for me. Just toddler stall tactics.

But for now I can have fun with seat predictions! In the last few elections, Election Prediction Project has creamed other prediction methods and all the pollsters. In 2006, he only got 12 seats wrong! Sick. Another great one is the UBC Election Stock Market where people actually buy stocks in different party parameters and the activity in each parameter determines the prediction. They were a close second in 2006, getting only 14 seats wrong. DemocraticSpace was also excellent at only 18 seats wrong. They have a very detailed riding-by-riding projection that totally rocks. They all creamed all the pollsters, so pay no heed to the talking heads. It will be interesting to watch how the predictions unfold over the next two weeks. I will be watching the above three sites closely. I know you won't, but I can dream.

Just for funsies, here is a comparison of current predictions.

Numbers will be provided for each in following order: Election Prediction Project, UBC ESM, Democratic Space
CPC=142, 142, 142
LPC=90, 78, 82
BQ=46, 41, 47
NDP=28, 43, 35
IND=2, 4, 2

Very interesting. I will provide updates once in awhile and especially the last day before polls close. Cool. Good clean fun.

Emotions in investing

The current volatile market has a lot of investors running scared, particularly those who are going to be needing their retirement investments soon. This article is not for those people, but for those who have the luxury of time, that being 10 years or more, before they will have to access their funds.

Right now a lot of investors are selling all their stock holdings and buying cash and bonds, "safe" investments. But let's look at a previous downturn in the stock market and see what would happen if you did the opposite: when times get rough, load up on cheap stocks and watch them climb.

As a disclaimer, I'm no expert in financial advice, I only read a lot on the subject. But if you look at the data, buying high and selling low is a surefire way to lose money. If you continue to make your regular contributions to your retirement portfolio, rebalancing your asset allocation slightly if it helps you sleep at night, you will benefit from something called dollar-cost averaging. That is if you bought 1000 shares of a stock once when it was $10 and it rose to $12 a year later, you would have made $2000. However, if you bought 500 shares once when it was $10, 500 more 6 months later when it had plummeted to $5, and then watched it rise again to $12 you would have made $4500. So even though you bought during a rough period, you benefitted. Basically if you continuously contribute to your RRSP, sometimes you'll buy high, sometimes low, but overtime you'll average out in the middle.

So let us say you bought $10000 worth of the S&P/TSX 60 Index in Mar 2001. (This index basically buys stocks in the 60 top companies in Canada by market capitalization [number of shares X cost per share]). It was selling for roughly $10 a share so you would have purchased roughly 1000 shares. September 11 rolls along and a year later it is sitting somewhere in the realm of $8 a share. You panic and sell all your shares. Congratulations, you just lost $2000.

If you did not panic and simply let your investment sit, you would be sitting with 1000 shares worth $17.97 each, a tidy gain of $7970, or a percentage increase of 79.7%. Pretty nice.

Consider the alternative. You buy $5000 worth in Mar 2001, giving you 500 shares. When it dips to its lowest point, you double your investment and buy $5000 more, giving you 625 more shares. So now, present day, you have 1125 shares at $17.97 each, for a total of $20216.25, a gain of $10 216.25, $2246.25 more than if you bought it all at the start, and a total gain of 102%! So you see, a little risk taking pays off.

Think of it this way. You normally go through 1kg of coffee every 2 weeks, so if you buy extra it's not like it will go bad on you. You regularly pay $7 for one can. Along comes a sale at your favorite local store and it is selling for $4.96. What do you do? Well, the way the economy is headed, I'd take my current can to my neighbor, sell it to him for $4.96, even though I paid $7 for it, and suffer through the epic caffeine withdrawal, waiting for it to crawl back up to $7 so I can buy another can.

Come again?

If you were a raving caffeine addict like me you'd go out and buy two cans, because you know darn well next week it will be on for $7 again. And considering you would have to purchase the coffee soon anyway, you just saved yourself $4.08.

Now of course, if I don't purchase that coffee it's not like my next 30 years of retirement are ruined, so of course the analogy is not perfect. But like I've said, if you've got time on your hands, turn the contrarian side of your cerebrum on and start loading up on the cheap stuff.