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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Alberta's Dirty Little Secret

Time once again to rant about Boom Alberta. Or is it really booming? Well, it is, but methinks we are all in a leaky boat. A friend in investment told me this week that he knows numerous people who have gone from multi-millionnaire to ground zero this past summer. People who committed to vast building projects are facing skyrocketing labour costs and delays that they simply can't afford. Excessive greed has caught up with many too. There are those who exercised options on stocks that are now worth far less than when they were exercised.

The oilfield services companies are ailing, as drilling activity is down. Natural gas companies are also in trouble, as prices have fallen. And this seems to be happening in isolation to the sub-prime market nightmares that have been playing out down south over the past few weeks. Although we may yet see similar fall-out to the 1200 GM jobs that were lost in Oshawa today. One thing is sure - if Big Brother America sneezes, guess who starts taking Cold FX immediately.

So something is rotten in the state of Denmark, er, I mean Alberta. But labour shortages still abound and are getting worse. Try driving through KFC or Harveys (I did, and got no service whatsoever). Help wanted signs are all around - Chicken on the Way is paying $15/hour.

The non-profit sector is especially hard hit. Never the best payers, they now cannot find people to fill some roles, and the turnover rate is staggering - 70% in some programs. Programs are closing due to lack of staff. Of course, clients of these agencies bear the brunt of this crisis, and they are often the most vulnerable in our society - the disabled, the addicted, women and children living in abusive situations. Many have come together to form the Who Cares? initiative, to try and bring awareness to government and community about the present crisis. Many more are too small and too busy to get involved in the initiative. The province, and the City for that matter, seem to be focused solely on physical infrastructure, and have completely forgotten that the social infrastructure is crumbling all around them.

Will government listen? I'm not at all confident. The Alberta PC party is in its own crisis, and is trying to figure out when best to call an election.

I think the longer they leave it, the more a sea change in Alberta politics may yet occur.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Other 300

We've all heard of The 300 - the funky new movie that profiled the Battle of Thermopylae and the 300 vastly outnumbered Spartans who fought against the Persians, allegedly numbering over 1 million. (Who was counting, she asks vaguely?)

There is another 300, though, named in honour of these original 300. It is an interesting little group, and actually only numbers 149 as yet. They are the donors to the MPrize of the Methuselah Foundation, which supports research to repair and reverse the damage of aging. In short, they are looking for immortality. They have an interesting spokesman in the person of Aubrey de Grey. Dr. de Grey was educated at Cambridge, and was the topic of a fascinating documentary called Do You Want to Live Forever? Seems he received his BA in Computer Science in 1985, and then started to research the biology of aging. He was given a PhD by Cambridge under "special circumstances" (which requires evidence of "...a significant contribution to scholarship", but does not require a student to either attend classes, perform experiments, or be examined on a research derived dissertation.) Seems his book, The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging was enough for Cambridge. Hmmm.

While perusing the Methuselah Foundation website, I took a look at their donor page (as any good fundraiser would), to get to know these 300. I was astonished to find that my tax dollars have been freely given to the Foundation! It seems the Alberta government wants us to live forever - an intriguing solution to our current labour shortage. Here are the Alberta donors I found:

Law Society of Alberta ($50)
Calgary donors ($20)
Alberta Transhumanist Foundation ($79.33)
UofA PhD student ($25,180 pledged - $3423 donated)
UofA Post-Grad Studies ($854)
UofA Office of Research ($4696)
UofA Faculty of Science ($854)
Canadian Institutes of Health Research ($4269)
AB Advanced Education and Technology ($1707)
AB Health and Wellness ($8539)
AB Heritage Fdn ($6724)

Do I want to live forever? Well, I don't. But we are already living much longer than our ancestors, so why can't we extend a healthy life span even further? Healthy is the key word. And who is researching the potential societal implications of this possibility? No one, as usual. If scientists think they can do it, they feel justified in doing it. They really do need a niggly social scientist at their side asking the hard questions, like Why? For whom? What now? and What do we do when...?

Oh, and while we are on the numbers, this is Bast's 100th post. Hoo-rah!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Great Purge

Well, I disappeared there for awhile again, didn't I? Seems to be happening a fair bit lately, but I did have a good excuse. I have been winding down, relaxing and generally trying the get my (*^*##& together over the past month. Part of that meant trying to lighten up - my soul, my spirit, but in particular, my stuff. I have a ton of stuff. And I have been gently but firmly trying to get rid of vast amounts of it. So bags of clothes, books, and paper (ah, the ever-fecund paper strikes again!) have left the apartment. Even old computer equipment has been appropriately recycled.

I do feel lighter, but am still shocked at the sheer amount of stuff that remains. We humans - especially in the Western world - love our stuff. We have TV shows explaining how we can rid of all our cluttery, buggery stuff. We can even hire people to come into our homes and get rid of and organize our stuff, if we simply can't face it ourselves. And still new stuff comes in through the front door every week. And so the cycle of consumerism and capitalism is complete.

I am going to try and be more conscious of my purchases over the next little while. Do I really need it? What am I going to do with it? Why do I really crave it? Maybe that will stem the tide of stuff that appears.

And continue the purge, I must continue the purge....