Sunday, May 25, 2008

For a variety of open wounds?

I just got back from a short trip to A&P. The A&P in downtown Kingston. I was buying some cheese. Mozzarella. When I looked up from the cheese display, I saw a number of crystalline formations in jars and small plastic containers. They were salt. Many varieties of salt. Sea salt to be precise. In big lumps. A salt grinder will probably be needed for most applications. I'm both fascinated and annoyed. Fascinated because I wonder about the different flavours that the salt could have (and wonder if they actually are all that different from each other). I'm similarly fascinated by anything that comes many varieties, such as tea, but perhaps excluding breakfast cereals. I'm annoyed because, while they have ten different types of sea salt, they only have one brand of peanut butter, besides store brand. It's not brand that I prefer. They have Kraft. I like Skippy. It used to be the one with the peanut on top. Now it's not. I still like it better, though [1].

I left the store and started walking home when I spotted a car that looked just like mine. A second's reflection revealed that it was mine. I'm glad to have noticed this, since I don't think this particular A&P takes kindly to people who leave their cars there [2]. There isn't much of a time savings to driving there, if any, so normally I walk. Tonight (or rather yesterday night, as it has taken me so long to write this post that it is now very early this morning), however I was driving an injured friend around, and stopped at A&P on my way home. Familiarity being a natural habitat of contempt, however, the memory that I had driven there had almost been replaced by routine. Thankfully I parked my car where I would see it. I'm not always so lucky.

[1] One time I bought a jar of Kraft, because it came in a big jar. A bigger jar than the biggest jar of Skippy. When I got home, I looked at the jar and realized that in my excitement to enjoy the benefits of cost of scale, I neglected to look even remotely carefully at the label. I still have it. It's yours free if you want it.

[2] It's probably the largest free parking lot in the downtown area. But it's only free to its customers. They've usually got a security guard on patrol to make sure that the people who use it also enter the store.

Permanent Gas Tax Vacation

Were it not for a certain friend, I'm not sure this blog would still be funct. While I do get feedback from various people here and there, she is the only one who actively encourages me to write. A few nights ago, I had some spare time that I should have been spending washing dishes, but didn't want to. I thought about writing something to this blog, but nothing came to mind. I mentioned this to my friend, who suggested I write on the gas tax holiday. I had seen this phrase bandied about on the internet, but I didn't know what it was despite a small effort to figure out what was meant. She filled me in. The idea is that taxes on gas would be lowered during the summer months when demand for gasoline is at its peak. I assume the purpose of lowering taxes would be to make summer vacations more affordable, because you can only enjoy vacation if you've driven your car really far away from home (just ask the people who come to your hometown for holidays). But having learned about this policy only at the moment at which it was suggested I blog about it, I didn't think I'd have anything more to offer than what had already been written by those who were following it more closely, so I asked her what she wanted me to write. She suggested I write a Canadian perspective on the issue. I still didn't think that I had much to offer, other than the fact that I am a Canadian offering my perspective. Here is what I concluded: it doesn't seem like a good idea. I can't say precisely why. Or even approximately. Of course, everyone likes to pay less for anything, and lowering taxes is one way to acheive that, though I'm not sure that it effective it would be in the long run. Our Prime Minister doesn't think it would be (and that, my friends, is what makes it a Canadian perspective. The Canadian government told us so). It just doesn't strike me as good policy. My opinion on the matter seems to agree with that of actual economists (I guess that includes the Prime Minister, since he has a master's degree in economics), so I'll leave it up to them to justify my mine.

Besides, if you actually convert gallons to litres, and American currency to Canadian currency (or vice versa), and then dig deeper [1] to see why the prices are so different, you would see that the greatest source of the discrepancy is the amount of taxes that Canadians pay on gasoline. So compared to Canada, every day is a gas tax holiday in the US.

Meanwhile, as American presidential candidates discuss lowering gas taxes, one provincial government and at least one Canadian prime-ministerial hopeful is proposing just the opposite. Starting July 1, British Columbians will be paying 2.4 cents extra per litre on a myriad of fossil fuels, which will gradually increase to 7.2 cents in 2012. Stephane Dion says he's going to propose the same type of policy federally. Dion says a lot of things though. The gas tax is supposed to be revenue neutral in both jurisdictions, so that as taxes on gas are increasing, income taxes will decrease and, on average, the governments collect the same amount of taxes per person, but with a heavier burden being paid by heavier carbon consumers. While the Liberals of BC and of Canada want to tax consumers directly, the federal New Democrat and Conservative Parties are proposing to tax corporations instead. It doesn't surprise me to hear this from the NDP. They (or perhaps it's their supporters) have hardly been shy about their anti-corporate sentiment in the past. I'm not sure why the Conservative Party would go this route, though. I guess they can't copy their competitors, even though a revenue neutral gas tax seems more consistent with their rhetoric of free-market solutions to carbon emissions. Not only that, but it would be inconsistent with their 2% lowering of the GST (why reduce one kind of sales [2] tax only to hit us with another?).

Presumably, paying more tax on gas would lead consumers to use less of it. Or want to. We really don't like to pay taxes, and despite the convenience offered to us by automobiles and home heating and cooling, we don't like paying for gas. Paying taxes on gas just multiplies the unpleasantness. The desire to pay less for gasoline would then lead to a demand for products that use less gas, which would ultimately lead to the evil corporations producing such products. At least that's how I understand it. Of course, it is possible that taxing corporations would have the same net effect, except that it's easier for corporations to get around such measures (a little tidbit I picked up from an econ grad student earlier today). There are probably many factors at play here, and I can think of a few other things that might be relevant, but I'm an armchair economist at best [3] so I'll keep my analysis short. There may be some resulting unintended consequence to higher taxes on fossil fuel in exchange for lower income taxes, but based on the expert opinions I've heard over the last few years on taxation in general, the Liberal policy makes more sense [4].

Perhaps I'm just being selfish, however. I own a car, but I don't drive it much, and now that I'm not a student anymore, I'm no longer protected by the government from paying income tax. Under Dion's plan, I could stand to gain.

[1] These days, a breakdown of the price per litre is given on the receipt or displayed on the gas pump at many gas stations, so you don't need to dig that deep.

[2] Technically speaking either the GST or the gas tax, or both, might not be sales taxes, but rather a value added tax and a Pigovian tax respectively. Taxes are complicated.

[3] Really. I'm sitting in an armchair as I write this.

[4] First I endorse an NDP MP's plan to abolish the penny. Now I endorse a Liberal tax policy. Have I changed my political persuasions? Doubtful that it's me who has changed.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Beer Notes

A while ago, I was at the Kingston Brewing Company with a few friends. It's actually a restaurant, and, as the name of the place suggests, they themselves brew most of the beer they sell. So it's actually a brewpub, and since it's the only brewpub in town, it's The Brewpub. Normally I opt for one of their regular self-brewed offerings. If I'm there long enough to order a second pint or pitcher, I might try one of the "brewer's whims". They aren't as whimsical as the label might suggest, since most of them seem to be seasonal offerings, connected with some local event, like Queen's Homecoming, Kingston Blues Fest, First Capital Day, or Winter. Whimsical or not, though, they're usually tasty. Not everything they sell is their own. You can get Guinness, and a number of lesser-made brews, mostly from Ontario and Quebec breweries that haven't yet been bought by Molsons or Labatts. If I'm in the mood for variety, but none of their whims are sufficiently appealing (or sufficiently existing), I might go for one of these non-brewpub brews. This was the case the last time I was there. One of the beers that they had was a Coffee Porter from Toronto's Mill Street Brewery. The owner (or co-owner) of the Neustadt Springs Brewery had suggested this one to me a couple years ago when they were still selling their beer on site. So I was curious and I finally had an opportunity to try it without making too much of a financial commitment. I was also cautious. While I enjoy both beer and coffee, I wasn't sure that I would enjoy both together. So I only ordered a half pint. I'm not enough of a beer connoisseur to know when a beer is malty, hoppy, or has overtones of anything, so I don't have anything to offer in that regard. All I can say is that I should have asked, "Does it come in quarter pints?" After my first mouthful, I wondered whether I was going to be able to finish the remaining 221.8ml.

A couple years ago, Creemore Springs, one of Ontario's bigger micro-breweries was bought out by Molson. I thought to myself, and probably said to a few people, that I should drink as much of their flagship lager as possible before Molson ruins it. It was a cynical comment, and perhaps premature. When the takeover took place, customers were assured that Creemore Springs would still operate independently, and so there did remain some hope, albeit guarded, that the quality of the beer wouldn't change. A few weeks ago, I had some again, probably the first time since last August. Now it may be all in my mind, but this time it tasted like I was right to drink as much as I could immediately after the buyout. There may be other factors at play. Perhaps they were at the tail end of a keg, so I wasn't drinking their product in its best form. Maybe the onion rings I was eating just before changed the way that beer tasted. It's still not bad, mind you. It just seems that it's not quite as good as it used to be.

This past Tuesday, I went out to the Iron Duke, a new bar in an old location, with a friend for drinks. He was pretty excited for something he called Beau's organic. (Searching for "Beau's organic" on google, however, won't get you very far. The actual name of the beer is Beau's Lug-Tread.) He arrived before I did and had already ordered the beer by the time I got there. The beers that I like tend to be hard to see through. When the pint was poured, I saw that this one wasn't, so I was sceptical that I would like it. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by how good it tasted (again, I lack the expertise to accurately describe what made it taste so good to me). I was also surprised by the spelling of the name, and the size of the bottle that it came in. Only having heard the name, I thought it would be spelt Bows, or perhaps Bose. And the container? It's a behemoth 3.78 L [1] brown bottle with a $4.00 deposit, certainly a sight to behold. Though, at least at this pub, it was not a bottle to be held and taken home. My friend offered the waiter the $4.00 deposit to keep the jug, and then $10. The bribe was not enough, and he went home jugless. You can get it at the liquor store (Though possibly not at the beer store. Ontario liquor laws, you are awesome!), but only in 1.89 L [2] bottles. Questions of spelling and containment aside, though, I would recommend trying this before it gets bought by Molson.

The Iron Duke also deep fries a mean sweet potato fry. Normally I don't like sweet potato fries, but I couldn't stop eating these.

[1] Or 1 American gallon. Canada's conversion to metric has gone swimmingly, don't you think?

[2] Or 0.5 American gallon. Or 2 pints. Once again. Way to go metric conversion.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Penny Problems

Last weekend, I went home. While there, my sister told me that, unlike me, she likes the penny. I didn't think to ask her why. While this disappoints me, it does provide me with a solution to two problems. First, I know what to get her for her birthday. Second, I know what to do with all of my pennies.

Since my most recent post on the matter, I've read a few more things here and there about the potential discontinuation of the penny. I don't feel like looking them up, so there will be many links. There may be no facts as well. In any case, here we go. CTV did one of their online polls, and there was a majority in favour getting rid of it. Some bank type group thinks we should have gotten rid of it long time ago. They suggest we get consider ditching the nickel too (though, according to them, that would mean ditching the quarter and adding a 20 cent coin (a quinter?)). Colby Cosh seems to advocate getting doing away with it, but thinks the reverse of the coin is a fine piece of art (though not botanically correct). I visited Pat Martin's website just now to see what progress the legislation has made. Here's the latest on the topic. It says nothing about the progress, and little about the details.

It's seems pretty clear that, based on the information available, the penny is not all that useful. There are only a couple of reasons for keeping, aside from tradition, which shouldn't have much currency when making decisions about something whose only purpose is to serve as a tangible symbol for how much money you have. Firstly, I agree with Cosh that it would be a shame to throw the artwork out with the coin. Not only that, but the penny does do the most to add some colour to a pile of change. The yellowish colour of loonie and the centre of the toonie just doesn't cut through the silvery colour of the more common coins like the copper of the penny. Now it's unlikely that we'll do away with the nickel just yet, even though that is advocated by the banky types. But let's face it. The beaver's not all it's cracked up to be. Supposedly the beaver is a national symbol in Canada because of it's industriousness, or some such thing. I think if you dig deeper, you'll find that's a crock (it might be the case the the beaver is particularly industrious, but the reason it became a national symbol is not quite so noble if Will Ferguson can be trusted). In truth it's just a rather large smelly buck toothed rodent with only one marketable skill. The beaver's right behind the pig in the make-up line, and ugly or not, at least we can eat the pig. When's the last time you needed a dam built at the level of sophistication that a beaver can provide? Never. That's when. So I propose that we stop embarrassing ourselves by lionizing the glorified rat, ditch the penny, make the nickel out of copper, and replace the beaver with the maple leaf that currently adorns the penny. Problem solved.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Farewell and Good Riddance

In what seems to be turning into something of a hobby, I moved again about a week ago today [1]. An essential part of this hobby is that I underestimate both the time and number of boxes it will take to pack. (It would be quite brilliant, really, if I did this on purpose, since what happens is that the helpers end up doing most of the heavy lifting while I scurry around frantically trying to cram as much random stuff into a shortage of boxes. I'm not so cunning, however.) One of my friends who helped me move had borrowed a pick-up truck from a relative which was returned before I was completely packed. This didn't matter much since I couldn't move the last three boxes worth of stuff without the last three boxes to put the stuff in. Not only that, but I didn't have time to clean up the place either.

So I planned on going back the next day. I managed to injure my foot the next morning on something that was hard, sharp, and not properly unpacked [2]. It wasn't a life threatening injury, but it was severe enough that I thought it in my best interests to head down to the emergency room. (The last time I went to the emergency room was when I was 8. I fell down a waterfall and needed stitches on my knee.) Plus it was on my toe. Which is on my foot. Feet are gross, in my opinion, no matter how much you clean them, and experts agree that gross is a leading cause of infection. For all the waiting, the only thing the doctor told me that I might not have done otherwise was change my socks twice a day instead of the usual once.

It was quite the chore getting home that night, and, needless to say, I wasn't about to go to my old place and finish up packing and cleaning. It took five before I was feeling pain free enough to do the work, and so I spent this past Sunday afternoon completing my move.

For the most part, I was eager to move out of the place. That's not to say it was horrible. The landlord was really nice, and responded very quickly to any problems I brought to him, which is definitely a plus. The place was renovated during the summer before I moved in, so the apartment was in better condition than lots of other student housing (I know I'm not a student anymore, but some habits are hard to break), and the appliances were new, including (free) washer and dryer. It's really not a bad place, and I would recommend it to a friend with little hesitation. There were disadvantages, though, and for me, they were starting to outweigh the benefits. Among the worst things was that the neighbourhood lived up to its reputation. The main East-West street in downtown Kingston is Princess St. I lived north of it. Most students understand this part of Kingston to be rather sketchy, and with some exceptions, it's a place you avoid if you can. This wasn't my first time living in the dreaded territory, but this year seemed to be particularly bad. One morning not long after I had moved there, I walked past my car to see that most of the contents of my glove compartment had been emptied onto the seat. I didn't remember doing that myself, but I wasn't certain that I hadn't until I saw that the ashtray had also been taken out and left on the floor. Someone had entered my car while I was sleeping. A week or so later, the same thing happened. I don't think whoever it was made off with anything other than spare change. They even looked in the trunk where there was some stereo equipment that they could have stolen very easily if they wanted to, but didn't, so they probably didn't want anything more than spare change [3]. Within a week of moving out, I was awoken at about 2:00 in the morning to the sound of a door shutting and footsteps walking past my window (it was a basement apartment). Being in bed, I wasn't quite ready enough to run out and shout obscenities at the perpetrator, so I convinced myself that the noises I heard were that of one of my neighbours, and that I had nothing to worry about. The next morning, however, I checked my car, and sure enough, the ashtray was lying on the floor again. I can't find my cell phone charger, so they probably stole that too. Jokes on them, though, since it's broken. Some might say that it's my fault this happened so many times, since each time it happened, it was because I left my door unlocked. Though I'm pretty sure that leaving your door unlocked doesn't count as an invitation to hop on in and take spare change.

I thought that I had seen the last of that when I moved out. On the Sunday that I returned, the crime spree continued. This time, though, the criminals were bolder, committing their crime in broad daylight. After I had packed everything up and finished cleaning, I went out to move my car into the driveway. As I approached the car, I noticed that the stylized H that adorns the hood of most Hondas was no longer adorning the hood on mine. I had to pause for a moment to consider whether it had really gone missing while I was cleaning, or whether it had actually been gone for a long time and my mind was playing tricks on me. I wasn't sure. Later on, though, I went grocery shopping. When I came back to my car after buying groceries, the outline of the H was glaring at me, as if I was noticing it for the first time again. If the missing H seemed that out of place the second time I saw it that afternoon, then I'm pretty sure I would have noticed its absence if it had gone missing any sooner. In particular, I probably would have noticed it when I walked toward my car not long after arriving early that afternoon. It hadn't been a week since I was left that place, and already I'm glad to be gone.

I'm planning on buying a new car this weekend. Desired features include power door locks and hood ornaments that are not easy to remove. If you know of any, let me know.

[1] Which explains in part why it's been more than a fortnight since you've heard from me.

[2] I was hoping that I'd be able to blame my friends for leaving that hard metal thing where they did, but unfortunately, I was the one who put it there after they all left, so the only one I can blame is myself.

[3] Whoever it was wasn't very thorough. I never did bother to replenish my supply of spare change, but there is still enough for a coffee in one of the little compartments in the dash.