Monday, June 25, 2007

Pellegrino Pipeline

Gasoline at the pumps seems to have permanently settled above the $1/litre mark and people are complaining that it's too expensive. I had a refreshing drink with a friend at Starbucks today when I realized that the small 250ml bottle of San Pellegrino water that he was drinking cost $2 and therefore $8/litre. My orange mocha came in at about $10/litre. Perhaps we should ask why gas is so cheap.

Petroleum powers our economies just as water and mocha powers our bodies. Because we need so much petroleum to fuel our transportation networks we have set up a very wide and efficient framework for getting the oil out of the ground, quickly to refineries and ultimately available as gas to pump into our cars. The economies of scale are so great that after all that work and distance we can deliver it to your gas tank for about one eighth the price of Pellegrino which is also extracted from the ground. It should also be noted that oil companies still make more profit than mineral water companies.

If there was significantly more demand for European mineral water then we would eventually set up pipelines from their sources in France or Italy, get it quickly into giant tankers and deliver it to pumping stations where you could fill up on Evian for a fraction of the price you would pay today. But no such demand exists to drive the building of such an efficient infrastructure to deliver mineral water.

There's another major difference between the two essential fluids. If we run out of Pellegrino we can drink tap water, well water or sip from a puddle in the forest. If we run low on gas then we're somewhat screwed because we've built these giant factories that continue to produce giant rolling machines that can run on gas and only gas. There is no substitute and a massive retrofit would be required for our economies to continue.

Because we demand cheap products we have come to rely on intricate networks to deliver essential goods from far away lands. This super-efficient system actually makes us more vulnerable to collapse. If the gasoline supply chain is disrupted then the entire economy could screech to a halt. Just as we have alternative power sources for our bodies we need to develop alternative power sources for our economies.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

This Week in Work

Consultant Fernando Flores often charges more than $1 million dollars to teach business executives how to say what they mean and mean what they say.

A famous ad executive said that the masses are not mindless and easily manipulated and that if they were he wouldn't have to work so hard; he'd just "call it in" from his mansion in Aruba. It's true that if his job was so easy he could "call it in" but he wouldn't be able to afford a mansion even in Albania, much less in Aruba. That's because if the job was that easy then anyone could be hired to do the work thus driving the wages down to the level of lesser paying positions. It's precisely because he possesses a unique set of skills that he is paid so much.

There are stories of welders moving from other parts of Canada to Alberta and earning as much as $30,000 a month working in the tar sands. This is due not to possessing a unique set of skills but ones that are in short supply.

Here in Ontario the provincial legislators have given themselves a raise to keep in step with their Federal counterparts. They still make less than they could in the private sector but many will make much more when they lose the next election and end up working as lobbyists.

Yes it's hard being a doctor in a universal health-care system. In his upcoming movie Sicko Michael Moore interviews a young English doctor who drives a new Audi and lives in a posh $1 million flat. The British system, the doc says, is fine for doctors--unless you want to live in a $3 million flat and own three or four cars.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

This Week in Authenticity

1. The Luminato Festival just wrapped up here in Toronto. It seemed to come out of nowhere to be something quite huge. I read a criticism of the festival in a major newspaper. The journalist wrote that the festival really wasn't authentic; that it seemed more an example of how a corporation would design an arts festival. He was of the opinion that Luminato was something that did not originate from natural artistic expression and was therefore inauthentic.

2. I heard an executive of the new Toronto FC soccer team describe how they wanted to create an authentic soccer experience for the fans of the new team. They decided to do this by copying most every obvious cultural marker of European soccer teams. The name, the uniform, the logo, as well as the songs that are song by the fans would all be quite at home in the English Premier League.

3. I heard a VJ say that the most important thing for young music fans is authenticity. She said that they can easily see through someone who is putting them on and only respect authentic artists.

4. I heard an advertising executive say that the most effective advertising is one that has an authentic message.

There is a lot of talk about authenticity lately. What does it all mean?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Greens Cleaning Up

People have a natural trust of others that are similar and a natural distrust of those that are dissimilar. It's an unfortunate reality that the message is often clouded by the impression that is made by the messenger. The typical environmental activist, as seen on TV, is a young shaggy male with unkempt hair and very casual clothing. He may even have body piercings. To the typical middle class voter he may as well be from another planet.

The suburban straights (905'ers as we call them in Toronto) may judge such a spokesperson to be an extremist simply because of the way they look and dress. They may glance at this young bearded man advocating green policies and think that he's clearly some kind of a freak and his views aren't to be taken seriously. The environmentalists should learn from the mistakes of the PLO.

Israel and the PLO have had a public relations war as much as a real war between them for decades. The PLO would often supply a spokesperson who would be sporting a heavy beard, wearing a scarf or head dress and speaking in a heavy accent that was utterly alien to the average middle American TV viewer. Israel would have a clean cut man wearing a nicely tailored suit and speaking in perfect English. Regardless of the words spoken and the arguments made, the PLO would lose the public relations war. It's not until they started using that nice American-educated woman that they started to make some headway.

Similarly, the environmentalists need to understand that as forceful, convincing and obvious as they consider their positions to be on global warming, they weren't really taken seriously by the average American until a friendly middle class clean-cut man in a nice suit presented them in a powerpoint presentation. The election of Elizabeth May as the leader of the Green Party in Canada was a major step towards mainstream acceptance. They will very likely make some real progress in the next election but I hope that they remember to hand out razors with their candidate playbooks. Maybe they can also clean up at the polls.