Jonathan Brun

Vélo Villeneuve in Montréal is overpriced

Earlier this year, I had to service my bike. Tire was crooked and I had not done a tune up in two years of intensive use. Not knowing better, I went to Vélo Villeneuve on Villeneuve and St. Urbain. The team there is very nice and quite knowledgeable, but very expensive.

They overcharge for both parts and labour. An inner tube change = 20 $, 7 $ at McWinnie’s; brake cable = 10$, 4$ at Yeti; 65 $ Tune-Up, 30 $ at Yeti; the list goes on.

I do not recommend these guys, unless, of course, you have money to burn.

Published on July 22, 2009

No transparency in Montreal

Municipal politics are messy. A number of scandals have rocked Montréal in the past year, overpriced water meters, lazy construction workers and sketchy land permits. All this amounts to corruption.

So, in their bureaucratic wisdom, the Quebec government commissioned a study on how to fix the problem. Their solution: a code of ethics. Bravo.

The simplest, quickest, and cheapest way to rid an organization of corruption is to increase transparency. The more eyes looking at it, the less likely someone will try and pull a quick one.

With the power of the internet, cities and governments are moving towards transparency. Obama is a leading, as usual, on this front, with and which lists where government contracts are going. Both Toronto and Vancouver have endorsed the concept of an ‘open-city’ where data and information is freely available to the citizens.

Where is Montreal on all this? Still in the woods. In a meeting with the city last year, I actually brought up the point that contaminated sites in Montreal are very difficult to locate – the city should list them on google maps (or something of the sort). The response I got was, “Why would we do that?”. The insular nature of our french island has put us 5 years behind on many technological fronts – government transparency being a major one.

Published on July 17, 2009

Alleviating Poverty through Markets

A June article in Harper’s magazine was fairly negative on the prospects of alleviating world hunger through the development of commodities market. Basically, the article outlines why markets do not work to alleviate poverty, citing examples such as the Irish Famine, Ethiopian famine and last summer’s spike in grain and other prices. The author is clearly coming from a socialist, markets can be ugly school. That does not mean he is incorrect, but I do think it contradicts the empirical evidence. There is very little starvation in economies with lubricated, but regulated, markets. If you are curious, the full article can be found here: Poverty Article

Since I have too much time on my hands, I wrote to the magazine and they published my letter along with a response from the author. Pick up this month’s Harper’s to see it (edited) on old fashion pulp and paper. Either way, Harper’s has some great articles and the subscription is a paltry 20$, I do recommend you check it out.

My response:
Last summer, I travelled to Ethiopia to speak with the people setting up the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange (ECX) and I can assure you that the goal of the program is not to encourage speculation. No one imagines an uneducated rural farmer becoming a sophisticated commodities trader. Currently, produce is mostly sold locally (within 10 kms of production) and is subject to huge fluctuations in supply and demand, as farmers in a region tend to produce the same produce, flooding a local market at harvest. In fact, a marketplace for agricultural commodities will in all likelihood help stabilize food prices compared to the huge variations currently seen in villages across Africa.
I encourage readers to consult Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin’s (the CEO of the ECX) TED talk where she explains the logic and purpose of the ECX. Also, the ECX will set-up numerous warehouses throughout the country to stock food – not a unique one in the capital as Mr. Frederick Kaufman claims. Currently, farmers are unable to reliably store food for future sale; they lack the knowledge and infrastructure to do so, unsold food rots and goes to waste. By delivering the produce to climate controlled warehouses, stocks will be built up – ensuring a consistent flow of food.
The Chicago Board of Exchange helped build the united states and the midwest into a world power – delivering cheaper and cheaper food to drive innovation in the cities that in turn helped the country prosper. Cheap, reliable sources of food is essential to the growth of a nation – and regulated markets are the best mechanism to deliver that food.
Markets are not the only solution to world hunger, but Mr. Kaufman is incorrect in his conclusion that they will not help alleviate it. Money can feed people and with farmers comprising 80% of Ethiopian population, it is high time they gain access to a stable and transparent market for their produce.

Published on July 16, 2009

One hour with a Jehova’s Witness

For a long time, I have been meaning to invite a Jehova’s witness in for coffee – they come by every Saturday. Today, I did. A nice man from the Okanagan valley named Dan. We spoke for 1 hour about various elements of his beliefs, my issues with religion and some crazy theories about Jesus I have been researching.

One thing that stood out was how little he knew of the bible. I am no expert, but I could certainly remember parts. Jehova’s witnesses are fundamentalists and crazier than I originally thought. They believe that the bible is the word of god and that it should be followed literally. From Wikipedia:

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that after the current world order is destroyed, righteous survivors and resurrected dead individuals will have the opportunity to live forever on a paradisaical earth, ruled by Christ and 144,000 people raised to heaven.

Despite this, we both agreed that parts of the bible are no longer relevant (stoning adulterers for example). Aditionally, Dan claims that since Jesus came to being, Mosaic law not longer needs to be followed in its entirerity. Instead, they extract a series of “principals” from the old testament that they follow in addition to rules set out in the new testament. I tried to get him to specify what they were or how they are chosen, he waffled like a professional politician. My guess, is these principals are determined by their “Elders Council” (see wikipedia). Slowly, and surely I tried to get him to contradict himself and poke a few cracks in his world view. As you might imagine, not much luck.

What is difficult to comprehend is how an apparently normal, fit person living in a modern liberal society can convince themselves of all this nonsense. When you abandon rational thinking, it is amazing what you can rationalize.

At the end of our discussion, I tried to give him a conflicting book (The God Delusion by Dawkins), which he refused. I don’t think I got through to him, but hopefully I planted a tiny little seed of doubt in his mind. He said he would stop by another weekend, so we shall see – only god knows.

Here is a recent ted talk from a former cult member who broke free and turned de-programmed:

Published on July 4, 2009

On Unions

Unions happen for a reason, to deny it is just ignorant. Unions usually form due to dissatisfaction with the employer, though local culture is very important. If you father/brother/mother were in a union and other nearby businesses are unionized, you are much more likely to get your card.

Some companies see their employees as tools to be worn to the bone – a sure fire way to mobilize workers into groups that can protect themselves. Treat others the same way you wish to be treated. Regardless of the reason of formation, unions are very bad for the individual and the company.

The best explantion I’ve heard of the negative aspects of unions was recently given by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, at a Wired conference. Unions create a two tiered work environment.

Part of the problem with Detroit, he [Elon Musk] says, is the union system. “It’s not out of the question to have unions, but if there’s going to be a union, they’d better understand that they’re on the same side as the company,” he added. “I’m against having a two-class system where you’ve got the workers and then the managers, sort of like nobles and peasants…

“Most of our experienced factory workers come from unionized environments, and we asked them what benefit did they see in unions,” he added. “They said, ‘Well, if their boss was an asshole, they had recourse.’

“I said, ‘Let’s make a rule: There will be no assholes.’ I fired someone for being an asshole. And I only had to do that once, actually.”

Not much to add, just no douches.

Published on July 2, 2009