29 March 2015

Liquid Gold

Canada is a commodity-driven economy, as any textbook will confirm. Vast swathes of land are firmly in the grip of extractive industries, and the country's wealth and fortune is intrinsically linked to the price these resources fetch on world markets.

The precious liquid comes in different grades, ranging from light and delicate to dark and sticky, as determined by strict guidelines. Applications vary, but all of the grades store an abundance of energy and can refine everyday staples that deliver precious power to humans.

It is no surprise, then, that the crude product and its derivatives are sought after around the world. Traditionally sold barrelled, it is easy shipped anywhere. Nonetheless, Canadians are very keen on a projected pipeline that would give its producers a direct conduit to the massive US market to the south - no surprise given how addicted the Americans are to the stuff. That pipeline project remains in limbo as the administration in Washington chews through its merits.

A blatant delay tactic from a country keen to protect its own inferior producers, fumes Canada. Not at all, retort the Yankees. They claim serious concerns about the environmental effects of Canada's production methods. Some tree huggers talk of nefarious long-term health impacts and wide-spread deforestation.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as my third visit to one of the production plants last week showed. Quite the contrary, the trees were very well cared for and the entire site sat harmoniously in a peaceful late winter landscape. Only a light smell in the air hinted at the sticky business going on in the boiling room.

Not being an experienced commodity trader myself, I had arrived in the assumption that I could fill up my personal reserves on the cheap at the site's very own factory store. But I was mistaken, for the spot price per liter sat far above the market price in Montréal. I had to content myself with the small samples offered directly off the production line.

The corruption and inequality associated with the resource curse notwithstanding, Canada is really fortunate to sit on such a green and renewable source of energy. The source of the liquid gold has become the quintessential symbol of the Great White North. Deeply grateful, in 1965 Canadians even put it on their flag. And I will now put it on my pancakes. Eat this, Greenpeace!

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08 March 2015

Non-compete clause

"You're essentially going to war with your body" she said. "And against your body, too." It didn't sound very appealing to me. But to many people, it does.

Not everybody takes it quite as far as she did, with Rugby, but an antagonistic or at least competitive element is a main driver in most sports. Whether it is ice hockey, running or indeed swimming, most athletes are motivated by a strong desire to beat others at it.

I am not most athletes. I never was, and it is only in conversation with the inherently competitive people around me that I realize that I am more the exception than the rule. When I swim, I am perfectly happy to just do lap upon lap at steady pace, with my mind wandering elsewhere. I have swum the same distance in the same time for years. She, in the lane next to me, is going through a complex routine of different sets, styles, speeds, and pauses. She gets better all the time.

When we run, I can only do so at one speed, and as the season progresses, I simply go a bit further every time. Each spring, I start back at the same place. What's that talk about interval training? "It's like a car engine", she tried. "Your endurance is simply the size of your tank. But if you do intervals, you increase the power of your engine!" That may well be true. But why would I want that? It's not as if I had my eyes on the next Olympics.

I swim, or run, simply because I like it. Conversely, exercise that is not inherently pleasurable seems unbelievably dull and pointless. Performing a gym routine is akin to brushing teeth: You are told to do it to prevent adverse long-term consequences, so you do. But it is not satisfactory in any way - not to mention that people look much sillier lifting weights than toothbrushes. And no dentist has ever told me to change up my brushing routine just as I started getting the hang of it.

The other day, I sat down for lunch with my new work colleagues, following a change in job I had recently managed to obtain. When asked to explain why I had sought this new role, I did not hesitate to articulate how I felt that, after three years in my last position, my learning curve had started to flatten out and I was looking for a fresh challenge. I am glad to have found it, and was eagerly outlining the many new projects I looked forward to working on. "Change and progress are always good", I suggested, firmly in a business mindset and not questioning my own statement for a moment.

My new team seemed to agree. "It's good that we managed to keep you in the company", said one. "Or did they make you sign a non-compete clause?" enquired another. They hadn't. And such clauses are mostly unenforceable anyways, which is why lucky departing employees get paid not to compete.

If only they did that for my athletic endeavors. I wouldn't have to worry about a job anymore at all.

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