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View Diary: Will Canadian oil sands save the USA? (84 comments)

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  •  Oil culture (4.00)
    Of course, as a Canadian, I am beginning to reap some advantage from the increasing viability of oil-sands operations. At the same time, it's not clear to me that this is necessarily a good thing.

    But one comment I'd like to make: I find it interesting how oil revenues tend to warp the culture where they're produced. Alberta has a political and social culture which is almost alien to the rest of the country. It sees itself as the one useful province, constantly being held down by the central government. It shares relatively little of its wealth (yes, it is a net contributor to the country in revenue transfers, but it keeps much to itself), so that it has neither a sales tax, nor even the likelihood of running any kind of deficit. In fact, it has built up all kinds of trusts out of the decades long boom it's enjoyed.

    To be sure, in earlier days it was treated as a backwards colonial outpost, with resources stripped and wealth returned Ontario and Quebec. They do have a legitimate historical grievance, one which helped shape their antipathy to the National Energy Policy under Trudeau, and which fuels their ongoing distrust of Ottawa politicians. They routinely elect nearly full slates of Conservative politicians, while no other region in the country returns even a small majority.

    (Getting to the point!)

    But if it doesn't so much resemble Saskatchewan or Britsh Columbia in temperament and culture, there is one place it seems strikingly akin--Texas. This includes love of cowboys, love of oil, love of everything big and love of rightwing politics and even some evangelical fundamentalism (though much less a factor). Why? I mean, they were both frontiers of sorts 150 years ago, but the cultural heritage is strikingly different.

    This is not a seriously researched view, obviously, but it has often struck me that oil has had a more profound impact on culture than meets the eye, and the Alberta-Texas similarities seem to attest to that.

    (And I know, Alberta isn't much like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, so there goes my theory, right? Well, I don't mean anything that broad, I guess I just find some of the similarities between Alberta and Texas too weird.)

    "...there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.

    by thingamabob on Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 06:02:21 AM PST

    •  Good points (4.00)
      One thing to keep in mind is that when they first found oil in Alberta, a whole posse of Texans hopped on their horses to help set thing up.  This probably explains some of the similarities.

      I think human nature (greed) also plays a part on the political side.  If you have something valuable that others don't, your politics naturally shift to protecting what's 'yours'.  If you look at the Saudi political realities, this makes them more like Texans and Albertans than you might first think.  This does not explain Chavez in any way shape or form, which makes him quite a unique individual, IMO.

      Now, how do you explain how poorly those Albertans drive???  I still can't figure that one out.

      •  asdf (none)
        Not only did the Texans help set things up, Calgary urban planners hired a bunch of Houston architects to help make all the new buildings popping up look more like Houston buildings.

        As a point of interest, when Calgary sprung almost fully formed out of the prairies in the seventies, it had the unusual distinction of being a very modern, impressive looking city with a skyline that wasn't immediately recognizable to other people. So it starred as Metropolis in the Superman movies.

        As for how Albertans drive, I gotta tell you, that problem plagued me the whole time I was there. My question was always, why can't people in Alberta drive like people in Toronto? More than one of my friends when I lived in Calgary has heard me muttering: "Okay, it's time to show these slowpokes how we drive in Toronto..." usually resulting in a brilliant Toronto-esque squeeze-by only to land me thicker and deeper in the Calgary traffic mud... It was a humbling experience all around.
        I think the essential difference is that when a Torontonian sees a sign that says "Maximum 50" we understand that to mean that we can drive as fast as 70 without getting a ticket. But when an Albertan sees a sign that says "Maximum 50" they seem to think it means "Maximum 50." I'll never understand it.  :)

        Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people... it is true that most stupid people are conservative - John Stuart Mill

        by Sarkasba on Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 07:04:47 AM PST

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        •  speed limit exceptions (none)
          The driving in the city is like that, but the main highway between Calgary and Edmonton is very laissez faire.  Officially at 110 km/h, I was pushing the limits of my 84 Toyota Tercel by getting to 130.  To my left a mountie passed me with no concern

          "now this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." W. Churchill

          by Thor Heyerdahl on Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 08:01:02 AM PST

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          •  Alberta drivers (none)
            Here in BC we have always made fun of Alberta drivers. I think it is because they mostly live where all roads are straight and flat, and when they get on the BC roads that are all very curvy and up and down they tend to creep along hugging the inside of the lane - at least that is the prevailing wisdom.
            As for oil and gas - northeastern BC is absolutely booming, too. The usually peaceful little town of Fort St. John is crazy - building and traffic and businesses everywhere.So we will get some of the trickle down effect.....
        •  Driving the speed limit.... (none)
          As a student from out of provience, driving in Calgary, I have to say that it is routine for most Calgarian drivers to drive 10 or more km over the speed limit, depending on the area, and faster on the interchanges. As to your point about deft application of speed, I see more ambulances and reports of accidents on the major interchanges than I care to remember. Slow down!
      •  Guilty consciences maybe? (none)
        I suspect part of the reason for the boasting and aggressive self-confidence that seems to come with oil is a lurking knowledge that the boaster is a bit of a hypocrite. The oil industry is hard work, sure. But there are a lot of places in Canada where hard work will get you nothing more than a bare living, or not even that. Behind all the bravado seems to be the uneasy recognition that oil wealth is not deserved; it's more like a lottery win. You didn't create it; you just suck it out. Hence the necessity to pretend that you're the only hard-working people in the world and anyone else who can't make a good living must be a lazy welfare bum.

        If there were a God, loudmouthed Albertans would be reincarnated on some dirt-poor native reservation in the north, or at least as Newfoundland fishermen or the like.

        But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

        by sagesource on Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 07:45:04 AM PST

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        •  If there were a God (none)
          Alberta would be struck back down to the dirt poor dustbowl that the rest of canada spent decades bailing out back in the mid 1900s. Strange how all these poor people with their hands out when they were disadvantaged are now bleating on about how much superior they are.

          I spent a good portion of my life living in alberta, and the only thing superior there is the levels of hubris. How quickly they forget even as recently as the 70s and 80s when the recession left 70% of the office buildings in Calgary unoccupied and even places like syncrude and suncor were laying people off left and right.

          --
          Plot your political compass scores at KosCompass

          by Hatamoto on Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 11:44:24 AM PST

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      •  it explains Chavez well (none)
        Remember, he's the one fighting the greedy shitbags. The only anomaly about him is how successful he's been so far. ¡Viva la revolución!

        -7.00,-7.74 No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices. -- Edward R Murrow

        by subtropolis on Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 07:54:23 AM PST

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    •  You've pointed out... (none)
      some parallels that are worth some thought, and I wonder how deep the similarities truly run. If your ideas grow into a full essay on the subject, I hope you post it as a diary, I'd be most interested in reading it.

      "We have too many high-sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them." Abigail Adams 1764

      by greeseyparrot on Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 06:40:14 AM PST

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      •  Well, if an essay is what you want (4.00)
        I suppose I would have to decide whether to focus somewhat more narrowly on specific Alberta/Texas parallels, or broadening things to include why the axis of influence in North America (not including Mexico, which I suspect is different, but which in any case I know nothing about) seems to run North/South and not East/West.

        Put it this way, I have noticed striking similarities, some based on topography and climate, others clearly not, which extend across the US/Canada border, but which often end at the state/province border in the west/east. For instance, there is a definite "west coast" culture which extends from central BC right down to Northern California. There is a "western mountain" culture which encompasses interior BC, western Alberta, Idaho, Utah, parts of Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, maybe Colorado. There is a "plains" culture which runs through Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Montana, Dakotas, Nebraska, Wyoming. A "midwest" culture which would probably include parts of Ontario, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Indiana. An "eastern" culture which runs from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to Detroit, Toronto, Montreal and back to NYC. And while Montreal is clearly French it has quite a lot in common with the eastern metropolises. Finally there is a "northern maritime" culture in New England and the Maritime provinces, and obviously a "southern" culture in the southern states.

        THIS is not the essay, but as I start thinking about this a little more it seems clear to me that there are cultural similarities worth investigating. Someone must surely have done so...? I'll try to find out.

        You might be waiting a long time for that essay...

        "...there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.

        by thingamabob on Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 07:09:39 AM PST

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        •  agreed, thingamabob (none)

          And many others feel the same way, that there's no real us-and-them difference between canucks and yanks that aren't made up for by regional similarities.

          Southern coastal Alaska/Northern BC are quite similar in attitude and lifestyle

          Our pocket of Northern Ontario is fairly similar to Northern Minnesota with the forestry, fishing, mining and shipping culture...and quiet Scandinavian reserve (or Indian reserves for that matter, heh); go further south in MN and it's more like Manitoba, a sunnier, bigger sky, prairie-farming attitude.

          What will survive of us is love

          by howth of murph on Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 08:26:43 AM PST

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        •  Vertical Strips, Eh? (none)

          May well be worth the wait. I look forward to reading the results of your extended efforts.

          Two suggestions:

          1. - A working analogy (which may or may not hold up but at least provides a framework) of painting a wall - a big wall. You and your friends start with a few buckets of paint at one edge of the wall. Some of you are on ladders, some underneath. Since you each have your own paint-mixing techniques the result is not seamless top-to-bottom, yet not all that different, either. The ingredients you started with were pretty much the same. But when you run out of paint, the next batch of ingredients has changed.

          The 'ingredients' in the case of your theory would include cultural characteristics of both new settlers and the then-existing to-be-unsettled (I didn't say it was a pretty story); events happening in the rest of the world; geography; technology and ingredient 'X' (which can differ for each vertical strip).

          Extend analogy until wall is painted, continent settled/conquered.

          2 - The other suggestion may at first glance seem less relevant. And that is to explore the Texas connection. One book that I would try to find is, "What Happened to the Southern Baptist Convention" by Grady C Cothen. The excerpts I've read online suggest that there were characteristics unique to Texas that allowed a small group of ultra-right-wing activists to gain a foothold and subsequently take over the U.S's largest protestant denomination. Some would say that this take-over served as the blue-print for the radical right; a blue-print that is still being followed.

          best

          john

          visit www.johnabney.com - songs, lyrics, recording, sound

          by jabney on Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 08:45:37 AM PST

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    •  Oil Wealth Does Hinder Democracy (none)
      See:

      Ross, Michael Lewin 1961- "Does Oil Hinder Democracy?"

      World Politics - Volume 53, Number 3, April 2001, pp. 325-361

      The Johns Hopkins University Press

      Abstract

      Some scholars suggest that the Middle East's oil wealth helps explain its failure to democratize. This article examines three aspects of this "oil impedes democracy" claim. First, is it true? Does oil have a consistently antidemocratic effect on states, once other factors are accounted for? Second, can this claim be generalized? Is it true only in the Middle East or elsewhere as well? Is it true for other types of mineral wealth and other types of commodity wealth or only for oil? Finally, if oil does have antidemocratic properties, what is the causal mechanism?

      The author uses pooled time-series cross-national data from 113 states between 1971 and 1997 to show that oil exports are strongly associated with authoritarian rule; that this effect is not limited to the Middle East; and that other types of mineral exports have a similar antidemocratic effect, while other types of commodity exports do not.

      The author also tests three explanations for this pattern: a "rentier effect," which suggests that resource-rich governments use low tax rates and patronage to dampen democratic pressures; a "repression effect," which holds that resource wealth enables governments to strengthen their internal security forces and hence repress popular movements; and a "modernization effect," which implies that growth that is based on the export of oil and minerals will fail to bring about the social and cultural changes that tend to produce democratic government. He finds at least limited support for all three effects.

      Sponge Bob, Mandrake, Cartoons. That's how your hard-core islamahomocommienazis work.

      by Benito on Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 08:59:10 AM PST

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