I'd made several attempts to say something intelligent about radio DJ pranks (something I know a little bit about) and guns (something fortunately I don't), but it all came out pretty lame. I think anyone who chuckled at the "I'm the Queen" prank (which first received a lot of the media's attention) was complicit in the shame felt by Jacintha Saldanha, and contributed to her committing suicide. These pranks go on all the time (think of April Fool's Day tomfooleries), but it's who they're played against that has to be considered. I'd hate to think that Mary Walsh will never again wave her sword in front of some political blowhard.
As for guns, I think this is important:
"As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms
of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact,
he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than
“individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection
of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community.
Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence
would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that
are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then,
guns give license to autocratic government."
OK back to what I'm supposed to be writing about. I argued in the last piece on lobsters that fishermen can/should play a more active role in marketing their product, essentially by working together to control the supply of lobster. This type of co-ordinated marketing is well described in an article about the big maple syrup heist in Quebec.
Quebec's culture/economic values are different. The Quebec farmer's union is much more powerful and aggressive than farm groups elsewhere, it's by far the biggest player in the highly regulated dairy industry (something that will probably prevent Quebec ever leaving Canada). There's generally a more "collectivist" approach on many fronts (in the arts, pension funds, etc.) And it turns out even in the maple syrup biz.
In $18 Million Theft, Victim Was a Canadian Maple Syrup Cartel
OTTAWA — It was an inside job of sorts.
Thieves with access to a warehouse and a careful plan loaded up trucks
and, over time, made off with $18 million of a valuable commodity.
The question is what was more unusual: that the commodity in question
was maple syrup, or that it came from something called the global
strategic maple syrup reserve, run by what amounts to a Canadian cartel.
On Tuesday, the police in Quebec arrested three men in
connection with the theft from the warehouse, which is southwest of
Quebec City. The authorities are searching for five others suspected of
being involved, and law enforcement agencies in other parts of Canada
and the United States are trying to recover some of the stolen syrup.
Both the size and the international scope of the theft underscore Quebec’s outsize position in the maple syrup industry.
Depending on the year, the province can produce more than
three-quarters of the world’s supply. And its marketing organization
appears to have taken some tips from the producers of another valuable
liquid commodity when it comes to exploiting market dominance.
“It’s like OPEC,” said Simon Trépanier, acting general manager of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.
“We’re not producing all the maple syrup in the world. But by producing
70 to 78 percent, we have the ability to adjust the quantity that is in
Since 1999, Quebec’s maple syrup industry has
used a marketing system found in other Canadian agricultural sectors,
particularly dairy and poultry.
Put simply, the supply
management system sets strict quotas for producers and, in the case of
maple syrup, requires them to sell their product through the federation.
The sap that becomes maple syrup after being boiled down often
flows for only a short period each spring. Weather changes can introduce
wild fluctuations in how much emerges from sugar maple trees.
To maintain stable and high prices, the federation stockpiles every drop
its members produce beyond their quota. During bad seasons, it dips
into that supply.
“In the States you have the strategic oil
reserve,” Mr. Trépanier said, continuing with his petroleum analogy.
“Mother Nature is not generous every year, so we have our own global
Mr. Trépanier estimates that the reserve now holds 46 million pounds of syrup.
The spring of 2011 produced so much maple syrup that the federation
added a third rented warehouse, in an industrial park alongside a busy
highway in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, to accommodate the overflow. The
surplus was pasteurized and packed into 16,000 drums, each holding 54
gallons, and left to rest except for inspections twice a year.
Lt. Guy Lapointe of the Sûreté du Québec, the police force that led the
investigation, said that the thieves rented another portion of the
warehouse for an unrelated business. That enabled them to drive large
trucks into the building.
“They were basically inside guys,”
Lieutenant Lapointe said. “The leader wasn’t with the federation, but he
had access to the warehouse that would not attract any suspicion.”
When no one else was around, Lieutenant Lapointe said, the thieves
gradually began emptying syrup barrels. Some Quebec news reports
indicated that they also filled some barrels with water to disguise the
Over time, the thieves helped themselves to six million
pounds of syrup. Mr. Trépanier said their work was discovered in July,
when inspectors found a few empty barrels. The full extent of the theft,
he said, became clear once the police arrived.
spared no resources. Lieutenant Lapointe said that about 300 people were
questioned and 40 search warrants executed. The Royal Canadian Mounted
Police and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement service
joined the investigation.
Like many thieves, the maple syrup
gang was faced with how to unload a large quantity of a commodity that
is not easily moved. But unlike most thieves, Lieutenant Lapointe said,
they found a way to get full price on the open market.
the investigation is continuing, Lieutenant Lapointe declined to
describe the resale process in detail. But he did say that the thieves
set themselves up as legitimate maple syrup dealers in neighboring New
Brunswick, a province with an open, if much smaller, maple syrup
industry. From there, they shipped the stolen syrup to buyers in that
province as well as in Ontario, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Whatever the arrangement, it was convincing. Lieutenant Lapointe said
investigators believed that the buyers were unaware of the syrup’s
The police have tracked down about two-thirds
of the stolen syrup and are trying to seize it, particularly a large
quantity in the United States, which is the largest buyer of Quebec’s
legitimate production. Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for Immigration and
Customs Enforcement, said the agency was investigating what happened to
the syrup after it slipped across the border.
It may be difficult to prove that syrup is stolen property, however.
“Maple syrup doesn’t have a bar code,” Lieutenant Lapointe said. “There’s no way to tell it apart.”
Although the stolen syrup was insured, Mr. Trépanier acknowledged that
some of the federation’s 7,400 members were not happy that it allowed
six million pounds of syrup to disappear.
displeasure of members, though, Pascal Thériault, professor of
agriculture at McGill University in Montreal, said the future of the
federation was secure. While the closed market system restricts the
ability of large, commercial syrup producers to expand, the federation’s
voting structure means that it is dominated by part-time producers,
many of whom are also dairy farmers. They have no interest, Mr.
Thériault said, in returning to an open market.
management systems for other agricultural products, like dairy and
poultry, have been protested unsuccessfully for decades by the United
States and other countries in trade negotiations.
latest theft was a record breaker, it was not the first significant
maple syrup theft in the province. In 2006, thieves took about $1.3
million from a stockpile that was the subject of an ownership dispute.
Lieutenant Lapointe said that investigation remained open.