The World’s Best Countries, 2018: Small is beautiful in a turbulent world

As traditional powers such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom struggle through another year of dysfunction, those looking for a better way of doing things would do well to look at some of the world’s smaller countries for inspiration. So suggests this year’s estimation of the world’s best countries.

This estimation is based on four popular indices of national performance: the UN’s Human Development Index, the International Institute for Management Development’s World Competitiveness Scoreboard, Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index, and Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The goal of this exercise is to identify which of the world’s countries could credibly claim to be the world’s best at providing a high standard of living in a safe and peaceful setting, while enjoying the benefits of a robust economy and the trust that others can be counted upon to be fair and honest.

Since each index assigns scores differently, I’ve standardized the scores by comparing each country to the best performer in each given index, with the best-performing country having a score of 100.

If one assumes the best country to be the one with all four scores closest to 100, then this year’s winner is a bit of a surprise: Austria. This small Alpine country of less than nine million people scored consistently very well, if not perfectly, right across the board, with all four scores being greater than eighty. Similarly strong performers included New Zealand, Iceland and Denmark. Canada finished a strong fifth.

Austria 95.3 87.3 86 84.3 84.3
New Zealand 96.2 83.9 91.9 100 83.9
Iceland 98.1 83.2 100 86.5 83.2
Denmark 97.5 96.4 81 98.9 81
Canada 97.2 94.3 79.9 92.1 79.9
Singapore 97.8 98.6 79.3 94.4 79.3
Japan 95.4 81.3 78.8 82 78.8
Ireland 98.4 92.1 78.7 83.1 78.7
Switzerland 99.1 97.1 77.9 95.5 77.9
Australia 98.5 87.1 76.4 86.5 76.4
Sweden 97.9 95 73 94.4 73
Finland 96.5 88.4 72.8 95.5 72.8
Norway 100 95.4 72.2 95.5 72.2
Germany 98.2 88.8 71.6 91 71.6
Portugal 88.9 76.2 83.2 70.8 70.8

If one looks instead at the average score, which favours those countries with the lowest overall deviation from a score of 100 even if there is a shortcoming in one area, then the order changes slightly. By that standard, Denmark can claim to have been the world’s best country in 2018, an honour it wouldn’t be claiming for the first time, but hampered slightly by a slightly weaker Global Peace Index score. New Zealand again claims the number-two spot, followed by… Singapore.

Singapore’s strong performance is an interesting case, in that it can at best be called an illiberal democracy: critics of the government can and do find themselves sued for defamation, and even use of the city-state’s Speakers’ Corner is carefully monitored. Yet it scored very well in human development, economic competitiveness and lack of corruption, and on par with Canada in terms of peace and safety. If you’re in the market for a system of government that runs things with a very firm hand, yet delivers results, Singapore sets the standard.

But don’t give up on liberal democracy just yet: the rest of the list is full of quite liberal places, with Canada finishing just a bit behind Switzerland and Iceland, and just ahead of Norway and Sweden. The Nordics are still very much on-the-ball when it comes to doing a good job of running a country.


Denmark 97.5 96.4 81 98.9 93.45
New Zealand 96.2 83.9 91.9 100 93
Singapore 97.8 98.6 79.3 94.4 92.525
Switzerland 99.1 97.1 77.9 95.5 92.4
Iceland 98.1 83.2 100 86.5 91.95
Canada 97.2 94.3 79.9 92.1 90.875
Norway 100 95.4 72.2 95.5 90.775
Sweden 97.9 95 73 94.4 90.075
Netherlands 97.7 97.5 69.6 92.1 89.225
Finland 96.5 88.4 72.8 95.5 88.3
Austria 95.3 87.3 86 84.3 88.225
Ireland 98.4 92.1 78.7 83.1 88.075
Germany 98.2 88.8 71.6 91 87.4
Australia 98.5 87.1 76.4 86.5 87.125
Japan 95.4 81.3 78.8 82 84.375


The year 2018 was a less happy one for traditional great powers. Based on the first measure further above, the United Kingdom finished 29th, France 30th and the United States 37th. The average score method used immediately above delivered happier results, with the U.K. at 16th place, the U.S. 19th, and France 24th. They could all use a little more of whatever it is Austria, Denmark and New Zealand have going for them; as could much of the rest of the world.


As AM empties out, FM is nearly full with no relief in sight

My first introduction to Winnipeg’s CKJS 810 came in high school when one of my classmates, either knowing it would appeal to my fondness for the absurd or in a failed bid to save my soul, handed me a leaflet promoting The Bob Larson Show. As I recall it, Larson performed on-air exorcisms and chattered away about Satan during a controversial, quasi-religious syndicated show that aired on CKJS starting at 11 p.m.

So, for a while, I would listen to 15 minutes or maybe a half-hour of Larson doing his weird late-night show until I lost interest after a while. Given that I remain about as religious as your average coffee pot, it hardly sold me on Larson’s quirky brand of Christianity, but it was mildly amusing all the same.

The times haven’t been kind to CKJS, whose schedule is a mix of ethnic and Christian programming. If the 43-year-old station ever had an impact on Winnipeg’s radio ratings, those days are long over. This week, parent company Dufferin Communications applied to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for permission to move CKJS from 810 AM to 92.7 FM for economic reasons:

While analyzed on its own, CKJS has been operating at a low PBIT margin, its role within the Winnipeg Cluster cannot be overstated. Dufferin is very concerned about it’s declining revenues year over year. The scenarios with and without approval, filed confidentially, clearly show the outcome stemming from this decision. Denial will keep CKJS on the downward trend, likely to become more aggravated when combined with rising operating costs and inflation. Approval on the other hand will ensure its incumbent status, reverse the trend and keep it modestly profitable as a key and integral part of the Winnipeg cluster.


At present, Dufferin leases several acres of land in order to operate the antenna array required to deliver the signal of CKJS. In contrast, single tower rents for FM services in the market are not nearly as expensive. Allowing Dufferin to operate CKJS on the FM frequency would result in an immediate decrease in costs, as well as ongoing savings into the future. These profits would then be used to ensure all three members of the Winnipeg Cluster can deliver high quality programming to the demographics they are intended to serve.

“The Winnipeg Cluster” refers to Dufferin’s other Winnipeg stations sharing CKJS’s Corydon Ave. studios, Hot 100.5 and Energy 106.

If the CKJS application is approved, the new 92.7 FM signal would originate from a Rogers Broadcasting-owned tower on St. Mary’s Road at a maximum power of 35,000 watts. The current 10,000-watt AM signal originates from a series of towers just off Waverley St. south of the Perimeter Highway.

The new signal would complicate the operations of Awaz 92.9, a very-low-power East Indian radio station operating, without a CRTC licence thanks to a regulatory loophole, “from the second floor of [owner Baldev Gill’s] Gill Taxi Meter and Radio shop on Selkirk Avenue.” Gill’s station would be forced to a new frequency both to prevent interference to 92.7 and to avoid being completely drowned out by the stronger signal.

Yet CKJS 92.7 might struggle with its own reception issues. If you tune your radio to 92.7 right now — especially in the south end of the city, close to where most of the high-powered 100,000-watt FM transmitters are located — you might not necessarily hear the calming hiss of dead air, but a cacophony of signal spillovers from other stations.

Some of this might come from 92.1 CITI FM, whose powerful signal throws off radio debris up to several FM frequencies away in both directions. The lower end of 92.7’s bandwidth is also nearly 10.6 MHz below the powerful Virgin Radio 103.1 signal, which could cause some radios to pick up both signals due to design issues.

The state of the lower FM dial, April 2017. Note the splatter thrown off by the high-powered station, and the background interference on 92.7 (upper right).

The 92.7 frequency is also one of a shrinking number of plausibly useable FM frequencies in Winnipeg. Stations with the kind of strength needed to push an easily audible FM signal deep into office buildings generally need to be kept at least 0.6 MHz apart just to prevent mutual interference.

Depending on signal strength, new FM signals may need to be up to 290 kilometres (180 miles) apart from existing FM stations on the same frequency, and up to 240 kilometres (149 miles) apart from neighbouring-frequency stations. The latter radius alone includes Kenora, Grand Forks, Brandon and other communities.

Add to that the aforementioned splatter from other high-powered stations which has left very few “quiet” zones between stations on the local FM band.

Normally, the regulators at the CRTC frown on a single station owner holding more than two FM licences in a single metropolitan area, a limitation that CKJS’s owners have asked to be exempted from on public service grounds. Granting the exemption, however, raises the question of why a low-listenership station should be given priority over Winnipeg’s two remaining commercial AM stations, CJOB 680 and TSN 1290.

Even if they would prefer to abandon the AM dial, it would be very difficult to shoe—horn either CJOB or TSN 1290 into a crowded and interference-plagued FM band. There has been talk about extending the FM band down to 76 MHz now that TV channels 5 and 6 have been nearly abandoned due to their poor suitability for digital TV broadcasting, but any action is still years away. So too is a migration to all-digital radio, which would allow two or more stations to share the same frequency, just as digital TV stations are able to do today.

* – Some fellow radio geeks might wonder how I was able to generate the image above. This was thanks to a handy device called the SDRPlay Wideband USB Radio Receiver, which allows the user — after downloading a free program called Cubic SDR — to receive radio signals almost up to the microwave range on a laptop or desktop computer. I’ve used its visualizations with a bit of success to improve my digital TV reception, by finding the “good” spots where my antenna receives the most signal and the least noise on the troublesome VHF band. One of my discoveries: both channels 7 and 13 are vulnerable to FM harmonics. That is, the same FM stations that litter the rest of the FM dial with signal splatter are throwing their radio debris up into the 176 to 216 MHz range, i.e., 88 to 108 MHz times two.

Why countries are more likely to break up than to merge

Tomorrow, Scottish voters will go to the polls to answer a simple and direct question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

When the campaign began last November, it was widely believed that the result might be similar to the outcome of the 1980 sovereignty referendum in Quebec, in which 60 percent voted against cutting the province’s ties with the rest of Canada.

But a vigorous “Yes” campaign led by Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, and a lacklustre “No” campaign led by Alistair Darling, Britain’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, has dramatically closed the gap. As of this evening, a comparison to the too-close-to-call 1995 Quebec referendum might be in order, as the final polls suggest a slight “No” lead.

Despite our own experiences with Quebec nationalism, many Canadians still wonder why about one-half of Scots would want to separate from a relatively large and successful country of 64 million people to become a small country of just over five million people.

Isn’t bigger supposed to be better? Indeed, why don’t countries that share the same language merge to get rid of this wasteful duplication of governments and to increase their power on the world stage: Austria with Germany, New Zealand with Australia, Uruguay with Argentina, Ireland back into the United Kingdom . . . and Canada with the United States?

Alas, global might seldom translates into domestic bliss. Last January, this blog noted that when citizens of OECD countries were asked to rate their overall life satisfaction on a zero-to-10 scale, the countries at the top of the list read like a who’s who of small countries with little global influence: Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark.

Further analysis suggested that satisfaction with life was closely tied to having a job and a steady income, feeling healthy, living in decent housing, and having a good personal social support network.

Credit Suisse, a Zurich-based bank and financial services company, also noticed that small countries tended to do better than their larger neighbours in securing a good life for their citizens, and conducted their own study, called “The Success of Small Countries”, to understand why.

Not only did Credit Suisse find a negative relationship between a country’s size and its per capita GDP, but they also found that smaller countries tended to do better in education, health, equality and other aspects of human development — even noting that Scotland has a higher level of human development than the U.K. as a whole, while Catalonia does better than Spain, the country many Catalans hope to separate from in the years ahead.

Smallness might also lead to pragmatism. The Credit Suisse report noted that smaller countries have opened themselves more to international trade than their larger neighbours, and have been more enthusiastic about globalization and technology. Their governments also tend to be less wasteful, in part because they don’t have to please as many parochial constituencies, as the report notes:

The larger the country, the more the need for local and regional governments to manage some of the key social services like education or police services.

Decentralization also gives rise to transfers from the central government to the poorer regions or states to allow for a more balanced growth and relative wealth across the country. Transfers — a political tool to keep a country together — add complexity and may lead to distortions and inefficiencies if not allocated properly . . .

The USA and the European Union provide a valuable illustration of this dynamic. In the USA, Federalism has added costs as each state has its own government infrastructure and ability to issue legislation. The result of this ‘government’ structure is often overspending and higher deficits at the regional or local level.

The same could be said about the European Union and the component states: 40% of the legislative acts of the EU concern agricultural policies, while agriculture represents less than 5% of European GDP.

A final factor that smaller countries seem to have on their side: higher levels of urbanization. The report notes that “cities are the most efficient form of human settlement” and are a “massive driver of growth and of wealth”. Urban societies are said to be “more practical and less ideological”, are better at producing higher-income jobs, and have citizens who are more comfortable dealing with cultural differences.

Thus, the Credit Suisse report might hold some of the clues to the appeal of Scottish nationalism. An independent Scotland would be under less pressure than the British government in London has long been to please far-flung constituencies, could focus its energies on building a healthier and better-educated population — which it needs in troubled areas such as Glasgow — and would have little choice but to be open to globalization. It would also be a highly urbanized country, with about 70 percent of its population living in the regions surrounding Edinburgh and Glasgow, and about 80 percent officially living in urban areas.

Yet this should not be taken as an endorsement of the “Yes” camp in tomorrow’s referendum. The Economist, always a source of sensible advice, points out in its call for Scots to vote “No” tomorrow that the nationalists’ optimism about oil revenues and the possibility of keeping the British pound as the Scottish currency are contestable. They also point out that, horrified by the close call with national breakup, the British government is likely to give the existing Scottish legislature so many additional powers within the U.K. that independence would be hardly worth seeking.

A few thoughts to close 2011 with

The end of one year and the beginning of another is always a good time to think about how to make the next year better than the last.

In that spirit, here are a few favourite bits of good advice I still like to look over from time to time to put things into perspective. By posting them here, maybe they will help others in 2012:

  • “Keep Calm and Carry On” – Government advice to British citizens during World War II
  • “Whatever line of work you get into… make sure it’s something you love, something you enjoy doing. If you can accomplish this, you are bound to be successful.” – George Burns
  • “One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!” – Former British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill
  • “Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well find some way that is going to be interesting.” – Actress Katharine Hepburn
  • “One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore faith in yourself.” – Actress Lucille Ball
  • “The good life, as I conceive it, is a happy life. I do not mean that if you are good you will be happy. I mean that if you are happy you will be good.” – Philosopher Bertrand Russell
  • “Man is a rational animal – so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it.” – Bertrand Russell
  • “Don’t get kicked out the back door. If you’re going to get kicked out, go out the front, with your dignity.” – Former Continental Airlines chief executive Gordon Bethune
  • “Don’t worry about things that you have no control over, because you have no control over them. Don’t worry about things that you have control over, because you have control over them.”  – Mickey Rivers, former baseball player.

A happy New Year to all!

The View from Seven 2011 stats and factoids

Total visits to Dec. 30: 39,239 (mostly from within Manitoba, though there are “regulars” from around Canada and the U.S.)

Busiest Day: 409 visits on Sept. 1 (Canada’s analog-to-digital TV transition day, when a flood of visitors arrived wondering why they had suddenly lost their TV signals, using search terms like “No more TV in Manitoba what to do”)

The seven most-read posts of 2011 (to Dec. 30): 

1. Your Guide to Digital TV in Winnipeg and Southern Manitoba (5,652 visits)

2. The World’s Best Governments (1,171 visits)

3. Diner’s Digest lets you see health inspectors’ reviews of local restaurants (972 visits)

4. Transair: A Look Back at Winnipeg’s Hometown Airline (895 visits)

5. Winnipeg’s Housing Market: Out of balance, nice and tight, or vulnerable to rate shocks? (866 visits)

6. Several Manitoba communities set to lose service after Digital TV switchover (600 visits)

7. Northwest soon to become yet another YWG ghost (596 visits)

Top seven specific traffic sources aside from search engines (to Dec. 30):

1. One Man Committee (595 visits)

2. Anybody Want a Peanut? (428 visits)

3. Winnipeg Love Hate (368 visits)

4. Endless Spin Cycle (366 visits)

5. Progressive Winnipeg (293 visits)

6. Slurpees and Murder (213 visits)

7. West End Dumplings (175 visits)

Most Commented Post:   Your Guide to Digital TV in Winnipeg and Southern Manitoba (110 comments to date)

Best reader anecdote: “I enjoyed reading about Transair. Back in the 1960′s I was involved in rocket flights out of Churchill had have fond memories of flying their DC-4, CF-TAW, that was only 4-years younger than I. There were stories of passenger participation in the operation. I myself asking the stewardess about 10 minutes out of Winnipeg whether the flaps should still be half extended. She said she would go up front to check. Within 30-seconds the flaps were fully retracted.” (By David Evans, June 11, 2011)

Most memorable search terms used to find this blog: Centreventure is evil, Will Princess Charles inherit the throne and Where to fuck in Belgium

Cruising altitude cuddling has long, colourful history

It was a case that had many people chuckling, at least for a day.

The news broke late on a Sunday afternoon, normally a quiet news day. Fighter jets had been dispatched to follow Frontier Airlines Flight 623, en route from Denver to Detroit, following reports that a couple of passengers were acting suspiciously aboard the Airbus A318 jetliner.

After landing safely in Detroit, a SWAT team boarded the aircraft and ordered passengers to put their hands on the seat in front. Passengers then watched as three people were handcuffed and hauled off for questioning.

Then came reports that the “suspicious activity” on Flight 623 wasn’t terrorism at all, but rather a couple “making out” in the lavatory.

Then came the truth. It had all been a big, stupid mix-up. One passenger was sick and had to make frequent trips to the restroom — and had gone in there alone.

On the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the whole matter had been blown ridiculously out of proportion.

But even if this had been a case of a couple making love on board a commercial jetliner, it wouldn’t have been the first time.

“Prior to arrival Captain Thompson radioed operations advising that he wanted a British Airways senior official to meet his aircraft on arrival at Honolulu. He stated he had two passengers on board the aircraft who were creating problems,” read an undated telex sent back to British Airways headquarters in London sometime during the ’70s.

“We were advised that a man in seat 25A and a married woman seated 19A got together during flight and were using profane language and molesting one another,” the telex continued.

“Per Captain Thompson and the chief steward both passengers had sexual intercourse right in the plain sight of all other passengers. Captain Thompson stated once this was completed they both settled down and went to sleep and were of no bother from that point on. As a result Captain Thompson did not feel they should be offloaded.”*

While this couple faced no serious consequences from the airline for their conduct, others didn’t find airline employees to be as forgiving as Captain Thompson.

One of the most bizarre cases took place in March 1988, when four passengers were arrested on arrival in Chicago after a “fracas” aboard American Airlines Flight 37 from Zurich, Switzerland.

The trouble started when a woman traveling with her 13-year-old daughter complained to the flight attendant about the behaviour of the California-bound married couple across the aisle.

“It came to the attention of a mother who determined that kind of recreational pursuit was not the kind she wanted her daughter to see,” American spokesman Ed Martelle said in an interview.

Two other male passengers, however, had no objections to this unexpected form of in-flight entertainment. In fact, when a flight attendant tried to intervene, the two male passengers — described later by police as voyeurs — “began pelting her with food and drink.”

The couple were arrested for public indecency and possession of a controlled substance, while the two onlookers were arrested for disorderly conduct.

Ten years later, a couple found themselves in trouble aboard a South African Airways flight after they “disrobed from the waist down and got busy in full view of other passengers“.

The crew tried without luck to stop the couple, who only put their clothes back on after the Captain paid them a personal visit to deliver a message: “This is not a shag house!”

In July 1984, it was an off-duty Air New Zealand flight attendant who found herself in trouble after consuming both sleeping tablets and champagne while deadheading from Auckland to Honolulu.

The unnamed flight attendant lost her job after she had sex with a passenger in a lavatory, sat on a sleeping First Class passenger’s face, kneed the chief purser in the groin and tried to grab his private parts, and finally tried to take off her clothing.

She later said that she could not recall any of those events.

The passengers, however, likely found their flight to Honolulu to be very memorable indeed.

* – Brian Moynahan, Airport International (London: Pan Books, 1978), pp. 118-119.

Old hobbies fade into obscurity as world changes

I have something that I call the “Library Rule of Life” that strikes a bit of awe in me anytime I walk through Winnipeg’s Millennium Library. It’s the realization that even though I might not have enough of a personal interest to take home a copy of The Last Cowboys at the End of the World: The story of the gauchos of Patagonia by Nick Reding, Biography of a Germ by Arno Karlen or Modern Soldering & Brazing Techniques by Eli Lieberman, every book represents a subject that so fascinates an author that he or she took the trouble to write that book.

In short: Everyone gets their kicks in their own unique way.

Sometimes there are some things, though, that don’t command as much public interest today as they did in years past.

With no further ado, here’s a rundown of some once-popular hobbies that are now starting to fade into the past as the number of people with a passion for them declines.

Model railroad

Model railroad

Model Railroading: Fans of the long-running comic strip For Better or For Worse might recall that one of Dr. John Patterson’s favourite hobbies was model railroading. Lots of good that did this hobby, which is in trouble according to this online discussion among model railroaders.  Perhaps it’s too peaceful a hobby for a generation used to Grand Theft Auto — a leftover from the days when most Canadians and Americans lived in small towns where trains were a vital lifeline to the outside world.

Amateur radio equipment

Amateur radio equipment

Shortwave and Amateur Radio: Once upon a time, the world felt like a much bigger place. For young Manitobans with an innate curiosity about the world, London, Paris and Sydney were distant, exotic places that most people could never afford to visit. Some people satisfied their curiosity by becoming amateur radio operators, which allowed them to use the shortwave bands to chat with Heikki in Helsinki, Nigel in Nottingham and Ted in Tulsa. Others, particularly expatriates, used shortwave radio to hear the news from the BBC World Service or Radio Portugal. Lower international Economy Class airfares (which used to cost the equivalent of a professional’s monthly gross income), e-mail, Facebook, online news sites and streaming audio have made it exponentially easier to get out and explore the world and for expatriates to keep in touch with what’s happening at home — and taken some of the mystique out of foreign lands.

CB Radio

Life in the '70s: CB Radio as "The In Thing!"

A similar hobby that has declined in popularity in recent years: Citizens’ Bank (or “CB”) Radio. CB Radio was, in some respects, a lower-budget alternative to amateur radio popularized in the ’70s by movies like Smokey and the Bandit and Citizens’ Band and by the hit TV shows B. J. and the Bear and The Dukes of Hazzard. The hobby lingered into the ’80s as a sort of pre-Internet radio chat room, but had faded into obscurity by the time the Internet hit the big time in 1993-94.

Brazilian stamp, 1969

Brazil celebrates the legendary Pele's 1,000th goal, 1969.

Stamp Collecting: This is another one of those hobbies that dates back to the days when foreign lands were much more mysterious and difficult to access than they are today. Stamps were at one time important marketing tools for a country, both domestically and abroad. They helped raise historical awareness, celebrate national milestones, and promote tourism and a positive image of the issuing country. The invention of postage meters and the decline of mail traffic with the rise of the Internet reduced the role of the postage stamp in the ordinary citizen’s life, leading to the increasing obscurity of the stamp collecting hobby.

Baseball card

1990 Chicago White Sox rookie stars Robin Ventura and Sammy Sosa

Baseball Card Collecting: If you’re old enough to remember the ’80s, you’ll remember some of the card promotions companies used to run to get people to buy their products, such as commercials on U.S. television offering free baseball cards with every meal purchase at Long John Silver’s. Whether it be because of the exorbitant prices demanded for the best cards, or the fact that the business has shifted to Ebay, or just the arrival of other ways for people to pass their time, baseball card collecting is no longer what it once was.

Sunday Smile: A collection of old bloopers from WBZ-TV in Boston

And on the lighter side…

Christmas is almost here again. Now is as good a time as any to take a break from the usual and to wish all readers a Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings… and to share some favourite outtakes from television news and commercials to put a smile on your face.