Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009.12.26 — Alone In My Thoughts: A Poem

Alone in my thoughts,
I think alone
And the world goes on.
I think, at first, without me.
Then later, much much later,
I think 'How silly is that!
My breath is the air of life — no breath no thought.'

A baked bean is small compensation
For a lonely life,
So I endeavour to be happy and
Fulfilled without acquaintances or friendship.

Don't mistake me for a hermit!
I love the sound of laughter,
The chattering mundanities of love gone wrong
The price of oranges
And the hard lot of the Saskatchewan farmer during this drought.
But I am alone in my thoughts;
And I prefer it that way.

Before me stands a tall graceful cedar,
The air moves its limbs.
I write a Haiku:
Verdant cedar. Bend
Bow before the wind, bounce back
Solitary soul.
Alone with my thoughts,
Crying is hard to do,
And laughing, too.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2009.12.20 — Quiet Thoughts: A December Poem

Quiet Thoughts In A December Mall

The rains of winter in Vancouver fall;
At times lightly, at times vigorously
Artificial snow falls from shop windows
In malls with cloud darkened skylights.
Somehow, despite the hurrying big people dragging
Tired small people in quick
Marches to
Nowhere obvious, I find peace here.
I quiet my mind as I sit.
I connect with us all and gently laugh at
My foibles I see in us.
Hurry scurry, hurry scurry to where we
Already are.
Yes, this is me. In a rush to where I am.
In a mall.
Watching winter rains

Monday, October 12, 2009

2009.10.12 - Tolstoy, Orwell, and the Tao of Shakespeare

I've been flipping through Orwell's The Collected Essays Vol 2, and came across the laconic and amusingly ambivalent defense he made against Tolstoy's splenetic dismissal of Shakespeare. Orwell paraphrases Tolstoy's attact as:
... purporting to show not only that Shakespeare was not the great man he was claimed to be, but that he was a writer entirely without merit, one of the worst and most contemptible writers the world has ever seen.

(A quick Yahoo found Tolstoy's article transcribed and in English, on Scribd.)

Now I can't say that I am a big fan of Tolstoy because I am not. Not at all. But still I find this interesting, and also interesting that neither this item nor Orwell's bemusing response was ever alluded to, let alone discussed in my Shakespeare classes.

On the other hand, I've always been a fan of Orwell's writing and his paraphrase of Tolstoy's argument is far more entertaining than is Tolstoy's heavy handed writing. For example, Orwell summarizes Tolstoy's position as follows:
Tolstoy's main contention is that Shakespeare is a trivial, shallow writer, with no coherent philosophy, no thoughts or ideas worth bothering about, no interest in social or religious problems, no grasp of character or probability, and, in so far as he could be said to have a definable attitude at all, with a cynical, immoral, worldly outlook on life. He accuses him of patching his plays together without caring twopence for credibility, of dealing in fantastic fables and impossible situations, of making his characters talk in an artificial flowery language completely unlike that of real life. He also accuses him of thrusting anything and everything into his plays — soliloquies, scraps of ballads, discussions, vulgar jokes and so forth — without stopping to think whether they had anything to do with the plot, and also of taking for granted the immoral power politics and unjust social distinctions of the times he lived in. Briefly, he accuses him [of] being a hasty, slovenly writer, a man of doubtful morals, and above all, of not being a thinker (154).

Okay, okay, this didn't hurt me at all. But it strongly suggests why I do not care for Tolstoy's writing. What I mean is that Tolstoy's polemic is a list of those things in Shakespeare's writing that makes it live and breath — as its longevity argues. In every way, even with the poetical nature of his language, Shakespeare brings to the stage a compressed but startlingly precise and vibrant snapshot of the simplicity and complexity of what comprises being human in the physical world. Despite our intellectual fascination with morality and moralistic fascination with purity, life is a complicated expression of the profane and the sacred, the prosaic and the existential, the beautiful and the foul — that is what comprises capital 'L' life and that 'is-ness' cannot be intellectualized away. Shakespeare's language, characters, and situations, whether historical or magical, express all capital 'L' life because, despite our childish pining for singular truth and pure beauty, our lives are filled with scraps from hither and yon, the fantastical and mundane. Tolstoy's writing, what little I have struggled through, anyway, is heavily laced with what he thinks a meaningful, i.e. moral, life 'should' be comprised of, not that with which capital 'L' Life actually is.

In his way, Orwell supplies a similar kind of rebuttal to Tolstoy's rant as this, but in a more convoluted manner. Or maybe it is a simpler one!? Anyway, Orwell wrote that
One must conclude that there is something good — something durable — in Shakespeare which millions of ordinary people can appreciate, though Tolstoy happened to be unable to do so. [Shakespeare] can survive exposure of the fact that he is a confused thinker whose plays are full of improbabilities. He can no more be debunked by such methods than you can destroy a flower by preaching a sermon at it (156-7).
Orwell is most amusing here, because even as he puts down Shakespeare as a 'confused thinker,' he himself uses a similar poetical metaphor as Shakespeare to argue its long-lived appeal — nature, natural Life, trumps intellectual morality.

While thinking and writing the above, I had the great joy of experiencing a delightful fushigi, (Japanese for wondrous event). I stumbled across a delightful, almost identical argument to Orwell's and mine, albeit couched in the Zen language of D.T. Suzuki in his book Zen and Japanese Culture:
There is a famous saying by one of the earlier masters of the T'ang dynasty, which declares that the Tao is no more than one's everyday life experience. When the master was asked what he meant by this, he replied, "When you are hungry you eat, when are are thirsty you drink, when you meet a friend you greet him."

This, some may think, is no more than animal instinct or social usage, and there is nothing that may be called moral, much less spiritual, in it. If we call it the Tao, some may think, what a cheap thing the Tao is after all!

Those who have not penetrated into the depths of our consciousness, including both the conscious and unconscious, are liable to hold such a mistaken notion as the one just cited. But we must remember that, if the Tao is something highly abstract transcending daily experiences, it will have nothing to do with the actualities of life. Life
as we live it is not concerned with [intellectual or moral] generalization. If it were, the intellect would be everything, and the philosopher would be the wisest man. But, as Kierkegaard points out, the philosopher builds a fine palace, but he is doomed not to live in it — he has a shed for himself next door to what he constructed for others, including himself, to look at.
The Tao is really very much more than mere animal instinct and social usage, though those elements are also included in it. It is something deeply imbedded in every one of us, indeed in all beings sentient and non-sentient, and it requires something altogether different from so-called scientific analysis. It defies our intellectual pursuit because of being too concrete, too familiar, hence beyond definability. It is there confronting us, no doubt, but not obtrusively and threateningly, like Mount Everest to the mountain-climbers (11-2 — my emphasis).
Is not Suzuki's Mt. Evererst analogy exactly identical to Orwell's with the flower? Nature trumps intellect! That is the key to the long-lived vitality of Shakespeare's writing — it embodies the natural world of man more fully than perhaps any other writer in English. This is what Tolstoy's long rant is about, the head feeling left out of living text. And with that thought, how similar is Tolstoy's list of failures to that of the contention that the Tao, to those who who lack depth of understanding of life, is nothing more than cheap animal instinct or unreflective acquiescence to societal mores.

Shakespeare looked into the world of social man without any sort of intellectualized or moralistic or religio-philosophic self-deception or delusion, by which manner he compassed the heart of man even as he talked directly to it. His clarity of sight united with the brilliance of his writing to effectively, meaning-fully, by-pass the intellect. This is likely why Tolstoy wrote Bill off as 'contemptible'. Tolstoy, Orwell, and other great thinkers who put thinking as the sine qua non of being man, are unable to see the sophistication of thought required to not be bamboozled by the bright lights of intellectual achievement, or moralistic sentimentality.

There are many examples of writing of the kind I am describing here. For example, in Henry V when Hal disguises himself as a foot soldier and engages in a quiet, powerful discussion on the meaning of death as a soldier (4.1). And these gems show up in the silliest of comedies, for example when Luciana pleads on behalf of her sister in Comedy of Errors (3.2). The examples are endless, but most broadly is how he wrote, throughout his works, fully realized and embodied women. His women are neither idealized nor vilified even when the characters are good, bad, sexual, prudish, silly, strong, emancipated or kept — and in his plays they are all these things and more. Oh! And Shakespeare was an equal opportunity guy, for the men are equally treated.

If I was going to spend the rest of my days on an island, and was stuck reading one author, I can assure you it would not be Tolstoy. Nor would it be Orwell. It would be Shakespeare, because his writing is the way of life — Tao.

Friday, September 4, 2009

2009.09.04 - Random Thoughts

I was cleaning out an old drawer while revamping the office/library space, and came across a bunch of oldish sticky notes with quasi-random thoughts. Where to put such things? Well, now that I have a blog, why not here?
1.The middle classes' aspirations of wealth will inevitably lead to the demise of the middle class. How? Take a look at the blotting of the landscape by Wal-Marts and their clones. Their primary customer are the middle class. But the Wal-Marts are an economic cancer to the middle class labour market, because its success depends largely on the increasing the impoverishment of labour. So, while the middle class aspires to the simulacrum of wealth by being schlock, they are contributing to their own demise. (I would love to see some statistics to show how the rise of Wal-Mart-nationhood corresponds with the shrinking of the middle class.)
I've always liked this analogy, because in of itself cancer is perfectly healthy, even as (or more precisely because) it is killing its host. The healthier is Wal-Mart's bottom line, the unhealthier it is for the middle class.
2. It is the responsibility of the truly wealthy to keep the middle class healthy if they want to continue to thrive. Why? Because a stable middle class maintains a healthy society. Unfortunately, greed is more stupefying than sex. The truly wealthy become wealthier with the success of Wal-Martizing a nation, for example, because they see their costs of labour being reduced. Furthermore, being wealthy is seen to be healthy, so the wealthy do not appreciate what history repeatedly tells us — the pooling of wealth, whether it is in the coffers of an aristocracy, the vestments of a priesthood, or in the portfolios of a business class — causes societies to fail, often with bloodletting and a great deal of exuberant melodramas.
3. From anonymous: when you find yourself in a deep hole, stop digging.
4. Malicious numbers and the fallacy of accountancy's social supremacy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I have now a moment in time to blog. For the last several weeks I have been busily coping with my household being invaded by workers. My wife and I dismantled our master bedroom and the library, packed everything away within our condo, and protected it from the construction dust. Dismantling the library meant moving 7 book shelves, two sets of desks, and disconnecting myself from the web. We draped plastic across doorways, hung it from ceilings and used it to cover furniture. It was like being stuck in a state of being perpetually half-moved.
It was horrible. And it was stressful.
The city mandated work was completed last Friday. I painted like a madman, and between the walls and ceilings of the two spaces, spread by roller and brush 11 gallons of paint. This last week we began to re-assemble our home. I finished most of the baseboard work, and today I attached the last of the drapery hardware and then we hung the draperies.

This is the first writing I've done since the end of May. Even now it is relatively late, after having watched 'The Dog Whisperer.'

Now I would like to share some lessons learned in being a purchaser of a condo.
When we chose to buy our home in 2003 — which is only our second home purchase — we were told that previous owners had made some 'simple' changes to the second floor loft area. The real estate agent elaborated that some 'unlivable' storage space had been recovered by having a wall knocked down and a floor put in. The agent made no reference to the work having been done with or without permits, and my wife and I knew not enough to ask about that.

Two years ago a disgruntled strata owner complained to the city about the changes. Her objective was to have the allocated unit entitlements changed to reflect the changed living area of the lofts. However, she approached this incorrectly, as the city has no jurisdiction over changing unit entitlements. Such a change falls under provincial statutes, not municipal, and is a very onerous change to effect.

In an interesting turn, when the city checked their records for permitted changes they discovered that they had not a single permit registered against our complex of four buildings. As this was known to be untrue, one of the owners had his signed permit taken to the city. Sure enough the city was unable to find their copy of it in their system. Thereupon the clerk confessed that a system change in previous years had 'lost' records, and that it looked like our building complex was one of those so affected.

After negotiating with the city on how best to proceed, our complex hired a city-acceptable civil engineer who accepted responsibility for investigating all the 151 units and common areas for changes and then over seeing that the deficiencies to the building code were rectified. For most the fixes were $10k plus, with a few into the 20s. Ours was small, one of the smallest in the building, at just under 4k because who ever had done the work had done almost everything properly, with the proper joists and joist hangers, proper headers and fire rated gyproc (mostly), and vapour barrier.

After the inspection and the repair work was completed, I did the painting, and took advantage of the contractor's scaffolding to paint the ceiling, beyond what had been repaired.


Ensure that your changes are municipally permitted. When buying a place, ask if there have been changes and whether or not they have been permitted. And if they have, get the signed copies from seller or his/her agent. (With permits my wife and i would have had far less disruption and cost.) Also, i recommend that you (or your agent) visit city hall to check if there have been permits issued against the unit. If changes have been made, and permits are not available, use this to bargain for a lower price. Our neighbours up the corridor are looking at a bill of between 100 and 200 thousand to fix the un-permitted changes, a fix which will have a devastating and possibly irrevocable impact on their magazine-beautiful home.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Kim's challenge of writing poetical sound is still rumbling around in my brain. And, after the length of my previous effort, I decided to challenge myself with writing a sound poem in the Haiku form that I was taught in elementary school. I find it an extremely challenging poetical form. Here is what I wrote.

          Giggle, rill, chortle
          Thrill wet tootsie-toes splashing
          Fish and croaking frogs.

I'm not sure if I like it or not. But it is what it is.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

2009.04.19 - MP Election by Lot - Secondary Rumination Pt 4.

Media Misrepresentation

Here in BC it is election time. Again. The financially, emotionally, and ecologically / environmentally wasteful process of electioneering is gearing up. Signage has begun to festoon the lawns of our cities' citizenry, marring the beauty of trees in bloom with the plasticized and/or cardboard stiffened happy-faced mugs of politicians both honest and dissembling, serious and flippant, egoistical and modest. I no longer delude myself with the belief that I can distinguish a 'good'un' from a 'bad'un.' All the plasticized faces have much the same gloss, the same patina of good intentioned pabulumed rhetoric that is as likely to turn a heaven to a hell as is the others' mellifluous rhetoric will turn a Gomorrah into an Eden.

BC's incumbent party, the misleadingly named Liberals under their leader Gordon Campbell, are once again going to foist upon — er, I mean give — the people of BC a referendum to decide whether or not we move from a first past post form (FPP) of oligarchic electioneering to one comprised of a single transferable vote (STV) proportional representative form of oligarchic electioneering.

This repeats what Campbell's party did in our 2005 provincial election.

What I remember reading in and hearing from the media at that time was their considered judgement that STV would be handily defeated. In their so-called learned opinion FPP was clearly the preferred and 'smartest' democratic method. Curiously there was little 'proper' discussion, in my opinion, about STV, and the little I do remember was largely comprised of specious, albeit oft expressed, concerns about its comprehensibility. These 'serious' concerns were proffered with little, if any, elaboration or discussion about what is the difficulty. Which is odd, because in pragmatic reality the process is not that difficult to comprehend.

At the time I was ambivalent as to whether this annoying condescension to the BC voter was real, or if it was feigned as a method of trying to affect the outcome of the referendum. And I wondered to what extent the media discounted their own credibility with the members of the BC Citizens' Assembly each time they publicly expressed their misrepresentative STV fear-mongering.

As it came to pass, the results of that referendum re-affirmed that the media are disconnected from the people for whom they are supposed to be advocates. The majority of the popular vote opted to change to an STV electoral system. Significantly, however, this majority was not enough to bring STV into existence because not enough of the total number of ridings elected had opted to change to STV - by only one riding! So it came to be that the net result of the vote was the exact opposite of the popular vote. FPP had narrowly won a reprieve.

It is worth noting that that result affirmed the peculiar, at times, contra-democratic nature of our parliamentary oligarchic-democracy because it echoed, faintly, the 2001 provincial election results. In that 'democratic' electoral process the elected Liberal party, who had a slight popular majority over their opposition — and with less then 50% of the overall vote — 'won' all but two of the seventy-nine legislative seats. The house completely and utterly misrepresented the popular vote. This result may have been, in part, what initiated Campbell and the Liberal's to establish the BC Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform.

So, let me get back on track. I am blogging this because during the Assembly's evaluation a friend of mine sent me a Globe and Mail clipping. She asked for my opinion about it.

Even with the general timbre of the media regarding STV, I was shocked by this article's particular speciousness, its failures of cohesion, logic, and rational argument. Even now, I am not sure what shocked me more about the piece, that someone who has some respect and standing in Canadian journalism would have written it, or that one of Canada's most important print journals would have published it. I have struggled with why such a thing was published, and no matter how I have run down the lanes of reason, I wind up at fear. The item was written either from a place of fear, which explains, somewhat, its extremely poor argument. Or it was written as manipulative fear-mongering by a dissembler. But I have reasoned that most likely it was written to implant fear because of the writer's own fear. When you read it, I would enjoy reading what you think of it. All comments welcome.

This blog entry is to publish my reaction to Norman Spector's article, 'Single Transferable Nonsense.' I have been wrestling with how to proceed. To understand my argument, you need to read Spector's 'Nonsense.' I am torn between just linking you to it, or transcribing the text here. The latter would likely be a copyright violation, of course, although I am making no money from it. I most definitely want you to read it before you read my argument, in order to ensure that you have something in your own mind about it before I pick apart Spector's supposed argument. With that in mind, I would prefer not to hyperlink you away from here. So...

I've decided to do both. As you will have noticed, the article is hyper-linked to Spector's web page, but I have also included his text here. Below that you will find my reaction, which, by the way, my friend suggested I send to Spector. I did, but he did not respond to it.
10 January 2005

Single Transferable Nonsense

The Globe and Mail, Section A13.

The proposal that British Columbia adopt the single transferable vote (STV) in provincial elections is such a dumb idea, one hardly knows where to begin.

Have I mentioned that STV supporters are asking us to try on for size the voting system used by only one of the Commonwealth's 53 countries? Now, it's possible that 400,000 Maltese know something the other 1.8 billion inheritors of British political traditions haven't yet grasped, but I wonder.

Proponents of this Rube Goldberg voting system say it's as simple as 1-2-3, but they're unable to explain how STV would work in practice. And, though they argue that transferring the transferable part of the ballot would reduce B.C.'s polarization, Malta's politics have historically been infamously polarized.

STV advocates contend that only one country uses the system because it transfers power from politicians and parties to the people. I smell other interests at play.

Like all proportional voting systems, STV produces minority governments. In the inevitable negotiation of a coalition that inevitably follows, the largest party normally gets together with third, fourth or even fifth parties.

The second largest group of voters are disenfranchised, while fringe groups are empowered. And they multiply. In British Columbia's fruitful climate, that's a recipe for disaster.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, B.C. politics are not polarized. It's our society that's polarized — every which way.

Some say it's the legacy of European trade unionism rubbing against buccaneer U.S. capitalism — whence British Columbia settlers initially came. Others reason that God in her wisdom tilted the continent westward, and all the loose screws and wing-nuts gravitated to the coast.

Whatever. This is the only British Columbia we have. Besides, while the climate is challenging, the weather is good — and we need not wake up in the West to the musings of our eastern neighbour's premier.

I'll grant you we've had a few doozies of our own out here. Nevertheless, political parties have been one of the few mechanisms that bridge our differences and make B.C. society work.

You can see the dynamic as we head into the May 17 provincial election. How can I be so sure? Fixed election dates are just one of the ideas, foreign to British Parliamentary tradition, that have recently been imported into our political system.

Still, notwithstanding our legendary zaniness, both the Liberals and the NDP are moving toward the centre, keeping their respective wackos well in check.

The new leader of the NDP, Carole James, is speaking to business groups and promising to lead a consensus-style government along the lines of former premier Mike Harcourt. Meanwhile, Gordon Campbell has just appointed a real liberal as finance minister.

Notwithstanding media reports, Mr. Campbell has governed only slightly right of centre. For example, even after winning 77 of 79 seats in 2001, he never once mentioned the word “abortion.” I bring this up because one of the prime movers in pushing STV in B.C. served in a government that tried to de-fund abortions. Indeed, Nick Loenen and Premier Bill Vander Zalm [sic] were seat-mates in the two-member Richmond riding and soul mates on several controversial issues.

At a Social Credit convention in 1989, Mr. Loenen stirred controversy by proposing to retain a commitment to “Christian principles” in the party constitution. When he left office in 1991, he urged the religious right to get out and “fly their colours more openly” on issues such as abortion.

At that time, Mr. Loenen said he was thinking of writing a book on religion in politics, which eventually transmogrified into one on electoral reform. Not coincidentally, his STV proposal is tailor-made for groups hoping to do away with a woman's right to choose.

As Socred caucus chair, Mr. Loenen had a front-row seat to observe a dictatorial premier in action and, later, his messy removal from office. In reaction to this experience, he and other proponents of STV are proposing to destroy the finest political system in the world, British parliamentary democracy.

The better route to counter the friendly and not-so-friendly dictatorships that we've seen in Canada would be to align our system with the mother of parliaments at Westminster. More free votes, relaxed party discipline and a coequal role for caucus and the party in selecting the leader have worked wonders.

Of proposals like Mr. Loenen's, leftie activist Judy Rebick has said, “This may be the only issue where you can have a left-right alliance.” Need I say any more?
And here is my reaction to his blithering tripe. (For this blog I have slightly edited it for errors and grammar.)
February 13, 2005

Re: “Single Transferable Nonsense” by Norman Spector, Globe and Mail, (10 January 2005 The Globe and Mail, A13.]

Linda, here is my mostly off-the-cuff response to Spector’s piece. Sorry for the delay, but I haven’t felt like thinking/writing for the last while.

As I read it, being unfamiliar with Spector’s writing, I expected a cogent argument given the prestige the G&M reportedly has. I was disappointed. I wasn’t able to finish reading the 2nd paragraph before finding him fear mongering in the most specious of ways. He says that of the commonwealth countries only (stupid?) Malta has it. An odd thing to say, and a bit misleading, as at least a part of Ireland has it, and it exists in non-commonwealth countries, including (maybe, given my weak memory), Austria. So, what’s his point here? That because no one else in our “special” group has it, it is a stupid way to go? Really, this isn’t even good fear mongering, let along a sound argument.

For myself, I see the opening paragraph as setting the tone for this kind of argument. He, in my mind, has already lost it if this is his best argument. (And I am sure that is what he does think, because that is his closing argument: “... he and other proponents of STV are proposing to destroy the finest political system in the world, British parliamentary democracy.” I will come back to that statement later.)

This first argument struck me as being not dissimilar in spirit and intent to those made to a populace when the authorities, who had most to gain in keeping the status quo, imprisoned Galileo for proposing something upsetting to an ideology and its power base. “Let’s not risk changing how we see the truth of circumstance lest it upset the existing truth.” Spector has falsified the effectiveness of STV by stupefying the Maltese and ignoring all those other places in which it works. (A more reasoned argument, not possible in his allotted space, and one of the absolute malignancies of our current media structure, would be to cite those places it works, those it doesn’t, and then argue that it won’t work in BC because, for example, we are as moronic in temperament as the Israelis, where many have claimed it doesn ‘t work.) By not even elaborating on Malta’s STV — there are several different kinds — he is making a misleading, as well as vacuous, comparison. (Hence the BC-STV, which has tried to address some of the problems the Citizens' Assembly have seen in STVs elsewhere.)

Spector then continues to mislead — I was tempted to say lie, but perhaps his ability to comprehend compromises his ability to understand anything beyond kindergarten arithmatic — when he says that no one can figure out how the transfer will work. In point of fact, the documentation from the Assembly shows exactly how it would work. And given the prominence and trust we have in computers to crunch, and accountants to munch, numbers, this argument is even more specious than the first. And it is malevolent in that it is simple fear mongering. I wonder if what he is afeared of is being no longer able to predict a riding’s victor after the 2nd polling station has been 50% counted?

I was amused to learn that despite rumours to the contrary, BC Politics is not polarized. I found this the most amusing of his specious red-herring arguments, in a province where a popular vote of less than 50% of the voters can result in a house with no opposition! His smelling others’ intentions strikes me as a pot calling the kettle black.

And then the colour of the pot is revealed: fear of minority governments. Plainly and simply this is his fear. (This argument was ardently and well articulated by more than one of the speakers when I presented my own little take on this. Spector’s attempt is pathetic at best.) The odd(?) or curious(?) thing about that argument is that in Canadian politics, minority governments have been able to enact excellent “liberal” policies. (Is Spector anti-liberal?)

At this point in my discussion, I will include [Noam] Chomsky observation on the role these kind of hack arguments are perceived as necessary by the “elite” in running well a democracy.
A manual of the public relations industry by one of its leading figures, Edward Bernays, opens by observing that ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society’. ‘But clearly it is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically’, because it is only they, ‘a trifling fraction’ of the population, ‘who understand the mental processes and the wires which control the public mind’. In its commitment to ‘open competition’ that will ‘function with reasonable smoothness’, our ‘society has consented to permit free competition to be organized by leadership and propaganda’, a ‘mechanism which controls the public mind’ and enables the intelligent minorities ‘so to mold the mind of the masses that they will throw their newly gained strength in the desired direction’, thus ‘regimenting the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments the bodies of its soldiers’. This process of ‘engineering consent’ is the very ‘essence of the democratic process’, Bernays wrote 20 years later, shortly before he was honored for his contributions by the American Psychological Association in 1949.” (Chomsky, N. Perspectives on Power: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997, p.231, and citations therein.)
Further reflection on STV creating a polarization monster reveals yet another aspect of the red herring nature of Spector’s argument. When he writes that it is not politics, but society that is polarized, that is a prototypical statisticians’ crap argument. It ignores the fear voter, it ignores the party-line voter, and it ignores the non-voter. (I am reminded by this argument of our department’s new VP who, trying to make us feel good about working five years without a contract and too few of us doing the job, said that the biggest problem “we” have in turning around “his” department is “engagement”. Why? Because of a notoriously low turn out the TELUS execs get from us on their internal poll that they spends 10s of Ks on. The execs also get about a 30% approval rating, and so they really do need to turn us around by getting the 60% who do not respond to the poll to further slag them! Anyway, I was so enraged by his public display of condescension and stupidity that I told him that most of us were quite proud, five years ago, to say we worked for BC Tel, and that most are now ashamed to admit that we do. “You did that,” I said. “Not us. Don’t talk to us about engagement!” But he felt that he had made a valid argument, in complete ignorance, like Spector, that it was only a crap statistician’s argument.) Poor turn out on a vote or a poll says something beyond a failure to be engaged, even if that something is to raise the question “Why the apathy?”

But the most amusing argument Spector proffers is to introduce the politics of an anti-abortionist! What has that got to do with the argument!?! Spector manages to dismiss every other member of the assembly the ability to set aside partisanship with respect to such personal beliefs! By doing this he is attempting to introduce a polarizing argument to smear the basis of the decision, presumably made outside of such polarizing sentiment! Yech! Yech! Yech!

The only thing that Spector says that is true is that the house would be better with relaxed partisan politics. And, likely, if the whipping practice within Canadian parliaments hadn’t been to increase partisanship over the last 30 years, it is quite likely that the motivation for forming a “citizens assembly on electoral reform” wouldn’t even have come to be, let alone it suggesting a change in electoral practice. Why? Because BC-STV is an attempt to sidestep partisan politics. And while it is a heavy handed attempt, hopefully it will be an effective cure against party polarization in the houses and the homes.

I am not hopeful. The same infantile insistence on party loyalty versus the pragmatics of running a house of “leadership” will likely invade STV and pervert its attempt at “improving” democracy in and out of the house and home. This problem is not inherent with either STV or FPP, but is extant in the weakness of people drawn to power to fulfill their flaccid egos.

Spector’s arguments against STV are specious at best, and fear mongering at least. “Saving” politics requires an influx of mostly a-political people whose concerns are neither self-interest — in any of its guises — nor power grasping — in any of its guises. Sigh! In Canada’s younger days, I would like to think that there were far more drawn to politics to help the country than there were to help themselves. I think maybe there was, although the latter are always present.

[End of response.]
Because of my general disdain for the honesty and integrity of the mainstream media, I have for this election been keeping myself from reading the slanted political agendœ of the media. However, I live in a media age, and have a wife who watches the news almost twenty-four hours a day, and couldn't help but hear, once, one of the local media's talking heads comment about the difficulty in understanding the voting results of STV. That the change of voting system is even a referendum subject on the next ballot seems to be something minimally talked about. To test my thought about that, I Googled "STV referendum 2009 BC" and limited it to Canada. I got 14,500 hits, which isn't bad on first blush. But it wasn't until page two of the hit list that a mainstream Canadian media outlet was shown. And on page two there were only two — The Times Columnist of Victoria and CTVBC. The balance were either from grass roots web pages advocating it, or government pages talking about it, or 'unofficial' web media like My quick look at the various links made it clear to me that the issue is important to the people of BC, but that the mainstream media is largely ignoring it. And in doing so have again proven, to me, that they are no longer here to inform the polity about the world, but are propagandists supporting the status quo within which their owners have become fat and comfortable.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I've decided to give the verbal equivalent to YouTube a try. I've uploaded one of my short stories to Scribd. I am curious about how Scribd works, and of course I am curious to see if anyone other than my friend Peter Herrmann will enjoy the story. To read it, click on Bilgewater in Heaven. Tell me what you think of it, especially if you hated it!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

2009.04.11 - The Sound of Water - Sort of.

A Poem

Near the end of January, Kimberly Keith challenged the poetry group, with which we share membership, to write a poem about noise/sound words. How did she put it?

"Let's hear what you have to say with sound words...crash, boom, splat!!"

(For those of you waiting for the final installment of the STV rumination, it is in the works.)

Well, that turned out to be a very hard thing to do. I have been thinking of it since then, sat down to write something several times, and always my thoughts turned to water. As soon as they did, I would, like the fool trying to push water up river, push my thoughts in other directions. But to no avail. So, I gave in and wrote the following. Near the end of its composition, I stumbled into the music of Adham Shaikh (or try his 'MySpace' space). I suggest that you might enjoy listening to Somptin Hapnin with Kinnie Starr while reading the poem.
Each time I turn thought towards sound,
I sound in my mind sound sound words, and
              inexorably they gurgle, chuckle, giggle, 
            murmur, echo 
                    down streams of endless 

Water, water everywhere.

Water chortling down thick think tank drains
     and stainless steal sinks — 
     sinkholes in geyser guises,
burbling onomatopoeically into rills, and a 
     fulgent humour
     found sibilant in sweet Aphrodite's 

I hear wind talking through stays 
and masts 
and rigging
like owls in an empowered parliament
     bemusing wisely of mute mice
          and man
                    walking on a sound of salt water
                         and jellied fishes.

Then within a breadth of breath,
     in a snap of
      breath, gasp of
      breath, dearth even death of breath,
my thoughts turn to baby wavelets of water lapping,
     like lazy lions' tongues, 
          against hulls of barnacled
               white and faded
                    red and stalwart

Then blue faced, true-blued face, 
wet race-thrilled face,
I hear sheets of hemp and silk sail howling lines,
     trilling their thrilling striven
     pulling strain against stanchions sound, 
     and safe;
and inside my head, in waves,
                    booming bass drum
                         thrumming kettle drum
                              waves great 
                              and small 
                              and too
                                       too tiny and tall. 

I feel the icy spindrift needles sending 
sea sharp ended points
in a fruitless effort to efface placid black keyboard riffs, 
creating anew faces etched with rifts, 
          of cold sweating
               tango dancing
                    wing-wind prancing
                         teary eye-lined squinted
                                    eye lines.

And all the while, voice is lost, puff-gusted out
     blown back
          down the throat backs
               of sailing boat racers
                    unsoundly racing their sail boats
                         o'er water, under
                              and through it.

Race, fingers, race to mine the mind
of unsounded soundless sound,
flat screened face aglow
     bent backed
          and fingers bent too to
tip tap tippity tap tappity tip tap tap tapping.

How far is that, in reality, from
     drip drap, drippity drip drip drappity
          drip drop           

Water, water, everywhere,
               every sound thick and thin
                    far away ways in mind, 
                         unsound, sound
                              and mindless.

I would like to publicly thank CBC Radio2's Pat Carrabré of 'The Signal' for introducing me to the great great find of Adham Shaikh. And, for those curious about the title 'Somptin Hapnin with Kinnie Starr,' I suggest you listen to Kinnie Starr's engaging little CBC-Recorded concert. 

Good night.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

2009.03.21 - MP Election by Lot - Secondary Rumination Part 3.

Philosophical Issues Around Learning and Teaching

I hesitate, sitting here, facing this e.tabula rasa. When first I thought of writing this piece, I remember having felt a clear sense that this would be an easy and interesting elaboration. But tonight I find myself unsure about how to begin or where I want it to go. My feeling of clarity muddied and hesitant, my ideas wispy and muddled.

Why? By now it would seem evident that I am not wanting for words. Perhaps I am concerned that further elaboration on whether or not the loquaciousness of my argument for MP Election by Lot is counter productive verbiage, and that any more words would be piling futility on top of pedantry. Yikes — that would never do!

And yet … is it wrong to question and explore the nature of ideas, especially contrarian ones, and their dissemination into a thinking-circumscribed society? I think not, although historically many have died and/or been imprisoned for doing just that. Not that my idea warrants a rub-out!

But I hesitate, none-the-less. I hesitate in part because I've read Lao-Tzu aver that

But I think I know enough, maybe, maybe just enough, to make an argument. But if I think that that is so, then maybe I don't. Know enough, I mean. Yet, I can't help feeling that if I cannot argue ideas, then how will I sit or walk or breathe without exploding? Is Lao-Tzu's argument true? It certainly has a ring of philosophical wisdom, but perhaps this idea is one that simply sounds good when, in reality, it lacks significant veracity or sagacity?

If those who 'know' do not speak, how does knowledge get disseminated?

After sitting here off and on over several days, reading, re-reading and wrestling with how to proceed, the locus — or perhaps the strange attractor — bending my thoughts has to do with the nature of societal or, perhaps, civilizing learning. Does a civilization learn from the bleated preachings of the wise or from first person experiences with scammers shilling shams? Neither? A tertium quid melange of both? For now I'll cherish the thought that with time and experience civilizations that do not collapse under the weight of their own corruption evolve wisdom enough to be saddened by war in both victory and defeat; to have heart enough to argue, over shared bread and wine, ultimate truths with the enemy rather than killing them on behalf of any of them.

And still so esoteric! Take a deep breath. Wrestle my ideas back to an acceptable perception of my so-called 'real' world. And so I wonder, in the 'real' world, have there been any civilizations that have risen above their ignorance, that have avoided collapsing under the weight of their corruption? My knowledge of history is too weak to think of any.

Perhaps the thing for me to do is remember that this, this ... thing I am writing began at the inner promptings I felt around electoral systems and democratizing them. I elaborated why 'my' little (s)electioneering by lot idea makes more sense, i.e. is more truly democratic, than re-clothing electioneering politics with one that is, at its very best, only superficially distinctive from it. I even argued that our current system is not, in pragmatic functionality, a democracy at all and that moving to an STV system will not change that.

Did I make this argument because I am too ignorant to know not to speak? Well, I think I made it because I felt compelled to convince the people of my society of the verity of my argument. I rationalized that I did not want to be just a purveyor of just another nonsensical idea to a people I knew would mostly perceive the idea as perverse at best, and ludicrously insane, at worst. And even as I write that I know that perhaps if I'd read Aristotle enough before I wrote anything I could have spieled less stridently because I'd have the backing of a respected authority. 'Aristotle said...' sounds so much more weighty and meaningful than 'e.gajd wrote.'

Of course philosophers have warned against the reliance on the words of dead philosophers, especially the esteemed ones. For example, Linji (or Lin Chi), founder of Rinzai Zen, wrote that 'If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.' Of course, if he actually knew that then, following Lao-Tzu, he would not have expressed it! Furthermore, if the 'killing the Buddha' metaphor holds weight, then the knowers who do not speak are aware that a misplaced word from the adulated sage has the power to kill an individual's proper path to their own individuality and enlightenment.


And now another sigh! I just realized that if Aristotle was actually respected, then I would not have been ignorant of his ideas. If Aristotle was actually respected his arguments, both right and wrong, would have been a part of my schooling more substantively than they were, given my six years of university across ten departments (although not philosophy). As I pondered why that is, I had an odd thought: is this an example of what Lao-Tzu may have meant when he wrote about knowers remaining mute? What I mean is that expressing the truth may be irrelevant because those who know it do not need to hear it, while those who do not cannot hear it anyway.

Curious. Thought of in this light, Lao-Tzu's adage has direct correspondence with the myths of Cassandra who was cursed with the ability to see and speak the truth, but to have that truth disbelieved and ignored by her society.

This whole train of thought is very grim! It infers that people cannot really learn unless they already know. This would mean that society is always doomed to death and decay, as those who know get ignored or, in many cases, persecuted, shunned or otherwise extirpated by the grasping ignorant who compulsively carve their way into positions of societal importance and influence. Sadly, this does somewhat correspond with both my perception of the nature of personal development, especially as influenced by formal post-secondary education, and the rise and fall of societal organizations and civilizations. C.P. Snow enunciated this 'truth' most eloquently:
More often than I like, I am saddened by a historical myth.... I can't help thinking of the Venetian Republic in their last half-century. Like us, they had once been fabulously lucky. The had become rich, as we did, by accident.... They knew, just as clearly as we know, that the current of history had begun to flow against them. Many of them gave their minds to working out ways to keep going. It would have meant breaking the pattern into which they had crystallized. They were fond of the pattern, just as we are fond of ours. They never found the will to break it.

More grimness! I must say, this rumination has plodded in a direction I had not anticipated. At least not consciously. Although it is quite likely my unconscious knew something of the flavour my thoughts were taking me, given the protracted time it has taken me to get my ideas up into my word processor. Also, I quite likely have had trouble finishing this peregrination because it undermines my ostensible goal of getting people to believe my words that advocate the adoption of a democratic idea likely as old as agricultural city-states.

Even Chuang Tzu, my favourite writer, suggests that you take my words and toss them into the heap of over elaborated 'good intentioned' ideas:
Besides, do you know how virtue degenerates and
how learning arises? Virtue is consumed by fame.
Learning is born of contention. Fame causes men to
fight with one another. Learning is the weapon for
both. Both can be evil instruments. They are not
the means to perfection. Though you are highly
virtuous and trustworthy, if you do not understand
the spirit of men, and though you are famous and do
not compete, if you do not understand the minds of
men, but instead go to a tyrant and lecture him on
goodness, ethical behaviour, measures and
standards, you are just using the failings of
others to demonstrate your own superiority. This
is deliberately hurting other people. One who
hurts others will in turn be hurt.
You have too many plans.
These preconceived ideas probably won't get you
into trouble, but that is as far as they go. How
could you possibly influence him? You are still
too rigid in your thinking.
Or, in the words of a couple of westerners:
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you (Matthew 7:6).
None of the institutions, measures, and means of education established for the masses and the needs of men in the aggregate, whatever shape of form they may take, serve to advance human culture. In the vast majority of cases they are completely worthless for that purpose and are directly opposed to it. Our race develops its human qualities in essence only from face to face, from heart to heart. Essentially it develops only in little intimate circles which gradually grow in graciousness and love, in confidence and trust.
... The great decisions in human life usually have far more to do with the instincts and other mysterious unconscious factors than with conscious will and well-meaning reasonableness. The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no universal recipe for living. Each of us carries his own life form within him — an irrational form which no other can outbid.
Well, then, is there no hope that formal learning can do anything but produce 'mass' men fueled with irrational puffery and petulant ignorance? And that elaborated knowledge produces mass confusion and drifts of snarling swine? Is there any value in reading the ideas of others or of expressing my ideas?

The answer to that likely moves and shifts like
Sigh! I did not mean to be so dark and gloomy, here. And I must counter that, on my bright days, I say and even shout 'Yes!' Expressed ideas do bring about change beyond simply creating a weapon to trump all weapons, such as the abolition of slavery, an end to child chimney sweeps, the suffrage and emancipation of women. But other times I am dubious. I certainly don't expect my tiny little argument in the nether-worlds of society to effect broad societal change. But to pretend with the world that the naked emperors are clothed when they are clearly hanging free goes against the nature of my nature, and I will certainly describe the lay of the genitalia, even if no one believes me and the act of doing so marks me ignorant or, worse, a dismissible, cantankerous contrarian.

And we never know what may come from an expressed idea, what friendships may be struck and from them the exchange of ideas and culture. From there it is a tiny leap to see the possibility of the expansion of wisdom, the rejection of oligarchy, and the smallest most personally profound victories against vasty ignorance.
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that other made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home
we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug, that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other,
we should consider —
lest the parade of our mutual life
gets lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them
back to sleep;
the signals we give —
yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear:
the darkness around us is deep.

And is that what teaching/learning is? An 'appeal to something shadowy,' with the hope that we are moving away from the darkness?

Well, I hope my argument is a move away from the darkness, but if not that perhaps from oligarchy.

Good night.