Sunday, December 04, 2011

Welcome to Queen's Park

Our new MPP Todd Smith (Conservative - Prince Edward - Hastings) is just now learning that holding office involves a lot more than just showing up at all the Santa Claus parades in the region. He recently criticized the Liberal government for its deficit, and what he calls a 'jobs crisis'. He need look no farther for an answer than his boss, Tim Hudak, who should know all about a jobs 'crisis'. Tim Hudak worked directly for Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, and when they were finally ousted from office, they had left the unemployment rate in the province at near 7.6%, not far from the 8% it is now. To note, also, they left more than $9 Billion in debt that they effectively tried to hide on the books before they were voted out in landslide elections.

Considering the global recession and failure of the markets worldwide, there is good reason to have high unemployment in 2011. Mike Harris had no such excuse. He had only his own failed economic policies to blame. One could go farther and show that with only three provinces posting growth in their economies over the past year, Ontario's Liberal success is in part fuelling the limited success of the Harper government. Federally, after all the talk of stimulus and corporate tax breaks creating employment, we have just this week soared to 7.4% unemployment nationwide. So where did all the money go that Conservatives provided to private enterprise in the form of tax breaks? Not in my pocket, nor yours. It's hard for any MPP sitting in a Conservative riding to point fingers at a Liberal Provincial government that has kept up growth, and also kept campaign promises not to cut services, while expanding both Health care and Education funding.

I feel for Todd Smith. I have heard he is a very personable and family-oriented guy.  (As an aside, I wonder why, then, he ran as a Big-Business Conservative?) It must be very difficult being a rookie MPP. There is immense pressure to produce results, especially following the footsteps of someone like Leona Dombrowski, who tirelessly fought for the people of Prince Edward - Hastings in legislature. With no knowledge of the interior workings of Queens Park, save for reporting from afar with scripted news, he tabled a private members bill just this month aimed at amending the Ontario Green Energy Act of 2009. It is very different being a critic, than it is being involved.

In reading the text of the bill, which is a short and sweet repeal of several sections of the Green Energy Act, I can't help but see that it was most likely handed to him from up high. I say that because the bill was in the works, written, and prepared long before the election, when they had no reason to believe that the rookie MPP, formerly a radio personality, would unseat a 12 year veteran MP who was the Minister for education. This "plum" private members bill could then be tabled as if it was his own idea, making him look good to constituents, but not be egg on the face of Tim Hudak, who knew it would fail.

Even before the election, leading environmentalist David Suzuki had much to say about the Conservative plan to cancel the Green Energy Act. He warned that the Tory scheme was ‘absolute insanity’. “I don’t get it, because it’s a job creator," Suzuki is quoted as saying. "I would have thought that the Conservatives would be banging away at the need to create jobs."

In the end, and rightfully so, the Tory plan was voted down.

AYES - 32
Arnott, Bailey, Barrett, Clark, Dunlop, Elliot, Fedeli, Hardeman, Harris, Hillier, Hudak, Jackson, Jones, Leone, MacLaren, McDonell, McKenna, McNaughton, Milligan, Munro, Nicholls, O’Toole, Ouellette, Pettapiece, Scott, Smith, Thompson, Walker, Wilson, Witmer, Yakabuski, Yurek

NAYS  – 45
Albanese, Armstrong, Balkissoon, Bartolucci, Bentley, Berardinetti, Best, Bisson, Broten, Cansfield, Colle, Coteau, Craitor, Damerla, Delaney, Dhillon, Dickson, DiNovo, Flynn, Forster, Gravelle, Hoskins, Jaczek, Leal, MacCharles, Mangat, Marchese, Miller, Milloy, Moridi, Murray, Natyshak, Orazietti, Piruzza, Qaadri, Sandals, Schein, Singh, Sousa, Tabuns, Takhar, Taylor, Wong, Wynne, Zimmer

Todd Smith then tweeted : "Can't believe the opposition parties wouldn't support their local municipalities and constituents"

Aside from the obvious blunder of calling opposition to the bill the "opposition parties", which is by definition the PC's and the NDP, inherent in the one tweet was a naive hope to think that anything other than the defeat of the bill would happen. If it was good politics, with the support of the people, they could have easily defeated the Nays if they had the right momentum and the right interests of the people of Ontario on their side. Only 45 voted against. With 53 Liberals, 37 Tories and 17 NDP, they only needed convince nine other MPP's to vote for the Act. In reality, they couldn't even drum up one third of the Legislature to vote for it, not even all their own party, with five PC's abstaining.

Why? With so much at stake for the futures of our children and our grandchildren in weaning ourselves from fossil fuels and nuclear energy, no politician from any riding that has concerns for our future would vote yes for it. Hudak, with his big money coming from corporations like Shell, and Exxon, needs to table things like this to keep the campaign dollars flowing. Poor Todd Smith bought the party line, and his idealism of going in to do something for his riding was the first casualty.

His tweet, about the other parties not caring about municipalities is a common complaint in rural areas, and serves him well in his bid to win over the hearts of Hastings-Prince Edward residents. However, in his laments that the Provincial government overstepped its boundaries in limiting the discourse (I should point out there is already a lengthy consulting process for solar farms and wind farms), he is ignoring the history of party politics in Municipal affairs. It was Mike Harris who downloaded debt on the Municipalities, crippling their ability to provide services. In Todd Smith's own riding, the County of Hastings had to disband its road department, leading to layoffs of all employees because Mike Harris nearly doubled their debt. Our debt. When the Tories were in power, they did much more damage to the Municipal infrastructure than any Liberal ever has. They continued the trend of doing the same for Health care, and for Education as well.

Stark reality is that in the past eight years, the Provincial Liberals have uploaded municipal costs, saving the Municipalities over $1 billion, and will reduce them another $500 million by 2018. Hardly the ignoring of concerns Todd Smith would like us to think, and must convince us, is happening, before the Liberals take this riding back in 2015. That, I believe, is the reality of support for the Municipalities, and in refusing to address this, Todd Smith is playing the game of partisan politics, not supporting his riding.

If he follows Tim Hudak's lead, this will not be the only game he learns to play.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Remember the album?

I abandoned albums for individual downloaded songs some time ago. Now on my iPod and PlayBook, there is a hodge-podge of music. Some songs I love and don't even know the artist.

But the album used to be King, back when CD's, and tapes before them, were an art form. There were albums that affected me because they were so textured, song after song, to create a coherent whole. It was the collection of songs that was the sound, not the individual pushed money-maker pop hits.

This is not a list of the "best" albums of all time, because really I could go on about Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and Stevie Wonder, Moby, or others, for ages. And don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing that there aren't great artists out there today. I'm simply saying that the album does not rule any more, and in a way that's a shame because it has left pop grasping for talent (or lack thereof), and indy artists fighting for attention.

So in memory of the album, I thought I would post about the few albums that changed me, the ones that became so essential to my listening that they were the standard to which all others are judged. I recently rediscovered the self-titled Stone Roses from 1989, and remembered those nights in high school playing it as loud as I could handle in those huge headphones that came from my Dad's high-fi set, with the cushy vinyl covered donuts over my ears, and the layers ... goddamn layers of sound. That was when I could put it on and get lost in it for hours. Now, well, I'm lucky to hear a whole song over the sound of the kids.

Here are a few of them:

1987 - U2 - The Joshua Tree
Before I found the Smiths in Grade 10, I think this was the first album that showed me what was possible.  After the metal music that had surrounded me in Havelock: Motley Crue, Ratt, Def Leppard, AC/DC, and the pop was no better. I was still ducking and covering from the abyss that was the 80's.

The Joshua tree came out and shattered that with a richness of sound and brilliant stories. 'Where the Streets Have No Name', 'Helter Skelter', 'Bullet in the Blue Sky', I don't even have to list the songs they have become so ubiquitous. Even so, it was some of the lesser known songs on the album that were brilliant. I still sing 'Running to Stand Still' in the shower, (where my voice doesn't scare anyone). The rooftop concert in Los Angeles was brilliant. I still get shivers to the bass line of 'With or Without You'

1986 - The Smiths - The Queen is Dead
I was introduced to the Smiths in High School after moving from relatively monotone (60's and 70's rock) Havelock Ontario to 'near-Toronto' Whitby, and a whole range of music taste. I remember one cute girl in my class, Anne, listening to Morrissey on her walkman, sharing one headphone with me for just a moment when I asked about it. I remember thinking I had to find out who they were. My introduction was The Queen is Dead, and it's bizarre 'Cemetery Gates', and the title track, and its cheekiness and lyrics I had to look up to understand, all of which fueled my love of odd music. The album propelled me into Bauhaus, Joy Division, New Order, the Cure, Madness, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and a whole new range of angst and frustration. I loved every minute of it.

1989 - The Stone Roses (self-titled)
Mentioned above. I had listened to the Charlatans UK, The Farm, Happy Mondays and some other groups who were toying with that Manchester sound, and when I first heard 'Fools Gold' on the radio (CFNY pre-corporate schlock) I had to buy the album the very next day. I was not disappointed. From 'Waterfall' to that excellent drum intro on 'Elephant Stone' to 'This is the One', to the brilliant outtro on 'I am the Resurrection' that lasts a full four minutes, I was mesmerized.

1991 - The Pixies - Trompe Le Monde
Being an ardent Jesus and Mary Chain listener at this point, it only took one listen of the Pixies version of 'Head On' before I was hooked. My disappointment to find out that they were on their fourth album, and I had been missing out for three years was bittersweet. I think when they opened for U2 at Maple Leaf Gardens, it was the Pixies who stole the show. They broke up soon after that, and became the Breeders, and Frank Black, separately. I always thought the Breeders ran from that split with all the talent.

1991 - Nirvana - Nevermind

I remember the first I knew of Nirvana was a wall of covers in the record store in the food court at the Oshawa centre, and I remember thinking 'what kind of crap are they trying to push this time' ... little did I know I'd be listening to it obsessively about three years later. I even had a chance to see Nirvana in concert in about 1993 out in Vancouver, before my conversion to the Nirvana fold, and didn't. It would have been an easy trip from Van, but I was working in a video store at the time, and didn't fully appreciate the band. You know what they say about hindsight.

1993 - The Breeders - Last Splash
This album, from the newly broken apart Pixies, was by far a vast step forward for their sound. The sisters Deal have a way of layering the guitar and leaving it raw at the same time, and using the drums as more than just a metronome, but an entire section of percussion, that still resonates as what a rock band should sound like. 

1994 - The Beastie Boys - Ill Communication
Out west, and visiting my friend in Victoria, and he put this on. My first thought was "What the hell is this?" followed by, a few short minutes later "Where do I get it?" This was the album that took the Beastie Boys from rappers to musicians, a respected and vast soundscape that tells a story like many albums before, but few since.

1994 - Beck - Mellow Gold
Tree planting, listened to this over and over and over. Highly addictive.

1995 - Elastica

This album of pure, raw, unadultered fun, and raunchy innuendo was a favourite from first listen while I lived in Vancouver in 95 and 96. My girlfriend at the time would put it on in the apartment and we would dance around like idiots. I always thought Justine Frieschmann was cute.

1997 - Portishead - Dummy
I was living in Montreal when Portishead released its album Dummy, and its fusion of electronic, haunting vamp-beat sounds, and heroin addict undertones. In the Second Cup on St. Laurent they played it over and over where I often wrote, and put down the first raw material that would become squeakyclean. I think the murky undertones of my writing were a subconscious absorption of the odd feeling of murkiness that came from this album.

1997 - Radiohead OK Computer
It was probably about 1998 that I actually discovered Radiohead, which has led to an on again off again infatuation with their sound that often leads me to question my taste, but then roars back with another listening to 'Subterranean Homesick Alien', or 'Electioneering'. Arguably the best rock band in history.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

You're and Your

The comedian at our dinner dance last night told a joke that perfectly illustrated the difference between 'you're', and 'your', so I share it here.

A man walks into a psychiatrist's office wrapped only in cellophane, and wants to have an assessment.

"I don't need to assess you," the psychiatrist says. "I can clearly see you're nuts..."

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Pack up the tents.

The camping trip is over.

That is what many in the media say about the occupy movements around the world. As soon as I had read the articles about the evictions of protesters, many prematurely calling it the 'death' of the occupy movement, I knew that they had completely missed the point. It struck me soon after that the media WANTS the end of the movement, as it fits into their cynical veiw of how long a protest can go on before fizzling into cynicism and frustration, with people going their separate ways.

This cynical effect was multiplied by the nature of the movement in Canada. Here, it never caught on in the parks as it did in the hearts and minds of the average Canadian. There were protests in Vancouver, where notably one protester overdosed and died, and in Toronto, Ottawa, London, and Calgary, among others, but with a strong economy, job market, and strong labour Unions, and with a less-than-disastrous fiscal outlook, the swelling numbers of people attending the occupations didn't materialise. This was not a failure.

The average Canadian understands that what happens in the US directly affects our economic and fiscal policy, and so the movement of occupy, while only tokenly represented in our parks and cities, was overwhelmingly supported by the average Canadian.

Today on CBC radio, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, himself a long time activist, said that the mistake about the occupy protests is that the movement became about the tents, not about the issues. I agree. The 'occupation' may come to an end, and so it should, for many safety and sanitation issues, sure, but more importantly to shift the focus from the tents to the issues.

The movement needs another phase.

So what is that next phase? I don't know.

I can bet that whatever happens, if it is to gain success, the movement will have to first understand that even though the physical occupation will, and must, come to an end, the occupation of the preoccupations of average people everywhere will have to continue. That requires a media presence, and a clearer statement of the ills it is to address. This movement is not about what is going to be DONE about the rich poor gap, or the wealth accumulation of the 1%,  or about any number of issues on their own, but about what is going to be ACCOMPLISHED.

What I mean is that no matter what the direct action of government, or the rich, or any number of other players, the movement can never lose sight of the goals, no matter how nebulous and indefineable. These goals are, and absolutely must be, tied to the individuals effected by the roll-roughshod over rights decades of American and world politics.

The movement will have to measure its accomplishment not in what is offered to appease the group, but in the winning over of each and every person out of work, unable to pay off student debt, unable to integrate after fighting  America's wars, who are denied health care, or everyone, for that matter, who wants an education without debt, or who wants a better world for their grandkids.

A big bill to fit, sure, but this movement is not about a bunch of tents in a bunch of parks. It is about the people, together, requesting, not demanding, a better world, and a future.

The camping trip may be over, but the movement is the same movement that first carved itself on thousands of clay shards in Athens in 400BC ... it is true democracy in action, and no city writ to evict the protesters, no arrests, riot sheilds, or pepper spray, will ever erase the possibility of a better world from our collective hearts.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Friday, November 11, 2011

If anyone in Toronto...

UPDATE!!!!!   Momma horse has been found!!!   Thank you all for your help and kindness in returning her to Daisy. We have a very happy girl here, knowing that Momma Horse is on her way home :D

I know this sounds crazy, but if anyone in Toronto happens to be near Sick Kids Hospital, Daisy lost her "momma horse", most likely on University Avenue, right behind the Mary Pickford bust and plaque near the entrance. The picture here shows where Momma Horse was left by a little girl caught up in playing in the leaves.

Just at the end of the bench on the left is where Momma Horse stayed after playing in the leaves.

She has had 'momma horse' through thick and thin, despite paint, and the horse losing a limb, it has always been her favourite. I know it may not be there, and I know that someone may have picked her up and put her in the trash in the meantime, but a certain little girl would be very happy to have her companion back. It would mean a lot if someone could look there for us.

Next weekend, we will be coming down to Oakville, and if you find it, we could pick it up from you. I'm sure there would be a little girl hug in it for the lucky person who finds her....

Here is a close up of the horse, and the girl who is very sad.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

TimTam Slam

Weeks ago, Jenn was reading about TimTams, a cookie treat from Australia, and joking that I should try them. They are good with coffee. They are chocolate. A perfect match for me, she thought.

Okay. I put it on the list of things to try, and went back to my writing. Fast forward to this grocery shopping expedition where she actually found a package of them in the Metro. She bought them, and I tried one. Not bad, but not my favourite by any means. I read the package. It's a cookie, alright.

Jenn then looked up on the internet that the "proper" way to eat them is in a TimTam Slam. That requires coffee or tea, so I set to work.

Enter latte.

(TimTams lurking menacingly in background....)

The TimTam Slam was described on the internet, so Jennifer gave me instructions and took pictures while I put it all together.

One starts by biting off the corners, and creating, what is in effect a cream-filled chocolate straw.

Then, one gently places a corner of the 'straw' into the coffee (or coffee-ish liquid), and gently sucks on the other corner so the liquid goes through the biscuit until it is full.

(photo redacted for vulgarity)

This creates a little somewhat squishy chocolate tube full of biscuit and latte, and there are several techniques (apparently) for cooling the cookie to ensure that the chocolate stays cool enough during the next phase while the insides are filled with hot coffee. (those Aussie's are so clever!)

Then, giving it just a short moment to ferment in its own chocolatey hot latte biscuit juices, you then slam the whole thing in your mouth and let it melt.


Ohhhhhhhm'god.... ohhmmmmaaaaahhhhhhgawwwwwwd.

That package isn't going to last the afternoon.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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I had posted earlier about a website that I had signed up for called Booksie, which was a website where users could post short stories, poems, and even full novels, to get feedback from other writers, and some readers. I signed up earlier in the year, and posted about it here:


I enjoyed it for a while, giving comments to writers whose work showed a lot of skill and those who were willing to put in determined editing. There were a few who became quite defensive, and a few who were shocked that I was even on the site.

One wrote:
"wow, you're not some wannabe writer teenage girl like most people on this site", which in itself was both heartening to know, but also made me sad that I would have less chance of finding great writing there.

I read hundreds of stories. I was brought right back to my creative writing classes at Concordia, where every writing rule possible was broken regularly. Let me tell you, there is a ton of clunky writing out there, and not in a bleary-eyed blog posting way. Some of it was worked over, and over, and still clunky.

Editing, more than writing I believe, is an art, a craft, and in reading a whole bunch of raw, hastily edited, half-dressed out-the-door fiction, I was reminded of two things. One, that good editing is something that can be learned, and HAS to be learned, in order to put out novels. I was reminded how far I've come since my own tentative stories twenty or so years ago.

Two, that some may be born with spark, but flames still have to be painstakingly nurtured. Reading on Booksie is like scanning through hundreds of sparks, and some small flames. It is an exercise that only someone who loves writing could put themselves through, because there is a lot of crap to wade through. Don't get me wrong, I found great writing there. Most of it, however, is teen fiction. I found, further, to my horror, that most of the teen fiction is actually vampire teen fiction. ugh.

I grew discouraged. I visited less regularly, and stopped editing or commenting until a couple of days ago. That was when I found Ryder Stokes. Her writing is a little raw, but talented, and if you like teen fiction, by the way, her page can be found here: Family Rendezvous.

Ryder had found herself caught in a drama between two trolls flaming each other back and forth on everyone's walls within typing distance, and found it better to move most of her work over to Wattpad. Disappointed with Booksie, I went to check it out.

If Booksie is the small town of mostly writers, Wattpad is the big, dirty, roiling city, geared toward readers.

Where at Booksie, people had taken an interest, and left many comments, and encouraged comments from me, on Wattpad they read quickly and moved on. It is less personal, more geared toward actually publishing.

I quickly realized the projects getting the hits had custom covers, so I created one, using a lighter, a half melted crayon, and a few pictures of a silver goblet I had kicking around, and Photoshopped it up. Not great, but not bad for about twenty minutes work.

First day posted, 30 reads, no comments. Compare that to Booksie, which, after many months, had generated 18 hits, but much more feedback.

Now, on Wattpad the problem I'm finding is that I had to choose a genre. 'Historical Fiction' to most people means romances set in the rolling hills of 1700s England, with Dukes, peasants, and illicit love between classes. With 40,000 years of humans having this brain size and covering most continents, and 4,000 years of recorded history, writers can do better than that myopic view. Still, I'm hoping Seven Gates will stand out as being somewhat unique.

(Still, if English country fiction is your thing, there is a great project being written by katquincy23 which I would love to see as an edited, tightened novel someday.)

I'm keeping my stuff on both. It's kind of like living in the country, where everyone knows my name, but while keeping a condo where I can do business. That way, I can maintain a bit of a writing community, where I can bounce ideas off people who can give gut feedback, while also polishing my writing for a larger more critical market. Works for me.


My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Middle Class

At one point, the phrase 'how the other half live' was accurate. More than half of Americans were making much better than a living wage, and could afford certain luxuries, like weekends, and retirements.

I came across a graphic in the New York Times, and the whole system was spelled out before me in statistics. There are so many in the country who are wondering what happened that led us to the Occupy movement, and at the core of their disbelief and arrogance is a myth that everything was chugging along nicely until the housing market crashed.

They fail to look at WHY the market crashed. In its simplest terms, people were borrowing money that they didn't have and couldn't ever pay back. Most would then shrug their shoulders, and blame deadbeat Americans for trying to hoodwink a system, or better yet, to blame the banks for lending money they knew their clients couldn't pay back. I don't lay blame, because there are so many people involved, that it is an entire system at fault. People acting in their best interests spiralled out of control. The system is broken, and it is always, throughout history, the government's job to fix it. Banks will not regulate themselves. People will not stop borrowing if it is convenient, and companies will not pay living wages unless forced.

So where does the problem really lie? Cash flow. The American people are no longer making a living wage.  I couldn't illustrate that last point better than the New York Times (you'll have to click it, then click 'show original' in the bottom left, then zoom in):

And I've been asked why I work for a labour Union? Because organizing workers is the only chance we have of getting the middle class back.

Fingers crossed, I wait to see what's going to happen.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Arab spring ... American fall?

In the news there are parallels being drawn about the Arab spring and the Occupy Wall St. protest that developed weeks ago. My first reaction was an eye-rolling 'come on'. The differences are numerous and vast. In America, with a true, albeit flawed, democracy, the protest is against the rich, where in the Arab world, the protest is against the entire Government system of tyrrany and corruption that has given rise to fundamentalism, terrorism, and the stifling of any secular economy. Any parallel to me seemed cartoonish at best, and this is the very perception that Wall Street and the bankers and money-men themselves have. So I thought I'd look farther into it.

What exactly is the same between the two regions?

Well, for one, fundamentalism. The Arab world is tired of their tax dollars (oil dollars, same thing) going into government systems that support terror and violence when it is so blatantly not condoned in their religion. Fundamentalism is just as much a threat to the US as it is in the Arab world. The difference is that the ignorance and violence take root and grow in the Arab world because of their vast poverty. While the profits of their corporations are used for the top percentage of  people to stay on top and be international 'players', the lower ninety percent live in relative poverty, in fear of police and military crackdowns.

In the US fundamentalism is kept in check by the differences between political parties. There are police crackdown, profits increasing at the same time as poverty, and the same somewhat corrupt elite, but in the US, there is a liberal left to counter the 'corporatism' that is developing.

Yes, I said 'corporatism'. It comes from a quote by Benito Mussolini "Fascism should rightfully be called corporatism, because it is the merging of state and corporate interest."

In the Arab world, and in most dictatorships, they took the short road to corporatism after the second world war. When the European powers withdrew in the decades following, the Arab states enveloped corporations that were necessary to national security, and, following the model set out by Hitler, used them for nefarious purposes, including but not limited to the domination of natural resources, and the control of population.

It is always about control.

In the US, it is developing the other way around. The corporations, in pushing for fifty years for less regulation under the guise of competition, have enveloped government, using the very democratic institutions they purport to love. They chip away, using filibusters, appointments to high positions, arguments ad nauseum, and other more or less legal legislative processes, to support their goal of control. Every argument they have is simply a technique that in reduction becomes this: The wealthy create jobs that pay for all other stuff, so let the wealthy pursue their wealth unrestricted, and the money will 'trickle down' and take care of the rest of us.

Except it doesn't.

The narrow segment of society controlling the wealth, are also steadily narrowing. Even though they are, themselves, the party of the rich, they have to be careful when they defend the interests of 1% of the American population who hold most of the wealth.Yet they still need the support of the other 45% of the population who identify as republicans but don't hold their core ideas to be true. These are the salt-of-the-earth types, and the Republican party needs to sell them on ideas that seem crazy to people outside the US; the UN is creating a new world order; immigrants are ruining their system, the war on drugs, war on terror. They would have to reject the Republican ideal that public health care would fail them (as if their public system doesn't...) that everyone is out to disarm them and take away their 'freedom'.

It is a mutual parasitic relationship.

To understand the party is simple. They need the votes to keep them in power, and cater to their vast and varied voter base. They taylor the issue to the electorate they want to win. It is amazing that outlets like Fox News can even cull together any kind of coherent vision from all the different lines of reason in the party. Those votes are bought by more religion in the schools, little gun control, and other hot button anger issues. Once in power, they have the mandate to push military interventionism, oil-colonialism, privatization of public institutions, and union busting.

Understanding the voter is more difficult. In supporting unrestrained capitalism with their votes, Republican voters are ensuring their perpetual poverty. Why would they do this? They feel the Republicans are the only ones listening.

A good example is Alabama's recent crackdown on illegal immigrants, that has thousands of kids pulled from the public schools. They are ripping into their presidential hopeful for even hinting that these immigrant children have rights as Americans. Republicans took this stand because racism and xenophobia are rampant in Alabama, even as un-American as it is because believe you me, it will get them votes. I guess they didn't read the plaque on the Statue of Liberty, or they needed to add a few of their own lines.

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

...and then slam it in your hispanic face.

At heart, Republican voters are angry about real world problems. Their middle class is disappearing, and they have real fears about the future. There is no social safety net, and they fear that they will have to work until they die without the backing of pensions.

They are afraid to ask for a real solutions though, as it would mean they would have to learn that crime is created by poverty, and can't be fixed by more guns on the streets. Their fear is one whipped up by right wing press. They would rather live in a corporate slave-state than give up their handguns, and that fits right into the Republican corporate agenda.

In reality, all of these ills could be solved with a 3% increase in taxes, and a re-investment into health, education, industry, retraining, and the developing of a middle class. Except they won't do that. Republicans now holding a majority in the house, and in the senate, have been filibustering and thwarting every Democratic effort to fix the rich poor gap. It is going to blow up on them.

A more important question though, is: Have Americans used up their goodwill? Is their empathy broken? What happened to the 'New Deal', forged out of an idea that the States should be  capable of lifting every other country up to its own level? The inherent flaws in this fallacy are that the US has its own radicals, mostly on the right, who want them to return to a sort of corporate run fast-burning industrial powerhouse. Call it a "nostalgic ideal".

Now don't get me wrong, industry is a fantastic force for change in the world, and its products create the world we live in, from iPads to suits to concrete to milk-protein dresses. Industry, done right, is not a problem. It's the right wing "nostalgic ideal" that is the problem. The only time that the nation had ever 'achieved' this was after the civil war. With thousands upon thousands of unemployed soldiers, and an economy newly rebounding and producing technology the rest of the world, and the country itself now found indispensible, the situation was ripe. Labour was undervalued to the point that it created its own form of slavery, culminating in children working in mines, and everyone marching into the industrial yoke, all in the name of corporate profit. Fast forward to today, when the same is happening albeit in slow motion, and we see that the "nostalgic ideal" only works for the few. Yet they are able to sell it to the many by promising, through media and mythology, that everyone can acheive this lifestyle of capital success. Never has that been farther from the truth. The more people buy into the myth, the less it ever becomes possible for them. It is the addiction to envisioning themselves rich that ensures they will always be poor.

Corporations do not feel evil. They look at numbers, and any social problems arising from their choices are not their problem. They see it as a consequence, not an erosion of anything. This is why they are so surprized by the protests. Making money for them is not inherently evil. The system rewards them by allowing them to pay less in taxes. An entire class of society believes in what they are doing because they are now untouchable. Like those who create huge Ponzi schemes, they don't care when they set up something that is doomed to fail, because the only calculation they worry about is the one that puts its collapse after their death. In a way, the whole American system is a complex Ponzi scheme, and the 1% hope to ride it as long as they can. If that means selling a lifestyle paid for by people extending their credit beyond any hope of payback, then so be it. They will already have the money.

How dire is it? We have the same divide between rich and poor that we had in the great depression. Plain and simple. If that's not dire, I don't know what is.

In looking back to the great depression, we have to see that in the postwar period, the system recovered. It took a world war, which was an immense stimulus spending (and the inspiration for our stimulus of last year that is getting so much flak) The difference is that again we trusted big business to trickle down the money into jobs, which in WW2 was inevitable. in 1939 the money went into goods and industries that had to employ people in order to meet the contracts. Today, it went into bankers pockets, and the people still suffered.

Government spending fixed the economy in 1939, but it won't work this time. This time, policy will have to fix it.

In the 1940's, Labour Unions and Democrats fought and won major policy shifts that put the money back in the hands of the working people. Never was it as good as it was in 1979, when the profitability of corporations peaked  at the same time as the workers increased their share of the pie. Even the bottom quarter of Americans were getting wage increases above the cost of living. The American dream was working for everyone. What happened in 1979?


1980 gave us a shift in American politics that reversed all the trends of the sharing of wealth in the American system that has put the bottom 99% on a slippery slope of spending more while earning less. Today, the bottom quarter sees their share of income actually DE-creasing, at a time when prices increase. This can only end in disaster.

The problem is that the rest of the world is not on this standard, and even though it is catching up, since the 1960's, with the surge of globalization, there has been a steady erosion of jobs from the middle class while the industrialists and corporations exported them overseas to capitalize on the cheap labour and lack of regulations.

What is most insidious is their demonizing of the left, as if human rights, Unions collective bargaining, children having nutritious food, women being safe from domestic violence, immigration, and a host of other issues are "bad", while the free, unrestrained pursuit of wealth, status, power, and influence are "good". They see the lack of control of growing co-ops, people self-sufficient for food, green energy, and all under the umbrella of liberalism, to be a threat to their control of both resources and people.

To understand Occupy Wall St. in the same context of the Arab Spring, one has to see the latter as a revolt, while the former is more like a pushback. The right would be wise to take heed. It could get worse. Of course the people of the great nation to our south are going to protest. It is the same downward slide that successive socialist-leaning governments in Canada have been fighting since Trudeau. And we've been winning, for the most part. Conservatives don't see it, because they believe in the free market. Believe me, if we truly deregulated our market we would be having our own occupy Bay St. protests right now. (at the time of this posting, these protests are beginning in Vancouver and Toronto...)

We have to ask ourselves, though. How long before millions of unemployed people, with the backing and inclusion of every stripe of American society, cross the line between pushback and revolt?

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Kindle US
Kindle UK
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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A question of tone.

"Great minds discuss ideas, small minds discuss people." - Eleanor Roosevelt

I was listening to CBC radio the other day, while driving, and the show was a call-in show about the provincial election in Ontario. The announcer had opened the phone lines to callers, and there was an interesting trend in the calls. For the most part, those who said they voted Liberal (and there were quite a few, owing to the listenership of CBC) were polite, and enthusiastic about another Liberal government term.

One Conservative got on, and started calling Ontario voters idiots, and stupid, and then told the host before being cut off that the people had been bent over a barrel with no lubrication.

If he wanted to argue policy, I would have listened to him. He could have pointed out that Hudak proposed making prisoners work (with which I don't necessarily disagree), or that there's a greater need for tracking sexual predators (good idea), or that there was a need for megaprisons (I don't see it), or he could even to skip the line into Federal politics and argue about Harper's term, to show that Hudak would be more of the same. In fact, I actually would have begged for more air time for him if he could have actually illustrated Hudak's platform, as nobody had been able to do that previously in the whole election.

No, it degenerated into this crap. Call it what you like. Bullyism. Trollism. Vulgarism. Tea Party politics. The best place to find it right now is on the internet. Click on any random news article about an election, or a leader, and scroll down to the comments. Or if you can't find an example, here are a couple:

"Fed up with rising prices, higher taxes, fewer opportunities,  a grim outlook for the future?
Tough shit. In not voting, you voted for it. So eat it."

Again, tone. Some others:

"Don't like Big Daddy Dalton's antics? Education is what I'm all about, and I'm not even a member of a union.  I do it for nothing.  Go figure."
"The disregard for taxpayer's money is discusting. (sic)"

Looking beyond the policies, I believe the problem is that conservatives use anger arguments while liberals use policy arguments. We speak two different languages. Instead of arguing the facts, conservatives use conjecture and rarely back anything up with solid numbers. Liberals put up statistics and references that the average conservative doesn't trust and doesn't read. In the States they are seeing the results of about forty years of anger politics. Their system is a mess. As soon as they opened the door with Nixon, a thug if there ever was one, they ended up with bully politics spoiling the whole thing, and, now, people occupying Wall Street against corporate greed.

That has more to do with what the Conservative party has to offer than what it fights against. They say they support the 'working families' of the province, and then say they'll do away with Collective bargaining, and cancel a green energy program providing over 70,000 jobs. They want to do away with 'wasteful spending', and yet can't say where they would cut the spending. They offer the same divisive crap they've offered since the Reform alliance.

Mulroney is a prime example of attacking the incumbent, then doing whatever he wanted when in power. Harris promised the same cuts and reigning in spending, and was elected on it. While most conservatives forget that he eviscerated our economy under pretense of balancing the budget, with Hudak as one of his MPP's, liberals remember the closing 22 hospitals and education system being gutted; the demonizing of teachers and Unions in the media. These were their neighbours, and friends, and the people who taught their children, and the attacks hit home in a way that Harris didn't intend. Most importantly from that, we expected fiscal prudence, and received $9Bil in defecit. There is a Tory amnesia there, just as there is an unwillingness to acknowledge any of the successes of any Liberal government before or since.

Conservatives rely on the anger vote, and play to this to try to whip up a frenzy. If they didn't, they'd drift from their traditional rural, aged, and angry voter base. In a social democracy though, the anger vote doesn't go very far. As soon as urbanites read the attacks, it falls dead. In cities, consensus is the norm. They are tired of attack politics, where rural people thrive on it.

Hudak attacked 'the taxman' McGuinty (a typical straw-man technique) saying the taxes are already are too high. Well what is defined as too high? Did he look at what we get for those taxes, or did he use generalities to attack without providing examples? It's hard to sell a 'high tax' myth to a people whose overall tax burden is 43rd of all countries in the world, and among the lowest of industrial nations. (That's overall tax burden, as a percentage of GDP, agglomerated from the whole country as reported by the Heritage Foundation. Or, if you like, 33rd in the world for data taken from Ontario, as ranked by Forbes magazine. Similar figures available from the CIA factbook for cross reference if you're interested)

Again, research.

Conservatives point out hat their party has changed. I disagree. It was the anger vote that got Harris in, and if Tim Hudak and John Tory are an indication of Conservative party offerings for the next election as well, we'll have to put up with the same divisive, angry dialogue that conservatives have been showing us for decades. Why? That is how they believe they can win. Without a change in tactics we'll have another Liberal government, and deservedly so.

To win, consistently, the Conservative party has to offer something concrete, not just hatred. If they illustrate a platform that protects healthcare and education (I mean really protected instead of lip-service), that protects collective bargaining and provides the middle class with well-paying jobs, supports green energy and meeting pollution reduction goals, fiscal prudence, all while maintaining the human rights that took centuries to build, then I would vote for them. So would most Liberal supporters.

But they don't. In fact they have, in their actions, proven to take stands exactly the opposite on all those points, while offering fluff gimmick style policies that get the rural votes while ignoring the core societal issues we MUST tackle to survive. The average conservative (and there are many exceptions whom I know very well) seems to be less educated, frustrated with politics in general, with the facts wrong and passions propelling them to hate liberalism for all the reasons the Conservative party gives them. They reject all standard benchmarks of measuring all the systems that matter the most.

How can anyone argue with that?

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

A teaser chapter for my current novel is now up!
Seven Gates

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
eBook, pdf, mobi, epub, rtf, lrf, palm, txt
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Kindle Germany

The above examples of conservative quotes come from here:

(Warning, takes a while to load. I offer it not to increase their traffic, but to give ownership under copyright law where it is due.)

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Death of the letter.

A short while ago, with the folding of the big bookstore chain Borders, all the blog posts and tweets and comments seemed to focus on one outstanding question. What will happen to the book? The consensus, and it was far from unanimous, was that many still loved to have an actual, physical book in their hands, but that the sales just weren't there to back it up. I remember the day that I heard that online sales of books had surpassed the actual physical book sales.

Then I put my novel online for download.

I figured that there was no sense in bucking a trend, a wave of change that was sweeping through the readership, made available by such interesting techno gadgets as the kindle, and the iPad. There was such an uproar, as if people had sensed the shift, the change in direction of the minnow school, and some were trying to point out the implications for a long loved form of media.

But this isn't about books. I merely bring this up because I see no such uproar coming in support of the humble letter. At a time when postal services around the world are combating lower volumes, who will speak for the letter?

Two hundred years ago, literacy was an aristocratic and privileged thing. Before the outburst of public schooling in the 1800's, letters were a relative rarity, expensive, and usually piggybacking on military dispatches, paid for by the receiver, or carried by relatives or friends or acquaintances between continents for those who were lucky to travel.

In 1840 with the invention of penny postage, private mail services gave way to the cheaper public system, and soon enough letters could be sent nearly worldwide, traveling by rail, ride or sail from anywhere to anywhere. That, coupled with the rise of the public funded school system, led to an explosion of mail. For nearly a century before the invention of the telegraph, the humble letter was the sole means of communication across long distances. People used it to pass news, to do business, and to communicate, to send postcards from exotic locations, or to keep in touch with their loved ones during times of war.

You may find this part of the history facile, almost laughable, as if I'm parodying something that we who were born before the internet take for granted, but before you laugh, consider this. In the US, lettermail between 2006 and 2010 alone dropped by 20%. We see similar numbers for other postal services around the world. We aren't sending letters any more

I blame it all on e-mail.

What, you ask, do I have against e-mail? Online, we all tend to truncate things. We re-write. We edit. We write it as if it has to fit in one page, and that's where its failing lies. A letter can be as long as we want it to.

It's not as if we haven't gone through changes like this before. The invention of the public postal system and public education shifted the focus of our thousands of years old oral traditions to a more unified storytelling experience. The best example is the coagulation of all our traditional views of Sinder Klaus, St. Nicholas (all three of them), and Santa Claus into the red-suited elf we now see on the Coca-Cola ads. People no longer sat down around fires and told stories, instead reading out loud from books.

Books gradually supplanted our oral tradition. Sure, there are still professional storytellers, but the majority of storytelling, the real bulk, shifted to books, then to radio, movies, and television, and now to the internet.

If we compare the modern blog to journal writing of the past centuries, novels to their online counterparts, news to the broadsheets of the past, and the humble letter to its modern e-mail counterpart, we see a continuing trend toward truncation.

In the iPod generation, will we see our children and grandchildren unable to even find books outside museums? Could they become like the parchment scrolls of the middle ages? It's possible.

Even the content of those books is changing. How many of us can conceive of reading War and Peace, with its whopping 560,000 words, let alone writing a novel of that size? That, and Les Miserables at 513,000 words, are two of my favourite novels. Even my first novel, squeakyclean, at only 250,000 words was rejected by many publishers as being 'too long', though it would have been quite normal at the turn of the century. We want our facts quickly, and efficiently, and haven't the time to wander through a story any more.

Books are shorter, partly because the publishing industry is looking for books that fall into the neat confines of a trade paperback, but partly also because the modern writer knows this. They know where to find their audience, which means smaller novel sizes being written and queried. The skills to write an epic novel, like the ability to tell long stories of the previous centuries, are disappearing from our writing communities.

How many of you now are thinking this post is a little long? That's on purpose. We all have a meter in our head, a timer if you will, that subconsciously counts the time we've been spending on one thing, and that's the root of our problem right there. Just as we influence the technology, and become more terse and compact in our production of media, we are also changing the comfort zone of what, as a reader, we accept as long enough to pay attention to. We are producing shorter works, and in turn, shortening our attention spans.

To bring this point back full circle, I believe that just as the epic novel may be wheezing out its slow death rattles, so too we may someday see the end of the letter. We are just not able to hone those skills. It's a shame. I still have letters sent to me years ago, that I can pull out and read, some from people who are long gone, and their script brings them back to me for a few moments. I still have notes thrown back and forth in class from high school. Do kids even do that any more? I would love to think so. There's something very comforting and simple about actual physical communication, and I think in turning away from it we are losing something of our humanity.

That said, I have written three actual physical letters, a couple of pages each, and I am sending them. My friend Kirk, in Montreal, who has a paperless office, said it will be like poetry to receive an actual personal piece of lettermail.

That reaction alone tells me that I'm doing the right thing. He'll be getting a letter this week.

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

A teaser chapter for my current novel is now up!
Seven Gates

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
eBook, pdf, mobi, epub, rtf, lrf, palm, txt
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Kindle Germany

Fountain of couth...

I was going to write a post about the protests in New York, but after my first draft grew to thousands of words, I thought instead I would blog some fluff and work on the more serious piece during my holiday.

So ... pens.

From left, Waterman, Old Workhorse, Keepsake, Cheapo, and New Workhorse

There's something intriguing and romantic about a fountain pen. They conjure up a bygone era, of writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway yukking it up in the Cafe Select on the rive gauche, or the stalwart businessman of Chicago, signing documents in real ink, while the typewriters clacked out in the background. I see fountain pens differently. I see them as a necessary modern tool for writing, just like the computer or the ubiquitous paper. For me, they are a guilty pleasure, and very much in step with the new push towards sustainability.

I have been writing with fountain pens for decades now, and the pleasure I get from it is often the difference between sitting down to write, or sitting down to snack and watch television. I have had numerous forgettable pens, and currently have a repertoire of some that I use often, and others that I use rarely, but love.

If you're interested in taking up writing with a fountain pen, you'll find many benefits. First, because they have a mechanism for pulling ink into the well themselves, and few moving parts, they can last for decades with very little waste. Any that I have broken it has usually been through my own stupidity, ie. dropping on the nib on the floor or cracking the casing, or stripping the threads where it screws together by mistreating them.

The fountain pens I use cost anywhere above $30, the most expensive is a Waterman that cost me in the range of $150. In two years I have spent $40 on a new pen (which was technically unnecessary), and two bottles of ink at about $5 apiece. There is no waste to go to landfill. The ink bottle and lid are glass and plastic respectively, and can be recycled. In that time period I wrote many successive drafts of a novel, letters, notes, and drawings.

Compare that to the disposable UniBall roller gels that, over the same time period, I used for my official work notes. (I use both because the ink in disposables is permanent and does not wash out when it gets wet.) In that time, I have filled five books of notes for work, using up six packages at roughly twelve pens each, or about 72 pens worth nearly $50. Every single one of those pens will end up in a landfill, as they can't be recycled.

Another benefit, which I hadn't anticipated, is that the more writing I had to do with the disposables, the more my wrist hurt. I haven't had the results back about my possible nerve damage, but in nearly thirty years of writing with fountain pens, I had no problems, and in the two years since I started writing with rollerballs, I have been put in so much pain that I had to learn to write with my other hand.

Why? It is in the mechanics of the pen itself. A rollerball up close is like a squished tube of very thin metal, like a cake decorators tube, with a ball bearing in the tip. It requires a certain pressure on the ball to create the friction to spin the ball, where the ink then is drawn along the ball surface onto the page as it rolls. More pressure equals more stress on the hand and wrist.

A fountain pen is a completely different mechanism. Up close, it is like a metal ball that is cut in half, pressed from the same heart or triangle shaped flat metal plate that makes up the nib. A channel is cut through the nib, up into the pen, and that's where the liquid ink runs. The ink is actually drawn through capillary action through the channel and into the ball, where, with minimal pressure, it is deposited on the page, wet, and takes a few seconds to dry. It actually writes better with less pressure, and, thus, less stress on the hand and wrist.

Inexpensive, environmentally responsible and ergonomic. Hooked? Here's what to look for:

Without being able to try out pens, it's hard to decide which is right for you. The weight, the nib, and the colour, size, and feel, are all personal choices, but if it's your first you'll want a starter pen that gets the job done without anything frilly or expensive. Try to buy a pen with a metal shaft, as it will last much longer. The ones with plastic casing, like the Cross I have, tend to strip the threads when they are under any sidelong pressure (for example, if left in your pocket and sat on ... ask me how I know) Also, a stainless steel nib will last longer and be more durable than an electroplated nib. For a first pen, until you know what you like for weight and writing style, go with a less expensive pen. They will be easier to part with if you decide its not for you.

Something else to remember is to get one with a suction reservoir. The Cross I bought recently did not come with one, and finding the reservoirs afterwards is like searching for hen's teeth. It is better to ensure that they have them already, because otherwise you have a pen that requires you constantly buy the ink refill cartridges that are pen-specific, rather than just bottles of ink. (also negating the environmental responsibility as noted above)

Cartridges from Cross (top), Waterman, and Sheaffer (bottom)
The next thing is the nib. If you like a thicker line, you'll want a Medium, thinner, a Fine. Any other sizes of nib will be harder to find outside of the specialty writing shops, which, themselves are becoming harder to find.

As you can see, dropping pens on their nibs is their kryptonite, and I have done it many times, owing to the circumstances under which I write. That is, all the time, wherever I am. I have lost several pens to clumsiness, the majority to setting it on a flat surface and forgetting that they roll. Since the nib is heavy when they are near empty, that's what hits the floor first.

It is hard to see in this blurry pic, but this is the repaired Waterman nib.
When a nib gets bent, the channel and the halves of this ball on the nib don't match up perfectly any more, and you get it either giving too much ink (the channel is too wide) or dragging fibres off the page, (one half of the ball is lower than the other and the sharp edge is scraping fibres off) I got very lucky with this Waterman, but it is no longer my primary writing pen.

My pen repertoire.

The old workhorse.

I have always loved Shaeffer pens. I have had a succession of three, the first of which was sadly lost in a cafe in Montreal years ago, and was quickly replaced by the first one you see here. This one was about $60 in 1999, owing to the electroplated nib, and is still very useable, though its line has widened from being dropped on the nib several times.

I also had another Shaeffer that I bought around the same time, a red one that was less elegant, with no frilly anything, but cost about $20. I fill with red ink and still, after 12 years, use it for editing my writing.

The new workhorse

I replaced the brown Sheaffer with an all-stainless version of the same pen. This $30 version, with a stainless nib, has withstood nearly five years of my abuse. It is looking its age. I wouldn't trade it for any other pen. It's my old faithful, and though not pretty, it gets the job done year after year after year.

The elegant showoff.

This Waterman is a $150 mid-range pen, which is a wonderful writing tool. I love it. I also dropped this one on its nib many years ago, and quickly used tiny tools to bend the nib back to its (somewhat) original position, so that it writes still very nicely. Have I mentioned that I love this pen?

If I was to buy a very expensive pen (and they go as expensive as one is willing to pay), then I believe it would be a Waterman, just based on the fantastic craftsmanship of this little pen. I think I would go for their Fine nib, though, instead of this one, which is a Medium. I like the thinner lines of a Fine, but not so small (and therefore cloggy) of an Extra Fine.

The cheapo.

Caught without a pen the other day, I went into a Staples and bought a "cheap" Cross pen. It was about $40, and that pricetag is I think more due to the Staples markup than to Cross themselves. It was a bit of a rip-off. It writes nice, being that it has a Fine nib, but the casing is plastic, it didn't come with a suction well, and it just feels, well, cheap. It looked great in the box (buyer beware), and was okay in a fix, but infinitely inferior even to the $30 Shaeffer that I bought many years ago. It will not last as long as that one, I can guarantee.

The unused keepsake.

I inherited this Cross pen from my Aunt Chris, who lived in Duncan BC, and first got me into writing. When I was about twelve years old, she bought me a blank journal, and wrote in fountain pen in the front cover a little dedication about how she likes to write. I still have that journal to this day, and even though this is not the same pen as she had thirty years ago, it was hers. She passed away from Cancer in 2001, and this was what she left me. I have not written with it, as nibs most often are worked down by their writers to be unusable by anyone else. She was hard on pens like I am, and so all I have done with it is wash it and dry it so that the ink didn't corrode it inside. I don't have the heart to do anything else with it.

That's that! Here's hoping there's a lot more interest in these types of pens, because I would hate to see them go the way of the typewriter.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

A teaser chapter for my current novel is now up!
Seven Gates

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
eBook, pdf, mobi, epub, rtf, lrf, palm, txt
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Kindle Germany

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How to argue like a Conservative.

As I've already written in a previous post (see 'open letter to a troll'), I was pounced on recently by a couple of neo-conservatives in an online debate on a friend's Facebook page. Statistics were on my side, and I thought I'd made a clear articulation of my views, yet I was the one who had to turn away from it.

It started when I wrote that I had time with our Liberal candidate and found her accessible. In my second post I pointed out that Ontario class sizes had decreased since Harris, and that hospital wait times had improved. (both statistically true.)

In the end, a mere two posts later, I gave up. It would have taken me months on a PhD-thesis-sized document to dig my way out of the web of tangled misnomers, attacks, slights, prods, and false accusations that were thrown at me in such a short time. Even after I withdrew, saying that I couldn't continue after it got so personal, they continued arguing, as if the sheer volume of their words made what they were saying true.

So like the true geek and societal-interaction wonk that I am, I analyzed the pattern of their argument and have come up with a few rules on how to argue like a Conservative.

1. Attack.

Within two posts they had written that:  a) I am biased because I am in a union. (everyone has bias, get over it.) b) that I am a Liberal supporter, and so this is the only reason why our candidate spoke to me (she didn't even know who I was at the time) c) that I couldn't possibly have been a Liberal supporter for twenty years, but only recently supported our local candidate. (it didn't occur to them that I lived in other cities), d) that McGuinty broke promises about not raising taxes (which is true) e) that my Union's pension and benefit plan are paid for by their taxes (false), and f) that my Union is "in bed" with the Liberals, (also false) and g) my Union is "elitist." (I'm still not sure how guys making $18-$26 an hour building roads can be seen as elitist. Really I don't even think, with his chosen party's stance on corporate taxes, and use of our military jets, he knows what 'elitist' means ... maybe another post someday on definitions...)

2. Pretend it's not personal. Feign shock at the offended person, as if attacking their character wouldn't cross your mind. It leaves you open to get all kinds of other jabs in, and puts you in the position to be condescending.

The attacks themselves were harmless. I've been called worse. It was that it was so personal so quickly, without provocation. This seems to be the pattern Conservative mantra though, if you don't agree, you're either misled or part of a special interest group that nullifies your opinion. One just needs to look at Harper and Hudak's televised ads to see that it actually works.

3. Ignore statistics.

When I posted two official websites about class size and hospital wait times, I was told it was 'propaganda', and that it 'didn't matter'. One of them apparently has a buddy who knows someone who is in a class right now and it's no different from under Harris. Pffft, statistics. Who needs them anyway?

4. Use the terms 'Liberal' and 'Socialist' as if they are lower than dirt. Call them 'fiberals', and 'pinkos'. In fact, the more ridicule you can direct at someone, the more likely they are to give up, and make it look like you won.

Another post will soon be coming about why 'socialist' and 'liberal' have become bad words in North American society, even though socialism is the only reason we have a middle class, healthcare, forty hour work week, minimum wage, etc.

5. Pretend to speak for the majority. Even though Conservatives have seldom, if ever, enjoyed near 50% popularity, pretend you are speaking for a 'silent' majority, that liberalism is just an abberration, created by special interest groups. In fact, blame special interest groups for everything that goes wrong, like the economy.

Conservatives are outnumbered two-to-one in Canada. Hell, 27% of working people work in a Union setting, and Tim Hudak still insists he is trying to support working families. If he did, he'd support collective bargaining. It's the only thing protecting our middle class.

6. Keep up the myth that Conservatives are good with our money. It's the only thing older voters believe, that tax cuts are coming because Conservatives are frugal.

The past four Conservative Prime Ministers have also coincidentally been the four largest spenders, accounting for more than 85% of our country's debt. Two of the Liberal PM's actually ran budget surpluses, while bailing out our social safety network.

7. Don't be afraid to contradict yourself. One response in the aforementioned argument was: "class sizes haven't changed at all since Harris. Well, maybe in elementary school but for high school kids are on their own." So, have class sizes changed? What does "on their own" mean? Even in admitting that the core of my argument was correct, he has still made it look as if he's right. Well played.

All kidding aside, it's about time we broke down the myths about the Conservative party that keep them getting into power, when they are not fiscally responsible, and gut our core services and accountability in office whenever elected.

How do we change this? Vote. Get other people to vote. Get informed. Read about the actual policies the parties propose, and make sure you know what you'll be getting if you vote them in. As people get older they realize how important politics are. As parents, also, it's never to early to teach your kids politics, especially the basics of democracy.

I put a quote up on my twitter, and it was retweeted many times, but I think it would serve well here. "If under 45 year old people voted with the same regularity as over 45 year old people, we would at present have an NDP minority government in Canada, and a stable Liberal majority in Ontario."

The real 'silent majority' are young people who don't believe politics is important. We are better than this. If all eligible voters actually made it to the polls, we wouldn't have this Conservative debate. It is only through apathy they get into power. The true test of our system will not be Liberal vs. Conservative. It will be if we have a system at all. If people lose enough faith, and the majority don't vote, then we truly will get exactly what we deserve.

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

A teaser chapter for my current novel is now up!
Seven Gates

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Semi armoured?

Okay, another naming dilemma.

I recently admired my friend JP's wrist ... thingy ... online. I believe my comment on his picture was: 'want'

I didn't know what to call it. Bracelet sounded too ... unmanly. Wristband, not really right because it's not a band. Lucky me, he asked my wrist size, and less than a week later, there was a package in the mail for me. At first, he called it a "custom survival paracord bracelet" which I thought was apt. It's made with 18 feet of 550lb (load strength) parachute cord, which can be unwoven in case of an emergency in the bush (like fashioning a fire starting bow, tying up a lean-to tent, or I don't know ... survivally stuff.) In its core, I also found out, is a filament that can be used for catching fish (hook not included). Apparrently I was going to feel the need to "kill and grill small furry things, while smoking cigars! :)"

Just the thing I need for the new property, camping, and teaching the kids those skills when they're ready.

The naming still didn't sit well with me. JP's wife pointed out it's not a 'friendship bracelet', but a 'tactical friendship bracelet'. Then JP added to the picture that I posted on Facebook that it's a super tactical full-choke, multi space-age semi armoured, ninja decoder bracelet

All I know is, only a great guy like JP could send a handmade supercool wristband across the continent for a friend. Much appreciated. :D

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

A teaser chapter for my current novel is now up!
Seven Gates

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Open letter to a troll

Oops I did it again. I got into it about politics with a troll on someone else's Facebook page. Now what?

We've all been sucked into arguments that have no benefit. Dialogue is the essence of society. It is how things are done. In a democratic society, the way we manage everything is by discourse with each other. When we read something untrue about an issue close to us, or we feel maligned due to our profession or our location, we feel compelled to post back, to correct the wrong. So how do we avoid getting sucked into cyclical arguments that drain us and give us nothing?

First, understand that there are good arguments and bad arguments.

Good arguments help us grow. No two people have the same point of view, and it is our differences help us to understand issues better. In a good argument you can have opposite points of view and still respect each other. I have Conservative friends whose input I find essential to my political life, because they broaden my view of the Canadian system. Not many, but I have them.

Bad arguments are the ones that make us shrink to our pettiest instincts, like online survival mode. They jump from point to point without settling on anything, and become a contest of who can pummel the other into looking like an ass faster. Chances are if someone is arguing back to you but doesn't listen or acknowledge your point of view, assumes to know how you think, and won't nail down to an actual point to argue, then the argument isn't going to go anywhere.

I live by a few simple rules that keep me from death-match UFC dragdown online arguments.

1. I know how much I'm willing to invest. When it gets heated, I prefer to think of how much time I'm wasting. If I'm sitting red-faced at the computer while the kids play in the back yard on a Sunday afternoon, it's not worth it.

2 I try to know my stuff. When talking about stats, it helps to put links to those stats. Similarly, specific events can be linked to as well.Yesterday, I was told by a self-employed business owner that (among other things) his taxes paid for my Union's "exorbinant" benefits and pension, and that school class sizes hadn't changed in Ontario in ten years, both of which are completely untrue.(The Union benefits are self-funded through the negotiated wages, and class sizes have shrunk from 35+ to near 23 in primary school) If you don't know, don't argue it. There's no harm in saying you don't know something.

3. I try to keep it objective. Calling people's perspective a 'bias' is belittling, and lets face it, who doesn't have some sort of bias? Judge the people's actions, not the person. If you don't know them, don't assume their standpoint. Let them flesh it out, and if you see inconsistency, point it out. Tell them what you think, not what they think.

4. I acknowledge when someone else is right, or when I am wrong. I can tell right away when someone is just trolling for the sake of an argument when they can't acknowledge they are wrong when it's pointed out. If I'm wrong or out of line, I say so. No biggie.

5. I never think of it as winning or losing. If you do that, you've already lost. In terms of politics and religion, corporal punishment, and war, and so many others, nobody wins these arguments anyway. The undercurrents are thousands of years old, and your lifetime of arguing will not change that. Change happens generationally.

6. Speaking of change, my father always said "You can't change others, you can only change yourself." That's about a zen as I get in this life.

7. I know when to call it quits. If it's not helping anyone, cut it off. There is no harm in saying "this is neither the time nor the place" and extricating yourself. It doesn't mean you lose, it just means you don't want to get into it with a stranger. Would you stand in a parking lot yelling at someone about a tax increase while your kids waited? Why do that online?

8. I try not to picture the other person's tone. It's so easy when arguing to picture the person on the other side as being angry and yelling at us, when in fact, they are sitting at a computer just like we are. This keeps it civil.

9. Above all, don't say anything online that you wouldn't say to someone's face. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

What are your thoughts on trolling? Have you ever gotten into it and regretted it? How do you avoid these arguments ... or if you don't avoid them, why not?

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

A teaser chapter for my current novel is now up!
Seven Gates

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
eBook, pdf, mobi, epub, rtf, lrf, palm, txt
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Kindle Germany

Friday, September 23, 2011

What is normal?

I am no expert. Let us get that straight right from the start. I am trying to deepen my understanding of genetics, and here is where my thought process lies ... follow along if you like.

Long ago, I had written in my journal that I did not agree with the way science, or perhaps the media reporting on science, portrayed genetics as a code passed down with complete perfection from one generation to the next. Variations were only caused by the combining of two sets, and any other variations were diseases. It was portrayed that a complete set of chromosomes was perfectly natural.

Normal, one would say.

Since we're labelling ... Normal.
I rejected this. I thought that during our lifetime, our genes could be affected by who we are, what we do, and how we survive in the world. Perhaps I am wrong. It was just a theory. The problem is in the mechanism. How do genes actually change ... is it at the moment egg meets sperm, and at no other moment, or can changes happen within a person's lifetime to their genetic makeup?

Not (?) normal.
I now know, (with a nod to the program 'Weird or What') that it is possible for one person to have two different sets of genes in the same body. There was an instance of a woman in New Mexico who tested a negative match to her own child. This was shocking to her, to say the least, as she had birthed him in a modern hospital all on the record. It turns out that part of her body shared his genetics, and another part didn't.

So this begs the question, if our genes change during our lifetime, how do they change throughout the body? If they change only at conception, how is it we pass on certain things? Nurture rather than nature? There is an entire lifetime profession of possibilities. The study of these questions is part of a new field called Epigenetics.


Bear with me.

The other day when we were driving, Cole said that he would be nice to Owen because he is not 'normal', and would treat him normal so he will feel included. I was proud and a little dismayed at the same time.

Proud because he was being a great big brother, showing a resolve that Owen should feel comfortable and accepted. But I was also dismayed because for all intents and purposes, Owen IS normal. If Cole was to know all the 'adult' issues with other people who are close to him, he would find a soup containing borderline personality disorder, Fragile X, chronic depression, autism, dwarfism, and fetal alcohol syndrome.

All this without mentioning a father who has the exact same genetic anomaly as his brother, and a 50/50 possibility that Cole himself has the same anomaly. In fact, he has an entire family of people with odd sensory issues, and yet he perceives Owen as abnormal, simply because Jennifer and I talk (perhaps too openly) about the challenges.

Normal? Or not?

We decided not to talk about Owen's issues when kids are listening, and it brings up questions about the consequences of our actions. One just has to google "killed" and "bully" to bring up frightening realities for kids who are different, even here in our Canadian schools. This is what we want to avoid, is a situation where chatty Cole talks about his younger brother and inadvertently sets in motion a chain of events that leaves Owen outcast, or at worst could have other consequences.

The problem is in the label. Normal. It screams of a majority group of us who are perfectly well-adjusted, with clean DNA, no problems at home, and a background that allows judgment from a morally superior perch.

Here is the reality. Nobody is normal. Not even you. Social skills and history aside, even genetically everyone has small additions and deletions. They are common, one could even say rampant, because that is how we evolve. These variations are called traits. Everyone has a soup of them, all within the bounds of normal, that we have learned to either suppress or exploit to get along in the world.

So when it comes to Owen, and all of us for that matter, when does a "trait" become a "disorder?

Genetic testing would say, and actually did say in Owen's case, that when a variation is under a certain level of genes affected, it is a 'normal family variant'. In that way, they can state that genetics do not cause clinically observed abnormalities. The researcher in Italy, even, was uninterested until she found that I had the same genetic variation as well, AND had issues as a child. What they were doing was counting the size of the variation, and the genes affected, and simply reporting on that.

I think that's rather narrow and overly scientific.

In my mind, it works like code in a computer. You can change all kinds of things and have no effect, but if you start randomly cutting and pasting, you eventually see all kinds of problems. It all depends on WHICH code you replace, not how much. Even the smallest could cause the blue screen of death.

In people, I believe small duplications and deletions can have big impact, and larger sequences a smaller impact, based on their location.

The benchmark should be a better merging between the clinically observed and the genetic analysis. This is happening, but it could take a long time. It requires the merging of the social, or 'soft' sciences of medicine, with the 'hard' science. Both are equally necessary for the patient experience, and in this case, neither are lacking, it is the one-two punch that is disorganized.

For now, I think we should hold off trying to actually diagnose things through genetics, unless the results are proven. Some things can already be diagnosed, others, not. In the meantime I don't believe we should be stating that the variations are 'normal' if the testing hasn't beyond a doubt proven the theory. If even small variations can cause disorders or even discomforts, or can lead to a mis-diagnosis, then we need to know which ones are linked before giving any results. 

Not normal.
In the meantime, I think the information should flow the other way. We should be collecting data on which variations go with which symptoms, and through the cataloging and collective data-gathering, determine which genes affect which people in which ways.

All that said, genetics is in its infancy. I can't wait to see what happens with it in the next ten years.

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

A teaser chapter for my current novel is now up!
Seven Gates

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
eBook, pdf, mobi, epub, rtf, lrf, palm, txt
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Kindle Germany