Thursday, 13 October 2016

Electoral Reform

  I attended a meeting on Electoral Reform held by my local MP recently. I was very impressed with my fellow citizens comments, the calibre of discussion and the wide range of views represented. The Liberals promised electoral reform and to my great pleasure, they have actually moved on this issue. They created a committee to review electoral reform and decide on a different voting system than the one we currently use. This fills me with gladness, because one of the great frustrations of my life is that my choices are almost never represented and we are in a time when we will very much need a system of representation that really does include everyone, especially those on the fringe
  Opponents of change insist that the system we have 'may have flaws' but we need to be very careful about making changes and so should wait and take our time. Well, firstly, we've been discussing this issue for 70 years and have had at least a dozen commissions, and we take our time, an election happens, a new Party takes power and nothing gets changed. This is how they want to prevent any change because opponents mostly constitute those who will never again hold power under a pluralistic system, because they are too ideological and they have hitherto refused to co-operate with anyone on anything. Moreover, the current system was devised in 13th Century England, long before political parties were even conceived, with the intent to have locally pre-eminent citizens represent approximately 5000 people for every member of Parliament, and it is entirely possible for 5000 people to actually know who they were choosing to send to represent them. Whereas, a typical constituency now has upwards of 50,000 people, so it is virtually impossible for my representative to be known to all of us first hand. So people vote by Party affiliation. It is only reasonable that if people vote by Parties, we should have a new system that reflects that reality. 
  Opponents of change argue that the system functions well and is stable, but this is demonstrably false. It is stable only over the short term, but our current system was never designed with the idea of Parties in mind, and so we keep lurching from one Party to the other back and forth, each Party imposing very different laws and supporting very different policies. This means that governments undo what previous governments put in place which has all the stability of a two-year-old learning to walk. Policies reverse themselves by government and there is only continuity in the tacit agreement that the only way to manage an economy is through the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels and consequent emission of CO2 into the atmosphere when it is long past time to be cutting back. In almost all nations with pluralistic systems designed around Party affiliation as a central premise, government policies are far less variable from election to election and policies and laws change less over time. They are far more stable than our system has been. As for functioning well, we choose individuals to represent us, but choose those individuals by Party affiliation. Once elected, these 'individuals' are, in actuality, submissive to the discipline of the Party leaders. The vagaries of our current system means one party can garner the votes of about one third of the nation, concentrated properly, which leads to a majority of seats in the house and consequently, due to Party discipline, a very small group of people wield 100% of the political power. We have seen the consequences of this in the recent Harper government, which, unlike previous governments who were careful to keep the appearance and form of pluralistic political dialogue, discarded all pretense of consultation or co-operation and imposed their radical ideological fantasies on the nation with almost unprecedented vigour. This is exactly why we need to prevent this sort of abuse of power in the future. Mr. Harper was  a pretty good government, when he was held in the vise of a minority government, but appalling when in majority, i.e. total, power.
   Opponents of change argue that a new ballot is too complex for the average voter, but given the ability of ordinary citizens in so very many other countries to figure out how to work a ballot with proportional representation in various forms,  the argument then is simply a disdainful dismissal of the average citizen and betrays the contempt in which they are held by those who benefit from the current system. Moreover pluralistic voting methods have already been successfully used, at the municipal level in Canada, and were only eliminated by those who benefit from the largest-minority First-Past-The-Post voting system that we have to use now.
   Opponents of change argue that it must be brought in by referendum, which is laughable. The irony of demanding popular support to bring in a voting system to reflect popular support is rich. So is the notion that we need permission from a majority to have a system to encourage and recognize minority viewpoints. Opponents say we must, because they know well that referendums do not work. Most people are not policy wonks and have no interest in exploring the exquisite complexities of voting systems. They are not thoroughly familiar with the potential consequences,  or the need, for any given change and so, when confronted with a choice between known versus and unknown, but not facing a crisis, people invariably choose as all biological creatures do: they choose to stay with the familiar rather than change to the unfamiliar. McGuinty used this non-action masterfully, in Ontario, with the 2007 Referendum. The government assured the referendum would fail by spending less money it total on the entire process, viz., organizing committee meetings, supporting research, developing options, and advertising, than a typical fast-food corporation spends hawking its wares in one evening on prime-time TV. They further assured it would fail by asking a loaded question, designed to lead the ignorant to choose 'no change', thus guaranteeing failure while still pretending to do something. Furthermore, no significant yet necessary change was ever enacted via referendum. Women did not get the vote by referendum, nor did aboriginals. Homosexuality was not made legal, nor was death for murder enacted by referendum. David Milgaard would never have been freed, but been killed for a crime he did not commit.
   If I were to arrange a new system, I would base it on Mixed Member Proportional, that is, a mix of Members elected to represent a particular electoral district, and extra members appointed by Party affiliation to produce a Parliament that is proportional by Party. But for the selection of the Member, I would use Alternate Vote, whereby all candidates are ranked from first choice to last, which assures that, while whoever becomes elected may not be the first choice of more than a minority, which is the case now, the eventual winner will be the second or third choice of the majority, and someone most are comfortable with. Or possibly combine this with larger, multi-member districts via Single Transferable Vote, but still with the option to top up via Party choice. 

   My rationale for this is simply that, given the scale and magnitude of the electorate, people vote by Party, so that must be a component. But the benefit of having a particular person, or very small group of people associated with my locality ensures that there is someone paying attention to how the proposed government policies and laws are going to affect people in my area, and someone whose job is to address government-related issues of immediate concern to me.
   We very much need a system of representation that really does include everyone, especially those on the fringe. We are long past due, being one of only three OECD countries to still use this outmoded system of electing representatives. It is no longer appropriate for the size of the populace, and is no longer appropriate to select leadership we will very much need as we face increasingly difficult predicaments of climate change and energy reduction during 21st Century.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Trump Card

As a subject of the United States, I follow the "elections" with some fascination. Choices have been degrading over the course of my lifetime and what passes for political discussion in the U.S. has followed the typical path of most empires, degrading into a polarized contest between two different parties at least one of whom refuses utterly to work with the other. That is how empires die. The Mamelukes, the Byzantines, Rome... all fall into a period when the leadership would rather tear each other apart in quest of absolute power than realize that they have much more in common with each other than not and consequently fall prey to internal or external forces that tear it apart.
I came across this item the other day, which illustrates exactly the situation and the problem: An Open Letter to My Friends Who Support Donald Trump
The current situation is that the Democratic Party, through disheartening fraud managed to secure the nomination of their preferred puppet candidate in their quest to implement a program that, prima facie, supports and improves lives of poor working classes, but which, in fact, merely supports the status quo. A status quo that has, over the past 30 years, pretty much destroyed the working class, the source of their wealth and power and alienated the internal proletariat, turning them into apathetic, passive  cynics at best, angry, betrayed enemies at worst, so eager for something other than the status quo that they will turn to the first enticing demagogue who appears on the horizon. And at the final state of dysfunction in Empires, a demagogue always appears to try and restore people to some time when they felt optimistic.
Enter Donald J. Trump, possibly the least qualified popular figure ever to vie for the crown oval office.
While neither Hillary nor Donald can alter the deeper course of decline of the American empire in its final days, there is a definite difference in how the process unfolds and I'd much prefer to have the Democrats desperately trying to fix the status quo than the kind of radical change this man represents. I know the American people are in about the same mental place as the people of 1780s France, or in the Weimar Republic, or the Kingdom of Italy, or the Russian Empire but it is possible to move from empire to post-empire without the cataclysm of social disintegration that Trump & the Republican Party will assuredly follow.
He has whipped up an increasingly large mob of angry supporters which will probably carry him into the the White House. But after that, he will have to deal with the reality that angry mobs who crush your enemies are not known settling down to make rational decisions about serious issues.
Unfortunately, Trump will likely become President, because of the way he is running his campaign, versus the way Clinton has been running hers.
He peppers his scrambled rants with grandiose feel-good statements that he will 'improve' things and plays on false-memories of some vague glorious past when America, for all its faults, was still full of optimism and drive, before the banksters, mainstream economists, professional politicians, and other fraudsters started eroding those hopes from the daily lives of most Americans.
Clinton is constantly being attacked by enemies who implicitly understand Goebbels dictum about saying something loudly and repeatedly until it becomes truth, and isn't apparently offering a grand vision. Mr. Hopey-changey pretty much destroyed the worth of that line of credibility when he utterly failed to make any meaningful course-correction in policy foreign or domestic and she hasn't come up with anything to match it. Yet. Most of her supporters are trying to rely on the failing strategy of scaring voters with 'he's awful' as their main argument and that is definitely not working. Moreover, the disaster of the scandal of the corrupt nomination process has pretty much alienated most of the support that might have made all the difference. Betrayal is harsh and I'm pretty sure that there are a lot of Bernie Supporters out there who right now want to see the whole mess go up in flames.
If Trump becomes President that will probably happen sooner rather than later.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

The Summer of our Discontent

   This is shaping up to be a very violent summer in North America, more violent than most. Many grievances are coming to a head, the habit of pushing problems off until 'later' has finally caught up with those in power.
   The Brexit vote is being decryed by the political and cultural elite as the result of giving ignorant racists the vote, but this is disingenuous, because every time one of those working class people observes that their standard of living has not risen in the past 30 years, and for a significant fraction it has declined, jobs have either disappeared or become scraps to fight over and then questions the wisdom of bringing in more unemployed immigrants, they are instantly labelled and dismissed as racists by the people whose policies created the immigration flow problem in the first place. The people who have profited mightily from the off-shoring of jobs and undercutting of the working classes.

   The failure of the powers that be to enforce their stated mandate of equal treatment to people who are obviously different, their tacit acceptance of bigotry in the ranks of the police and other front-line employees of the state is now reflected with the "Idle no More" movement, and the "Black Lives Matter" [too] movement and their increasing frustration at the failure of the status quo to address this issue.
  There are some important pieces, notably this one: about the damage done by not vigourously enforcing standards of behaviour. Bad behaviour corrupts by discouraging good behaviour. After all, if someone can do something obviously bad and get away with it, what is my incentive to hold up my own standards? Furthermore, those at the very top have been behaving very badly for decades now and the internal proletariat are losing any incentive to maintain the social order.
   What happens next is chaotic, violent, and oftentimes destroys the political entity.
   So the Republicans are about to nominate a racist, misogynistic demagogue and his corporate-lacky as their candidates for POTUS. The Democrates are presenting a representative of the status quo for their choice, a status-quo that is failing most Americans. Across the world, 50 years of U.S. meddling in other nations affairs has created a backlash of frustrated, raging young people who have wrapped themselves in the righteousness of pseudo-religion and who are wreaking terror and havoc across Eurasia.
   This is becoming an exceptionally violent summer and the heat has just started.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016


"Brexit" has claimed its first political victims - the Rt. Hon. David Cameron and the Rt doofus Trump (although the latter, sadly, will survive politically to become POTUS) and the political establishment; the speculators & gamblers (AKA investors) in the markets are all a-flutter selling like crazy in anticipation of losing lots and lots of money...
Over the next two years Great Britain will negotiate leaving the E.U.
The ordinary voters basically just laid a smack-down on the political and economic establishment which is what happens when you run a rigged system for too long. Much has been made about the racially biased attitudes that came out in the debate and the high correlation between disliking multiculturalism, social liberalism, feminism, the Green movement, &c. with the overall 'leave' vote.The point many pundits completely miss is the racial component comes out when the economics starts to fail large parts of the populace.
It's about people looking for proximate causes for systemic issues and about the fact that if Britain benefits, Britains, the working classes, are definitely not.

True, the E.U. brings in about £10 of economic benefit for every £ it costs, but if £9.10 doesn't make it down to the people, then why would they continue to believe in such a system? People who are unemployed look for a plausible reason and immigrants and migrants coming in working for less money is a pretty obvious apparent cause. Business owners who see costs rise to protect the environment grumble about lost profits, especially when local industries are wiped out by cheaper imports.
Globalization in general has had the same effect around the world. Many people have profited, but most people who started well-off have found themselves struggling and going downhill as a result, and only a few at the top of the heap have enjoyed extreme profits.
The numbers, i.e. the GDP -- which if you look at it carefully really doesn't measure anything worth measuring -- are all going up, but the wealth isn't "trickling down" to anyone.
So the voters basically chose to dismantle a system that, in their experience, is costing them more than benefiting them. The people at the top have forgotten that the economy is supposed to serve the needs and wants of the people, not the other way around, and this is the inevitable result.
The good part is it's was done without violent revolution, but the bad part is Britains probably won't be better off as a result, but they may be better off in the long term.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016


The pursuit of excellence is recognizing that one can always improve.
So very many believe they have improved enough, which is why so few are dedicated to excellence and why there is a common herd to rise above.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Comedian Politicians

It occurs to me that there is a meme going around that we are now listening to comedians and laughing at politicians.
Maybe if we paid more attention and got more involved, which, by the by, doesn't involve much more than sending letters and letting your voice be heard by those in authority, then we'd get better politicians, instead of the ridiculous crop of fools now vying for the President of the U.S., or for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, for example.
Perhaps if more people sent letters to the editors and publishers of papers & TV shows, many of the idiotic commentators they keep paying on staff would not have a platform to keep spewing their fantasy nonsense about the world.
But, then, again, those papers and TV media outlets have done a massive disservice to the world over the past 25 years by pretending that there are two sides to the climate disruption issue, instead of accepting that there is 95 parts to one side and 5 parts to the other... and those other 5 dissenting parts are not credible. Then we might not have the pretence of Paris pseudo-agreement to maybe get around to doing something, now that it is far past too late for any meaningful, effective action. 

But, instead, we get commentators who still try to convince us that trickle-down economics (a funny phrase by Roy Rogers talking about Herbert Hoover's response to the 1929 market crash that hearalded the Great Depression of the 1930s) is actually a viable economic system despite all evidence to the contrary. We get, on the flip side, insistence from die-hard socialist commentators (and crypto-communists) that their equally absurd Robin Hood economics will work, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile everyone is kept completely convinced that proven-effective systems, like Georgist-economics, cannot possible work -- because that sort of system really would curb the out-of-control industrial captialism that is destroying our world at ever-faster rate and thus cut right into the wealth of those who profit from the current system, and their counterparts.
So we get the circus that passes for political debate and comedians on talk shows are left to point out the absurd mismatch between reality and the ideas seriously adopted and proposed by those who should be leading us.

Thursday, 3 September 2015


Punk rock arrived in the 1970s, an angry, loud genre barely able to be called music. Actually, more a juvenile scream of impotent rage. Rage because the promises of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s had withered away to dust and the gen-Xers realized we'd been lied to. The music industry had locked up access. Bands were overproduced, and bland, but sold, played on the radio and made lots of money. Everyone else was now pretty much shut out of the gravy train. Moreover, we were all supposed to be living in luxury by now. We were all supposed to have modern houses and poverty and hunger were supposed to be solved – indeed, could have been solved – but those in charge had instead ghettos, decrepit inner-cities, and ever-prevalent pollution.
Even when people did escape to what was supposed to be 'the good life' it turned out to be bland, boring and devoid of meaning. Suburbia went from being an idolized idyll to a place to escape from, what Kunstler described in The Geography of Nowhere and a pointless place without any real public spaces.
Punk recognized this reality and cursed against the lie that modern life was getting ever-better.
In 1980, William Gibson wrote his first cyber-punk novel, at the same time that Ridley Scott produced “Blade Runner” based on the Phillip K. Dick short-story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” set in the aftermath of a world nuclear war. However, Scott and Gibson didn't set their stories in a post-nuclear world, but rather in our world, postulating more of the same: technology would become ever more complex and fantastical, but pollution would remain and poverty and grit and dirt would be as prevalent as it always was. Gibson coined the term cyber-punk to signify it's focus on complex electronics and computer technology.
Shortly after, Bruce Sterling started postulating an alternative history, one where Charles Babbage actually completed his difference engine and ushered in the information age 100 years earlier. What would our technology have looked like if we had Victorian ornate style instead of sleek plastics? Which led to the first genre to come along that didn't assume that everything we have is all that could have been. There could have been a dozen turnings that led off to fully explore the potential of earlier technologies. Steam-punk, as it has become known, does not automatically assume that everything from the past is necessarily inferior to our present. Many things about our past were, in fact, superior to what we have today.
Once one breaks free from the cultural assumption that everything new must be better than before, and begins to appreciate the ways in which the latest-and-greatest is sometimes quite inferior to what we had in the past, then one begins to understand what *-punk is: the recognition that many technologies of the past worked just fine and really have not been improved upon at all.
Much of what we had used far less energy (in actual use, but mostly in embodied energy required in their production) than technologies we use today. In many cases, older techologies are better suited to perform tasks than anything we have now. One also comes to be aware of just how powerful the story we tell ourselves – that we are on an eternal, inevitable march of progress to colonize outer space and spread across the universe ad infinitum – grips the common imagination and keeps us from simply solving most of the problems afflicting us, because we reject perfectly adequate solutions because they are not modern enough.