Thursday, 1 November 2018

Premier Ford versus the Future

Sometime, I'd guess about 40 years ago, conservatives in general, and Progressive Conservative Party in particular, decided to stop conserving the health and well-being of the environment. (The same goes for 'conservatives' and Republicans in the U.S.)
They claim that their Party and philosophy is to support people's health and well-being. They have repeatedly claimed to want to give people jobs. They repeatedly claim that you want to put money into people's pockets, presumably so they can lead enjoyable lives.
And yet, in the face of reality, they have made a number of ill-conceived decisions that run directly against these goals and against Ontarians short and long-term best interests.
In my world, very educated people who have devoted their lives and careers to the study of climate and economics, people who know much more about these things than the typical voter, are telling us that our sprawl-based, car-dependent lifestyles, which involves paving over, and thus permanently destroying, the finest farmland in Canada, is both untenable and disastrous, both in the near and long-term future. These same experts give us effective means to change this behaviour and still provide for a decent standard of living for the long-term foreseeable future, and yet, for reasons I cannot fathom, they have rejected these entirely out-of-hand, even through they would seem to fit naturally with their often-touted goals and philosophy.
In the last few months they have:
  • Rejected renewable energy. This is a poor decision because cheap, non-renewable energy sources are all in decline and are ceasing to be cheap. Soon they will cease to be available. No energy, dirty or otherwise, will leave Ontario in poverty. Is that their real goal, then, to lord it over a mass of impoverished serfs? According to history, that will not be their fate.
  • Slashed environmental initiatives. We are witnessing increased numbers of intense storms around the planet, exactly according to the predictions made over 100 years ago, and exactly according to detailed studies made in the 1970s. The environment is changing in ways that will make it impossible to do more than just survive in abject poverty like the Easter Islanders. Is that to be their legacy? Perhaps they are comforted by the idea that eventually, no one in the subsistence culture surviving in our ruins will even remember their names or know anything about us, and so escape the censure in the future.
  • Made it free to pollute. Possibly they are imagining some 'good old days' circa 1950 when environmental regulations were not so onerous and conclude that the lack of controls was the cause of this sense of prosperity and expectation? There is a reason why all these environmental regulations came into force to prevent pollution within a decade: because the people who were alive in this purported golden age quickly found themselves dying miserably of pollution after a short time.
  • Fought a national carbon price that would put money in people’s pockets. Possibly they are thinking of the typical Liberal pattern of pretending to do one thing, then producing legislation that does not quite achieve that goal, and which, according to the rule of unintended consequences, produces no real benefit to anyone but their big supporters. Is that why they are opposed to the scheme, because they despise the people who suggest it? So, instead of producing a better one, instead of taking the advice of the world's best economists, they scrap the whole idea in what appears to be a childish fit of pique.

They don't even have the courage to even discuss their point of view. As a general rule, if someone wants to just shut down any opposition, it's because their point of view is, itself, indefensible.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Maxime Bernier and the Political Faux Pas

   Maxime Bernier, the senior Conservative politician recently tweeted out a series of tweets that question when is multiculturalism too multicultural? Immediately (of course) the twits the twitterati
lost their sh... minds, immediately dividing into the 'Muslims are taking us over' camp and the 'you are racists' camp. Then it degenerated from there. Immediately, and with standard de-rigeur-righteousness, the other political Party leaders denounced him as a racist, and TV shows found pundits to expound on his political future. Andrew Sheer dithered, there were murmurs at the Party convention about his expulsion when he ripped the rug out from under them by leaving. The real cause of all this ruckus was never actually addressed. Of course not, because he dared to question That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Questioned, viz., Canada's multicultural policies.
   It is an article of faith, amongst the Socially Concerned, that Canada's Official Policy of Multiculturalism is the best-that-ever-was-or-will-be in history, and, while we can easily see that societies which promoted multiculturalism, such as Norman Sicily (actually, Norman kingdoms in general),  the Roman Empire, the Chinese Empires (China is not a gigantic monoculture) were -- are --  more generally prosperous with less disparity between the uppermost and lowest classes and a vibrant, creative interchange of ideas allows for a wider, more open and better living opportunities for the people there.
   But the point that gets missed, or willfully ignored, that Bernier picked up on, is that none of the these societies was wholly open to hoover up every dust bunny with a-heart-wrenching-tale-of-woe floating around the world and welcome them in with open arms. Societies, at any scale, that did that didn't last very long.
   Every society needs to have a core set of stories, and beliefs, and values around which to coalesce. A successful multicultural society permits a multiplicity of different groups to participate, but still maintains a sufficiently large core set of values in common to be stable. If those core values are not sufficiently broad, if differences in opinions and beliefs are too intense, then, eventually, that society will fracture, and history shows us that when people get emotional, they get angry and violent. Calm only prevails when there is an agreement to disagree, in the understanding that the point of disagreement does not have severe consequences for one or another party.
   For example, the U.S. and slavery, Religious differences and bigotry as in the Balkans, cultural differences as in between Neustria and Austrasia (which became, respectively, France and Germany). In each case, they started with a common goal, but failed to abridge or abate their differences, harboring resentments and fears, creating small, isolated, inward-looking groups that became intolerably rigid, until they broke apart into violence and wars. There is not that much difference, originally, between the English colonists who created Maine and Vermont, and the ones who created Georgia and South Carolina, but different socio-economic paths eventually led to a bloody war, the echoes of which still reverberate. The Slavic people who populate the nations of the Balkans came from the same original stock, and for a while, as we can see from archaeological proofs, were creative and prosperous, but centuries under various different rulers, Roman, Greek Byzantine, then Ottoman Turks, left them fragmented into pockets defined primarily by different religions who have spent much of the past 300 years tearing at each other in periodic wars over territories that are poor in comparison to the rest of the world. The sons of Charlemagne each inherited a part of his Empire, and fought each other, until the two areas began to separate, the languages and cultures changed, and there has been continual warfare up until about 80 years ago. The formation of an overarching economic union has produced a great economic and cultural benefit for the peoples of Europe, but overweening bureaucracy is causing too much frustration for it to be maintained.
   What Bernier is giving voice to is the concern that the current government is welcoming in too many people from too many disparate regions too quickly who have too many differences to integrate to a sufficient degree. Because newcomers must integrate to a high degree with their new adopted homeland if that culture is to survive. By this means, they add their tastes and aesthetics to the existing culture, and thus change it, create a new, more vibrant culture. The pace of welcoming must be managed, it must be careful and it must not be faster than the psyches of the existing population can bear. People can, and do, eventually accept change, but different people at different rates, and there is no species that actively welcomes it. This is where those who are wholly open to new experiences fail with their agenda of forcing it upon others. There may be good reasons and a lot of benefits to welcoming different viewpoints, but there are a lot of reasons for moderation.
   That is what Bernier noted, and that is anathema to the Social-Democrats who fail to acknowledge the danger of unrestrained, unrestricted, and overly enthusiastic importing of people from too many disparate lands, with beliefs and values that are sometimes completely incompatible with the ones we have come to embrace. It is a tragic irony that the current government seems to be very open to welcoming people from close-minded cultures. Bernier has a note of caution as to what happens when too many people have too much difference, a very real danger that those on the right try to foster in their misguided self-view as heroic warriors fighting against monsters (probably played too much video games) and those on the left arrogantly dismiss in their own belief in their inherent goodness. And so he has been duly castigated by the chattering classes.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Disparaging Non-Science

 The Globe and Mail recently published this piece: that is just a laundry list and quick report that many people are turning to various fashionable pseudo-spiritual thimsgnaes to give more comfort and support that are lacking from their lives. The message is that people are gullible to believe them, and the simplistic answer is, yes, they are gullible and they don't work as advertised because the story suggests a simple causal relationship between events and these ideas. 
  The plaintive question is why are people turning away from Science to this obvious bunk? Because they are foolish and gullible, led astray from the One Path of True Knowledge by fashion? They are falling away from real knowledge is the message here.
  The issue is more subtle than that. People turn to other, non-science-based ideas because Science(TM) became an ersatz religion that demands total adherence to its tenets of materialism and disparages and denigrates all other subjective forms of human experience. Any bizarre facts that it cannot explain get airily dismissed and waved aside. Each fact is treated as a single anomaly, even when there is a statistically significant amount of anomalous events that defy the simple mechanistic cause-and-effect of Newtonian Physics. Yet people experience bizarre events every day. Being disparaged for their own experiences is a surefire way to get their back up and quit listening to someone and start looking around for other answers, even if that person is right and those other answers are bunk.
  Then, in the midst of the demand for absolute trust in Science as the Answer to Everything, the public -- most of whom aren't drawn to be scientists -- out on display are scientific debates and populist science loves to speak in sonorous tones of absolute gravitas about what is 'correct' (at this time). People are told one thing at one time, and the complete opposite at another time. Right now the evidence is that the global climate is warming and the prediction is we are going to have massive ecological disruption. Remember in the 1970s when the Earth was about to enter another global ice age that would cause massive ecological disruption? No? Science boosters are denying that any such discussion ever took place, but the record is out there, and people remember it. So when everything from 'coffee is good for you' to 'coffee is bad for you' to 'no, it's good for you' to 'no, evidence is it's bad for you' gets whiplashed back and forth people stop believing they can be relied upon. All this sounds like the religious disputes of the late Roman Empire.
   Scientists have done themselves no favours by either cautiously hiding away or boldly making pronouncements that are quickly proven wrong.
   Moreover, we have been witness to a long and dreary parade of science papers later shown to be falsified to satisfy the demands of grant money. Corruption is widespread enough that people -- even I -- have a hard time believing what is published. e.g. the GMO crop debate where Monsanto funds studies that says it's utterly safe and wonderfully productive and the EU produces studies that suggest mutagenic effects in rats. Hmm. I'd go for the precautionary principal, but corporations go for the profit now principal and those with money get their pet politicians to do their bidding, or so it appears. Hence one part of the world has government regulators looking to ban GMO crops entirely while the U.S. and Canada ban telling people on packaging whether they are eating GMO products.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Band-Saw

   I have a general rule that if I spend longer fiddling around with the tool than I do actually using it, it probably isn't worth it.
   The band-saw is pretty much on the edge of that category.
   Yes, I did manage to make long, lengthwise cuts that probably would have taken a very long time by hand, but the blade twisted and pulled off & I had to spend a great deal of effort trying to get it out of the wood and back onto the wheels. Now it has some permanent wonks it it, but it still cuts.
   So, I'm wondering if it's actually worth the effort, since, as I try to cut, the blade inevitably warps off to the right side, which means I have to keep twisting the wood off to that side to keep a straight cut, which, inevitably, does not remain straight.
   It does not work as advertised (then, again, what does?), it does not perform as 'experts' assure me it should, it does make a large job much faster, within certain parameters, but the cut must be constantly adjusted manually and requires a lot of sanding down to make it smooth afterwards. Despite lots of screws and guides to make exquisitely fine adjustments to it runs perfectly, these apparently make no difference at all in how it actually performs. I think the engineers were just thinking they were being clever. The cutting blade wrenches off to the side and no amount of guides or adjustments seem to compensate for that.
   The reason I say that is because, as much as some people love to use tools for their own sake, when the using of the tool is an end in itself, and love to spend hours on their craft, this is not my craft. I use wood because it is convenient and useful, but I am still trying to achieve an end, some other goal.   I suppose there is also an element of my own unfamiliarity with this tool. I don't use it every day, or even every week, so I'm not really familiar with it. Perhaps if I did, I'd understand it better and wouldn't have the problems that come up. I discovered that as I have become very good with other tools that I have used a lot, a hand-saw, for example.
   But, while I did have to spend almost as long fiddling with the band-saw as actually using it, it certainly was a lot faster than if I had cut the pieces by hand, and the inaccuracies will be easily sanded out.
   Conclusion, it's still worth it.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Bitcoin is a Doomed Bubble

  So, Bitcoin is IT! The latest, coolest, most awsomest tech to come along since the invention of the leather bag on a belt to hold your coins in. (Seriously, that's all it is. If you dropped your purse of coins, it was gone. God(s) help you if you drop your i-thingy into the water, your Bitcoin just vanished without a trace.)
  More to the point, as everyone who worships the God Hy-Tek in the Church of Eternal Progress gets breathless over this bubble, they (like most fervent religionists) blithely ignore the harsh realities of the world we live in, such as increasing energy constraints.

  If we need as much power to process a bitcoin transaction as a small town, and about the same amount to do a year's worth of transactions as a small country, what happens to all this as energy constraints bite down harder over time? We are Conventional oil production has already been in steady decline since 2005, the difference being made up by Condensates (a costlier method of extraction), Tar Sand extraction (a costlier method), and Shale Fracking (a very costly and very short-term method).
  We simply do not have the energy resources on this planet to support this high-tech economy crap.

Renewables Will Not Save Our Collective Lifestyle

  Every so often, I see posts passed around FB gloating about how Germany or Denmark or someplace has met all its electricity needs with 100% wind or solar or something. The implication being that it's possible to maintain our current lifestyle on nothing but renewable energy, with absolutely no CO2 producing fossil fuels.
   I also like to occasionally get out my lance, get on my horse and skewer sacks of straw with the sharp end.
   That argument is today's straw sack, here is today's lance:

   The crucial point in there is the last one: that we are going to have to radically change our living arrangements, give up the notion that everyone gets a Personally Owned Motor Vehicle to travel hither and thither at will, that everyone gets a detached house from with they can drive their P.O.M.V. hither and thither at will, that we can continue to mass-produce throw-away 'consumer' goods.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

A view of History

   The reason for my disparaging view of mainstream politicians, i.e. Prime Minister Trudeau and Prime-Minister-in-Waiting Scheer, and their mainstream political Parties, i.e. the Red Party of Industrial Free-Market Capitalism that pretends to care about the middle-class and the Blue Party of Industrial Free-Market Capitalism that only supports the wealthy classes, is because they subscribe to the notion that paying a bottom wage as a living wage is somehow going to destroy the economy. Whereas all these agglomerations of pundits, theorists, and their tame intellectuals are perfectly fine that the annualized income of those CEOs and Board Members at the top of their various corporations take home more money in the first hour between midnight and 1:00 O'Clock on the 1st of January than the total annual take-home pay of the lowest two fifths of the population. It does bother me that there is a group of people who love to believe that they somehow 'deserve' to earn more than, to pick my own example, 200 times what I do. They are certainly not 200 times smarter, nor 200 times stronger, nor 200 times more anything than I am. They may be 200 times more avaricious, but this should not be a laudable characteristic. What truly concerns me about this situation is that I take a different view of history than the vast majority of people in my world, and I see something they are busily ignoring, and that is, this situation is neither new, nor unique to us, now. Because there are, broadly speaking, two ways to look a history, one being as a linear sequence of unique events, the other being a cyclical sequence of similar patterns. Obviously, I favour the latter, and therefore see a pattern that does not bode well for anything in the coming decades.
   It is very easy to subscribe the the former view; it is the default view of Western European-based society and informs our language and perception of everything in the past.We see increasingly complex life-forms and multivaried ecosystems through the time-line of geology, and conclude that we are the epitome of life. We perceive changes in technology through the existence of humanity, from chipping stone tools, to smelting and working with metals, from hard bronze to development of steel, and conclude that all technological changes are improvements. We have accumulated knowledge over time, and in recent centuries, that accumulation has accelerated and conclude that we must be smarter than our ancestors because they apparently did not. Moreover, every situation the past appears unique and each culture is different. Obviously a Roman Senator differs from a Feudal Prince, which, in turn differs significantly from a Member of Parliament.

   But this view of the past does not match the paleontological record. There have been several instances of highly complex ecosystems developing over millions of years, which have been almost utterly eradicated due to some global catastrophe and had to start again from very few survivors. Improvements in technology have not been linear. We have, for example, lost all knowledge of how some technologies of the past worked and even the best archaeological investigation cannot tell us enough about it to recreate them. We have gone through periods of so-called Dark Ages, when human societies fragmented from highly complex civilizations into very simple and rudimentary tribal entities. For example, people are quite disturbed to learn that Roman ruins are actually older than Norman ones, because the Roman ones are obviously more impressive. During this period a huge amount of knowledge and technology was lost, and this has repeated several times in recorded history. Finally, the comparison between different politicial structures is akin to comparing the huge number of differences between me and a dog, or between a dog and a cow. However, there are also a great many similarities between all three species, starting with the fact that we are all mammals, and so every bone of my hand compares to similar bones in the paw or a dog or the lower leg of the cow, or the circulatory blood system and so on. Our morphology, the observation that different things are also similar in significant ways, is more similar than different. That is the foundation of a cyclical view of history, where one can look at the past, and see the similarities in the patterns that repeat throughout time.
   This morphology allows us to look at dozens of empires that rose and fell, to see overall patterns that repeat, time and again, and then compare those political entities with ours of the present day. Look past the superficial forms at those patterns and it becomes obvious that, if history doesn't repeat, it rhymes. It allows me -- and increasingly many others -- to observe that the United States is a world empire, if not in name, then certainly in form, according to any definition you would care to try and apply. Canada fills the role of a wealthy Satrapy, which is allowed to exist as we do because it is psychologically and politically convenient.
   This morphology is also why I can compare our current and increasing, economic disparity with France in the third quarter of the 18th Century, or Russia in the last quarter of the 19th Century, or Rome in the second half of the Fourth Century and observe that the pattern of events that transpired to create that disparity, then and now, is much the same, with much the same arguments being used to justify it.
   But that same morphological view also informs me that every society that has allowed the elites and their sycophantic supporters to delude and fool themselves into believing that it is fine to have such a high level of disparity between the wealthiest and the poorest has dissolved. Almost every time, that dissolution was extremely violent. Even without external pressures, and despite a strong common culture, complex societies have fragmented into violent conflict and dissolved. Sometimes they recover and reconstitute themselves into a new structure for a couple of hundred years, before dissolving temporarily into violence, as the Roman world did. Sometimes they disappear entirely. So my concern is just that: that every empire dissolves, and every empire breaks up, and most of them involve violence. And thus we percieve that the U.S. is currently an empire very close to dissolution. That concerns me.

   I, therefore, see a pattern that does not bode well for anything in the coming decades. I see a pattern that, for the moment, still has the poorest able to put food on their tables and mostly keep a roof over their heads. But I also see an increasing number who no longer perceive any benefit in our current electoral system that refuses to change, who have stopped bothering to vote, who are under increasing pressure to try and maintain their lifestyle, and who are increasingly angry and polarized. To the south, this has become quite acute these past three decades. In Mexico, and across the overpopulated Arab world, when food prices soared in 2011, it resulted in massive unrest and violence and chaos that has not really resolved itself. For the many who ascribe to the linear view of history, these are unique events. For me, and those who ascribe to a morphological view, these are inevitable consequences of our current policies, and if no major change happens, it will be coming here, soon.