Monday, November 30, 2009
In the interests of transparency (because it's doubtful that this group will ever see the light of day on the BC NDP website), here is the full list of the new provincial executive, with my limited impression of each:
President: Moe Sihota - ex-NDP cabinet minister, businessman, pundit; wants to focus on our relationship with labour, environmentalists and ethnic communities.
Treasurer: Bob Smits (acclaimed) - tons of experience at a large credit union.
Marianne Alto - been on the exec for a while (urged the need for institutional memory); stickler for details; knows our constitution well.
Scott Lunny - United Steelworkers; keen, friendly.
Heather Harrison - Langara professor; affable; been on the exec for a while.
Spencer Herbert, MLA - all-around great guy; stands up for the homeless and artists; sharp dresser extraordinaire.
Lorraine Shore - not a clue.
David Zirnhelt - another ex-cabinet minister; small businessman (sustainable wood products); inspires trust (in me, anyway); great white beard.
Members at Large:
Jennifer Burgess - not a clue.
Debbie Lawrence - ex-candidate; HEU; wears sparkles; great smile.
Troy Sebastian - another ex-candidate; principled; wants to expand our relationship with First Nations (his campaign used material translated into the language of his nation, Ktunaxa).
Vice President, Labour (appointed by "labour"):
Lynn Bueckert - BC Fed; smart, funny, competent.
Member at Large, Labour (appointed by "labour"):
Summer McFadyen - BC Fed; a friend.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
The Times Colonist runs a Sunday column called Press Pass, compiled mainly by the newspaper's press gallery reporters- currently Lindsay Kines and Rob Shaw - and legislative columnist Les Leyne. The reporters have broken all the stories on the government's bungled response to a major privacy breach.
On Sunday, Press Pass added this background.
"SUGGESTED READING: With all the hoopla around those missing government files, perhaps it's worth brushing up on the fundamentals. What's supposed to happen when government learns of a major privacy breach?
According to the Key Steps in Responding to Privacy Breaches guide, written by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner in June 2008, there are four key steps. Let's contrast them with what happened in this case:
1. Contain the breach and notify privacy/security officials.
If, by that, you mean don't tell the senior bosses or ministers until the Public Affairs Bureau hears about it seven months later, then done and done.
2. Evaluate the risk of the breach.
Let's see. Employee under criminal investigation for fraud has swiped sensitive personal information that could be used for fraud ... we'll go with "high" risk.
3. Notify people "as soon as possible" to warn them their privacy has been compromised.
In this case, wait more than half a year before writing letters to the wrong people.
4. Prevent a future reoccurrence by investigating the cause of the breach.
Or, repeatedly claim ignorance about when you found out or what you knew and bolt from the legislature to enjoy a four-month winter break.
When should you follow these four steps? According to the guide: Immediately.
Maybe someone in government should read this thing."
Friday, November 27, 2009
The first half of Dune has motored along. It's fast-paced, crisp, action-packed and completely intriguing. The Atreides are having a little trouble settling on their new home, the desert planet Arrakis. Everything is about the new planet: the desert, the weather, the Fremen, the worms. At the behest of the Emperor, they replaced their arch-enemies the Harkonnens as rulers of Arrakis, aka Dune, the source of the most valuable substance, spice, which allows for space-travel.
Betrayed by the Emperor, the Atreides are forced to flee, their forces defeated, the Duke captured by the evil Baron Harkonnen, only Jessica the beloved Bene Gesserit concubine, Paul the prodigy and a few loyal lieutenants surviving. They turn to the Fremen, the people of the desert, for help. Paul has been undergoing some changes with exposure to spice, able to absorb and compute infinite amounts of data and see infinite future possibilities.
The complexity of the later books is only hinted at so far. What is evident right away is the careful observation by the characters, the almost unimaginable ability to read people and situations, and the intrigue that accompanies every action. This is politics at its most intense at every level, from personal interactions between family members to galaxy-spanning plots. And everyone is so good at it. This, probably, is why I love the book so much. I want to be Paul Atreides, with the ability to read and process minutiae and predict actions based on the data. I want to be able to know what my opponents will do before they know it themselves. And I want to ride a sandworm.
The first idea addressed in the book is this: what defines our humanity? What separates us from animals? Paul, at the behest of his mother, undergoes a test administered by a Bene Gesserit, one of the school of specially trained female advisors. (and Jessica's superior and teacher at Bene Gesserit school). Holding a poisoned needle to his neck, she tells him that it is a gom jabbar:
"It kills only animals."
Pride overcame Paul's fear. "You dare to suggest a duke's son is an animal?" he demanded.
"Let us say I suggest that you may be human," she said.
She forces his hand into a box, saying she'll kill him if he removes it, telling him that animals will chew off their legs to escape a trap:
"A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he may kill the trapper and remove the threat to his kind."
His hand tingles, then itches, then burns, so much so that he imagines it crispy and blackened. Overcome with the intensity, the Bene Gesserit halts the test, exclaiming that no woman has ever endured so much (and internally wondering if he might be the Kwisatz Haderach, the chosen one).
Apparently the test sets humans free, to fully think, not reliant on machines as they once were:
"The Great Revolt took away a crutch," she said. "It forced human minds to develop. Schools were started to train human talents."
"Bene Gesserit schools?"
She nodded. "We have two chief survivors of those ancient schools: the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild. The Guild, so we think, emphasizes almost pure mathematics. Bene Gesserit performs another function."
"Politics," he said.
Future post ideas:
Spice as oil, the jihad of the Fremen, and the worms.
David Lynch's movie adaptation.
The Guild and the Bene Gesserit: gendered power-play to the nth degree.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I'm going to start the Dune series tonight. I read them years ago, and they blew me away. Despite how much they drag, despite the long, long, long (millennium-length), meandering storylines, despite the departure from story to the extended philosophizing on time, potential and power.
It's an amazing book that needs to be given time, and it's not for everyone. Like was written above, it can be read as an adventure, or as a treatise on any number of issues. What keeps me coming back is the complexity and world-building the Herbert accomplishes without forcing anything. I'm never skeptical of the plot or characters' actions.
The Dune series is like The Lord of the Rings with far greater depth but far fewer likable characters, and less sense of wonder, to be sure. While the LotR is a simple allegory about war and the environment (and superficially a few other issues), Dune dives into philosophical issues that drive me bonkers with their complexity.
As a one-off, Dune is the most accessible of the series, Blonde Savant, so I admire your fortitude and drive to continue reading the series. It reaches a low-point in book 3 (and book 2 isn't exactly scintillating stuff either), but after that it... I'm not even sure what it does, but I found the second half of the series far easier to read. It could be that by that time one is used to the style, complexity and universe that it seems natural.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
I don't want to speak for Stephen, except to say that he sees the BC NDP moving forward as the electoral wing of a progressive social movement. What this means in practice is uncertain, especially given the cat-herding nature of organizing disparate groups, but I eagerly look forward to the discussion. It is clear that the party desperately needs some new blood, some new ideas, and some new approaches to organizing.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I would like to continue the discussion in a less chaotic forum, so have invited the participants to join me in a discussion that I will post on this blog as it unfolds. I'm not exactly sure of the format yet.
I have two enterprising individuals who will be taking part in the discussion that I hope to foster over the next short while. It really is a fascinating topic to us campaigners.
And a link to Jim Green's claims added above.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Just saw this fun website: Barry Penner is AWESOME!, home to insight such as:
Barry Penner is the master of pointing at things in front of him. Sadly, however, he hasn’t quite mastered the art of pointing anywhere but straight ahead. One day he’ll be able to actually point at the fish… one day…I can't claim to know Mr. Penner's career that well, but he's always seemed like a bit of a Mr. Rogers-type: bland, smiley, competent. Not much of an environmentalist, though, or at least well-muzzled by Gordon Campbell (remember Joyce Murray, everyone?). His Wikipedia page is short on details (but does include a link to BPiA!).
Things I didn't know about Mr. Penner but learned from the Wikipedia page:
1. He worked as a park ranger.
2. He is known as an advocate for alternative energy, like small-hydro (shock there), wind, and other.
3. He served as Deputy House Leader from 2005 to 2009.
Fascinating stuff, all.
Does everyone remember the sites that popped up during the last federal election? There was Draft John Baird (now defunct) and Conservatives for Prentice (still online, last post Dec. 2008). While different in tone than the amusing BPiA! site, the sites generated some serious coverage and a few difficult questions for the two federal Conservatives, as both have been suggested as possible replacements for Stephen Harper.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
For starters: There is no Somalia. It is the very definition of a failed state. The closest thing to a working government is the Islamic Courts Union, but it's so difficult to try and get a relatively clear picture of what might be going on. Apparently, as of January the head of the ICU is the President of the Transitional National Government... but the government has no powers. Fractured doesn't begin to describe the area formerly known as Somalia.
Second: The Somali people probably (just guessing here) don't know or care about the corruption ranking. And if they did, they wouldn't have anyone to lobby for change anyway. Is there an influential elite that might know? If so, they are the corrupt ones, so...
Headline writers always try to play up the story, and don't have as good a grasp of the issue as the writer, whose story then gets saddled with an over-the-top headline.
Jonathon Ross took shots at CityCaucus.com, saying that we were "too personal" in our attacks. We've written over 1000 posts since last December. Perhaps I misunderstand the term "personal attacks," but to me it's something like Andrea Reimer did on her Twitter post about Rich Coleman. Yes, we focus on elected officials much of the time, and we put what they do and say under the microscope, but I wouldn't classify it as personal attacks. Writing smears that you must take down from your blog afterward, that I would consider personal. Thankfully, there's been none of that here.
My comment on the post:
It's interesting to read three different summaries of the event (yours, JR's and FB's). Mostly consensus on the discussions.Their response:
You'd have to be pretty thin-skinned to treat this as anything more than observing the obvious. Everyone knows that Green has been a dogged partisan his whole life, and I don't think there's any shame in that.My response:
Hmmm, can't find it in their comment section anymore. It was something about how snide remarks could be interpreted as personal attacks, it all depends on how one interprets the phrase. I then pointed out in response to a commenter above me that the NPA (from whence CityCaucus sprung) had taken honourable positions on a couple of issues.
This morning I went to see if CC had responded (they're usually fairly quick to defend themselves), and to my surprise I couldn't find my second comment and two others by a bit of a loony named Katzenberg who I had responded to who claimed the NPA had never done anything honourable. Ever. Using. Too many. Periods.
Blogs are not public media, no matter what some like to claim. Their owners can moderate, censor, block, or do anything they want with comments. I was under the impression, however, that CityCaucus was in this to stimulate debate, not stifle it. They don't appreciate any criticism, as far as I've seen, but they also have open, un-moderated comment sections. Or so I thought. Katzenberg's comments added nothing to the conversation, but then there really wasn't a conversation as such, just a few other comments agreeing with the post. Was my comment just collateral damage, because I made reference to Katzenberg's comment?
What's odd is that I defended CityCaucus' ex-boss and golden boy, ex-mayor Sam Sullivan. I'm not a big fan, but his stance on InSite was laudable, and I said as much. I think it also could have been the start of a debate on ethics/honour in politics, a subject that is often derided. When should politicians take principled stances and when should they seek compromise? Etc...
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Which, with the cover I had and the "for Teens" claim, made it difficult not to think of the book as teen fiction. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But the book didn't feel like teen fiction, and I'm not certain Orson Scott Card intended it to be received that way. It's dark, vicious and at times nihilistic. It also delights in the seemingly simplistic relationships between children without condescending, and delicately portrays the love between a brother and sister.
Ender Wiggin is a remarkable child, chosen as a possible saviour for humanity. Plucked from his family at the age of six, he goes through Battle School then Command School, pushed to the edge of his sanity by trainers in the hope that he will be able to lead an army in a pre-emptive strike against the "buggers", ant-like aliens that invaded several generations ago but were defeated at the last by the genius of one commander.
Published in 1985 but based on a short bit written in 1977, the story and the language don't feel dated at all, which is especially impressive given the subject matter: Ender uses a personal "desk", similar to a laptop, and jacks into life-like first-person adventure game that incorporates aspects of real life and fantasy, originally with challenges but eventually allowing him to wander around at will. A sub-plot (or rather sous-plot, because it is quite significant) follows Ender's brother and sister as they scheme to eventually take over the world through inventing personas on the nets and becoming influential enough to shape public opinion.
In contrast, I'm reading Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, written in 2002, and already it seems dated. His descriptions of using the internet is at times too prosaic and a bit off: "When she returns to the forum page, her post is there" and "Hotmail downloads four messages..." and "She goes alone to an Internet cafe every other day and checks the new hotmail account she's acquired with her new email address, a .uk one that Voytek arranged."
The book is a bit too much of a morality play, but it still resonates. Like District 9, Ender's Game takes a simple idea about how we treat the other and builds a compelling narrative around it. Done poorly, it could have come across as heavy-handed, but the light language and optimism (at first) contrasts nicely with the subject matter.
Ender's Game was compelling, enjoyable, and novel enough to leave me thoroughly satisfied. Thanks for the recommendation, Marco.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
I follow two blogs that address open data and access to government information: eaves.ca and Andrea DiMaio. It's not my issue (hey, Summer?), but I find it interesting to follow. Anyway, John Dunn writes:
"The more governments control what their fellow citizens know the less they can claim the authority of those citizens for how they rule. The more governments withhold information from their fellow citizens the less accountable they are to those who give them their authority."
Recent moves by city and state governments to open their files to the public have been met with enthusiasm (perhaps more than is warranted), and while it's not a panacea to cure our democratic ills, I think it's a step in the right direction. Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation at all levels of government is still problematic, costly and not being addressed in the same fashion. Making trash delivery information accessible, while convenient and useful, is far less important than making important government business open to the citizenry. In that sense, I wonder if a case could be made that the open data movement is a distraction when more important reforms are necessary.
I recently researched how the Liberal government in BC has been supporting legal aid. In 1993 the BC NDP applied the PST to legal fees in order to help pay for the legal aid system. The government grant to legal aid increased to $88.5m in 2001, but was then slashed by about 40% by the Liberals when they formed government in 2002. This year they've cut the legal aid budget twice, forcing the closure of regional offices and staffing and service cuts. Meanwhile, the taxes on legal services in BC kept rolling in. Is there a discrepancy between the amount collected and the amount disbursed by the Liberal government?
To figure this out, I needed access to stats on how much British Columbians (and their businesses) spend on legal services. A study from 2004 put the figure at around $1.4bn; taxes on this were about $100m. About $61m of that made it to legal aid in BC, a pretty clear discrepancy. But I needed more recent stats if I wanted to make a strong case. However, I soon discovered that if I wanted information on money spent on legal services, I would have to pay Statscan a fee to get it. And here I thought that the information would be available to the public. Here is David Eaves on public access to information collected by the Canadian government:
Sovereignty in Canada does not lie with the people, indeed, it resides in King George the III's descendant, the present day Queen of England. The government's data isn't your, mine, or "our" data. It's hers. Which means it is at her discretion, or more specifically, the discretion of her government servants, to decide when and if it should be shared.
and the legality of information ownership. The crown literally owns the information. Contrast that with the US, where any information collected by the US government is owned by the people. As David writes: "any document created by the US government [must] be published in the public domain."
I can't get mad at Statscan, though, they're just trying to recoup their costs. I'm sure that they would love to provide access to all the information they have, but they don't have the budget or staff to do so. (I think this is probably true of FOI departments as well, though they have far more political interference in what they can and can't release.)
This is standard across the board (see TransLink, our health-care system, addiction services, affordable housing...). We are underfunding our public services, then complaining when they don't function properly. Hugh Mackenzie at the CCPA recently published an essay asking a simple question: Can we have an adult conversation on taxes?, suggesting that sustained or increasing demand for public services is incompatible with ever-decreasing taxation levels. I would add: Is having the highest child poverty rate in Canada a good trade-off for having the lowest personal taxes? Apparently enough British Columbians believe so (re: provincial general election in May).
I never figured out how much we spend on legal services in BC, but working from estimates and trends in the information I could find, I figure that the BC Liberals are profiting more than $30m every year from the tax on legal services. Meanwhile they slash the legal aid budget, hurting the poorest citizens in BC. I can afford to pay for the information from Statscan, but working families are having trouble housing and feeding themselves.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Today I went to browse (always a dangerous idea for me), starting with the discount ($1.00 plus GST) bin outside, which only rarely has something I want. Today I found Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. The edition is "Prepared for use in the Schools of BC by the Dept. of Education" probably in 1961, printed by Evergreen Press Limited on SE Marine, a publisher of books on British Columbia (latest reference is 1973). For $1.05, I'll take it. I haven't read it before, but I loved Treasure Island as a kid.
Next I grabbed Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card off the window display. My friend recommended it to me last year, and I've been looking for a used copy. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best sci-fi/fantasy novel of the year in 1986. I'm not sure what it's about, but my friend assures me that it's both very interesting and a good read.
Ian Rankin's Let It Bleed was next, #7 in the Inspector Rebus series. I'm a pretty big fan of long series, and this one has staying power. It's dark, gritty, clever, and realistic (I won't go so far as to say hard-boiled). Rebus is a fairly typical anti-hero police officer: divorced, slightly pathetic, a bit of a loose cannon, and not anywhere near promotion, but he's a damn good homicide detective. Ian Rankin's use of the city as backdrop for Rebus' casework is a strong feature of the series, as is his ability to keep readers interested in Rebus as a character.
(Ever since reading Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends I've been reading more "genre fiction", and finding it very enjoyable.)
I've been re-reading the books from my childhood over the last year and a half, with mixed results. Books four and five I found in the small children's section (small but jam-packed with classics). I grew up reading a series by Enid Blyton (the fifth most translated author ever, ahead of Lenin but behind Shakespeare) but I forget which series. Thinking it might be The Secret Seven I picked up their first two adventures in one book: The Secret Seven and Secret Seven Adventure. I'm interested to see if it has stood the test of time.
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle was book five. I remember my mom and brother reading it when I was a kid but I don't think I ever read it myself, which is odd because we usually all read the same books, especially fantasy.
I'm in the middle of reading Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading (and here) and quite enjoying it, so I looked for and found The Library At Night, his examination of the role that libraries play in our civilization. I aspire to home library ownership (that is, I would love to have an entire room in my home dedicated to books), and I'm looking forward to exploring this book.
Last came William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, a book about which The Washington Post wrote "One of the first authentic and vital novels of the twenty-first century." It is extremely well reviewed (Neil Gaiman is quoted on the cover, and the Economist named it a Best Book of the Year), and I enjoyed his last offering, Spook Country (though it wasn't amazing). He will always enjoy some popularity for his masterful cyberpunk classic, Neuromancer, which, when read a few years ago for the second time, proved to still be relevant, interesting and gripping.
After purchasing these treasures, I remembered that I had meant to look for Walter Benjamin's Illuminations (that's him above, hard at work) after reading a mention of it in A History of Reading. So I asked, and they had just received a copy, which the clerk immediately retrieved from the shelf and handed to me. It's dense cultural theory, but I needed something to balance the sci-fi and kids' books. And it's a collection of essays, so won't be too daunting.
Phewf. Eight new books in one day. Thanks, Pulp Fiction.
Friday, November 6, 2009
And I thought transit fines were stupid. I almost turned this into a post on silly or outrageous laws in history or even still on the books, but I'm sure that's been done to death.
What is interesting about laws such as the one above is the desire to control that which can't be controlled. I paid $40,000 for the following piece of insight, so please pay attention: the sanctioning of an activity does not necessarily mean that the state then controls said activity. In fact, it may be the exact opposite. Laws against illegal immigration don't stop it, and may only serve to indicate just how big the problem is. Continual passing of new legislation addressing the problem only reinforces (figuratively speaking, that is) the sad state of affairs a country (read: the US) is in regarding illegal immigration.
So, what was Francois thinking? Why did he feel the need to regulate the size of paper? Not the ownership or trade (though he may have tried that too), but the size. To control the trade? The publishing industry, which was taking off at the time? The latter, I assume. Regulate and tax.
Was he successful? Alberto Manguel doesn't say, nor does his note explain anything. The comment is made in the midst of an exposition on the development of books from painstakingly produced works of art to mass-produced flimsy pulp editions. Manguel touches on so many aspects of reading, and at times it's merely interesting. I've been a little disappointed in the last few chapters of A History of Reading. Were the 20 pages on reading in bed really necessary?
Right now (in my life) he's exploring metaphors for reading, and it is far more interesting than knowing that Romans read scrolls while relaxing on pseudo-beds. Nature is a book, Walt Whitman, and all that. I always find Walt Whitman far more interesting in books other than his. I fell in love with his poetry while reading quotes in a long piece in a National Geographic, but then couldn't bother to read Leaves of Grass after buying it. Reading bits in this Manguel book has me remembering why I love his poetry but I probably won't go searching for my copy of Leaves of Grass anytime soon.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
"You know, there was a disappointing factor about the Olympics. It was that 200-odd group of terrorists who came to Victoria from across Canada to interrupt the Games."
"They do not understand, these terrorists, the potential goodwill and economic benefits that come from these Games, because they have a limited intellect and do not understand how the world truly operates."
This from a guy who dresses up like a Boy Scout.
I know, that was a cheap shot. Also, I couldn't find an image of it on the web, which makes me wonder if it's true. Nor could I find an image of the horses that were terrorized or the marbles that were thrown under their hooves. If an image doesn't exist on the internet, did the event happen? Over at Brenton writes we're pretty doubtful.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Today Mike de Jong, Attorney General, said that they had actually increased the budget of the LSS this year. I'm not sure what numbers he's looking at, but I'm guessing not the same ones that I am. And he has the gall to claim that a shortfall in other funding sources is to blame. Mike, let me walk you through the LSS funding gallery, just so we can be clear:
In 1993, the BC NDP decided to tax legal services in BC in order to make them pay for themselves, a move still opposed by the legal profession in BC.* In 1996, after several years of tax collection, Liberal MLA Jeremy Dalton asked the Clark government, "Can the Attorney General tell us what the annual revenue produced by the legal services tax is? Is that money going to deal with the legal aid issue, or is it just falling into the great black hole of general revenue, and there's no accountability for it?" What a great question, Mr. Dalton (more on this below).
Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh answered that $73m was collected, but that even more was given out to LSS. In 2001, before the Liberals formed government, the LSS received about $88m from the province, probably about what they received in taxation revenue from legal services. The Liberals slashed the budget by about 35% when they came to power. Slight increases over the past 8 years have brought the government disbursement to $69m, a figure that was meant to remain this year despite huge increases in demand for their services (example?). This led to service and staffing cuts, but the head of the LSS was confident that the budgeted amount would stand. A few months later, they're cutting even more.
When the Liberals slashed the LSS budget, what do you think they did with those taxes they were collecting on legal services? Yep, right into general revenue. The numbers aren't entirely clear (hopefully more on this soon), but it's clear that by cutting the LSS budget but maintaining the taxation level, the Liberals were benefiting by about $30m per year over the past 8 years, maybe more. When it was introduced by the BC NDP, the tax was meant to fund legal aid in BC. Instead, it goes straight into general revenue, unattached to the legal services it was meant to fund. Mike de Jong was a member of the Liberal caucus in 1996 (double-check) when Jeremy Dalton asked that question above, and it looks like he needs to answer it himself, 13 years later.
Mr. de Jong, as Attorney General, can you tell us what the annual revenue produced by the legal services tax is? Is that money going to deal with the legal aid issue, or is it just falling into the great black hole of general revenue?
* As recently as February of this year the head of the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch, in a submission to the Finance Committee, argued that the tax should be abolished.