Commenting on Schneier commenting on Eric Schmidt

I've wanted to say something about Eric Schmidt's foolish words on the needlessness of privacy. Bruce Schneier did most of the talking for me. I replied thus:

Right on, Bruce.

Foolish comments like those of Mr. Schmidt indicate the danger that could occur if the world becomes a hydraulic empire. The Internet has become necessary to us all. What will happen if attitudes like this allow it to come under the control of the would-be Big Brothers who administer the mediacracies we find ourselves in?

(mediacracy is a term I've coined about the end result of a democracy: rule by those who control the dissemination of information, by the media, in other words, rule by the media, whatever axe it is busy grinding)


Haiku 21

(Almost exactly one month later, my office was announced to be shutting down, mostly. Corporate guillotine.)

I didn't mean to
predict with my last haiku.
Depressingly right.


Canada on US Naughty List?

This story on Canoe-Money from the Canadian Press elicited the following response from me:

I am appalled at the unbalanced reporting this issue (the state of Canada's copyright law) regularly gets in the mainstream media. Creative content producers have a right to be protected in the digital age, but if anyone should be put on a naughty list on copyright it should be the US. Why?
  1. For on-going renewal of the "Mickey Mouse" copyright laws which have starved the commons (of copyright-lapsed works that enter the public domain) for the last part of the 20th century and forward.
  2. For preferring to protect the jobbers of creative content (large media companies) instead of the creators of that content. (witness Pearl Jam's statements on breaking free of their recording contract this year)
  3. For failing to uphold the public's right to fair use with laws like the DMCA and for leaning on other countries to follow in their anti-competitive, anti-creative legislative practices.
Could you please give some balancing cover to those who think that DMCA-like legislation is wrong headed, badly motivated and over-sweepingly implemented wherever it has come into force? They're not all anti-social nerd types although there are a few of those. Failing to do so gives the impression that the providers of news have become shills for the MPAA and RIAA -- press freedom has to cut both ways: from government control but also from control by the large monied interests.

Please do better than this.


Arthur N. Klassen
(address redacted)

Any other Canadians should consider making similar comments. Let's not leave it all to Michael Geist.


Haiku 20

(on quarterly corporate rah-rahs)

Whenever I hear,
"We must execute better,"
I think "guillotines"


Harmonized Sales Tax in BC? I'm feeling bullied

(A letter I sent to my MLA, Rich Coleman, member for Fort Langley - Aldergrove; why not send something similar?)

Dear Mr. Coleman,

I'm writing today to plead with you not to adopt the Harmonized Sales Tax measures currently before the government of BC. This measure has caught me -- and many in my acquaintance -- absolutely by surprise and not in good ways. I feel a bit bullied -- and I see others less well off than me about to be bullied even more.

We have our PST that exempts food, school supplies and children's clothes -- and otherwise only covers goods. HST as a harmonization with GST which applies more broadly cannot but be inflationary to the consumer and will hurt all British Columbians, especially those who are less well off than myself.  HST keeps us from fostering family-friendly policies at the cash register and I urge you to refuse any proposal from the Federal government that fails to address this inequity. They cannot write such amendments to the GST, so therefore this proposal should be denied.

Alternatively, the rate of the HST should be significantly lower than PST + GST -- yet I cannot think it possible that a rate that will be fair to the individual tax payers will be advantageous to the province in the long term.

The only remaining alternative is clear: HST is bad for British Columbians and your government should be ashamed to be the ones bringing it to the floor. And this, especially in the face of the general silence on the subject in the previous election and the specific denial that it was a possibility in one forum during that election. This is the kind of issue that requires a mandate from the people of BC and it was not raised in the last election. You have no such mandate, so to foist it on us now is highly dishonest and irresponsible.

I write this with the admission that regardless, your seat is probably safe. Still, you ought to look out for the well-being of the individuals and families of this province, even if their ballot-box voice will never be strong enough to bounce you out of your safe seat.


Arthur N. Klassen
(my contact information)

Haiku 18

Is there any pride
like that of a father who
sees his son excel?


Haiku 17

Few things grieve the heart
like friends whose common ground has
washed away like sand.


DMCA is back in the commons

Here's the slashdot post. And my reply. Call or write your MP, sign Geist's petitions again, post to the consultation website. Let's see if we can't kill this stupid approach once and for all.

It's not the most important issue out there but it is an issue.

(my apologies to those who were enjoying my Haiku)


Haiku 16

Qom's silent scholars
Watch but don't congratulate,
Free not to express.


Haiku 15

Can someone explain
mimetic theory in
one syllable words?


Haiku 14

Living while coloured
diff'rently from the mighty:
tort-uous burden

(double-entendre intended)


Haiku 13

moments of triumph
in getting work accomplished:
makes much else worthwhile


Haiku 12

Has haiku time passed?
What came as torrent, trickles,
Fun while it lasted.


Haiku 11

Marks long awaited
arrive bringing fear? hope? joy?
Joy in excellence!

(My son got some "Advanced Placement" marks back today. He deserves a massive shout of "w00t! w00t!")


Haiku 10

Lacking enough time
to write real analysis,
what's left but haiku?

Haiku 9

On Michael's best tune
he wrote, "we are the children."
'cause he thought he was.

Haiku 8

subversive poems
have always added value
to prosaic lives

What Haiku is (in case anyone else was wondering, besides one friend)

five seven and five
three lines, seventeen word beats
sparsely spoken thoughts


Haiku 7

the right to dissent
is more precious by far than
the right to assert

Haiku 6

no quotes like mis-quotes
clever words made cleverer
if perhaps wryer too


Haiku 5

What helps more? Fluent
dissent or a single act
of neighbourliness?

Haiku 4

Giving blood again
Simple gift that helps up to
three fellow trav'lers


Haiku 3

holiday fliers
caught on the tarmac but for
mechanic inside


Haiku 2

hobbit dvds
i've seen them once too often
give me the books please

Haiku 1

time to write haiku
looking for more clarity
in three arid lines


They're WHAT!!???

Just a glance at slashdot and this story made me howl. The possible comedic reads on this are literally endless.


Translink -- Be Part of the Plan

In answer to the ads on radio here in the lower mainland for the Be Part Of The Plan portal into Translink, the local bus and transport authority, I have joined up there and begun posting. I confess my first couple of posts have bordered on rants: the off-loading that governments did in the 80s and 90s still rankles. And in part, I think this site is an attempt at manufacturing consent for untenable ideas. Still, if there's a chance to be heard, I'll jump at it.


Disappointed with the results

After completing the last entry with the line "disappointed with the results", I realized that I had yet to respond to the failure of the STV referendum in BC. It's been awhile since I was so intensely disappointed by anything in politics. I saw the polls last Monday and I knew it was going to fail. Still, as some folks wondered during the US election last year were, I wondered if the polling were skewed because the polling companies were only calling land lines. I was disappointed to see that they were not.

The FUD density (Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt) in ads like this, which was only aired in the last week before the election, cannily during hockey games, challenged the mass density of lead. And that's without mentioning all the mis-information in its content. Once again, we have to get used to that. And we have to see the changes that we need brought about some other way.

And the FUD wouldn't have been so effective if the times weren't as troubled as they are. The votes for the Liberals, as the votes against STV, were votes for the status quo, for staying the course, for battening down the hatches and hoping we all survive with our houses and families intact. So be it. I guess we'll have to wait this one out for awhile. I wonder when Next Time will be?

"I was not born to be a hero..." but

Has anyone heard what happened this week in Guatemala? "If you're watching this it's because I'm dead" is a great way to start a story or to introduce a major plot twist. It's not often that you see it in reality. Youtube has a number of versions of the two part video from Guatemala that starts that way. But these two have pretty good sub-titles in English right up to the last. The don't have as many explanatory notes going by as some other versions but that's okay. There are others that have been over-dubbed in English. And doubtless, soon, there will be so many versions that nobody will be able to find the one they want without a link (which happened to me by-the-by about another version I wanted to cite here as well, with more background info in sidebars).

"Cry for Guatemala with a corpse at every gate..." Bruce Cockburn sang, back in the 80s, in one of the two or three signature tunes of his that anyone besides Burnheads know. And the crying can continue.

(For anglophones, actually, scanning through Cockburn lyrics of the 80s will get you a mini-education on Latin America and the Caribbean seen through eyes other than those of an American neo-con or a Marxist.)

Señor Rosenberg, I salute you. I don't often get the chance to hear the words of heroes as they speak but today I think I did. I hope your death is the beginning, as you hoped, of a new road. If we accept deaths like yours as normal then things will only get worse.

Sr. Rosenberg's death is the kind of thing good lawyering and newspaper reporting should be instrumental in cleaning up and preventing. That's why we have to keep on caring even when we're disappointed with the results.


No to STV?

After some looking around, I finally found a "No to STV" web site when someone at work posted it to an internal bulletin board. I hadn't seen, yet, what the electoral areas proposed under STV were going to be so when there was a link at nostv.ca with that label, I decided to take a look at it and saw what was, in effect, the grossest attempt to mis-inform that I have ever seen. Again and again, the phrase, "but only One Vote per Voter".

Now, admittedly, that phrase is true in substance, but given that each person's vote under STV is a set of preferences, that one vote has a much broader reach than the image that phrase alone conjures up. But it would be seen as patently misleading to anyone who has read the STV materials. Of course there's only one vote per voter but if you get to designate at least as many preferences as there will be sitting members from your district, the phrase "but only One Vote per Voter" in this context is a red herring.

I looked around to see who was endorsing this "No STV" position and among them was Dr. John Redekop, a political science professor whose common sense has impressed me less than his learnedness. My point of closest contact with him was as guest lecturer to an upper-class interdisciplinary course run in 1983/1984 which focused on responding to Marxism. The course felt anachronistic at the time, even though the fall of the Berlin Wall was still five years out. I was only just aware at the time of the democratic movements in Central America that were being demonized as Marxism in disguise and only barely aware, after events in Grenada (for which the available information still looks highly politicized), that the US might be unleashing covert power against them. Days of innocence, indeed. With 26 years of perspective, I now see that the he was essentially carrying water for American Religious Neo-conservatism more than anything else -- and in a course required for graduation, how ethical is that, anyways? Still, I felt myself in the presence of a dinosaur even then.

Looking further at No-STV's pages, there was a link back to the government's referendum office which I tried. It was borked in a way that wasn't immediately obvious, so I was taking that as evidence of further dinosaurism. It actually isn't, though. In this case it's the government's pages that were messed up -- now it looks okay but maybe that's an intelligent cache between hither and yon. I'm confused. This link works and re-writes itself to look like the one posted by No-STV, so that part, as out of touch as it appeared, was really not part of the problem.

Still, if the best opposition they can muster against STV relies on such a serious level of under-information, perhaps this is a referendum on how literate British Columbians are, and not on the merits of STV vs. FPTP at all. The rest of the information is essentially more FUD about how it won't work and it won't be possible to change it back later. Poppycock. If it turns out to be such a bad thing, the government would have to respond to the people's rage in at leats as timely a fashion as it responded to solid interest from four years ago in re-posting the question this year.

How disappointing. I was hoping there'd be something more substantive to understand on the "No" side and not just FUD propaganda.


Irony: "Who Killed The Electric Car?" and the News

I was struck by a strong sense of irony last night as my wife and I watched portions of "Who Killed the Electric Car" on CBC Newsworld. At the top of the hour there was a news break and beside everything else a story about GM re-structuring nearly made me laugh out loud. The synchronicity wasn't lost on either of us, actually. And that was in addition to the growing sense of outrage in Yet One More direction at the extent to which the "Captains of Industry" are messing with our future.

In their defense, their actions also protect, in the short term, a bunch of jobs. Electric cars are disruptive in enough ways that it's hard to imagine how their widespread adoption would affect wide swaths of society: oil and its products no longer distributed so widely, dropping demand for service, increased demand for electricity (a very labour-unintensive commodity) and increased reasons for individuals to pursue generate-your-own hobby projects.

Maybe there'd be a growing market for things like "pebble bed" nuclear reactors that would power clusters of neighbourhoods reducing the need for cross-country transmission? How about that polywell fusion reactor Dr. Bussard talked about on Google? Apparently the US Navy is funding that work again but I wish Canada would put some money on that square, too. The probability of a pay-off certainly exceeds the likelihood of winning consistently on an honest roulette wheel.


BC STV -- Why I still support it

STV or "Single Transferable Vote" was the system proposed by a "Citizen's Assembly" four years ago. BCers were selected randomly from across the province and brought together to study our current electoral system (First Past the Post or FPTP) and some other ways that people around the world elect their representatives. After looking at other options such as Mixed Member-Proportional, List-based and other systems, they chose STV as the proposed electoral reform to present to the voters four years ago.

For more of the history, how the choice was made and who was involved in developing the proposal, see this site, BC-STV.

For more of an up-beat, promotional site, see the campaign site.

For a local opposing voice, see the Langley Advance's Bob Groeneveld's BC-STV-opposition blog entry.

I support STV and I hope you would all vote for it. At the least, I would encourage you strongly to consider it. Here is why I support it although I admit that like any human institution it may very well be disappointing.

1. I have heard many people say that majority governments are best. I disagree. I think we are best served by governments that must govern by coalition. Minority governments that know playing "chicken" with the voters will not give them a majority are forced to seek consensus, compromise and the balancing of demands of diverse parts of society. The Liberal Party of Canada would never have brought in MediCare in the 60s without having the CCF/NDP (originally a Christian-motivated socialist party, though very far from that now) in their coalition and making that kind of law the price for their support. BOTTOM LINE: Having so many different voices in parliament that nobody can shout everyone else down is a GOOD, a VERY GOOD thing. It only becomes stalemate when one party harbours dreams of taking power entirely to itself. I think adopting BC STV may result in minority governments more frequently.

2. Many elections in the last 20 years have been run on fear, uncertainty and doubt that have fostered so-called "strategic" and other forms of plugged-nose voting. Would you vote for a party that you support if you knew that voting for that party would only make room for the candidate you strongly disagree with to win as opposed to the one with a chance to win that you objected to the least? No. It would be foolish. But that kind of voting has gone on in many quarters. BOTTOM LINE: Having a way to vote for what you REALLY want without the risk (or at least with a reduced risk) that your vote will allow a candidate whose policies you find exceptionally undesirable to win would be a GOOD thing. I believe BC STV gives voters the opportunity to give a "first vote" to a (potentially) marginal candidate and still prefer others as a second choice rather than having their vote become a "spoiler".

3. Part of the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD for short) has been aimed at painting victory on the part of candidates from some other party as the Most Awful Thing, to be avoided at all costs, even if it means voting for someone you only find least distasteful of the possible other options. If a candidate sees value in attracting the conditional support of voters who would not choose them first, this kind of painting the other candidates as Spawn of Evil is less likely to occur. If I as a candidate know that a 2nd place vote from people who will choose someone else first can carry the election for me, I will look for common ground with as many voters as possible. Toning down the hysteria in political rhetoric is a GOOD THING. BC STV will force candidates to canvas for 2nd or 3rd choice support even among those who would choose other candidates first.

4. Our kids see how stacked our political system is. We live in ridings where members of some political party with a pulse will carry the vote by 3:1 margins. If those kids should (dare to) disagree with that party they will see no point in voting here. Let's do things that foster a habit of involvement on their part here and now. Opening the door for wider choice in the legislature so that they have varied options (but not necessarily crazy ones like the Rhinoceros Party or Natural Law) to express their political difference of opinion with us without being disillusioned is a GOOD THING. A vote for the Green Party is still a throwaway vote. A vote for the Rhinos, or a Jedi Council party would be so even more. BC STV may allow for more candidates at the (perceived) fringes without driving all but the true fringe out of that market.

5. This system, STV, has been used for both houses in Ireland (Dáil and Seanad) and for the Senate in Australia for a long time. It bears little resemblance to the list based system that (a) works quite well in the Netherlands and Denmark for instance but (b) seems to work out so chaotically in the Knesset in Israel and in Italy.

I'm tired of the disjoint relationship between the popular vote and the MLAs that get sent to Victoria. Changing our voting system to alleviate that disjointedness isn't the answer to all BC's ills but I believe trying to do so would be a good thing. I think choosing BC STV for the future has a good chance of resulting in better, more representative, more open government going into the future.

There are other options that the Citizens' Assembly could have chosen that I would not have been so keen to support. Regardless that my support for this idea is not so strong as some of the rhetoric on the STV campaign website, still I think this is a wise choice for our province, and indeed for our country.

Will you join me in placing your "X" beside "The single transferable vote electoral system (BC-STV) proposed by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform" on May 12?

Thank you for taking the time to consider it.


Arthur N. Klassen


BC STV -- Sometimes re-runs are a good thing

I'm still a little bit surprised that it's coming up again. After coming so close four years ago, the referendum question is back on. Maybe this time?

For more information on what STV (Single Transferable Vote, that is) is, visit Fair Voting BC's referendum web site. There are two highly explanatory videos on the first page and a list of frequently asked questions, including some myths.

During this election, if STV gets any press from the parties, I expect it to be scare-mongering, mostly, because some of the control of the process will leave the party mechanisms and there will be a chance for other voices -- ones with enough community support to be credible, mind you -- than the whipped ones from being heard in the Legislature.

I support this system and I would offer more explanations of its mechanics if they weren't so well laid out on BC STV's web site. So, why do I support it?

I am troubled by the apathy of voters, especially younger ones. Our system is so well organized that new voices, especially those of younger citizens, are not likely to be heard: they are either caucused out or drowned out by the large noisy political machines of established parties. Regional concerns are not heard as safe riding after safe riding is delivered to this or that party while those who vote for other parties, spread out across these safe ridings, are never represented. Even in my own riding, both provincially and federally, the party nomination for one party or another is in effect as binding as the actual election -- in the absence of gross scandals coming out after the individual has been nominated, or of strong local personality such as that of the late Chuck Cadman. I see the Single Transferable Vote as a way to amend that, at least a little bit.

I am bothered by the stridency of political rhetoric. In a take-no-prisoners election campaign where every citizen has only one vote, there is no motivation for candidates to appeal to electors for whom they have no hope of being the first choice. As as happened in the even more well organized and polarized system to our south, without that motivation to appeal more broadly "red meat" rallies, "divide and conquer" strategies, fearmongering and "get out the base" drives will only increase. I cannot believe that this approach leads wise governance.

But if those who won't choose you first might choose you second -- and so get you elected -- you won't be demonizing their first choice at the slightest provocation over the course of the campaign, lest you be labeled as "the enemy of my friend" in too many of their minds. And if, in the resulting legislature, some kind of coalition is required, good! First of all, we've always had to manage coalitions in the rest of life (it's called "sharing" in Kindergarten), why not in our government? Second, if you may have to strike a deal after the election, you may be just a little less likely to call your opponent (figuratively) a spawn of evil before the election.

At the same time, this isn't the willy-nilly list-based voting used in much of Europe with mixed results (good examples: Netherlands and Denmark; classic bad example: Italy). I don't believe STV is loose enough that we will have some way-out-on-the-fringe party dictating to a government that most of us can otherwise put up with for some unreasonable accomodation in return for reliable support over the course of a coalition.

Please, British Columbians, on May 12, 2009, vote "YES" on the STV question.


We Can't Amend Our Constitution

I thought it would be a passing fantasy, but the more I think about an idea I heard this last month, the more I liked it, despite the fact that five years ago I would have been horrified to know that anyone was entertaining it. By the time I finished writing the following, I was convinced that it was a bad idea, not just an unneighbourly one. (But when your neighbours keep sending their dogs to urinate on your shrubs, that's how you start feeling.)

This editorial from the Vancouver Sun made me think about my idea again, especially when I came to this line:

So the Senate exists primarily as a monument to the failure of Canadians to amend our own constitution, which is the only way it can be reformed or abolished.

Why can't we amend the constitution? Because we don't actually have one. Why that is is a long complicated story that begins with the British North America Act and continues through the Canada Act 1982, the Meech Lake Accord, the Charlottetown Accord, all with special reference to the ambitions and/or good intentions of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Québec.

Amending our constitution (as published here) requires 2/3 of the provinces representing more than 50% of the population to be accepted, and then gradual opt-in by all the other provinces. For something like Senate Reform, this just isn't workable. For one thing, Ontario and Québec enjoy too much power in the status quo. For another thing, since Québec doesn't even recognize the current constitution they will always vote "no" to any amendment because supporting an amendment would first require accepting the constitution.

So what's the idea? Threaten two things: first to strip Québec of Ungava -- a region which was not part of Québec's original territory and has consistently elected Parti Québecois MNAs but is decidedly against leaving Canada; then to expel the original Québec from Canada. If enough political will were generated in the rest of Canada to do this, it would not necessarily be a good thing but it could bring Québec's role as the spoiled child of confederation to a decisive end and it would relieve the rest of us from having our politics contorted by a political party in the Commons that doesn't believe in the concept (Canada) that the Commons exists to serve.

But then I started to do the math and the math didn't lie. This idea may rid us of a whiner but it will make an even bigger problem: a constitution that may as well belong to Ontario.

Here are the numbers. With Québec, here are the proportions that each province has:

Canada 31,612,897 100.00%
Alberta 3,290,350 10.41%
British Columbia 4,113,487 13.01%
Manitoba 1,148,401 3.63%
New Brunswick 729,997 2.31%
Newfoundland and Labrador 505,469 1.60%
Northwest Territories 41,464 0.13%
Nova Scotia 913,462 2.89%
Nunavut 29,474 0.09%
Ontario 12,160,282 38.47%
Prince Edward Island 135,851 0.43%
Quebec 7,546,131 23.87%
Saskatchewan 968,157 3.06%
Yukon Territory 30,372 0.10%

As you can see, it's impossible to get 50% of the population against the combined might of Ontario and Québec. That's actually a problem. But if we get rid of the whiners, here's what things look like.

Canada 24,066,766 100.00%
Alberta 3,290,350 13.67%
Ontario 12,160,282 50.53%
Northwest Territories 41,464 0.17%
Nunavut 29,474 0.12%
Yukon Territory 30,372 0.13%
British Columbia 4,113,487 17.09%
Prince Edward Island 135,851 0.56%
Manitoba 1,148,401 4.77%
Newfoundland and Labrador 505,469 2.10%
New Brunswick 729,997 3.03%
Nova Scotia 913,462 3.80%
Saskatchewan 968,157 4.02%

Now, is it possible that Ungava as a province has enough population (200,000 or so) to allow everyone but Ontario to gang up on Ontario? Probably not. And even if it did, what kind of an amending formula would that make? The regions have different enough interests that they would not unify like that. Ontario (new in its have-not status) would be able to veto anything that the rest of Canada wanted in most if not all situations. And as pleasant as it would be not to have to listen to Québec constantly saying "gimme or I might leave", it would be even less pleasant for us in BC (or those in Alberta) to have Ontario tell us what can or can't happen.

No, the right thing is to get Québec to sign the constitution to start with. Then, as bad as the amending formula seems it would become a reasonable possibility, not something that'll just never happen.

Following that, there has to be a reason to make economic prospects strong enough in the maritime provinces to attract people to stay there and emigrate there, especially from Ontario and Québec, so as to make it more possible. The road is long, winding and tortuous and sadly, I don't believe that we'll get there.