Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Autodidactica

It's a truism that today's philosopher practices his craft in full acceptance of a life of poverty. The total and endless encroachment of real life makes vain the idea of stepping out of university and onto the grassy mountaintop. A B.A and a burdensome student loan is enough to send most of us to the call centre, resume in hand. A little perspective on one's career choice, typically sought in Zen retreats or casual drug use, would go a long way in centering the mind of the mindful, given that the big philosophy companies aren't hiring.

For Colin Wilson, perspective arrived in the form of a flail across the buttocks from girlfriend Joy Stewart's family horsewhip. After Stewart's father found Wilson's racy notes for The Ritual and deemed him a traitorous homo, he stormed into a casual dinner and flogged Wilson into the street.

The flogging happened at a time when Wilson was unsure of his future as a writer. He wasn't educated (he left school at 16 with disdain for formal education), and he lived a mostly nomadic life, alien to academic intellectual circles. Wilson's first book, successful The Outsider, is hailed as a minor existentialist classic, at least among those who have heard of it (a cursory dig through the Amazons and Barneses and Indigoes of the world turn up only used copies). Its successor, Religion and the Rebel, was panned far and wide, and the screech of criticism drove Wilson into deep self-doubt.

He left London for coastal Cornwall, and started on a sequel to The Outsider. In the meantime, he went up to Oslo, Norway to give a lecture. Expecting more gouging criticism, Wilson was given a pleasant surprise: the Norwegians actually gave a horse's patoot about what he had to say, and paid no mind to the critical roar of Britain. Finally gaining some emotional reaffirmation of his ideas, Wilson, eyes saucerlike, went on a tear, finishing Ritual in the Dark in 1960 and writing twenty-five more books in the ensuing decade.

Colin Wilson insists that all his books exert a different permutation of the same thesis. He is interested in "peak experiences", which denote personal freedom, in the existential sense. More specifically, he wants to know why our peak experiences are born of external stimuli, and why our lives see less of them than they should. From the postscripts to The Outsider:

An example: a young mother was preparing breakfast for her husband and children when a beam of sunlight came in through the window. The thought “My God, aren't I lucky?” struck her, and she went into the peak experience. But she had been “lucky” (i.e. free) before the sunlight came in the window; now she suddenly became free.
...
[Herman] Hesse seemed to me so important because he had defined the basic “Outsider problem” so precisely in Steppenwolf, in the passage where, at the end of a long and unsatisfying day, the hero drinks a glass of wine, and suddenly “the golden bubble burst...and I was reminded of Mozart and the stars” - Maslow’s “peak experience”. That is the essence of the problem - how to re-create the peak experience at will. This problem Hesse never succeeded in solving.

A hopeful Sunday browse through my local used bookstore for some Wilson left me emptyhanded, except for a single worn copy of Sex Diary of a Metaphysician (aka Man Without a Shadow, Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme), poorly typeset with no appreciation for the bottom margin. I bought it anyway; most of his early work is out of print, and tough to find. Perhaps in the coming weeks, when Dick and I will be in Oslo, I'll wrangle the last few copies of The Outsider from some appreciative Norsemen.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Partaking in Helsinki

Ever been scrubbed clean by a traditional washerwoman? What about cruising around town with a' cold beer on a red tram'? How about checking out this place? Julia Weckman also has a free exhibition at the same time that 74 Constance rolls into town for a showdown with Uudenmaankatu.

Two days of this place may kill me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Choose Change? Choose the Same.

First it was Mike Harris' 'Smart Growth', now it's McGuinty's 'A Place to Grow'. The Liberal's began peddling their discussion paper today of how the GTA is to grow and evolve over the next 30 or so years as an immeadiate reaction to the consequences of urban sprawl. 'A Place to Grow' outlines the framework of how the Province plans to deal with gridlock, residential and industrial development, transit and water and sewer servicing on a GTA-wide basis.

While Smart Growth and this new incarnation may have different names, the outcome is doomed to be the same. First off - as usual - McGuinty looks like to have cut and pasted from the previous Conservative initiative and slapped his own tag on it. Subsequently, both advocate status-quo land development practices and unconstrained growth. Enough with the buzzwords already - with words like 'leadership', 'partnership' and 'effective' sprinkled throughout this yawn, anyone who follows this scene knows that bullshit remains bullshit - even when it wears a smile.

My question is... like Nutrient Management (which instituted control of factory farms after Municipalities started to limit their size), is this yet another attempt by the Province to take back a controversial municipal responsibility under the guise of regional planning? Despite the protests of the resident curmudgeon, has the election of several anti-development councils throughout the GTA meant that McGuinty and Finance Minister Sorbara need to conspire to ensure that the Bramptons and Vaughans of Sorbara's creation continue to perpetuate themselves? Land development and housing starts are driving the economy after all - and in this era of 'budget cuts' and 'fiscal restraint' nobody wants to screw with the economy.

So how do you accommodate both environmental groups and developers? You claim to have the solution to all problems through the release of a fuzzy, sugar-coated document which states yet again what's been said for the past 10 years and provides absolutely no new policy guidance - yet has lots of pretty pictures and useless graphs. Looks great, now how is gridlock going to be reduced? Where's the cash to implement the transit program etc. etc. It also states that all land that is designated today (which can accomodate all development for the next 15 years) is essentially exempt from the proposed policies. 15 more years of Mississauga-style sprawl Dalton before we can even begin to implement your timid tripe? Good Work - Guelph... meet Milton.

Does anyone remember that much vaunted Golden Horseshoe greenbelt promise that was thrown about during the election? It seems to have been modified somewhat. Perhaps someone should remind the Premier's Office.

Best of all is the continued commitment to the Red Hill Expressway up the Hamilton Mountain which will effectively open up tens of thousands of current prime agricultural acres to sprawl development on top of the escarpment. This proposed expressway would stretch all the way from Hamilton to Fort Erie and has assumed increased importance as an 'economic corridor' in the new Plan. It is designed to parallel the QEW and would effectively eliminate the only barrier which has stopped sprawl in Haldimand County and the west part of Niagara Region - the escarpment. Now that's 'Smart Growth'... er... 'A Place to Grow'... whatever.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Who's your favourite Toronto character???

Tame, patronizing and pretentious, 'Toronto the Good' still lives up to its name as a place populated mostly with conformists and traditionalists.

Every now and then though, a true character emerges which challenges this mentality and adds substance to the otherwise desolate cultural landscape. Subsequently, I'm putting out the call to submit your favourites.

My vote has to go the Kensington-based anti-technology self-described luddite Michael Rosenberg. He first peaked my interest while attending a Metro Hall Official Plan information seminar back in 2002 where he personally tried to convert all 450 attendees to his de-population agenda. Once a fixture at his barren storefront office on Augusta Street in the heart of the market, Michael - a former programmer - runs Coalition Against Technological Unemployment and makes random appearances across the City to voice his concern and distrust of the role of technology in our lives. Not suprisingly, CATU does not have a website nor is willing to promote itself in any manner on the web. While few may agree with him or CATU, you gotta respect a man who's lived off 'savings' for the past ten odd years...

Monday, July 05, 2004

Gonna be a Prop-Rep Party, Party, Party...

So Proportional Representation (aka Electoral Reform, Fair Voting) is officially the Hot Button Issue of the new election year. Dick's missive below does all the talking for this blog. As is my way -- that is, providing nothing of much use in terms of argument -- I've combed the Blog-O-Sphere for a few dissenting opinions...

  • Andrew Coyne
    In a less distortionary system, the representation of the parties in Parliament would be spread more evenly across the country. There would be more Tories from Ontario and Atlantic Canada, more Liberals from the West, more federalist MPs from Quebec -- and fewer Bloquistes. In short, we would have a Parliament that looked more like Canada, and less like, I don't know, the European Union. Our politics would split more on
    questions of ideology, and less on regional or linguistic lines.

    Andrew feels that first-past-the-post cleaves the country along ideological axes that simply aren't there, which causes the secondary ill of the "myth" of the dreaded Western Alienation (Despite the broad strokes of Blue representing Manitoba-and-westward in this
    Parliament, Liberal support actually increased in the West).

  • pragmatic radical brings up the Fair Vote Canada Prop-Rep Propaganda site. Interesting to note that Dick's observations about the neglect of local representation under a PR system aren't yet addressed.

  • Ian Gillespie favours a PR system by province.

  • Teledyn breaks PR down along mathematical lines, via the example of the European Union.


Over the next few months I expect a tenfold increase in media references to Duverger's Law, the mechanics of tactical voting, as well as the governments of Scotland, New Zealand, and India. There appears to be nothing approaching a "most correct" solution to the electoral reform problem, but I'm with Dick in thinking that if local policy and representation are allowed to fall by the wayside, the government is crippled at a level where it is most needed.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

On Proportional Representation

Proportional representation... it seems to be gathering political capital yet again with this potential 'central role' of the NDP in the upcoming parliament and their platform stressing its implementation. But, has anyone stopped to weigh the consequences? PR as being currently proposed would hinder the connection between the local voter and parliament. It would also effectively shut many areas of the country out of the system and promote increased decision-making and policy centralization.

The riding system currently used today works on the premise of electing a local person to take local views, concerns and grievances to parliament. After each census, Elections Canada goes through a lengthy process to avoid gerrymandering and determine ridings based on shared geography, economic spheres of influence and built form. Hence, urban and rural ridings are generally separated and individual ridings share similar characteristics. The first-past-the-post system promotes each local area to send their own representative through local elections to fight for the issues which are important to that specific constituency and to govern a federal government akin to their values and principles.

Proportional Representation as proposed reduces local input and discards area and regional distinctions by collecting and distributing votes evenly across the entire country or Province. Urban, suburban and rural votes are lumped together into one number and then redistributed according to total votes nationwide regardless of why voters chose a certain party. Voters in Huron-Perth did not elect a liberal MP for remotely the same reasons as voters in Trinity-Spadina and neither did for the same reasons as Thunder Bay, yet their votes are lumped together for party headquarters to dole out through a list posted before the election. This is basically how things are done in Germany and New Zealand. How would these representatives be determined or allocated? Who would create the list and who would they represent? Would MPs and potential MPs spend more time courting party officials than the electorate? If the German system were implemented, how big would our ‘Regions’ be? Would they encompass entire provinces? If so, former comments regarding Thunder Bay and Trinity-Spadina certainly apply.

The current riding system elects candidates locally through riding associations. How would PR proponents ensure local representation if ridings are disbanded and replaced with provincial or national associations? Under a system where no one has been directly elected locally, who would I call to speed up my passport application or complain about poor VIA service? Who would fight for federally sponsored locality specific improvements such as cleaning up industrial brownfields or lakeshore erosion controls?

Give this a thought. Imagine that resistance to proportional representation (or any other issue) is especially high among NDP supporters in my constituency. Under the riding system, we can in theory elect a candidate to run for the NDP who supports our position and will take that message to Ottawa and the federal party if they win. Under the PR system, this could never happen as the Provincial or ’regional’ arm would establish a list of regional candidates who would surely support the centralized party platform.

Representation. One complaint of PR fans is the allocation of seats across the country. Is it really absurd that the one seat in Nunavut has a population of 27,000, while a riding in the GTA has over 110,000? Consider this… Nunavut is spread out over 1,000,000 square kilometers while Newmarket-Aurora can be driven clear across in twenty minutes. If we considered them on par with a southern riding, the Nunavut riding would have to be expanded to include NWT, Yukon, Northern Quebec and the northern parts of the Prairie provinces - an area nearly 2,000,000 square kilometers with a juxtaposition of cultures, issues and needs. Is this truly effective? Does it really level the ’democratic playing field’? What really is the relation between Carcross, Yukon and Fort George, Quebec?

While by no means this excessive, on average ridings in rural and northern areas have somewhat lower populations. The rationale being that a balance needs to be struck between equal distribution, low population density and effective representation. The same principle applies to the Maritimes and PEI in particular. Currently there are four seats allocated to the Province. Simple national equal redistribution would only allocate them one. A province with only one seat out of 308. How are their interests going to be forwarded? Our votes in the larger provinces count for less simply because there are so many more of us. Despite having the largest populated ridings in the Country, Ontario endures this 'injustice' by maintaining a third of all House of Commons seats. The current system ensures equality and ‘fairness’ by redistributing seats to the smaller provinces and lesser populated areas of the country which otherwise would be severely underrepresented and have restricted access to parliament. This works on the same principle as transfer payments to the ’have not’ provinces. Equal redistribution is not always fair redistribution.

And what about combined first-past-the-post and proportional representative system as is the case in New Zealand? First, would the House of Commons be doubled to 616 reps to accommodate these new regional members or would ridings be amalgamated to free up the necessary room? What would happen if ridings have to increase from 110,000 to over 200,000? How effective would that be in rural areas using the Nunavut example? How does this serve and enhance ‘local representation‘ as Jack claims?

I can’t agree with any system which proposes taking decision-making out of local hands and redistributing it provincially or nation-wide. The recent amalgamation exercises undertaken in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario show that reduced local representation severely affects government responsiveness, accountability and effectiveness - to the detriment of democracy. It also breeds increased apathy in the electorate as local issues are pushed aside in favour of ‘national issues’ which the majority of the nation doesn’t give a damn about.

If progressive reform is to be truly undertaken, it should take the form of an increased role for individual MPs. The real problem is that over the past 30 years, political parties have centralized policy, responsibility and decision-making. Avenues should be created to allow MPs - regardless of position - to express the needs and desires of local constituents rather than being forced to tow the party line on issues decided by command central. Proportional representation will not solve that - it will only serve to perpetuate the Ottawa political machine by stymieing the only mechanism available to advance local demands.

The real difference between PR and the Riding System is this - do you favour local involvement and input in the federal government or do you favour centralized, party-appointed representation? I personally favour a system where my area gets to send my local representative to parliament to represent and promote the majority of my areas interests - whether I agree with them or not... and even if it means my party gets 20 less seats than potentially under proportional representation.

Ed. -You’d think Mr. Layton - a former adherent of local representation and the ward system - would be sympathetic to such a position. Apparently not.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Plight of the Ontario Farmer in Perspective

After yet another long weekend of making the three hour journey to the S.W.O. - only to struggle to get the first cut of hay off the field and tear the combine engine apart in preparation for the late july wheat harvest - it takes Neil Young to put it all in perspective.

With only 12% of farm operators across Canada below the age of 35 and the average age of farm operators at 49, the Canadian farmer is a bit of a dying breed.

Especially affected has been the Ontario farmer. Never mentioned, Ontario has the largest farm economy in the Country (overshadowing the Prairies by a wide margin), yet its value continues to be completely ignored. Faced with exorbitant land prices brought about by rampant urban sprawl, multinational corporate investment and succession issues, the family farmer has seriously become a rarity. Despite these trends, the complaints of Prairie farmers have been pushed front and centre in the national media. All the while, the Ontario industry has silently been facing similar income declines and farm bankruptcies.

From 1986 to 1996, farm input prices rose 25.2% while farm product prices only increased by 16.7%. In comparison, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures how much consumers, including farmers, pay for food, increased 28% during this ten-year span.

Does Ontario get special treatment to deal with this crisis? No. Rich Alberta sure as hell does. Which begs the question... who really is being alienated in Confederation anyways? The last time an agriculture minister hailed from Ontario was in the early days of the Trudeau government - and other than ol' Eugene, I can't tell you the last time the S.W.O. (with a population of 1 million) has had a minister in cabinet.

Perhaps Alberta and friends should take a look around before subjecting us all to yet another round of their tiring pissing and moaning. Alberta economic clout and oil money drive the health, energy and agricultural agendas, still they pout about the 'eastern establishment' bogeyman. As far as I'm concerned, it's rural Ontario, Manitoba, the Maritimes and the North that's getting the shaft. Maybe it's our 'culture of defeatism' that raises the ire of the West.

Besides, what the hell are the Conservatives and their thinly veiled Western-centric decentralist agenda going to do for anyone anyways? If slashing taxes, gutting social services, initiating endless reforms and shitting on the cities are the solutions to every problem, we here in the land of post-Mike Harris Ontario should be all currently at the Rosewater Supper Club sampling the Caspian caviar.

Maybe it's time to take the Ontario Independence League to the next level (with some definite tweaking of its principles, of course!).