Monday, June 28, 2010

Yeah....

...so, general disdain and disgust with the actions of Toronto police, and the "go get 'em!" attitude of public and politicians, has killed motivation to blog today. Maybe Thursday.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

G20 weekend metal-blogging.

Sepultura, "Refuse/Resist"

Chaos A.D.
Tanks On The Streets
Confronting Police
Bleeding The Plebs
Raging Crowd
Burning Cars
Bloodshed Starts
Who'll Be Alive?!

Chaos A.D.
Army In Siege
Total Alarm
I'm Sick Of This
Inside The State
War Is Created
No Man's Land
What Is This Shit?!

Refuse/Resist
Refuse

Chaos A.D.
Disorder Unleashed
Starting To Burn
Starting To Lynch
Silence Means Death
Stand On Your Feet
Inner Fear
Your Worst Enemy

Refuse/Resist

Friday, June 25, 2010

Last-minute travelling.

So, no blog today. I did get to see some cops while taking the bus out of Toronto, though. That was... surreal.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On the G8/G20.

Dissertation work ran overtime, so this will be quite short. Even by my standards. Basically, just a few thoughts that have occurred to me in light of the G8/G20 meetings that are about to royally fuck up my city for a few weeks. (Ick, I just called Toronto "my city".) It's also very off the cuff; so, apologies for that.

First is regarding the security aspect. I've never really understood the logic behind the way security is done these days. Anyone with a functioning brain and a basic set of social skills knows that the worst Way to ensure you don't wind up with a violent, hostile situation is by presuming a violent, hostile situation is inevitable. Locking down the city and filling it with thousands of police curtails the options for resistance to just two: don't resist, or resist aggressively. The middle ground of peaceful, but forceful, protest has been eliminated.

It's obviously foolish, but it happens again and again.

The sensible option is to treat the protestors like people -- ordinary, everyday people, who have opinions and want an opportunity to have those opinions heard. It's easy to justify fighting when it's against a faceless wall of uniformed police, but it's hard to justify when being engaged in conversation and discussion. I keep meaning to look up the details, but I recall hearing (I think it was in The Corporation?) about a CEO of, I believe, Shell who had a group of environmentalist protestors show up on his front lawn. Literally -- the front lawn of his home. He could have had police show up, called security, had them forcibly removed and filed lawsuits left and right -- which would have lead to confrontation, tremendous (negative) publicity, and so on.

Instead, he and his wife went outside and brought the protestors tea and sandwiches. And then sat down and talked to them. After eating and talking, the protestors left.

I remember during the York University strike of last year, a group of strikers and their supporters staged a sit-in outside the President's Office. They even invited the President to come and sit with them and have some pizza and talk. Not only did President Shoukri not show up, when some of the folks involved the sit-in ran into him -- in the hallway, I believe -- he literally ran. And then called security. Which turned what could have been a quick, human, productive interaction into a protracted, aggressive, impersonal confrontation.

I get the feeling the G8/G20 security thing is going in exactly the same way. Uniformed but unarmed cops, circulating in the crowds, interacting with the protestors in polite, friendly ways might actually do something to stop violence from happening. Standing behind security fences in full riot gear, with weapons at the ready, might just provoke it.

It's part, I think, of the foolish reliance of many in current society on rigid rules rather than careful judgement: the replacement of the ethical with the legal. Somehow, we've become so incapable of dealing with other people as people that we believe unyielding structures will prevent bad things from happening. It's stupid -- bad things happen; the trick is to minimize them by encouraging the people involved to take responsibility and exercise their own capacities to solve whatever problems that emerge.

(I'm not being original here, by the way. This is just Kant: the world according to pure reason -- the world of science -- consists of strict rules and principles, and the world of practical reason -- the world of ethics -- consists of judgement and careful cultivation of character/will. Both worlds are relevant, both worlds are necessary, and both worlds must be held together, in constant but necessary tension. And even Kant isn't being original: it's little more than Plato's old distinction between the perfect, abstract World of Being and the imperfect, variable World of Becoming.)

Second is regarding the economic aspect. Our beloved Prime Minister, responsible for creating ever more ways to ignore and delegitimize the federal government, is joining the chorus to reduce deficits and debts, despite the fact that the effects of the global recession are still being felt. There's a number of problems with this.

The first and most obvious is that governments are moronic when they panic about deficits and debts. Canada's current deficit is $56 billion. Sounds like a lot of money, right? Canada's yearly "income" -- its GDP -- is $1.5 trillion. Which makes the deficit to GDP ratio 4%. Canada's current debt is about $530 billion. Again, sounds like a lot. But the debt to GDP ratio is 35%. By way of comparison, a 4% deficit to income ratio, for an individual, would be like a person making $38,000 a year (the national poverty line) and spending an additional $1520, per year, on a credit card. Or, for the 35% debt ratio, it'd be like that same person carrying an accumulated $13,300 in debt -- which would be about the debt covered if our subject took out a car loan. Not only do people at poverty-line incomes easily bear deficit and debt levels equal to those that the national government currently holds, they often exceed them. Suppose our $38,000 income-earner buys a home. A cheap home in an inexpensive part of the country might cost, say, $50,000. Taking out that mortgage would leave our subject with a debt to income ratio of 132%.

Furthermore, if you look at Canada's debt-to-GDP and deficit-to-GDP ratios historically, they've been much higher than they are now. And we've not only failed to cut spending in order to deal with them, spending has actually increased with no negative (and some positive!) impact on Canada's economy. I'm not going to delve into the historical data to prove this point, but it's readily available, and anyone speaking to the issue should be at least vaguely familiar with it. (Hence ruling out Harper and Flaherty tout court.)

My point is that deficits and debts are financial instruments. They're tools. There's nothing inherently bad or good about any given level of deficit or debt. The sort of panic that attends "big" deficits like $56 billion is completely unwarranted -- we don't apply the same standard to personal debt and deficit, and we haven't freaked out this badly historically.

Moreover -- second problem -- the economy is still very weak. If you look to other economic indicators than GDP, unemployment is still high, exports haven't recovered, real estate is weak, personal savings are low, luxury/entertainment spending is down, and so on and so forth. Cutting now would just deepen the wounds that already eixst. We need to spend at the government level now so that we can curtail government spending -- cutting now will require even greater increases later, in order to solve the problems the cuts create on top of those created by the recession. Unless, of course, Flaherty follows his usual dispositions and protects his friends while screwing the rest of us over. That's another way out, but not one that's particularly praiseworthy.

So, we've got a group of very wealthy people gathering in Toronto and Huntsville, discussing how to keep their wealth to themselves, while leaving the rest of us to twist in the wind because of problems created by very wealthy people. And they're doing it either because they are genuinely callous and want to see us hurt, or because they really have no idea what they're doing.

(To be fair, the G20, at least, does have members that see that deficit/debt-fighting is stupid right now, particularly India. And Obama is at least indulging in pro-spending rhetoric -- but, as always with him, we'll have to see whether that gets realized in action.)

In short, governments need to figure out what kind of outcomes they're going to tolerate. Is the misery of the masses (and everything that follows from that) really a good outcome? Is deficit and debt something that can be handled later rather than now?

Once again, it seems that the basically unserious nature of our governing bodies is betraying our interests. And, as said earlier about security, they're doing everything they can to keep from having to deal with us and our problems honestly and humanely.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Weekend metal-blogging.

Equilibrium, "Der Ewige Sieg"

Friday, June 18, 2010

Good news, bad news.

Good news: I got another dissertation chapter written.

Bad news: no blogging this week.

Blogging will resume next week -- promise!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Another dissertation-writing day.

Thus, no blog. Sorry. But, at this point, dissertation must take precedence.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Weekend metal-blogging.

Napalm Death, "On the Brink of Extinction"

I don't know what got up ND's ass, but they're absolutely killing on this new record.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

On burning out and substantive debate.

I'm starting to get frustrated with political stuff -- again. It happens periodically, mostly when my tolerance for the random nonsense that passes for substantive debate is exceeded. I really don't think most people know what a substantive debate looks like. (That "most" is a hint I'm about to speak in broad generalities rather than universals. Be thou warned.) It's not a "substantive debate" if your concerns are primarily tribal -- that is, in drawing lines around you and people like you, in order to ward off or hinder those who aren't like you. You see this in the never-ending coalition debate, for example. When the Liberals/NDP are for it, then Liberal/NDP supporters think coalitions are great, and Conservative supporters think coalitions are evil. When the Conservatives/NDP are for it, then Conservative/NDP supporters think coalitions are great, and Liberal supporters think coalitions are evil. And around we go, swapping partners but never actually getting to the heart of the issue, namely: are coalitions actually a good idea and, if so, what do we need to do to get more of them in our government? Regardless of battle lines and partisan affiliations. You can also see this in debates about Parliamentary supremacy, Senate reform, and even the HST. Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak's position here is the most obvious example, as he criticizes the McGuinty Liberals for giving out an HST refund a year before an election, yet defends the Mike Harris Tories similarly handing out cheques to the populace before an election. Either giving tax money back is a good idea or it isn't. Or (and here we might delve into real substance), it's a good idea sometimes, but not others, based on some real and important difference between the cases. But if all you've got is "well, that was when we did it", then, really, you've got nothing.

It's also not a "substantive debate" if your concerns are primarily emotional -- that is, if you're venting or otherwise expressing what you feel. The gun registry debate is the worst recent offender on this score. For example, it's not uncommon to see supporters of the registry trying to hide behind the bodies of those poor women Marc Lepine murdered in '89. There's really no logic involved in this particular appeal; no one has presented any reason to believe that registration of his weapon would've stopped Lepine from killing (after all, his guns were bought legally). The appeal is solely to emotion -- we're supposed to feel bad about not "supporting" fourteen women who died 21 years ago. (Aside: and there's something faintly revolting about people who didn't know any of these women personally claiming that they have any genuine feelings for their deaths. It's not a real emotion, in any sense that I understand; it's a socially-manufactured attitude, a response deemed appropriate by moralists.) But, as with tribalism, these appeals to emotion are unfortunately ubiquitous: we're also supposed to "feel bad" about oil-covered birds and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, about public workers taking home good salaries while private workers are barely hanging on, about people who live within hearing distance of wind farms. Facts, evidence and reasons are apparently irrelevant; once somebody feels bad, we're all supposed to, and that sweeps away the actual substance.

The problem isn't something that exists solely in the minds of fairly rationalistic folks like me, though. The problem is that facts, evidence and reasons are all we've got in common. We're all members of different "tribes", and we all have different feelings in different circumstances. If that's what substantive debate boils down to -- who you side with and what you happen to feel -- then we may as well just pick up weapons and fight. Because that's pretty much where we'll end up anyway. (That, or we'll prove Hegel's (according to Marx) maxim that history repeats first as tragedy, and second as farce.)

So, how do you do the substance? It's certainly not easy, as the tendencies towards tribalism and emotionalism are deeply-rooted and, frankly, easy and often fun. I would suggest, though, that the first step is to cultivate the willingness to think a problem through, as far as it takes. There's a sense in our culture that it's possible to "over-think" a situation. This is simply wrong; it's possibly to think badly or think inappropriately or think fruitlessly, but not to think too much. So, really think your way through a problem. When it comes to political issues, this often boils down to a question of what you value. But values aren't some sort of bedrock stopping-point: values are based on something. If you value liberty, why? What's so good about liberty? If you value safety, again, why? What's so good about it? There are obvious cases where liberty seems bad, and safety as well. For the former, consider cases where my exercise of my freedom encroaches on your ability to do the same, as when I consume a resource which, since consumed, is no longer available for you. For the latter, consider cases where keeping me safe requires preventing from doing something where the risk is high but mild: that is, where there's a good chance I'll come to harm, but the harm is very small. In either case, there has to be something to be said for the whatever it is that you value, some basis it has in character or principle or consequence or something Which gives it this status.

The idea is to keep working back, questioning assumptions and systematizing positions, until you reach a point where your opponents agree with you. (I presume rational opponents; but that's usually a good working presumption, until it's proven false. Anything less is arrogance.) Once you've got that point, then you can proceed forward, back towards your desired conclusion. You may find that your desired conclusion actually doesn't follow -- in which case, you need to change something, and possibly concede the point to your opponent. You may also find that your desired conclusion does follow, and your opponent has to concede in turn. That's what a substantive debate looks like, and it's generally lacking, in Parliament, in the media, and in the blogs. Parliament and the media we can't really fix -- short of taking them over, which will take a little time -- but we can blog better.

And, if we shouldn't: why?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Travelling again.

So, nothing today. Possibly something on Monday -- depends on when I get back.