Thinking of Heraclitus

Gold creek water and foam

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Leaves and Sunlight

Leaves and Sunlight

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Anatomy of a Lego Project

Galaxy Traveler whole front view

For the last two weeks or so, my son and I have been building Lego. He’s lucky, because he not only has all my own old Lego from my childhood, but the Lego of my friend Andrey, who donated his from the same time period, and then a number of used vintage space Lego sets I bought on eBay years ago. A few days ago, he asked me to make him a really big spaceship, so I complied. Presenting, then, the Galaxy Traveler!

Galxaxy Traveler I

The next picture shows the opposite angle of the ship:

Galaxy Traveler whole

The Galaxy Traveler actually has the ability to separate into a number of discrete parts. The main part of the Galaxy Traveler (aka, “the Traveler”) has disengaged from the rest of the ship in the next photo:

The Partner and the Stationary separate from the Traveler

The next photo shows all three of the major component parts, from left to right: the Partner ship, the Stationary (a portable base equipped with high-powered communications equipment), and the Traveler itself:

The Partner separates from the Stationary

The photograph below shows the inside of the Stationary, which can connect either to the Partner, or the smaller Traveler, or both:

Reclining in the Stationary

The Partner is equipped with a very small vehicle, the Rover…

The Rover leaves the Partner

…while the smaller Traveler has its own secret: a docking bay containing…

The Traveler opened up

…a small one-man ship called the Solo!

And the Solo comes out!

The next several shots show the cockpits of, respectively, the Partner and the Traveler:

Cockpit of the Partner

Cockpit of the Traveler

What can I say? It was fun!

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Well done, Ontario!

Today the most populous province in Canada sent the minority Liberal Party, run under their shiny new, and LGBT member Kathleen Wynne–to majority government status. I am delighted! As most of the best writers in the Globe and Mail knew–except the official editorial board members themselves–this was an election that had see the provincial–in both meanings–Tories under their satanic leadership shown the door in no uncertain terms; too much was riding on this election for the Tories to have been elected under Tim Hudak. I’m very glad he’s resigning; Ontario will be the better off for it.

I’d like to flesh out just what I meant by the word “satanic” above. Essentially, Tim Hudak threatened, or rather, promised to cut 100,000 public service sector jobs. He then said that he would create over a million jobs, net. However, he counted each job created multiple times–one for every year over a series of years–but did not count the 100,000 public sector jobs cut more than once. He made other significant errors, too; for instance, a certain number of jobs would be created anyway, even without his plan. Economists had a field day taking apart his claims. From the third-linked article above:

First, Mr. Hudak’s determination to deny the undeniable raised questions about his character when confronted with tough situations. Imagine a truly important scandal: perhaps one involving risks to public safety, or malfeasance of some kind – things that can’t be brushed off as “matters of opinion.” (Math is not actually an opinion, anyway.) Will obfuscation and denial define his response to other challenges?

Second, the debate over the numbers inspired analysts to take a closer look at the assumptions behind the PC plan, not just its math, and this raised deeper worries about the intellectual and political pedigree of the Conservative platform. There were two separate consulting reports misreported by the Tories in their jobs tally. One was from the Conference Board of Canada, on the effect of corporate and personal tax cuts; it was unconvincing, but inoffensive.

The other report, however, became hotly controversial – and for good reason. It was prepared by a U.S. consultant Benjamin Zycher, who has worked for many far-right causes (some funded by the Koch brothers of Tea Party fame), has strongly advocated so-called “right-to-work” laws for Ontario, and has expressed startling opinions on subjects ranging from environmentalism to how Michelle Obama received her Princeton degree.

Mr. Zycher’s report for the PCs has been thoroughly criticized by several economists for shoddy methodology, data errors, and more. But it’s the underlying philosophical assumptions of his work for the PCs that should raise the loudest alarms. His economic model of “deregulation” is actually based on Ontario mimicking the fiscal policies and labour laws of places like Mississippi and Arkansas – and then asserting that this will make Ontario richer. (Of course, Ontario is already far richer than those places.) The mere fact the PCs would hire this man to flesh out their electoral platform is another indication of how far right they have aimed. [Original hyperlinks not included; see the link above for the original article itself.]

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Gold Creek near Maple Ridge, BC

Gold Creek near Maple Ridge, BC

A few weeks ago, I and my family went to Gold Creek, where I took these pictures. I don’t have really much to say, except that it is a lovely, if dangerous spot. I believe that some acquaintances of my parents were killed on the falls many years ago. There was also a fatality there last year. For some reason, there is little warning, apart from one sign.

Gold Creek's Lower Falls near Maple Ridge, BC, II

Gold Creek's Lower Falls near Maple Ridge, BC

Gold Creek beautiful green water

Gold Creek's Lower Falls

Gold Creek couple

I must say that I loved the couple, and especially the girl in the image above. She was very poetic.

Gold creek water and foam

Gold Creek beautiful green water

Gold Creek Lower Falls through the trees

Gold Creek through the trees

Mountains from Gold Creek in Maple Ridge, BC

Gold Creek's clear water and stones, near Maple Ridge, BC

Trees and path near Gold Creek

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Two BBC Articles, and a Defense of “Cafeteria-Style” Spirituality

I see from the BBC that Lawrence Kasdan is a co-writer of the new Star Wars movie. That is great news, as The Empire Strikes Back is easily the best of any of the Star Wars movies.

There is also an interesting piece there that addresses this question in the affirmative: Is it better to be religious than spiritual?. Quite frankly, I never really get the common complaint made by members of various religious traditions that the generically “spiritual” are practicing “cafeteria-style” spirituality. There is no such thing as a “pure” religion. Judaism was formed by a whole range of influences from the worship of the Canaanite storm deity Baal to the child-sacrifices of the Phoenicians to the dualistic, eschatological concepts of Persian Zoroastrianism, for instance. Buddhism was influenced by Taoism and Hinduism. The terms “Hinduism” and “Buddhism” itself are very large. And as I’ve said many times before, the so-called Abrahamic religions are fraught with problems when generalizing. Mohammed and Bernard of Clairvaux have much more in common with each other than either Mohammed would with Rumi, or Bernard would with Thomas Merton. And that’s to say nothing of how much Christianity was influenced by Hellenistic Greek pagan philosophical writers. So all the current religious traditions can claim to be about as pure-blooded as Muggle-sired Voldemort in J.K. Rowling’s world.

When one practices “cafeteria-style” spirituality, one is freed up to enjoy the best parts of each religion and spiritual tradition, while leaving untouched and untasted their tendencies towards cruelty toward one’s fellow humans and stultification of the world of ideas.

Apart from that–and the fact that so many religious traditions in the West prioritize preaching, an event in which a clergyman tells people how to think about very specific things, from doctrines to history to sexual morality–I do see the draw of belonging to a religious tradition. The pull for me is (apart from a good building) good liturgy–liturgy as art, if you will. There’s something very beautiful, in particular, about the Roman Catholic mass. If the whole thing was held to be a performative art form rather than a celebration of specific doctrines concerning Jesus of Nazareth and those influenced by him, I would go to church possibly every month.*

*There’s one significant problem that I have noticed with respect to religious communities, though–and the communities need not be deistic–and that is the lording over others practiced by charismatic leaders, and the intense bickering and backbiting and guilt-tripping that goes on in church settings. There is so much outright manipulation (and even brain-washing) going on that the whole point of “community” is for me completely lost. For that reason, I am very wary of those who vaunt their “community” in modern religious settings.

Posted in Religion & Philosophy | 2 Comments

Hierarchy of an ex-hockey fan when on the play-off bandwagon

Vancouver Canucks
Montreal Canadiens
Edmonton Oilers
Colorado Avalanche (formerly Quebec Nordiques)
Ottawa Senators
Winnipeg Jets
Toronto Maple Leafs*

Ambivalent on most US teams. Pittsburgh Penguins are fine.

The worst: New Jersey Devils, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, and the Boston Bruins. Go Habs, go!

*Disclaimer: A born-and-raised Vancouverite, I lived in Toronto for two years and loved the city. I just always disliked the Leafs and having to watch them all the time on CBC, rather than the Habs. Now, of course, I never get a chance to see any hockey on TV or online.

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An short update to the previous post

I’m slightly embarrassed at the repetition of certain words and sentences in my previous post; I was tired when I wrote it, and it’s not my best. It is, however, very much representative of my thoughts on the so-called Fair Elections Act. After having emailed my MP and every single Senator with an email address (pretty much all of them except Barizeau, Wallin, and Duffy, whom I didn’t want to email anyway), I have heard from a few. I’ll post a synopsis of the responses I’ve received in the near future.

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The Fair Elections Act Again: On Political Oversight of Polling Stations

I just sent the following email to every single senator, except for four (one with no email, and Barizeau, Wallin, and Duffy). Since I addressed each by name, that mean I actually sent several dozen emails, rather than one merely CC-d to them all.

Dear Senator,

I am writing about the proposed Fair Elections Act that the Conservative Party is pushing through both chambers of government right now. I believe, as with Sheila Fraser and many respected public servants and others, that this bill is nothing short of an attack on Canadian democracy.

Although the government has removed one of the two worst aspects of the bill–the elimination of vouching, which would have had the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of votes–it has just reinstated the very worst provision, one that would allow incumbent political parties to choose central poll supervisors (“Fair Elections Act back on fast track after 45 amendments submitted“).

Elections in Canada until now have been, in the main, positive models for other countries in the world that are less democratic. Allowing motivated political hacks to oversee the polling stations of their ridings removes not only the appearance of fairness, but confidence in the electoral process and its results. This move greatly weakens Elections Canada, and will lead to corruption within the very system of elections by which our country is governed.

Senator, I am asking you to vote this bad, bad bill down in its entirety. Failing this, I would ask you to vote down this specific provision and all others that would make the practice of our elections less fair.

In my opinion, this entire bill deserves to die, and the Harper Government has lost the mandate of the people. Now is the time for the Senate–known, with some justification, as a chamber of cronyism and patronage–to live up to its potential as the chamber of “sober second thought.” Resist the the urge coming from the PMO to ram this thoughtlessly-written bill through into law. Earn your keep; don’t let the Prime Minister use you after trying to destroy the very office of the Senate. The so-called “Fair Elections Act” is nothing short of a disgrace to our government (and to the history and tradition of the Conservative Party). Even worse, this bill is an attack on the fabric of our country as a democracy. Please vote it down and resist it at every level.

Thank you very much for your consideration of this matter.

Yours Sincerely,
N. etc.

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Updated: Defeat? (Was titled: Victory! The Fair Elections Act will now really be fair: A stunning government reversal)

UPDATE: The Globe and Mail has just posted an article that says that one of the two most important changes the government made to its bill (see my second point below), has now disappeared. This means that the election will be overseen by partisans at the level of the individual polling station, with the Tories to benefit and rig the next election if they want to.

Original post follows: I was delighted today to read that the government is waiving the white flag on the so-called Fair Elections Act. The improvements relate to the most contentious provisions of the bill:

  • vouching will still be allowed. It just won’t be called “vouching.”
  • Incumbent parties in ridings will not be able to appoint poll supervisors. Elections Canada will still have this responsibility.
  • The head of Elections Canada will no longer be muzzled regarding any political skulduggery that his office uncovers on the part of the various political parties of Canada.

These are the most important of the improvements. The act still, in my opinion, does more harm than good, but with these three dangerous parts now to be omitted, I believe that the next election may be “fair” after all. As the Globe and Mail put it:

But after months of promising to stay the course, the government has finally made a sharp turn. Not quite 180 degrees, but close. Better late than never.

I’d like to think that my letters to the government were among the many that helped the PMO to change course. I’ll make it official, then: Stephen Harper is no longer Chancellor Palpatine…and I hope he has given up trying to become Emperor. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of government he could be doing: developing a national housing strategy, for starters. I’d also like to see him making investments in energy sources other than oil. Much good work could be accomplished by this government if it would actually seek to govern for the good of the entire country rather than its own narrow party base.

ADDENDUM: I am also very pleased that the Supreme Court blocked the Tory plan to get rid of the Senate. Since I hope that Thomas Mulcair will be the next Prime Minister, this may be surprising, for the NDP’s position on the Senate is abolition. But during the run-up to the PMO’s reversal on the Fair Elections Act,” I was developing a plan to write to every Senator and ask them to block the bill. And many Senators, even some Tories, were opposed to the bill, and a number of immediate changes were suggested (though not enough) by the Senate in their “sober first thought” review. (The very fact that the Senate was being forced to study the bill before it reached them–in an effort to fast-track the bill–was beginning to put up red flags in the Upper Chamber.)

It seems to me that the Senate, like the Supreme Court and Elections Canada, is a public institution that has value as a check on the tendencies of the government of the day in the House of Commons. It is not as powerful as the Supreme Court, but it is a check, or a balance–though one based on the model of the British House of Lords rather than on the more famous Senate in Washington, DC. It undoubtedly is a place for cronyism and patronage appointments, but I think the ideal of the chamber as one of “sober second thought” is a worthwhile one. Even if it does not live up to its potential, the Senate can still be useful.

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