Categories: personal

Beatrice on Hannah

This is Beatrice’s first time on a horse, on cousin Al’s Percheron Hannah (Johanna I think), who once was part of a driving pair, “but” her partner died a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, Hannah’s back leg isn’t right, so the old girl isn’t long for this world. I’m glad Beatrice got to meet her.

Kiki on Hannah
Kiki on Hannah

Categories: books, economics

What are Libraries For? … In the Library with the Lead Pipe

I have an article in the really great blog, In the Library with a Lead Pipe, which goes something like this:

Ebooks will become the dominant form of casual reading for adults at some point in the future1. When this happens, community and public libraries will face a major existential crisis, because a fundamental (perhaps the fundamental) function of community libraries—lending print books—will no longer be a fundamental demand from the community. Libraries that do not adjust will find their services increasingly irrelevant to the populations they serve.

If ebooks will become dominant, and if community libraries have, to date, structured their existence around a dying function (lending print books), then how will libraries remain relevant in the future?

To find an answer to this conundrum, it’s important to try to understand the reason for a library’s existence, rather than focus on the things a library does.


Interview with David Wilk

David Wilk invited me to his Publishing Talks Podcast, to about LibriVox, iambik, libraries, PressBooks, and general future of publishing stuff.

Here is the link.

And here is the audio [mp3].

Interview with David Wilk

David Wilk invited me to his Publishing Talks Podcast, to about LibriVox, iambik, libraries, PressBooks, and general future of publishing stuff.

Here is the link.

And here is the audio [mp3].

Categories: politics

My Platform for the Canadian Federal Election

The other day, I listed & evaluated the clarity of federal party platforms, as they appear on their platform pages on their websites. I promised my own platform/priorities. Before I do that though, I think it’ worth making a comment:

Every party now is more or less committed to fiscal conservatism[ref]Testing simple footnotes.[/ref] — ie balanced budgets — whether left or right. While 20 years ago their may well have been a significant difference between how parties managed their books, these days everyone is committed to matching expenses to revenues. The Conservatives are more likely to cut taxes and spending; the Liberals and NDP are more likely to leave things as they are, but on balance, from a fiscal view, no one is going to do anything radical.

So the question really comes down to party priorities: how will a party allocate budget and focus? Which party’s priorities is likely to build Canada into a country you’d like to live in?

With that short introduction, here are my priorities:

General Statement of Governing Philosophy

Having a healthy, innovative economy gives us the ability to invest in the luxuries we expect as a wealthy country: education, health, infrastructure, arts and other things. At the same time, having a well-educated population, which doesn’t need to worry unduly about healthcare, enables us to build an innovative, and healthy economy.

So a government’s role – my government’s top priorities[ref]Testing footnote #2[/ref] – is three things:
1. to make sure there is a good environment for a healthy economy
2. to determine how much wealth from that economy should be spread to other uses (and keep books balanced in the mean time)
3. to define the priorities for the distribution of excess wealth (mine are: health & education)

My Priorities – Short Version

Economy & Innovation: Invest heavily in high-tech R&D, and simplify corporate taxes.
Healthcare: Increase funding for family doctors, nurses, and implement a national drug purchasing plan.
Education: Invest in high-tech R&D.
Environment: Implement a “starter” carbon tax, and a cap & trade system for big emitters.
Democracy: Prioritize open/accessible government data, and a yearly receipt explaining where taxes go.

My Priorities – Long Version Version

1. Economy & Innovation
Canada’s wealth is based almost entirely on the resource sector, with only a handful of major Canadian companies [RIM(!), Thompson Reuters, Bombardier] having a significant impact on rest of the world. That’s dangerous, and unhealthy, especially given the challenging economic times we live in. We need to have a broader and more innovative economy than we currently have, and putting in place the foundations for such an economy will be the top priority for my government. We will:
– invest heavily in high-tech research & development.
– target Canada to have top 3 broadband penetration in the OECD, and bring Canadian broadband, wireless & data rates in line with the most innovative economies in the world.
– simplify the corporate tax structure.

NOTE: there has to be more here, and the best and the brightest of my government will be set loose on finding good ways to encourage more innovation in the Canadian economy.

2. Health
Our health care system is a shambles, and we can’t even talk about it in any honest way. Private is verboten, which would be fine if our existing system was working, but it isn’t. We need to fix that, and we need to do it in a cost-effective way.

In the short term:
– Increase funding & national priorities for adding more doctors and nurses for primary care (family doctors).
– Implement a national drug purchasing scheme – to establish the best and most cost-effective drugs, and get bulk purchasing benefits.

Long term:
– Define specific healthcare outcomes that we want to prioritize.
– Undertake an analysis of the health care systems of France, UK, Australia, and the US, measured against our priorities.
– Craft future Canadian health system based on above (NOTE: There will be private provision of health care; there already is private provision of healthcare, it’s just that no one is allowed to talk about it honestly).

3. Education:
I’m so far out of the education system, that I have trouble figuring out what priorities ought to be here, but education sure as hell is essential for building an innovative economy. Here are a few radical statements that will contribute to our approach to the education system: educating our kids is really, really important; a great liberal arts education, coupled with many people working on the outside edge of exciting R&D, is likely to make for the most innovative outcomes; access to post-secondary education is essential, but innovation doesn’t come only from schools.

– We’ll invest heavily in high-tech R&D.
– Any suggestions?

4. Environment
Hey, remember climate change? Yeah, me too. Well, living next to the USA means we do have to be cautious about how radical we are about implementing actual reductions, but we need to get a real national policy in place, with teeth, to start cranking down emissions. We will:

– Establish some achievable emission reduction targets, to start working towards our (right now, totally out of reach) Kyoto commitments.
– Implement a carbon tax.
– Implement a cap and trade system for big emitters.
– Improve efficiency standards of cars on the Canadian road & continue a big push for energy efficiencies in Canadian homes & buildings.

5. Democracy
Given the shabby way the Harper Government has treated the Canadian institutions of democracy, it’s worth making this a priority. I will govern with a respect for the democratic traditions of Canada, and beyond that I will:
– Make open/accessible government data a priority.
– Provide every Canadian with a yearly tax receipt that explains where tax money goes.
– Propose a more open system for nominations of Supreme Court judges.
– Take a look at this Senate thing. I don’t understand what it’s for, and why the Senate can block legislation.

Some things I won’t do

* I won’t invest billions in building new prisons, unless there is clear evidence that new prisons are the most cost-effective way to meet stated crime objectives.
* I won’t prorogue parliament mid-session.
* I won’t cut federal funding for political parties.
* I’m not likely to invest $30+ billion in fighter jets.
* I won’t use the Senate to kill legislation I don’t like.

Categories: politics

Canadian Federal Elections: Their Platforms

The federal election is about a week away, and I have no idea what any of the federal parties stand for. The media has done a terrible job; the politicians have done a terrible job.

For you: A brief outline of all the parties’ platforms

So, Web guy that I am I went to the websites of all the parties to find out what they had to say for themselves, and below you will find an extraction of the main policies of each party, along with my evaluation of the clarity of presentation on their policies on their websites, based solely on what is on their platform page. I have not followed links, or delved further into their sites, PDFs (ug), or other such nonsense.

NOTE 1: If it is not on your platform page, you are asking too much of your readers. In fact: why aren’t your platforms on your front page?
NOTE 2: I am not making political assessments of the platforms (I’ll leave that to you), but rather making a neutralish comment on the clarity and ease of access of political messages on party websites.

Conservative Party of Canada

“The platform provides Canadians with a prudent low-tax plan to protect and create jobs by completing our recovery from the global economic recession.”

Conservative Priorities [link]

(Note: priorities were listed as is)

1. Creating jobs through training, trade and low taxes.
2. Supporting families through our Family Tax Cut and more support for seniors and caregivers.
3. Eliminating the deficit by 2014-2015 by controlling spending and cutting waste.
4. Making our streets safe – through new laws to protect children and the elderly.
5. Standing on guard for Canada – by investing in the development of Canada’s North, cracking down on human smuggling and strengthening the Canadian Armed Forces.

Conservative score:

* Clarity of priorities: +1
* Design of website: 0 for ugly design (but not -1, because info is accessible, site is clear)
* Open data format of priorities: +1 (yay! plain text!)
* Inspiration of message: 0 (Conservatives: actually, not terrible, but I want a vision of the future please)

Conservatives Total: +2 (max = +4, min = -4)
Qualitative assessment: Technocratic tax cutters & spending cutters.

Liberal Party of Canada

“Our platform objective: to make equal opportunity a reality for every Canadian.”

Liberal Priorities [link]

(Note: I had to extract this information from a long letter from Ignatieff.)

1. We will invest in quality, affordable child care for every young family that needs it.
2. We will help every family with the costs of college or university
3. We will help families take time off from work to look after sick loved ones at home.
4. We’ll strengthen universally accessible health care for all
5. We’ll build on the Canada Pension Plan so everyone can retire in security and dignity.
6. We’ll have a new tax credit to help with the up-front costs of renovations to make your home more energy-efficient.
7. We will promote Canadian success overseas and stand up for the proud ideal that a citizen of Canada is truly a citizen of the world.

Liberal score:
* Clarity of priorities: -1 [a) you don’t even list them, I had to do it for you, b) what do any of these objectives/priorities mean?]
* Design of website: -1 for design (it’s pretty, but you have no idea what message you want to convey)
* Open data format of priorities: 0 (buried in text )
* Inspiration of message: -1 (Liberals: Do you even know what you stand for? Or what you are offering Canada?)

Liberals Total: -3 (max = +4, min = -4)
Qualitative assessment: Mushy policy by committee.


“Today I’m releasing my affordable plan to get Ottawa working for your family – one practical step at a time.”

NDP Priorities [link]

(Note: I had to extract these priorities from a .gif image (!))

1. Hire More Doctors and Nurses: We’ll start training more doctors and nurses
2. Strengthen Your Pension: double your public pension
3. Kick Start Job Creation: 2% corporate tax cut, plus tax credits for hiring in Canada
4. Help Out Your Family Budget: Cap credit card fees at prime +5, remove federal sales tax on home heating, and help consumers control home heating.

NDP’s Score:
* Clarity of priorities: +1
* Design of website: +1 for nice design (though you are never going to elect a government with orange & green)
* Open data format of priorities: -1 (WTF, a priorities gif?)
* Inspiration of message: 0 (NDP: what is your vision of the future of Canada?)

NDP Total: +1 (max = +4, min = -4)
Qualitative assessment: Spend more money on health & pensions.

Green Party of Canada

“If you are looking for a serious, realistic and sensible option to the old line parties and old school politics, read this platform.”

Green Priorities [link]

(Note: these priorities were extracted from a vague introduction letter from Elizabeth May)

1. A vision for a modern, smart economy
2. Deficit reduction
3. Creation of new jobs that won’t be gone tomorrow
4. Reduction in pollution in energy generation
4. Healthy communities, eating safe and healthy food, and enjoying a life-giving, healthy natural world.

Green score:
* Clarity of priorities: -1 (generalities, though if you dig into the site things get more specific)
* Design of website: +1 for nice, relatively clear design
* Open data format of priorities: -1 (PDF? and link through to each individual policy plank? Can I get a clear statement on one page please)
* Inspiration of message: +1 (Greens: You’ve got the most ambitious vision for the country, which is good, but you need to communicate it more clearly).

Green total: 0 (Max = +4, Min = -4).
Qualitative assessment: Utopian vision.

Bloc Quebecois

N/A … Platform is contained in a PDF and a link to a flash PDF reader. Hence the Bloc has not put their platform on the Internet.

Bloc total: -4 (Max = +4, Min = -4).
Qualitative assessment: Please use the Internet.


The scores of the parties, in order of clarity of message on their websites is as follows:
* Conservative Party of Canada: +2
* NDP: +1
* Greens: 0
* Liberal Party of Canada: -3
* Bloc: -4

I will follow-up with my own policy platform shortly.

Categories: misc

I’ve Been Busy

I’ve been a bit busy lately. Sorry I haven’t posted here in a while. I think Beatrice might have something to do with it:

Hi. I'm Beatrice. You can call me Kiki, though. My parents do.

Categories: books

Freedom Ain’t So Great: Why Franzen’s No Genius

Publishing needs its darlings to keep afloat – its Dan Browns and Tattooed Girls and Meyerses – and what is true for genre is true for literary fiction as well. And so 2010 brought us Franzen’s “Freedom,” the great white hope of American Letters.

I’m always puzzled (no, not puzzled … annoyed) by literary types who sneer at Dan Brown or Steig Larsson and their ilk. What that sneer means is: “I enjoy a different kind of writing, and if you enjoy this kind, you are stupid.” But people buy Brown and Larsson, and love them, and those clumsy sentences don’t seem to bother most people one whit. Perhaps those “clumsy” sentences are just what the mass market wants: the kind of sentences they themselves would write. And good for them: Brown doesn’t pretend to be Tolstoy, and so shouldn’t be held to that standard. Instead Brown et al should be assessed on their own terms: as entertainments that people enjoy to read; if you don’t enjoy them, that’s a matter taste, and criticizing Dan Brown for bad dialogue is like criticizing Keith Richard for his poor flute skills.

Franzen’s “Freedom,” on the other hand, is trying to be something different, and so opens itself up to more literary knife-wielding. Because Franzen (painfully) does pretend to be Tolstoy (so much so that he has to remind readers twice). Which in itself is fine, by the way, and doesn’t justify knives, necessarily. Anyone in the world is perfectly in their rights to write a novel they wish were as good as “War and Peace,” and I wouldn’t say a peep. There are thousands of such books published every year.

But what ripens “Freedom” for attack is the glowing talk of Genius that came with it.

I can’t get my head around it. Numerous serious ciritics read Franzen and agreed with the author’s own wishes for the book. It’s been call “Great,” a “Masterpiece” and “Genius,” which is par for the course in book blurbing, but with “Freedom” there was a breathless sense that this was more than your run-of the-mill “masterpiece,” this was, rather, a “Major Book,” a “Masterpiece,” the kind of book that comes once in a generation, a kind of “Masterpiece” that all writers and readers ought to pay attention to.

And I can’t figure that out.

I mean… really?

Do you, Sam Tanenhaus, editor of NY Times Book Review (and a conservative to boot!) *really* think that this is a “masterpiece of American fiction” ? I just cannot believe it. I mean, literally, I cannot believe that Sam Tanenhaus could read this novel and think it a masterpiece. Ron Charles at the Washington Post was more reasonable – but he too (begrudgingly) called the book “brilliant.”

I don’t know if I’m like the Dan Brown haters out there, but I just can’t let this slide. So, here are 10 reasons why “Freedom” is not a masterpiece. It may be a good book, or perhaps a sweeping look at American culture. Certainly it’s popular. But, it’s so riddled with flaws and laziness, that I just can’t believe it’s a masterpiece.

Here are 10 reasons why it isn’t (NOTE: I haven’t backed up my complaints with examples, mainly because my iPhone version of Kobo won’t allow for note-taking, and … yes … when you want to look at a book more closely, you want paper). Anyway, the list of crimes include:

1. The Expository Essays.
Franzen wants to tell you about strip mining and birds and Iraq. And every time Franzen went off on one of these tangents I felt like I was reading the third draft of a first novel by an earnest high school student. When these essays were shoehorned into dialogue, I was just about ready to throw the book (contained inside my iPhone) across the room. This is genius? Editor, please.

2. The Voice(s).
In two sections of the book, Franzen presents a manuscript supposedly written by Patty. You have to be kidding? That’s Patty’s voice, Mr. Franzen (and editor)? Come on. Ironically, I found Patty’s first section the best part of the novel (though I didn’t realize till the end that Franzen was putting in “the autobiographer notes…” I kept reading “the biographer notes …” – my brain had decided this wasn’t Patty’s voice, and took appropriate action). Anyway, this section was the part of the book I enjoyed most (Franzen should have stopped here). But it sure wasn’t Patty’s voice.

3. Where the hell did the editor go?
There were so many clumsy, ugly sentences I just couldn’t believe it. Franzen has been called a master stylist. I suppose he does the odd interesting thing with dialogue, but for so much of the book I was cringing.

Look: genius doesn’t have to be perfect. Probably it shouldn’t be. But I don’t think a work of genius should display such laziness. And that’s what this book felt to me: lazy, in so many different ways.

4. Conservatives
Do you think Franzen has ever spoken to an actual conservative? His conservatives were plastic, juvenile caricatures, and not worthy of a writer of genius.

5. Joey
Joey is the most phony, inconsistent and completely unbelievable character I’ve read in a book in ages. Describe him for me. Does *anything* about him make any sense? The relationship with Connie? He’s described one way, but behaves totally differently. The whole Joey chapter was a complete disaster. I think I might have enjoyed the book somewhat if it weren’t for that dog’s breakfast of crappy writing.

6. Conspiracies
I don’t know how other writers come up with their satirical conspiracies, but do you get the feeling Franzen kept reading an article in Harper’s, and then throwing in another “subplot,” for padding, with the plan to edit later? And then he just never got around to editing. Is it too much to expect a little bit of work? You know, I liked his Estonian satire in Corrections. Maybe he got too much flack for that, and tried to pull back in this one. With the result: milquetoast. Or rather, the butter that sits on the surface of milquetoast.

7. Characters
Franzen has been lauded for painting a portrait of a family. But these characters just didn’t make any sense to me half the time. Patty who careens all over the place. The relationship between Patty and Joey. Walter: I mean, tell me about Walter. Connie? Totally baffling. Not to mention bit players Jonathan and Jenna, completely cardboard, unbelievable. Read War and Peace, and then lets talk about character.

8. The Disdain
I don’t think I have ever read a writer who is as disgusted by his characters as Franzen is. Thankfully, the disdain dissipated as the book went on. But that first section just dripped with disdain. It was so strange.

9. Adverbs.
Sorry, but I just can’t abide so many adverbs. And glib adverbs too. The worst kind.

10. Technology
Franzen should be banned from writing anything about technology – Twitter, blogs, cell phones. Write what you know, Mr. Franzen. You ring false when you try to talk about technology.

Now look, I’m not saying that the book’s no good. I read the whole thing, so I was entertained enough. I’m a sucker for love triangles, and the Walter/Patty/Richard made a good one, a very good one. And I suppose it’s heartening that someone’s taking a stab at a big sweeping novel about America. He tries, which is good, to tackle some of the big themes of our time: war and the environment, not to mention sex. It’s accessible and in a grand old tradition of literary fiction. I won’t fault Franzen for any of those decisions. But still, it’s not a great book.

So Franzen gets a B for intent, a C for effort. His editor gets an F for letting Franzen’s “Freedom” go out into the world looking like such a shoddy, lazy piece of work.

And, no, it’s no masterpiece.

Categories: philosophy, politics, web

You Can’t Shut WikiLeaks Without Shutting Democracy

My mother just asked what i thought about WikiLeaks … and finally I had an answer (my gut reaction from the beginning has been to support WikiLeaks, but i haven’t articulated that support till now):

1. There is nothing you can do about it.

The internet is designed to support anonymous dumping of masses of documents. You can “shut down” WikiLeaks, but it doesn’t matter: there will be any number of ways anyone with documents they wish to leak will be able to do so, including reams of similar projects that will pop up all over the world, smarter and better than WikiLeaks. Trying to stop WikiLeaks is a pointless exercise, unless you wish to give the state the right to designate people or organizations illegal at will, with no due process.

2. If you shut WikiLeaks with law, you shut the free press.

If you say that the government can prosecute people for publishing information that the government doesn’t want published – for “national security” or any other reason – then you no longer have a free press or free speech. If the government has the ability to outlaw public discussions on whatever topics they please, based on national security, the government then can control the speech of the press, private citizens, and any other kind of mixture of the two. This is what Lieberman’s SHIELD law proposes.

So: there is no point in trying to stop WikiLeaks, and if you do, you have to criminalize activities that are fundamental to our understanding of Western Democracy. There’s not really a middle road, as far as I can tell.

Categories: personal

Our Daughter

Our daughter was born November 2, 2010, at 8:50am. No official name yet. Mum is recovering well, and baby is lovely, don’t you think?