Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Shania Twain Had a Point, Or: The Only Way to Beat a Right-Wing Populist

When I heard that Shania Twain got in hot water for saying that she would have liked to vote for Donald Trump if she could, my knee-jerk reaction was to think she was silly and ignorant. But I had to stop and ask myself, what is Trump's appeal? He clearly has some, despite all the awful things he's said and done.

Twain said it herself: "He seemed honest."[1] He isn't of course, but he is a straight talker. Whatever comes into his head is quick to fly out his mouth. No number of handlers can keep him "on message" for long.

Contrast this to what we have come to expect from our politicians. Spin. Talking points. Questions going unanswered. Boring blather. Broken promises (Justin Trudeau being just the latest, most egregious example).

"If I were voting," said Twain, "I just don't want bullshit."[2] Bullshit is exactly what we get from our politicians. We've had decades upon decades of bullshit. Did they think nobody would get tired of it? Fact is, our politicians are the ones responsible for the upswing of right-wing populism around the globe. They built this edifice of Neo-Fascism, brick by bullshit-infused brick.

Twain should be neither vilified nor mocked. She should be lauded for her valuable insight. She told us exactly What Happened, probably better than Hillary Clinton's self-serving, blame-everybody-and-everything-but-Hillary-Clinton book ever can. Let's hail Twain as the prophet of the twenty-first century: voters don't want bullshit, and that's why Trump is the President of the United States.

In the long run, only one thing can beat a right-wing populist, and that's a left-wing populist. Bernie Sanders could have beaten Donald Trump; polls told us that well before the election.[3] Among other things, Clinton wasn't progressive enough to present voters with an exciting alternative to Trump. Sadly, while the Republican Party failed to prevent the nomination of their populist, the Democratic Party succeeded, and Americans are paying the price.

And as long as left-wing parties continue to block their most interesting, populist candidates, the rise of the right will continue. Perhaps that's what we're seeing in New Brunswick, with the NB Green Party's unprecedented ousting of Fredericton North candidate Chris Smissaert. No reason was given.[4]

So it seems our elites have not learned. They continue to want someone controllable, predictable, presentable and safe. Someone who will stay on message. Someone who will bore the living shit out of the voters. This fact puts us in continuing danger of being governed by somebody like Doug Ford.[5]

What can we ordinary people do? My best advice is, stop holding your nose and voting for the safe option. That's not a winning formula. Vote for the left-wing populist. If he gets blocked from running, vote for him when he runs as an independent. Yes, that may split the vote, but what difference does it make if the right-wing populist wins because of vote-splitting or because of the lack of an appealing candidate on the left? The result is the same, so we may as well bet on the only real chance we have.

Fear of vote-splitting is how our overlords keep us under control. It's the reason Justin Trudeau didn't implement Proportional Representation. He doesn't want you to vote for the left-wing populist, he wants you to vote for him, and he's perfectly happy to undermine democracy, trash the environment, and betray Indigenous people and everyone else in order to maximize his chances of winning an unjust majority.

If you rail against the "ignorance" of those who find Trump appealing, you're wasting your breath. Sure, in a perfect world, everyone eligible to vote would make an effort to research the candidates and their policies. Since this is the real world, that's never going to happen.

Another thing that's never going to happen is whipping all left-wing voters into voting for the safe, dull candidate the king-makers (or the queen-makers) have chosen. The Americans have that whipping and bullying routine down to a science. Third parties were scarcely a factor in their last election, and the results were as we have seen. In Canada, the situation is different. This hasn't been a two-party system in a long time, and it will never be again.

We need to thwart the king-makers, and choose the left-wing populist. Business as usual can only doom us.

1. "Shania Twain Apologizes After Saying She Would've Voted for Trump", CBC News. http://people.com/country/shania-twain-voted-donald-trump-the-guardian-interview/. Back

2. Ibid. Back

3. "Bernie Sanders says he consistently beats Donald Trump by bigger margins than Hillary Clinton does", Politifact. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/mar/08/bernie-s/bernie-sanders-says-he-consistently-beats-donald-t/. Back

4. "N.B Green Party bans candidate from running in provincial election", KHJ Radio. http://www.iheartradio.ca/khj/khj-news/n-b-green-party-bans-candidate-from-running-in-provincial-election-1.3751232. Back

5. "With nine weeks to go, the Ontario election is Doug Ford's to lose", CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/grenier-ontario-poll-tracker-1.4603291. Back

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Open Letter to Justin Trudeau - Breaking the Electoral Reform Promise is Unacceptable

I wish to make it clear how unacceptable it is to me that the electoral reform promise is being abandoned.

We came out of 4 years of the high-handed demagoguery of the Harper government only to watch the United States enter 4 years of the even higher-handed demagoguery of the Trump government. Both were elected by a minority of the population. Your election was sandwiched between two of the most compelling arguments for Proportional Representation that history could ever concoct. If this doesn't convince you of the urgent need to pass Proportional Representation, nothing ever could, so clearly your reluctance has nothing to do with what's best for the country.

Nor does it have anything to do with the supposed "lack of engagement" of the Canadian people. Nobody's going to buy that one after well-attended town hall meetings and hearings across Canada at which the overwhelming majority of speakers expressed their support for Proportional Representation.

Why not tell us the real reason? We can't address your fears if we don't know what they are. Some say you don't want to pass Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) because of the larger ridings and large number of list seats. Then pass something else, such as Single Transferable Vote (STV) or Rural-Urban Proportional (RU-PR) or Mixed Multi-Member Proportional (M3P). There are no shortage of options to choose from.

If you still refuse to pass PR, know this: not only will I not vote Liberal in the next election, but I will do everything in my power to prevent the Liberals from winning another majority. And I will not be alone.

Have you already forgotten that you entered power thanks to a nationally co-ordinated strategic-voting campaign? Can you be so arrogant as to imagine that we'll do it again, after this betrayal?

Not a chance. If you force us to strategise again, the next strategy will be a Conservative minority government under Michael Chong with as many Green and NDP seats as possible.

I urge you to reconsider.

Vivian Unger

Friday, January 27, 2017

Proportional Representation: Myths and Misconceptions

The following is an expanded version of a speech I gave before the New Brunswick Commission on Electoral Reform, on Jan. 20, 2017.

We often hear that there are two types of electoral systems: Majoritarian and Proportional, and that our current system, First Past the Post, is a Majoritarian system.

In fact, there are three types of electoral systems: Plurality, Majoritarian and Proportional. In a plurality system, the candidate need only win more votes than every other candidate. If more than two candidates are running, that percentage will be well less than 50%. For example, if four candidates are running, a candidate could win with a little over 20% of the vote.

In a Majoritarian system, a candidate must win at least 50% of the votes in order to win the election. This is accomplished either with a second, run-off election, as in France, or with a ranked ballot, as in Alternative Vote. More on that later. Majoritarian systems work best in elections that only one person can win, such as presidential elections, or mayoral elections. When used to elect many candidates in many ridings, such as it is in Australia, the results can be even more distorted than they are under First Past the Post, and smaller parties suffer as a consequence.

In a Proportional system, votes are counted in such a way as to reward seats to candidates in proportion to the percentage of votes that they won. This is usually done according to party membership, although one fascinating system, Single Transferable Vote, accomplishes it without considering parties at all. Theoretically, a whole nation of independents could run in an election using this system, and the results would be fair and proportional, although it might be hard to know that.[1]

As you may have realized by now, vote counting is considerably more complex under a proportional system than it is under a Plurality system. We proponents of Proportional Representation think the results are worth it.

The habit, so common to journalists, politicians and other people who should know better, of incorrectly referring to First Past the Post as a Majoritarian system, probably contributes to the common misconception that a candidate must win most of the votes in a riding to win the seat. In fact, the candidate need only win a larger portion than all other candidates—a plurality. His portion of the vote may be well short of 50%. This makes First Past The Post not a Majoritarian system but a Plurality system.

The Majoritarian system Alternative Vote is often called ranked voting or preferential voting. This is the system that the New Brunswick Commission on Electoral Reform chose for some reason to recommend in its paper: Strengthening New Brunswick's Democracy. As the Commission's own report points out, it can produce results that are even more disproportional than First Past The Post[2]. It doesn't tend to improve voter turnout, and won't increase diversity in the legislature.

I want to point out here that Alternative Vote is not the only system that uses a ranked ballot. Single Transferable Vote is a system of proportional representation that also uses a ranked ballot. So if the New Brunswick government really wants to introduce a ranked ballot, I would suggest implementing Single Transferable Vote.

Myth number two: the false majorities caused by First Past The Post are desirable because they lead to strong leadership. What they really lead to is a phenomenon called "policy lurch." This is when one party with a majority rams through a lot of unpopular legislation until an election comes along. The new party in power sets about undoing everything the previous government put in place. At the next election, the whole process can begin again. This is a massive waste of time and energy and it is the reason why our governments are less effective than proportional governments and take so much longer to progress.[3]

We've seen this most dramatically at the federal level since the Harper government, but here in New Brunswick, we teeter-totter between the Liberal and Conservative parties in a similarly unproductive way.

Myth number three states that governments elected via proportional representation are unstable. Studies show no correlation between stability and electoral systems. One of the most stable governments in the world, the Swiss government, is elected by List Proportional Representation. One of the most unstable governments in the world, the Italian government, is also elected by List Proportional Representation. Government stability is determined by factors other than electoral system. [4]

In any case, if we value stability above all else, we should throw out elections and switch to an oligarchy. In this system, citizens have to wait for the people on top to die before they can have a new government. Barring assassination, it's the most stable system in the world.

Myth number four: "Simple is better." A whole web site has been set up to promote this rather insulting notion: keepvotingsimple.ca. I think the perfect rejoinder comes from David M. Farrell, the author of Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction. He writes that the ballot we're accustomed to, on which one makes a single 'x' next to one preferred candidate, is, "of obvious advantage in highly illiterate societies."[5]

I know that New Brunswick's literacy rates are not what might be desired, but I don't think we qualify as so "highly illiterate" that we can only manage an 'x.' In that case, it would be necessary for each candidate to have an icon printed next to their names. I haven't seen that on a Canadian ballot yet.

Myth number five is one that particularly concerns me. I fear it is preventing Proportional Representation from being accepted at both the provincial and federal levels. It is the idea that First Past The Post is advantageous for the party in power. Stephen Harper endorsed this idea when he told Elizabeth May, "No group of elected representatives is likely to fundamentally change the system by which they were elected".[6]

This notion needs a rethink. The current system is not advantageous to the party in power. It was advantageous to that party—in the last election. How a party did in a past election tells us nothing about how it will do in a future election. If we look at past New Brunswick elections, the government has switched between Liberal and PC majorities since 1999.[7] So if you're really in a gambling mood, bet on the Conservatives winning the next election under our current system. If the current Liberal government is interested in protecting their seats, their best bet is to bring in Proportional Representation. Of course, they won't win back all their current seats under Proportional Representation. But chances are, they won't anyway.

If you want to think of elections as a game, then the best move is Proportional Representation. Ideally though, we would like our representatives to remember that this is not a game. It's our province and our lives they're playing with. We'd like their priority to be what is best for the province. From that point of view, the best choice is still Proportional Representation.

1. For a good summary of the main types of electoral systems, see The Government of Canada's Electoral Systems Factsheet. Back

2. Select Committee on Electoral Reform, Strengthening New Brunswick's Democracy (Fredericton: Government of New Brunswick, 2016), 17. Back

3. Salomon Orellana, Electoral Systems and Governance: How Diversity Can Improve Policy-Making (London: Routledge, 2014), 71. Accessed Jan. 12, 2017 on books.google.ca. He writes, "...over the roughly 25-year period considered here, tolerance of homosexuality increased by 0.41 points in proportional multiparty systems and 0.20 points in SMD/two-party systems. Another way to think about this outcome is that if support for homosexuality were to start at zero in a country, it would take approximately 30 years for a majority of the population in a fully proportional/multiparty system to show support for that issue, while it would take over 70 years to reach a majority in an SMD/two-party system.” Back

4. Farrell, p. 195, table 9.1. Back

5. Farrell, p. 64. Back

6. Elizabeth May, Losing Confidence: Politics and the Crisis in Canadian Democracy (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2009), 204. Accessed Jan. 12, 2017 on books.google.ca. Back

7. http://www.electionsnb.ca/content/enb/en/resources/publications/election-results.html. Accessed Jan. 12, 2017. Back

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Children Are Jailed For Their Parents' Crimes in Blame (Book Review)

Blame is a near-future dystopian novel set in the UK. Following a global economic depression, public anger focuses on those who benefited financially from embezzlement, fraud or other crimes. The people want revenge, but in many cases the perpetrators are dead or can't be found. So attention turns to their descendants, and the concept of "heritage crime" is born.

As Abie (a.k.a. Ant) explains it: "People don't like us, Mattie, you know that. Outside it's because we 'got away' with it for so long, because we had this great life we weren't supposed to have…. It makes them feel better if they can blame us for everything. They used to blame black people, refugees, Jews, immigrants, whatever. Then they ran out of people to point fingers at. So now it's us."

Ant, her brother Mattie, and their foster parents Gina and Dan, are all found guilty of having criminal parents, and are put in one of the new "family prisons" in the UK. Their chief tormentor is Assessor Grey, the man who spearheaded the family-jailing movement. He also dreamed up the cruel strap that bolts onto the backs of these "heritage criminals" and prevents them from walking normally. The resultant gait gives them the nickname "strutters."

Ant is a rebel and unwilling to keep her head down until her "debt to society" is paid. She's looking for a way to escape, and not a moment too soon, as conditions are deteriorating, not only in their own prison but in the prison full of actual violent criminals, which, awkwardly enough, connects to their prison via a corridor.

Bizarre circumstances ensue, leading to Ant and her brother finding themselves on the lam with a gang of other strutters. In order to survive, they must commit some minor crimes—a reminder that when we label people as bad, fairly or not, and repeat it over and over again, they tend to oblige us by becoming so.

Other improbable things happen, and it all culminates in a bonanza of triumphant improbability. People who demand realism in their fiction may not be happy with this book. On the other hand, readers who can suspend their disbelief will find it a breathless ride. It is, in fact, much like a Hollywood thriller.

It's also thought-provoking. One is tempted to dismiss the novel's central conceit as something that could never happen in our allegedly enlightened society. But look at what's happening in the world today. Even well-off people are ready to see themselves as the victims of Syrians, Mexicans, etc., who come from other countries in search of a better life. A Trump presidency seemed a laughable impossibility to many just one year ago. Blame is popular right now. The Bible itself gives us a precedent for heritage crime, saying "The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation" (Numbers 14:18).

One of my favorite things about Blame is its sprinkling of foreign languages. Ant and Mattie are half Haitian and sometimes speak Creole to each other. A Creole nursery rhyme that serves as a metaphor for their condition comes up in a couple of places. Creole is a fascinating mix of French and something altogether different.

Another language that comes up in the book is German. Germany is the only country in Europe without heritage crime laws. They have learned from their history and no longer give in to the temptation to blame a group of others for their problems. Thus German is seen by the strutters as the language of freedom. Strutters dream of immigrating to Germany.

Finally, the strutters have their own slang, a glossary to which is provided at the beginning of the book. The author appears to take a special interest in languages. I'm curious to see if he plays with languages in his other novels.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Oh Yeah... Global Warming

I think almost all of us are getting caught up in the American election. It is, after all, the craziest spectacle of an election since Americans first started having elections. Those of us who aren't terrified of the spectre of a Donald Trump presidency think he's he's some sort of orange-haired misogynist superhero who going to Make America Great Again.

Yes, we should be afraid—but not of Donald Trump. We should be afraid of the wildfires raging in California right now, and the wildfires that raged in Alberta last month. We should be scared of reports that the temperature reached 54 degrees Celsius in Mitribah, Kuwait[1] (129 Fahrenheit for you Americans). This is the hottest temperature ever recorded outside of Death Valley (also in California).

The very name "Death Valley" suggests that this is not a climate we want proliferating over the globe. I read somewhere that plants can't live if the average temperature gets above 50 degrees Celsius. If plants can't live, neither can we.

So we should be very scared of global warming, and we should realize that no one is going to save us from it if we don't save ourselves. Here is an idea that is having some difficulty gaining traction. Most people are now at a point where they're willing to consider global warming a problem, and to accept that somebody ought to do something. The thing is, there is no other "somebody" out there. There's only us. We are the ones who need to do something. Not the politicians. (So not the politicians! All they want is our votes.) Not Elon Musk. You and me.

This is both good news and bad news. The bad news is that we can't be lazy and wait for Superman and Wonderwoman to show up. We have to change what we are personally doing.

The good news is that we have that power. We can do it. You're the one you've been waiting for. Isn't that exciting?

I suggest a three-pronged approach, though if you have other ideas, go with them. It's your life.

1. Change your commute

Remember when the car was something you fired up on a pleasant Sunday to go for a drive? Neither do I. The unfortunate norm that has developed is to drive everywhere, for everything. That's not working. To get to the office and the grocery store, walk, bike or take the bus. Do you live in one of those ghastly modern subdivisions with no public transportation and no real infrastructure? There are still things you can do. Contact your ward councilor and tell him you want bus service. While he's working on that, start carpooling with your neighbours. Do everything you have to do in one trip rather than being in and out of the car all day.

2. Change your house

If you live in a northern climate, get your house well insulated and install a heat pump. Yes, there's an initial expenditure, but you'll make it back, and after that, it's sheer savings. We installed a ductless mini-split, and now our electricity bill is about 40% less than it used to be. If you live in a hot climate, you can still benefit from a heat pump. They cool as well as heat, and are more efficient than traditional air conditioners. But don't just rely on heat pumps to manage temperatures. On a hot sunny day, close blinds, curtains and windows to keep your house cooler. On a cold sunny day, throw open the blinds and curtains to let the sun warm the house.

3. Change your vacations

I have long suspected that people in northern climates fly to southern ones in the winter strictly to make their friends jealous. There are better ways to spend your next vacation than lying in the sun working on your skin tumour. Stay closer to home, and you'll be pleasantly surprised at all the fun and interesting things you can do in neighbouring towns, even in your own town. There are a couple of nice things about going to overlooked vacation spots such as small towns. One is the lack of crowds. Another is that the volunteers in the tiny museum will be so happy to see you. They'll give you a tour, and maybe even show you neat stuff they're currently working on in their archives.

And why escape from winter when you can enjoy it? You can snowshoe, skate and ski. Yes, alpine skiing takes fuel and electricity. You have to drive to the hill, and a ski lift hauls you up the montain. That's still better than flying in a plane, or taking a cruise. Cruise ships these days are so gigantic that they're less efficient than airplanes. It's true. Also, they're in the habit of dumping their sewage (which is to say, passenger poop) into the ocean. That's just gross.

Do these three things, and you won't just be saving the world and improving your fitness and health, you'll also be saving money, and lots of it. Who doesn't like saving money?

If you're poor, you're excempt from number 2, and you're already doing numbers 1 and 3 by default. But there's still something you can change.

4. (Optional) Change your dreams for the future

Instead of telling yourself, "One day I'll have a big house and a big car and I'll fly to the Caribbean every year!" tell yourself, "One day I'll have a passive solar house and a tiny electric car, and I'll live simply and non-materialistically, give my money away to causes I care about, and feel really good about myself!" That's a much better dream.

Gandhi is supposed to have said, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world."[2] Those are good words to live by. If you prefer to get your inspiration from stories, you might want to get a copy of How the Children Stopped the Wars. I read this book years ago, and it's stayed with me.

It's about a little boy whose father is far away. All the children in his village are missing their fathers--they're off fighting in the war. One day when he's walking by himself, he meets a strange little man who explains to him that the war has been going on for years and years. It's lasted so long that nobody remembers why they're fighting, and many have died.

The little boy asks, "Why doesn't somebody stop it?"

The little man says, "Why don't you?" Then he shrinks into a point and vanishes.

So the little boy gathers together the children of his village, and off they go. They have all kinds of interesting and scary adventures, and eventually find their fathers and stop the war.

That little man has a message for all of us.

1. See https://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/eastern-hemispheres-alltime-temperature-record-kuwait-fries-in-54. Back

2. Or maybe he didn't quite say that. See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/opinion/falser-words-were-never-spoken.html. So what? There's something to be said for pithiness and memorability. Back.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Economy Should NOT Be Our Number 1 Priority

An election looms on Monday, following one of the longest election periods in Canadian history[1]. Not entirely coincidentally, the four-year term drawing to a close feels like one of the longest in Canadian history. During this period, our environmental laws have been gutted like our fish[2]. Our libraries have been trashed, years of irreplaceable data discarded like empty Tim Horton's cups[3]. We have acquired mandatory minimum sentences[4] and a habit of using solitary confinement as an oubliette[5]. Veterans—you know, those people who risked life and limb for us—have been stripped of their pensions[6]. Largely due to the tar sands, our pollution levels are increasing[7] and Alberta's caribou are disappearing[8].

Yet the Progressive[9] Conservatives are at 30% in the polls. The Oct. 5 issue of Macleans displays a picture of a Conservative candidate and her supporters holding signs that read, "Economy #1 Priority" and "Protect the Economy"[10].

The focus of many a political debate suggests that this premise is widely accepted. To hell with justice, human rights, air, water—it's all about money! This is what we get if we allow Stephen Harper and his spin doctors to control our conversations. Which is what we have done, so far. Let's stop it, shall we? Should the economy be our number one priority? Of course not. No sane and civilized society would think so.

This government has created a tremendous amount of human suffering. That should trump any discussion of the economy. Why aren't we talking about that? Why aren't candidates and party leaders bringing it up in debates? The assumption is that we Canadians are all selfish and care about nothing that doesn't affect us directly. If we as a country want to embrace that, then we need to stop pretending we're "nice." The out-of-date perception of Canadians as nice people persists for now, but it won't forever if we continue down this road, and we shouldn't expect it to. Nice people care not only about their immediate interests but about what's happening next door. Such people would have a problem with a government that refuses to do anything about sky-high rates of murder of Aboriginal women. They certainly wouldn't plan to vote for said government at a rate of 30%. (Yes, it's a minority but it's far too large a minority.) This is shameful and a disgrace.

Of secondary importance is the fact that making the economy our number 1 priority will not keep us safe and secure. Anyone who prioritizes the economy for this reason has not thought things through, and there are a lot of people who have not thought things through. Apparently it's a popular idea that as long as we have a strong economy, we don't have to worry if we're not growing enough food to feed ourselves; we can simply buy food from abroad. Pierre DeRochet says as much in the Oct. 5 edition of CBC's The 180[11].

Sure, that'll work—until we do something our food supplier doesn't like, and they decide to withhold food from us until we change what we're doing. What might the reason be? Well, maybe we have good relations with another country that our food-supplying country is at odds with, and they want to change that. Maybe they don't like our laws. Maybe they don't like our immigration policies. It could be anything, really. But as food diminishes on our grocery store shelves, we will do whatever they say. Once our entire food supply is in the hands of someone else, we will have zero autonomy.

Perhaps you think they won't do that because they want the money that we pay them for our food. That might work in our favour for a while, until something comes up that they hold more important than money. After all, just because we're stupid enough to value money more than anything else doesn't mean everybody else is that stupid. They can manage with less money for a while. They have food, and without the cramp of hunger in their bellies, they can hold out until they get what they want.

Another scenario is that the food-supplying country has seen a huge drop in their yields, due to unfavorable weather, and no longer has any surplus. They cease to export food, because they need it all to feed their own populace. In this scenario, there are no demands we can give into in order to feed ourselves, no terrible trade-off to make. We simply starve. This scenario becomes more likely as progressive global warming leads to more extreme weather conditions, droughts and floods[12].

When that happens, those who prioritized the economy can eat their money. Too bad it's now made out of plastic. The paper money we used to make would have been a little more digestible.

Canada, it's time to grow up. Start prioritizing the things that really matter: people, animals, lakes, rivers, beauty, compassion, love. Vote for these things on October 19. Stop prioritizing that crackly stuff in your wallet. Your infatuation with it degrades you now, and it will surely let you down in the end.

1. The longest election period in Canadian history was in 1872. See The Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 3, 2015. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/two-down-76-to-go-the-longest-election-campaign-since-we-first-re-elected-john-a

2. Linnitt, Carol. "New Report Shows 'Systematic Dismantling' of Canada’s Environmental Laws Under Conservative Government." DeSmog.ca, Oct. 14, 2015. http://www.desmog.ca/2015/10/14/new-report-shows-systematic-dismantling-canada-s-environmental-laws-under-conservative-government

3. Kingston, Anne. "Vanishing Canada: Why we're all losers in Ottawa's war on data." Maclean's, Sept. 18, 2015. http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/vanishing-canada-why-were-all-losers-in-ottawas-war-on-data/

4. Department of Justice, Government of Canada. http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/csj-sjc/ccs-ajc/rr05_10/p2.html

5. White, Patrick. "Confined: the death of Eddie Showshoe." The Globe and Mail, Dec. 4, 2014. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/confined-the-death-of-eddie-snowshoe/article21815548/

6. See http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/benefits-for-wounded-canadian-veterans-do-not-stack-up/article23381161/ and https://www.change.org/p/government-of-canada-our-wounded-veterans-deserve-life-long-support?recruiter=14631496

7. See http://environmentaldefence.ca/blog/latest-data-shows-canada%E2%80%99s-carbon-pollution-still-rise

8. See http://albertawilderness.ca/issues/wildlife/caribou

9. I believe that these days, the word "progressive" in the party name is short for "progressively worse."

10. See http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/is-it-time-to-take-party-names-off-the-ballot/

11. The 180. "Food Security: Is it better to 'eat local' or global?" Oct. 11, 2015. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/the180/burka-avenger-and-the-niqab-decriminalizing-polygamy-and-legalizing-apologies-1.3261221/food-security-is-it-better-to-eat-local-or-global-1.3264960

12. See http://www.worldfuturecouncil.org/2324.html

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: The Sharing Knife Part 4: Horizon

Horizon (The Sharing Knife, #4)Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book 3: Passage, dealt with Dag and Fawn's journey down the rivers Grace and Grey and the experiences, good, bad, and ugly, that they have along the way. When Horizon opens, they have come to the end of their river journey, in the seaside town of Greymouth. Here Dag meets Lakewalkers of a nearby camp who are able to direct him to a medicine maker of great repute, and he is at last able to begin an apprenticeship. But the usual problem, Lakewalker non-acceptance of his farmer wife Fawn, asserts itself, and it's not long before Fawn and Dag are on the road again.

I found this to be the weakest of all the Sharing Knife books. The problem of too many characters, some of whom never get developed, cropped up to some extent in the previous book, but here it's a good deal worse. By mid-book, there are so many people tagging along with the party that it's hard for the reader to remember many of them, especially since a good five or six are little more than names, and four or so others get such short shrift that their motivations are unclear, their behaviour inconsistent, their characters murky—Calla especially. I think the book would have been better if she had been edited out altogether. I also would have edited out that poor family in the wagon; I don't think they added anything of value. Granted that there have to be some farmers around for the climactic malice encounter, they don't need to be that darned numerous. The excess of characters also bogs down the story, especially around three-quarters through, and the proceedings get downright dull for a while.

Which is a shame, because pulled down by all that bloat is a fine story, with many dramatic and even horrific elements, and once again, Fawn's talent for thinking outside the box proves essential. I mentioned Fawn's increasing domestic yearnings in my review of book 3. That does not change in book 4. Fawn still wants to settle down and have an iron cook-stove and babies. Yet she can still come through in the crunch, and so really, though fans of kick-ass women in fantasy fiction are unlikely to be pleased, I think it's for the best that she is presented this way; she makes for an unusual, and even unusually well-rounded, female heroine. And though Dag and Fawn may seem to have somewhat disparate needs, they manage to get them all met in the end while remaining together.

Speaking of Fawn having babies, there is a consistent theme of birth and pregnancy throughout the series, which culminates in an unexpected and bizarre fashion in Horizon. I haven't yet managed to work up a good analysis of this theme, but I feel it could and should be done, and that Freudian psychologists could very well have a field day with some of the imagery. Perhaps later I'll manage to come up with something.

I wonder if the book's problems may be due in part to its being fourth in a quadrilogy. It is an unusual form, and there may be a good reason for that; perhaps it is an unwieldy one as well. And of course, the longer and more complex a story is, the harder it is to wrap up. But wrapped up it is, neatly enough at the last. Whatever flaws Horizon has, it is still worth reading to see how well everything is resolved at the end.

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