Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reading (Audiobook) - "Harperland: The Politics of Control" - Lawrence Martin

Enjoying is not he word for "Harperland: The Politics of Control" - Lawrence Martin.  Unfortunately, this book seems to support what I see and fear in the U.S. Republicans and their Canadian buddies, the Conservatives.

I'm a middle-of-the-spectrum, lying in the current Liberal party, somewhere on the border of where the PCs and the Liberals were in the '80s - "right wing" on the Liberal side, "left wing" on the older Conservatives.

I lived the last 12 years in Alberta, and was astounded at the political scene there.  The provincial Conservative party had done an excellent job of vilifying any party other than their own, and really only have to fear a split in their own party - no other party can reasonably ever catch them (and they've been in power since 1972).  The power of the PM's office and the PM himself shouldn't be surprising in Harper - this is the federal mirror of what happens everyday in Alberta - message control, top-down political influence (interference, depending upon your orientation).  The situation has been in place so long, some bureaucrats can't understand the politics/bureaucracy distinction anymore.

I don't particularly fear the stated ideas of the Conservative party - lower taxes, less waste, even some privatization might be OK in some circumstances.  What I fear, and what I saw in Alberta, and am seeing in Martin's book, is the "politics uber alles" mentality, the black-and-white viewpoints that drive everything to absurd extremes.

What I'd really like to see is the actual policies and ideas presented, with associated costs and benefits explained.  Why can the "right" call the "left" "tax and spend" when the "right" runs massive deficits?  Why aren't they called to explain how they are going to pay for tax decreases - what programs are going to be jettisoned or left to rot?

In Alberta, Premier Ralph Klein ran around the province and closed hospitals at smaller centres as a cost cutting measure - OK, I can accept that.  However, a few years later, he stood in the legislature and stated that "lack of beds" required a private health care system.  How can anyone get away with that?

My fear with Harper is similar - is the "big plan" for Conservatives to sell off Canadian assets, pull apart Health Care and other non-popular policies by driving the deficit up until they are unaffordable, leaving only unpopular options remaining?

The politics at all costs, and the inability to admit problems (and deal with them), all the while claiming to be open and accountable, is the problem I have with the right wing parties in both countries.  On some level, they realize that their "dream state" is not popular enough with the actual population - however, non-democratic practices is a dangerous path to tread.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Finished (Audiobook) -"Newton and the Counterfeiter" - Thomas Levenson

Newton and the Counterfeiter was interesting in the fact that the book was primarily about Newton's post-Principia life as a government bureaucrat.  However, most of the interesting aspects of the book come in the form of what constituted legal due process in the late 1600's, and the movement from silver and gold to a more modern currency.  How exactly was money counterfeited?  How do you move away from a "pound of gold" type monetary system to a paper currency (or non-gold/silver coinage) and make that system work?  Once you've moved over to currency, how does the larger economic system work (e.g. markets, exchange rates, inflation)?

Some of the confrontation between Newton and key counterfeiters sound remarkably cruel in the context of todays judicial system - death and torture were much rarer in modern pre-Bush Jr. times, so application of these methodologies, or even the threat therein, sound very extreme to today's ears (again, non-Bushie ears).  Similarly, trials seemed easily swayed by class differences or lack of experience of the main players on the defense or crown sides.

Some of the countermeasures against counterfeiting (e.g. the ridging of coins, or impressing text along the edge of coins to negate the scrapping off of any significant amount of silver or gold, modernized presses and assembly line production to make a more professional coinage) were interesting to read.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Finished [E-Reader) - "The Help" - Kathryn Stocket

Really liked "The Help" - good story about the maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the late 50's early 60's timeframe.  Compared to "Roots" or "the Book of Negros" this story is very light.  However, the lack of control, and the distant second class status of these women is astounding.  At best, they are probably treated like the best friend of your teenage child - loved, tolerated, but neither equal nor family, regardless of the length of time of relationship.

The "serial motherhood" of some of these women who specialize in the raising of younger children until approximately school age was eye-opening.  The abruptness that a close family-type relationship can change to a "fired employee" relationship, or a "non-entity" relationship or even a "criminal-enemy" relationship is amazing for the suddenness and the randomness.  Anyone (any white person) seems to be able to accuse "the help" of theft or other petty crime, and it's ballgame over, even if "the help" has been known to the family for decades.

The pseudo-auto-biographical nature of the story is done well, three individual perspectives provide a good investigation of he differing opinions and rationale(s) for behaviour.  The aura of violence is pervasive, to the point of being accepted as a reality to all characters.  The story doesn't particularly dwell on the violence, but the backdrop has JFK assassination, murder in the neighbourhood of a NAACP official, beating of the son of a perhipheral character in the story, and the real fear of the main characters of either severe ostracization (at best) or severe beating (more likely) if caught telling stories about their employers.

The story reads well, builds to an appropriate climax, and like all good books, seems to end too soon.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Finished (Paper Book) - "The Complete Essex County" - Jeff Lemire

"Essex County" drew my attention when I lived in Edmonton because Essex County, Ontario is where I was born and grew up - a piece of home.  As a graphic novel, the read is as fast as you want to go, but it's worth savouring some of the images and feelings.  The book consists of several storylines, all connected at some level, and the stories and flashbacks run from the early 1900's to the more-or-less present day, and in some cases cover 3 or so generations.

Each story is a nice look at rural country life in Essex County, farming, hockey, travelling nurse, gas-station owner, kid...

I really liked the stories, and even the very simple artwork - it worked well to tell the story and set the mood.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reading (E-Reader) - "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" - Kevin Malarkey and Alex Malarkey

I found this book when looking for "Heaven is Real" (reviewed earlier).

"The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" - Kevin Malarkey and Alex Malarkey is a much better read than "Heaven is Real" - the accident is severe (severe spinal injury in neck).
I do like the community involvement that stems from the involvement in the family at church.  I must say that I do find the attribution of all good things to God a little misleading - for example, they have massive costs (maybe $1 million) which they can't pay.  "God delivers" by having their bills covered by Medicaid (Medicare?).  Wouldn't it be better to attribute this good fortune to the government, particularly the democratic-party type government - given that the readers for this type of literature are most likely conservative-Christians, and they support (on average) the party that is looking to kill the very funding that "God provided" in this case?
Similarly, they find it excellent that God provided them with a home with bad plumbing, damaged their roof in a storm while they were dealing with the hospital, had a spiral staircase (not conducive to wheelchair access)....  All of these things were fixed through the good will of the community, through the church.  However, wouldn't it have been simpler for "God" to have them in a single-floor house to begin with?  Or maybe not paralyze their child???
I guess I find the community involvement to be very uplifting, but have trouble directing all of the "good" to God - doesn't some of the good-old free-will good deeds cover some (like the roof fix, the plumbing, ramp design....)?

Overall, however, I did find the story uplifting - the degree to which the community chipped-in and did everything reasonable, and much beyond reasonable to help this family is a great testament to the values of the community.

I appreciate the faith shown by the folks in a terrible, tragic situation - if faith in God, and faith in their religion made a tragic time more bearable - more power to them.  However, I guess I have trouble with the complete attribution of all things to God - it appears to me to be disingenuous to those earthly folks to gave deeply with skills, money and equipment.

Finished "Bossypants" - Tina Fey

Quite liked "Bossypants" by SNL and 30 Rock's Tina Fey.  Some behind-the-scenes discussions of how SNL works, long hours, dealing with hosts etc. along with the whole Sarah Palin impressions during the 2008 presidential campaign was worth the read.  The mutual respect among the 30 Rock crowd is nice as well - Tina Fey is very complimentary about Alec Baldwin, and in other interviews, there are very nice things to say about Ms. Fey.

A quick read - worth the trouble.