osmie: (Bowler)
to the tune of "Tell Her about It"

This is another pretty good one. )

Volume Six is around where the series gets frustrating, and I start recommending people skip ahead. This is even more true thematically: the character flaws which first become apparent in Volume Six turn out to be the subject of the epiphany which resolves the entire plot in Volume Fourteen. Those last nine books might have made quite a good trilogy.
osmie: (Bowler)
Lately I've gotten into the habit of writing a filk for each book I read. I've been posting them to Facebook, but that is really not the right venue: it's too private, too transient, and far too resistant to indexing.

Since what first attracted me to LiveJournal, way back in 2006, was writing book reviews, it seems somehow appropriate that I should use book filks to drag my way back here.

As it happens, this practice began when I started tackling that enormous shelf-long fantasy behemoth The Wheel of Time, so all I've got so far is a whole swack of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson fanphernalia … I'll start copying them over with my next post.

The Wheel of Time itself is frankly fascinating. Published in fifteen volumes over the course of almost 30 years, it influenced an entire generation of epic fantasy writers. This means it alternated between worldbuilding feats and thematic concerns which were far ahead of the field, and a reliance on narrative structures and thematic constructions which the field had long since moved past. Fulfilling the promise of its own story meant that it was always laying avant-garde threads, but picking them up fifteen years later when they looked downright dated.

Even in its worst excesses, it's a compelling read. The world is vivid and varied; the characters grow and change without becoming clones of each other; the plot is ridiculous, but always worth reading for the history into which it fits. One of Jordan's most important themes is that men and women are stronger when they co-operate; this leads to a setting in which that co-operation has been broken for thousands of years, with extreme sex-role dimorphism in every culture on the planet … but he's careful to make sure that the specific roles assigned to each gender are different in every culture.

On the other hand, he didn't get good at this for a couple of million words, and if you're not very careful, portraying sex-role dimorphism looks nigh-indistinguishable from being sexist. (Also, until his dying day, he seems to have had no idea what really happens in a room full of women: generally there's a lot less ritual nudity. This misapprehension doesn't help his case.) He doesn't mention race until about volume four, when physical characteristics like eye shape and skin tone gradually begin to creep in. He's scrambled their geography, so that the desert nomads are red-haired whisky drinkers, and the bindi-wearing brown-skinned folk are from the distant northern mountains, but it takes him until about volume ten to start scrambling them well, creating cultures that are a mixture of traits, including made-up cultural norms, instead of an orientalist transplant.

It also took him until about volume ten before we met a single queer character. Oh, except for the obligatory transsexual female supervillain who's actually a man in disguise, because we haven't read that trope eighty-five times too often. I'd like to spit on his grave for that subplot. It wasn't even well written.

Structurally, The Wheel of Time is a single novel of more than four million words. It's published in fifteen volumes, but there are about forty novel-length subplots, and I'm not at all convinced that its chapters are in the best reading order. Maybe someday I'll go through the whole ruddy thing and suggest a chapter-by-chapter alternative, but more likely this is all you'll ever get.

Here's how it breaks down:

There are extremely mild spoilers here. )

So. With that, here are some filks.
osmie: (Bowler)
Here’s Never Cry Wolf
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Jolly good, Never Cry Wolf,
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Here’s the loner, the ennui, the journey, the Yukon,
The wilderness and the brown wolf.
Here’s a book, a book by the Farley Mowat.

Here’s A Whale for the Killing
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Jolly good, Whale for the Killing,
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Here’s the moral, the loner, the ennui, the journey, the Yukon,
The wilderness and the brown wolf.
Here’s a book, a book by the Farley Mowat.

Here’s Sea of Slaughter
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Jolly good, Sea of Slaughter,
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Here’s the whales, the moral,
The loner, the ennui, the journey, the Yukon,
The wilderness and the brown wolf.
Here’s a book, a book by the Farley Mowat.

Here’s The Curse of the Viking Grave
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Jolly good, Curse of the Viking Grave,
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Here’s the Viking, the whales, the moral,
The loner, the ennui, the journey, the Yukon,
The wilderness and the brown wolf.
Here’s a book, a book by the Farley Mowat.

Here’s Owls in the Family
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Jolly good, Owls in the Family,
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Here’s the angst, the Viking, the whales, the moral,
The loner, the ennui, the journey, the Yukon,
The wilderness and the brown wolf.
Here’s a book, a book by the Farley Mowat.

Here’s Canada North Now
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Jolly good, Canada North Now,
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Here’s the winter, the angst, the Viking, the whales, the moral,
The loner, the ennui, the journey, the Yukon,
The wilderness and the brown wolf.
Here’s a book, a book by the Farley Mowat.

Here’s The Siberians
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Jolly good, Siberians,
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Here’s the arctic, the winter,
The angst, the Viking, the whales, the moral,
The loner, the ennui, the journey, the Yukon,
The wilderness and the brown wolf.
Here’s a book, a book by the Farley Mowat.

Here’s The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Jolly good, Dog Who Wouldn’t Be,
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Here’s the dog, the arctic, the winter,
The angst, the Viking, the whales, the moral,
The loner, the ennui, the journey, the Yukon,
The wilderness and the brown wolf.
Here’s a book, a book by the Farley Mowat.

Here’s Born Naked
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Jolly good, Born Naked,
a book by the Farley Mowat.
Here’s young Farley by dog to the arctic in winter,
Where angst-ridden Vikings eat whalemeat immorally,
Loners and ennui and baths in the Yukon,
The wilderness and the brown wolf.
Here’s a book, a book by the Farley Mowat.
osmie: (Default)
I threw a big party on my twentieth birthday. My notebook records all of the people I invited; everyone who RSVPed; and everyone who showed up (in order, with the exact time).

It also lists all the presents I received that year. The bagels were not my idea.

From Mum & Dad, a card & address book / timetabler
From PN., the Batman TV soundtrack
From MJ., 3 bagels & a custom T-shirt
From MF., 1 bagel & a U of Ant T-shirt & a card
From AB., 1 bagel & a jar of pickles & a cake mix
From DP. & MH., 2 window balloons & a discrete telescope & a card
From LB. & B., a sky map & a card & a paper airplane book
From AG., a card & a book & a pun book
From PE., a card & $50
From AM., 2 poems & a letter & Pringles
From PS., a card & a bagel
From SD., 4 buttons
From PS. & KC., 6 bagels & a blank mug
From MD., 1 bagel
From CM., 1 bagel
From JB., a card
From JT., a card & a letter & a crane, paper
From E., N., etc., a card
From Gramps, a card & $20
From W., a card & a pencil & chic. dino's & $20
From JW. & MJ., a card & Ç.P.P.M. lyrics
From EG., a card & a fish

A mad lib

Nov. 12th, 2013 11:06 pm
osmie: (Default)
On family vacations, we used to write a mad lib every evening to tell some version of what had happened that day. Here's an entry from our summer vacation in England in 1987, when I was 17.

Simultaneously crying, "Hoist the mizzenmast!" the entire Osmie family tinkled out of bed to face the world yet again. Everyone was very flowering; there was nobody who simply sat there and itched; no, nobody at all. While Mum and Dad went down to tickle the laundry, the intrepid kids synthetically set out to find a table for breakfast. The going was tough, but they found one just before Mum and Dad started salivating. A delicious breakfast was had by all, although both X and Osmie refused the stained glass and eyelid. Unfortunately, the fruit juice tasted like vinegar, but no-one really cared.

After collecting the slightly pungent laundry and hanging it over the hail, the family left for Waterloo Station. Mum and Dad confused themselves about tickets while Osmie and X discussed bowling balls. Finally, they arrived there, just 1001 nights before their train was due to flatten, necessitating a fairly overinquisitive run for the rear carriage.

The kids were soon horrified to discover that they were shining through Ladner, but they bore it out. Suddenly, the vista of their destination gagged before them: Hampton Bookmark. Agreeing to meet in the wallpaper stop at one, they separated to see the blimp, the castanets of Henry VIII, the other cassettes, and the Maze, where Osmie evaporated until 1:15. Everyone proceeded to plasticize each other for 12 centuries, but once the group was together again, they started buying assorted knitting needles, both to keep and to send to Edmond Halley as presents.

By this time, the entire family was pragmatic. They headed for a shock absorber to remedy this. X, as usual, slithered more than anyone else.

This time, when they went to find a train, they had no trouble elongating it. They now returned to London — Tottenham Court Bedspread this time, to pop into the Virgin Megadoorknob to buy a book on snakeskin and a record.

Stopping off at Dillon's — named after the famous speck, Matt — on the way back, Osmie realized that flypaper was falling outside so she'd better get back to the hotel before it squished her. Once there, people trotted — for they were leaving for behind the chimney pot the next day — read a Degenerating Image book, and listened to their new bicuspid. Finally, Osmie wrote and sipped a Mad Lib, cleverly starting at the end and working backwards so the first word given was Diamond Tooth Bo: she has no idea why.


Nov. 12th, 2013 10:59 pm
osmie: (Default)
My notebook contains an unfinished song called "Lemmings." It's strongly influenced by Jethro Tull, to judge by the time signature variations.

The rhythm is charted quite carefully, but the notes aren't. Amazingly, I remember exactly how it goes.

People are like lemmings.
Won't you throw yourself into the sea?

I am a lemming.
I'll die if I want,
Suicide if I want.
Ask me why, 'cause I want to.

[4/4] [4/4] [9/8]
[3/4] [3/4] [3/4] [3/4]
[5/8] [5/8] [5/8] [5/8] [5/8] [5/8] [5/8] [6/8]
[7/8] [7/8] [7/8] [3/4]


Nov. 12th, 2013 10:45 pm
osmie: (Default)
This evening, while tidying my basement, I found the old notebook which I used to carry around in my late teens.

I am inspired to post excerpts from it.

Here, then, is the beginning of an epic poem I once began about Hank, and notes about where I wanted to take it. Hank was a running joke among my friends -- the saviour of a fictional religion which only valued money.

Yes, we honestly thought that was a joke. We were so naïve that we didn't realize there were people in the world who really thought that way, and certainly not that they were in power. We thought we were being ridiculous; in fact we were just spouting the rhetoric of economic control.

We had no concept of how offensive we were.

This is the first entry in my notebook. I was seventeen.

Urania! Hear my call, and guide my pen
Through verses which must be made known to men,
Through lines to equal Virgil, Milton, Pope,
And Homer, past the Odyssey in scope,
To tell of how one man, one recent year,
Became the first of mortal men to hear
The one true gospel, how he spread its words
Past obstacles too high for Earthly birds,
And how, at last, he turned the final bend
Awaiting him alone, devout, as end.

A Monday it had been, the twenty-first
Of March when onto him the knowledge burst
Like thunder clapping bricks upon the floor
As ocean battles earth in constant war.
But long before that time, in 'eighty-one
Did all the powers decide the time had come.

-Hank's father gets cancer & dies (April '82) leaving everything to Hank (IIII)
-Hank's school career gets worse and worse
-Hank travels all over the world (to the fashionable areas) [II]
-Hank goes to Venezuela (thinking mistakenly that it's fashionable) and almost loses favour [III]
-Revelation (end of IIII) and church [V]
-Hank's discontent: baseically description [I] - decides to travel, heads for airport for Paris

-> Paris

travels ->

growing favour. Father sicker. Tricked into Venezuela by ??? Nemesis. Comes in earlier.
-> almost lost

-leaves Venezuela.
-Comes back into favour
-father dies (had recovered a bit in III end)
-> Revelation

-sets everything up, finishes his life's work, leaves a supply of X pennies (he knew the total # of people ever to be in the church at once (but no-one knows exactly how many there are)
-becomes pure money
-> how great he was

Nemesis = Mother Teresa? = Benji? = Reincarnation of the Mahatma Gandhi? of
The Book of Hank: $3.00
osmie: (Default)
I haven't written occasional doggerel in a while. Today it happened. And so I share.


I put a mace through someone's face,
And now the cops are on my case.
They trace my travels pace by pace,
And I expect I'll lose this race
By bending down to tie my lace,
Or brace my side, or hide someplace
Inside a dead-end corner space.
But maybe I could end this chase
By vanishing without a trace?
Now there's a thought. Perhaps I'll--
osmie: (Default)
Folks, it's time to sit down and record my music.

I've said this before — usually in a sentence like, "I really want to take some time off this year and record an album." But you know what's happened then? I've thrown up my arms instead of drawing up a project timeline. I've obsessed over getting the arrangements perfect. I've set up a microphone and promptly dropped into an oubliette of stage fright.

Over and over again, I've run into the wall of, "I don't know how!" and spontaneously forgotten that this complaint has only two answers:

(1) Ask for help.
(2) Sit down and do the work.

Sometimes answer #1 is the right one; sometimes it's answer #2. If you do both, you're always covered. If you do neither … well … you're me for the past mumblety-odd years.

Today I'm doing both.

As of January 1st, 2012, I will be recording and releasing — through YouTube, which seems to be this decade's model for indie music distribution — at least one song every fortnight.

I need help from the following sorts of people:

⇒ Vocalists!

I can sing every one of these songs, but most of them deserve a better voice than mine. Besides, the more vocal styles, the better! If you know my music well enough to have a favourite, let me know and I'll probably give it to you — but if you don't, please speak up anyway. We'll talk.

(Not to mention that some of these pieces are arranged for multiple voices. I'll need five vocalists for "On the Checkerboard," and eight for "Love Abides.")

⇒ Musicians!

The only instruments I play well enough for recording are keyboards and alto recorder. At everything else I'm a hack. If you play accordion or drum kit or bassoon or cello or mandolin or bass guitar or euphonium or theremin or saxophone or tympani or flute or harmonica or oboe or fiddle or marimba or udu or pretty much anything else — and if you're interested in backing me up on a piece or seventeen — then I want to hear from you. For each song, I will send you sheet music, chords, a demo track, or whatever I've got, two or three weeks before a recording session.

Some of you have already worked with me — either by expressing interest before my latest project whimpered out, or even by coming over for one or a dozen or twenty-five rehearsals. I'm hoping for help from you folk especially. There's a reason I asked you once before, and it's because I like your work. I only stopped calling because I got scared.

Some of you are established artists, with a schedule that doesn't lend itself well to helping tyros like me stumble through their first recordings. Even so, I'd be thrilled if you've time for a cameo!

⇒ Recording professionals!

One place I've often gotten hung up is the process of recording itself. On paper, I know how to set up a mic and play into it, but whenever I actually try this, I wind up thinking about the mic instead of the music. It just doesn't sound as good. I need somebody else to sit by the computer and tell me, "Okay, go."

I also need somebody to coach me through the mixing and mastering process. I *think* I know what I'm doing, but I am nervous and easily frustrated, and I could really use a coach. If you can teach me, I want to hear from you — or if you're interesting in doing the mixing and mastering yourself, then for sure let's talk. Anything which leaves me more time for arranging and rehearsing will result in more songs, faster!

⇒ Videographers!

If there's one thing I've got *zero* skill at, it would honestly be the high jump. But if there are two, videography is a contender.

I expect that I will be releasing these songs on YouTube. If that means pointing a webcam at myself and lip-syncing the finished song, then so be it. But if you've always wanted to shoot a music video, then my friend, now is your chance.

A manager! ETA: hired! yay!

Yeah, I know my failure points, and one big one happens three weeks after I start a project. Without somebody keeping me going, I may glide to a stop.

I need a friend who is willing to harass and cajole me into (1) asking for help, or (2) sitting down and doing the work — as often as necessary. If I'm really in a funk, you may have to schedule time for me to arrange next week's sheet music, send arrangements to those musicians, and invite everyone to a recording session. This is a (badly) paid gig, because I can be a right stubborn quitter if there's no money on the line.

⇒ An audience!

Even if you can't help me make music, I hope you'll tune in, listen, and spread the word as we start releasing songs next year.

Thanks to all!
osmie: (Default)
Yes, I'm a heretic.

Many of my friends have been actively fighting the HST since it was first announced. And I've tacitly encouraged them, because on any issue I'd rather see political action and involvement than passivity.

But — much as it pains me to agree with the BC Liberals on anything — I think those particular friends are wrong.

The problem is, I don't agree with most of the pro-HST propaganda either. The commercials I've seen are full of terrible arguments, which alternately misrepresent basic economics or sidestep the question … or both. Very little upsets me more than a bad argument in favour of a good position. It makes my opinions look stupid.

So let me break things down. And let me start with a few opinions that have nothing to do with our current referendum. I won't defend them here; they're not the centre of my current argument. I will state them partly to situate myself politically, but mostly because they have nothing to do with our current referendum.

You see, almost every argument that's been advanced on either side has nothing much to do with our current referendum.

⇒ I believe the BC Liberals have done far more harm than good to this province. I have never voted for Gordon Campbell, either in person during his years as Mayor of Vancouver, or by proxy when he became leader of the provincial Opposition and later Premier. Nor can I support Christy Clark after her education cuts during the last decade — they were the profoundest and most damaging since those of a previous education minister-turned-premier, Bill Vander Zalm.

But this has nothing to do with tax structure. Gordon Campbell is not an idiot, and even if he were, idiots are allowed to have good ideas once in a while. Voting for the return of the PST because one doesn't like the BC Liberals? Bad reason. Voting to keep the HST because one does? Bad reason.

⇒ I'm not terribly fond of Bill Vander Zalm either. He's a fine gardener and a very good auctioneer — the one time we met in person, he auctioned off a performance by my recorder ensemble — but I don't appreciate his politics.

But this has nothing to do with tax structure. Bill Vander Zalm is not evil, and even if he were, evildoers are also allowed to have good ideas once in a while. Voting to keep the HST because one still harbours resentment against the Socreds? Bad reason. Voting for the return of the PST because one remembers them well? Bad reason.

⇒ I have seldom seen a political move so clumsy as last year's introduction of the HST. The BC Liberals campaigned on a platform which rejected a harmonized tax, and then promptly rammed through its legislation without debate or consultation. Their actions were contemptuous and antidemocratic.

But this has nothing to do with tax structure. As a parent, I've often legislated good ideas (e.g. "eat your vegetables") without adequate consultation among my constituents. As a manager, I'm also aware of how easy it is to screw up client communications. Lowering one's opinion of the BC Liberals because they act antidemocratically may be reasonable, just as I'd expect anyone to lower their opinion of me, at least a little, when I fail to announce a server upgrade. But my communication failures don't mean we should return to our old server — and voting for the return of the PST because the HST was terribly introduced? Bad reason. Voting to keep the HST, not that I've heard anyone venture this opinion, because one approves of its manner of introduction? Bad reason.

Those are all knee-jerk bad reasons. By now most British Columbians have thought the matter through a little better than that — but I believe it's important to articulate the knee-jerk reasons first. Otherwise they creep in and contaminate one's decision. As a lefty, I find that voting for the PST is tempting just so I can stick it to the BC Liberals, and that makes it harder to think rationally about my vote. Revenge is fun, but it's almost never wise.

Onward, then.

⇒ The most common argument I've heard in favour of the HST is that it saves businesses money. Well, this is true as far as it goes. Since the HST came along, I've had to program just one tax (HST) instead of three (GST/PST/PVRT) into all my applications at work. My job is easier; I am happier and get more done; this saves my business money and improves our service level. Nor am I the only employee whose job is made simpler; nor is mine the only small business which saved money.

Some of you, reading this, are about to pounce: "But, Karen, you work in the only industry whose taxes went down when the HST came in! Many businesses have way less revenue, because their taxes went up. They sure haven't saved money." You're right, but you're actually addressing my next point. Please have patience. Even the worst-hit businesses have a lower administration cost under the HST, and right now I'm only discussing the administration cost.

This argument is, however, fairly weak. What happens when businesses save money? Well, the TV commercials would have you believe that they pass their savings along to their customers. This is standard neoconservative dogma, the same stuff they've been peddling since the 1970s. It's hogwash and it's always been hogwash. Businesses almost never pass savings along to their clients through lowered prices. They're perfectly aware that prices will increase over time; at best they might defer their next price increase. Certainly a few of them do so, but more often a business will stash away the money against its next lean year. Often it will improve its service level, which could mean expanding, but more often means letting its current employees catch up on their backlog. Maybe it'll issue a dividend to its shareholders, or pay a bonus to its executive.

If we lower costs for businesses, dividends will go up. Employment might go up. But prices certainly won't come down.

Voting for the HST because you want lower prices? Bad reason. Voting for the PST because … um … I'm having trouble here … because you don't believe that businesses ought to have an easier time filing taxes? Bad (not to mention mean) reason.

⇒ The most common argument I've heard for the PST is that it's effectively a lower tax rate for the poor. Well, this also is true as far as it goes. Since the HST was introduced one year, low-income families have paid noticeably more in taxes.

But the problem with this argument — and I'm afraid that for me, it completely demolishes the argument — is that there's nothing integral to the PST which makes it a lower tax rate than the HST.

All sales taxes have exemptions. Before our sales tax was harmonized, the PST came with a great many exemptions, including restaurant meals, books, and medical treatment, which were taxed under the GST. When we harmonized our sales tax, these industries all saw their taxes increase.

But that didn't happen because of the HST. That happened because the BC government decided to tax those industries. Children's clothing was exempt from the PST, and it's still taxed at 5%. The BC government didn't lift its exemption on children's clothing; it could have chosen to keep its other exemptions too.

Effectively the HST legislation came in two parts. One part extended the reach of the PST, removing most (but not all) of its exemptions. The second part eliminated the PST processing department, delegated all collections to the federal government, and renamed our sales tax.

The provincial government could just as easily have stopped after removing those exemptions. We'd have exactly the same consumer tax rate that we have now, but divided into two taxes instead of one. Without an HST structure to distract us, we'd be left with two things: the tax rate (5% federal GST + 7% provincial PST), and the set of tax exemptions.

Personally I believe both of these are worth protesting.

Taxes may be charged on income (income tax, estate tax), on assets (property tax, head tax), on debt (credit card interest), or on transactions (sales tax, service charges). Every tax out there is a combination of these four categories. Some jurisdictions have managed to eliminate one or more categories, but most people will pay all four in various proportions. What those proportions should be, in an ideal society, is a substantial political question. I'm socialist enough to believe that progressive income and asset taxes should make up the bulk of taxation, while debt and transaction taxes should be held as close to zero as possible. There are other opinions.

But this debate has nothing to do with how many sales taxes we have! Repealing the HST won't restore those exemptions, if the government decides to lift them again. This referendum isn't about what industries get taxed, nor at what rate. It's about whether we ought to remit some of our tax federally and some of it provincially.

Yeah, it's actually a pretty wonky referendum. That's what happens when referenda proceed from a petition. I don't think most people signing it actually understood what they were demanding. I wish the referendum had demanded a lower HST rate, or more HST exemptions, instead of just demanding the status quo — that I could have gotten behind.

Voting for the PST because you want fewer industries taxed? Bad reason, unless you trust the current provincial government not to raise taxes. Which personally I don't, seeing as how they already did it once.

Voting for the HST because you want more industries taxed? Bad (and very mean) reason.

⇒ Since the referendum process started, Christy Clark's government has announced a long-term plan to reduce the HST. She says they'll start by issuing refund cheques this fall to all families with kids, then kick taxes down to 11% in 2012, and 10% in 2013.

The PST forces have quite rightly heard this as a bribe. Among other things, it assumes that she'll still be in power by 2013, which is by no means certain. And a lot can change in the economy in two years: if we enter another recession, her government has lots of time to renege on its current promise. I'd believe her a lot more if she reduced the HST to 11% right away as an act of goodwill, even if that meant we couldn't afford 10% until 2014.

(In fact I thought that was Mr. Campbell's plan all along: wait for the protests, then knock down the HST to 11% at the last minute. It's precisely the sort of manœuvre that he gloried in. I was genuinely surprised when it actually came in at 12%.)

Furthermore, Stephen Harper's federal government has threatened to cut off a huge amount of federal funding from BC if we reject the HST. This is almost definitely a threat, and only questionably legal … indeed, exactly the sort of manœuvre that Mr. Harper glories in.

Even thinking about caving to bribes and threats makes me angry. I don't want to vote for the HST if it means supporting Mr. Campbell, Ms. Clark and Mr. Harper! Not if it means cowing to federal threats and accepting provincial bribes!

But these are bad reasons. If somebody makes a credible threat to steal your money or slit your throat, for goodness' sake give them your money — and then memorize their face and gait, so that you can come after them later with the full force of law. Similarly, if somebody offers a credible bribe, accept the money and then turn it over as evidence. Going vigilante is the wrong answer.

And … well … let's consider for just a moment the chance that I'm misinterpreting both leaders' words because I already dislike their governments. Is it possible that they're simply articulating economic facts, in a way that sounds like a threat or a bribe? "Stay out of that SkyTrain track or you'll die," is not the same threat as, "Give me all your money or you'll die." And it's much more innocuous to hear, "Redeem that lottery ticket and you'll get $10," than, "Eat your vegetables and you'll get $10." Is it possible that I'm mishearing economic facts?

Well, yes. Whatever our disagreements on policy, Ms. Clark knows a lot more about BC's long-term budget forecasts than I do. And even that federal funding might be entailed, by laws I haven't researched for even a minute, so that Mr. Harper can't give it to us under the PST. I may not trust either of them, but I can't be sure they're being dishonest in this particular case.

If Mr. Harper is threatening us, if Ms. Clark is bribing us, then by all means let's unseat them in the next election. But if they're just poor communicators, they deserve no such umbrage. And in either case, we're better off taking the money.

Supposing we want sales taxes to come down — and that's precisely my goal — we end up with a decision matrix.

Under the HST, taxes will come down…

* …to 10% across the board, if we trust Ms. Clark's word, and if her government lasts until 2013;

* …maybe, if Adrian Dix forms the next government, plans to lower sales taxes, and can afford to do so;

Under the PST, taxes will come down…

* …to 5% on selected industries, if Ms. Clark's government lasts, and if we believe that she won't simply raise them again — either to 6%/13% across the board, or back to 12% on those very same selected industries;

* …to 5% on selected industries, if Adrian Dix forms the next government, and if we believe that he also won't raise them again.

I believe that under the PST, we're unlikely to see any tax reduction for years to come, and with a decrease in federal funding and increase in provincial tax-processing costs, we may — especially under Ms. Clark — even see a few tax increases. Meanwhile, under the HST, I don't trust that sales taxes will come down, but I believe it's possible. And — especially under Mr. Dix — I believe that we can negotiate many of the same exemptions we used to enjoy under the PST. Or maybe even better ones.

(I'm leaving aside any possibility of propitiating Mr. Harper toward adding cultural exemptions to the HST at a federal level. It's theoretically possible, I suppose. There were protests of this nature against Brian Mulroney when he first introduced the GST in 1988; I do wonder why there weren't similar ones against Jean Chrétien or Paul Martin, who unlike Mulroney were running a surplus, and who you'd think would have been more favourably inclined. —But such exemptions would be helpful no matter how this referendum goes.)

In short: I like the HST because it's a lower administration cost for the provincial government, and it's less work for employees of BC small businesses.

And that's about it. Because all of this talk about raising or lowering the tax rate is a diversion from what this referendum is actually about. And any talk of businesses passing on lower prices is just hogwash.

What do we believe should be taxed? What rate should it be taxed at? These are important political questions which the current referendum won't affect at all. At least not directly. If we vote for the PST, some taxes will come down right away, and then probably go up again later. If we vote for the HST, no taxes will come down right away, but most of them will probably come down later. Over the long term there's not a lot of difference. Our provincial government may be richer under the HST, but my point about businesses passing on lower prices still applies: whether any surplus gets transmitted into lower sales taxes on cultural events or lower income taxes on millionaires is a matter of political will; it will be decided in an election, not this referendum.

This referendum is not about punishing or rewarding our politicians; it's not about raising or lowering taxes. It's about whether we should continue to remit all our sales tax to the federal government, or whether we should remit about half of it to the provincial government, and half to the federal government.

Adding a level of complexity would be crazy.

Am I in favour of extinguishing the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) and reinstating the PST (Provincial Sales Tax) in conjunction with the GST (Goods and Services Tax)?

No, I am not. Sorry.
osmie: (Default)
I recently noticed a comment on a friend's Facebook feed which complained that Harper got only 24% of the possible vote.

Although I agree with the point the comment was trying to make—that an alternative voting system would suit Canada better than first-past-the-post (personally I prefer Condorcet methods, particularly Ranked Pairs)—the stats geek in me is annoyed. Good points are never strengthened by bad arguments, and this is a bad argument.

Let's start with a slightly pedantic digression. We live in a parliamentary democracy, not a republic. The only people who could possibly have voted for Harper are the 93,707 electors who live in Calgary-Southwest. Everybody else voted for their local candidate. Stephen Harper is very popular in his riding; he won 75% of the vote, with a 61% voter turnout.

Yes, I know how metonymy works; I know one aspect can stand in for a larger whole, and I know "Harper" means "The Conservative Party." But I'm also wary of what metonyms erase, and this particular metonym erases the "parliamentary" aspect of our democracy—which I happen to think is very important. I won't claim I voted for a party leader unless I actually voted in their riding.

Wording is important. But numbers are more important.

The Conservatives got 39.6% of the Canadian vote, with 61.4% voter turnout. This means that 24.3% of the people on the voters' list both showed up to the poll and voted Conservative. I'm sure it's where the 24% number came from.

But let's think about the 38.6% of people who didn't show up. I'm going to present a few guesses about their preferences.

Guess #1. What if every single one of them preferred the Conservative candidate? Well, then the total Conservative vote would be 24.3% + 38.6% = 62.9%. That's quite a mandate…but it's also ridiculous. The one thing we know for sure is that the Conservatives can't possibly have achieved more votes than this, so let's declare it an upper bound.

Guess #2. What if every single one of them preferred someone other than the Conservative candidate? Well, then the total Conservative vote would be 24.3% + 0% = 24.3%. Here's the assertion my friend's friend made! But…well…this is every bit as ridiculous as the last guess. The one thing we know for sure is that the Conservatives can't possibly have achieved fewer votes than this, so let's declare it a lower bound.

What do we know so far? The level of Conservative support in this country is somewhere between 24.3% and 62.9%. And that's why the comment annoyed me. You can't go around saying that Harper (or his party) got 24% of the possible votes, any more than you can say that he got 63% of the possible votes. It's cherry-picking the most ridiculous possible number which supports your point.

In fact, the party's true support is probably somewhere close to the middle of this range, for the same reason that if you flip a coin a million times, you'll probably get close to 500,000 heads. How close to the middle? Well…

Guess #3. Well, what if exactly half of them preferred the Conservatives? Then the true level of support is right in the centre, at 43.6%.

That's a whole lot likelier than either edge case, but it's still not the best we can do. Of the people who bothered to show up, only 39.6% preferred the Conservatives. We've got no reason to assume that support was much higher among the folks who didn't show up. So...

Guess #4. What if exactly 39.6% of them preferred the Conservatives? Then the true level of support was perfectly measured by the election, at 39.6%.

This is the assumption that our electoral system is built on—that a fairly representative sample of Canadians will show up to the polls. And it's pretty good. But we can still do better.

The laws of statistics are quite clear that if you choose 61% of the voting population at random and ask them who they prefer, you'll get the right answer within a very small margin of error. But the people who show up at the voting booth are not selected at random. They choose themselves, based on a variety of criteria.

The most important criterion for humans is always convenience. The easier it is to vote, the more people will vote.

So anyone who moved on May 1st, and had to scramble new ID together for their new riding and wait in a registration lineup, is less likely to have shown up. Anyone who was homeless on May 2nd, and had to find someone to vouch for them at the poll—someone who hadn't already vouched for another voter—is less likely to have shown up. Ditto anyone who was bedridden, hospitalized, incarcerated, or just sick that day. Ditto anybody out of their riding on a long trip. Ditto anyone who's working two jobs, who can't get childcare, or who has mobility and access issues.

Also important are freedom and power. So anybody who felt unrepresented by their available choices—for any reason, rightly or wrongly—is less likely to have shown up.

There's a lot of reasons why people don't show up; each reason fits a different range of demographic profiles; and each profile votes for the parties in a different proportion.

But when you add them all together, you consistently find that—compared to the people who actually voted—the folks least likely to show up tend to prefer left-of-centre and fringe parties. To be sure, some of them vote Conservative: that's why we threw out the 24% estimate. But in an election where 39.6% of the votes fell to the Conservative party, it's a safe bet that rather fewer than 39.6% of the non-voters preferred the Conservative party.

I don't know what the proper weighting is. But I'm confident that the true level of support for the Conservatives is somewhere less than 39%, and I would be very surprised if it's less than 33%. So I'll guess somewhere in the middle of that range, and say 36%.

Now the outrage over our voting system has a good argument. Only 36% of Canadians prefer the Conservative party! So how can they deserve a majority government? Fair enough. But arguing the same point from 24% is making a bad statistical mistake.

In real life, not every person on the voter rolls actually exists. Some of them are deceased; some are duplicates of people who've moved to another riding (especially if they married and/or changed their name at the same time); many of them are data entry errors. Elections Canada likes to err on the side of keeping people on the lists, and they still have huge lineups at the registration table every election…I believe almost all of those new registrants have a doppelgänger on the wrong electoral list. I've never seen an estimate for this number, but after scrutineering elections for twenty years, I'd guess it might be as high as 10%.

But this doesn't really change my argument above. It just reduces the margin of error. If 10% of Canadian voters aren't real, then we had 68% voter turnout instead of 61%—but Conservative support among actual votes cast remains at 39.6%. The possible range around that number becomes a bit narrower, and maybe I arrive at a final guess of 37% support.

ETA: 39.6% Conservative support + 38.6% nonattendance = really easy typos. Fixed a few of them, and tweaked any numbers which were based on them.
osmie: (Default)
With one foot in front of the other until you get to the polling place.
With confidence that you have the right to be there,
that the most officious officer can make it hard for you but no one can turn you away.
With admiration at the people around you,
for they've accepted that citizenship is a privilege,
and take enough pride in that privilege to be here, now, voting, with you.
With amazement at their diversity,
here in the one place and time when you cannot hide from that diversity,
where everybody is as Canadian as you are.
With your kids beside you.
With your parents or your parole officer in tow.
With your guests from out of town.
With pride in your privilege, and sympathy for the most officious officer,
who probably didn't get enough training,
and maybe there's something you and the proud Canadians around you can do to help calm them down.

Travel to the first advance poll if you can. The second if you can't.
Pretend the third advance poll is election day itself.
Tell all your friends you voted in advance. Applaud as they tell their friends. Rave.
Turn voting into a trend.

Give your name. Give your address. Show your photo ID.
If you don't have any photo ID, show a piece of mail.
If you don't have a piece of mail, go visit the public library
and ask them to mail you something before election day.
If you can't receive mail before election day, because it is election day,
or because you have no home with a mailing address,
or because you live in a town without a public library,
bring a friend and sign an affidavit.

Say hello to the poll clerk and deputy returning officer, sitting all day behind a ballot box.
State your name for the poll clerk.
Take your ballot from the DRO.
Scoot, walk, shuffle to the voting screen. Pick up the pen.
Unroll your ballot like a Tim Horton's cup,
admiring the crown printer's even black ink across its face,
admiring how clearly each box matches one candidate,
so that you can never make a mistake without catching it a moment later.

Read every name. Notice if two names sound similar.
If you can't read, ask the poll clerk for someone to read the names to you.
Draw one large X in the empty white box next to the name of one candidate.
If you can't draw an X, ask the poll clerk for someone to draw an X for you.

Turn your ballot over. Breathe once with your eyes closed.
Turn your ballot over again and read it as though you've never seen it before.
If you made a mistake, ask the DRO for a second chance,
and they will seal your first ballot in an envelope to be destroyed.

Roll up your ballot and hand it back to the DRO.
Together you'll place it in the ballot box.

Go home and tell all your friends. Applaud as they tell their friends.
Let there be lineups at the polls.

You might not know who to vote for,
but maybe you can figure out a couple of people to vote against.
If you can't decide among two candidates, pick the one whose name you like best
as you roll it around your mouth.
If you can't decide among three candidates, play one-potato-two-potato
as you count the letters of their names.
If you can't decide among four candidates, close your eyes and shuffle the paper back and forth
as you point with the stub end of your pen.

If you can't decide among any of the candidates,
maybe you're the sort of person who likes math
and who hates getting the wrong answer.
There's an equation if you want it.
List all the decisions you can make. List all the possible election outcomes.
Guess a probability for each decision-outcome,
and make sure the numbers in each decision-row add up to 1.
Then multiply each probability by how much regret you'll feel if it happens,
and vote for the candidate with the lowest total.

Or maybe you're the sort of person who likes policy.
Visit their party websites and read their policy handbooks.
Phone your candidates and ask what they'll do, how they'll do it,
what specific actions they plan to take in the world.
Everyone can talk about vague intentions.
Learn from them, if you haven't already learned all you'll ever learn,
if they have anything at all to teach you.
Ask honest questions, and learn which candidates are honest enough to say I don't know.

Or maybe you're the sort of person who likes to watch people's faces.
Your candidates all had a debate on YouTube last week: go find it.
So did their party leaders. Go find that debate too.
Visit your candidates at their riding offices.
Watch the debates at your public library,
and tell all the other library patrons you're getting ready to vote.
Turn voting into a trend.

This isn't a standardized test, a Foundation Skills Assessment of citizenship.
The right answer is whatever name you choose,
and you make it right the moment you choose it.

If you don't like any of the candidates in your riding,
if you really don't like them, and you don't just hate the party leaders or the institution of voting,
then vote anyway,
and next election, make sure one of those candidates is you.

The only Canadians without a vote are children and the Chief Electoral Officer,
but minor election officials can only vote at the advance poll;
on election day, poll clerks and DROs lose their franchise too.
Maybe one officer forgot to vote. Maybe that's why they're being so officious today.

If you're at the wrong polling place, they can still direct you to the right one,
so ask a party scrutineer to arrange you a ride.
Tell them you think you might vote for their side,
even if you'd rather vote Natural Law or Rhino,
even if you might play one-potato-two-potato with the names on the ballot,
even if you can't read with your own eyes, draw with your own hand, walk on your own feet.

Roll up your ballot.
No one can turn you away.
osmie: (Default)
…and bit me with the tune from Shenandoah:
O Hall & Oates, I long to see you
For one last reunion concert
O Hall & Oates, I long to hear you
So play, record and play
Your eighties Motown music


osmie: (Default)
Osmium Penguin

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