We’ve borrowed from the future; a carbon tax is just the interest on that loan

Regarding a carbon tax, Andrew Coyne (who is in favour of such a tax) writes:

But Canadians don’t care what it means for the economy at large. They want to know what’s in it for them.

How about a planet that remains capable of supporting human life? Do we not owe that much to the next generation, to say nothing of the millions of people already made refugees by the effects of climate change? 

Regarding the battle against climate change in mere economic terms is, at this point, a fool’s game. The global economy as we know it will cease to exist in the event of catastrophic climate change. Of course, the global economy as we know it is also the primary driver of climate change, so it needs to change dramatically — perhaps even cease to exist in its current form — to make a meaningful dent in the damage that’s been done to our ecosystem.

A price on carbon is a pittance compared to what’s coming if we don’t make a real commitment to combat climate change — and then actually follow through on that commitment. 

The notion that Canada shouldn’t bother, because other countries aren’t cutting their emissions, is nihilism on a national scale.

I’m hardly alone in this rather stark assessment. Gregory Trencher, of the University of Tokyo, writes:

[…] the political and economic institutions of our civilisation are fixated on enjoying the present and unable to account for the consequences of our actions on tomorrow. This may be all too easily observed in our financial behaviour, where individuals, corporations and governments are forever borrowing from the future in order to improve the present.

In the same way, the fossil fuelled party of our capitalist global civilisation is in the midst of a financial and ecological borrowing frenzy from the future. And not only are the spoils of our mastery over nature enjoyed by only a minority of the planet, but in geological terms, they are being consumed within an extremely short time-span.

We’ve borrowed from the future for too long. A carbon tax would begin to pay the interest on that loan. The principal may be something only time — on a geological scale — can eliminate.

There’s no such thing as a centrist

Hamilton Nolan, writing for Splinter, takes the bold position that centrists don’t exist.

Politics is not a bathtub that seeks a perfect mix of hot and cold. Politics is using power to achieve certain ends. The ends that people want to achieve are, consciously or subconsciously, aligned with broad philosophical beliefs.

I’m not sure I’d agree with the notion that centrists don’t exist. They do and are quite proud of what they see as the most rational, pragmatic approach to politics. But Nolan is right that politics, for the vast majority of people, is about ideals and deeply held values.

Compromise is often necessary, particularly in parliamentary democracies, but if you’re not starting from the point of an actual ideal (or, dare I say, an ideology) then what is the point? If you’re beginning your negotiations from the compromise position you might as well not stand for anything. You might as well, in fact, stand for the position of your political enemy, because when you have to compromise on your already compromised position, you’ll inevitably be giving them more of what they want than you otherwise would have.

The argument Nolan lays out for why the Democrats in the United States should embrace the left and stop being afraid to actually stand for something applies rather well to Canada’s New Democrats.

The NDP establishment seems so afraid that voters will reject the ideals the party is supposed to represent that they’re continually moving toward the centre. Meanwhile, the Liberals won the last federal election by running to the left of the supposedly left-wing NDP.

The centre is not a position to campaign from. In parliamentary politics, it is often the position one ends up governing from, but campaigning from the centre doesn’t give you broad appeal. Often, it makes it look as though you stand for nothing.

Updated on Sept. 28, 2018 to correct some minor typos.

Trying out Wire

Wire messaging app's official logo.

I’m always on the look out for a secure messaging app that is both user-friendly and not Facebook Messenger/WhatsApp.

I’ve been using Signal for a while, but it has some limitations. For one thing, it’s directly tied to my phone number. My account isn’t “portable” as a result, and it doesn’t work on platforms other than my phone. WhatsApp has a similar limitation, as well as being owned by Facebook which makes me skeptical that it’s really as secure as they claim.

Facebook Messenger, though certainly not a secure way of communicating, is nice in that it is cross-platform. It works on phones. It works on laptops. It doesn’t matter what operating system you use (there are native apps for both Android and iOS, and the PC version is browser-based, so it doesn’t matter what operating system your computer runs).

Wire shares the cross-platform nature of FB Messenger, but is secure by default. Phone calls are end-to-end encrypted. Text and images are encrypted between the device and Wire’s servers, rather than end-to-end. This is less than ideal, but it is a design choice the developers made to ensure messages can be accessed from multiple devices.

Best of all, though, since my biggest obstacle with trying to make my communications more secure is getting other people to use the same applications as I do, is that Wire is very user-friendly.

The user interface looks nice. It does group chat very well. And it’s easy to search for and find contacts.

It seems to hit a nice balance between being secure and being easy to use. Is it secure enough for activists or political organizers? Probably not. But for day-to-day communication that you want to keep private from data-harvesters or overly-broad data-mining conducted by law enforcement, it does the trick.

You can create a Wire account by downloading the appropriate mobile app or visiting their website. You can add me as a contact by searching for @adamsnider.

New theme – Thoughts?

I’m trying out a new, very minimalist theme. I was playing around with Brutaldon — a brutalist web interface for Mastodon and Pleroma — and was really liking the very simple aesthetic of some of the themes.

That inspired me to search for brutalist WordPress themes. This theme, called Log Lolla, is the only one that came up. I’m not entirely sure it counts as brutalist (not that I’m an expert by any means), but it’s definitely extremely minimalist.

I quite appreciate the minimalist nature of this theme, so I think I’ll keep it active for a while.

Please let me know in the comments what you think of the new theme.

Re-decentralizing the web

A few days ago, I came across an article in the Guardian, talking about decentralization as the next big step for the world wide web. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while, and have written about before.

Re-decentralizing the web is a good idea, but I think some of what’s proposed in the article misses the point. Centralization is mostly a social problem, not a technical one, and it requires social solutions. The technologies needed to re-decentralize the web mostly exist already: we just go back to doing what we did before it all got centralized. We need, for example, to revitalize the culture of blogging rather than posting.

Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that, as many people are only able to share their thoughts and ideas as a result of centralized services; they aren’t technically proficient enough to make their own website. We don’t want to leave these people behind as we move to re-decentralize things. This further illustrates that the problem is a social one much more than it is a technical one. Maybe the answer is something akin to Geocities (or WordPress.com, Blogger.com, etc.), rather than everyone having a Facebook profile. Technically, this would still be a centralized service, but the design and mentality behind it would much more closely resemble the decentralized web — everyone has their own website — than the social networks of today, in which everyone is part of the same website and all of their data is aggregated and analyzed in increasingly creepy ways.

Still, there are some good links in that Guardian story. Graphite Docs seems cool, although the fact that it’s based on the Bitcoin ledger makes me question its environmental sustainability. Beaker Browser is also interesting but, without widespread adoption, it’s not going to be revolutionary; and I just don’t see widespread adoption of an obscure browser happening anytime soon.

If the Dat protocol was a standard that could be used through any web browser, it might be different. It would still likely be a niche protocol, but it would at least have a chance at finding wider adoption among decentralization geeks.

Ultimately, if we want to retake control of our personal data and push back against the latest capitalist enclosure movement — the enclosure of not only our data, but of our relationships and identities — we need to re-decentralize the web. We don’t need a blockchain to do it. We need to rethink our relationship to the Internet and the big, centralized service providers. The revolution we need isn’t a technological one, it’s a social one.

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#Repost @bmcviews (@get_repost)
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Building in the river valley: yes to washrooms, no to restaurants

David Staples, ever the supporter of getting more people into Edmonton’s river valley (a noble goal), wants more restaurants and washrooms in the valley.

Although I agree wholeheartedly about adding washrooms — many popular trail heads lack washroom facilities — I disagree about the restaurants. 

It would be nice to have some places to eat in the river valley, for sure. Adding a restaurant with a large patio to Louise McKinney Park, for example, would be awesome. But that’s a very developed, “groomed” park space where adding infrastructure would make sense.

Making sure that you’re never more than 1-2 kilometres from a restaurant, anywhere in the river valley? That’s extreme and risks destroying the sense of being completely immersed in nature and the ease with which you can forget you’re in the middle of a major city while hiking in the valley.

If you’re planning a walk, hike or bike ride in the river valley, bring a snack. Pack a picnic. You don’t need easy access to restaurants. Water bottle filling stations at trail heads would be nice, but that’s really all that’s needed.

Of course, it would be kinda nice to have a cold pint after a long hike…beer gardens at all major trail heads? 😉

A very old poem

Ten years ago, someone who I knew from a web forum I used to frequent posted this on Facebook, noting that I had written it. It popped up on my “Facebook Memories” timeline today. My own comment on the Facebook post indicated that I’d written it “a long time ago,” so it’s more than 10 years old, though I can’t say with any certainty how much older it is.

It’s not my finest work, and I wouldn’t write like this today, but it’s not half bad considering I may have been as young as 17 when I wrote this. I have a faint memory of performing this publicly, so it’s more likely that I wrote it sometime in my early to mid-twenties, but I honestly can’t say for sure exactly when it was written.

Anyway, I mentioned this on Mastodon and someone asked me to share it, so here it is. There was no title posted with it, so I’m assuming I never titled it.


Finding myself
on a line between fantasy,
and reality;
a line between superpowers,
and Tupperware;
a line between changing the world,
and changing a diaper;
a line between punk rock,
and EZ Rock;
that I don’t want to cross,
because,
if I cross,
that’ll be the end.
If I cross the line,
if I give up the dreams,
the comic book fantasies,
the goddamned god complex,
then it’ll be over. I’ll be
over.

On the cusp of something great,
but unable to see
that thing that I’m looking for.
Blind, so I’m looking
at the aluminium desk,
the suit and tie,
the stack of papers,
and the endless emailing of reports,
and I’m seeing it as the next step.
Instead of revolution,
I see Whoppers dripping
burger juices onto last month’s numbers.
And, instead of fearing
the dumbing-down of the human race,
I’m actually upset
that the numbers might be ruined.
I’m actually upset
that I might have to rewrite this report
that no one is going to read.

Teetering on the edge of a cliff,
where the danger is real,
because if I fall off,
life will lose that thrill.
The pure joy of just living will be gone.
In place of life,
I’ll put rollercoasters.
My sex life will become
pornographic—
not in the sense of being great,
but in the sense of being
fake;
artificial;
fucking for the sake of fucking,
and nothing more.
No love,
no soul,
no poetry;
just flesh upon flesh
upon flesh.
And that is more than I can bear.

On a line between life,
and death;
suddenly aware
that the cliché, about
being alive without ever really living,
is truer than ever.
Choosing life
runs the risk of death;
but choosing death
would only mean
another forty years of being alive.

Helping people without homes

Small business owners are taking care of the people who live on our streets. These are heartwarming stories, and I am familiar enough with most of the businesses mentioned to be fairly sure that the owners are all genuinely trying to help people.

But I think it’s worth remembering that this sort of narrative subtly ignores the fact that government is failing in its duty to house people[1]; if housing is a human right, as the prime minister has stated, then we as a society — represented by the state — have a duty to house people. Rights that exist only on paper might as well not exist at all.

Social housing built from shipping containers

This isn’t to say that the state needs to providing housing stock for the entire population but providing state-funded housing with low (or no) rent for the hard to house seems entirely reasonable. It’s the moral thing to do but, in case that’s not enough, remember that it’s also the economically sensible thing to do.

And, let’s not forget that governments in liberal and social democracies around the world used to build social housing — and they still do in some places. It’s only since the neoliberal turn that politicians have decided it’s up to private developers to provide affordable housing (something which is obviously not working, given the number of people who still don’t have homes).

This post has been edited since it was originally published, to correct minor typos.


[1] I’m not suggesting that this is the intent of the author or even an editorial decision the paper has made. I’m talking on a more macro scale about how our narratives about homelessness often mask the root causes of the problem.