Wednesday, June 15, 2005

IS THIS WHAT IT HAS COME TO? PART-II

I thought I'd watch question period to see for my self just how bad things have gotten.

I did not here the opposition question just asked, but the Prime Minister clearly ignored it, and in response commented that Stephen Harper is going to be on the "barbecue circuit this summer" and then porceeded to table a document for the opposition leader's benefit.

The document?

The South Beach Diet Book.

So sad.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:24 PM :: (7) comments

IS THIS WHAT IT HAS COME TO?

Not quite hockey, not quite boxing:

Its Battle of the Hockey Enforcers.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:57 PM :: (1) comments

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

FREEDOM TO PROFIT

The BBC reports that bloggers in China who use Microsoft's blogging software MSN Spaces are restricted from using terms such as "freedom," "democracy" and "Taiwan independence." Microsoft is apparently compling with Chinese law in preventing users in China from posting these type of terms.

Not suprisingly, there are many people blaming Microsoft for complying with Chinese government censorship and oppression. Reporters Without Borders has stated:

The lack of ethics on the part of these companies is extremely worrying. Their management frequently justifies collaboration with Chinese censorship by saying that all they are doing is obeying local legislation.

We believe that this argument does not hold water and that these multinationals must respect certain basic ethical principles, in whatever country they are operating.
Conversely, a Microsoft spokesperson told the BBC,
Microsoft is a multi-national business and as such needs to manage the reality of operating in countries around the world.
I agree with Microsoft. As a world-wide corporation Microsoft is responsible to the diverse laws of the many jursdictions it operates in and also to acheiving the best financial results for its sharholders and employees. Microsoft and other companies do not have some kind of greater ethical responsibility to oppose Chinese censorship at the risk of their business. It would be commendable if the company took a stronger stand on this issue but it should not be expected.

The larger question is: given the argument for Microsoft above, is Microsoft in China an example of how greater freedom of markets in that country will somehow lead to greater political and civil freedoms for Chinese citizens?

Microsoft, like all other companies, does not care about the degree of political freedom in China, as long as its executives and shareholders are satisfied with the company's profits. This is not some nefarious capitalist scheme, it is the way things are supposed to work; it is fine, necessary, even great. But it is not the answer to greater freedom in China, or anywhere else.

Expanded economic freedom does not lead directly to expanded civil, political and social freedoms. Microsft can operate in China while the people of China remain oppressed.

Posted by Matthew @ 7:32 PM :: (2) comments

BLOGGER BOOK TAG

Just as I was considering shutting down my blog for good, J. Kelly Nestruck had to go and give me an easy topic to write about, combined with the pressure to post it: he has, of course, tagged me in the ongoing blogger book meme.

I have been really impressed by the numbers of books people own and the variety of 'five books that mean a lot' to people. I have definitely gotten some good reading suggestions or been reminded of books I should have read but have not.

Since many of my favourite bloggers, and no less than Her Excellency the Governor General, have got in on the act, Living in a Society lives to see another day with the book meme post.

Number of Books that I Own:

Despite being an unemployed student I have managed to amass, what I consider to be, a decent collection of books. Combining my book shelves at home and at my office I have 263 books (yes, a collection small enough to count). At my mom's house in Newmarket, I probably have another 50-100 books, though I suspect that most of those are Star Trek books and other similar light reading from my teen years.

To boost my numbers, I will also add that I am nearing the limit of 100 withdrawls allowed from the Queen's University Library system. Most of these books relate to my research work but many of them I have had out of the library for six or eight months. They are beginning to feel like mine, sadly however, they are not.

Last Book I Bought:

Bennedict Anderson has asserted that, "In a rather special sense, the book, was the first modern style mass-produced industrial commodity," and I think over the past 500 years it has remained one of the most consistent consumer commodities of our society.

Like most who have responded to this tag, I can't resist buying more books, despite my better jusdement. My last purchase was two books from 'The Book Shop,' a good but disorganized second hand store on Princess Street in Kingston. The first book was a hard cover edition of John Ralston Saul's, Reflections of a Siamese Twin, to replace my well worn paper-back copy. The second was a copy of McGill philosphy professor Charles Taylor's 1991 Massey Lecture, The Malaise of Modernity.

Last Book I Read:

Generally, I will read multiple non-fiction books at a time and rarely do I read non-fiction cover-to-cover, particularly when reading for my research, yet I consider these books as 'read.' Usually, however, I stick to one new novel at a time, while periodically re-reading other favourites.

So, the last new novel I read was Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey. I can't say I enjoyed it, but nor did I dislike it. I was frustrated by the story's lack of unity in time and place. In time frame the story started and stopped abruptly sometimes going into great depth for two days' activities and then quicky skipping over a the passage of a month, the effect of which I felt alienated the reader from the character's sense of the passage of time, which was a critical element of the narrative.

Five Books that Mean a lot to Me:

Like Nestruck, I enjoy the phrasing of this question because there's no pressure to list the 'five best books' or something of that nature. I list here the first five books that came to mind, judging that criteria to be qualification enough.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving: I have no illusions that this is great literature but it is a book that I simply cannot do without. Partly, I think I have a great attachment to it because it was one of the first 'adult' books I read when I was ten years old. Owen and John grow from age ten to twenty-five in the story and each time I have read the book I identified with the characters most at the point when their ages corresponded with my own. I am interested to see what I will think of the book once I have out-grown Owen and John.

Mostly, however, I think I like Owen Meany for reasons similar to why Owen likes Thomas Hardy and Tess of the D'Urbervilles in the story: Owen has the world figured out, and there's something about that that is reassuring; I'm going to quote at length one of Owen's speeches:

IT'S YOUR LACK OF IMAGINATION THAT BORES YOU. HARDY HAS THE WORLD FIGURED OUT. TESS IS DOOMED. FATE HAS IT IN FOR HER. SHE'S A VICTIM; IF YOU'RE A VICTIM, THE WORLD WILL USE YOU. WHY SHOULD SOMEONE WHO'S GOT SUCH A WORKED-OUT WAY OF SEEING THE WORLD BORE YOU? WHY SHOULDN'T YOU BE INTERESTED IN SOMEONE WHO'S WORKED OUT A WAY TO SEE THE WOLD? THAT'S WHAT MAKES WRITERS INTERESTING! MAYBE YOU SHOULD BE AN ENGLISH MAJOR. AT LEAST, YOU GET TO READ STUFF THAT'S WRITTEN BY PEOPLE WHO CAN WRITE! YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING TO BE AN ENGLISH MAJOR, YOU DON'T NEED ANY SPECIAL TALENT, YOU JUST HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT SOMEONE WANTS YOU SO SEE-TO WHAT MAKES SOMEONE ANGRIEST, OR THE MOST EXCITED IN SOME OTHER WAY. ITS SO EASY; I THINK THAT'S WHY THERE ARE SO MANY ENGLISH MAJORS.

Reflections of a Siamese Twin
, John Ralston Saul: In the late 1990s, in the aftermath of the second referendum, most academics and public intellectuals turned out narratives of decline, lamenting the collapse of Canada, notably Jack Granatstien's polemic, Who Killed Canadian History, and the more academically ballanced but still pessimistic, National Dreams, by Daniel Francis.

Undermining this trend came Saul's Reflections, which is quite simply the most spirtited, rigourous and well thought-out argument for Canada, published in the twentieth century, that I have read. Saul made me realize that all of the important ideas that underpin Canada originated in the 1830s and 1840s. His central argument is that all of the frustrations of Canada that on the surface make us appear to be 'not a real country', from our identity crisis to regional decentralization, have actually, without us realizing it, made us a great country.

I again quote at length, almost at random, one of my many underlined passages:
Today the federal government decentralizes in part by cutting transfer payments. In several of the largest provinces the immediate reaction has been to move away from the universality of health and social care. So the initial experience of massive decentralization actually seems to be confiriming the fear that regionalism would mean the breaking of the original reform contract which created the country. And yet as W.L Morton told Charles Taylor,... Canada can "only survive through the recognition of legitimate regional differences."
This is a conundrum of the sort which makes the country seem impossible, when it is actually complex and interesting. Our difficulty is somehow to take the time to find arrangements that work, while avoiding the false simplifications of extremists who attempt to exploit the period of gestation. That exploitation is dangerously easy because a nation caught up in full consideration and doubt can be misrepresented as merely lost in confusion.
Having taken so much time on the first two, I'll be briefer with the next three, recommending simply that you read them for yourself.

What's Bred in the Bone, Robertson Davies: I could have picked almost any of Davies' books, but this is my favourite. Simply a beautifully crafted story that is deeply rooted in the strongest litterary traditions of western society, yet uniquely Canadian.

The Wars, Timothy Findley: I have no experience of war, but this book, more than For Whom the Bell Tolls, more than All Quite on the Western Front, made me feel war's horror and tragedy, combined with the possibility of redemption.

Green Grass, Running Water, Thomas King: King is Canada's greatest living story teller. He weaves narratives of wit and imagination that are unique hybrids of European and Aboriginal, Canadian and American traditions.

Tag:

All that is left now is to tag five new people to write about their book collections and reading habits. Since almost nobody reads this site anymore these people might not realize they've been tagged, so if you are reading this, click the links so they show up in the respective blogger's referral logs.

So, lets have it: Mader and Don (who also both seem to need an easy reason to post), Calvin, CharLeBois, and Hockey Jones. If you aren't a fan of these blogger games: tough. Its the summer and everyone else is doing it.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:51 PM :: (3) comments