Gibson and Simpson

Out for a late afternoon walk with Gibson. So beautiful to enter the woods with the sun shining almost horizontally through the trees. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the confidence to strike out on a long walk like that on the spur of the moment. (You don’t want to know why.)

I thought about Jeffrey Simpson, who retired this week as columnist at the Globe and Mail. In his valedictory column, he wrote of his opinion of Canada as not just a success story for multiculturalism, but as a success story for the integration of other cultures into Canada’s two mainstream cultures, the English and the French. He lamented the difficulty and reluctance of indigenous cultures to integrate in the same fashion. With all due respect (and there is much) I believe Mr Simpson missed the point, and he has missed it for many years. Don’t you suppose it might be a good idea to try just a little bit to integrate *ourselves* into indigenous culture, instead of insisting it be the other way around? We don’t even know what we *don’t* know about the history and lore of the people who have been living here for thousands of years. Perhaps with the old guard fading away into retirement, there may be new voices in our national media with a vision beyond mere truth and reconciliation.

Why You Can’t Trust an Economist to Run an Economy

Conservatives in Canada argue that since Stephen Harper is an economist, he’s better able to run Canada’s economy. They’ve got it exactly backwards. Why? Because economists are academics. To get published, and therefore to get noticed at university, an academic has to choose an extremely narrow focus on which to do research and to write papers. This concentration on tiny ideas forges an ideological mind-set which, in Canada’s case, has seen our economy run on the long-discredited ideology of tax cuts for the wealthy and austerity for the rest of us, along with a costly propaganda campaign to convince the country that these strategies are actually working. The result has been an economy in tatters, with ballooning national debt, increasing amounts of wealth being shunted away to the coffers of the wealthy, and costly disasters directly attributable to decaying infrastructure and lax regulation. Compounding that, in order to buy enough votes to survive, the Prime Minister requires a huge bureaucracy dedicated to administering a vastly overcomplicated tax regime that targets dozens of special interest groups.

On the other hand, a non-economist will look at the country and see poverty, illness, catastrophe, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Compassion alone will fuel the drive to put more money into more people’s hands, via fairer tax policies, a higher minimum wage, and a guaranteed annual income. But a broader mind has more going for it than just compassion. There are memory, imagination, and cooperation to name just three. Historical perspective helps us remember the disasters that Thatcherism and Reganomics provoked in two of the wealthiest economies in history, driving them both to near-collapse. Imagination will help us see a way forward to unleashing the productivity of people once they no longer have to struggle just to survive, and to find new ways to control pollution, congestion, and climate change. And the spirit of cooperation can help us work together to defeat the tax-cuts-and-austerity mindset, and put the economy back into the hands of the citizenry.


I’ve been interested in lucid dreaming for a long time, and I like to keep up with news about it. A recent podcast from Radio National’s Dreams — the Lucid experience rekindled my interest, because it showed how research into lucid dreaming is now on a solid scientific footing, and because it offered practical suggestions for how to enter into lucid dreams, and because these suggestions were particularly relevant to me.

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of lucid dreaming, it’s basically the idea that you can inhabit your dreams and exert some control over them, rather than just experiencing them as a sort of movie. Many people report being capable of lucid dreaming, and many of these are scientists and other serious folk.

I’ve heard of similar phenomena, such as OBE’s (out-of-body experiences) and astral travelling, in which an observer, often identified as the soul, leaves the body and moves throughout the real world as a sort of balloon tethered to the body by a “silver cord” or some such. I accept the idea of lucid dreaming more than these other phenomena, since lucid dreaming takes place entirely inside the human head and doesn’t require any mystical hand-waving to explain it, nor does it submit to such falsifiable experiments as reading a message only visible from a floating balloon. The world experienced in lucid dreaming is decidedly a dream world and therefore congruent with ordinary dreams and not with ordinary reality.

Lucid dreaming researchers have discovered quite a few facts about the phenomenon, for example that lucid dreams occur during REM sleep, and that dreamers can signal to the outside world that they are in a lucid dream by moving their eyes in a particular pattern that was agreed upon by them while awake.

One observation that intrigued me greatly was that successful lucid dreamers can recognize aspects of their dreams that alert them to the fact that they are dreaming. These are called dream triggers. People can train themselves to recognize these triggers, and essentially take the reins of their own dreams at that point.

I have a recurrent dream about my former workplace, and this dream is often full of such triggers. For example, if I notice in my dream that I am on a staircase that I know didn’t exist in that building, this can be a trigger. The other night I was in just such a situation, perched on a very steep staircase which as usual didn’t reach the floor. I was able to say to myself “OK, if I’m in a dream, I can just launch myself and start flying.” I couldn’t bring myself to do it, though, out of fear of hurtling to the floor. However, a moment later, a woman appeared before me, and I told her, “OK, if I’m in a dream, I should be able to make you laugh.” whereupon she immediately burst out laughing. I’m hooked now, and I can’t wait to fall asleep most nights and continue the adventure.

The All in the Mind podcast talks about one experiment that flows out of lucid dreaming research, in which the duration of “dream time” can be roughly measured, and compared with the duration of “real time”. In other words, how long does ten seconds of dream time take in real time? I’ll let you discover the answer to this by listening to the podcast.

People to unfriend on Facebook

Collecting Friends on facebook seems like a fun thing to do at first, and a way of competing with other Friends to see who can make the most Friends. But facebook Friends are not the same as real friends, and you really want to work on real friendships in real life and not imaginary friendships on facebook. So, chances are, you have far more facebook Friends than you need. Here’s a guide to getting rid of the least useful of them.

  •  People you thought you knew. These are people who popped up on the “people you may know” column in Facebook and you clicked on them because maybe you had forgotten who they were. Or maybe their name looked like the name of someone you actually knew. Now you know they were nobody you knew, off them.
  • People you friended because you thought they might broaden your outlook. These are the Republicans you hooked up with because you thought they might be interesting. They aren’t.
  • Former classmates. If you weren’t friends with them then, you probably won’t be friends with them now.
  • Distant relatives. Unless you actually know them, you’re better off keeping track of them in an address book or Christmas card list rather than in facebook.
  • People from past jobs. Networking is not what it used to be, and people who are still with the company you left five years ago aren’t going to be much help to you now. Dump people you haven’t heard from in real life in the last six to twelve months.
  • People who you thought might be interesting or exciting to know, like that hottie in shades, but turned out to be duds.
  • “Sharers” whose mission in life is to hang out on quote sites or meme sites or cat sites or “quirky news” sites, and compulsively share things that are basically just noise. You may have Friends who share truly amazing finds. Keep these treasures, and toss the rest.
  • Lurkers who never post anything, and never even click Like. They may very well be dead. Really.

A new direction

I’m turning my music business over to, and repurposing into a more political forum. This is my first entry in the new format.

Here’s a link to an article in Science Blogs by John Dupuis. To quote: “This is a brief chronology of the current Conservative Canadian government’s long campaign to undermine evidence-based scientific, environmental and technical decision-making.” It’s a long and growing list of Contemptible Steve Harper’s actions to erode environmental regulations and destroy libraries and research facilities concerned with science and the environment. John asks for your help in obtaining references in the media to support his statements so that they cannot be contested. It’s an ongoing effort, last updated in October 2014.

The Canadian War on Science: A long, unexaggerated, devastating chronological indictment.

Taking a vacation from Facebook

I took a Facebook break – a vacation if you will – this past month. I quit on the spur of the moment. Choose your cliché: It was a perfect storm of reasons to quit, or there was a straw that broke the camel’s back, or “I needed a chance to spend more time with my family”, but I made the decision to take a break within a few milliseconds of realizing that I really didn’t like being on FB any more.

I must say that I enjoyed my first three or four weeks on vacation, but I’m starting to feel the pull back to the community I left behind. My birthday is coming up anyway, and I think it would be rude not to acknowledge the greetings that will come my way. So I’ll be coming back fairly soon.

So why, really, did I feel the need to take a vacation from Facebook? None of the following reasons are all that compelling, but put together, they added up to enough frustration and discomfort to make me want to get out, at least for a little while.

  • Click Bait. I was really getting tired of the number of FB posts that claimed “We did such and such, and you won’t believe what happened next!” and a thousand variants of this. I realize this is a disease of the whole World Wide Web, but it seemed to me that it festered more virulently in Facebook.
  • Stock comments I have a sharp ear for chiché, so I quickly tire of people saying almost the same supposedly clever but ultimately tedious thing in their FB comments, such as “This is wrong on so many levels.” or “I tasted a little vomit in the back of my throat when I looked at this.”
  • Irony Enough said. The world is tired of irony, and starved for honesty and straight talk.
  • Memes and Mindless sharing I don’t think it’s particularly clever to surf the Net to share some gem on facebook. Even if the gem is a jewel of creative genius, your sharing of it is not.
  • Trolls, curmudgeons, and armchair experts. You know who you are. It is impossible to win an argument on facebook, or anywhere else for that matter. I learned this online about thirty years ago, and it’s still true, so it saddens me that people just keep on arguing, instead of sharing their knowledge.
  • Likes I won’t feel comfortable on facebook until I can find a way to disable “likes”. Waiting for someone to like your post (and being disappointed when they don’t) is the single most unpleasant aspect of the facebook experience, and I would dearly love to get rid of Likes completely, in the same way I can get rid of ads.