Book collecting: snobbery or reading passion?

The Bibliophiles, 1879, by Luis Jimenez y Aranda, Private Collection. Photo by Christie's/Bridgeman Images
The book has always been a sign of status and refinement; a declaration of self-worth – even for those who hate to read. That’s the lead into a recent piece on Aeon Magazine about book collecting and collectors. It’s also about reading and the snobbery of readers. Fascinating piece.

For me, anyway. Pretty much everything about books and reading fascinates me, from the art to the industry to the neuroscience. I am and always have been a book buyer, proudly taking my place among those “Bookish Fools” referenced in the article’s title. But perhaps from a different part of the podium.

I spent an hour with a painter this week discussing getting a portion of our house repainted. Part of that work involves us moving a lot of books into other rooms. A lot. Many hundreds. Maybe even thousands. Plus the bookshelves. Six large and two small bookcases in the upper hallway alone. And where to put them? One upstairs room is already lined with bookcases and the other rooms have their own, too.

It served to reinforce just how many books we have to think of the time required to unshelve then re-shelve them (in some sort of reasonable order). Many days.

I got two books in the mail yesterday and this morning I ordered another online. Others are somewhere in between, on their way via the post office. I get larger shipments – boxes – from booksellers once or twice a month, plus individual titles. I haunt the local used book stores for more. I still have battered paperbacks I picked up in the 1960s, but most of my personal library is far more recent. That’s because I am mostly a reader. Compulsively, even obsessively, perhaps. But not a fetishist collector as the article describes.

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Shoulda, coulda, woulda

Coulda, shoulda, woulda...Two and a half years of calamitous mismanagement. Council motivated by wild conspiracy theories, maliciousness and personal vendettas. A rudderless, ruthless administration flailing and fumbling its way from one catastrophe to another. The town’s reputation ruined. Our municipal partners and neighbours alienated. Secret discussions determine the fate of our assets while the public is excluded from the process. Taxes and costs rising and sole-sourced contracts handed out like party favours. Ethics tossed out the window and the municipal air redolent with the stench of entitlement.

And the term is barely half-way through. What a disaster.

Any commentary or discussion on our council’s actions, morality and behaviour this term must come with a litany of things we know they should have done, things they could have done, and what would have resulted – had they followed process, law or even acted ethically.

You could have done better. Anyone else could have done better. Just imagine what you, dear reader, would likely have done in their place, what things you could have done differently. Pretty much everything if, of course, you had either a modicum of common sense or a shred of decency in you.

Of course, we always second guess what those in power are up to. But face it, it would be difficult if not impossible to do worse than this lot has.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda: what might have helped keep this government on track, and act on behalf of the people who elected it, instead of being the self-centred, ongoing train wreck it is now. How different things might have been if only they shoulda, coulda, woulda. These are some of my list, not in an particular order; I’m sure you will have your own:
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WiFi hysteria again

Scared of wifiEvery so often, old crackpot ideas, hoaxes, cons and plainly silly pseudoscience resurface online under the guise of Trump-like alternate fact. Scary stories about chemicals in your food, fake health tips, and Facebook-stealing-your-photos nonsense compete for attention with actual news and factual stories. The old bromide about wireless signals (WiFi) killing things is just one to come back to life this week on Facebook.

(You already know Facebook isn’t a reliable source of anything factual, even though factual content does get shared now and then. More common are the wingnut conspiracies, hoaxes and codswallop, along with cute kitten videos. Facebook is the place where what was once called the fringe has a cozy place alongside the mainstream, and New Age charlatans prey on fears and fantasies.)

This latest story beings pread on FB comes from a UK site called “Stop Smart Meters” originally published in 2013. SSM is one of those wacky “all wireless is evil and the government is behind it” sites that thrive despite the overwhelming scientific research that debunks their crazy notions. Break out the tin foil hats. These sites are to electronics, physics and biology what the Food Babe is to nutrition and chemistry: bunkum.

While it’s easy to scoff at this as just a fringe community, it’s more tragic that usually reliable media sites and sources (like ABC News) picked up the story and reprinted is, uncritically, without analysis or examination. This only helps spread the bunk and give it a semblance of credibility, while diminishing that of the media itself. It’s worse when these articles use words like proof or proven alongside the conjectures, allegations and fantasies.

Whether they be about chemtrails, creationism, magic crystals, auras, ayurveda, homeopathy, angels, chakras, UFOs or anti-vaccination claptrap, these pseudoscience sites all feed off each other, spreading the viruses of ignorance and fear. They share one another’s stories as if publishing on one wingnut site gives the conspiracy credibility. And they have a huge, gullible audience who treat their version as gospel and any debunking as a Satanic attack. Plus, they usually have some magic potion or bean to sell you for protection against those things that go bump in the night…
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Why is this man still working for Collingwood? – part 2

Why is he still here?Almost a year ago, I posed the question: why is the interim CAO still working for Collingwood? After his behaviour and aggressive, disrespectful grilling of the hospital board chair and foundation head, March 27, 2017, that question has even more significance.

And, you might ask, why hasn’t council dealt with it? After all, his behaviour reflects on them – and poorly.

The interim CAO’s relationship with the mayor is at best strained, at worst abrasive and unproductive. In a recent email she accused him of bullying and suggested he resign. Councillor Lloyd has made similar comments and recently blocked his emails. The last time the interim CAO’s contract was extended (at $226,000 a year), it was a 5-4 vote, suggesting a loss of confidence in him even among his former supporters.

How can any CAO operate effectively if at odds with one or more of his bosses? If he or she doesn’t have the full respect and support of all of council?

I have been copied with emails sent among residents and even some sent to the local media and council chastising the interim CAO for his behaviour, calling his tactics bullying and aggressive. This is not the way the town’s top bureaucrat should be seen by our residents. It is not the way ANY top bureaucrats should behave anywhere. Or should I say misbehave?

In an email sent to the mayor and council, one writer commented: “The CAO should be instructed to be more deferential to the Chair during the meeting. We did not regard his conduct to be very professional last evening.”

One letter to the local media about the evening noted in general the tone towards the bureaucrats at the meeting: “Nobody likes to be lectured to by high-priced consultants or government officials, especially when it appears to any reasonable person that the real motive is to further slow down and obstruct the hospital decision-making process. And making matters worse, we all know that it is us, the taxpayer, who is paying for most of those speakers and their underlying work.”

There were more remarks I won’t repeat, but they continued the general sentiment.

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The hospital, the trolley and political ethics

Trolley problemIn its decision about the redevelopment of the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital, Collingwood Council is evidently taking the track less travelled, trolleyology-wise. Seen as an ethical issue, our council has chosen to act against the greater good.

Trolleyology is the somewhat humourous name given to philosophical intellectual exercises or thought problems about our ethics and ethical choices. As Wikipedia describes it, the basic problem (and there are many, many variants) is simple:

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

Which is the most ethical choice?

I first wrote about the “trolley problem” back in 2014. I’ve since been reading about it and learning more about what the answers say about our morals and ethics. My current reading is Would You Kill the Fat Man? by David Edmonds (Princeton University press, 2014). Edmonds takes the reader through a wide range of trolley scenarios – the title derives from one of them – and elaborates on the ethical nature of each.

But let’s stick to the base scenario: one person versus five. A minority versus the majority. As Wikipedia also points out, “The trolley problem has been the subject of many surveys in which approximately 90% of respondents have chosen to kill the one and save the five.” And yet, contrary to that statistic, Collingwood Council – or more specifically, the Block of Seven – has chosen not to pull the lever. They chose the minority.

All political issues, all political decisions are basically trolley problems. In every one, politicians have to choose between the special interests, friends, relatives, neighbours, lobbyists and the greater good – what is best for the community. Do they put aside petty ideologies and make decisions in the best interests of the community at large, or do they pursue their own personal agendas, power grabs, and vendettas?

It has always been thus. The father of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, wrote, “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.” And it is the greater good – the action that serves the betterment or interests of the greater number – that is always viewed as the proper choice, the moral choice. Anything else is viewed as elitism, entitlement and corruption.

Given the polarizing nature of politics, however, “do nothing” is seldom a real choice. It’s seen as weak, spineless, vague – like deferring a decision when a crowd is present simply shows you’re too cowardly to make a stand in public. There are consequences and liabilities even when you do seem to nothing.
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