The Least Common Denominator

“You want to do what?” was the incredulous reply.

“Scan all of the religious and philosophical texts into a computer,” replied Mr. Simonsen. “Then the pattern matching AI we’ve created will go through them looking for patterns, common themes, connections.”

“Why would you want to do that? What possible use could there be in such a endeavour?” grumbled Mr. Blickx. He was a tough businessman. He had no overt religion himself. His formative years had been spent studying physics and engineering. Spirituality was something that was just not part of his makeup.

Mr Simonsen smiled. “The purpose would be twofold. On one hand it would be a resource for the company. We have had problems entering new markets. On more than a few occasions we’ve run afoul of local beliefs and religious edicts. This could advise us on whether what we are about to do is problematic. It would keep us from putting ourselves in a corner where we are faced with violating the moral code of the locals or forcing our employees to violate theirs.”

“I like that idea. Yes, that alone would be worth the cost.” Mr. Blicks smiled. He remembered an unfortunate episode from a few years before. Quite inadvertently their branch in Western Venlatenda had found itself in just such a dilemma. The Chief of Operations had made a deal to open a mine. Without realizing it, had also promised his daughter’s hand to the local warlord. Failure to deliver would have been a dreadful insult and would cost all the local staff their lives. But the Chief of Operations did not HAVE a daughter to hand over, even if he had been inclined to, which he was not. Only a frantic satellite phone call to the Regional Operations Manager averted tragedy. Quickly chartering several helicopters, the local staff was evacuated from a nearby football pitch, and disaster averted. Unfortunately this killed the deal, and rendered the possibility of another totally out of the question. It had been a hard lessen that Mr. Blickx did not want repeated.

“You said there was a second reason?”

“Yes, it will be great for Public Relations.”

“How could that be?”

“We would make it available online.”


“It would be a resource,” said Mr. Simonsen. “Many people are becoming concerned about the increasing percentage of their fellow citizens that are not part of any religious group. There is a belief that without religion people won’t have morals. Now I don’t want to debate if that is true or not. But some are concerned that people are looking for answers and are rejecting the traditional sources. If we put the AI on line and let people ask questions, it could answer them with the distilled morality of all religions. The common moral and ethical standards that apply to all. This would be a great resource and the fact that we made it available for free would improve our image.”

“You want to make a robot messiah?”

“Oh no no no. Nothing that grandiose,” laughed Mr. Simonsen. “Computer systems are nowhere near capable of anything like that, if in fact they ever would be. No, this is more of a philosophical guide. If someone says they want to kill themselves, it could answer that doing that would be wrong, because pretty much ALL religions say so. If someone wanted to know if it was okay to cheat on a deal if the boss told them to, it would say no, because they would be the one doing the deed. Pretty much all religions would say that. If someone wanted to know if…”

“Okay I get it.” Said Mr. Blickx abruptly. “It would be more of an ethical councillor for those that did not have a priest, or rabbi, or monk to turn to. That sounds like a good idea. I also like the business plan and the budget you’ve proposed. I will approve it and authorize you to start work Monday morning. The fifth floor of the McCormack Research Centre is empty right now. I’ll reserve it for your operations. As far as computers, you’ll have desktops as you need them of course. Also we’ll start out with some shared server space. Eventually you may need a server farm and even a supercomputer for your own data crunching. But that can wait for a few months as you get set up.”

With that Mr. Blickx rose, shook Mr. Simonsen’s hand, and left the room.

As promised the office space was available the following Monday. Initially Mr. Simonsen was alone. Soon more people came on board. Within three months the team numbered twenty-four, mostly programmers and a few linguists. They refined one of the companies existing AIs to ingest and interpret text based material. Not just English though. It had to know thousands of languages, both currant and extinct. It had to be able to read every written language on earth, and understand spoken languages as well.
This was not going to be a superficial scan of human ethics. No, the plan was to feed the computer every translation of the Bible they could lay their hands on going all the way back to the very first written version, and the writings of any and every obscure sect that split off from the main church. The same was done for the Torah and other Jewish holy books and sects. The same was done for the Koran and other philosophical writings of the different sects of Islam. The same was done for Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and the subgroups that split from them. They did this for any and every faith they could find. Where written records were not available, interviews were done with religious leaders. Six months after the project started fifty anthropologists were hired. They spent the next five years travelling the world interviewing people from Inuit in the high arctic, to obscure tribes with no name in the Amazon. From Kalahari Bushman in Africa, to indigenous people in the wilds of New Guinea and the outback of Australia. Spiritual leaders from the Lakota and the Maori spent weeks discussing the details of their belief system and morality as their cultures saw it.

Now keeping this all quiet was impossible. Too many people were involved. Too many resources were being spent on the project to not have it get noticed. So a cover story was put out. The press release said the project was to catalogue all religions and religious teachings. It was like a Google Books for religion and philosophical writing. Not only did this provide an explanation for that the company was doing, soon being included became a point of honour. Being included was seen as “legitimizing” a faith system. Rather than having to dig around for them, small sects were banging on the door to get the writings of their leader included.

And sometimes they were.

The first time the In or Out question came up was a year after the project started. When it did, it raised a huge moral dilemma for the team. Yes, all faith systems were equal in the eyes of the project. Equal in the eyes of God. Theoretically everything should be included. That was the idea they started out with. But it became clear that some judgement calls were going to be necessary. The first “Class C” group, as they came to be classified as, called themselves Silvers. They believed that God was The Silver Surfer. Yes, the one from the comic books. They believed in all absolute seriousness and devotion that the comics were in fact holy books handed down from heaven. They preyed to the Silver Surfer. The four people that followed this faith all moved to California to live on the beach and take up surfing just to emulate their deity. After dealing with them a meeting was held and a decision was made. From then on, everyone would be listened to, but the obvious crazies would just be humoured. The books would be accepted, the leaders rambling were taped, a record was made. After the people left all of the material was quietly put into a climate controlled storeroom marked Class C “for later study and inclusion”. That way the researchers were not lying, but the AI would not have to wade through the ramblings of schizophrenics.

After five years the field work was done. All of the data that was going to be included had been fed into the database. Now it was up to the AI to do its work. To prevent any sort of bias, the AI had not been put into analyze mode. That would only happen after all of the data was collected. This was to prevent the number of Christian bibles that were scanned in the first month from skewing the results. All faith systems were to be processed simultaneously. No added weight was to be given to any particular religion, or any region, or any language. The goal was to level the playing field, and find the common beliefs within the teachings of all religions.

Mr. Blickx and Mr. Simonsen were in the room along with the core of the team. “Well,” Mr. Simonsen said. “It’s time to start this.” He beamed as he stepped to the workstation. He leaned over to the keyboard and typed one word “EXECUTE” and hit return.
Immediately the screen went black. Black except for a number in the middle of the screen “0.000001%”

“How long is this going to take?” asked Mr. Blickx.

“Well,” began Mr. Simonsen. “That depends on a number of variables. The complexity of the connections the AI makes. The difficulty of the moral questions it poses for itself. The number of logical contradictions it has to resolve.”

“Just give me a ballpark figure,” said Mr. Blickx impatiently. “I just want to know if I can make lunch plans for tomorrow.”

“O-Oh, I think that would not be a problem.”

“Well, how long then?”

“It’s really hard to put a number to…”

“Just a ballpark figure, that’s all I want.” Mr. Blickx said somewhat exasperated.

“Okay, at least a year.”

“A year?” replied Mr. Blickx incredulously?

“Maybe longer, it is a difficult problem.”

“Okay then call me when it’s done,” said Mr. Blickx. He turned and left the room. The rest of the team followed him out. Soon, Mr. Simonsen was left alone with the humming computer.

And so it went. Each day Mr. Simonsen would go to his office, note down the number on the screen, and spend the day monitoring the system. Once a week he would take a “snapshot” of the server, all of the data and status of the program, and store it in a secure location off site. That was in case of a disaster, a power loss, an earthquake, a fire. If disaster struck, the last snapshot could be loaded onto new hardware and the run would continue from the last saved state. This went on day after day, week after week, month after month. Soon all of his staff was transferred to other departments to work on other projects. Even his Receptionist/Office Assistant moved on. The space on the fifth floor of the McCormack Research Centre was given over to other projects. Within a few weeks all that was left was Mr. Simonsen alone in one conference room. In it was his desk, a table for backup drives and other equipment, and a workstation with the black screen and the current percentage on it.

In all it took not a year, but eighteen months, for the run to finish. Now, monitoring a server that is not having any problems is boring work. As the days dragged on, Mr. Simonsen more than once wished that he could ask the AI a question. “Would it be ethical to play video games on company time?” “Would it be ethical to sleep on company time?” But the days passed, the weeks passed, the seasons passed, and the number on the screen slowly inched upwards. Finally one day Mr. Simonsen came into the office and the screen said, “100%. What is your question?” He whooped with joy. It was done. Finally the project was complete.

Hurriedly he picked up the phone on his desk to call Mr Blickx. Part of him was pleasantly surprised that it still worked. He hadn’t used the phone in nearly a year. “This is Simonsen, it’s done,” was all he said. Mr. Blickx immediately understood. “Excellent, I will have my secretary contact your core members. We will meet at your office in ten minutes.”

Mr. Simonsen hung up the phone. He was about to try the System himself when he glanced around the room. “Holy crap, I think building maintenance has forgotten I was in here,” he said out loud. Talking to himself was one of the habits he’d picked up from spending his days alone. Overflowing trash cans sat in the corners. Muddy boots were still where he had left them last winter. The floor needed a good sweeping. The stain on the wall where he’d leaned his bicycle was obvious. Several of the lights in the room were even burned out. “I’d better make this place look presentable.” The next ten minutes saw Mr. Simonsen rushing about, cleaning, putting things back where they belonged, running a system snapshot for backup. Hiding a few things that he’s brought in that were not necessarily businesslike or productive. He had just finished when everyone started to arrive.

There was a lot of catching up to do. Some of the team hadn’t seen each other, in months. None of them had seen Mr. Simonsen in almost a year and a half. Quickly the room filled with chatter. Then Mr. Blickx arrived and that would all have to wait. The noise died down and for a moment all was quiet. Then Mr. Blickx barked, “Well, let’s see what all this work was for.”
Mr. Simonsen stepped to his desk. Tapping a few keys awoke his computer. Than touching another button the screen was mirrored on the giant display screen on the wall. “Okay, let me bring up the site,” he said.

“Why can’t you use that one,” commented Mr. Blickx pointing to the workstation where the number had been counting up.

“Oh that one is just for maintenance,” replied Simonsen. “You actually interact with the AI through a web browser.”

A web page appeared on the big screen. It was very simple. The company logo was at the top, and faintly repeated numerous times as a watermark on the background. At the bottom of the page was the company name, address, phone numbers, and other contact information. In the middle of the page was a largish box with the words “What is your question?” just above it.

Mr. Simonsen turned to look at the gathered throng. “So what should be ask it?”

A murmur went through them. “It should be something simple,” came a voice from the back. “Yeah, straightforward,” echoed another. “Something we know the answer to?” suggested a third.

“I’ve got it,” said Mr. Simonsen. Turning back to the keyboard he started typing. “If you accidentally run over your neighbour’s dog, is it ethical to not say anything?” and hit Return.

The box disappeared and was replaced by a tag saying PROCESSING. After a few seconds the AI returned with its answer.
“Don’t Be a Dick” was all it said.

“What the hell is that?” said Mr. Blickx.

“L-L-Let’s try another one,” stammered Mr. Simonsen. How about this? He then typed “Is it ethical to have an affair with some else’s wife?” A few seconds later the answer appeared. “Don’t Be a Dick”. Mr. Blickx grunted and left in disgust while the engineers frantically tried to figure out what had gone wrong. Laptops were opened and logged into the remote server. Samples of source code were poured over trying to find the cause, all to no avail.

An hour passed. Mr. Simonsen was desperate now. “What about other languages? Is this just an english problem?”

“No,” replied LaPlante, the chief Linguist on the team. “There are slight variations in the response between languages. A question in French replies with ‘Ne Sois Pas Merdique’, which means Don’t Be Shitty. Chinese comes back with Bùyào Chéngwéi Máoniú De Húndàn meaning ‘Don’t Be a Yak’s Asshole. Swahili returns Kuwa Bora Kuliko Shitusi meaning ‘Be Better Than Warthog Shit’. Russian replies with Srtop Deystvuyet Kak Konskiy Pin meaning Stop Acting Like A Horse’s Penis. The translations are not perfect. It’s a machine translation so it misses the nuance a person would give it. But the meaning is there. We’ve tried multiple questions in every language we can scrape up. It always gives the same answer for each language, but all of the answers are of a similar vein.”

The room became silent as they all pondered the problem. Suddenly one of the engineers started laughing uncontrollably. It was Geonelli. He was unique among the team. He had a Phd in computer science/computer programming. However he also had a degree in Divinity. In fact he was an ordained Minister and had officiated for two of the team who got married during the project. Now he was laughing almost hysterically. Simonsen rushed over to where he had collapsed and was sitting on the floor.
Grabbing Gionelly by the shoulders he gave him a good shake. “Get ahold of yourself man. What is wrong?” slowly Gionelli got himself under control and climbed to his feet. “Don’t you see“ he finally was able to exclaim. “The AI isn’t broken. It’s working exactly the way we programmed it. It’s doing what we asked.”

“What do you mean?” said Simonsen in shock.

“What are all of these belief systems saying?” asked Gionelli. “They are all saying the same thing. Take the ten commandments. Don’t be a dick, thou shalt not steal. Don’t be a dick, thou shalt not kill. Don’t be a dick, though shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife. The same is true of the writings of Islam or Buddhism, or the oral stories of the Australian Aborigines. Culture, religion, all of this, is based around the need to have rules so people treat each other nicely. Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets. It’s right there in Matthew. The shorthand version of all of that is Just Don’t Be A Dick. It’s the eleventh commandment. No scratch that. It’s the core meaning of the other ten. The rest, the ritual, the treasure, the pomp, the stories, the martyrs, the saints, the various names for God, all of that is just window dressing.” Now Gionelli was nearly hysterical. “The core message is the same for all religions. ‘Be better than warthog shit’. Don’t be a dick. Distilled down, that IS the core of religion, of civilization.”

Gionelli collapsed into a chair still laughing to himself. Everyone else was silent. Finally Simonsen spoke up. “Well at least it’s a damn good thing this isn’t live online. No telling how this would be received if it got out.”

“But Mr. Simonsen, sir,“ came a voice from the back. “It is online. It was programmed to enable the web server as soon as the run was complete. It’s sending the site out through the port we used to access the system remotely from home. That’s how we were able to do the development early in the project. That’s how we were able to test it today.”

Mr. Simonsen spun around to face the screen. Reaching to his computer he scrolled down to the bottom of the page. At the very bottom of the web page, below the company name and up till now below the bottom of the screen was a hit counter tallying up the times the page had been accessed. It said the page had already been loaded fifteen million times. At the rate the counter was moving it would surpass 20 million in the next few minutes. Apparently people had been eagerly waiting for the run to finish. The second it came up someone had seen it, and posted it to Reddit, from there it spread to Facebook, and Twitter. Screen shots went to Pinterest and Instagram, essays about it to Tumblr. By the time Mr. Simonsen got to work it had gone viral. The rest of the world knew about the issue before he did.

“Oh shit,” thought Mr. Simonsen to himself. “Maybe we can tell everyone this was a joke?” he asked hopefully.

Just then someone ran into the room. It was Mr. Blickx Office assistant. “What the hell have you been doing? The phones are jammed. We are getting more hate calls and messages than I’ve ever seen, and it’s all because of your damed religion page.”

“I guess we’d just better just shut it down,” said Mr. Simonsen. Reaching over to the workstation he tapped a few buttons. The screen went blank and the web page on his main computer disappeared, replaced by a 404 Page Not Found error. “With a bit of luck this will blow over in a few days,” he thought.

But it didn’t blow over in a few days. Once the web page was down, stories of what it did and said spread and in the retelling were magnified. The world was filled with outrage at what the site said their religion stood for. The word blasphemy appeared in nearly every corner of the globe. Almost immediately attacks began on Company property, facilities and personnel around the world. Bombings and shootings and violence of all kinds against anyone and anything connected to the company.

All done by people that most assuredly were acting like dicks.


Last month on CBC Ideas they did a documentary on Albert Camus, the Nobel Prize winning author. (étranger-1.4439630 ). He was an interesting character. I learned things I never knew about him. His opposition to capitol punishment. His connection to Algeria. How he died in 1960 almost exactly one year before I was born. I knew none of this, and that is the most disturbing part.

You see in high school we read The Stranger. I hated it. It was dark and confusing and just unpleasant in every way. I slogged my way through it, took the test and went on to other things. The core issue I now realize wasn’t the book. The problem was how it was presented. It was just another book by some french guy that we had to read. In class we discussed novels, the theory, the form, other writers, the history. We had no context, no history, no explanation of The Stranger. It was just a book we had to slog through outside of class and take a test. Can you think of any better way to get people to hate a book or a subject than to dump it on them with no explanation? If I had known who Camus was, that would have made all the difference. Heck, it was 1977 and I was 15. Maybe tell me where Algeria was and why it was so important to France. Then I might have gotten a lot more out of The Stranger. But they didn’t so it was just another hard, unpleasant thing we had to do to graduate.

It was not the material that was at fault. It was how the material was being presented. When you are dealing with young readers you can’t just tell them it’s a classic and assume they will love it. You have to hold their hand, answer their questions, keep the book in context. Explain where the writer is coming from. It’s very easy to forget what it’s like not to know the background, the context of what you’re teaching. The history of an author and a book is intrinsic to the work. For each student it is your one and only opportunity as the teacher to have them get it, to understand, to appreciate what you’re teaching. You’ve got to make sure that they get the context, the history, the beauty of the subject.

Did you know that JRR Tolkien was a foot soldier in World War One? Much of what he wrote for the battle scenes in Lord of the Rings, especially in The Two Towers, came from what he saw in the trenches and on no-mans-land in France. Hand to hand, knife and bayonet, slipping in the mud, and killing to save your own life. The Battle of Helms Deep, The siege of Minus Tirith, and carnage in the alleyways of Osgiliath were shaped by his experiences. Tolkien just replaced knife and bayonet and pistol with sward, and spear, and bow. When Frodo says “It’s a pity that Bilbo didn’t stab him (Gollum) when he had the chance” and Gandalf replies “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?” you know this was a conversation he had, with himself and with others, during those terrible days on the planes of France. It puts the whole book in a different light.

When I was in high school I had a chance to see this from both sides. First I took a Shakespeare class. It was awful. We read the plays aloud, got stuck on the words, got lost in the characters, and muddled our way through. I hated Shakespeare. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Then a year later the Public Broadcasting Service in America started running good quality performances of Shakespeare plays, one a month if I remember correctly. Suddenly, Midsummer Nights Dream, A Comedy of Errors, Hamlet, Henry the Fifth, Macbeth, all came ALIVE. They made sense. The odd words I struggled with just disappeared. I somehow just knew what they meant when said in context. They also introduced each play with a brief explanation of the history, and covering the more difficult parts. The beauty and grace were there to be seen. The meaning was clear. The play was not dead words on a page it was ALIVE. I learned more watching the plays on TV than I ever did in a whole term sitting in my Shakespeare class.

And I guess that’s the point. If you are teaching a subject, literature, mathematics, chemistry, history, whatever, you have to make sure it comes ALIVE. You have to make sure the students see the beauty of it. The excitement of it. You studied the subject for a reason. Transmit that passion to your students. The subject is not numbers, and formula, and words, and data. It is the beauty, the grandeur. That is what you are teaching. The details are just the scaffolding to display that.

Teach the passion and the details will follow.

Apple’s Mouse Curse

Why can’t Apple make a good mouse?

OK, that may be a bit strong. They have made some great mice. But every mouse they’ve produced has always had a fatal flaw. Never the same flaw mind you. But they seem to be incapable of making a mouse without some major issue.

Apple was the first to introduce a mouse into the consumer computer world. It was great, so much better than the keyboard commands everyone else, from MSDOS, to Commodore, were using to get your computer to do things.

 The trouble was, the original AppleMouse was, to be honest, the shape and size of a pack of cigarettes. It was about as comfortable to use as sliding a box of smokes around the table. But, hey it was the first and you have to expect some flaws with groundbreaking technology.

Apple came back with the AppleMouse II

The AppleMouse II was a great improvement. Vastly more comfortable to use. OK it was still a ball mouse, but optical mice were some years in the future. The problem with it was, at that point most mice in the Windows world had two buttons. Primary click and then an assortment of special “right-click” functions. You could get the same functions by holding down the, if I remember correctly, the Open-Apple key. But wasn’t the point of the mouse to get away from keyboard commands? And I haven’t even mentioned the other workstations, Sun for example, and aftermarket mice that had several buttons.

Later Apple moved over to optical mice, but still with one button. Most mice had, in addition to two buttons, also adopted the Windows scroll wheel. This was a vastly useful device for moving up and down through a document or graphic. It was great. It was very conspicuously not from Apple. It was during this period that I started buying my mice from MacAlly. First just two button mice. Later on I was getting two button USB mice with a scroll wheel. They were inexpensive, durable, two buttons and a scroll wheel, and you could even change the cover so they glowed in red or blue or green or smoke. They were great. It just felt weird that I would buy a new Mac and as soon as it arrived replace the brand new mouse from Apple with one from somebody else.

Then Apple decided to get really creative. They came up with the Puck Mouse.

I have to admit that when I first saw pictures of the puck mouse I thought it was cool. One main button and those two coloured things on the sides were Alt-Function buttons, and then the Apple Logo at the top was a track ball for scrolling. Only they weren’t. The colours were just decorations. The Apple Logo was just an Apple Logo. It was still a one button mouse, still without a scroll wheel. Keep in mind that by this point mice had evolved into a huge variety of forms. Two-three-four-five-even six button mice. Trackballs had appeared. The first trackpads appeared. And yet Apple was still selling a one button mouse. Worse yet the Puck Mouse had a huge ergonomic issue. The cord would push it around. You’d grab it only to find the cursor going crazy because the mouse was sideways and you couldn’t tell what direction it was facing without looking. Functionally the Puck Mouse worked adequately, despite it’s limitations. The fact you ALWAYS had to stop and look to make sure it was facing the right way however made it a royal pain. After a few days of really trying to like it, it went into my unused Apple mouse box.

Apple made a number of mice in the following years. I didn’t follow them too closely to be honest. I had moved from desktop Macs to PowerBooks and then MacBooks. The TrackPad worked very well and on the rare occasion I needed a mouse I’d just pull out whatever generic USB mouse I had in my parts bin.

Then last fall I retired my MacBook Pro and bought an iMac. It came with a Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse II.
 As a mouse, the MagicMouse is fantastic. It has two buttons. OK you can’t see any but you can both right and left click. And in place of a scroll wheel it has a touch space so you can scroll up and down AND side to side. This is the best mouse I have ever used. Well, mostly. Functionally it’s great. I love working with it. But the thing is, it’s a BlueTooth mouse. Don’t get me wrong, I love not having a cord. The freedom is great. It does mean however, that it requires recharging, and that’s where the problem lies.

Who in the hell thought it was a good idea to put the plug on the bottom? It means that the mouse is unusable while charging. The Magic Keyboard has a plug on the front. You don’t have to lay it down its back to charge. You can keep using it while it’s charging. Why the hell didn’t they think of this with the MagicMouse?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because Apple is cursed. Apparently, many years ago, Apple offended some all-powerful being who cursed it with being unable to get a mouse right. The Macs are great. iPhones are great. MacBooks are great. Their keyboards and other accessories are great. But Apple cannot make a mouse without a fatal flaw.

It’s Apple’s curse.


Yes, 2017 has been a wild ride. Three trips to the states. Ruth’s funeral. Mary’s funeral. An eclipse. Reduced hours for a while at work. Then late in the year Overtime. Two plays. Catching up with my cousin I hadn’t seen in at least 40 years. It’s been exhausting. Done with my iPad and Procreate for the tree and Graphic on my iMac for everything else.

On the Psychology of Donald Trump

To understand Donald Trump you need to understand how he thinks. And to understand that you need to understand his history.

Donald Trump’s psyche was shaped by the excesses of the Go-Go ‘80s. In the ‘80s a lot of young wannabe entrepreneurs were out to get rich fast. It was a time of cut throat business. A very freudian period and subculture where one’s status, one’s virility, one’s very standing as a man was all based on “winning”. There were “winners” and “losers”. For this group, business was not about giving a good product or service to people and make them happy. To this subculture business was about getting the upper hand. Deals for these people were not viewed as mutually beneficial to both partners. Each tried to come out on top, of their opponent. To do whatever was needed to “win”. Being benevolent was for losers. Charity for suckers. Ethics for chumps. While most of society made fun off these guys in their Gucci suits and pink ties, inside the subculture, respect went to whomever had the biggest and most flashy apartment, car, or trophy wife. Respect from customers wasn’t even on their radar. Whatever you did, you had to be top dog and anything you had to do to get there was acceptable, ethical or not, legal or not. It was a way of viewing the world only slightly more refined than that of a street gang. This was the mindset that lead to the Saving’s and Loan meltdown, to Iran Contra, and later when these people were a bit older, to Enron. It was this environment that shaped Donald Trump’s view of the world.

Donald Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal” is all about this concept of doing business. Of winners and losers and screwing the other guy because he was your opponent. Not an other businessman to deal with, but an enemy to be beaten. One of Trump’s biggest deals of the time was polishing up and unloading a decrepit hotel in Atlantic City on Merv Griffin for far more than it was worth. A deal that helped to drive Griffin toward bankruptcy, and one Trump would laugh and brag about in the following years. Unlike most of his compatriots however, Trump never grew up. He still thinks all deals must be one way. He has to win AND just as importantly, the other party must lose. So when Trump says that the Paris climate accord, or the Trans Pacific Partnership, or NAFTA, or Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba “Was the worst deal”, he is viewing it through these glasses. Because the US did not end up “winning”, coming out way ahead and the other party or parties did not end up subservient to the US, he thinks the deals were terrible. This is his blind side. He has no concept of how diplomacy or international relations work. He cannot comprehend a deal that is mutually beneficial, and especially not one that will be hard on all but is for the common good.

This is why he can praise Saudi Arabia for imposing sanctions on Qatar because they supposedly are sponsoring terrorist organizations while SIMULTANEOUSLY selling Qatar billions of dollars in weapons. He views these as separate deals, that both give advantage to the US. He does not, and cannot see how one would affect the other. It is why he is unable to deal with Congress. He thinks he can show some muscle, talk to them like he talked to his staff and they will fall in line. The idea that they have their own constituents and have no need to be grovelling at his feet is beyond him. The Trump name has carried so much cachet that he thinks that he just has to snap his fingers and things will happen. This is why he is trying to schmooze the former FBI director and various prosecutors to get cases dropped or to roll the way he wants. He thinks of America as his company now, and in his companies he has always been able to just order whatever he wanted to happen. He has no understanding of the principle of Separation of Powers in government. This is why he is so offended when his Executive Orders were stopped by the courts. He is unable to comprehend that a judge can rule something he ordered is unconstitutional. The idea that the Constitution is above him, in his mind the CEO of America, is totally outside of his world view. He cannot comprehend it. Donald Trump is motivated by power. He sought the Presidency because he thought it would give him absolute power. Now that he is encountering roadblocks to his perceived power, he has no idea of what he actually should do. So he blusters, he Tweets, he demands things, he threatens, he makes matters worse and worse.

Most telling, after Trump has cancelled each of the major treaties or laws he has immediately said “I will negotiate a better deal”. He has no concept of the fact that those WERE the best deals possible. Yes the Paris accord was bad for the US coal industry, but the alternative is far worse for the US and everyone. Paris would not have happened without those promises. Yes the TPP and NAFTA made the US accept foreign products without tariffs, but that was so the US could have access to markets elsewhere in the world. That access would not have happened without reciprocal access for foreign companies. Yes Obamacare is flawed, but it took twenty years for even that to be agreed upon. It can be refined but if Trump gets his way and it is scrapped he will long have passed from this mortal coil before anything is put in its place. These laws and treaties took years, in some cases decades of negotiation. Negotiation that required all sides to give up something. There is simply no way Trump can walk in and demand terms. He will be laughed out of the room. That is if the other leaders even bother to show up. Trump is not respected by modern business leaders and similarly Trump is not respected by other world leaders. More and more he’s not respected or even listened to by members of Congress or even the American people. They all understand that he is an anachronism. Someone as out of place as a black clad gunslinger would be in today’s Dodge City Kansas. Someone as obsolete and beyond his depth as a Conquistador would be if he landed and tried to claim Ft. Lauderdale. He is America’s Silvio Berlusconi.

In the real world of modern business, it is understood that shortsighted pursuit of “winning” is in the long run a near guarantee of losing. Almost all of the people that engaged in that behaviour have learned their lessen and adopted ethical business practices, or are out of business, or are in jail for fraud or smuggling. The notable exception is Donald Trump who, after being tabloid fodder and a reality TV star, has accepted the image he crafted as fact. He has fallen for his own publicity. He is operating under the delusion that he is a good businessman. The delusion that he can rule by decree as he did in his company. The delusion that all he needs to do is flash the President Trump business card and he will be able to replace the results of years of diplomacy and negotiation with deals that make other countries grovel at the feet of the US. None of that will happen. It is a total fantasy, a delusion bordering on psychosis.

Donald Trump is delusional, that much is without question. In his delusion however, are the seeds of untold amounts of, criminality, death, and misery, for people in the US and the world. The real tragedy however, is that Trump, like most delusional people, does not understand that he is delusional. Worse yet, his children and his sycophants, are also apparently incapable of understanding that he is dangerously delusional. They are gladly following orders like good Germans in 1943, oblivious to the long term consequences of their actions for America or the world.

And that is the path that leads from the merely delusional, to true evil.


I have an admission. I find gentrification to be very offensive. Not however, for the reason most that use it do.

You see gentrification is most often used by people protesting a new business, a new apartment complex, a new development that happens in an older area. They will decry how it will “ruin” the character of the neighbourhood. They will protest how it will drive out existing residents. How it will impact the “character” and the “culture” of the area. Gentrification is always presented bad thing. How it’s hard on the poor. How it destroys the feel of these areas. To that I have but one thing to say:


You see the whole argument about this is based on a fallacy. Its based on the idea that neighbourhoods stay the same forever. That’s simply absurd. No collection of humans, be it a city, town, village, neighbourhood, or street corner is static. People come and go. Children grow up and move off. New families move in. Businesses are started, go for a while and then close. New businesses open in those same store fronts. Buildings go up, wear out, and are either remodelled or replaced. Needs and functions of the society change. Meanwhile the people living there may believe its always been the way they remember, but it simply isn’t the case. It’s just that they can’t see beyond their own small horizon. The short time they’ve lived there, even if it’s been their whole life is not long enough to see the changes. Harlem in New York has, over the years, gone from a primarily dutch area, to the jewish and eastern european part of town, to one populated by african americans. It has gone from a thriving area in the 1920’s and ’30’s where the top celebrities went to see the best shows, to a slum in the 1950’s and 60’s where only the most desperate struggled to survive, often waging war over turf, and now its on its way back up. A hundred years ago the Gateway District in Minneapolis was home to bars, flop houses, drunks, and misery. It was LITERALLY known as Skid Row. Now its filled with upscale eateries, condominiums, and young professionals who want to live within walking distance to their jobs downtown or at the University.

Neighbourhoods evolve. That cannot be stopped. It can only be guided.

Because change cannot be stopped, this means that an area can only go one of two ways. It can get better or it can get worse. Both will result in people relocating, businesses closing and opening. It is inevitable that the “character” of the neighbourhood will change. What’s more, if we do not work to make it better, then entropy takes over and it will get worse. Businesses will close, and unless someone wants to put some effort in, nothing will open to replace them. Buildings will wear out, and unless someone wants to invest, nothing will be built in their place. If we let an area sit with few thriving businesses, and worn out buildings, and marginal services, then the people that make an area thrive will move away. This is how slums are made.

One of the weakest arguments put forward by those protesting gentrification, is that it will push out the most vulnerable. The addicts, the poor, the handicapped, who will have nowhere else to go. This is a very offensive argument, first because I don’t remember protests about people being driven out when affluent areas decayed. But suddenly there’s all this whining about how important it is to preserve the neighbourhood. Now that its the poor part of town populated by poor minorities, now they want to preserve its “historic charactor”.

I remember all the talk about “white flight” when the centres of US cities were allowed to decay in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Most of those people would rather have not moved but the lack of support from the local, city, or state governments made it untenable. When the schools are allowed to rot, families with children will move. When transit is allowed to falter, working people will go somewhere else where they can catch a bus or subway. Without thriving neighbourhoods, businesses look elsewhere to invest. Without adequate policing and attention from the city, crime, vandalism, and decay will spread and take over. It is a vicious cycle.

More importantly, the idea that this is the only place for “those people” at risk, is inhuman on the face of it, and often overtly racist. I know of no other epithet to use when a bunch of white kids from the suburbs are protesting to “protect” an area populated by poor minorities. Protect it, and them, from what? Becoming affluent? Receiving basic services? The opportunity to get as job? A good standard of living? The chance not to live in a dilapidated slum? If an area improves than the services in that area also get better. Believe me, drug abuse treatment is much more available in affluent areas than it is in the poor neighbourhoods. Job training and availability is much better in areas with higher standards of living. By preserving these decayed neighbourhoods, all these “activists” are doing is to keep the walls of economic apartheid up. They are acting like they are anthropologists and these people are some primitive culture that needs to be preserved. That’s racist and offensive.

Poverty, addiction, and misery are not a lifestyle.

One time when I was a kid, we were at a park on the Oregon coast. The people in the car next to us were an older couple from the UK who were travelling the world. We chatted with them about their travels, what they had seen. They had been everywhere it seemed. At one point the subject of India came up. We commented about the terrible poverty there, the misery, the disease, the starvation. They replied that “It is awful yes, but of course you know they like it that way. Something in the Indian mind doesn’t want to live like you or I.” Even as a kid I found this patronizing colonial attitude horrible. I was reminded of this a couple of years ago when there were protests in West Vancouver. An upscale restaurant was trying to open and there were pickets and protests about this “Gentrification” and how people needed to stand up and prevent the destruction of the neighbourhood. I was sickened. I was sickened by the colonial double standard. An attitude that “Yes West Van is miserable, and drugs are rampant, and people are literally dying in alleys, but that’s their culture, they like it that way, and its wrong to try to change it.” Sickened by the attitude that a functional upscale business would be the worst thing that could happen. That someone wanting to invest in a neighbourhood and maybe make it better for all concerned was doing something wrong.

No, giving someone, or a group, or an area, a hand when they need it isn’t gentrification, it’s basic decency. In this case it wasn’t even giving them a hand. It was one person who wanted to open a business and maybe it would be a seed of improving things for everyone. Yet he was treated like absolute scum, his property was vandalized, pickets blocked his customers, and I believe he was finally forced to close. Well done, you hypocrite assholes managed to keep the area miserable for another year. I hope the protesters were proud of themselves as they drove OUT of West Van and back to their homes in affluent neighbourhoods and suburbs. I hope they opened a nice $100 bottle of wine and raised a glass to a job well done, as they sat down to their dinner. I hope they were satisfied sitting in their warm home while another homeless junkie died of exposure in a cold West Van alley.

And that is my impression of the whole idea of protesting about “gentrification”. Hypocritical bullshit by pampered, spoiled suburban kids that never had to worry about their next meal. So if you tell me this or that project is bad because it is Gentrification, don’t be surprised if I walk away in disgust at YOUR attitude.

Stand up for The Right

It is not censorship to shout down the censors.
It is not intolerance to reject the intolerant.
It is not bias to stand against the biased.
It is not bullying to ostracize the bullies.
It is not bigotry to condemn the bigots.
It is not hate to despise the hateful.
It is not racist to confront racists.
They have the right to free speech
So do you.
You have the right to tell them they’re being a dick.
You have the right to tell them they’re being stupid.
You have the right to tell them to sit down and shut up.
As Barry Goldwater, one of America’s last real conservatives said:
Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice!
Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

Gambling or Investing

Let me state for the record that I don’t gamble. I don’t play the lottery, or go to a casino, or play poker, or contribute to the office pool on this or that sporting event. Oh it isn’t through some misguided belief in the morality or anything like that. No, I don’t gamble because, I don’t win. I just don’t. In the past when I DID partake occasionally I never won. I mean never. NEVER hit a lottery jackpot or poker pot, or anything. I don’t think I’ve won a game of poker even if we were only betting chips. I just don’t win.

What this really meant became obvious in the late 1990s. Everyone’s attention was riveted on the O.J. Simpson trial. On the day the verdict was to be read someone in the office suggested we put some money on it. So I put $5 on convict, because, well, there was no way in hell they could rule any other way. And then he was acquitted. This was when I realized something. Not only do I not win, my betting on something will change the outcome so that I lose. The Universe sees to it that I do not win.

It’s a terrible power to have.

Since then I’ve been very careful about betting. I’ve quietly done some further experiments and made a discovery: Karma is a tricky SOB. You see when I bet on something I lose. Even if it’s a sure thing, I lose. Even if there’s no way in the world it could happen, I lose. But farther, suppose I want one outcome if I put money on the other side, bet against myself as it were, the side I really want to win, won’t. I may “win” the bet but there Universe saw through my ruse and sees to it that I really still lose. This is why I did not put any money on the last US election. If I had bet on Clinton winning she would have lost. If I had put money on Trump winning, the Universe would have known I was betting against myself, and Trump would have won. In the end he did win, but at least it wasn’t my fault.

Which brings me to the most popular form of betting there is today; investing in the market. For the last few years an investment councillor named Mark Ting has appeared on On The Coast, CBC Radio-1 Vancouver’s afternoon drive time show. He’s there to give financial advice, investing advice, retirement advice, and tax advice. That’s all fine and good but as I sit in the car listening to him, I keep thinking one thing.

I don’t invest.

You see I view investing in the same class as gambling and I don’t gamble because I don’t win. Yes, I know a lot of people that say they have a system, I know a lot of people who have a foolproof strategy to succeed at investing. I also know a lot of people who have a foolproof way to win at Blackjack. The psychology is the same, as is the outcome; overall they lose. A few examples

  • My folks bought into a mutual fund in the sixties and made regular monthly contributions for the next twenty five years. When they cashed it in at retirement in the nineties, they had about what they had invested, minus fees. They would have been better off putting the money in a jar.
  • In the eighties I had a friend that was sure his investments would put him on easy street. It was the Go-Go eighties and “Retire at Forty”, was his plan. That lasted until the crash of 1987, and the Savings and Loan meltdown wiped him out. As far as I know, he’s still working.
  • In there nineties a coworker was heavily into investing. When he decided to cash in some of it to buy a house he discovered that his investments were not liquid. They would not give him his own money back when he needed it. He didn’t get the house
  • In the early 2000’s I knew a guy who was really into Day Trading. That lasted until the big dot com bubble popped and he lost his shirt, (and nearly his job because he had been doing it on the company computer during the day).
  • Then there was my cousin. A decade or two back he invested in his buddies oil exploration company. Over the years the value went up and up. Things were looking great. I talked to him this winter. The company has gone bust. His $20,000 investment is now worth $200. It cost him more to fill out the tax forms than his holdings were worth.


The fact is I have never known anyone that actually won in the market.

Over the years I’ve seen a few companies that I thought might be a good investment. Most every time I thought about it, and especially if I looked into it, the company would crash. Either they would run into a problem and collapse, or it would get bought out and vanish, or it would turn out to be a scam. Add to this how the press is full of Ponzi schemes, and this fraud, and that scam and I just do not take the risk.

In the late 1990’s my wife wanted to buy stock in Apple Computer. It was trading at I think $12 a share at the time and she wanted to get 100 shares. I hemmed and hawed about it but in the end I just couldn’t do it. Oh sure if we had, between stock splits and value increases we would be sitting on something like a million dollars right now. (My wife is happy to mention this at every opportunity.) But I know that if I had bought even a single share, Apple would have immediately collapsed. There would have been no iMac, no iPhone, no iPad, no amazing rise from the ashes. Apple would have gone the way of Gateway Computer and Amiga Computer. And it would have happened just because I had bought stock in it. I single handedly could have changed the future of the world for the worse.

Someone once suggested that, rather than buying individual stocks, I should put money into a market index fund. A fund that tracks the whole US economy. I thought about it. Then there was the early 1990s recession. And I knew I would be playing with fire. If I bet on the health of the whole US economy, then the whole US economy would go down the tubes. I could single handedly wipe out the country, just by buying a few dollars worth of stock. Imagine the stress that would put ME under. I can destroy corporate empires, make thousands go without food, obliterate whole industries, just by investing in them. It is a terrible power to have.

It’s better for all concerned that I don’t.

What I’d like to do is find someone, some investment company or bank that would pay me to do nothing. I’m not asking much. $3000/month and I won’t even look at the financial pages. Consider it insurance. But so far that idea has gone nowhere. It’s too bad too. I really thought it would work. I would have put money on it.

North Dakota Mountain Men

You may have heard
Of the Rocky Mountains
Or the Smokey Mountains
But have you heard of the mountains
In North Dakota, the Great Flat Mountains.

Running from Fargo to Bismarck
As far north as Winnipeg
They tower over very little
But are majestic just the same
Their peaks are covered in snow
From November till May

There’s a special brand of people
The North Dakota Mountain Men
Clad in walking shoes and floppy hats
They go striding across the plane.
Looking for adventure
Trying to avoid the rain

Back in the summer of ought nine it was
There was a big old controversy
Every Mountain Man had planted a flag in a different county
Claimed to have found the highest spot in North Dakota
And every one of them was right

And then there was the big flood of ninety eight.
Heavy winter snow and spring rains left the whole region under water.
It was a lake across two states and two provinces.
Mountain Men still talk about it
The year their ankles got wet.

But to be a North Dakota Mountain Man you have to be tough
Have to be able to handle the worst that nature can throw at you
Winter cold, summer heat
Boredom, ennui, apathy, lethargy, monotony, flatness.
It’s a kaleidoscope of experiences being a North Dakota Mountain Man

But the North Dakota Mountain Man is a dying breed
Their numbers are declining, they’re fading away
The young folk just don’t feel the call
They’re lured by the modern world
By computers, and airplanes, and air conditioning
Indoor toilets, regular meals, basic hygiene.

But, here’s to the North Dakota Mountain Men
Men who lived by their own rules, their own code
Or maybe they were just too stubborn to ask for directions.