Don’t Confuse Voter Apathy with Voter Despair

Whether or not you’re pleased with the outcome of the recent Nova Scotia provincial election, you have to be concerned with the low voter turnout. Only 53.5% of eligible voters cast a ballot. This has politicians and pundits scratching their heads. Don Mills, chairman and CEO of the market research firm Corporate Research Associates summed it up in a CBC interview: “It’s very difficult to understand,” Mills said. “Honestly, I don’t get it.”

Mills also tweeted, “Is it time to institute mandatory voting based on declining voter turnout in Nova Scotia? I am beginning to think so.”

Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Egypt and eighteen other populous countries now have mandatory voting. Considering the sociopolitical climates and economic status of the countries on this list, it’s more than fair to say that forcing citizens to vote does not produce balanced governance.

In fact, one might argue that obliging citizens to vote is counter to the very notion of democracy.

There will always be a segment of the population who just don’t care about governance. Apathy, however doesn’t account for the abysmal voter turnout in Nova Scotia’s 2017 election. There is a growing sense of despair among many Nova Scotians; a sense that the political flavour of the government makes no real difference at the end of the day. Since 1758, the people of Nova Scotia have chosen one political party after another – mainly Liberal and Conservative.

Historically the Liberals have stayed in power until they anger the voters and lose the house to the Conservatives for a term or two. Then the Liberals get elected again for another try. Then the Conservatives … the Liberals … Conservatives … Liberals … ad nauseam.

The common thread that remains woven, unbroken, throughout every term is disappointment. Time after time, generation after generation, Nova Scotia voters elect new governments, hoping for change, buying into new promises of prosperity, equality, accountability and transparency. Time after time, their patience wears thin. It’s no surprise that after ten or more generations of this cyclical behavior, hope has faded. Would-be voters have finally come to the realization that it makes very little difference which party gets elected. Voters are giving up. This is not disinterest or apathy. This is despair.

When almost half of the electorate can’t be bothered to vote, they are sending a message. And it’s not directed at one party or another. The message is clear: The current partisan style of government does not work. We’ve been using the same system since 1758. We have 259 years of data to show how ineffective this tug-of-war really is. The adversarial nature of our legislature is counterproductive, if not destructive.

The actions of politicians in the house of assembly and the language used by candidates while campaigning clearly indicates that their priorities and allegiances lie with their parties, not with the people they are supposed to represent. Most of their energy is devoted to eroding the credibility of  the party that poses the greatest threat to their hold on power.

Rather than forcing citizens to vote, perhaps the time has come to force our elected officials to abandon the competitive practices that are so entrenched in the partisan culture. If politicians were more collaborative and less combative, voters would feel a sense of purpose and pick up their pencils on election day.

 

7. Condition Orange

“I need something I can tuck into my pants and pull out quickly. Nothing bulky or heavy. And it has to be inconspicuous. I don’t want anybody to notice that I’m carrying a cons… ” Anton’s brain halted his mouth before the adjective could be fully formed. It sounded as though the sentence was interrupted by a cough.

The clerk behind the counter had no trouble finishing. “… concealed weapon.”

Anton’s neck disappeared as he tried to pull his head down into his body in a remarkably turtle-like manner. His eyes darted around the sporting goods department. His fight-or-flight response was in full overdrive. His arms and legs tensed, his pupils were fully dilated, and he held his breath, waiting for an unseen threat to rush in from the blackness beyond his peripheral vision.

The clerk sat on the stool behind the counter, curiously watching Anton’s reaction. “It’s none of my business where you keep your weapon, but wherever you conceal it, in your sock, in your pants, in your jacket, whatever, just make sure it’s C-3.”

Anton relaxed a little. He squinted and tilted his head in a way that is universally understood to mean, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“C-3. Condition-three.” The clerk produced a handgun, seemingly our of thin air, and slapped an empty clip into the base of the handle and set it down hard on the counter. “The full clip is inserted in the gun, but there’s no round in the chamber. It’s convenient and relatively safe. Condition-three.”

“Got it.”

“No, you don’t got it, Poindexter. You see, my cousin used to keep his Glock-Thirty tucked in the back of his pants. He thought he got it too. He was the nervous sort, like you; twitchy, always on edge. I can see it in your face – you’re just like him. Trouble seemed to follow him like a shadow. He always kept his piece C-1, as they say; a round in the chamber, ready to rock’n’roll. What my cuz didn’t understand is that Condition-one is colossally stupid unless you live in Bagdad or East L.A or frequent the Tijuana nightclub scene. One afternoon, at a ball game, my cousin gets some bad sauerkraut.”

“Sauerkraut?”

“Yeah. On a sausage. It gives him real bad cramps.”

“How do know it wasn’t the sausage? It’s more likely that it was a bad sausage. Sauerkraut is pickled. It’s unlikely that it went bad.”

The clerk grabbed the pistol and ejected the clip. “Are you gonna listen to my allegory?”

“Sorry.”

“So about fifteen minutes after eating the bad sauerkraut, my cousin makes a panic run to the toilets. He’s in a bad way, you know; sweating, doubling over with cramps. Not thinking clear, he rushes into the stall and drops his pants real fast. The Glock-thirty that was tucked into the back of his pants falls out. As usual, he was all jumped up on amphetamines so his reflexes were tack sharp – like a ninja, he actually catches the Glock before it hits the floor.”

“Impressive.”

“Not really. He had some really greasy onion-rings too, so when he catches the Glock, it slips …”

Anton rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “Wait, wait, wait. Onion rings? At a ball game?”

“Yeah. Onion rings. What is your problem?”

Anton shrugged. “I’m a statistician.”

The clerk stared silently at Anton. “Interrupt me one more time, Poindexter.”

“Sorry.”

“As I was saying … he had just been eating some greasy onion-rings. So when he caught the Glock, it slipped out of his hand like a bar of wet soap. He ends up kind of juggling the pistol. Every time he catches it, three or four times, it slips again. Then on the last catch his greasy little finger slips right in over the trigger. In C-3 this wouldn’t have been a problem. But in condition-one …”

“Bang.”

“Yeah. Bang. My cousin’s branch of the family tree won’t get any longer, if you know what I mean.”

The clerk gave a sad little chuckle, half closed his eyes, and shook his head. Anton waited for a punchline. It never came.

“This is the fourth generation Glock-Twenty-six, also known as the Baby-Glock. But don’t be fooled by the name. It’s not as devastating as my cousin’s Glock-Thirty, but it’ll get your point across. Small, light, fast, and…”

“Does it come with bullets?”

The clerk snickered. “Right, your first gun. I’ll tell you what … I’ll throw in a box of rounds.”

Anton put on his tough face; narrow, steely eyes, flattened lips, clenched jaw. “I’d prefer bullets, if it’s okay with you.”

The clerk stared strait into Anton’s face with a seriousness that was several orders of magnitude beyond anything Anton could ever aspire to achieve. Anton shuffled nervously. After only a few seconds he conceded with a timid, uncomfortable smile.

The clerk spoke without blinking. “We call them rounds, Poindexter. If you keep calling them bullets, somebody will kill you and take your lunch money.” He placed the pistol on the glass top of the display case and slid it across to Anton. “The Baby-Glock holds ten rounds in the clip and one round in the chamber.”

“Condition-one.”

The clerk nodded approvingly. “Five points for Poindexter. You catch on quick.”

Anton held the Glock-Twenty-six, turning it over in his hands, examining it like a museum artifact.

“It’s heavy.”

“Yeah. The weight should remind you of what you really have in your hand: Power. Life. Death. A weapon like that only has one purpose.”

Anton held it very still. “Right. To kill.”

The clerk reached out and took the pistol from Anton’s hand. “No, moron. You just lost your only five points. Statistician my ass. Persuasion, Poindexter, persuasion. A good weapon will harmlessly persuade any sane person to see things your way. That’s its only purpose – not to kill. Killing is what humans do with their minds; that’s a decision we have to consciously make. A weapon is an inanimate object, like a road sign or a stapler, or a shoe.”

Anton stepped back. “What if I show them the gun, but they still don’t see things my way?”
The clerk put the Baby-Glock back in the display case drawer and locked it. “A gun can’t make decisions. It can’t act. It can’t kill. That’s not it’s purpose. Your mind is the only thing in the universe that is equipped to make decisions. You base your actions on those decisions. You either decide to pull the trigger or you decide not to. Like I said, killing is what humans do with their minds.”

“But the gun is the facilitates killing.”

“A butter knife facilitates killing. Killing is always possible. I could punch you in the throat or flatten you with my truck. I don’t need a gun. I have the most terrifying and devastating killing machine ever conceived of, right here under my hat. ”
Anton had heard enough.  He held out his hand. “Thank you. I appreciate your time. I have to think about this.”

The clerk shook Anton’s hand. “You never did tell me why.”

“Why?”

“Why are you here? What made you come looking for a handgun?”

Anton looked at the clock on the wall behind the counter. “I already told you. You just don’t remember.”

The clerk let go of Anton’s hand. In the span of one breath his posture changed from relaxed and friendly to defensive and alert.

Anton smiled. “Condition-orange.”

The colour drained from the clerk’s face. He reached his right hand behind his back, but before he could pull the Glock-Thirty from his waist band, Anton was pointing a fourth generation Glock-Twenty-six at his face. Anton’s hand was steady and his eyes were fixed on the clerk’s.

“You had me fooled Poindexter. Fifty points for that outstanding performance. You look too prep-school for a cop. ”

“I’m not a cop. I really am a statistician. Put your hands up.”

“Okay. Easy does it. How’d you get the Baby-Glock from the display case. I was watching you the whole time.”

Anton smiled. “I bought it from you.”

The clerk’s voice was pitching up. “Me? No. I’ve never seen you before today.”

Anton kept the Glock trained on the clerk. “Yes you have. And you haven’t. It’s complicated.”

“There you go Poindexter. See. The weapon is working, just like I said. I am very willing to see things your way now.”

Anton took his finger off the trigger and stepped back a couple of feet, pointing the gun away from the clerk’s face. “Do you know anything about quantum theory?”

The clerk’s bottom lip began to quiver slightly. “Are you fucking kidding me? Afghanistan. Chechnya. Serbia. And this … this is how I die? Shot by a crazy-ass mathematician because I didn’t finish high school? No, professor Dexter, I can’t even spell quantics.”

“Slowly unlock and open the display case drawer. Then take out the Baby-Glock and put it on the counter. Nice and slow.”

“You’ll shoot me.”

“I won’t shoot you.”

“You will. I’ll put my hand on the Glock and you’ll ask me about quadratics and I’ll get the answer wrong and you’ll shoot me in the face.”

“I won’t shoot you.”

“Then why don’t you put the gun down?”

“Because I need it to persuade you to see things my way.”

“Dammit. You’re good at this.” The clerk slowly took the Baby-Glock out of the drawer and placed it on the glass counter top in front of Anton.

“Take that slippery Glock-Thirty out of your pants and unload it, including the round in the chamber; I want condition-four, Castrati. And be careful not to fumble it this time.”

A rush of colour welled up around the clerk’s neck, cheeks, and forehead. “Castrati? How do you know …”

“I’ll explain later. Now, I’m going to put my Baby-Glock on the counter top next to the other one, and you’re going to continue to see things my way.”

The clerk nodded. Anton dropped the clip from the handle of the pistol and pulled the bolt back to eject the round from the chamber before setting it on the counter next to the identical Glock twenty-six. He slid them both toward the clerk. “Look.”

“What am I looking at?”

“The serial numbers.”

The clerk examined the numbers of both Baby-Glock pistols and looked up at Anton. “They’re the same. But that’s not possible.”

Anton smiled. “Five points for Castrati.”

Murrant’s Rant: DST (Dog Standard Time)

Originally Published on November 5, 2015 (http://southshorebreaker.ca/2015/11/10/murrants-rant-dst-dogs-standard-time/)

What do Arizona, Hawaii and my dog all have in common? Give up? None of them observe Daylight Saving Time. I think they’re onto something. For them, it’s business as usual year round. In fact, four-fifths of the Earth’s humans, and five-fifths of the non-humans, don’t bother to spring-ahead or fall-back.

Contrary to popular belief, the concept of Daylight Saving Time had nothing to do with farmers. In fact, farmers in the early 20th century protested against DST — and with good reason. Try explaining to a herd of dairy cows that they have to wait an extra hour to be milked.

Even Benjamin Franklin, erroneously credited with inventing Daylight Savings, never intended for us to change our clocks. His suggestion, after a late night in Paris, only to be woken by a too-early dawn, was that we adjust our sleep and activity to coincide with seasonal changes in the daylight.

Modern Daylight Savings Time began as means to conserve resources during the first and second world wars. Electric lights were inefficient. Businesses were encouraged to operate during daylight hours, leaving more coal, oil and electricity available to be used in the factories that produced goods for the war effort. An ideal solution at the time — but times have changed.

Today, in a world that never sleeps, with offices and factories that operate around the clock, when more and more of our energy comes from renewable resources, we need to stop and ask: What are we really saving by changing our clocks twice a year? Sure, we enjoy an extra hour of sleep in October, but we have to give it back in April. It’s more of a Daylight Loan than a Saving — and it’s a high interest loan, considering that it takes a few days for most people to adjust to the time change; a few cranky and relatively unproductive days.

Maybe it’s time to do away with Daylight Savings Time and stick with one time, all year round: Dog Standard Time.

Murrant’s Rant: The Bay of Absurdity

Originally Published on September 10, 2015, The Cape Breton Star 

I’m not an economist.  I guess that’s why the logic behind the Nova Star Ferry eludes me.  As you may have read recently in the news, we (taxpayers) are well on our way to spending $13-million this year to keep the Nova Star running between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine.  Oh, and we mustn’t forget the $28-million we spent last year.

This is excellent news … for the residents of Maine.  According to the Portland Press Herald, “Nova Star will use Portland as its home port. That means Portland-area vendors will be supplying fuel and services”.

But it’s good for Nova Scotia, too, right?  The Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership estimated that a season with one hundred-thousand visitors would pump $16.3-million into our economy.  Well, it would, but last year we only saw about sixty-thousand visitors and we are on target for about the same again this year.  Based on that, with my limited math skills, I figure that each Nova Star visitors contribute less than $10-million to our economy each year.

Now, compare that to Sydney.

Almost one hundred-thousand visitors will arrive in Sydney on cruise ships this year; similar to last year and the year before.  According to the Port of Sydney, cruise ship activity will contribute about $27-million to the local economy.

It stands to reason that if the provincial government were to budget tens of millions for the Port of Sydney, like they have for the Nova Star in Yarmouth, the investment would result in an even greater boost to the provincial economy.  But, alas, I’m just a writer – not an economist.

Room 101

“George Orwell’s 1984 has always been a favorite of mine. Michael Radford’s 1984 adaptation is a masterpiece.  So in 1992, with a room full of synthesizers and samplers and a clunky old Atari 1040 computer, I produced this.  It’s pure, early 1990’s techno – really dated by today’s standards – but I still love it.  Some of my old songs are embarrassing to listen to – but not this one.”

Don’t ever pass up the chance to tell someone you love them.

I pretended to be asleep.  He made his breakfast and packed his lunch.  It was November – dark mornings, cold house – so I stayed in bed, listening to the sounds of the dawn: boiling kettle, butter knife scraping toast, ringing spoon stirring cup of tea, turning pages of paperback western.

I heard the back door open; the raspy cough of the car starting and the heater blowing warm air to clear the frost from the windows.  The trunk sprung open and I envisioned his rifle in its soft case stowed carefully away; a sandwich and a thermos of tea packed into his red knapsack, tossed on the passenger seat. The trunk slammed shut, and the backdoor opened once again. More footsteps – this time into my room.

I kept one eye opened just enough to see his silhouette against the dim light coming in from the kitchen.  He stood there for a moment, looking at me, waiting beside my bed, listening for some sign of lucidity.  Finally he put his hand on my head, ran his fingers through my curls, and walked out.

At the time I thought it was a funny trick, lying so still, pretending to be asleep – because everything is funny when you are a nine year old boy.  I was going to tell him when he got home that I had fooled him; that I was really awake the whole time. He’d laugh and rough up my hair with his strong hand and call me a “little scamp” – like he always did – but not this time.  This time, he wasn’t coming home.

You see, I could have hugged him and told him I loved him and that I admired him and wanted to be just like him, but instead I pretended to be asleep for a laugh. Things were never quite as funny after that.

Don’t ever pass up the chance to tell someone you love them.