Monday, 20 January 2014

The Terrible Old Man

"The Terrible Old Man" is a very small story by H. P. Lovecraft, written on January 28, 1920, and first published in the Tryout, an inexpert press publication, in July 1921. It's prominent as the first story to make use of Lovecraft's unreal New England setting, bringing in the imaginary town of Kingsport.

Lovecraft scholar Peter Cannon superficially explains the story as "little more than a polemic against the imposition of people Lovecraft regarded as 'foreigners,' that is, the non-English migrant who arrived in the nineteenth century as cheap labor to fill up the factories of a progressively industrialized America."

Monday, 4 March 2013

Terrible Old Man

"The Terrible Old Man" is a very short story by H. P. Lovecraft, written on January 28, 1920, and first published in the Tryout, an amateur press publication, in July 1921. It's notable as the first story to make use of Lovecraft's imaginary New England setting, introducing the fictional town of Kingsport. Lovecraft scholar Peter Cannon dismissively describes the story as "little more than a polemic against the intrusion of people Lovecraft regarded as 'foreigners,' that is, the non-English immigrants who arrived in the nineteenth century as cheap labor to fill the factories of an increasingly industrialized America."

Friday, 13 July 2012

Depth (ring theory)

In commutative and homological algebra, depth is an important invariant of rings and modules. Although depth can be defined more generally, the most common case considered is the case of modules over a commutative Noetherian local ring. In this case, the depth of a module is related with its projective dimension by the Auslander–Buchsbaum formula. A more elementary property of depth is the inequality

where dim M denotes the Krull dimension of the module M. Depth is used to define classes of rings and modules with good properties, for example, Cohen-Macaulay rings and modules, for which the equality holds.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Poor-Bashing and EI Reforms

Back for another round, which is unfortunate, because in the meantime I've missed many juicy potential stories, like Sylvain Charlebois's ludicrous pro-industry bullshit, claiming not only that we should welcome higher food prices but that in the long term, a rise in food prices which actually lead to lower food prices. This sort of up-is-down doublespeak is straight out of Orwell and not normally something to be expected from a tenured professor. And Mr. Charlebois is indeed a tenured professor, as a haughty commenter took pains to point out the last time I tore a piece out of him for defending corporate interests over those of the Canadian people.

Anyhow, Charlebois isn't the subject today, because there is new fuckery afoot. In the Globe and Mail today, Charles Cirtwill is banging on about the evils of Employment Insurance, arguing that instead of reforming the EI system so that more help reaches those in need, we introduce an entirely new system which he dubs "Compensatory Income Support" (CIS). CIS would be a separate EI system that would be activated only during an economic recession, eithe by some sort of technocratic trigger or by a special vote in Parliament. "EI would still be used in the up times," he writes, but the government could draw on the CIS reserves in the bad times.

Cirtwill insists in the column that he isn't actually against reforms to EI. In fact, he says, he wants some even more radical reforms than anyone is proposing: what he calls conversion to a "real insurance program." This would eliminate the appalling egalitarianism that pervades the present system and instead establish a much more "flexible" system of rates, charging more to seasonal industries and to individuals who have a propensity to be laid off. He also says it should be optional to buy in to the program.

Sound good? Maybe. But I'm not convinced. Given Cirtwill's background, and some of the appalling blank spaces left in this article (a convenient ignorance on his part), you can take me as being highly skeptical.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Saving CTV: The Grandest Astroturfing of All

We Canadians are presently bearing witness to one of the most daringly overt astroturfing campaigns in recent history, at least that I can think of, in the form of CTVglobemedia's efforts to build public momentum for its faltering bid to increase revenue. One of Canada's two largest media conglomerates, you see, is currently in the middle of a campaign to cast itself as a populist hero defending local television from heartless government and big corporations.

We were told for years that the mainstream media was in serious trouble, reeling from the double-whammy of technological change and the fallout from its collective decision to advocate from its critical democratic responsibilities. It took the financial crisis, however, for the real problems to start. At least for the time being, the vultures are really only circling CanWest, the Asper giant which controls most of our major dailies in this country, including the American National Post. The only real reason CanWest is alive, actually, is that none of its big creditors really want to pull the plug on the Aspers and take over for themselves the onus of running a network of marginally profitable papers and other media outlets. But from the latest developments, I guess the Thomsons are sensing the writing on the wall, too.

My girlfriend and I saw a truly shocking advertisement on TV a couple nights ago, which has prompted me to write about this. I think it was on A Channel, but I really can't remember, and that's not the point - there's dozens of such ads being hastily thrown together by CTV's local affiliates across the country, and streamed through the central website for the campaign, Help Save Local Television. Now, I guess the current scheme devised by CTV isn't nearly as disastrous for taxpayers as the bailout being demanded by CanWest, but I think we should still be clear: this is an enormous corporate titan, wounded, attempting to do an end-run around the CRTC.

Current regulations in Canada allow cable and satellite companies to take CTV and 'A' programming without compensation. These companies then charge you, the consumer, for the programming they take for free... Local TV stations, like CTV and 'A,' should receive compensation from cable and satellite companies that carry our local programming.

To be clear, the fact that this isn't done right now isn't because, in some mysterious and undescribed process, evil cable companies swooped in and started stealing local TV signals. It is a longstanding practice that cable companies do this, and the distribution of profits was intended to mirror the distribution of work: the stations get money from advertising in exchange for providing content, and the cable companies get money from subscribers in exchange for laying cable to individual houses. To get a sense of just how silly the CTV's position really is, consider that most of these local channels are also available free of charge over the air, albeit with the added difficulty of having to fuss with your rabbit-ear antennae.

Even more galling, perhaps, is CTV's attempt to portray themselves as simple local journalists beset by Big Cable and the unsympathetic CRTC. To this end each local outlet has contributed a "testimonial" ad defending local TV, which you can see on the campaign website as well as, for example, here. You can move through them and listen, if you like, as CTV makes its case that it's a simple local broadcaster appealing to the people against the predations of Big Cable.

Or not. Oddly enough, CTV kept its "Save CTV" site hosted on the main website, which means, for example, that their gigantic network of other, non-local channels is also plainly visible, which includes such names as BNN, Much, MTV, TSN, Bravo!, Discovery Canada, Space, and so on.

Let's move up another level and take a look at the corporation that's now presenting itself to the public as a simple local player. CTV's and A's local channels are subsidiaries of, as I said before, CTVglobemedia. That's a private company, unlike CanWest, but we can guess at its value. TorStar says that it's 20% stake is worth $200 million, even after the econmic carnage of the past year, which means that at its current "low" point, the company is still worth around a billion dollars. (CanWest, by contrast, was harder hit and is now worth just around $175 million.)

The president and CEO of this conglomerate is Ivan Fecan, a former NBC and CBC executive. Not sure what he's being paid now, but this commentor thinks it's around $5 million now. I think he's wrong, because it was already $5 million (plus stock options and bonuses) way back in 2000. (At the time, Fecan also netted an additional tidy sum of $17 millino during BCE's corporate takeover.) You could save a lot of local TV jobs with some of that largesse.

Ironically, when this populist hero Fecan took his company on a buying spree gobbling up
outlets a few years ago, it was accompanied by massive cuts to the news staffs and lineups of the very local channels he now says he's trying to save. Whoops!

In the grand scheme of things, though, Fecan is just small fry. The whole shebang used to be controlled by the massive Bell Canada Enterprises, until a few years ago, when Bell divested, keeping 20% for itself and gave matching percentages each to the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan and to Torstar, another media giant which has suffered but is still worth around half a billion dollars on the stock markets. In the process, by the way, Bell made an agreement that would guarantee Bell TV access to CTVglobemedia content, which presumably means that those cable subscribers, anyways, can't be forced to "save" CTV whether they want to or not.

Bell's decision to reduce its exposure meant that the largest shareholder in the conglomerate became its previous partner, Woodbridge, which is the holding company used by the fabulously wealthy Thomson family. When patriarch Kenneth Thomson passed away in 2006 and left the business to his two sons, it was valued at around $20 billion, and he was the ninth-richest person in the world. Other major Woodbridge holdings include Thomson Reuters, the merged beast which emerged from the Thomson publishing arm and the newswire-turned-financial-services-giant Reuters in 2008.

This is the "local" company CTV wants us to save.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Tory Bagman Tom Flanagan on "Confining" the Charter of Rights and Freedoms


The Calgary School's privileged access to the Globe and Mail op-ed pages continue, as does "professor" Tom Flanagan's descent into partisan madness, with his piece this morning advocating for the abolition of the Human Rights Commissions. Flanagan is joining the growing choir (should I instead say cacophony?) of right-wing voices demanding an end to the country's Human Rights Commissions, though his argument has a novel twist which at least separates it from the usual repetitive droning and bleating: according to Flanagan, governments are the institutions chiefly responsible for discrimination in our society; therefore, we cannot expect governments (or government-funded institutions, presumably) to solve problems of discrimination; therefore, we should let the free market sort out such problems.

As someone who defines himself as an anarchist at least two or three days out of each week (the rest of the time I'm uncommitted or maybe even socialist, depending on how the wind blows, which is a disturbing inconsistency on my part), my first instinct is to agree wholeheartedly with the first and possibly the second of Flanagan's points. After all, where terrorists have killed maybe a few tens of thousands of people, governments kill hundreds of millions. And I do adhere to one fundamentally anarchistic tenet, which is that you cannot build a system not based on violence and oppression using tactics rooted in violence and oppression. Audre Lord was probably wrong when she said that you can't tear down the master's house with the master's tools - you can tear it down all right, but any new house you build with them will end up looking pretty much the same as the old one.

Beyond that, though, Flanagan's argument starts seeming kind of silly. The root of his argument is basically a capitalist one: free-market competition is inherently anti-discriminatory because discrimination raises costs. Eventually, therefore, businesses - and by extension societies - will eliminate that discrimination so that they can be more efficient and more profitable. Discrimination is inefficient, so discriminators turn to government to subsidize them. Eliminate the subsidies, and we'll eliminate the discrimination. A capitalist prescription for social policy.