About me

I'm a software developer based in Vancouver, Canada. I'm married, with two children.

I'm interested in politics and history, especially 20th-century history, diplomacy and war, good government, and Canadian politics. How did we get into the nuclear arms race? What were the causes of the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession, and is Canada in danger of having the same thing happen? What effects will the Internet have on politics, in the short term and the long term?

I'm not an expert in any of these subjects, I'm just an interested citizen who reads a lot. I think that we tend to take what we have in Canada for granted-- wealth, political stability, a tradition of good government, security against external threats, successful multiculturalism--without thinking too much about where they came from, how they've developed over time, and how we would cope if they were to break down.

I've always voted. As a voter, the key question for me is: Has the government been doing a good job, or not? And how can you tell? One of my goals for this blog is to try to spend some time thinking and writing about this question.

I like to argue with people over the Internet. Arguing doesn't often change people's minds, but it does help to clarify your own beliefs. In Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907), William James describes the difficulty of changing your mind, and what happens when you're presented with new information:

The observable process which Schiller and Dewey particularly singled out for generalization is the familiar one by which any individual settles into new opinions. The process here is always the same. The individual has a stock of old opinions already, but he meets a new experience that puts them to a strain. Somebody contradicts them; or in a reflective moment he discovers that they contradict each other; or he hears of facts with which they are incompatible; or desires arise in him which they cease to satisfy. The result is an inward trouble to which his mind till then had been a stranger, and from which he seeks to escape by modifying his previous mass of opinions. He saves as much of it as he can, for in this matter of belief we are all extreme conservatives. So he tries to change first this opinion, and then that (for they resist change very variously), until at last some new idea comes up which he can graft upon the ancient stock with a minimum of disturbance of the latter, some idea that mediates between the stock and the new experience and runs them into one another most felicitously and expediently.

... Loyalty to [existing beliefs] is the first principle--in most cases it is the only principle; for by far the most usual way of handling phenomena so novel that they would make for a serious rearrangement of our preconceptions is to ignore them altogether, or to abuse those who bear witness for them.

Knowing this, my goals are modest: not to change the mind of the person I'm arguing with, but to hopefully convince other readers who haven't yet made up their minds.

To avoid flamewars, I try to stick to the unofficial Fidonet motto: "don't offend, and don't be too easily offended."

I'm wary of simple ideas, especially when it comes to topics like politics, diplomacy, and war. Usually I find that when you dig into the specifics of a subject, the picture quickly becomes complicated. I also like to find out what the experts think; after all, they've spent far more time than I have studying the subject.

Programmers have a saying: RTFM. It's an admonition against our tendency to learn the bare minimum that we need in order to get by--more bluntly, our laziness. I figure that if I'm going to have strong opinions on something, I should put in the time and energy to learn about the full complexity of the subject, and to read what the experts have to say. I then need to be able to summarize what I've learned, in a way that'll hopefully be convincing to other people.