Kejda Gjermani her miscellaneous musings

26Feb/070

Reading Week is Over—Airport Thoughts

New York CityI’m at the airport. Getting on a flight to Toronto at 10:30. I had false hope all night that the flight would get delayed because of the snow storm. I know I’m not supposed to wish for that. But I went to bed really late last night, and I am certainly not ready to leave Michael, nor to come back to Waterloo, to school, back to the frenzy. There was a very good chance that the flight would be delayed by a few hours up to a full day.

I hate that kind of hope though. It lets you down so bad when the promise doesn’t materialize. The Wednesday before this reading week I had a huge assignment due the next day, and it would have been just so damn good to get a one day extension on it. There was a chance of a snow-day, and I kept my fingers crossed all night for it to storm up. In the morning it felt sickening when there was no notice of a day off at the university website. Something about going to bed full of hope and waking up disillusioned.

Same feeling now. I could only find out in the morning if there would be any delays. Air Canada will try to get us all out of here on time, it seems. I got here at LaGuardia early to make sure I'd have time to go through the mumbo-jumbo. That all took less than 10 minutes though, so I’m stuck here for two hours with nothing to do. I am sleepy and I miss Michael already. I hope I can sleep on the plane a bit. Zach is picking me up at the airport, which is not just great logistically—I mean screw the exorbitant Airporter and all that —but it will be nice to see a friendly face on the other side since I am depressed already to be leaving New York City.

I had a feeling I would dare call cheesy, lingering with me during my last day in New York. Something about the sadness and inevitability of death. You think you have this time to spend, and it always feels like it's all ahead of you, your entire life. And then the moments just drip right by, and before you know it, it's time to say goodbye. Will I miss my life in the end as much as I miss Michael right now? If so I will die a puss.

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22Feb/0711

The Passion of the FEDS

My previous post on Jonah Levine got some interesting secondhand comments from FEDS officials but you won’t find them on the blog. Apparently the content and language of my post have failed to meet the FEDS minimum standards of respectability so they will not even grace me with their official dissent. One of the comments was that mine was simply a rant serving no productive purpose, rather than an argument, and that I am as guilty of wasting everyone's time as the people I criticize. Serves me right.

The opinions in my blog are expressed for the sake of my entertainment only, and I apologize to nobody for the way they come across. However, the pleasure I derive from my work would be greatest if the ideas I articulate were conveyed fully and clearly to all of my readers. So if the FEDS claim—that my argument has no credibility due to the personal attacks and language used—is not just a preemptive pretext to evade the serious underlying critique, then I shall reformulate my position to cater to all parties, including the most sensitive ones, in anticipation of productive and purposeful discussion.

That comment about how I am as guilty of wasting everyone’s time as the people I criticize got me thinking: Perhaps I have been too harsh on the FEDS. Perhaps I have unjustly mistaken our young politicians’ utter obliviousness to social reality for utter corruption. Just what do I mean?

When anyone reads my blog, they are exercising their freedom of choice, to use their time as they see fit. They use the impression of the first few lines to determine whether reading my post is likely worth three minutes of their life, then act accordingly. There is no voting process over what to do, no ruling by majority, and I am certainly not forcing anyone—at the point of a gun—to keep reading.

If a reader is dissatisfied with the time investment in my blog, he has nothing to blame but his own judgment and cannot hold anyone guilty of wasting his time for him, certainly not the author. He can unsubscribe, block the page altogether, tell his friends just how awful this site is so they better watch out to never get stranded on it, but that’s about it. It is an individual choice, the consequences of which are contained within the agent who made the choice.

So I am not guilty of wasting anyone's time with my rants!

To draw a comparison between this situation and the condition of a student-citizen who is dissatisfied with her student government and is blaming her student politicians, might be just a sloppy simile, but I would be naïve to see it as simply that. What it reflects is this FEDS executive’s disturbing ignorance on the principles of Government.

If you think my blog sucks, x out of it in a heartbeat! No harm done... But if I believe my student government is wasting my time and money, how do I opt out? Which office do I file a claim through, so I can forfeit my privileges as a student citizen and in return get a full FEDS tax refund? What is my choice? The comparison doesn’t hold so well to scrutiny, does it?

But before anyone screams “Anarchy!” let me clarify a distinction between student government and real government. The government serves some essential functions such as national defense, domestic law and order, basic infrastructure maintenance, and the protection of individual rights in general, which for reasons outside of the scope of this post, require a legal monopoly over the use of force. If citizens opted out of this minimalist system, if people ceased to support it and to subordinate to it, the resulting chaos would pose a threat to the very foundations of our civilization.

Waterloo FEDSA student government serves no such essential functions. If it were to be dissolved tomorrow, academic life would go on as usual, administrative life at the university would be intact, our university degrees would be worth just as much, and each of us students would be $32 richer every term. Our student government is nothing but another student association in the purpose that it allegedly serves, so its alter-ego “Student Union” describes its true nature better than “Student Government”, or at least it would, if the word “Forced” were prefixed to it. FEDS is nothing but a forced union.

Freedom of association is ubiquitous in a liberal society, and it is in fact easily derived from a few fundamental individual rights, namely the right to property, liberty, and freedom of speech. Beautiful institutions capable of channeling and amplifying their individual members’ will are founded on this framework. Like the Corporation, and the Unions, let’s not forget!

University of WaterlooBut nowadays we have forced unions. And our student government is just an example of just that. Workers of a certain profession have little say on whether they want to join or not, students have no say on whether they want to be part of it or not. We all have to pay our compulsory fees, and our freedom is castrated: it is reduced to freedom to vote and have a diluted say over who shall rule over all of us, who shall decide for us how to spend our money, instead of the freedom to rule over ourselves, instead of the freedom to decide for ourselves how to spend our money.

The student government would fulfill a very legitimate and productive purpose if each student could voluntarily opt in and out of its jurisdiction. FEDS would have to offer genuine value: the kind of value all members would deem worthy of the membership fee. We would have virtually 100% turnout in elections: The students who chose to walk the walk by paying a fee for FEDS services would usually care to also talk the talk.

But what does it matter to me if Jonah Levine or his opponent wins, if I don’t want their services at all? ...If I don’t want their representation at all? With a 16% turnout, what can be inferred about the silent 84% of the student body? Are they indifferent between Jonah and the other guy because they are convinced that both are equally capable of doing a bang-up job so there’s no reason to worry about who ends up winning? Or are they indifferent between them because they don’t care either way since their services and representation aren’t really worth shit to them? (Here is South Park's perspective, which really nails it)

Deep hypothetical questions I am bringing up here, but finding out the answers is astonishingly simple: Make FEDS fees refundable next term, and for God’s sake, make the claiming procedure something a couple of notches short of excruciating, and let’s see how many people choose to renew their no longer forced membership. … … …

Dead silence...

Look everybody. I don’t have a specific problem with Jonah Levine, or anyone in particular. I know the platform of the VP Ed is basically the same across all candidates, with minor twitches here and there. I don’t have a problem with student politicians BECAUSE they are student politicians. But I do have a problem with the breed of student politicians we have recently been dealing with, and I don’t know there to have ever been any other kinds. People who ought to know how corrupt the system is because they are the ones who can see it from the inside, because they are the ones executing its functions: how is twists the notion of freedom of association and transforms it into a grotesque form of crypto-tyranny, perpetuated through apathy, indifference, and justified through a “democratic” process. If people who work with FEDS know it, then why don’t they talk about it, why don’t they work to change it, to make FEDS an open organization of voluntary membership? I think it is part corruption/opportunism, part ignorance of the ethical implications.

Michelle ZakrisonI met Michelle, our latest Lady of the Manor, on the last day she still hoped of being reelected. I was under a lot of pressure from schoolwork but I was excited to be talking to our president. I was asking questions, trying to further ideas, to get reactions: I have never in my life met someone so transparent, pretending to be so interested in ideas yet unwilling or unable to propose or discuss any of her own.

The friends I was with noticed it too, and they don’t even share most of my political leanings. Oh I am sure she has ideas! She just wouldn’t want to clash with mine in any way. She doesn’t want to be disagreeable; she wants me to believe she is on my side, no matter where I stand, and wants you and every student voter to believe just the same. She is not alone. Loose platforms painted with clichés, general feel-good slogans, but no actual substance, are purposefully engineered to be all things to all people. Is the word spinelessness being primed here for future use?

FEDS is part of a powerful plot of hypocrisy that extends beyond its institution. It is an all-pervasive yet underhanded ideological attack on our institutions of individual rights and liberties. It is a plot of the clan against the individual. This likely story suffices for illustration:

At some point during FEDS' history, some members got together, held some sort of referendum preceded and followed by some meetings, and granted themselves the right to represent every student, whether they liked it or not. Taxation with pseudo-representation aside, the real problem is the philosophical claim made and left unchallenged: that it is up to the group, the clan, to rule over the individuals. The pinnacle of freedom under this arrangement is democracy at every level, not adherence to individual rights.

It is the group, as defined by the majority, that dictates what everyone gets, what everyone will do, what everyone’s values are. No single individual can decide for himself what he gets, what he wants, what his conscience dictates. So the group is transcended from the sum of the individuals comprising it, to an entity of its own: the mother of all entities, outside of and aside from which, the individual is defunct and impotent. How else can it be if the only power I have left is to influence the group I belong to, instead of being able to make decisions for myself? Who holds the ultimate power in this headless system?

Statism is the new religion. And freedom of religion does not mean freedom to a religion, no matter how hard religious fundamentalists try to twist the meaning of this constitutional provision. It also, and most importantly, means freedom from religion at all! A forced union, a group we are forced to be represented and ruled by, is tyrannical no matter what anyone says. If we don’t have the freedom to join our hands together for a common purpose when we choose to, and take them apart and walk alone when we change our minds, then we are slaves.

Jonah and the new student executives will now lobby on our behalf about anything. I feel most strongly over the role of the VP Ed, because now Jonah will take that twisted representative power he acquired through the devious workings of a system that dilutes and castrates the freedoms of all students, and use it to lobby to dilute and castrate the freedoms of other people he doesn’t even represent on paper: the taxpayers.

Does it all even out in the end? Is it an authorless crime? Maybe, though I am not sure, but it is certainly not victimless.

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20Feb/073

Future Politician in the Making

Jonah LevineI saw him for the first time sitting on a couch at the SLC cramming away on his laptop, as I was lining for RideSafe. I noticed the Business Stats book in his pile of junk, and I realized he was working on the assignment that was due that night for ECON 221, a distance education course I am also taking. As the line started moving when the RideSafe guy showed up, I got to get closer, and I figured this guy was really screwed; it was about 10 pm, he only had time until midnight to finish and submit, and he had barely gotten started.

I had finished my assignment over a week before, and was pretty proud of my work. I must have been in a weird mood because I felt like rubbing it in this stranger's face. But really, I had been in that situation before myself, and all those times, how nice would it have been if some stranger had just shared her work with me and bailed my ass out, juuuust that one time. So long story short, I just offer this guy my finished assignment as a reference to help him speed up his work, but to my surprise he sorta declined, under some chivalrous pretense that he would rather earn his mark fully, well, kudos to him, put me right in my place, but he wrote down my email address just in case.

So indeed, by the time RideSafe had dropped me off at my place, I had received a pleading email about how he had underestimated the difficulty of the assignment and such, and he would really appreciate it if he could still take me up on my offer and take a good peek at my work. Shaking my head I just forward him my assignment as a PDF, and in a burst of gratitude he replied with an offer to take me out for coffee and donuts at Tims anytime.

Fast-forwarding to about a month later, I meet Jonah Levine in the SLC again. He sounds perky, yearning to satisfy my Tim Hortons cravings as promised, and gets me a hazelnut smoothie and an herb & garlic cream-cheese whole-wheat baguette. That's great, some small talk, and then he makes the move! BAM!

Of course he's with Team Yellow and wouldn't mind my vote in the upcoming FEDS elections. So I listen to him explain his platform and what he and his team are all about, but as he is doing his magic, I swear some voodoo metamorphosis starts taking place right in front of my eyes and Jonah Levine turns into the cheapest politico monster I had seen up close in a long while.

I can clearly see him 30 years from now, expressionless, popping out his empty rhetoric like hard candy to a callous audience that is listening just because they don't give enough shit either way.

Jonah Levine personifies my disgust with too much of my generation. I have seen people cheer for politicians who are so clearly corrupt, that it is embarrassing for anyone to be as blind and self-deceived as to be taken in with them. But I have always been apologetic to those who didn't know any better, because I saw it as a thing of the past and the past only. If our parents didn't know any better, it is the past generation, the old biases, the old fakeness, the baby-boomers' arrogance and stale values that produced today's leaders I am ashamed of. In my mind, our new generation has all the prerequisites to make a discrete leap forward; we have the experience of all those political and economic experiments gone bad in the 20th century, fresh interests and values, a new mission, a new voice and a newly found disdain for bullshit. And we should know better, god damn it!

Sadly, from what I can see it's an unchanging cycle; the faces of tomorrow are just like those of yesterday, and people's standards don't seem to have risen. The same kind of people are going through the drill: compounding mediocrity in their resume unlocks the doors to a bright future in politics. I see you were in the Co-op Student of the Year Committee, Jonah, is it because you don't stand a chance to be co-op student of the year yourself? Cool by association, eh? Indeed. Those are the same faces that will be spewing fakeness on TV in the next few decades, and it seems like people will keep eating it up.

It is hard to recover the full spectrum of disgust as I was listening to this 20 something-year-old trying to spoon-feed me nothing but the same stale old shit, as he was mentally masturbating to the notion of this socialist utopia upon Waterloo, of no student left behind in this cruel for-profit capitalist world where no one but the rich can afford education as tuition keeps growing at rates much higher than inflation, with the bulk of prospective students thus being deterred from even pursuing an education. Lame prelude to a plea for hardball lobbying at the federal level for more loans and lower interest rates, because obviously, there is a problem with the current system where not everyone can afford schooling.

My offended libertarian sensitivities aside, truly, what made the blood in my veins boil was the sight of his face, his comfortable monotonous voice: he really didn't see an issue of accountability with all these prescriptive deliverables he was proposing. The single most serious problem was that he, nobody Jonah Levine, who doesn't even have the discipline or brains to complete a first-year-level econ assignment on time, thinks he is qualified to decide what's acceptable tuition, suitable subsidy level, and appropriate taxation for the Canadian taxpayer.

Just what the hell makes him think he is qualified to make all these prescriptive statements with the moral entitlement to go through the administrative channels in order to lobby for his vision to be imposed on everyone else?

Yes, no shit, there is a problem with our current system, where some Political Science majors, brain-dead leeches like Jonah Levine, can infiltrate and breeze through four years of university, courtesy of the Canadian taxpayers, and use an educational institution as a playground for their degenerate cliche-ridden campaigns to recruit the most feeble-minded amongst students, exploiting their pseudo-representation as a means to further their personal agendas, allegedly in the name of the public good in general, and of everyone of us in particular.

It makes me sick that the brightest minds of our generation, students of one of the most distinguished Canadian universities, have nothing better than this slug to represent them, to personify their values and approach to problems and solutions. Jonah Levine did win in these elections and is now VP for Education.

So what is happening to us? How many social workers want to work their profession into obsolescence? How many politicians would want to be problem-solvers in a world where it is so much easier to just create and inflate problems, then present quick-fix solutions that justify any budget and platform, dump the real consequences on the future administration, and get away with it? Oh how pretty it will all look in the extracurricular section of Jonah Levine's resume. Dig a hole, digging-o-a-hole!

Alright, Jonah, let's examine what you were just granted power by 6.75% of the student body to lobby for on behalf of all of us. Some day you might have come across this in your not-sufficiently subsidized university career, but let's just not take any chances. You see Jonah, there are such dynamics that determine what economists call demand and supply, and if you mess around with them kinky shit tends to happen. Education is great, right, and like everything good it should be subsidized? Wait a minute... I thought good things didn't need to be subsidized!

It's the economy, stupid!

Supporters of increased aid to education note that the cost of attending college has been rising faster than the rate of inflation for the last two decades. Yet easy money at taxpayers' expense fuels this escalation. Basic economic theory tells us that boosting the demand for a product or service, which is what government loans and grants effectively do, tends to raise its price.

Different types of schools respond differently to increases in subsidies, and price hikes can take several forms, including cuts in state funding and internal aid as well as increases in the official tuition. But the general effect is pretty clear: When someone else is paying part of the tab, consumers do not worry as much about the cost, so the cost tends to be higher. This phenomenon creates a vicious circle in which subsidies push up prices, leading to demands for increased subsidies, which push up prices again.

-check out this excellent brief article By Jacob Sullum for the full picture.

Should you succeed in increasing subsidies, Jonah, maybe you'd be the hero of the year but it seems like your quick fix would encapsulate the seeds of its own future ineffectiveness, and in a year or two, it would be up to your successor try to perpetuate the same bullshit under the same pretense, bitching at the feds to obtain a higher dose hoping to achieve the same high. Tolerance to your favorite drug is a painful thing, isn't it?

And the rest of us will still be here, waiting, yearning for the next hero of the year, the next crusader to deliver us an incrementally higher dose of the same shit. What goes up must come down Jonah, but you and your breed of already corrupt student politicians are the first thing I want to see free falling.

We don't need your web of premature bureaucracy at the university level to compound the strain from what we already have to bear at the local, provincial, and federal level. You create no value Jonah, absolutely no value. I see your little heart is bleeding over how expensive tuition is. Then how is a budget of $725,536 per term for FEDS justifiable? How does all that money help any students except for you, Mr.Polisci poster-boy on payroll? Why don't you instead try to lobby internally to lower tuition by cutting corners on the funding of boondoggle projects that have nothing to do with education instead of reflexively turning to pinch the government's bitter teat?

All these endowment fees, student service fees for services I have never used or known they existed, radio Waterloo, dental plan fees, FEDS, student societies... Wow, all incidental fees minus health insurance, which is the only thing we actually do need from all of that, mount up to about $400 per term; that's almost 20% of tuition, Jonah, I know math is not your strongest subject but if you could even halve that, holy shit man!

Until the very last student claims the very last portion of the refundable fees, you and your administrative goons don't have the least bit of a right to extort more funds from the taxpayers on our behalf because obviously most students don't care enough about their tuition fees to take the necessary steps at the individual level to minimize their cost by claiming back what they can.

But you don't even want to cut corners on the bullshit, do you? You need to drown us deeper in debt, easy tax-payer-subsidized debt, so your Yellow Team can have plenty of coin to toss around to all those student clubs—mostly groups of five people who don't even bother organizing lame events but just write off the pizzas every other Friday night, to all those loony douche bags who write off their plane tickets to Saskatchewan or wherever, to "study native villages" or participate in "conferences" on our dime. Thanks Student Government for taking our money by force and spending it on crap none of us would consider paying for even under hallucinogens. Great gateway to real government I suppose.

Why is it that the herd has been institutionally primed to dominate over the individual at every level of organization? A group of five students can claim that over 22,000 others, mostly strangers they have little to do with, split the cost of buying the former group pizza, or of hosting an event those 22,000 don't care for, just by virtue of being a group, a club, a student association. But five individual students wouldn't even entertain the thought of doing just the same.

What is a group but the sum of its individuals? What is that metaphysically mind-bending margin between the sum and the whole that we are to subordinate our will to? It's nothing but the Philosopher's Stone which corrupt politicians use to dilute and twist the will and the power of the individual. Your government wants your indifference; FEDS wants a 16% turnout, so every candidate would need to worry about swaying in at most only 8.5% of the electorate to secure victory. Most of that 8.5% are friends (I am sure our Jonah is a super popular boy) and members of student clubs, all the vested interests lined up. And once the bums are in office, they can tax all of us "on our behalf", not just the 8.5% who voted for them, to pay the tab of their electoral victory. Everybody wins!

Such, my friends, are the perks of democracy, filtered through selection-bias and diluted representation, in a majority-rule winner-takes-all system. It always works like a charm for the winners, and the losers don't seem to realize they're losers after the results have been reflected and refracted through all the administrative channels and regurgitated back to them. There's little room for freedom, accountability, and good leadership in a system where clans rule over individuals and responsibility is processed, fairly and squarly redistributed, and often simply obfuscated. It's a world of the Jonah Levines. Let them have it.


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