Night Music: Now That You’re Gone

February 2, 2022

Another Sad Loss on The Drive

February 2, 2022


Thanks to Penny for the heads up: I had completely missed an important business closing in my last Changes on the Drive report. The Drive Coffee Bar at 1806 Commercial has closed down according to a sign on their window.

They were a nice bunch in there, but apparently the covid-downturn was just too much for them. They will be missed.

The End of Democracy?

February 2, 2022


In less than thirteen months, both the United States and Canada have seen civil insurgency movements grow in prominence: from the U.S. Capitol riots in January 2021 to “truckers” in Ottawa and Coutts this week.

Whatever level of political power they may leverage through their actions is magnified a hundred-fold by the sensation-seeking media desperate to fill their quota of advertiser-based airtime. We are constantly blasted with headlines like “Is This The End of Democracy?” Today I googled “the end of democracy?” and the following ad appeared, showing a set of recently-published books on the subject.

Talking heads needing a paycheque go on and on about how dire is the condition of this institution we call democracy and how it’s history harkens all the way back to those wise souls — the ancient Greeks. Certainly the word “democracy” comes from them, but their “democracy” did not look much like ours.

What we have — so-called “representative democracy” — with parties and elections allowing for the occasional participation of an ever-widening franchise — is barely 250 years old. The old Greeks were indeed much wiser. They were “well aware of the tendency for elections to throw up charismatic leaders with tyrannical pretensions. This is why they considered elections an aristocratic mode of political appointment, quite at odds with democratic principles … allowing commoners to decide who among the well-born should be considered best of all; and well born, in this context, simply meant all those who could afford to spend much of their time playing at politics.”1

Rather, they preferred to pick their public officers by sortition, or a lottery in which all adult citizens were enrolled and obliged to participate if chosen. As Aristotle puts it: “It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.”2 To which Herodotus adds that “the rule of the people has the fairest name of all … The lot determines offices, power is held accountable, and deliberation is conducted in public.”3

Offices were held for one year and, as I understand it, a citizen could only be selected once. A test was applied to establish basic competency, but very few selected were ever refused on this basis.

Some might suggest that the modern world is too complex and requires technocrats and managers to be in charge. However, the ancient Greek city states were important centers of trade, administration, and military organization and yet the citizens chosen by lot managed with the barest of staff. Today we have armies of professionals to operate the levers of civil administration.

It would do us no harm therefore, I believe, to return to a genuine people-oriented system of random selection for political decision-making. It worked for millennia across multiple cultures and can work again here and now. Rather than the end of democracy, this would be a return to it.


  1. Graebner & Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything, p. 356, 367
  2. Aristotle, Politics, 4.1294be
  3. Herodotus, The Histories, 3.80.6

Ulysses Comes To Bloom

February 2, 2022

Today is the 140th anniversary of the birth of the almighty James Joyce, and it is also the 100th anniversary of the publication by Sylvia Beach of Joyce’s Ulysses.

Millions upon millions of words have been written about this incredible work and I can add nothing of great value except to declare it, in my opinion, the pinnacle of modern (perhaps all) literature. While I treasure Nabokov and Brautigan and Dylan Thomas (and even enjoy Finnegan’s Wake more), the style(s), the erudition, and the sheer bravado of Ulysses always leaves me breathless.

Time to read it again, I believe.