Reflections on Via rail schedules…

Original arrival time – 9:47
Estimated arrival time – 1:05

four hours after original arrival time – 1:47pm. NOT 4 hours late.

But – how are we making this time?

Actual departure time – 8:45pm (from Dorval)
ETA at Toronto (with milk train stops) 1:05
Estimated total travel time with milk train stops – 3 and a half hours.

If they can run from Dorval to Toronto in 3.5 hrs with milk train stops, why in God’s name can’t they run Union to Montreal Central in Four hours with one stop, instead of the 4.5 hrs it takes now? Obviously these trainsets can in fact run the speeds the Turbo Train ran at – they are doing it right now!

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Back to Toronto, “Via” some delays

What’s the longest train delay you’ve ever experienced? Sitting in Dorval station, at 8:39pm, we are 3:39 minutes late and we haven’t technically left Montreal yet. The real kicker, a Train des Banlieus just passed by, and I realized that there is a station of trains des banlieus in the Central Station, where we sat for 3 hours waiting for coaches to come take us to Dorval.

This whole episode really illustrates the poverty of Via’s contingency planning. CN has numerous reciprocal track usage agreements with CP, to increase productivity – and, at least in the Fraser Canyon, for contingency planning as well. However, there was no contingency planning when a short section of track between the central station and Dorval station in Montreal was impassable due to a gas leak. There is no shortage of rail lines off off Montreal island – CP, CN and Quebec rail all have lines. However, no one at a CN upper office thought it would be worth paying to use CP or Quebec rail tracks so the train could leave with some semblance of being on time. Heavy traffic explains why it took over 3 hours of waiting on the train before coaches could be procured.

On the upside, we spent the three hours waiting in Via’s new “Rennaisance” cars, which I think are technically via1 cars – only 3 seats across, fantastic side to side room (although only average legroom), and a modern stylish appearance. Unfortunately, the train we were bussed to has older cars, which can be hit and miss (the seats seem to wear out – sit in your seat for too long and the foam goes dead, which is fine if you can switch to a new seat). Fortunately, this train is only about half full.

We’re on our way at 8:45pm. Technically, the train was meant to arrive in Toronto at 9:47pm, so there is a decent chance we’ll be 4 hours late – which means a 100% of my ticket price is redeemable towards a future trip (effectively making this trip free). There’s a good chance because, although we’re only leaving about 3 hours and forty five minutes late, since we’ve been combined with the later, milk-run train, we have to stop at every little town – meaning the trip will take even longer.

There always seem to be upsides to downsides. Another one in this case is Via’s internet service – its experiencing trouble with satellite uplinks – patchy service. But, on the upside, they’ve removed the fees for the service until the problem is solved. So, as for right now, I have a free train trip (but 4 hours late),and free internet service (but patchy), and free sandwiches (but, do I need to say what’s wrong with Via’s sandwiches? Really?)

Montreal Week

I’ve spent the last week in Montreal at my friend Nell’s place. It’s been quite excellent getting to know the city I’ve always loved, but never for very long in person. I saw the Tam-Tams, hung out in the cemamtery with an old friend drinking Unibrou on the Molson tome, spent two days in the National Library working on papers and reading philosophy in French, and general hung around more like a local than a tourist.

I feel that this is the summer of montreal, and I will try to return once or twice more if conditions allow. It is really a wonderfully friendly city – especially since I can get by in both anglophone and French quarters. I didn’t see as many museums as I would have liked, but I did make it to the museum of contemporary art, which had some very decent instillations.

Nell and I even went to Schwartz, where, although I didn’t indulge in their wonderful looking smoked meat sandwiches, I did appreciate the oldness and dirtyness of an 80 year old Montreal institution by eating fries cooked in positively black cooking oil. The place is a real cultural equilizer – most anyone can afford to eat there, and most everyone does – from dirty kids to families to expensive looking business men.

In a few hours, I board a train to take me back to Toronto and normality. I could save money and take the bus, but I can work on the train, and it takes half the time. If I had more money, I’d take the train via1 class – which includes 3 course dinners and expensive wine.

Right now, I’m sitting with my suitcase at cafe cagibri at the corner of St-Laurent and St-Viateur. According to Matthias, this is the heart of cultural montreal, and this cafe certainly indicates it. The ceiling is stamped tin, with cream white paint peeling off where it isn’t already bare. One wall is entirely covered with posters commemorating momentous events in labour history. It even has a cheesy 70’s jukebox. The food is old time vegetarian – think naam rather than that chic place on Main and 6th i Vancouver. Every table and most chairs are different from each other (Sugar Refinery), and there is a small stage. The cafe is mostly anglophone (probably the only place I’ve been where I feel confident ordering in English), but that’s alright – it is a bilingual city after all.

A short walk to the subway and I’ll be whisked back towards Toronto the Good, but at least I’ll have eleven bagels to remind my housemates that Canada also has this place.

Heidegger’s Nietzsche Volume 1: The New Interpretation of the Sensuous. P212-213

“The sensuous in itself is directed towards overview and order, toward what can be mastered and firmly fixed”

The sensuous is form engendering – it finds in itself a “direction” towards abstraction, idea, for the sake of getting a hold on, fixing. The sensuous grasps and calcifies, sediments. The direction is towards enhancement as an increase of preservation – the increase in mastery is fixated and becomes part of the base. What is the sensuous?

“What lives is exposed to other forces, but in such a way that, striving against them, it deals with them according to their form and rhythm…”

Life is exposed, but not as a brute passivity. Live is exposed in that it can’t but strive with forces. Striving opposes. But not diametrically – striving is sensitive to the form and rhythm of forces. Exposed live strives in “accord” with the form and rhythm of forces – it takes up those rhythms for itself. But why?
“…in order to estimate them in relation to possible incorporation or elimination.”

Life strives in the exposure to forces in accord with their rhythm (form and rhythm is only a way of saying being and becoming – but since ‘becoming’ is itself a fixation, we can leave out form – as it serves to help us forget that all grasping is fixing), but not for no reason. This accord has the purpose of “incorporation or elimination”. Being as life has the character of will to power, preservation-enhancement, for the sake of willing. Since stagnation is already a decline, every striving must either incorporate or eliminate the force that opposes it. Thus striving could never be diametric opposition, glorified stasis. “Opposition” only for the sake of enhancement (incorporation) or preservation (elimination)!

“The angle of vision, and the realm it opens to view, themselves draw the borderline around what it is that creatures can or cannot encounter” (Lizard example)

We are now in a position to interpret transcendence according to Nietzsche’s notion of life as the sensuous. It means: interpretation is primordial. There is no force which life encounters prior to life grasping that force’s form and rhythm in a striving for the sake of culminating in an adoption or elimination. The encounter is itself the striving in accord with rhythm for the sake of adoption/elimination. Life does not first encounter the force and then gear into the accord. Life’s “gearing into the accord” (which certainly does happen) is only possible because it already had a (provisional) grasp on the rhythm. The angle of vision does not first open a view, and then draw a borderline around what it can or can’t encounter. The idea of a being which it cannot encounter is a third person abstraction! Being is nothing but encounterability, and “a being” is nothing about the encountered. Grasp the Lizard example more primordially: we can only grasp the lizard as not encountering the gun shot because “not encountering” is an interpretation of the accord we find ourselves in striving with/against forces. Inadequacy of Lizard example: makes it appear to be the case that the Lizard has a view out towards the real which only allows in certain beings, between “borderlines” – actually, beings are only that which show up within these angles of view! Beings (things) are not prior to Being (angle of view). These borderlines are the limits of the sensuous, the limits of the accord between beings striving against each other in accord with the rhythm of forces, each with the purpose of eliminating or adopting the movement/shape of the other. These limits are ontological.

“Now, in the “organic” there is a multiplicity of drives and forces, each of which has its perspective. The manifold of perspectives distinguishes the organic from the inorganic. Yet even the latter has its perspective; it is just that in the inorganic, in attraction and repulsion, the “power relations” are clearly fixed. The mechanistic representation of “inanimate” nature is only a hypothesis for purposes of calculation; it overlooks the fact that here too relations of forces and concatenations of perspectives hold sway.”

Organic/Inorganic is a “hypothesis for the purposes of calculation” – it is a way we get a grip on the rhythm of forces in order to preserve/enhance. But the inorganic is just as “alive” according to the essence of life – angle of view, perspect, point of force, accord in strife. When we see points of force (beings are always in strifing-accord with forces that oppose them) as a fixed set of relations, we call that comprehensible, fixed, inorganic. Deleuze calls all of the organic essentially inorganic, “abstract machines”, “assemblages” for precisely this reason – they are complexes of forces which can be entirely fixed, and understood in abstraction of the particular instantiation those forces find themselves in. Where the power relations are fixed, we find the inorganic. Since “becoming” is itself a fixation, everything grasped as organic, as a power relations “in becoming”, is potentially graspable as inorganic. But Heidegger moves here in the opposite direction – the inorganic is organic. Organic thus does not mean “internal relations”, i.e. something about the relations is not abstractable, thus the complex of relations is not an assemblage. Rather, organic means life/perspect/the accord in the striving between forces. Distinction is not epistemic. Or rather, the distinction organic/inorganic is epistemic (inorganic is a hypothesis for the purpose of calculation), but the organic is not determined by the distinction. The organic is the essence of the real:

“Every point of force per se is perspectival”

“The sensuous is no longer the “apparent”….Semblance itself is proper to the essence of the real.

Coffee shops, and why it’s easy to get them wrong.

Sitting in a Starbucks, what rules is the prevalent neutrality of the standard. There is nothing distinctive about a Starbucks. While they are often different in slight ways, trying to fit into the neighborhood decor, the overwhelming sensation is one of repetition, identity. The space is amenable to life, it is an easy place to be, to feel comfortable, but it is not a space of quality. The tables and chairs are competent and functional, not ugly. The art is local (at least here, at the corner of College and Palmerston in Toronto). But nothing exudes quality, nothing radiates, nothing is beautiful. And yet, while many try, it is the minority of independent coffee shops that succeed in bettering Starbucks.

It isn’t by accident that I say “Starbucks” and not “Starbuckses”. ‘Starbucks’ does not refer to a chain of individual stores, each falling under the same ownership, branding, etc… Rather, Starbucks is a form, an idea, which is instantiated on street corners. While there are differences between individual Starbuckses, they are small enough that it is very possible to compare an individual coffee shop with “Starbucks” and not with individual Starbucks stores. In what ways, do they fail to better Starbucks? Initially and for the most part, they fail to better them because they fail to equal them in the crucial ways which these identical reproductions succeed. If a coffee shop does not have consistently good dark roasted coffee, if the tables are not stable, if the chairs are ugly or uncomfortable. Or, if the decor is uninviting, plastical, chintzy. If the floor is too shiny or too dirty. If the Art is worse. If there is not enough seating, or too much. If the atmosphere does not cosset lonely strangers, or open itself to groups. If there are too many windows or too few. If the colour is too bright, too dark, or out of touch. In other words, if the shop is set up with a lack of quality, service, or interior design, parity will not even be achieved.

But parity is nothing, just a copy! If a copy is what you’re searching for, then Starbucks is already a copy of itself! There are, however, many easy ways that any independent owner can make a shop much better than Starbucks. Just to name the most obvious things – use real furniture (used is fine), rather than the infinitely reproduced non-things one sits on at Starbucks – but make sure its competent – no one likes wobbly tables. Use real art, sell it, by local artists. Name and price the art, this brings it to life since the essence of art today is commodity, sellibility. Paint sensibly, make sure everything tie together. Choose flooring with care – the tile flooring in this Starbucks is awful (would be more at home in a pool changing room), but I’ve seen a hundred independent shops with much worse. Key to flooring – what is appropriate to a store is not appropriate to a coffee shop. Stores should have white shiny flooring because it is easy to clean an keeps things bright. White is fine because no one is looking at it. But, in a coffee shop, everyone looks at the floor constantly – it remains in your peripheral vision whenever looking at a computer screen, book, etc… The colour, and texture is essential! It should be, on balance, quite easy to make any independent shop better than the chain equivalent – but this is only possible if the independent owner recognizes what is and isn’t successful about the chain. In other words, the independent store must use the chain stores not as ideals but as resources to better figure out how to make their own spaces warm, welcoming, and ultimately successful business propositions.

Intentions and action: grasping the practical propositionally?

The question – what is the status of an intention in an action? Or, how should we speak of the presence of an intention in an (intentional) action. We act constantly, and see others act. We say of other’s acts that they are either intentional or not – we don’t know with certainty, but we know to the extent that we make judgments on the basis of knowing whether another’s actions are intentional or not – i.e. we ascribe blame. But what do we mean when we say of other’s acts that they are intentional?

In many cases we say that intentions predate actions – we have an intention to fetch a quart of milk, and then we fetch the quart of milk intentionally. So we might say that an intention is simply the propositional attitude (a mental state which can be captured/described in a proposition) expressed in the assertion “I intend to fetch a quart of milk”, and that the act of fetching the milk is intentional because it is brought into being by the propositional attitude expressed in such a proposition. Such an account grasps the practical syllogism on the basis of the theoretical one – allows for no fundamental difference between a theoretical decision, I.e. a logical formulation made up of propositions and an inference. The advantages of such a philosophical position are obvious – there is no difference between theoretical and practical knowledge – anything knowable is knowable in one way – as knowledge of a proposition. Simplicity reigns.

However, such an account of practical action breaks down when we examine actual cases of action. An action is a decision, because at any moment multiple possibilities for actions are reduced to one, are closed off, by the decision – by the movement into action. For example, if one is traveling along a highway at sixty miles per hour, and one comes upon an exit, there is for a time the possibility of exiting the highway. One must de-cide whether or not to take the exit on the basis of intentions – one might have conflicting intentions in this case, I.e. an intention to make good time, an intention to stay well fed, an intention to take advantage of clean roadside bathrooms, etc… The practical syllogism is made up of all of my intentions, as well as the concrete situation (the possibility of exiting or continuing onward). My intentions are diverse, contradictory, complex, and the concrete situation is poorly grasped (I do not, for example, know the quality of the food or the cleanliness of the bathroom, although I may have indicators in the form of intuitions about brands).The propositional story declares that all my intentions, as well as all the “information” about the concrete situation, are propositional content – and that my decision to exit or not to exit is also, or is extend-able to, a proposition, i.e. “I decide to exit the highway”. For an action to be intentional is then for it to be motivated by my intentions and the concrete situation, which are combined in the “I decide”. However, the proposition “I decide” always follows the decision. When I say “I decide”, I have already decided, my hands are already turning the wheel. The “I decide” is merely a description of a decision.

But, one might reply, the propositional account never claimed to be more than a description of the decision – a description which is the extension of the propositional attitude named by the “I decide”. But a decision is not a propositional attitude – it is a closing of possibilities. One might have a propositional attitude of a decision – I might recognize that I have decided. But, crucially, this self-recognition is a re-cognition, a cognition again, a repetition which looks back. This recognition is not itself the decision at all!

This is all the more apparent when we look at a decision made in a situation of emergency – for example, when driving and some lumber falls out of a truck ahead. In an instant, one surveys the concrete situation – what are the dangers of driving over the lumber? What are the dangers of swerving to avoid? What are the dangers of breaking? It is a mistake, however, to think that in a situation of emergency these angers are recognized as propositions – when a decision in one second is demanded there is no time to represent to oneself the possibilities in propositions. One does not “think” the situation, in the sense of self-represent the possibilities in words. However, the decision either to swerve, break, or run over the lumber is clearly a deliberate, which means deliberative, which means intentional, decision. One is responsible for the decision – if an accident ensues (i.e. if one side swipes into a car by trying to swerve around the obstacle), one can be held responsible, if it is decide that the decision made was wrong. This legal recognition of a decision is of the same sort as the self recognition of having made a decision (i.e. the “I have decided”, even the “I decide” because it is always a report even in present tense).

The sensible conclusion to these examples is to say that the solution to the practical syllogism is the decision itself, and not an idealization/representation of that decision which very well can be expressed afterwards in a proposition. What significance might this realization have? Simply this – that there are two kinds of knowledge, the kind proper to practical recognition of what to do given intentions and a situation, and th kind proper to the theoretical working through of inferences. As for the relation between them, one can always use theoretical knowledge to inquire into, to talk about, to better understand, all the parts of the practical syllogism – but that does not mean the practical one is reducible to the theoretical. What do I mean by this? Quite simply – we express the practical syllogism as having a kind of structure: intentions, situations, decisions. This structure does not change in each situation of choice. Ergo, the structure itself is propositional knowledge, proper to theoretical reasoning. Furthermore, each part of the syllogism can be described insofar as it remains the same (i.e. what is an intention/what do all intentions have in common? What is the structure of intention? Same for situation, same for decision). But, the operation of the syllogism itself can be grasped only in particular examples of its working through (i.e. my two examples above). Theoretical reasoning can not inquire into the decision itself because it is different every time, it is not the right kind of knowledge for propositions.

So, we can understand now what kind of mistake is being made when we grasp the practical syllogism on the basis of the theoretical one. The practical syllogism can be inquired into on through the theoretical one, it can even be represented in theory. However, it can not be reproduced in theory because it has a fundamentally different relation to content: theory inquires into things insofar as their principles remain constant, practical inquires into things insofar as their principles change. What do I mean by this? Quite literally, practical knowledge can say nothing decisively in advance of situations – situations are not neutral matter with respect to the form of our intentions, situations challenge our intentions, demand we re-evaluate them in the light of the new. Nothing is pure and unchanging about situations, and since they infect our intentions, nothing is pure or unchanging in them either. We can represent our intentions at a given time in theory, but this is only a representation – a holding fixed of what is inherently in flux. Thus, theory always remains on the level of representation of re-cognition, with respect to the practical. Only the practical engages directly with the instability of the world.

Vancouver to Portland – By public transit alone

Why do things just seem more adventuresome out West? Maybe it has something to do with the people I know there. My UBC friends Mike Kushnir and Aaron Palm, and Mathieu from Quebec, are on a transit odyssey. The project: to travel from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Portland Oregon – by public transit alone. It’s possible, they insist – that all the local transit systems somehow miraculously link together. Today they are in Seattle, looking for a place to stay. Last night, they were in Bellingham – a town whose wonders Mike, I, and other excellent friends from UBC discovered last summer.

You can follow their voyage on twitter, if you have it. I’ve been following using a web site they are updating in real time: Why do things just seem more adventuresome out West? Maybe it has something to do with the people I know there. My UBC friends Mike Kushnir and Aaron Palm, and Mathieu from Quebec, are on a transit odyssey. The project: to travel from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Portland Oregon – by public transit alone. It’s possible, they insist – that all the local transit systems somehow miraculously link together. Today they are in Seattle, looking for a place to stay. Last night, they were in Bellingham – a town whose wonders Mike, I, and other excellent friends from UBC discovered last summer.

You can follow their voyage on twitter, if you have it. I’ve been following using a web site they are updating in real time: http://i5chronicles.wordpress.com/