Friday, 19 December 2014

With Apologies....

Good King Wenceslas went out,
for pizza he was craving.
Homemade fresh rolled dough
deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the oven light,
while the cheese did bubble.
Now his hunger it did bite,
and his stomach gru-um-bled.

O'er the menu he did pore
Meat and cheese and mushrooms
Marked his choices one by one
All his favourites lusting
Now his order's all but done
Gives to cashier waiting
Tries to pay for two full pies,
and Visa says declin-i-ing

So sadly Wenceslas went home
With cravings strong and griping
What to eat he did not know
His larder bare unappealing
And lo his friends, they came by
For a night of gaiety.
They brought beer and games to play
And pizza hot so pi-i-ping

And so the night it was saved
With friends and a party
And good cheer to all it gave
With drinks and food so hearty
Therefore, all men, take this creed
If good friends possessing
When you find yourself in need
Shall yourself find blessing

Monday, 10 November 2014

No. They Didn't Fight for our Freedoms.

On Remembrance Day, Canadians come together to honour our fellow countrymen and women who have sacrificed for the sake of our freedom and way of life. Prince George-Peace River MP Bob Zimmer

This trope that Canadian soldiers have fought and sacrificed for Canadian freedoms is so common we accept it without any thought. It's part of our lore now, and it is regularly trotted out as a reminder to honour our veterans. Well I have thought about it, and I find this sentiment to be misguided and completely wrong. At no time have Canadian freedoms ever been under threat of attack. The only exception being the only war fought on our soil, the War of 1812. But that's not what people think about when they say "they sacrificed their lives for our freedoms."

When we state that members of our military fought for our freedoms, we dishonour the true sacrifice made. The physical and mental scars, the loss of friends and colleagues in battle, the cost of combat; has all occurred on foreign soil. The sacrifices made have all been to free foreign citizens from an oppressive threat to them. These sacrifices were not for us, they were made for something more than that. They were made so that others could escape oppression and have a chance to live in freedom.

By making this sacrifice all about us, it diminishes the true valor and selfless altruism expressed. When we put ourselves central to the story, we create a narrative that becomes partisan and political. It helps to assuage our guilt about sending our sons and daughters overseas to die on foreign soil. Even though it happened over there we claim it was about defending us over here.

But when one follows that logic it quickly breaks down. For the battles fought to have been about defending us would require that there was a threat to our shores; that there was an imminent invasion of our country that needed to be stopped. But we have never been under threat of invasion. Even in World War 2, Germany would have never had the capacity to invade North America; their goal was the European mainland and Russia, a goal that was already beyond their military might. Japan had no ambitions beyond the so-called Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Even if Germany and Japan had won the war, our democratic freedoms and our territory were safe.

The strength with which we cling to this tenuous link to protecting our freedoms says more about us than it does about those that served. And isn't it supposed to be the other way around? Let's not diminish the altruism and sacrifice of those that have served in our armed forces. For I can think of no greater sacrifice then to lay down ones life for an other, a stranger.

A foreigner.

Why do we work so hard to lessen the meaning of that sacrifice? Perhaps it's time we stopped. Remember and honour the sacrifice made so that others could live free.

Friday, 31 October 2014

"Jian Ghomeshi vs. the Mob" a Rebuttal

My friend Sean Stokholm penned an interesting op-ed in the National Post questioning the value of vigilante mob justice. In principle I agree with his underlying point, that the mob tolerates no dissent, or questioning of its motives. I have made my own argument in this regard.

(Disclosure, in the current Jian Ghomeshi affair, I am probably a member of "the mob" Sean is taking aim at. The shoe as it is said, is on the other foot.)

The online community, at least as I experience it on Twitter, can get very shouty. If you have a contrarian opinion, hordes are willing to shout you down and launch vicious attacks on your personality, your friends, your employer and everyone associated with you. That aspect I cannot stand. I cringe when I see people I respect engage such behavior themselves. I hope I have never done it myself. There is disagreeing with an opinion, and having a discussion (or even an argument) and then there is just shouting insults at each other, which I believe is never useful.

For that part of the argument, I completely agree with Sean.

So I why do I identify with "the mob?"

This Jian Ghomeshi affair is a unique incident. It was precipitated by Jian himself, with his now infamous Facebook post. With that post, Jian asked us to rush to judgement. He demanded that we believe him. If he wasn't a semi-famous celebrity, the resulting uproar would likely not have been as loud. But Jian opened the door to the mob, hoping to attract only the mob of his defenders and well...

If you open the door to the mob, don't be surprised when the wrong mob comes through your door.

Because Jian asked the online world to believe his side of the story, it is natural, it is expected, it is hoped, that the opposing viewpoint would become available. And holy shit did it ever become available. We, the mob that Jian asked our opinion of, now had more information. We had two sides to the argument. We could make a choice. Just as Jian asked us to. An awful lot of us chose not to believe Jian's side. Suck it up loser.

I have seen many people asking that we all choose the third way, "Don't believe either side until we have proof." It is a reasonable request, but in this case it ignores the proof that we have, and the proof that is rapidly becoming more available. This isn't just a "he said, she said" argument, this is a "he said, she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said" argument. And a lot of the "she said" stories are remarkably consistent with each other. Which either requires a grand conspiracy, or that it actually happened the way these women are reporting. Even when the Toronto Star (finally!*) broke the story, we had four women that anonymously questioned Jian's version of events.

The fact that these women chose to be anonymous bothers a lot of people. To which I say "Why?" You are currently reading an anonymous bloggers post, I have many people reading my anonymous Twitter account. People regularly engage with my "anonymous" self online all the time and take my personal stories at face value. And I can attest from personal experience and personal belief, that an individual's desire for anonymity can (and most likely) does not impact their ability to impart a truthful statement. If a person you know can lie to your face, an anonymous person can tell the truth. Knowing someone's true identity has little value in determining the truthfulness of their statements. Society wrongly puts huge value in knowing the name behind a statement, and as the online world is really showing, anonymity empowers people to state truths they would otherwise hide for fear of reprisal. (And yes, anonymity does enable trolls to show their nasty side to the world, but I submit they are sharing their true ugly selves. They're not faking it.) Let me put it simply, people have a multitude of reasons to stay anonymous, those reasons are completely independent of the truth behind their statements. Granted you cannot cross-examine them, but you are not a lawyer, and we are not in a court of the law. Those rules don't apply to society at large.

So what we had pretty quickly was one person, Jian, sharing one side of the story and four other people sharing the other side. I submit, if you were fence-sitting, refusing to choose sides and waiting for more evidence, you were engaging in deliberate moral cowardice**.

Now as a member of "the mob" I do have the responsibility to not shout down others with opposing viewpoints. I have the responsibility to engage, with respect, and to listen and to rebut if I can. If we can come to agreement, great. If not, well, if I could convince everyone to always agree with me I would be King of the World. The fact that I am not even close illustrates my rate of success. And I have to be content to live with that.

As should you. Be respectful. Try to make your debates productive.

*   I have quite vocally questioned the Toronto Star for sitting on the story until Jian released his Facebook statement. This story should have been broken earlier. Sitting on it was an irresponsible choice that continued to endanger the safety of women exposed to Jian Ghomeshi.
** I chose to word it that way deliberately, to provoke you the reader, to sit back and ponder the impact of that. You can disagree, but understand that I am not God sitting on his throne casting judgement on you. I am just trying to provoke you.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Slate. Missing the Point

Yesterday a video of woman experiencing street harassment went viral. When I watched it all I saw were men treating a woman like an object. An object they desired and existed for their own pleasure.

And I was disgusted. I had heard about street harassment, but never witnessed it. To say this video opened my eyes is like saying a kick to the nuts is painful. And based on the viral nature of that video, I wasn't the only one.

So what's the reaction Slate went with? The video is racist.

I read it and my bullshit meter redlined.

"But if the point of this video is to teach men about the day-to-day reality of women, then this video doesn’t hit its target. The men who are sitting in their offices or in cafes watching this video will instead be able to comfortably assure themselves that they don’t have time to sit on hydrants in the middle of the day and can’t properly pronounce “mami.”"

I am a white, country-bred, redneck male. And this video reached me. I got it. While sitting in my office.

If a guy is ignoring the point of this video because of race, that guy has TWO problems. If a guy is ignoring the point of this video because he's older, that's just young kids today, that guy has TWO problems. If a guy is ignoring the point of this video because it's an American Big City and he's Canadian small-town, that guy has TWO problems. If a guy is ignoring the point of this video because.... Well you get my point.

The point of the video is Street harrassment is real. It's wrong. And it needs to stop.

And if you find yourself saying "But.." stop right there. YOU have a problem. And you need to deal with that.

Monday, 27 October 2014

I'm A Bad Person

Unlike the majority(?) of Canadians, I am unable to share in the outpouring of grief over the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. Many have used the word "hero" to describe his actions, which amounted to being the victim of a coward shooting him in the back. This incident was horrifying, but to call the victim a hero? If he is one, then it is true that the word hero has lost all meaning.

I am struck by how much the symbolism of what happened in Ottawa on October 22, 2014 is growing in importance to the actual physical facts. A national hero was murdered by a terrorist on a mission of Jihad. Thousands of Canadians lined the Highway of Heroes to honour this brave hero on his final journey home.

Sorry. I just can't buy into it.

The grief of Cirillo's family and friends is nothing to laugh at or mock. But I only see that a horrific public murder happened in our capital city. It ended with a shootout in the halls of our government. It was, and always will be shocking at that level.

But just a few days before, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed in another cowardly attack. And yet he is not being feted as a national hero. He was in uniform, but he wasn't guarding a war memorial in Ottawa. And that makes me wonder, what if it wasn't Cirillo that was shot in Ottawa, what if it was a tourist? Keep everything else the same, would that tourist have been mourned publicly by thousands on the Highway of Heroes?

The public nature of the grief appears to be indelibly tied to Who, When, Where and Why. And there is a publicly accepted, nay expected, level of grief required for different combinations. The more symbolism around the death, the greater the grief required.

All of this would make for only an interesting Anthropology discussion if it weren't for the reaction to this event it is provoking. Laws must be changed, freedoms given up, wars must be fought.

Because symbols have power and that power needs be expressed in every way possible.

Nope. Sorry. Don't buy it for a minute.

And that makes a very bad person.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Terror Problem. What Questions Should we Ask?

October 22, 2014 has indelibly imprinted itself on my mind. From the first tweet that a gunman was loose on Parliament Hill, I was glued to my computer, constantly searching for news and answers to try to understand the scope of that horrific event.

Once all was over and the details emerged, we learn that the scene of terror that engulfed our capital city was all due to a loan crazed individual armed with a rifle. In our post 9-11 world, an attack that ended in gunfire in our halls of government reverberates with the unique intensity and urgency we have assumed into our collect conscience since the war on terror was declared.

And it is through the "war on terror" lens that this event is being viewed. Whether by those that blame radical Islam for our troubles, or those that blame our imperial aggression in Muslim countries, the debate about the cause and effect exist solely within the post 9-11 terror narrative.

But in our search for answers, I don't think we ask ourselves the right questions. Why would Michael Zehaf-Bibeau (and Martin Rouleau) choose to assault and murder members of our military? What caused these troubled individuals to embrace radical Islam?

And more importantly, what would they have chosen if "radical Islam" was not a readily available option?

I think it's very critical that we pause and reflect on that question. The underlying assumption about the "radicalization of our youth" problem we are grappling with is the unsaid narrative that without the radical Islam influence, these individuals would not choose to terrorize society.

I believe that to be a serious error in judgement. For as I pondered that question, it occurred to me that these individuals wanted to hate somebody. They needed something to latch on to that would validate and allow them to express that hate. If not radical Islam, I believe they would have picked more "traditional" targets. Whether it be women, Jews or gays or any other group.

It is important to understand that many of these recent converts to radical Islam are looking for an answer to whatever internal angst they are dealing with. It isn't an easy choice, nor is it a simple or logical one. This is entirely an irrational response. But they have a need that needs filling, and perhaps like a desperate addict in search of a fix they will latch onto whatever cause that provides relief, clarity, a purpose, a target to focus on.

Someone to blame. 

We must consider in our response, are we trying to prevent the next Zehaf-Bibeau or the next Marc L├ępine? And is there really any difference between them? What problem are we trying to solve?

If the answer we choose is simply "Islamic terrorism" then I believe we will not solve anything, and those that seek to terrorize will just choose another outlet.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

NDP Party of Canada, Party of the Privileged Few

I have had all I can take with the "fight to save Canada Post's home delivery." Every time, it's about saving home delivery for those that currently have it. No one proposes getting home delivery back for those that have lost it before. And no one proposes starting home delivery for those communities that have never had it.

That's right. Never had home delivery. I grew up in a little town in rural Ontario. We never had home delivery. We had the Post Office. It was the only way of communicating with the outside world other than the telephone (and many of my peers had homes with party lines. Not the best for long conversations.) To get your mail, you had trudge to the Post Office, Monday to Friday only, and get your mail from your mailbox. Same to send any mail.

In the 1970s, my community had the singular distinction of having the highest proportion of Senior Citizens of any community in Ontario. So, it was a time before the electric scooter and we had no transit options of any kind. We lived in the snow belt where we measured snow depth in feet,  not inches. The Post Office was the gateway to the outside world, where you got your letters, post cards, bills, cheques and parcels (other than Simpsons Sears catalog orders.) The mail was central to our lives. Young and old alike had to walk (or drive) up to the Post office, in sun, snow and rain and drop-off and pickup our mail.

Then in the 80s Canada Post announced it was closing the Post office based mailboxes and installing community mailboxes. These mailboxes would be distributed around the community, closer to residents, so they wouldn't have to walk as far every day. And guess what? The community objected. The Post Office was where people met, swapped stories, gossiped and caught up with each other. That central meeting space would disappear, and the soul of the community would go with it.

Well not so much, the community adapted. There was still the grocery store, library, churches the Legion and other locales. The soul survived after all.

But for more than 40 (50, 60?) years, there has been no home delivery for many small communities in rural Ontario. From the time when mail was the be-all and end-all for communication, bills, cheques, gifts, etc. to now when most of what is delivered is flyers no one give a crap about. And since I've moved out on my own, everywhere I've lived, I've never had home delivery. Always a community mailbox. And somehow I survived.

So to all those people trying to save home mail delivery that cry "what about seniors, the disabled, the shut-ins?" I reply "Where the fuck have you been for the last 50 years? NOW you give a shit?"

Oh that's right because now it affects you. And now you're selfishly trying to save home delivery for yourselves. And the NDP is there for you.

Well screw you. Nobody campaigned to expand home mail delivery back when it mattered. And no one is campaigning to expand it now. You just want to keep it for yourselves, in a time when mail is becoming increasing irrelevant. Trust me and the thousands of seniors and disabled individuals that lived without it for the last half-century. You can live without it too.