Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

On Standing Up: 2014 in Review

Reviewing the year that was has become the major tradition on this blog. Last year I wrote about the fact that sexism and feminism had become a critical flashpoint in the West. In 2012 I highlighted the ubiquity of violence around the world. This year, my review deals again with similar threads: oppression and violence. However, the spin this time is more positive. This year I wanna talk about something that I'm seeing that is actually positive - standing up.

To set the definition here, I mean to say that there have been sustained efforts to hold perpetrators of the egregious accountable. 2014 was, without a doubt, full of horrible news - as we are about to recall. Sexism and racism were rampant this past year, but thankfully there has also been a mobilisation, both online and in person. I have selected three stories from 2014 that I feel really illustrate my argument.

I'll start with the most clear example: Ferguson. I've already written about the shooting of Michael Brown, pointing out that institutional racism in the United States is at the root of this, and numerous other, tragedies of late. It's unsurprising that this type of violence is occuring - we can think back to the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012. However, what's really impressive is that the reaction to the shooting was so massive. Protests started in August and continued through the fall as the grand jury deliberated an indictment. There was support throughout the state as well as around the world. Campaigns online led to the creation of numerous successful hashtags like #blacklivesmatter, #handsupdontshoot, and #millionsmarch. While there was some violence, often prompted by the presence of militarised police, these protests highlighted a non-violent response to the institutional problem of police brutality and racism. Also, as I'm writing this today there are reports that citizens are peacefully taking over the police station in Missouri following another tragic shooting of a young black man.

The next issue is the recent Twitter explosion surrounding Iggy Azalea. Azalea is a hip-hop artist from Australia who has experienced incredible success in worldwide this year. She also happens to be white. Much of her success has come from co-opting black hip-hop culture (much in the same way the other forms of music like jazz, rock, and blues have been appropriated by whites). She is unapologetic about her success, seemingly unaware of her white privilege and the fact that she is making hip-hop more accessible on account of her race and class. Moreover, she's made uniformed comments about slavery and the history of black resistance. Azalia Banks, a black hip-hop artist has led the charge to expose this cultural appropriation as well as the incredible ignorance of Iggy Azalea. This, naturally, exploded on Twitter. Other artists and celebrities joined in, creating a chorus of voices promoting the reality of co-optation in hip hop music.

One of the other major items in the news this year was a series of high-profile rape and sexual assault allegations. I wrote about the case surrounding Jian Ghomeshi, but this is merely one of many stories. Most people have likely heard about victims coming forward with claims against Bill Cosby and . In a newly released video Rape in the Time of Celebrity a character exclaims: "they're impossible to touch, but they'll touch you". For numerous reasons, many of which I've articulated in my previous post about Ghomeshi, the victims, even when they are numerous, are not taken seriously. But the problem goes much beyond these sensational tabloid stories: rape on college campuses has reached a flashpoint. This has spilled over at Dalhousie in Halifax, York in Toronto, or the University of Virginia. With numerous clever social media campaigns, women in colleges around North America have stood up and fought back against university administrations that have pretended that sexual assault is not a campus issue. I'd argue, as many others have, that 2014 was a pivotal year in turning the tide against rape apologists.

It's nice to see that, even though hatred, oppression, and violence are seemingly alive and well, so too is the will to stand up against injustice. It's worthwhile, however, pointing out that our interest in solidarity only goes so far. Take for example the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which for the record is ongoing as I write this.  The international response was painfully slow and poorly organised. Media coverage was focused on the few westerners who contracted the virus or on spreading fear and paranoia. It's my hope that in 2015 people continue to stand up for themselves and others. Here's to the end of 2014.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The War on Christmas

It's that time of year again. The holidays. The end of the calendar year is so overwhelming that it's hard to really talk about it in a global sense. We're all so immersed in the world of festivities that it can be tricky to take a step back and talk about the season more generally. That is, of course, unless you are levying the charge that there is a "War on Christmas".

It's a term I remember distinctly arguing about during the holidays in 2008. So I performed a Google Trends search and discovered that the use of this term peaked in 2007. That said, it's made a marked appearance, of roughly the same intensity, every year since.

And why shouldn't it? It has all the elements to make for a great story. There's nothing black and white about it and everyone can weigh in. Depending on where your values are regarding religious expression, community, identity, or respect for diversity has a massive impact on how we approach this so-called controversy.

The notions of Christmas as ubiquitous or monolithic are pervasive and harmful. Christmas, and the holidays in general, are multi-faceted cultural institutions and they aren't going away. Despite the fact that I am not a Christian, Christmas has always been important to me. And this will continue because I can define it for myself. It's a cultural holiday that I associate with family, the celebration of winter, good food, taking a break from work, and giving. I also get a say in the traditions that I choose to support, critique, or reject. I won't force them on others, and in my position (teacher in a public board) I know that I need to be careful how I talk about the holidays. I've managed to get by without wishing anyone I don't know very well "Merry Christmas" and it hasn't been difficult. When people say "happy holidays", "seasons greetings", or anything else to me, I give them my best wishes in return. Shouldn't that goodwill be at the heart of the holidays?

When it comes down to it, I don't perceive Christmas as a holiday to be under attack. What I do notice, though, is how the meaning of Christmas has changed dramatically. The holidays have sadly become more about money, transforming the holiday season into a cultural festival revolving around economics. If there's a War on Christmas, it's my belief that it has manifested itself by way of co-opting the spirit of Christmas in order to advance the interests of the economy

To be fair, that's just my read of the holidays. But it's controversial and there's no right answer. However you slice it, the holidays will continue to be a great mixed bag: a time of love, hope, wonder, hostility, stress, and controversy. I wish everyone the best during the holidays, however you intend to spend them. Seasons greetings!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Chronicles of Sarnia - Pt I

It's December and despite my best intentions I haven't sat down to write about my experiences living in Sarnia. I'm going to take some time now to talk about what it's been like relocating again.

For one, this move marks the fifth time I've moved in the past two years. The nature of my work is such that steady employment is hard to find. Moreover, the school boards I've worked in have all been territorially extensive, necessitating a move every time I have a new post. Since March of last year I've been fortunate to have contracts in the French language public board, le Conseil scolaire Viamonde.

As difficult as I found the transition to teaching in French (both professionally and personally), I've been really proud of my achievements and I have only strengthened my resolve. I'm lucky to have employment as a teacher in Ontario, but I also know this was the result of a lot of hard work and some rather challenging decisions.

That brings me to moving to Sarnia. The decision that I had to make this spring was challenging, and in the spirit of the past few years it was nothing new. I had two offers in June: a semester-long position in Sarnia or a year-long position in Trois-Rivières. I contemplated and negotiated, hoping that I would end up with a clear plan and a good deal. When the end of August approached I was off to Sarnia.

I remember the day I had to move to Sarnia. I felt defeated. I had blogged only months before that I was coming to and end to transplanting. How little I knew. I had a lot of anxiety coming to Sarnia. I was afraid of the life transition and I also had my doubts about my abilities to be the great teacher I wanted to be if it meant teaching in French. Thankfully, in the time since I've only gone on to feel like an active member of the francophone community.

On Labour Day I set off to Sarnia. It took some time to settle into my new environment. It was very difficult at first. A new apartment, a new school, new students, new colleagues, new courses, new friends. I buried myself in my work and in building a robust social life around me, including taking up some new activities. I joined the bridge association, formed a games night group, and signed up for dodgeball. I kept my days and nights full so that I wouldn't have time to think about how miserable I was having to move to Sarnia.

Interestingly enough, despite my great unhappiness moving to Sarnia, I suddenly began to enjoy my new home. I've never, to clarify, moved somewhere that I didn't want to live. That is until Sarnia. I was deadset against it, for some obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. While it was difficult, I found that overcoming my mindset - my prejudice - was ultimately the true struggle.

I've never had a more enjoyable work environment in life. I have the best students I could ask for (and that's saying a lot given how amazing my students were in Shawinigan). I have great support from my coworkers. I love the courses that I'm teaching. I'm excited to be involved in the social activities I have here. I've loved going to United States. I enjoy biking in the region. I've gone to the beach every week.

That said, it hasn't all been rainbows. I moved to Sarnia during a period of great turmoil and personal change. Suffice to say, I wasn't feeling brave, but I had to forge on.

And I did. In the months since I've rebuilt. I'm feeling stronger, safer, and happier than I have in a very long time. It feels good to fluorish.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Ferguson and Institutional Racism

Since Monday there has been a lot of violence and talk. Darren Wilson, the white police officer who fatally shot unarmed black youth Michael Brown, was not indicted by a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri. An indictment, which is effectively an order to bring criminal charges to someone, occurs in about 90 per cent of these cases in the United States. The decision, which was by all accounts hyped up and to some degree anticipated with much pessimism, tore across America in a flash. No charges for Wilson and a nation divided.

What has followed has been predictable but all the while still quite shocking. Protests have erupted around the country as well as in some localised areas globally. In the midst of these torrid demonstrations, violence has broken out with rioting and the predictable looting and smashing of store windows. In the midst of this action, white people have taken to television and social media to tell the rest of America to stop talking about racism.

Despite the fact that we often think of racism as a part of the distant past: slavery, apartheid, the holocaust, or residential schools, the reality is that racism frames all social relationships in modern America and around the world. Attempts to deny the power of race are deeply problematic. This means on a macro level, as well as in particular cases, such as the shooting of Michael Brown.

Racism exists in the media, on social networking sties, in law enforcement, in the business world, in education, and in the legal system. Racism is pervasive and multifaceted. It's also ingrained in American culture, what we call institutional racism. Institutional racism generally means that even those who are racially marginalised hold racist attitudes towards various others in order to prop up the dominant group (think of the film Crash). This is similarly expressed in sexism when women call each other bitches or sluts. They have internalised the dominant messages about hierarchy and they are acting them out. It is the privilege of the dominant class, according to Antonio Gramsci, to have their ideas and values taken on by various others. This is otherwise known as hegemony.

There are quite a few ways in which we can observe institutional racism in the west. Here are some categories to reflect on.

The first is xenophobia. I just wrote about this last week, but it comes down to a fear, mistrust, and misunderstanding of the "other". These sentiments can apply to race or any category of "other" that is subordinate to a dominant cultural group. Sometimes it's assumptive, expecting a voice over the phone to be white, for example. Sometimes it's a reaction, like crossing to the other side of the street if you see a young black male. Sadly, this sometimes includes taking the side of the white authority when a young black man is killed, seemingly with little or no justification. Our ideas of otherness come from years of exposure to generally xenophobic ideas and institutions. Think, for example, of the image of Michael Brown that was shared by the media after he was killed. He was presented in a way that othered him, as a young black male, against a white victim of crime. This played out brilliantly on twitter with a photo campaign. See the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown.

This points to a related phenomenon - differential treatment. A good example of this is to think about who can be seen challenging the authority of the government. Take for example the demonstrations in Ferguson compared with renegade Cliven Bundy. Or the right to protest or participate in a riot: the burning of police cars was seen by many in America as an act of terrorism, but what about those who take to the streets after sporting events, such as the Vancouver riots in 2011. Even the questoin of who can openly hold a gun is incediary. It's from an idea that democracy is there to serve the interests of the dominant cultural group. Anyone else seen challenging it's legitimacy should be put back in their place. There's a song on the radio currently that says we're slamming the doors of democracy on those who are not the same.

Another element is fear. Many people, particularly white, try to imagine themselves in the situation and sympathise with the white person was "just doing their job" or "serving". We don't have to look back very far to see another unfortunate example, the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012. This shooting also evidences institutional racism because it was a hispanic man shooting a black man. Fear, propogated by racist propaganda, has a wide impact.

The last part I'd like to share is where we started: denying the existance of racism. This, in my view, is particulalry egregious because it shuts down anything progressive from happening. This takes many forms, most notably with things like saying that we've come a long way as a society or that racism goes both ways. These tactics are successful at derailing the types of progressive conversations that need to be happening in order to combat racism and other forms of marginalisation.

With all of these elements in mind, consider how Michael Brown was portrayed in the media since the event occured this summer. Now reflect on how Darren Wilson has been characterised. It doesn't take much googling to come up with some disturbing results, but I encourage you to try this as an exercise.

It can be difficult to think about next steps when we are so mired in current frustrations, but we must keep an eye out for what can be done. It won't be easy, but perserverence, hope, and compassion are really the only ways that we can transcend the violence and division. I will be watching this keenly as it continues to unfold.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Bullying: The Next Step

This past week my school board celebrated a week against bullying. I was excited that it was, in fact, at my school the students who put together the workshops every day that highlighted not only what bullying was, but who was targeted, why it was happening, and its effects. I had a really positive experience with this week until, during some professional development, I came across some material that tried to deny that bullying was in fact bullying. All this got me thinking about how we are all quick to rally behind bullying as a cause, but when bullying happens in the "real" world we forget the basic idea of it and have all sorts of really harmful ways of reacting to it.

So to start off, I thouht it'd be helpful to have a definition of bullying. There are many ways to go with this, but I'd note that most of the common definitions point out two key ideas: first, the power imbalance between the participants and, second, the fact that it is intended to cause harm. There is also a debate about whether or not it has to be sustained. More on this later.

I couldn't help but think that this sounds, to me, a lot like what adults face. Harrassment, intimidation, violence, exclusion, generally based on xenophobic sentiments. Perhaps, I thought, bullying is a manifestation of xenophobia.

To start, a lot of it comes down to the idea of inequality. In our modern world, the notion of inequality is a difficult one to have a rational discussion about, but ultimately it's the idea that two people don't have the same social, monetary, or physical capital. Whether that's based on a metric like race or religion; education or gender; sexual orientation or age. Look anywhere in the media, the political world, our personal lives, or the workplace, and you'll see manifestations of racism, sexism, or some other form of xenophobia. Sometimes it's egregious, sometimes it looks to be harmless. But it's there, always humming in the background.

As adults we get used to the fact that inequality is a "fact of life". If you don't like it you can either pretend to accept it or you can constantly try to agitate against it. There aren't a lot of choices. But what about for children?

Young people are trying to understand the world around them, and they pick up copious cues daily. They generally understand concepts like hierarchy and deference. They learn quickly whether or not authority is something to be followed or questioned. They also are learning how to relate to their peers. They learn from what they see modelled around them, which, unsurprisingly is the real world I alluded to before, full of people evaluating one another based on their differences: xenophobia.

Ultimately, students get bullied for the same reasons that adults experience xenophobia. Because they are different. It could come down to cultural differences like religious practices. It could come down to class like what kind of clothes you wear. It could come down to gender and whether or not you perform masculinity. It could aslo come down to size, race, ability, language, sexuality, or anything else. Rather unsurprisingly, these are all things that adults feel like they are targeted for.

So what about the aforemention question about bullying being sustained acts? Well, a xenophobic remark here and there may not look like sustained, but consider being the one to whom those marks are consistently addressed. That certainly feels like a threat, and perception is most certainly reality. Often I, or my colleagues in the teaching profession, don't intervene when bullying is occuring because we see it as a one-off. For the perpetrators or bystanders, it may be, but what about for the most important person implicated, the victim? It's my best guess that it's not the first time. And that's where I have some difficulty with official school board policies that discuss what is and is not bullying - it has to be sustained. There's no way to know if it is for sure, so why not treat all incidents as part of a social whole?

I write this because I see the week against bullying as a great starting point - a place to stop for a moment and reflect on inequality, belonging, fairness, justice, and participation. Let's consider talking about xenophobia more openly, thinking about how it manifests in our daily lives and what we can do to prevent its toxic influences.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

On Sexting

Feminism is getting a lot of buzz these days, and among the hundreds of contemporary issues important to youth is the proliferation of private sexual images. It's becoming a common occurrance with the likes of Kirsten Dunst, Kate Upton, and Jennifer Lawrence as victims of cloud hacks in this year alone. Their images have been distributed widely over the internet and the damage has been done.Trying to sort out responsibility in this situation is challenging and has been the subject of debate.

Many contend that it's clearly the fault of the hackers. Others will blame Apple for the failure of their cloud services to protect against hacking. Others still have decided that it was the fault of the women for taking the pictures of themselves in "comprimising" situations or posting them online.

This conversation is not particularly new since it is a modification of the blame game that women face when they allege rape. It's no surprise that we're talking about this again given the ongoing discussion about Jian Ghomeshi (read my previous blog). People seem to have a difficult time understanding concepts like consent, which have much wider reaches than the physical - it also includes what happens in an online context.

Recently I watched a video produced by Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes. In the video, a young man named Philippe takes images of his girlfriend and then circulates them after an argument. The protaganist in the video is not the girlfriend, however. Another character, Philippe's friend, faces the moral dilemma of whether or not to talk to Philippe about whether or not sexting is appropriate. Initially, he chooses not to say anything, and the result is that the girlfriend is deemed a slut and is excluded by both her male and female peers. With the magic of public service announcements he rewinds to the moment before Philippe sends the image. This time he decides to mention that it's not cool to circulate these images. Disaster averted.

As much as I'd like to be happy about the damage being avoided, note that the protagonist is not the woman. Instead of insisting that the image not be shared, she is reliant on a man to do something about it. And of course it's not something for Philippe to do. It requires someone else - the White Night.

The hacking of the clouds this year was pretty disappointing, but this case highlights some other questions. Notably, it's important to mention that the image in question is child pornography. Before the federal government any image of that variety, regardless of who took it, is regarded as such. There has been a fair amount of attention to this with frequent television and online ad spots. This has attracted a lot of attention as it implicates people criminally who are not culpable.

As far as I can tell, these issues are really complex. Trying to manage them with legal interventions is part of the solution, but not if it criminalises the young women involved. Much like in prostitution why should the women be held accountable? It is the duty of the state to protect vulnerable members of society and to mitigate against malevolent pressures.

Moreover, the focus should be on education for young people that deals with the true complexity of the situation. Not that it's criminal or that these young girls have no morals, but instead that participants are aware of the implications of placing images of themselves where they can be proliferated so that they can participate in it consensually. In the event that consent isn't expressed, then complaints should be taken seriously. But that's another question altogether.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

On Heroism

I wrote about remembrance last year in a piece I am particularly proud of. Given the acts of violence that occured last month in Ottawa and Montréal, there has been a lot of anxiety and hatred leading up to this Remembrance Day. Xenophobia has manifested itself quite publicly, including directly from our national leaders — this much to the dismay of many in Canada who would prefer to think we live in a harmonious society. It's been, at times, difficult to watch. There has also been a lot of talk about heroes, most notably Cpl Nathan Cirillo, the man killed at the Cenotaph in October.

Today is a day for reflection. A day for remembering. A day for sharing. Hopefully it's also a day for openness, respectfulness, and tolerance. Even more I hope it's a day for questioning not only the meaning of war, but also of the meaning of public memory. While I explored some of these themes last year, I'd like to focus now on the aforementioned talk of heroes.

This issue has been controversial for some time, but recently Andrew Dreschel of the Hamilton Spectator claimed that Cirillo was no hero. In the article Dreschel points out that hero was a title given posthumously to promote an "accidental" victim. Taking pains to note that the situation is tragic and that Cirillo is deserving of respect and attention, he questions the use of the word hero:

"The accolade traditionally isn't bestowed for simply wearing a uniform... The honour is accrued by performing brave deeds and daring feats — risking or sacrificing your life to save others. Cirillo may have possessed those heroic qualities and might even have had a chance to display them had he lived. But he didn't"
The point was not made to be disrepectful, but, like I mentioned above, in the vein of talking about the meaning of public memory.
Are members of the Canadian Forces heroes by default? 
What exactly constitutes heroism or a heroic act?
Is Remembrance Day for heroes, or is it more global in scope?
Who else in our society deserves to be remembered for their struggles? Should they get as much attention from the state, the media, and the public?
I don't actually have any answers just more questions. After an intimate ceremony at my school, during which a Canadian soldier recounted his experience in Afghanistan, I asked my students to write a reflexion about the importance of remembering, and again more specifically, who to remember. I look forward to reading their responses as much as I look forward to reading yours.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Jian Ghomeshi, Privilege, and Consent

Let me be the first to say that I loved Jian Ghomeshi from the first listen. His stature to me only grew over the next decade, including meeting him twice in 2007. I was surprised on Monday when my friend Jenn texted me that there was news about him. When I saw he was fired from the CBC it took mere moments to find a wide range of information about his 'departure'.

In this post I aim to write about the public reaction to Jian's firing. The details of the sexual assault allegations are appalling and, as much as they are deeply troubling and central to this case, these issues need to be sorted out in a legal environment.

I'd also like to point out that I think it'd be helpful if more people would at least try to separate his professional work from his personal life. Much of the reaction that has come to Jian's side has used his body of work to build him up as an upstanding man. This of course was aided by the fact that Jian decided quite quickly to make his own emotionally-charged public statement in which he definitely attempted to paint himself as both a victim and as someone who has worked hard to gain the respect of Canadians.

Jian's PR move (let's recognise it for what it is) has been pulled from the book of privileged men attempting to deflect allegations of sexual assault. Males already have a significant amount of privilege in modern western societies (despite what many of them will have you think). In particular, when it comes to sexual misconduct we are programmed to have sympathy for the male who is falsely accused by a "jilted" former partner. This is amplified significantly when you add other layers of privilege, like class, social status, or education. Jian is about as close as a media personality in Canada is ever going to come to being a rock star. He is known both nationally and around the world as a arts and culture superstar.

The other salient element is consent. Jian went out of his way to mention numerous times in his statement that he engaged in sexual practices that were consensual, as well as "exciting" for everyone involved. Consent is already an isuse that our society has enough trouble understanding. Consent cannot be given under duress, in an intoxicated state, or when someone is in a position of privilege. All the people that came forward most certainly did not give their consent. And those are just the ones who came forward.

In line with misunderstandings about consent and public apologia for men of privilege, it's no surprise that women don't line up to publicly or privately come forward with allegations of sexual assault. One of the most powerful hashtags I've seen this year is #whyistayed. Victims of sexual violence and intimidation have numerous reasons to not come forward and they should be respected for their courage in stepping up. They have so much to lose and often so little to gain.

This is a time for a national discussion about consent as much as it is a time for hopefulness. Many Canadians have shown that they will not be intimidated by Jian's immense stature. Many others have shown immense support. I've read so many fantastic articles that empower the victims in this case. Hopefully that will convince others to come forward, leave unhealthy relationships, or talk to others about issues like consent.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Municipal Elections

Today I ran a mock election thanks to CIVIX, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes civic engagement for youth. It was exciting to allow my students to cast real ballots the same day as municipal elections taking place around the country. Despite the fact that I would argue that the activity was a success, it also reminded me of larger social attitudes toward politics, in particular at the local level.

To start with, in Canadian federalism there are multiple levels of government. Traditionally there are three components: the federal government, the provincial governments, and local governments. At the local level, however, there are city and regional governments.

The setup leads to a significant amount of confusion. Local politics are probably the most difficult to understand, the least covered by media, and the least discussed in daily life. It's ultimately rather unfortunate since municipal government is what impacts us most, from public transit to social services to parks to water. Ballots in municipal elections require voters to make multiple selections, unlike in provincial or federal ones. Moreover, there are no party affiliations. This makes it much more difficult to feel connected if you are only keeping up sporadically.

The setup also leads to a sense of implicit hierarchy. It's easy to get the impression that the federal government is at the top of a pyramid with other levels subjected to it. The Canadian constitution stipulates what powers belong to which level of government. In the one hundred and fifty years since negotiation between the federal and provincial governments have led to the arrangements that are in place at present. Municipal governments have traditionally taken on responsibility for services that neither other level can effectively provide. In addition, in the past decade or so governments across the country have been downloading responsibilites to local government.

It certainly doesn't help that local politics aren't particularly exciting. The lack of parties, media attention, or controversial issues means that it's often more difficult to get engaged. There are, of course, notable exceptions. The eyes of the country are on Toronto today. Much in the same way that most Canadians in 2008 reported that they'd give away their vote in Canada to vote in the United States, I would not be surprised if most Canadians would trade their local vote for a vote in Toronto.

When it really comes down to it, it's definitely more difficult to get involved, but isn't your community worth having a say in? Get out and vote in today's municipal elections. They impacts you more than you think.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A National Tragedy

Yesterday much of downtown Ottawa was shut down by a violent attack. It's the second violent incident this week. I know many people who work near parliament hill and my thoughts were with them yesterday. My deepest sympathies go out to the families of the deceased as well as everyone else injured during the incidents. For the purpose of this post, I will be writing about the attack in Ottawa yesterday, though I recognise that the events of Monday are more than merely peripheral.

The alleged killer was born Michael Joseph Hall, but later changed his name to Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. He grew up in a relatively affluent family in Laval, Québec. A white Canadian who happens to be a Muslim convert, much attention has been placed on is religion as a factor leading to the violence. He attended private school and afterward had a spotty criminal record. Beyond these glimpses into his personal life, there have been numerous unconfirmed reports that he was suffering lately from serious mental health problems.

Given that we don't have a clear picture of the alleged attacker, it's best not to put too much into it. Instead, I think it's a good idea to talk about whether or not what happened yesterday was in fact terrorism. Depsite the fact that it is logical to define the parameters of a loaded term like this before proceeding, I've noticed that terrorism often seems to merit no introduction. The notion of terrorism, or perhaps more specifically terrorists, conjures up myriad images, many of which are deeply entrenched in our mass conceptualisations of violent, radical Islam. If you're unsure, just perform a google image search. Terrorism, which by the way refers to acts that are motivated by ideology to produce mass fear, are committed overwhelmingly in the United States by non-Muslims, according to the FBI. I can't say with any certainly if he was a terrorist, but I do believe that the purpose of the attack was to create fear. Hopefully there will be a lot of discussion about this and that you will participate.

On a related note, I found the media coverage of the event to be quite fascinating. Whereas American television and online media were promoting fear and panic, Canadian outlets were more subdued. Terrorism was a word thrown around rather liberally on CNN and Fox while I noticed that the CBC made a conscientious effort to use words like tragedy and ongoing events in place. Moreover, I found Canadian media analysis to be more thoughtful. In listening to live radio coverage, and later watching The National, I noted that reporters and moderators were prone to avoid making assumptions or jumping to sensational conclusions. The same, sadly, was not true of American media.

Try as I might to be content with our rather careful reporting, our prime minister and the conservatives have continued to advance the hardline response to terrorism. The morning Harper was quoted saying:

But let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated. In fact, this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home, just as it will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts to work with our allies around the world and fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores. They will have no safe haven.

Much of the wording here is frightening, if not offensive and incendiary. I agree that Canada shouldn't be intimidated, by why should we turn our grief into revenge? Attaching the acts of an individual to other unmentioned terrorists is a leap. Not to mention that words like brutalise and savagery are mired in colonial and racist overtones.

I think it's definitely helpful to remember that Canada has been at war (and an unpopular one) for the better part of the last fifteen years. Intervention in the Middle East as well as strengthening of a zionist policy often breeds malcontent. So much like in the United States and other modern militarised democracies (or aspiring ones) Canada is left open to certain undesirable, though not unpredictable, effects. I don't mean to minimise what has happened or to take away from the grief of a nation, but remember that this absolutely did not occur in a vaccuum.

The most important question now is in regards to where we go from here. The threat of ISIS, radical Islam, and related violence is real. Seemingly we can prepare to further entrench ourselves in this costly conflict. I'd prefer that we think more carefully about how Canada can return to being a broker for peace in the world. Someone who garners respect from all sides for listening and lending a hand. Some may reduce this to a dream, but I say let's not forget Jack Layton's dying hope - that love is better than hate.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Pushing Limits: Exposure and Experience

This weekend my students and I went to London to participate in the filming of a documentary. A francophone historical group, l'Écho d'un peuple, is putting together a webseries that dramatises the four hundredth anniversary of French settlement in Ontario. Beyond getting to dress in period clothing and firing a musket, I felt a compelling connection to my French roots.

I've always identified with French culture and with the French language, even though I'm admittedly an anglophone whose spent most of his life in Ontario. As I've gotten older the interest has transformed into something more central to my identity. Moving to Québec to teach in English was an exciting part of my life and opened my eyes to my own history and identity, but if anything coming back to Ontario to teach in French has truly cemented my convictions about who I am. While I'll always be an anglophone, I'm really pleased to be so deeply immersed in the francophonie. Despite the fact that I've already written about my experience as a Franco-Ontarien, I feel compelled to remark again on the degree to which I feel completely welcomed within the community. I've never felt so at home among strangers. It's incredible.

Working toward a greater understanding of the francophone world is a passion of mine, and it grows with time. Part of what keeps me engaged in life is always wanting to keep learning, and that means exposing myself to new experiences. Being curious is a significant part of that.

This weekend I got to satisfy my curiosity alongside my students. We worked with Métis, Algonquins, Hurons, and Iroquois in addition to other Franco-Ontariens. I admittedly don't know much about aboriginal cultures, despite the fact that I have some native blood. Being exposed to cultural practices, as well as experiencing danse and music, was immersive and engaging. Learning about origin stories, conceptualisations of the relationship between humanity and the earth, and daily life was fascinating.

It was also pretty disappointing that in all my life up until now this information was somehow never passed along. I find this personally embarrassing since I studied history. Moreover, I've been in many social situations where I've had the chance to learn more but held back. Much in the same way that I've slowly come to fully embrace French culture, I'm excited to learn more about aboriginal culture so that I can come to appreciate it and hopefully help other people develop an interest as well.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

On Facebook

I've been thinking a lot about Facebook lately, perhaps because I've been more active this summer than normal; perhaps because I've been talking to people (in real life) about Facebook. I've come to discover that Facebook's utility is very subjective. Some have indicated to me that they use it to keep in touch with people they no longer have contact with. Some people really enjoy being able to see what's going on around them. Some feel like they are always connected. Some like to share and enjoy having a platform.

I think that, fundamentally, Facebook is for all those things. However, as much as I appreciate those sentiments, I've very much come to view Facebook at my own personal newspaper. Friends and pages that I follow provide me with a nearly endless stream of articles, blogs, videos, pictures, and statuses that I use to know what's going on.

The wider context is that print media is dying. In particular, young people aren't subsribing to their local newpaper or national journals of record. Despite this, I still have a desire, like most people, to know what's going on in whatever communities I identify with. Some of these communities are geographic, such as finding out what's going on in Québec or Ottawa or Kitchener. Some of these are imagined, like what's going on in feminist, socialist, or queer circles. Some of it comes in the form of more 'traditional' articles, usually actually linked to a real newspaper article. Some are opinion pieces from friends, such as blogs or memes, which are similar to editorials. I very much enjoy reading that original content.

I feel like I have acess to a news feed, which is like a newspaper. Ostensibly the more important stories come first, followed by whatever is next in significance. While this doesn't necessarily always follow, it's similar to a newspaper. I get to choose what I like to read and I get suggestions based on my preferences. In some way it's like picking a newspaper based on its particular slant.

I feel like I use Facebook a fair amount - at least an hour every day. It's rather active use, scrolling through and clicking on external links. I get the impression that I'm a moderate user of Facebook, and I don't feel like I use it too much, mostly because I feel like it's time that I would otherwise not use in such an enriching way. I hope that in the future Facebook remains accessible and that my friends still continue to make me think!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Jour des Franco-Ontariens

Today is le Jour des Franco-Ontariens, a day to celebrate the culture and heritage of French speakers from across the province. 25 September was designated Franco-Ontario Day in 2010 when the Ontario Legislative Assembly unanimously adopted the motion. According the province's Office of Francophone Affairs this day will "officially recognize the contribution of Ontario's Francophone community to the cultural, historical, social, economic and political life of the province".

My school took a field trip to London today to experience a morning of activities alongside over a thousand other students from French-language public and catholic schools. I was happy to see that it was truly a celebration of inclusion, focusing on the fact that we can all belong even if we don't necessarily a share a common heritage.

The notion of language tying us together is really cool and is personal to me. It's important that access to the identity is not limited to native speakers, but to all who wish to communicate despite their ability levels. I've long been confused about whether or not I feel closer to Ontario or to Québec, and this question will probably continue long into my future. I know I'm an anglophone, but speaking French, sharing secular French traditions, and sharing certain community values has always been something important to me, particularly in the past few years.

I first discovered Franco-Ontarian as an identity when I moved to Ottawa. I became aware of the community, even if I didn't feel necessarily connected to it. A few years in Québec and a few contracts in the Conseil scolaire Viamonde and I'm now feeling strong ties to other Franco-Ontariens, who are my colleagues, my students, my friends, and my community. It is with a fair amount of pride that I feel welcomed in the Franco-Ontarian community as an anglophone. I've spent my whole life being interested in the French language and culture and I'm lucky to be able to participate in it so fully.

The future of French schools in Ontario is bright as enrolment is steadily increasing as more people discover the value of diversity and cultural experience. Cultural exchage benefits us all I am really happy to be a participant and facilitator in this regard.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Talking Sovereignty

Unless you've been completely absent for the past few weeks, you should know that Scotland is going to the polls tomorrow to decide if they are going to secede from the United Kingdom. It's been a significant race of late, especially given how dead in the water the movement seemed mere months ago. Polls have indicated that in the past week a majority of Scottish voters would vote in favour of independence. Given that Canadians have spent much of their lives being concerned about the so-called Québec-versus-the-rest-of-Canada issue, I want to briefly talk about the connections between theses two sovereignty cases.

Both cases involve the dominance of the English over another ethno-cultural group. Scotland became part of Great Britain in 1707 with the Articles of Union. It was a somewhat voluntary union and somewhat forced. The same can se said of the union of the united provinces and colonies that took place in 1867 - Canadian Confederation. Again it was a negotiated, mostly voluntary, agreement amongst four constituent parts.

While there is certainyl a similarity between cases (British imperialism) the modern realities are rather different for a few reasons. The first is that the United Kingdom is a unitary state. This means that all members of the United Kingdom are subservient to the united government which makes the vast majority of decisions on their behalf. Contrast that with Canadian federalism where each province has more influence on the day-to-day lives of its residence than does the federal government.

This didn't happen by accident: Canada was structured this way in the British North America Act (1867) and since has continued to grow based on the individual needs of the provinces, notably Québec. The effect has been that provinces have considerable autonomy - or sovereignty. They control spending in important fields like infrastructure, health, education, and social services. They collect taxes and regulate financial institutions like co-operatives. They mandate work legislation.

Is Québec the only benefactor in this situation? Absolutely not. Alberta has been a significant winner because of these agreements, as has Ontario and British Columbia at some time or another. Canadian federalism strengthens all of Canada, and we owe a large part of this to the sovereignty movement in Québec.

So what of this movement now? And of Scotland's case? Good questions. It appears that for all intents and purposes the Québec sovereignty movement has collapsed in on itself. Most Quebeckers are content with the autonomy that their government has (immigration and citizenship are current issues) but the movement lives on, perhaps best embodied by former premier Pauline Marois. Marois, for her part, failed to stimulate a discussion on sovereignty because most Québecois are over it and many of the goals sought after were achieved (see maitres chez nous). When she went, last year, to Scotland to support the independence movement, she was sequestered because she was seen as a dinosaur from a dying movement. Scotland's movement is vibrant, and with good reason.

The vote takes place tomorrow, so there's not much time left to talk about Scotland's future. But the reality is that either way Scotland will have difficulties ahead. The rhetoric of the YES campaign (for independence) claims that an independent Scotland will be better off as it will be in control of its own affairs. Why not be in control of the vast majority of your own affairs and remain in the UK? Some of the offers from London have been weak, admittedly, but this process of negotiation, not a simple yes or no choice, will ultimately best serve Scotland and the United Kingdom's future.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Hacktivism and Patriarchy

Yesteday afternoon a video surfaced on social media that clearly showed Ray Rice, a Baltimore Ravens running back, brutally attacking his fiancée. The reaction was swift, both on the internet where he was criticised openly and in the media where he was shamed. In a matter of hours his team had confirmed that he was indefinitely suspended from the NFL and cut by his team.

While violence and abuse are not uncommon among professional athletes, a culture of denial and silence is. So naturally I found yesterday's events surprising for how quickly and positively it was handled.

What's interesting to me is that in the age #womenagainstfeminism and other backlashes against progressive feminist ideology there are few issues as unifying as violence against women. I don't mean to say that everyone is on the same page, but by comparison it's an issue where most people can appreciate that there is a problem and that we need to find a solution. Issues like access to abortions or contraceptives, the pay gap, and rape are all issues that are highly political and polarised, with many claiming that these are not actual problems.

By virtue of this video coming out, it has highlighted the power of hacktivism, particularly around an issue that will provoke almost ubiquitous outrage. Social media has very much accelerated the use of hacktivism (hacking activism). As more people have both the tools to record and the skills to post and find information, hacktivism will continue to be a force that fights back against hegemony. Hacktivism sometimes gets a bad rap because it is seemingly poorly understood. Some people are aware of Anonymous but are more inclined to think of hacktivism in the context of the NSA spying on American citizens, identity theft, or blackmail. There are certainly enough examples of this circulating right now.

I think it's very important to make the distinction that hacktivism is not about exposing people's personal data, it's about exposing injustice. Often, this includes sharing information that was obtained in a public space, such as an elevator. Hopefully, as more people are capable of exposing criminal acts our legal system will evolve to keep pace.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

What's in a Name?

I've spent the past few weeks thinking about my identity and who I am. In many ways I'm a hybrid. I'm a Quebecker and an Ontarian. I'm bilingual. I'm ambidextrous. I'm queer. I'm a social democrat.

Those identities are all very important to me. But they're all really complex and complicated. Often, they are identities that are invisible to others. Sometimes because it's not something I wish to bring up; sometimes it's just a matter of convenience. But there's one identity that gets blown by every time because of its sheer simplicity: my name.

It's been ten years now, fully a decade, since I decided to start going by James.

It was August 2004. A life transition awaited me regardless of what I did. It wasn't a decision that I took lighly. I spent the last two years of high school waiting so that when I went away to university in the fall of 2004 I could have a clean slate.

Of course, things didn't go according to plan. I moved to Waterloo from Kitchener, and my old life stayed close by my side, the two mixing like a venn diagramme with me in the middle. I was now James. I was still Scott.

At the time, I didn't worry because I figured it wouldn't take long before everyone would call me by my name. After a few years, I kind of just gave up. I had tried, and then I decided to live a life where half the people around me called me Scott and the other half James. Unsure, in some measure, of who I really was.

I've just always felt imposing - or at the very least awkward - when I explained how I wanted to be addressed. Some people have been a lot more sympathetic than others. And I get - I really do. I didn't feel self-assured about it initially and I let people tell me how I should feel instead of confidently reminding them that I know who I am.

Somehow I let other people continue to define me when it really should be up to me. I understand that you are used to seeing me in a certain way, but I'm politely asking you to consider how I would prefer to be acknowledged.

This summer I've come to the conclusion that I want to be called James - by everyone. I'll hopefully have a chat with everyone about this. If you're uncomfortable let me know. I really understand - just try to remember that I'm only seeking to be validated. All I really want is a respectful dialogue. In fact, I deserve one, don't I?

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Sorry to Disappoint

Last night I was nominated for the ALS Icebucket Challenge. I hate to disappoint (I really do), but unfortunately I will not be dumping a bucket of icewater on my head, nor will I be donating to the ALS society.

My first concern is that this icebucket challenge is a prime example of modern slacktivism. This is a term that has been used to describe the various ways that we claim to be supportive and advocate for a cause without necessarily making an impact. Of course activism itself is amorphous, but it's important to note that activism should lead to the promotion of a greater understanding and appreciation of an issue, not merely parroting a line that has been offered by one organisation. I'd argue that, in the case of the icebucket challenge, there has been a limited amount of discussion about ALS, its causes, treatment, or research. Anyone claiming to be an activist, in short, should be critically aware of what it is they are a supposed advocate for.

This touches on a related notion, that this challenge is a viral campaign designed to take off on social media. This is a free form of advertising for them and is, largely, self-sustaining. Without increasing their marketing budget, they've gained a platform around most of the developed world. This has been fueled largely by a sense of narcissism (people want to be seen on Facebook being generous and supportive) and by the fact that it is based on interpersonal relationships (meaning that you've been nominated by a friend and there's something on the line).

Beyond the sentiments of feelgoodism, it's worthwhile thinking about how the icebucket challenge very loosely meets the basic requirements of being "challenging". It's not difficult to dump water on your head, nor is it to make a video, nor is it to donate money. It's, in my opinion, far more challenging to become critically aware of what you're actually doing.

I just watch what's going on here and I can't help but think about mustaches, red equal signs, wristbands, and other self-serving, self-promoting forms of slacktivism. More or less this fails to cause any harm, but every once in a while it's a more nefarious situation - need we be reminded of Kony 2012.

I'll close off this rant by talking about what we can do. We should take care to note how to donate to causes we feel our important (whether that's promotion, time, or money). Take some time to research where you can. Where I'm an activist today is in writing my MP about missing aboriginal women, a terrible mark on modern Canadian society that the Conservatives have been all too happy to dismiss.

As a result, I nominate nobody. All the best.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Globalisation: Sport, Money, and Politics

As is the case every four years, we have the World Cup and the Winter Olypmics. These are examples of the international spirit of the times. Competition in the name of nationalism, gestures of co-operatoin, and triumph of the human spirit.

While these are the greatest international sporting events in our era, they have their detractors and this has been a point of contention, especially in the past decade. With issues like austerity and ecoconsciousness on the radar, many see events like the Olympics and World Cup as decadent and detached from the reality of the world on the ground. In recent years these events have been preceded with controversy. Media coverage on issues like poverty, corruption, and terrorism, ethnic tension, the economy, and the environment, has been fed by grassroots movements including but not limited to open protest.

Attention before these events has become part and parcel of being a host. This was the case in Vancouver in 2010 and again in 2014 in both Russia and Brazil. In Vancouver many were concerned about first nation opposition to the games, something which the Vancouver Olypmic Committee and the federal government effectively co-opted. In Russia there were cost overruns, terrorism threats, and the crackdown on LGBTQ rights. When the games were about to begin, the epic fails of unfinished hotel rooms seemed likely to seal the fate of Sochi. In Brazil the clearing of the favelas and the transit strikes threatened Brazil's ability to host the World Cup.

In reality, all these social movements, built on opposing a corporate whitewashing of serious political and economic problems, were ultimately overshadowed by the sheer success of the events. Vancouver, Sochi, and Brazil have been regarded as mammoth successes, setting the precedent for this type of behaviour to continue. Ultimately, the expectation will be to ride out the public dissent until the event starts, and then the buzz of the games will replace the media attention garnered by those concerned about whatever issue. This is particularly interesting since Brazil will be hosting the next Olympics and Russia the next World Cup.

Sport is truly powerful. During the Cold War it was a theatre for the Soviets and Americans to compete. While the geopolitical situation may have changed, sport continues to be mired in money and politics, and this is particularly dangerous when people aren't paying much attention.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Bridging the Gap

In the past week I've visited all the places I've lived in the past two years. Ottawa, Shawinigan, Montréal, Québec, Hamilton. It was a whirlwind and I'm still recovering from all the feelings I'm having. Nostalgia, frustration, fatigue, uncertainty. Everything is in a state of change, and despite my best efforts to try to stem the tide of constant interruptions to my life, I am at the mercy of so many forces right now.

John Lennon famously said that life is what happens when you are making other plans. When I was younger I remember finding the quotation to be curious, but seeing that I didn't really have any life experience, it didn't resonate with me as it does now. I've moved more in the past eighteen months than most people do in their lives. And I'm not done. Somehow I thought my adventures of moving around were coming to a close, but I know they will never end. I'm just recalibrating my expectations.

I've been fortunate. I don't mean to disparage the changes that have happened. Most of them have been positive, particularly around my career. I'm lucky to be a teacher who has work. I know many who don't and I don't want to convey the spirit that I am not privileged. I know I am. But I'm also tired. The aforementioned whirlwind has sucked a lot away from me. As I consider my next move, I know I have a lot to contend with, not the least of which being thinking about my friends and family.

I have an offer before me from my current board, and again I know how lucky I am, and others to come. In most scenarios I'll be moving; it's simply of matter of where and how far. Not long ago I wrote about coming back to Southwestern Ontario, to having a reliable position, and to settling down with a partner, friends, and family. Things change, and while it may be difficult, it is also the impetus for so many positives.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

It's Up To You

It’s the day of the election in Ontario and there’s much at stake. Those close to me know I’m passionate about citizenship and being politically active. Voting is one of the many important ways we communicate our desires and hopes a democracy.

This may have been said numerous times before, but this election is critical for our province. It’s unfortunately because, largely, there are no great options at first glance. Getting into the issues of this election, however, should reveal to most Ontarians that there is a clear public threat presented by the Progressive Conservatives.

Tim Hudak and his so-called “million jobs plan” has been polarising to say the least. While it promises the return of manufacturing jobs to Ontario, it has been attacked from all angles for its misrepresentation of economic data. Whether or not any of it is true is, seemingly, irrelevant since many Ontarians are clamouring to support the PCs regardless.

Therein lines a serious problem. Ontarians, like people in all parts of the world, are worried about the economy. Finance seems to make up a substantial part of nearly every discussion that takes place in our modern world, and is often the deciding factor in decisions that have serious social or environmental impacts.

I’m no stranger to this as my blog, Kaputall, is all about exploring the degree to which capital plays a role in our lives.

Thinking about money isn’t a bad thing. It’s sensible. But not to the exclusion of other serious considerations. What’s particularly worrying is that in an attempt to focus on so-called “fiscal responsibility” we tend to go after the public good. This is based on an ill-informed notion that the reason why our economy is struggling is because we spend too much on social services. Rather, public ledgers tend to have problems because of mismanagement, public-private partnerships, military spending, corporate tax breaks, and other expenditures that offer less direct benefit to average citizens.

I’m deeply concerned about the PCs. That’s why I voted. And I hope everyone I know who reads this will go out and vote today. Last week I went to the advance poll because I knew I was going to be missing election day. I was the only person in the polling station under sixty and I got a puzzled look from the Elections Ontario staff. Not only did I vote, but I also registered to vote having not been resident in Ontario recently.

I challenge all young people to stand up against the stereotype that we do not vote. That we are not impassioned. That we are apathetic. That we can be persuaded not to take an interest.

As the proverb goes – just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics doesn’t take an interest in you.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Women in Politics in the Modern Era

I've written about women and politics before numerous times. I've commented generally on the relationship that women have with power, as well as the attention given to the death of Thatcher last spring. Needless to say, it's an issue I find quite interesting.

I'm back writing about this again because there have been two developments in the past few weeks with women and politics. This post will serve to analyse some trends regarding women and politics.

Last week Québec went to the polls and the Parti Québécois was decimated. More than failing to form a governemnt, party leader Pauline Marois was defeated in her riding of Charlevoix by a sizeable margin. Marois, who suffered through eighteen months of minority government without gaining traction, gambled on the controversial Charter of Québec Values.

Less than two weeks earlier Alberta's premier, Alison Redford, resigned amid a spending scandal. While there were serious issues with the Progressive Conservatives, her resignation was still rather shocking, highlighting the degree to which the party has a propensity to take down its own in situations where the leader loses even just a small amount of broad popular support.

While both these women have been shown the door for rather practical reasons, it's worthwhile to look deeper into the complex dynamics that surround women who choose to enter politics.

Canada has had an influx of women not only into politics generally but into party leadership and ultimately government leadership. In the past few years female premiers have been in power in half of Canada's provinces and territories. In some cases the leader of the opposition and the premier are both women. While these are certainly great victories for women in politics, this isn't the full story.

The real question right now seems to be around whether or not women can remain in power rather than simply attaining it initially. Why is it that women are entering politics and raising through the ranks only to come crashing back down soon thereafter?

This is a valid question and one that I've heard some philosophising over. The general idea that I feel is that women seem to be more succeptible to public scrutiny than their male counterparts. Both women and men seem to be likely to have a negative opinion of a female politician, in particular comments about being weak, indecisive, or unintelligent, which of course corresponds to typical misogyny.

It doesn't help that, in many cases, women are still very much outsiders when it comes to politics. Redford was new, a "Red Tory" who didn't belong to the party elite. She was in many ways not a representative of the party, but she was fresh. This served to give her an edge but it likewise brought her down. Marois, however, has a different issue, notably the last of the proverbial old guard of the PQ. To many she was the last of a kind, a cabinet minister under numerous PQ leaders and the last great sovereigntist. Again, this was both a rallying cry for her and ultimately her downfall after opposition parties led a scare campaign against the referendum.

Women have, largely, not been viewed as complex individuals. This is something that we can note in popular culture such as films and television, but also exists in real life, especially when women are in the spotlight. I'd argue that, at least in some part, this allows for women to be torn down for things that men would not be.

Men, I'd contend, have the freedom to have complex existences. Take, for example, Rob Ford. People are able to separate his personal life from his policies. Women, seemingly, are not afforded that lattitude. The connection is a bit of a stretch but as a society we love to tear down people who are successful beyond their social status - people of colour like Obama, women like Rihanna, young people like Bieber. It's easy to dislike them and many people want to tear them down just for being successful - famous, wealthy, or powerful.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

An End to Transplating

For some time I've had a draft up about the difficulties I've experienced in trying to get my life sorted out. I was frustrated, angry, and disappointed that the hard work I'd been putting into looking for work hadn't transformed magically into the career I'd wanted and dreamed about. I've been moving from city to city, contract to contract, since I first finished by bachelors of education back in 2010, and I was tired of running around.

It's difficult to find work as a teacher, but I don't want to dwell on my own plight. The market for work these days is terrible in general, and worse for young people. As much as we'd like to think that problems like unemployment and underemployment are serious difficulties for young people who went to university, that's a fabrication meant to fix our attention on a segment of the population lucky enough to attend post-secondary education. The reality is that virtually everyone is suffering.

Unemployment is dangerous because it affects the entire economy. Poor work figures lead to depressed wages and to more competition for lower quality work. Fewer people have access to union work, to benefits, or to job security in general. Unemployment takes a toll on physical and mental health and reinforces existing systems of inequality where those at the top stay at the top and those who are not are pushed further behind. This is clearly one of the largest social, economic, and political quandaries of our times.

I've had difficulty writing about this topic because it's so close to me. There's a fine line between making a case about something and complaining about. I know most people are worse off that I am; they have fewer prospects or greater debt. I'm privileged. I've delayed this post dozens of times for those very reasons. But here I am posting about it now.

I have good news: I've found work in Southwestern Ontario. In my field. Close to home.

I'm excited that I no longer have to feel the push and pull of starting my career and having a fulfilling personal life. It's exhausting. I was recently teaching in Montréal on a contract for math and science. It was interesting work and the experience of a lifetime. I'm richer for it in may ways. Before that I was working in Shawinigan and Québec. I've moved five times in less than two years. I'm ready to settle down at least somewhat.

I had been reflecting for some time on my life and the power I have over it. I'm ultimately not sure if I believe that I can exercise much control or if I'm ultimately at the mercy of the universe. I'd like to neatly claim that it's both, but really who knows. In a particular moment of clarity, the adolescent version of myself wrote:

Blue sky roll
Over my head
And clear me of my wandering state
I'm searching
For something
At my crossroads I will wait

These lines are taken from the first record I ever worked on  Supermarine's Horizons in 2005. I'm proud of that stanza. During the past few months those words have comforted me as I've tried to remember that there's only so much I can do. Thanks for reading.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Russia's Olympics

What is said by Westerners about Russia reveals much about the so-called divide between these regions. Ever since winning the bid for the 2014 Olympics seven years ago Sochi has become a magnet for xenophobia against Russia. Given the massive media attention on Russia at present, I thought I'd take a few moments to write some reflections on the perception of modern Russia.

For starters, Russia is incredibly misunderstood by virtually the whole world. Europeans and North Americans are especially naive of the country's rich history and culture. Rather than understand the complexities of Russia, most have instead turned to either fear or prejudice. Winston Churchill remarked of the nation as an "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma". During the Cold War the Soviet Union was conceptualised by the West as both a very real threat and a backward society. These two ideas were held in tension until the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago. In the modern global geopolitical arena Russia largely seen as inconsequential. Internet memes have highlighted the irrelevance of Russia, including famously "In Soviet Russia".

Russia seems not to have emerged from its communist past, according to most Westerners. Gone are the days of the Soviet Union and of the planned economy, welfare programmes, and relative equality. Few seem to see the deeply troubling neoliberal context in which Russia exists. It's a hypercapitalist, deeply unequal society with many of the markings of fascism. The list of serious social, political, and economic problems in Russia is significant and growing. While it is right to focus attention on Russia, there are broadly two problems. The first is that the focus is horrificly hypocritical. The second is that the focus seems to be on othering Russia as a backward place.

The case that I will select for the question of hypocrisy is the so-called "anti-gay propoganda" laws that have been enacted in recent years. International attention on Russia's homophobic policies has been constant and many who have been on the attack are forgetting about the terrible transgressions against queer citizens of other Western industrialised countries. Certainly oppression and marginalisation are more pronounced in Russia than in most other democracies, but national media have put the focus on Russia to deflect from many serious domestic problems.

This leads into the second case. I mentioned that Russia is constantly presented as backward and of course media attention recently has served to highlight that reality quite effectively. The #SochiProblems hashtag on Twitter has in fact surpassed the official Sochi page in terms of followers. People seem to be hooked on gawking at Russia, most famously with the unfinished hotel rooms. This article from the satire journal DailyCurrant has already spread across social media. While it is a work of satire, it plays on popularly-held beliefs about Russia that have been constructed by Westerners about Russia.

For all intents and purposes, Russia has had a difficult ride since taking on the Olympics. The same, however, was true when Chian hosted the games six years ago. It's striking how similar these experiences were - lots of selective focus on human rights, high levels of pollution, and on the use of improper English for tourists.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Canada Post Debate

The Conservatives chose a pretty convenient time to make sweeping changes to the operations of Canada Post. Right before parliament ended session before the holidays, the government announced that door-to-door service would be discontinued in many urban areas. The price of postage would also be increased. This underhanded approach has not surpirsed many Canadians, but the ramifications are real. Debate about public policy is essential and in this instance, the government has demonstrated that being held accountable to Canadians is a low priority. Mail delivery is not a topic that most Canadians are apt to get excited about. As a matter of public policy it's not something that creates intense discussion. However, regardless of how one feels about door-to-door service, there are two problems with what the government is doing.

First, it's suggesting that it's okay for the government to paternalistically dictate how large public corporations function. The government is responsible for the management of crown corporations like Canada Post, but it is supposed to work with Canadians to decide how this should be done. Harper has chosen a time deliberately in order to meet minimal resistance in carrying out his plans. While it is unclear what his objectives are, the reality is that he is attenpting to sort the issue out without public consultation or even any proper attention.

Second, it's continuing an attack for ideological reasons. Canada Post is a union stronghold and a cornerstone for workers' organisations in Canada. This is not the first time that Harper has targeted Canada Post, nor will it be the last. There is little empirical evidence that Canada Post cannot continue to operate in much the same way with some minor changes. The drastic cuts and fee increases are not justified, according to many who study the world of mail. Harper's ideological war against unionised labour is just another prong in his attacks on great public institutions in Canada.

Parliament just resumed this week and the opposition has tried to resume the debate over Canada Post. Unsurprisingly, this issue has now passed on since the initial shock that Canadians experienced has passed. Another win for the Conservatives.