Thursday, September 30, 2010

remember the flintstones?

the flintstones turned 50 today, airing for the first time september 30, 1960.

i never really liked the flintstones. i hated how fred was always screeching about something, or punching someone. he was an asshole to his wife, he treated barney like shit, and he basically abused their little dino. i just didn't get it and i didn't enjoy watching it.

the only really great thing about the flintstones, is the flintstones park!!! bedrock city, somewhere in arizona, is one of those things you almost drive by (on your long drive from california back to toronto), until your friend starts screaming "a flintstones park!!! a flintstones park!! stop!!"

and you stop, and you have a lot of fun. if ever in arizona, it's a must stop.

but anyways, in honour of the 50th anniversary of the flintstones, a reminder of simpler times:

i dont want a gay lady making me feel like that!

"when the shit hits the fan, and the taliban decides to nuke us, i don't want to be down there in a fox hole and see that everyone is knocking back appletinis and watching sex and the city two."

the "it gets better project".. maybe that'll help make things better?

doesn't it feel like you can't read the news lately without hearing about a teenager or young adult somewhere who has committed suicide because they were bullied about their sexuality.

i don't like the term "gay teens" being bandied about in headlines. don't get me wrong, it's important to identify sexuality as a cause of bullying, but i think that framing it just as "gay teen commits suicide!" puts the bullies in the periphery. bullies are bullies, and they've been around forever--causing suicides and killing other people. it also makes it seem like bullying gays is a new phenomenon and it really isn't. on one hand, it's great that the news is willing to cover "gay" issues now, but ten years ago when a "gay teen" killed themselves it wasn't in the national headlines.

also, at the risk of this being an unpopular theory, i think it's important that media (and people consuming media) be careful about catch all headlines. like "gay teen kills self after bullying", or "guy jumps from bridge for just ONE reason." yes, bullying often leads to suicide, but by making it just about bullying we ignore the other reasons that a person might want to kill themselves.

also, is bullying really the right term for what's happening? after reading this story about the rutgers student, tyler clementi, it seems to be essential that these crimes don't just get thrown together under the umbrella of bullying.

tyler clementi killed himself after his roommate and another student secretly taped and streamed him having sex in his own room. honestly, videotaping someone having sex in their OWN bed and broadcasting it on the internet?? well, first of all it's a crime and the two people who did it should be prosecuted for it. second of all, even if you aren't gay and someone does that to you it could be enough to make you kill yourself. to have your privacy invaded, to have your body on display, to have something never intended for anyone else seen by any number of people on the internet?

it's a nightmare, some people's WORST nightmare, to have their private lives taped secretly. and it almost seems like the tone of the article suggests that because tyler was gay, the taping counts as "just bullying" instead of an actual criminal act because it was prompted by his sexuality.

this takes me back to my point about not just focusing on "bullying" as the cause of such deaths. we have to look at systemic causes of bullying someone over their sexuality(or for any reason). we have to look at heterosexist and homophobic school curricula. we have to look at government and social policies and at laws that discriminate against certain kinds of people and make them more vulnerable to being victims of specific crimes.

anyways, the extra focus on bullying around sexuality is important and necessary as long as we don't assume it's a new phenomenon or that every case is exactly the same. this isn't new and that approach to ending these kinds of hate crimes has to be broad and not simply focus on one aspect of a person's life that might make them want to end it.

even while the internet is providing more avenues for bullying, with a larger audience, the internet has also been a way to connect the dots about bullying/hate crimes.

case in point: the it gets better project.

dan savage, of the savage love column started the it gets better project on you tube after hearing about a teen suicide, he says: "I posted something to my blog about Billy Lucas — who might not have even been gay, he wasn't out if he was gay, and not all kids who experience anti-gay bullying are gay — but he was bullied for being gay. ... And I was reading about him and about Justin Aaberg [another teenager who committed suicide after being bullied at school] in Minnesota, and the reaction as an openly gay adult, always, when you read these stories is, 'I wish I could've talked to this kid for five minutes, so I could've told him it gets better"

so that's what he's done. it's a really interesting project, especially at a time when rights around sexual orientation/preference are being turned around as fast as they can progress. gay marriage, prop 8, don't ask/don't tell-- these are all great reasons to feel desolate about the future.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

yeah, pick that guy to head the investigation.

partly good news, partly bad: an attorney general has been assigned the case of reviewing the investigations into the missing women of vancouver--the women connected to robert pickton. the inquiry is also going to take a look at the decision of crown prosecutors to "stay a charge of attempted murder against robert pickton, a decision that some say enabled [him] to continue killing women for four more years."

that's the good news. the police investigations and actions should be reviewed, because they allowed women to be murdered right under their noses simply because the women were disposable.

now, the bad news. the attorney general who will do the reviews is wally oppal.

don't know who wally oppal is? well, if you follow charter law or any news you might recognize his name as the judge who went after polygamy in B.C--went after polygamy, and failed big time.

there are a lot of other reasons to doubt this appointment, which the globe and mail does a good job of covering.

my main problem with oppal isn't that he's too close to the liberal government. my main problem with his appointment is that this is a major case that has to do with women's rights in canada, with laws that affect women, with the bias and stereotypes that made this case a catastrophe because people's/police's apathy didn't feel these women were important enough to find(or, crucial tips that were ignored by the police because of their disdain for the people bringing the tips in).

to me, a man who went after polygamy single-mindedly isn't capable of really understanding the subtle and complex ways that laws affect women's lives.

oppal has voiced his personal opinion on polygamy over the years, stating that he disagrees with using freedom of religion to defend the practice.

and even though TWO different special prosecutors recommended that the polygamy charges that oppal endorsed not go ahead, he appointed a THIRD special prosecutor who finally agreed with him and went ahead with the charges.

the charges were eventually dropped by another judge, who said oppal did not have "the jurisdiction to appoint a second special prosecutor .... after the first recommended against charging the two men."

so here you have an attorney general who went through special prosecutor after special prosecutor until he got the results that he personally wanted. doesn't seem very much like blind justice to me.

this isn't the guy i want taking care of a case that has to do with systemic discrimination against marginalized peoples, people accountability, and GOVERNMENT accountability.

it's already a disappointing inquiry, considering "The Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter had hoped that the terms of reference would go beyond the police investigation to include a look into the systemic discrimination that women experience in dealing with the criminal justice system and the role of mayors who were head of the Vancouver police board during the investigation.

However, the government opted to have broader issues related to the lives of the missing and murdered women reviewed at a national conference in B.C., rather than during an inquiry. “It’s after all a national issue and a national challenge.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

"this is an outrage of epic proportions!"

In honour of "Banned Books Week" in the United States, I thought I'd share this gem.

In 2006 my good friend, Jonas, wrote a letter to Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird). As Jonas himself explained in an email:

"Remember that ridiculous satirical letter which I wrote to Harper Lee this winter regarding the use of a colon in To Kill a Mockingbird? The letter was basically a biting criticism meant to parallel the ridiculous reaction to the uproar over the use of the word "nigger" in that book."

In the same email, Jonas shared Harper Lee's response to his letter. Demonstrative of her Pulitzer Prize winning wit and intelligence, the letter is not only a testament to the absurdity continual attempts to have To Kill a Mockingbird pulled from library shelves but is a rare glimpse of a genius whose writings continue to rock the world decades after publishing.

Jonas is the smartest person I've ever met, and it doesn't surprise me in the least that a letter he wrote is in Harper Lee's archive.

So, enjoy:

A Letter to Harper Lee and Harper Lee's Response

The text of Harper Lee's letter is included below.

" 25 April 2006

Dear Mr. Kiedrowski:

Thank you for your letter of December 10, 2005. The mails of McIntosh & Otis grind slowly; I did not receive it until yesterday.

Your letter was so alarming that I sought consultation with Prof. Irwin Corey, The World's Foremost Authority, who came out of retirement (or from the the grave, I'm not sure which) to declare that you have a point, a stiletto of a weapon. You must have used it to cause embarrassment to any number of authors, proof-reading being what it is these days.

You realize, of course, that I cannot possibly accept responsibility for an errant colon because: I had a lousy education, I received no food stamps to supplement my meagre diet when I was writing To Kill a Mockingbird, and George W. Bush was only twelve years old at the time. If anyone is to blame, blame anyone but me.

Feeling that I have met today's standards of accountability, and now the possessor of a letter that will be kept in my archives forever, I am your grateful and delighted,

Harper Lee"

banned books week!

it's 'banned books week' in the united states! hurray!
Link put out a list of the 'the most challenged books of 2009' in april, and it seems like a suitable time look it over again.

some of these books i've read, some of them i haven't. i have to say, though, that i was surprised by some of the books that were challenged..

#1 this year on the list was a young adult series called "ttyl" by lauren myracle. apparently it's about three high school friends, growing up, and chatting online. it sounds incredibly stupid, but it's weird to me that this was the number ONE book that people requestion libraries remove from their shelves.

this book was challenged for the following reasons: "nudity, sexually explicit material, offensive language, being unsuited to the target age group, and drugs."

#2 was "and tango makes three" by justin richardson and peter parnell. an actually adorable kids book about two male penguins who are IN LOVE and adopt a baby. it's based on a semi-true story because there are male penguins in real life that partner up.

this book was challenged because the penguins are homos. they are homo penguins who want to raise a little baby penguin. this means that this book is EVIL and should be burned into oblivion.

#3 is "the perks of being a wallflower" by stephen chbosky. this is another young adult book, about a boy going into high school, life changes, family, death, and depression. you know, all the stuff that young adult books are generally about. or, books in general.

apparently this book is "anti-family" and offensive. i haven't read it so i wouldn't know, but is anti-family really a bad thing?? it seems to me that a book that is honest about family life is probably better for kids to read than some garbage about perfect family life.

#4 is no surprise to anyone who has ever seen a list of banned books before. it's "to kill a mockingbird"! this classic, by harper lee, has been banned since it was published. apparently it's offensive, racist, and not suitable to its marketed age.

#5 is the "twilight" series by stephanie meyers. i mean, i can see this book being challenged because it potentially lowers the IQ of anyone who reads it, but content wise it just sounds like a vampire story for sexually repressed teenagers. it's not a secret that meyers is a mormon and has some interesting views on sexuality and although i've never read the twilight series, i think it's probably safe to say that it's not ban worthy.

this book was challenged because it is sexually explicit and has an offensive religious view point. an offensive religious viewpoint? really? why don't you ban the bible then, because basically that has the most offensive religious viewpoint at all.

#6 is another book that has been on the lists forever, "catcher in the rye" by J.D salinger. it's "offensive" and "sexually explicit" apparently, and no child in america should be able to read it! i'd be willing to bet that half the parents who advocated taking this book off the shelves read it themselves when they were younger and enjoyed it. then they got older and crazier and decided their own child shouldn't be allowed to make up their own minds about literature, or life, or anything.

#7 was the most shocking to me. "my sister's keeper" by jodi picoult. this is the story of a young girl who was born to be an organ donor for her older sister with cancer. this is one of the newer books on the list that i've actually read, and i don't know why anyone would want to ban it.

it was challenged for a million reasons: "sexist", "violent", "drugs", "suicide", "portrays homosexuality", and on and on. actually, i don't recall any homosexuality in the book?

i mean this book is not the best written thing ever, but it's touching and complicated. i hated the ending, but it is actually quite a tame book. yeah, picoult made the mother kind of a bitch and a monster in the book, but to call this book sexist over every other piece of literature is just very bizarre.

#8 is a book i've never even heard of before, "the earth, my butt, and other round things" by carolyn mackler. this is a book about a chubby teen, her weight obsessed parents, her first romance, and her brother the date rapist. pretty standard stuff for teen books.

#9 is just ridiculous. "the colour purple" by alice walker. i'm not even going to comment on this one.

finally, #10 on the most challenged books of 2009: "the chocolate war" by robert cormier. i've never read this book but it's apparently about a kid who refuses to sell chocolate during the school fundraiser--the book actually deals more with bullying, authority, cultural norms, and sexuality. for all of these reasons, this book is number three on the list of all time challenged books, a list made by the american library association.

so there you have it, 10 of the books that certain americans deemed unacceptable for libraries to carry.

"the books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame"(oscar wilde). it's not surprising that the list of books most challenged this year have to do with the failings of the traditional family, gay relationships and parenting, racism, teenage sexuality, and conforming to social normals--these are the issues that hit people close to home because they're the issues they most grapple with on a day to day basis.

people should just let literature do its job and not try to censor what people, especially children and young adults, have access to. giving everyone a chance to make up their own mind about literature is an important part of actual democracy and it's kind of silly that in 2009 people wasted their time trying to get a book called "ttyl" off library shelves.

you can also see the list from 2008, here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why you have to vote.

So you live in Toronto, you're 18 years or older, a Canadian citizen, and you're not in jail?

Why aren't you planning on voting in the upcoming mayoral election, then?

Just don't really care? Can't be bothered? Hate Toronto?

Maybe it's against your religion to vote, maybe you're a pacifist, maybe you belong to a community that doesn't practice their right to vote, or maybe you just don't believe in voting and you never do.

These seem to me to be legitimate reasons--at least in that they are constant and don't change depending on whether or not you're feeling lazy or apathetic.

Here's what i don't understand, cannot condone, and find incredibly irritating and slightly offensive: 20/30 year olds, students or young professionals, people who enjoy all this city has to offer, who will probably live here for several more years(or the rest of their lives), who are just going "hey, i Ion't really want to vote in this mayoral election" for no real goddamned reason.

In an article on today Lauren Jones wrote that for the recent poll showing Rob Ford's lead 1012 people were polled. 558 of these respondents were 50 years old and 320 were over 60 years old. Jones points out the obvious--the poll shows a lead for ford, but will half the voters in the election be over 50? probably not.

But, I think Jones overlooks an obvious question, a question that plagues all elections -municipal or otherwise- how to get the young vote out. So maybe half the voters won't be 50 or older, but what percentage of 18-25 year olds will cast their ballot on October 25? And that's the traditional "youth vote" number, 18-24/25. But in reality, how many 25-35 year olds are participating?

The decision to NOT vote is an interesting one, especially this year when the stakes seem so high. Exhibit A: Rob Ford.

People of the city who don't want to vote, if you can read an article about Rob Ford then hear that he has a lead in the polls and STILL you don't want to vote, then maybe you should move out of the city. For real.

People complain about Toronto incessantly. In reality, we have a pretty decent city here. We have beautiful parks, we have SOME bike lanes, and we have unparalleled access to whatever food/products/lifestyle we want here. It's not as bad as we make it out to be but it's getting worse in subtle ways that could become big issues if the wrong person is elected October 25th.

When you decide not to be involved in the politics of the city in which you live, you give up the right to complain about certain things. Ff you don't vote then why can you complain about the services you enjoy? Can you honestly complain about the ttc when you take no action in trying to make the service one that you'll enjoy using? Can you complain about people being jerks on and off the road when you don't take any steps in making the city more livable for everyone?

Torontonians have a chance to prove that they aren't just 'elitist' snobs who are all talk and no action. By making sure that Rob Ford does not become mayor of this great city, this unique city, Torontonians are saying 'hey we aren't just jerks who complain, shop, and drink-- we're actually active citizens!"

Rob Ford winning this election means that some of us aren't doing our jobs, it means that we couldn't take five minutes out of our day to cast a ballot. Remember the first time Stephen Harper was voted into office? Remember the sting of the SECOND time that happened? It was reminiscent of the second time Bush was voted in(because, as we all know, the first time was rigged) and not only was it embarrassing to watch the conservative blue sweep across the map but it was scary.

Conservatives feed on apathy, they can sense the turning of a blind eye, and they strike when they think no one is watching. Harper did all of the things people said would never happen, and Ford will try to accomplish something similar.

Maybe people just don't pay attention enough to realize what's at stake here, in this election, now.

As a cyclist, I know I don't want Ford to be the mayor of Toronto because a city that is hostile to cyclists is not a city that can thrive positively. Just as a human, though, I don't think Rob Ford should be voted into the mayor's office because he is not only intensely conservative but he doesn't hide his hatred for everything that isn't him.

Ford thinks cyclists who are hit by cars deserve it, he thinks immigrants should not be allowed to live in Toronto anymore, and he thinks that only needle users and 'gays' get aids. He is on record saying all of these things.

Anyone who considers themselves in any way left, progressive, or even sympathetic to human concerns should be ashamed of their decision not to vote when the man in the lead uses this kind of language:

In 1899, Ida B Wells completed her research on lynching in the United States and published her results: in ten years there were between one and two hundred OFFICIALLY RECORDED lynchings occurring on an annual basis.

this included the burning of Sam Hose in Georgia:

"he was taken on quiet Sunday morning from his captors and burned to death with indescribable and hellish cruelty in the presence of cheering thousands of the so-called best people in Georgia-men, women, and children, who had gone forth on a christian sabbath to the burning of a human being as to a country festival and holiday of innocent enjoyment and amusement."

To invoke the language of lynching to describe homeless shelters being built in a city that has a HUGE lack of social services and supports for the homeless, Rob Ford sent a signal to Toronto about what kind of person he is.

If that doesn't compel you to go out and vote on October 25th then maybe Toronto is just as bad as people think it is.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"liberals can get on my nerves a little bit"

john waters on politics: "because they passed the health law, that's the oddest thing to riot about: that poor people could have health care? that made people break windows?! but i'm happy they broke windows, why didn't we do that when bush was president? why didn't we riot?"

Friday, September 17, 2010

an online comment to start the day

i never read comments on online news, mainly because they're often insane or creepy and i like to ignore them.

however, i was reading a story on the cbc about a violent home invasion in calgary and happened to scroll through the comments when i saw this hilarious gem:

"MableSpam wrote:Posted 2010/09/16 at 8:45 PM ET.

This is definitely a reflective sampling of all Caucasians...they are obviously all terrorists.

In Canada we do not behave like that. Let these people behave like that in their own country; this is our country.

Let's deport Caucasians back to the Caucasoids.

Cauca...what's that? means what?...oh...this rationale only works on Canadians who come from visible minority bad..."

it's true, sometimes online commenting can actually be used as a witty tool of critique. who knew?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

random: ice cube soda

stumbled upon this at pophangover today:

who is christine o'donnell?

apparently there's a new pretty lady on the american political scene. pretty and crazy lady, that is.

she recently won the republican senate primary in delaware, and is heavily backed by sarah palin and the Tea Party. you know what that means, she's awesome!!!

backed by sarah palin, super christian, really right wing, involved in tea party politics? i'm sure you can guess that some real gems fall out of this bitches mouth!!

let's read some of them.

on masturbation: "It is not enough to be abstinent with other people, you also have to be be abstinent alone. The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery, so you can't masturbate without lust."
(also, it's weird that in this video rachel maddow won't say "masturbation".) also, this video.

on the bible and the sexual revolution: "We took the Bible and prayer out of public schools. Now we're having weekly shootings. We had the 60s sexual revolution, and now people are dying of AIDS."

on her opponent, mike castle( a man who has never lost an election in his career): "You know, these are the kind of cheap, underhanded, un-manly tactics that we've come to expect from Obama's favorite Republican, Mike Castle [..] Mike, this is not a bake-off, get your man-pants on."

get your man pants on, but don't masturbate in them!!!!

it kind of seems like she's being sold as another sarah palin, red suit and all. in some pictures she's even wearing sarah palin glasses. the only difference is that she's a little fatter than palin.

it's weird and bizarre that someone like this could win the primary. but, like rachel maddow explains in that video, it's a strange year all around in american politics. people who would never have won in a million years are winning state by state.

like sarah palin, o'donnell has something to say about everything--including middle earth:

"You see Tolkien's wisdom applied to just about everything: Tolkien and communism, Tolkien and industrialization... In researching this topic I even found a book on Tolkien and sexual fetishes....surprising, then, especially in today's very hyper-sensitive, post-Gloria Steinem world, that there's such a lack of commentary on Tolkien and women. ... Is it that people assume that women don't have an interest in Tolkien?"


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

so exciting, i might die from over excitement!

president shoukri is right, it's an "exciting time" to be at york.

let's count all of the great things york has done the past year and a bit: had an awesome strike, blamed women for being sexually assault, turned a blind eye to a criminal act/destruction of private property, tried to renovate vari hall to stop student protesting, hired a former major mining corporate freak to become vp university relations, showed their zionist colours and given up completely to the control of the israel lobby, hired an unqualified union buster to be the dean of the largest faculty of any kind in canada, fired teaching assistants and contract faculty for no reason and with impunity, had their general counsel and university secretary investigated by the law society of upper canada, tried to force google to violate email privacy, oh and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on fancy lawyers to fuck striking people over and to try to get rid of tenured faculty.

indeed, an exciting time to be at york.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

foiled! kind of... a bit.

so, while york university hasn't gone ahead with their horrifyingly ugly and depressing renovations of vari hall they HAVE gone ahead with some kind of information desk/kiosk.

reports of "jackhammering" yesterday in the middle of the hall are correct and the university has moved closer towards their goal of destroying student space.

i spoke with the president of the YFS, krishna, today and he confirmed what york university wouldn't.

krishna said that the YFS has written letters not just to the university but to various stakeholders and had meetings with university administrators about maintaining accessible student space in vari hall that not only meets the needs of students who are in class, but doesn't ignore the fact that vari hall was built as a democratic space where protesting could be spontaneous and visible.

krishna says it's important to the YFS that any renovation be based on a balanced evaluation of how vari hall can facilitate students "exercising their charter right" to demonstrate but also have classroom time free of disruption. unfortunately, the university is focusing "disproportionately on one right over another."

while claiming to care about what students think of renovating vari hall, the university abruptly cordoning off the space and ripping it up makes an entirely different statement.

by doing this the first week of classes the university is saying to students, new and old, that vari hall is theirs. that it belongs to the university and that they don't give a shit what students think should be done with it. doesn't york university have enough kiosks? isn't it ugly enough? isn't it already have a sufficient amount of hostility towards its own students?

also, is the university even allowed to be installing a kiosk, considering that vari hall is under review for historic site status??

but even though there is technically some construction happening in vari hall, students should still be celebrating the fact that there aren't plants, desks, and couches in there.

we still win, york.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

vari hall NOT renovated?!

remember before the summer how york university was planning on "renovating " vari hall???

remember how york was all like "we're renovating the space, noone can stop us!!"

well, someone stopped them.

the only time available to "renovate" (or, clutter the space with tables and chairs) was summer time. a well known fact, the summer time slot is the only time that there are few enough students at york to justify making vari hall off limits.

was it the vari hall heritage preservation committee?? was it the person who nominated vari hall for heritage site protection?? did the varis, catching wind of the nomination and controversy, withdraw their support for the renovations??

somebody, some group, somehow BEAT york university on the vari hall renovations. shouldn't we have some kind of party?? shouldn't there be some kind of story in the excalibur? shouldn't people be walking around vari hall pumping their fists?

york ALWAYS wins. in this case, they didn't. it's time to celebrate!!!

"Has the human spirit fallen so much in the last 2400 years?"

hans, as usual, brilliant.

Jason Kenny and the Conservatives Write Bad Fiction

"As the boatload of refugees pulled into the harbour, there was one young boy who was particularly eager for a glimpse of this land toward which they had spent weeks journeying. He’d lost several relatives, including a younger brother, in the turmoil before they fled their homeland – due to poverty and disease, mostly – and all that was left of his little family was crammed aboard this filthy vessel.

A distant relative of his mother’s had apparently settled here several years earlier, and on this all their hopes were pinned. His father was a failed merchant: everything he’d tried his hand at had gone bankrupt in the economic collapse of their homeland. Penniless, destitute, poor, hungry and bedraggled, their slim hope lay in being accepted to this land they were sailing into. Of course, sharing that hope were the hundreds of equally poor refugees crammed into the hold or on the ramshackle boats accompanying them.

The young refugee’s name? John A. MacDonald.

As we all know, little John did survive, and indeed thrived. Although his family stayed poor and his father’s efforts continued to meet failure, MacDonald became an infamous lawyer by defending American terrorists who had participated in the ongoing US efforts to destabilize the government of then-British Upper Canada. Despite his efforts, they were mostly executed with barely an excuse for a trial, but at least one of them gave MacDonald all the money in his pockets, as a token of gratitude that MacDonald had had the courage to speak up and defend these almost universally reviled American terrorists. This recognition helped him in becoming the first prime minister of Canada and getting his face on the 10-dollar bill.

Of course, had Stephen Harper and the Conservative government - the very party MacDonald played a role in creating – been in power when he sailed into the harbor as a refugee from Scotland’s economic collapse, he would probably not even have been permitted to stay. He would have been publicly demeaned and reviled, treated like a criminal, and then been sent home at gunpoint, probably to die in the land he had fled. So much for Confederation.

That’s only one of two tragic ironies reflected in the Conservatives’ increasingly elitist, racist response to the arrival of a boatload of Tamil refugees in British Columbia about three weeks ago.

The other tragic irony lies in the public apology Stephen Harper issued to the Chinese community in 2006, over the Canadian government’s turn-of-the-century anti-Chinese-immigration policy. While that apology was the product of long, hard and admirable work on the part of the Chinese-Canadian community, the Conservative actions demonstrate just how hollow and hypocritical their apology really was, and how much they didn’t really mean it.

Let’s talk about the Chinese head tax apology, for a moment. In the 1880s, the Canadian Pacific Railway was under construction. Over 15,000 Chinese were invited to Canada to build it (and then paid a fraction of what the white Canadian workers were paid). Canada became, naturally enough, a place of interest for both the Chinese working on the railroad, as well as many other Chinese who saw the ads or heard about it through relatives.

The Canadian government panicked at the thought that the Chinese workers it was exploiting in near slavery conditions might actually decide to stay in Canada, and even bring their families, and so it began charging a $500 head tax to Chinese seeking to settle here. The federal government collected close to $2 billion in today’s money from these mostly poor Chinese immigrants. The goal, of course, was to deter Chinese immigrants from coming to Canada (the government, meanwhile, continued to encourage white immigrants from across the other sea – in Europe – to come. No head tax if they were white.). This only ended when the Canadian government banned Chinese immigration entirely in the early 1920s. In the 1980s, descendants of these Chinese began a movement to make the federal government issue an apology for its terrible and racist treatment of Chinese immigrants. In 2006, Stephen Harper finally issued that apology. Let us quote briefly from that apology.


Stephen Harper: “...a group of people - who only sought to build a better life...these immigrants made the difficult decision to leave their families behind in order to pursue opportunities in a country halfway around the world they called “gold mountain”. Canada turned its an attempt to deter immigration...

And while Canadian courts have ruled that...immigration prohibition, were legally authorized, we fully accept the moral responsibility to acknowledge these shameful polices of our past. For over six decades, these race-based measures...were implemented with deliberation by the Canadian state. This was a grave injustice, and one we are morally obligated to acknowledge...

And even though this...lies far in our past, we feel compelled to right this historic wrong for the simple reason that it is the decent thing to do, a characteristic to be found at the core of the Canadian soul. Mr. Speaker, in closing, let me assure the House that this government will continually strive to ensure that similar unjust practices are never allowed to happen again. We have the collective responsibility to build a country based firmly on the notion of equality of opportunity, regardless of one’s race or ethnic origin. Our deep sorrow over the racist actions of our past will nourish our unwavering commitment to build a better future...

Clearly, the sorrow was neither deep enough nor the commitment unwavering enough to prevent them from using the arrival of a boatload of Sri Lankan (Tamil) refugees in August as an opportunity to talk rough, act tough and – just like they did with the Chinese 100 years ago - claim they had to “send a message” to refugees the world over – to stay away from Canada.

And this week, Canada’s Minister Responsible For Keeping Foreign People Out (aka ‘Immigration’, aka Jason Kenney) is attending a meeting in Europe which has been described as “part of a widening fight against human trafficking and bogus asylum seekers” .

Now I’m generally a fan of good science fiction, but not when it gets accidentally labeled as government policy. “Bogus asylum seekers”? There’s nothing bogus about it – they’re trying to seek asylum. That’s why the Tamil refugees risked their lives to cross the ocean in a leaky boat. Whether or not Canada gives them asylum, is up to the Canadian government to decide. But...bogus? What’s that supposed to mean exactly? That when they’re offered asylum they’ll turn around and say “Haha! Fooled you!” and then go back home?

A far more likely interpretation is that *they’re* not the bogus ones. Instead, the bogus ones are the Conservative government (and, yes, their allies in other countries which are also trying to keep foreigners out of their respective countries) who don’t want to admit that they really just want to keep foreigners out. After all, that smacks of racism. So instead, a fictional language is created which describes refugees as “victims of human trafficking” and asylum seekers who have no money as “bogus”.

The Tamils who arrived in Vancouver were not forced by anybody to board that boat. Except, perhaps, the Sri Lankan government which bombed their villages and killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians as part of a decades-old civil war, and which is still keeping thousands of them in what have been described by some observers as concentration camps. But, since the Canadian government supports the Sri Lankan government which bombed and slaughtered tens of thousands of its own civilians during the recent civil war...the asylum seekers become “bogus”.

But the sci-fi language doesn’t stop there. When Jason Kenney isn’t describing them as “victims of human trafficking”, he’s describing them as “queue-jumpers” who are trying to butt in line ahead of other refugees. Well, which is it, Jason? Are they the victims of slave-driving human traffickers? Or are they trying to skip the line? Again, I *like* good science fiction. I *don’t* like contradictions and plot holes.

And that doesn’t even address the question of how exactly a refugee or asylum-seeker becomes a “queue-jumper”. I mean, when you’re fleeing an army of tanks and jet bombers that are trying to annihilate your village, what sort of line are you supposed to wait in and not get killed? It’s sort of like suggesting that if your house is being broken into, you should expect the cops to wait until they’ve dealt with all the phone calls they received earlier in the day, before they come to stop the burglars trying to knock your door down. Plot holes, Jason. Plot holes.

And yes, certainly, there are a lot of bad human traffickers in the world. And we need to stop them. But we don’t do that by vilifying the victims. When a group of hapless seniors loses money due to internet or phone fraud, we pursue and prosecute the fraud ring. We don’t march the seniors into big black tents, interrogate them at gunpoint and propose new laws to restrict the ability of seniors to have bank accounts. We don’t call it “Canadian generosity” when we give them back the money that was stolen from them.

This is getting sort of long, isn’t it? Well, it’s cuz bad writing makes me angry and if anybody writes bad, it’s Mr. Jason Kenney.

Okay, so we’ve deconstructed his seriously bad story. What’s the alternative? Open up all our borders and let all the refugees come pouring in?

Well...actually why not?(note my far more skilled segue-way here. Yes you can borrow this technique Jason. See I’m not your enemy.)

Of course, whenever I suggest that we should just...stop freaking out about the arrival of 500 refugees in a country of 35 million which could actually hold a couple billion...the response tends to be something along the lines of: “What?! But if we just opened our borders...we’d be overrun!!”

Uhm...well okay. Really? Like...where? Have you ever BEEN to the Northwest Territories? Or even most of Ontario? And seen all the big empty places there? Are you really THAT worried that we’ll be overrun by people who will knock on your door asking to sleep on your sofa and who will eat all the food in the groceries? If refugees arrive, we will grow more food and that will make more jobs. We will build more houses for them and that too will make more jobs and maybe those refugees will get some of those jobs and then they’ll pay taxes and pay for the services they use and then we’ll all have a lot more interesting people in the country and a lot more jobs and a lot more restaurants and call me na├»ve but I sort of like the idea. Irrational fear is a good plot technique and all, but...I want more jobs and restaurants more.

And we should be able to deal by now with this irrational fear that the world will end if we let people who arrive here stay here – regardless of how they came. After all, we’ve dealt with lots of other irrational fears. We’ve learnt that Europeans can marry Africans and the world doesn’t end. We’ve learnt that women can marry men or men can marry men or women can marry women or people who aren’t even decided whether they’re men or women can marry each other...and the world doesn’t end. In fact, people don’t even have to get married, and the world doesn’t end! People can eat fish on Fridays, or pork on Sundays, or beer on Tuesdays, and the world doesn’t end. More to the point, people who don’t eat fish on Fridays can live next door to people who don’t eat pork on any days and across the street from people who do drink beer on every days, and the world doesn’t end. Win for the world!

We’ve learnt that lots of things we thought might cause the world to end, don’t actually cause the world to end, and that’s a really good thing. And one of those things that won’t cause the world to people who show up here, being allowed to stay here like all the rest of us. The next time somebody says to you [usually in a lowered, breathless voice of panic] “but if we let everybody who comes here as a refugee stay...everything would fall apart!” just repeat to yourself the mantra “ world goes on.” And then take a deep breath and realize everything will be fine.

Of course, the fear is nothing new. Before the industrial revolution, in many European countries, cities adopted policies banning migration from one city to the next – within the same country. The fear was exactly the same as today: that if people born in one city were allowed to settle in their neighbouring city, the world would end. It would disrupt the flow of city life, the city would become uncontrollable, it would lose its way of doing things, it would become overrun by crime and vice, and so on and so forth. If people suggested allowing free movement between cities, others would laugh at them. Needless to say, the last laugh was on the laughers: today, the idea of restricting migration between cities within the same country is – unless you’re living somewhere like North Korea – utterly unthinkable. The thought of disaster ensuing if families from Winnipeg were allowed to move to Vancouver, is utterly laughable. Yet that was the logic – a logic of irrational fear – which motivated politicians 500 years ago. And it is no different – and no less ridiculous – than the logic of fear motivating the politicians of today in their efforts to control migration between countries.

Stephen Harper has lately been engaging in an equally bizarre little extension of this dance – pledging to preemptively track down refugees in their home countries and ports and prevent them from ever leaving those countries to come to Canada. Well, unless this is an oddly inspired plan to post Canadian imperial garrisons in third world ports around the world (you never quite know, with the Conservatives), that’s an equally flawed and pointless bit of posturing.

Mind you, international action DOES have an important place in all this. The fact that refugees are coming to Canada reflects, if anything, the failure of our own government on the international stage. Take the Tamil refugees, for instance. Last summer, thousands of people blocked highways here in Toronto pleading with the federal government to speak out against the slaughter being directed against the Tamil minority ethnic group in Sri Lanka. For weeks, the Sri Lankan government bombed and slaughtered Tamil communities and the Canadian government looked the other way and let them do it, without making the slightest effort to bring an end to the fighting and save the tens of thousands of innocent families that were being slaughtered. Even today, international observers are not permitted to collect information to find out exactly what happened – and in some cases, what is still happening. And Canada’s government remains silent, hiding in the sand. The poverty and desperation of Tamil refugees was caused, in part, by our own government’s silence. If the Canadian government starts assuming, for once, a responsible role on the international stage, then perhaps it will be able to contribute to the building of a better world, and it will no longer be necessary for everyone to feel they need to come to Canada to find it.

2400 years ago, in ancient Athens, the Athenian general and leader Pericles gave a famous speech following a battle where thousands of Greek soldiers had died defending their city against an invading foreign army. Far from using the opportunity to turn Athenians against foreigners, he showed that the courage which led to their victory, demanded no less than the courage to open their borders, fearlessly, to the world:

"The Athens that I have celebrated is only what the heroism of these and their like have made her...We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, even though the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality.”

The message, 2400 years ago, rings even clearer today: “People might take advantage of us if we’re too open and liberal? Big deal! The benefits we will gain from our openness far outweigh any advantage some few might take of us. And if we’re too afraid of our country’s fragility to have the courage to test it against the demands of the world, then what’s the worth of us, anyhow?”

Has the human spirit fallen so much in the last 2400 years?

We have a choice to make: whether we will hide behind walls of fear and act like the cowardly neighbourhood miser who pretends he doesn’t hear the neighbours knocking on his door to ask for help; or whether we will keep faith with the generations of Canadians who came before us, and welcome with open arms those who have come to build the Canada of tomorrow.

Addendum: A final word, for Newfoundland and Labrador. This shameful situation demonstrates more clearly than ever why it is so vital for us to take up our own self-government once again on the international stage. As a Republic, we will have the right to control our own immigration once again – and we can avoid the shame of being lumped in with this sort of Harper-driven racist fear-mongering. The need for immigration is vital to Newfoundland and Labrador. We need doctors, craftspersons, professionals of all sorts. Not only will they fill the vital gaps we’re struggling with in our infrastructure, but their presence will create even more jobs – which Newfoundlanders forced into exile will be able to return home to fill as well. Since Confederation we’ve seen our communities emptied and forcibly relocated, we’ve seen our population shrink, we’ve seen our services suffer. There’s only one solution: to repopulate the Spotted Island’s (RIP: 1970) and Open Bay’s (RIP: 1965) and Tikoralak Island’s (RIP: 1970) and over 600 other communities that now lie abandoned and overgrown. As a nation the majority of whose population are descended from “illegal migrants” (who settled here in defiance of British no-settlement laws 400 years ago), we’re uniquely positioned to recognize the hypocrisy of laws that try to control who can live where. If the majority of our ancestors had obeyed those laws, we would not be here today. And now, once again, our future hinges on overcoming the racist and exclusionary barriers that another colonial power – Canada – has imposed on us. Some nations seek independence in the pursuit of some illusory racial purity. Our Republic *must* be founded on the opposite ideal – that our independence reflects, honours and upholds the freedom of movement for all peoples, and guarantees them the same freedoms in whose name thousands of poor fishers settled here, in total defiance of the law, to help build the Newfoundland of today."

just in time for the end of summer

this new video by exploding motor car, for the acorn, is so summery it hurts. mainly it hurts because it's supposed to be freezing cold next week, so summer is basically over despite the heat waves that punished the city this summer.

besides being a really beautiful video, nobody does puppets like these people!

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