Bacon, porn, and rainbows: poverty edition

I am a liberal. I am not a hyphenated liberal, or a centre-left or a “social liberal, fiscal conservative” or any such nonsense. Probably the least liberal thing about me is that I refuse to dither over whether or not I am a liberal. I believe, proudly in fact, that people can get together and solve social problems. I further believe that government, properly scrutinized by the public, can be a place where those solutions can be implemented. I am aware that there are arguments for and against public sector involvement – I am far more comfortable with democracy than I am with unregulated free markets.

When we apply our shoulders to the wheels of social policy, we can make monumental changes that make life better for the people who need it most. When we fail to make the commitment to act, it makes life worse: [Read more...]

Occupy Vancouver – a second perspective

This morning I alluded to a fact about the “Occupy Vancouver” movement, indeed the Occupy movement as a whole, that has not yet pierced the popular narrative – the fact that we are choosing to ‘occupy’ land that is already occupied in a very real way. Vancouver, the city I love, is basically existing in a perpetual and overblown state of “squatter’s rights”, wherein the land is governed by people who have no legal claim to it. The irony, therefore, is that the act of standing up for the little guy is happening on land that is owned by the littlest guys in society, by the same people who have a hand in that group’s oppression.

I consider myself a First Nations ally, in the same way that I consider myself a LGBT ally or a women’s rights ally – I am aware that there are serious problems about which I have a superficial understanding. I come to this particular position by recognizing the vast and numerous similarities between Canada’s First Nations and the struggle for mainstream acceptance of black people. My support for the recognition of their rights is, in my mind, no different than my fight for equality for myself. My role as an ally is simple: to advocate when I can, and listen when I am being spoken to. In that vein, I would like to offer this signal boost to what I think is a phenomenal article about some of the ‘forgotten’ issues underlying Occupy Vancouver:

[Read more...]

Special Feature: I Occupy Vancouver

Every now and then I actually do stuff out in the real world. I recognize the fact that this practice is risky, but what can I say? I’m a thrill seeker. This Saturday, as I announced previously, I spent the afternoon downtown Vancouver as part of the Occupy Vancouver protest event*. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, the movement started in September. People who are frustrated with the way that the economy is being run, and that extremely shady and disruptive bank practices were being pursued – despite the fact that those same practices resulted in an international financial collapse, began sleeping and living in a park in the middle of New York City’s financial district. The movement quickly caught steam after police tried to suppress the people’s legitimate rights to protest, and has spread across the United States and into other countries around the world. Why was I there? I am, at least for now, comfortably employed at a job I love with pay that is adequate for my needs. Canada has a secure banking system with regulatory safeguards to ensure that the practices that screwed the world over can’t happen here. We have strong corporate lobbying laws that make it impossible for companies to buy influence the way that they can in the United States. So what on Earth was I doing getting involved in a protest about things happening in someone else’s country, that Canada can’t control? [Read more...]

Movie Friday – Gravity

Those of you who read my intro post, or who have been reading for a while, or who know me personally, know that I play in a band called CROWN. If I could go to the band store and pick out the components of my perfect band, I would end up with something that very closely resembles CROWN. It’s a rare pleasure to get to work with 3 other creative people with no egos or private agendas – all our decisions are consensus-based, and even a big chunk of our song-writing is fully collaborative. I also get to hop around to many different instruments and enjoy both the spotlight and supporting roles.

This past Friday a friend of the band’s* shot some videos and stills at our regular live performance at the King’s Head, which is a restaurant in Kitsilano. She compiled them into a pretty impressive video:

The song playing over the video is one of our original tunes, called “Gravity”**. It’s available on iTunes for download, or you could just come to the King’s Head tonight and buy a CD from me in person. Hope you enjoy the video!

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*Who is a great photographer should you be trying to memorialize some upcoming event
** Yes, that’s me singing lead vocals. Line up single file please, ladies…

Occupy Vancouver – a correction

Last week I said that Occupy Vancouver was happening tomorrow (the 14th). Whether it was changed or if I just can’t work a calendar, it’s happening on SATURDAY (the 15th) at the art gallery. I will definitely be there, and now I don’t have to use up a vacation day. Win/win!

If you’re not sold that there’s a legitimate reason to participate in the protest, give this article a read:

Occupy Vancouver, our homegrown Occupy Wall Street spinoff, is set to launch Oct. 15 at the Vancouver Art Gallery and continue indefinitely. And while British Columbians don’t have a Goldman Sachs to demonize, in B.C. we have a provincial government that has been doing an incredibly effective job funnelling money to the rich. The wealthiest one per cent of B.C. households raked in an average income of $820,000 in 2010, up from $602,000 in 2000, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) report. That 36-percent increase is double the rate of inflation during that period.

The CCPA studied personal provincial taxes — income, sales, carbon, property and Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums — as a share of household income. In 2000, the tax rate was fairly consistent across income groups, with the top 10 per cent of households paying slightly more. But after tax cuts by the provincial government, by 2010 the richest 20 per cent of households were actually paying a lower tax rate than the other 80 per cent.

This isn’t about a single bank or a single political party or a single bad mistake – this is about a culture of privilege in a society that claims to be democratic, where a small number of people control the vast majority of political power to ensure they stay right where they are. This is about participating in the system that is supposed to represent us, but has been doing so less and less as the years have passed.

See you on Saturday!

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Reading between the lines – execution and de facto racism

We’ve been trained by oversimplification of a complex issue to view racism, indeed any bigotry, as intentional malice springing from some kind of personal defect. If only those darn racists could just be better people (like us), then they’d stop hating and everyone could go hold hands under a rainbow. If the sarcasm dripping off that last sentence wasn’t evident enough, allow me to state plainly that I don’t buy that school of thought for a second. It’s a very handy position to hold, because it excuses the holder from any responsibility to examine her/his own actions for racial bias, and excuses her/him from having to do anything to repair the gulf left by systemic racism. Every time someone approaches me in one of my race discussions, either in person or online, with the tired excuse of “I don’t think I’m racist – race has never been a big deal to me”, I want to shake them violently.

Racism doesn’t show up at your doorstep and announce that it’s there. It is rarely so direct as someone going on a diatribe about lazy Mexicans and how this country was better when you were allowed to lynch an uppity negro for looking at your daughter funny. That kind of racism is, mercifully, fading from popular expression as it becomes increasingly socially unacceptable. That being said, that is only the most egregious aspect of racism – akin perhaps to fundamentalist Christianity. Just because we lock up everyone who tries to bomb an abortion clinic doesn’t mean that the underlying principle of divine permission for all kinds of other, lesser evils is somehow made neuter. We can look at a macro level and see that in the absence of overt (what I call “classical”) expression, racism still operates in a major way in our society.

Today, I thought I’d walk through an example of doing just that: [Read more...]

Classic Crommunist: Being creative without a Creator

Still in blah-mode. Will have something new up at noon PST once more. Until then, please enjoy this post that originally went up in August of last year, about a non-supernatural source for artistic creativity.

A friend sent me a link to a 20-minute talk on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the novel Eat, Pray, Love. I’m not a big fan of the book (I got through about 25 eye-rolling pages before giving up and reaching for the remote), but I am a big fan of (my friend) Claire, so I gave it a chance. I was right with her up until 8:30 when she started in on “creative mystery” and an external, supernatural source for creativity, and then the rest was invocations of magic and self-indulgent privileged pap, the likes to which Jim Carrey would be a fervent subscriber.

I do not know if Claire’s intent was to murder my neurons; I doubt that she was trying to lobotomize me through the intarwebz. She did ask me to write about some of my thoughts on the creative process from the perspective of an atheist. I suppose I have some claims to qualifications in this regard, given that I do spend the non-science half of my life playing and creating music. I’d like to share some of my thoughts on this subject, but first I want to address some of the themes that came up in Ms. Gilbert’s talk, which is available below: [Read more...]

I still want your moneys

I have been remiss in plugging my DonorsChoose widget and project selection. Aside from a cutesy announcement last week, I haven’t done a very good job in explaining why I chose humanities over science. It’s not simply because I am vociferously staking out my position within the FTB network as a contrarian, although that is probably part of it. It’s because I am a passionate believer in the value of the humanities.

We, as a society, keep expending precious energy and human capital fighting old battles. When I read the newspapers, particularly the politics sections, George Santayana’s maxim “the one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again” repeatedly pops into my head (although apparently that isn’t what it means). Our pathetic knowledge of where we have been as a society and as a species leads us to run down the same blind alleys again and again. Our lack of knowledge about how human beings behave leads us to pie-in-the-sky policies that only work if human beings adhere to a rigid narrative of either decency/rationality/vice/whatever. Our inability to learn from our past mistakes puts us in the dangerous position of repeating them, often with disastrous result.

Science is a wonderful tool – possibly the most important discovery humanity has ever made. Science is, however, only one aspect of an underlying process of relying on evidence, reason and rigour when deciding what is true and what is false. Taught properly, the humanities incorporate this process and help us tie together disparate narratives of what has happened, and what is happening. When applied to literature, it helps us understand the context of great works in order to further our understanding of the subjective realities of our fellow creatures. When applied to philosophy, it allows us to critique ideas based on their utility and how closely they reflect the observed world. When applied to history, it allows us to construct a cohesive picture of how things came to be the way they are, based on all the evidence rather than just some.

Training in the humanities, most importantly, helps nurture our ability to construct rational arguments. To take several facts or pieces of evidence and synthesize them in such a way as to allow others to understand a position that may be foreign to them. In a time when the barrier between the average (first-world) person and new ideas is nearly non-existent, and when these ideas often conflict with each other, it is more crucial than ever to defend those aspects of inquiry which foster critical thinking, and allow us to present ideas coherently. This is a job for the humanities.

So please consider donating a few dollars (if you can) to the worthy causes indexed within the DonorsChoose project.

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Religious: free, dumb

There are two conflicting definitions of the phrase “religious freedom”. The correct definition is that a person should have complete liberty to believe as they wish – perhaps “freedom of belief” is a better phrase. The stupid definition is that people should be allowed to do whatever they want, so long as it’s licensed by their religion, and that the law cannot interfere with that practice. Of course it’s trivially easy to pick apart exactly why that second definition is so stupid – sincere religious belief can justify all kinds of illegal and immoral acts. Interpreting “religious freedom” in this way is dangerous.

Here’s a little factoid for all you Yanks about my great country: we’re really not all that different from Americans. I will probably lose my maple syrup license for saying so, but aside from some historical differences that continue to inform our national identity, Canadian society contains all the same elements that American society does. At the moment, this means that our version of the theocrats are in power. Now, to be sure, our theocrats aren’t nearly as terrifying as theirs are, but they’re into the same wacky stuff.

Oddly enough, whereas the USA has its vaunted (and currently besieged) Constitutional separation of church and state, Canada has a Charter that explicitly enshrines the involvement of religious institutions in federal law. I call this ‘odd’ not simply because I think it’s a bad idea, and I do, but because it’s rarely been an issue. Canadians have, for the most part, unconcerned with arguments over religious involvement in public life. This, however, is changing under our current Parliament, and has been steadily ramping up over the past decade or so. More and more, we begin to see nonsense like this: [Read more...]

Classic Crommunist: Canada – the great race experiment

Hit with a bout of the blogging blahs today, will have something new up at noon PST. This is a classic piece that I wrote back in April of 2010, when this blog had pretty much no traffic. I’m assuming that not even my regular readers have seen this, so it might still be new to most of you (if not all).

I’ve said previously that Canada is a unique place. However, in that post I only touched on that idea to make specific reference to a news item I found interesting. I want to expand on that statement a bit.

While some people whose opinions I deeply respect disagree with my assessment on this matter, I see Canada as a place that lacks a strong national identity (at least at home). Americans have an identity that is built on principles of liberty in opposition to tyranny, and a history of being the leaders of the world. The English have an ex-empire, but also a history of monarchy and feudal identity that stretches back to the time of the Anglos and Saxons (as do many other European countries). China has a national identity built around its ancient history and, more recently, that has turned into a more totalitarian China-versus-the-world cultural ethos. Australians are rugged and fun-loving, Jamaicans are strong-willed and have reggae and Rastafari as part of their make-up, South Africans (for better or worse) have their history of racial divisiveness and the challenge of building a society from that. All this is to say absolutely nothing about the countries all over the world whose identities are closely allied with their religion (Iran, Israel, Indonesia… and that’s just the Is).

So where does that leave Canada? [Read more...]