#Occupy: the answer to an important question

When the ‘Occupy together’ movement started nearly a year ago, the media narrative almost immediately pivoted to bafflement (either pretended or genuine*) over what ‘the point’ was. Occupy, without a pre-determined raison d’être aside from “shit’s fucked up“, and lacking an official spokesperson to boil down the issues into bullet points that would be ready by the print deadline, actually required people to really dig in and collect the relevant facts and a cross-section of sentiment within the movement. This, incidentally, is also known as “being a fucking journalist”, but I will save you my diatribe about how terrible media organizations are** for another time.

Now Occupy is a lot of different things – a social justice movement, an experiment in anarchic self-governance, an attempt to introduce income inequality into the political mainstream discussion, an expression of contempt for the political status quo – depending on which direction you turn the direction of your analysis, you can probably come up with a lengthy list. The headless organized chaos that typifies Occupy necessarily leads to the formation of a movement that intentionally fails to resemble any of the top-down structures we’ve come to expect in human interactions (at least in this part of the world).

When I was participating in the protests in Montreal, I had a realization. It wouldn’t be fair to call it a ‘sudden’ realization, since I’ve been talking about Occupy for a minute. Whatever it was, I put the pieces together and realized that at its core, Occupy is the answer to a question. The question, and I think it’s a fundamentally important one, is this: how do we respond when those we elect betray our trust? I don’t think there are too many people who look at the political realities right now without a bit of practiced cynicism. After all, being cynical about politics is as old as the hills. But when our response starts and stops with witty rejoinders, we sell ourselves and the world short. After all, some things need to be dealt with: [Read more…]

Scratch a racist statement, get a dose of ignorance

This morning I went on a bit of a tear of a Mitt Romney advisor who said this:

In remarks that may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity, one suggested that Mr Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr Obama, whose father was from Africa.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.

And I paused from finding new and creative ways to call Mr. Romney ‘boring’ to point out how insanely and overtly racist it was to say that being white made you more qualified to be President (actually, technically speaking, how being non-white made you less qualified, if you’re willing to split hairs). Having had a bit of time to think the situation over, I’ve reconsidered my opinion a bit. Not about the racism of the statement, but the intent of the speaker.

Back in 2009, a newly-elected President Barack Obama nominated Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States. During her vetting process, she was taken to task (by idiots) for a comment she had made in a speech a few years earlier: [Read more…]

Scratch a Republican, find ‘a racist’

I have a friend who dates women who are… to put it bluntly, they’re plain. I don’t mean plain-looking (whatever that means) – some of them have been remarkably attractive; no, these women are just the personality equivalent of stale Wonderbread dipped in lukewarm water. They have no real personality characteristics that make them stand out, and are not even interesting enough to be shy – they aren’t afraid to speak, they just don’t have anything to say. They are the “regular” flavour of Jell-O. They are the white noise at the end of a cassette tape. They are the living avatar of the colour beige.

The United States seems to be deep in the throes of bland passion with their own featureless paramour: one Mitt Romney. The man is so boring that when sex tapes of him and his wife were discovered, the MPAA rated them ‘ZZZ’. Tostitos has made its famous salsa available in ‘hot’, ‘medium’, ‘mild’, and ‘Mitt’ (where ‘Mitt’ is just a can of tomato sauce that has been lightly rubbed against an onion). Homeopaths have described him as a ’30C human’.

He’s boring, I guess, is what I’m saying.

Here’s the funny thing though: even the most boring and soporific of Republicans can always be relied on to be secretly really fucking racist: [Read more…]

Send in the clowns

There are, as I tried to illustrate this morning, intelligent ways to respond to tragedy. They involve spending time thinking about not only how to understand what has happened, but to come up with reasonable and perspicacious ideas of what to do next. Smart is not the only way to respond to tragedy. For those with an aversion to ‘smart’, there’s always the ever-popular ‘stupid’:

In particular, [radio hosts] Doyle and Downs were having difficulty understanding just how and why Ford was drawing a connection between Monday’s Danzig Street shooting and Canada’s immigration laws, especially given that there is no reason to believe any of the people responsible were immigrants. “Well, he seems to be drawing a link between immigration and gun crime,” Downs said. “So, how is that link being drawn, why is he drawing that link? It just seems extremely bizarre. So it’d be great if he could explain himself on that one, I’m curious to know if other people are not a little confused as to why he is calling on the prime minister to clarify Canada’s immigration laws so we can crack down on gun crime.”

Who is ‘Ford’, you might ask? Maybe some other right-wing commentator? A Rush Limbaugh figure? Maybe a prominent Toronto businessman or other person whose name carries some recognition but otherwise has little knowledge or influence with respect to the situation at hand?

Yeah… if only. Rob Ford is the mayor of Toronto. Canada’s largest city. To put Toronto’s population and national importance in perspective, if you added together the populations of Washington, D.C.; Boston; Miami; Atlanta; and Salt Lake City, you’d have a city roughly the size of Toronto. Fully one sixth of the population of Canada lives within an hour’s drive of Toronto. Rob Ford is the mayor of that. So why is it that he thinks that gun crime is an immigration issue? In his honour’s most illustrious words: [Read more…]

A shooting, many questions, no answers

Shortly after midnight on Friday, July 20th, a heavily-armed man burst into a movie theatre and opened fire on the crowd, killing twelve people and wounding nearly 60. This latest act of mass violence in the United States sparked yet another national conversation about the need for gun control, and questions about what could prompt a person with an otherwise-bright future to commit such an atrocity. I lack the necessary knowledge (and the energy) to comment much further about this particular shooting other than to say that I obviously wish it hadn’t happened, and that something must be done to make such events more rare. I do not believe that more guns are the answer to the problem, but that idea appears to have some serious currency in the United States, so I guess take that for what it’s worth.

Such acts are incredibly rare here in Canada (especially compared to our southern neighbour), and yet Toronto has recently been visited by a pair of public shootings that have sparked our own national conversation. The first shooting occurred at the beginning of last month in the food court of the city’s largest shopping mall. Two people, the apparent targets of the shooter, were killed. The motivation appears to be related to gang activity. At the beginning of last week, Toronto was once again visited by the spectre of violence at the hands of armed gunmen: [Read more…]

Trayvon was part of YahwAlladdha’s plan – Zimmerman

There is a school of thought among anti-theists like myself that rejects the smiling, hat-in-hand, ‘moderate’ version of theist belief that seems to dominate the newspaper opinion columns and academic debate halls (and yet seems to correspond not at all to the front page headlines) as profoundly dishonest. If you believe that the Bible or the Qur’an or the Torah are literally true, or even true as metaphor, then you cannot escape a few simple conclusions, the first and most obvious of which is that the guy running the show is a petty and vengeful dictator who will torture you eternally out of ‘love’ (one of many words that seems to have a completely different meaning when describing the deity than it does when used to describe anything else).

This particular group of anti-theists don’t have a whole lot of patience for those who say that the different religions are just ‘different ways at arriving at the same answer’ or that religions are all ‘fundamentally about peace’. “Bullshit!” they (we) say, “you can only claim that if you just flat-out ignore half of the shit in your book. If you’re going to ignore parts of it, we invite you to join us and ignore the whole fucking thing.” Anti-theists are potty-mouths.

And in that sense, the only times that anti-theists and religious fundamentalists agree (when it comes to questions of theology) usually involve at least one dead body: [Read more…]

Myth… confirmed

There is a bit of ‘wisdom’ about stereotypes that says that they have a basis in truth. Reader and regular commenter mynameischeese* referred to a particularly insightful observation:

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once pointed out, the problem with stereotypes isn’t that they’re untrue; it’s that they are incomplete. If you go to Mexico, you can find a guy in a sombrero playing mariachi music. He does exist. But he can’t represent all of Mexico.

It’s an instructive way to think about stereotypes – as a selective slice of reality that is stretched and warp to represent the totality. However, when you look with any serious scrutiny at the situation and attempt to find any truth, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find that the stereotype is woefully unhelpful.

I usually discourage the use of stereotype whenever possible. Stereotypical thinking not only often goes hand in hand with system justifying behaviours, but are often based on harmful ideas that can ‘other’ minority groups, even if that dehumanization is unintentional. Stereotype-based thinking is the antithesis of a skeptical mindset, and can lead us to make really poor decisions. Plus, the fact is that the more we learn about reality the more interesting life becomes – living in a world where everything adheres to a stereotype is boring.

That being established, as we said off the top, sometimes there’s truth in even the most cliched stereotype: [Read more…]


I will likely never get a chance to ‘boo’ Mitt Romney in person, so I will have to do it on the internet.

You may have heard that political windsock Mitt Romney* visited the NAACP yesterday. The audience, obviously predominantly black, booed him when he announced his intention to repeal “Obamacare” should he be elected into office. He then said… well he said a bunch of stupid shit. It was a fairly typical example of a white conservative politician rolling in and telling black people what they should care about instead of the silly frivolous things they do care about (like, y’know, being able to access health care):

Mr. Romney received polite applause at several points during the speech. But he was interrupted again when he flatly accused Mr. Obama of failing to spark a more robust economic recovery.

“I know the president has said he will do those things. But he has not. He cannot. He will not. And his last four years in the White House prove it definitively,” Mr. Romney said as the crowd’s murmurs turned to louder groans.

Finally, he stopped amid loud jeers.

“If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him. You take a look,” Mr. Romney shot back.


The part that I love about this story is the photos of the audience reaction. This one is my favourite: [Read more…]

Stay classy, Braz-man!

This may surprise a lot of my foreign friends (and probably a bunch of my Canadian friends as well), but Canada has a Senate. Unlike the American Senate, our Senators are appointees who serve for life, somewhat like Supreme Court Justices. They are supposed to be an arms-length body appointed from a wide swath of Canadian life whose job it is to scrutinize legislation passed through the House of Commons (something akin to the American Congress, but not really).

The most distinctive features of Canadian Senators is the fact that, unless you’re particularly interested in federal politics, they’re entirely anonymous. Canadian Senators don’t really make a big splash, and they’re rarely found in the headlines except when the entire Senate is under discussion for some reason or another. That all changed when Harper appointee Patrick Brazeau agreed to a boxing match with Liberal member of Parliament Justin Trudeau. Overnight, Senator Brazeau went from anonymous public servant to household name. But of course, because nobody checks to make sure celebrities aren’t total pieces of shit, this happened: [Read more…]

I have amazing friends

I know what my role is in the ‘struggle’ for minority equality and greater understanding. I’m a writer, a describer, an arguer. That’s what’s in me to do. Although I am more or less content with my ‘job’, I can’t help but feel a deep and quasi-envious admiration for those people who actually go out there and do stuff.

Case in point:

The 13 girls and their families are mostly recent immigrants, from Nigeria, Pakistan, Jamaica, Somalia and Iraq. Two girls have only been here a month; they’ve just arrived from Iraqi refugee camps in Syria. Their friends help to translate, and they soaked it all in.

The workshop is lead by a young woman, Heather Payne of  a non-profit called Girls Learning Code. I met Heather through the Mozilla Foundation, who has hired her and others like her to build a new generation of webmakers around the planet. This summer, they’re encouraging people around the world to run Kitchen Code Parties of their own. We thought it would be great to do so at the HIGHRISE highrise too, where we’ve worked with adults for almost 3 years now with such participatory photography an storytelling projects such as One Millionth Tower.

We also knew we needed to work with the youth at this building when our Digital Citizenship Survey showed us last year that a whopping 50% of the population at this highrise is under 20 years of age. That’s a lot of kids with not much to do all summer long.

“We know that if we advertise the workshop for both boys and girls,” Heather explains to me, “Only boys will show up. So making the group open only for girls ensures girls make it to the keyboard.”

“I was so excited to hear about this workshop,” says one girl, “Because all we do all summer long is stay in our apartment and clean.” The needs of the kids are high, and so few services exist in highrise neighbourhoods such as this.

Heather Payne is a friend from high school who I (in my self-centred undergraduate haze) lost track of for a few years. When she popped back onto my radar, she had decided that it simply wasn’t enough to merely comment on the obstacles facing young women when it came to career path selection. She decided to do something about it, and in the past handful of months her brainchild Ladies Learning Code has taken off in a big way.

Read the rest of the profile about what she’s doing, and if you are so moved, follow her on Twitter. And then tell her I said nice things about her. And then… I dunno, go do something else.

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