This Week's Conversations: How Art Shapes History, New Detroit, Irredeemable Anne, Summer Playlist #1

A weekly conversation between friends.

How Art Shapes History

In April, Matt Galloway sat down with Junot Diaz, Christi Belcourt, Sir David Adjaye, and Paul Gross to discuss how art shapes nationhood and history as part of the AGO’s creative minds series. The conversation was recorded for CBC: Ideas, and broadcasted last week.

The discussion was set in the context of Brexit and Trump’s election, and the rise in right wing nationalism, but it quickly embraced Canada’s 150th anniversary. The exchanges between Belcourt and Gross are worth listening to: Belcourt is a well-known Métis artist and activist who views the 150th commemoration much differently than Gross, who channels a liberal understanding of Canada, its history, and reconciliation (I feel for Gross here, but clearly he may not have been the best person to discuss this issue with Belcourt).

Unsurprisingly, the only non-Indigenous people of colour involved in the discussion are non-Canadians, who are also asked to present their opinions on Canada’s 150th year (in 2017, I still find it odd that national discussions on the character and direction of Canada excludes those of us in this country who don’t belong to the founding peoples, as if our ancestry does not permit us to participate in these conversations). But, to be fair, the discussion goes beyond the sesquicentennial, and both Diaz and Adajaye provide the most insightful comments of the night on the relationship between art, identity, and politics.

Here is Diaz, who is best known for his Pulitzer-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, on what makes a nation:

Nations are very antagonistic, they pick enemies, they pick borders, they create borders, they create characters and mythologies that exclude. And, I always think that the nation is its silences, the nation is its exclusion, and for someone like me, in the art that I do, its disavowed dead. Because the nations’ love to create stenographs for its good dead, the dead that it recognizes, the dead that wanna help perpetuate its project of the nation. But, there is also an enormous population of its disavowed dead, the victims of this national project, the people who are decimated because of the national project.

I tend to define the nation by who’s on the other side of the bayonet. And, who doesn’t get a tomb, and who doesn’t get memorialized, and who doesn't get mourned. And, yet, that’s as much a part of what a nation is as whoever we decide to toast on whatever holiday.

Diaz is most enlightening when it comes to his thoughts on the purpose of art, how it disarms and reveals truths about ourselves that we are unaware of or rather avoid:

One of the important functions of art with truth telling, is that art is supposed to...  put us in touch with that vulnerable human-self, which we cover up with all sorts of mythologies and lies and obfuscations and boasts. But, there is a part of us that is incredibly vulnerable and incredibly human and incredibly fragile, and that’s who we really, really are. The part of us that doesn’t look cute in a mirror, that doesn’t have a great job… The way that art can obliterate all our little lies we tell about ourselves, and put us in touch with what really matters about being a human being. How absolutely evanescent this experience is about being a human; how profoundly mortal we are.

And, in a society like ours, which teaches us to be facile, to be fast, to be cute, if you fall for that crap, you’re gonna miss what matters most about yourself. Which is that who we are is very complex, very difficult to get at, we have an enormous amount of defences. Art has been perhaps the most perfect instrument, the most perfect felicity that we’ve created to put us in communion with that part of ourselves that we bury beneath all our lies.

Yet, art, both in its elaboration and in our contact with it, is not something you can dispense of by swiping right. One needs a relationship to art, one needs to sit in art. And, I do believe that not only among us as human beings but also in our relationship with art, if we don’t have long processes, we lose what matters about the conversation. A person cannot mean in 5 seconds. A person cannot mean in 3 months. To even begin to approach a friend requires a tremendous amount of time and also just a lot of deliberate care and listening. And it’s the same with art. If you are just reading a book to just consume it and check it off on Facebook, cool, do it. But, there is another way, to make it a part of who you are, to make it have a permanent place in you, so that it continues its conversation beyond the point of your consumption of it. I think that is what leads to much more generative place for us to be people and for us to understand art’s power.


Detroit's New Renaissance

About 4 years ago, I spent an afternoon in Detroit on route to Chicago. It was a weekday afternoon, and the city was a ghost town — the streets were empty, storefronts were boarded up, and the sky was filled with beautiful but empty old skyscrapers. Walking through the downtown core was a truly eerie feeling, almost post-apocalyptic.

Detroit — once the fastest growing city in the world, and today the fastest shrinking city in America — has a population of less than 700,000. The city’s incredibly rapid decline, which began in the 1970s and accelerated in the 2000s, has become a kind of symbol of the collapse of America’s manufacturing sector. Indeed, countless cities in the American midwest have encountered the same fate.

The human impact of Detroit’s decline, and the resilience of its remaining citizens is subtly captured in the documentary Detropia (which is very easy to find online). The film abstains from any narration, and instead provides a close look at the lives of three Detroiters — a United Auto Workers union president, a nightclub owner, and a video blogger — all struggling to cope with a new landscape wrought by the implacable forces of late capitalism. It’s a tragic story, but one that ends on an optimistic note, as its characters adjust to the fact that the Detroit of the future will not be the Detroit of the past.

I returned to Detroit this weekend, and immediately noticed a change in the city. The streets were busier, there were more public buses running, and a number of the once abandoned buildings were being refurbished or renovated (including the hulking Michigan Central Station, once the iconic symbol of the city’s decay — see image above). Throughout Corktown, there were new restaurants, cocktail bars, and shops. A massive billboard advertised an upcoming music festival. The downtown core felt significantly busier, shiny even. Massive murals had cropped up on the sides of towers. Newly painted bike lanes lined Michigan Avenue. The Tigers were playing at Comerica Park and Greektown was bustling.

It remains a quiet city, and many of its neighborhoods remain all but abandoned And yet, walking downtown, as a tourist at least, it seems as if Detroit is on the verge of a new renaissance.


On the final day of our trip, we visited The Heidelberg Project (HP), an ongoing, outdoor arts project located in a what was once a poverty-stricken and dangerous neighborhood in east Detroit. In the words of Ryan Felton:

The whimsical creation of Detroit artist Tyree Guyton, the site dubbed the Heidelberg Project has rejuvenated the surrounding neighborhood, in a way that is probably only possible in Detroit: Guyton took ordinary found items – old toys, appliances, clothes – and turned the surrounding streetscape into a blocks-long art project.

Along Heidelberg Street, rows of houses and vacant lots have been transformed into bold and eclectic installations. There are clocks, polka dots, tires and rusted machinery. A sea of shoes line old fences. Stuffed animals and old dolls pop out from houses. And every day, a steady stream of motorists arrive, crawling down the street to snap a quick photo or get out and stroll through the installation.

Along Heidelberg Street, rows of houses and vacant lots have been transformed into bold and eclectic installations. There are clocks, polka dots, tires and rusted machinery. A sea of shoes line old fences. Stuffed animals and old dolls pop out from houses. And every day, a steady stream of motorists arrive, crawling down the street to snap a quick photo or get out and stroll through the installation.

The project, which has for 30 years battled with city demolition crews and arsonists, seems to represent the resilient spirit of Detroit and its people. Today, the HP is being dismantled.

What’s next, once the project is dismantled, remains an open question, but the organization is revamping to create something called Heidelberg 3.0.,” explained the project’s Executive Director Jenenne Whitfield, who is married to Guyton. “The objective of this next phase was to cultivate the larger community … with more people in this area and hopefully new people.


Anne: The Series: An Unforgivably 'Modern' Adaptation

I greeted the new adaptation of Anne of Green Gables — billed as a grittier, darker, more modern feminist take — with excitement. As readers may recall, I was willing to overlook the plot changes that helped underscore Anne’s fragility and strength, and that introduced useful topics for young girls, like menstruation. I even tolerated some blatant moralizing on the themes of bullying, intolerance, and education for women (what is this… Little Women??).

I now take back anything nice I ever said.

The final episodes of Anne: The Series certainly are darker and grittier. As for more feminist, maybe if you squint (or count the elder Ms. Barry’s outing as a lesbian). The plot line diverged completely from anything that ever happened in the book, twisting relationships and creating new, and wholly unwelcome ones. I’m sure it was supposed to end on a cliffhanger, but I hold no anticipation for a second season, only rage at the destruction of one of my favourite books and fear for my beautiful, fragile Anne. (I swear, if I hear season two involves any sort of relationship of a sexual nature between Anne and one of the newly introduced [and completely unnecessary] boarders, ranting in this newsletter will not be sufficient.)

LM Montgomery’s Anne was everything I aspired to be: passionate and argumentative, curious, dedicated to her studies, generous, a nature-lover, imaginative, loyal to her friends (of any age or gender). Her stubbornness, vanity, temper, and penchant for daydreaming and stream-of-conscious commentary would get her into minor trouble, but she learned to say sorry, even if she wasn’t sorry and it wasn’t her fault, and sometimes these faults actually resulted in good things (a gift of a dress with puffed sleeves!). Uniquely, she didn’t care about boys, just saw them as competition or friends. While she had a tendency towards dramatically dark outlooks, she was at heart an optimist, and I always finished the book with a lightness of spirit.

Indeed, the joy of reading Anne of Green Gables is that terrible things don’t have to happen to evoke emotion, or to give the reader pause. It’s Anne’s earnestness, the seriousness with which she approaches every moment, that draws the reader in, not horrific plot twists. My heart is in my throat every time I read the chapter of the lost brooch; the injustice Anne feels at the accusation is more than sufficient to draw out the tenuous nature of the trust between new foster parents and children. Sending her away and showing her panhandling, followed by a desperate horse chase by Matthew, would have seemed like overkill.

Anne: The Series turns Anne of Green Gables into just another modern drama that aims to shock us, and suggests the creators view everyday sentiment as unnecessary trifle. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore that modernizing is just a code word for the introduction of gratuitous scenes of violence, suicide, sex, and poverty. Certainly the media seems to think we won’t pay attention or ‘get it’ unless someone is getting seriously hurt. And modern young adult fiction seems required to feature at least one, if not all of: drugs, alcohol, suicide, teen pregnancy, or rape. Dystopian visions abound everywhere.

Sarah Larson writes in the New Yorker:

If the 1985 production sanitizes the past aesthetically, it also respects us enough to let us think for ourselves. Lionel Trilling, writing about E. M. Forster, pointed out that people often fail to realize that the serious and the solemn are not the same thing. “Nowadays even the literate reader is likely to be unschooled in the comic tradition and unaware of the comic seriousness,” he wrote. “Our suspicion of gaiety in art perhaps signifies an inadequate seriousness in ourselves."


A realistic but warmhearted “Anne” could have been made, with these actors and these aesthetics, if its creator had had faith in Montgomery’s narrative and had more clearly seen the power of what’s already there."

I couldn’t agree more.


Trump v Obama at Yad Vashem

As Ian Bremmer has pointed out on Twitter, both Trump and Obama have left notes at Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial for the Holocaust.  The difference is telling.


Cultural Appropriation and Canadian Hypocrisy

The controversy surrounding the #AppropriationPrize has scandalized the Canadian media industry, and has inspired an interesting conversation about diversity and representation in our country. It’s also revealed an apparently widespread misunderstanding of the concept ‘cultural appropriation’, and its impacts on marginalized or minority communities.

Cultural appropriation, it’s worth emphasizing, does not refer to the act of sharing, exchanging, or exploring the cultural and artistic products of another community. Rather, it refers to taking those products for one’s own use, without the owner’s permission.  

Bearing this definition in mind, we’d like to direct our readers’ attention to this excellent article by Robert Jago, writing in the now Jonathan Kay-less Walrus on the appropriation of Indigenous culture and art by white mainstream society in Canada. Jago begins by explaining the basic problem with cultural appropriation: it cheapens the ‘product’ in question. Referring to Indigenous story of Sasq’ets, which originated in the Pacific Northwest, Jago writes:

Our stories are works of genius and beauty, and vital to our relationship with the land. By no means do I want to restrict our legends to Indigenous people. I want you to know about Sasq’ets, and the psychedelically odd stories of the spirit of the South Winds, and all of the legends of our country.

But when the story is taken from us and told by outsiders without our involvement, its identity can be lost, and Sasq’ets becomes Bigfoot. The cultural dominance of non-Natives means that a B-movie like Harry and the Hendersons can have more influence over Salish children than the legend that inspired it...

Some defenders of cultural appropriation argue that the practice helps spread ideas, and protects and revitalizes endangered cultures by making their cultural output more widely known. In effect, however, this type of appropriation can also kill ideas, strip them of us and feed them back to us—the people who know them best—as acultural pablum.

This is a common thing, especially in an hyper-connected world. But the impact of cultural appropriation is far from even. For underrepresented or marginalized communities, whose voices are routinely drowned out or ignored by mainstream media, cultural appropriation becomes a sort of cultural imperialism, in which a community's culture or art is watered down, transformed, and repurposed beyond control, without the opportunity for input or criticism. Furthermore, as Jago points out, cultural appropriation takes on a sharper, more dangerous edge in the context of systemic racism and colonialism:

The phenomenon of cultural appropriation goes beyond the narrow dictionary definition, and is understood by many Indigenous people to include stereotypical and mistaken representations of us and our cultures. These misrepresentations include the hypersexualized view of First Nations women, the myth of the drunken Indian, the football mascot-inspired stereotype of the violent warrior Indian. All of these misrepresentations and misappropriations can have real-world effects for Indigenous people who have to confront the non-Native justice system, child welfare system, or healthcare systems.

Finally, Jago rightly calls out the hypocrisy of those who deny the impact of cultural appropriation, pointing out the fact that Canadian journalists are fact actively protected by the government from dominance by outsiders — this is fundamental purpose of the much-taken CRTC’s much-taken-for-granted Canadian Content rules, which mandate the involvement of Canadians at each level of production if a work is to be considered a Canadian cultural product. He writes:

Unable or unwilling to see the hypocrisy of stealing from our culture while theirs is protected, Canadian journalists have been hectoring Indigenous people online, arguing that cultural appropriation is a form of free speech and should be treated as such. But free speech means freedom from government interference, not freedom from criticism. Few people know more about government interference in the exercise of free speech than Indigenous activists who have been tracked, monitored, and interrogated by Canadian security and intelligence agencies. An online backlash to a rude and offensive editorial is not a threat to free speech, it’s an example of free speech.


Reactions to Alex Tizon’s Essay, “My Family’s Slave”

Alex Tizon’s heartbreaking essay about his family’s slave, published last week as a cover story for The Atlantic, lit the internet on fire. Since then, there has been a lot of discussion about Tizon’s perhaps use of the word ‘slave’, and about readers’ reactions to the essay, which often invoked moral judgement without considering cultural context or the historical impacts of servitude, colonialism, and imperialism in the Philippines. As M. Evelina Galang explains:

It has been difficult to see wide-sweeping judgment coming from people who have no context nor familiarity with Filipino culture, history, or economics. “My Family’s Slave” cannot be read in isolation. There is a larger issue borne of hundreds of years of colonialism and economic hardship. From the beginning, when I saw that story teased on Twitter, I knew it would be complicated. I do not condone the circumstances of how the Tizon family treated Pulido. But Alex Tizon inherited this story. He had a long struggle to make sense of it before he died at the age of 57. He might have written it in his diaries and kept it to himself, but he did not. He put it out there, and his story, even to the end, is messy. The conversation around Tizon’s essay is important. It will take time, and it may be a struggle to shift cultural attitudes about servitude in the Philippines, but the awareness around Eudocia Tomas Pulido is a start.

The essay was widely discussed on social media in the Philippines. Some interesting threads from Twitter are compiled here.

The essay has also inspired renewed interest in other stories about the “impossibly complicated situations of Filipino migrants and immigrants”. These include a recent piece from the Times on the “transparent yet indispensable” Filipino workforce in Israel, and a New Yorker profile from last year on “the intimacies & sacrifices of caregivers who live two to a bed in Queens”.


Summer Playlist #1

I love making playlists. There are few things other than music that can help capture the essence of a time in one's life, regenerate some visceral memories, or create an association with a season, emotion or event. 

Summer playlists have got to be my favourite to create. They tend to be upbeat, and I would argue (outside of the holidays) that there is a certain feeling that summer jams have that aren't created with other seasons. This isn't to say that there's a homogenous sound. People think of summer when they hear that infectious pop song with that addictive hook, the rock song heard on a patio or beer gardens, the calm melody of road trip songs, and that slow and smooth track reminiscent of a hot late night. All those songs sound completely different, but they all scream summer.

I hope this Spotify playlist takes you to all those places. Some tracks are fresh out of the oven, some are timeless classics.  Thanks for listening.

- Guest Contribution by Josh Fanaeian


Weekly Links

Doug Saunders on the impact of the attack in Manchester: “Even at a time when terror attacks on civilians have once again become part of European life, there was something different about Monday's Manchester attack. It marked a new threshold of terrorism, and is likely to change British life in important ways.”

Jia Tolentino has declared the personal essay boom is over, and newsletters are where it’s at (yeah baby!).

For those who are interested in cultural appropriation following last week’s discussion, here’s a quick piece on Miley Cyrus and how she has appropriated Black culture.

Net neutrality is a word that is bandied around a lot, but most have no idea what it means. The Washington Post provides a helpful two minute primer.

Pateron connects creators to those interested in supporting their work. It’s a simple concept that is revolutionizing the creative industry around the world, and is preferred to Instagram and snapchat for creators. This is consistent with the theory that in order to make digital sustainable for creators, subscription models (like, Pateron) are more effective than relying solely on advertising (Instagram and snapchat).

The tragic life of Zaan Scott is the heart-wrenching, must read of the week.

Here are a couple of good tributes to Chris Cornell — one of the last of the leading men of grunge music left standing before his tragic suicide last week. This piece offers an exploration of how Gen X used grunge music to communicate the struggles of depression.

The CIA spent years cultivating a highly sophisticated spy network deep inside the Chinese state bureaucracy before it collapsed. The reason? The Chinese found out and killed as many CIA informants as they could find.

Ryan Getzlaf's homophobic slur (and pseudo-apology) draws criticism from gay former player.

Avnish Nanda
The Week's Conversations: #AppropriationPrize, MMIWG Inquiry, Current Reads, Soccer under Assad, The National

A weekly conversation between friends.

#AppropriationPrize Sheds Light on the Hypocrisy and Relevance of Canadian Media

Electric Circus was a fixture in my home for much of the early 90s. On most Friday nights, my parents would turn on MuchMusic while making or eating dinner to catch sweaty people dance up and on each other to C+C Music Factory, Haddaway, La Bouche, and Culture Beat at 299 Queen Street West in Toronto.

My parents, immigrants from India in their mid-40s at the time, didn’t appreciate the music or the dancing, which, to be clear, was phenomenal. That’s not why they were watching the show. They watched for Monika Deol, the exuberant Indo-Canadian woman hosting Electric Circus.

Deol was confident, charismatic, and to my family, represented a mark of achievement for Indo-Canadians in Canada. In an era where people of colour were rarely seen on Canadian television, here was Deol hosting the coolest television show in the country.

It was a milestone that filled my family with pride, and ensured that as a child, I was more familiar with the catalogue of Crystal Waters and Martha Wash than Rafi or Fred Penner.


Electric Circus is what comes to mind when I think about the importance of media representation in Canada. The events of the past few weeks concerning #AppropriationPrize are a clear indication that while the makeup of this country has changed dramatically over the past three decades, the people who occupy key positions in Canadian media and journalism do not reflect the population. The episode also reveals that those in these positions of power seem uninterested in genuinely attempting to eradicate barriers that women and people of colour face within the industry.

The most recent iteration of this long-standing discussion stems from the 'call to pen' issued by Hal Niedzviecki, editor of Write, a magazine published by the Writers' Union of Canada, to white writers to actively appropriate the experiences of others, including Indigenous peoples in Canada. Niedzviecki later apologized, and admitted that his piece was 'tone-deaf' for not considering the history of white male writers appropriating the experiences of people of colour, and in the process excluding their voices on these topics. But the apology didn't stop a cadre of elite editors and journalists coming to Niedzviecki's aid, and doubling down with the creation of an #AppropriationPrize that would be awarded to what would ostensibly be the white writer who best ripped off the experiences of non-white people in Canada.

After raising approximately $3,500.00 in a few hours, the expected transpired: others in the industry, particularly people of colour, called these men out for their hypocrisy. On one end, the organizations these editors and journalists headed committed to including more diverse writers and perspectives in their ranks, but at the same time they were personally sponsoring a prize that encouraged the exclusion of the same diverse voices. Apologies followed, including from the likes of Steve Ladurantaye, whom I used to admire, and hope to do so again.

Others continued on with the exceptionally lazy argument that this was all political correctness run amok, with writers regularly borrowing from the experiences of other people and cultures. Some even ventured into the territory that criticisms of Niedzviecki amounted to the suppression of free expression, undermining the underpinnings of our society.

Murad Hemmadi deftly cuts down this argument in his Maclean's piece, which is the best I have read on the episode:

The response is just the kind of willful misunderstanding that suits the anti-PC crowd so well. Writing about another race or identity group is not necessarily itself cultural appropriation. Rather, it’s when those ideas are cut wholesale out of context and then presented as the taker’s own. And it’s particularly when the taker is rewarded for something the taken-from wouldn’t be. An “appropriation prize” is literally the ultimate example of this—giving a writer a reward specifically for taking ideas from Indigenous people and people of colour who are systematically prevented from profiting from their creations or cultures themselves.

In this section, Hemmadi critiques Jonathan Kay's response to the critics of Niedzviecki by glibly calling for Harper Lee's body to be exhumed "to castigate her for appropriating the experiences of African American men?” (Hemmadi goes on to catalogue Kay's poor track record when it comes to encouraging diverse voices in Canadian media, which we have commented on theread before. Over the weekend, Kay resigned as Editor-in-Chief of the Walrus).

The fatuous response of Niedzviecki, Kay, and others senior figures in Canadian media questions the place of Hemmadi and other minority journalists relative to their white counterparts. But, it goes even further, as the episode pulled back the curtain and revealed what these individuals actually think about the diversity initiatives of their respective organizations.


A friend of mine who works as a freelance journalist recently told me about the response an editor provided to a pitch he made earlier this year. My friend writes primarily on health and social issues around addiction. He had heard about the high rates of alcohol and other substance abuse-related deaths among relatively affluent Indo-Canadian men in the Fraser Valley, and considered this to be a story worth exploring. The editor turned down the pitch, asking why the average reader would care about addiction issues within a specific ethnic community in the Abbotsford/Mission area. The editor advised my friend that he would be more successful if he wrote about addiction issues impacting mainstream communities.  

As a reader rather than a journalist, I don't understand the editor's hesitation. I make a point of buying what I read, and would read an article on addiction issues among Indo-Canadian men in the Fraser Valley. Just as I have consumed all the works of Mordecai Richler chronicling Jewish life in Montreal. Or actively seek out articles documenting the challenges Vancouver's Chinatown faces with each new luxury condo development and high end restaurant opening. Or how Indigenous peoples and communities are asserting their rights and place in Canada in this “era of reconciliation”. These are all important stories in the Canada I live in, regardless if I belong to these communities or not.

At its core, journalism is about helping people understand their world. The fact that these stories all involve minority communities shouldn’t be the reason not to cover them. Instead, that should be the very reason why the media should cover these stories. Stories like this help us better understand the extremely diverse country we live in and the people we live in it with. And, as someone whose intercultural competency is tested daily, this is valuable journalism that is worth my money.

The Canadian media landscape is in the midst of a transformation: revenues and readership are declining, and everyone is preoccupied with figuring out how to make journalism work in the digital age. My advice is to tell the stories that are relevant to Canadians — all Canadians. Hire the people who can best tell these stories and shed light on what’s happening, rather than advocating appropriation as a preferred method. In simple terms: ensure that those telling the stories, and the stories themselves, reflect the audience that they are seeking to inform.


Canada Continues to Fail Indigenous Women and Their Families

The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) has announced it will delay meetings with family members until the fall (with the exception of one meeting scheduled for the end of May). CBC has good coverage of the Inquiry, including outreach to the families of MMIWG and the groups representing them. They report that while the Inquiry spokesperson attributes this delay to requests from families wishing to spend the summer hunting, at least 23 families that CBC spoke to said they had never made any such request, and further, that 70% of cases involving MMIWG occurred in urban areas, where communities don’t necessarily shut down over the summer months.

Laurie Odjick, whose daughter, 16-year-old Maisy Odjick, went missing from Kitigan Zibi in Quebec in 2006, also sits on the advisory circle. She said she is disappointed with the commission's decision to postpone the hearings. "To see everything unfold, they're not even listening," Odjick told CBC News. … "It's just time for us to be vocal about this. Because this is not our inquiry, it's not a 'family first' model whatsoever.”

We reiterate that it is extremely disappointing to see this process be bungled, as Indigenous women and girls remain at higher risk of violence.


What We're Reading Right Now

I’m reading Don’t Say That We Have Nothing by the Canadian author Madeleine Thien. It’s a sprawling, intergenerational novel that charts the history and lives of a family of poets and musicians scattered across China and eventually Canada.The story focuses particularly on the political upheavals of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, and the events leading up to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989.

Thien’s prose is lyrical, but without flourish. It reminds me at times of Murakami’s IQ84, and of Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude at others. The story is detailed, ambitious, and frightening in its depiction of authoritarian control and paranoia.

“Should any doubt remain, Do Not Say We Have Nothing will cement Madeleine Thien as one of Canada’s most talented novelists, at once a successor to Rohinton Mistry and a wholly singular stylist,” writes David B. Hobbs in a review for the Globe. In 2016, the novel received the Governor General’s Award, the Giller Prize, and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize.

This week, I also started Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by the late British historian Tony Judt. Published in 2005, the book is Judt’s ambitious and controversial attempt “to expound the sum total of Europe since 1945 in a seamless narrative.”It’s like 800 pages, and I just started it, but there are already some interesting things going on. One argument that sticks out so far, is the rather heavy assertion that Europe’s stability over the past half century stems partly from the campaigns of ethnic cleansing and the forced movement of populations that took place during and after World War II, which created a continent of more or less neatly ordered ethno-national states.

Europe’s tendency to forget or ignore its own recent history, Judt seems to argue, helps to explain the continent’s current instability, and its struggles to integrate new waves of immigrants and refugees:

“The new presence of Europe’s living ‘others’ — perhaps fifteen million Muslims in the EU as currently constituted [2005], with a further eighty million awaiting admission in Bulgaria and Turkey  — has thrown into relief not just Europe’s current discomfort at the prospect of ever greater variety, but the also the ease with which the dead ‘others’ of Europe’s past were case far out of mind. Since 1989 it has become clearer than it was before just how much the stability of post-war Europe rested on the accomplishments of Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler. Between them, and assisted by wartime collaborators, the dictators blasted flat the demographic heath upon which the foundations of a new and less complicated were then laid.”


— Richie

This week I read Scaachi Koul’s One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter. It’s written in a sardonic, self-deprecating style that I used to think was cool, and now am somewhat bored of. And while she’s a deft writer and the essays are well paced, none of the personal stories yielded anything I found profound. Nonetheless, one must appreciate the diversity in this collection, with essays on Indian weddings, immigrant nostalgia, schoolyard racism, twitter harassment, drinking as a woman, insecurities regarding body hair, and letting go of toxic friendships.

Koul has an easy way of sketching out characters which makes this collection a companionable one to spend time with, if nothing else. My favourite part is the author bio written by Koul’s father (“I am almost certain she has presented me in a very poignant and loving way. Or again I could be delusional. If I am presented as crank or an Indian version of Archie Bunker then my revenge would be complete because I named her Scaachi with silent C.” (Grammar is true to the bio since as Papa K says: “punctuation… is elites trying to keep bourgeoisie like us down.”)), my second favourite part is the chapter-closing text exchanges between Koul and her father, and my third favourite part is her conveyance of the mundanities that sustain a close-knit family.

Verdict: good for the subway, but doesn’t merit a quiet, uninterrupted afternoon of reading.

If you have read Koul’s book and liked it, then may I suggest the art of Jen Mann, which another theread editor discovered this week. A documentary about her, The Self Practice, perfectly encapsulates an artist in her 20s, and Toronto, and white feminism, and also (the dangers of?) introspection. (Seriously, props to the filmmaker, it’s well done.) In Mann’s words: “There’s definitely cynicism in my work, and humour, and maybe something comforting, but also something off-putting and painful. There’s a slickness and a beauty to it that kinda draws you in, and then there’s something maybe a little painful when you eventually look into the image and you connect with it, kinda like draws you in to just hurt a little bit but then makes its all better by making you laugh at yourself or making you laugh at me.” This sums up One Day as well.

I have just started reading Emma Marris’ Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, which interrogates the concept of conservation and its assumed aim of returning nature to a pristine, pre-human state, and Dan Pearson’s Natural Selection: A Year in the Garden, a collection of his gardening columns published over the past 10 years. Pearson is the Nigel Slater of the gardening world, his sensitive depictions of even the most common plants send one drifting off into daydreams that are actually achievable, in the same way that Slater can elevate a basic 4-ingredient meal into something you want, and will, and do eat immediately with more enjoyment than you would have had you thought of the idea independently.

— Amy

I recently read Vivek Shanbhag's brilliant novella Ghachar Ghochar. Originally written in Kannada, a language spoken by approximately 50 million people in India (making it the language of a minority linguistic group in the country), it was soon translated to Hindi, and then English, which resulted in glowing reviews by The New York Times Book Review, New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Guardian, and others.

At a little over 100 pages, Ghachar Ghochar chronicles a Bangalorean joint-family that navigates the new economic order in India to escape its lower-middle class existence and find money, power, and influence, shedding some aspects of its humanity in the process. With comparisons to Chekov, Shanbhag is a master of conjuring up a sense of dread and uneasiness through his sparing prose.

— Avi


"A bloody, violent fight for the soul of soccer in Syria"

The World Cup, like the Olympics, is a tournament that seems exceptionally prone to scandal. The 2015 FIFA corruption crisis and the use of “modern-day slavery” in the lead-up to Qatar 2022 are just a couple of examples. It’s also stage for symbolic geopolitics — Germany and Japan were not permitted to compete in the 1950 tournament, and South Africa was banned from the tournament from 1966 until 1992 for violating FIFA’s anti-discrimination charter. In some cases, the ‘beautiful game’ can become  a conduit for violence, like the time the Colombian national team’s captain was murdered after a tournament-ending own goal in 1994, or when the players for North Korean national team were allegedly subjected to a six-hour excoriation for "betraying" the communist nation's ideological struggle in 2010.

In recent years, the World Cup’s political drama has shifted to the Middle East.

Following seven months of investigative reporting, ESPN has published a heartbreaking longform piece on Syria’s beleaguered national soccer team, which, despite extraordinary circumstances, has managed an incredible run at its first ever World Cup appearance.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war six years ago, the national soccer team has become a battleground between the followers and opponents of Bashar al-Assad, who has sought to leverage the team as a symbol of national unity — the “benign face of a ruthless dictatorship.”

Many of the country’s elite players who oppose Assad’s regime are faced with an almost impossible choice: join the team that ‘represents’ the brutal dictatorship, or boycott the team and abandon their country’s quest for international glory. Those who boycott are often forced to flee the country, and accused of aligning themselves with ISIS or al-Qaida. The decision carries risks either way:

The Syrian government has shot, bombed or tortured to death at least 38 players from the top two divisions of the Syrian professional leagues and dozens more from lower divisions... At least 13 players are missing. Although opposition forces have killed soccer players on a smaller scale -- Ammo attributes four such deaths to ISIS -- the Syrian Network for Human Rights concluded that the Assad government has "used athletes and sporting activities to support ... its brutal oppressive practices." Soccer stadiums have been used as military bases to launch attacks on civilians. From the beginning of the war, according to players, teams were essentially forced to march in support of Assad, sometimes carrying banners and wearing T-shirts with the president's image.

Despite the clear political interference by the Syrian government, FIFA has refused to interfere, stating only that the situation was “beyond its control”. “Backed by FIFA's tacit support,” Steve Fainaru concludes, “Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria has woven soccer into its grisly campaign of oppression, tearing apart a generation of players.”


"The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness", Whatever That Means

True to their name, The National seem to have a knack for capturing the prevailing political mood in America. “We’re half awake in a fake empire, mumbled vocalist Matt Berninger, nearly a decade ago, when George W. Bush was still in the White House. A couple of years later, “Mr. November” became a rallying song for the Obama campaign, galvanizing a a generation of hipsters from Brooklyn. Back in the carefree days of 2010, the band even managed to write an anthem about the challenges of debt for the middle class.

We’re in a different kind of thing now,” Berninger points out, which sounds about right for 2017. “All night you’re talking to God.

“The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is the first single off the upcoming Sleep Well Beast, the band’s first album since 2014’s excellent Trouble Will Find Me. In a recent interview, Berninger describes the song as “a hibernation—the dark before the dawn sort of thing… [It’s] less about relationships than it is more of the strange way our world and our idea of identity mutates—sometimes overnight, as we’ve seen recently. It’s an abstract portrait of a weird time we’re in.”

Musically, the track is predictably stellar — for the past decade or more, The National have been one of the most consistent bands in rock or alternative music. Like many of their best songs, it is at once moody and uplifting, featuring a conglomerate of instruments and motifs — in addition to the 4 piece band there are horns, strings, pianos, and a choir — all kept at bay by the metronomical brilliance of drummer Bryan Devendorf. It’s also got a wicked guitar solo, which may be a first for both the band and music in general in 2017. If I was to use a single metaphor, I would liken this song to the feeling one gets after drinking ¾ of a bottle of wine.

The only bad news is that the album doesn’t drop until September.


The B.C. of B.C. Elections

The B.C. election was last week, and we still don’t know the final outcome. Seriously. Absentee ballots can give the B.C. Liberals a slim majority, or even grant the NDP a plurality, and even a majority. This election isn’t over, and any sort of dissection is premature.

But, there are some interesting storylines emerging, including the rural and urban split in British Columbia, and how the NDP managed to win suburban ridings across the lower mainland.

This rural /urban split is not unique to British Columbia, and is in fact reflected in most jurisdictions in the country, both nationally and in other provinces. Suburban communities seem to be the battleground, swing ridings, with the party carrying them likely the one that becomes government.

The same might be true here, but we won’t know until May 24, 2017.


Links From This Week's Thread

Just a few weeks ago, the American author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex Tizon passed away. This week, The Atlantic published an incredibly sad and moving posthumous essay he composed titled Lola’s Story: A Story of Slavery in Modern America. “She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.”

Award-winning journalist Javier Valdez, who started his own independent newspaper to pursue stories on Mexico’s drug cartels, knew intimately the dangers he faced in dedicating his life to exposing crime and corruption associated with the drug trade. On Monday he was dragged from his car and shot dead. Read more on Valdez from the BBC or for an overview of recent violence against Mexican journalists turn to The Guardian.

Just two years before the start of World War II, Canada’s Prime Minister Mackenzie King traveled to Berlin to meet another world leader that he greatly admired: Adolf Hitler. Writing in the National Post, Tristin Hopper retells the story in all its wacky details. “King went into obsessive detail about Hitler’s background, his vegetarianism, his love of nature, his alleged religiousness. He remembered every detail from the meeting: How Hitler positioned his hands, what he was wearing, his “knowing smile” and his “smooth” skin.” (As Paula Simons noted on Facebook, King was an anti-semite in his own right, responsible for many of Canada’s pre-WWII anti-semitic policies).

In Our Midst: what separates friendships from factions?

How reporting on a murder trial stirred memories of Lucas Meyer’s brother’s death.

A Murderous History of Korea:  "How does a puffed-up, vainglorious narcissist, whose every other word may well be a lie (that applies to both of them, Trump and Kim Jong-un), come not only to hold the peace of the world in his hands but perhaps the future of the planet? We have arrived at this point because of an inveterate unwillingness on the part of Americans to look history in the face and a laser-like focus on that same history by the leaders of North Korea."

The return of indie rock continues: Fleet Foxes have released a lovely new track titled “A Fool’s Errand” — their first new material since 2011. How I missed these harmonies.

This is neat. Back in 1984, the Japanese department store Muji commissioned the artist Haruomi Hosono to compose in-store background music. The results are pretty wild. Do not listen while driving long distances.

Nina Simone: Her Art and Life in 33 Songs, featuring conversations with Cat Power, Maxwell, and Esperanza Spalding: “That revolutionary Nina feeling runs like a high-voltage current from her earliest American Songbook covers through her Frankfurt School battle cries, folk lullabies and eulogies, blues incantations, Black Power anthems, diasporic fever chants, Euro romantic laments, and experimental classical and freestyle jazz odysseys. It is the signal she sends out to tell us that something is turning, that we may be closing in on some new way of being in the world and being with each other, or we are at least reaching the point of breaking something open.”

Alexis Madrigal on changes to the web over the last 10 years: “Nowadays, (hyper)linking is an afterthought because most of the action occurs within platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and messaging apps, which all have carved space out of the open web. And the idea of “harnessing collective intelligence” simply feels much more interesting and productive than it does now. The great cathedrals of that time, nearly impossible projects like Wikipedia that worked and worked well, have all stagnated. And the portrait of humanity that most people see filtering through the mechanics of Facebook or Twitter does not exactly inspire confidence in our social co-productions.” (Don't worry, theread remains dedicated to keeping the hyperlink alive...)

Bless Caity Weaver and her celebrity profile pieces (you may remember her from this gem on Bieber or this one on Kim Kardashian). This time she takes on The Rock and asks the two-part question: how likely is he to a) run for president and b) win. “When Dwayne Johnson meets you (and I can assure you, he would love to), the first thing he will do is ask you six thousand questions about yourself, and remember the answers forever. If you are a child, good luck getting past Dwayne Johnson without a high five or some simulated roughhousing; if you're in a wheelchair, prepare for a Beowulf-style epic poem about your deeds and bravery, composed extemporaneously, delivered to Johnson's Instagram audience of 85 million people; if you're dead, having shuffled off your mortal coil before you even got the chance to meet Dwayne Johnson, that sucks—rest in peace knowing that Dwayne Johnson genuinely misses you.”

A dinosaur fossil recovered from a Suncor site in Fort Mac is so well preserved scientists will likely be able to identify the colour of the scraps of flesh stuck to its scales.

Amy Sanderson
The Week's Conversation: The Desmond Cole Media Storm, Cadence Weapon, New Guidelines for LGBTQ Refugee Claimants, Paula Simons, Dear White People, New Indie Music, And More.


Editor's Note on the BC Election

This newsletter was written before the final tallies and results were reported in the British Columbia general election, which, according to the polls, is far from certain. The BC Liberals and NDP are neck-in-neck, with the Greens poised to achieve a historic performance. From our vantage point, it’s hard to decipher how things will go, but it is our hope that readers of theread who are eligible to vote in British Columbia did.

The issues confronting British Columbians are enormous: housing affordability, the opioid crisis, economic development, environmental protection, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and so much more. Only your votes will drive action on these and other issues.

In the weeks to follow, we will provide commentary on the results, and what it means for British Columbia and the rest of Canada.


The Desmond Cole Media Storm

On April 20th, Desmond Cole, the 35-year-old, now former columnist at the Toronto Star, disrupted a Toronto Police Board meeting . Cole was protesting continued use by the police of personal information collected through carding, a technique that permits police officers to stop individuals without cause and record information. Carding is used disproportionately against Black and Indigenous Canadians, and has been called unconstitutional. In recent years, due in large part to the advocacy and writing of Cole and others, governments in Ontario have reigned in the practice, but police departments still have access to the information collected through these street checks.

This week, Cole announced on Twitter that he was leaving the Toronto Star, stating:  "I can't be a columnist and an activist at the same time, so I'm giving up my column." The decision came shortly after a meeting with Andrew Phillips, the Star’s editorial page editor, who told him that he'd “violated the Star’s rules on journalism and activism.”

Kathy English, Toronto Star’s public editor, came to the defense of the organization and its policies. She made clear that “Cole was not fired by the Star, as some have suggested, nor disciplined or threatened with any consequences.” English also brought to light  the complex relationship between activism in journalism:

I understand there is some debate in the Star’s newsroom and among others about whether the Star’s longstanding policies regarding journalists taking public stands as community activists are outdated and should be revisited, especially as it applies to columnists who are, after all, empowered to take public stands in their writing.

English’s response raised concerns about an apparent double standard at work within Canadian media — specifically, why aren't white journalists involved in activism treated the same way as Cole? 

Shortly after the controversy erupted, journalist/activist Naomi Klein decided to withdraw from a Canadian Journalism Foundation event in Toronto, citing a of lack of diversity on the panel (it was an all-white panel).

This is an important conversation for the Canadian media . The voices that an editorial board chooses to include or exclude has a real impact on the shaping the public discourse. Indeed, the Canadian media's ability to reflect the diversity of its readership was recently questioned by Mike Sholars, an editor with Huffington Post Canada:

Canadian media has a diversity problem in every sense of the phrase. It's not just limited to the Star -- gaze upon the relative homogeneity of the Globe, ostensibly Canada's leading newspaper -- and it clearly can't be fixed by simply hiring more people from minority groups, as Cole's situation has sadly proven.

Writing in Maclean's, Andray Domise suggests that the incident is an example of "benevolent liberal racism" in Canada: “What I’m left with is the impression that the Star believed Desmond Cole to be their negro,” he writes.

“White supremacy is like carbon monoxide: odourless and tasteless, one only truly understands its effects once they are being suffocated by it. Racism is merely white supremacy in weaponized form, inflicted by one person or group unto another, and often inflicted without malice or ill intent….

This is the reality of benevolent liberal racism as it affects Black Canada. We’ve long come to expect our peers, colleagues, and supposed allies to place order over justice, and even our lives. We have come to expect the hand offered in support may later be the one to slap us in the face.

Hopefully, Cole's departure and the subsequent discussion it sparked will inspire a broader discussion about race and representation acrosss Canada's media landscape. 


Furniture Shopping

Driving along the freeway, you can see the flags from nearly a mile away, tall rows of them waving solemnly. A great beckoning. It doesn’t matter which exit you take, they all lead to the same place. Half a million square feet of steel and concrete, it seems to have a gravitational force of its own.

I parked the car, looked at myself in the mirror, and took a long, deep breath.

Upon entering the building, I was immediately overwhelmed by the dramatic sense of coherence and order. Clean lines, straight or softly bending. Yellows, blues, and greys of the purest hue. Heavy shopping carts sailed silently across concrete smooth and unadulterated, like a still lake at sunrise.

Sprawling and magnificent, god-like, the space is divided into several sections, each of which corresponds to a higher ideal, or theme — kitchen, dining room, office  — a divinely methodical model not unlike The Spindle of Necessity in Plato’s Myth of the Er:

Formally displayed within the bounds of each celestial sphere, or showroom, are carefully arranged objects, uniquely designated with monikers derived from some primeval language: DRÖMMAR. FJÄLLSTA. VÅRLJUNG. Though vast in both scope and variety, the objects, innumerable, are united by a radical utilitarianism, and a primacy of function.

A dish rack upon which to dry dishes. A decorative throw to hide the stains on your sofa. A chair to be sat upon, and nothing more.

The prices, noted on bright yellow stickers, seem not only fair, but just. A plastic cutlery divider costs 99 cents, as it ought to. A 50” TV stand made from wood costs $30.00 — the exact value of such an object.

Several kilometers later, there appeared a place of rest —  a small eatery! I entered the queue, which immediately extended behind me, blocking my exit. Like prisoners, we shuffled along, peering through the greasy, heavily fingerprinted display cases at trays of shapeless fish filets, piles of limp and colorless chicken ‘fingers’, and a mountain of tightly rolled balls of beige meat.

This was no eatery at all.

Spurned forth by a restless line of shoppers, I quickly consumed a plate of Swedish meatballs, served atop a liquidy smear of potatoes and a lurid pink dollop of ‘cranberries’.

Stomach churning, I continued my quest through the labyrinthine space, suddenly aware of the late hour and a mostly empty shopping cart. The crowds seemed to swell around me as I searched desperately for an exit. Disoriented, I pushed my way through the outdoor furniture department, only to wind up back in the dining room department. Beads of sweat formed suddenly on my brow and upper lip, my shirt clung tightly to my back.

At last, I emerged from the showroom inferno into a cavernous warehouse, lined with 100-foot high industrial shelving towers, each piled high with pre-fabricated objects, collapsed into drab cardboard boxes and stamped with barcodes. My vision began to blur and my knees felt weak.

I leaned heavily against an ÄLVÄNGEN, and closed my eyes. An endless horizon of cold rationalism stretched out before me, bereft of art or error or freedom.


New Guidelines for LGBTQ Refugee Claimants

Refugee claimants to Canada seeking protection on the basis of their sexual minority status have to prove their sexuality. This is difficult. How does one prove that they are gay or lesbian, or perhaps the most difficult sexuality for a claimant to prove, bisexual? Particularly when the claimant has spent his or her life hiding their sexuality in their country of origin for fear of violence and death. Or, if the claimant does not express their sexuality in a manner familiar to Western stereotypes of what it means to be a particular sexuality or gender — or express it all.

It took until 2017, but the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) has announced “revolutionary” changes to the way that LGBTQ claims are processed. Particularly, the IRB has introduced a special guideline for LGBTQ claimants that will help prevent stereotyping and other barriers to making such claims. This will have a real impact on refugee claims in Canada, ensuring that more LGBTQ persons deserving of protection receive it.

(The Globe and Mail’s coverage of the guideline includes profiles of four successful LGBTQ refugee claimants to Canada and reveals the uphill struggles that such claims face).


Let's Talk About Cadence Weapon

Cadence Weapon recently dropped a music video for his record, “My Crew (Woooo)”. The visual comes 3 months after the track was released in early February. Production by Kaytranada further cements Rollie Pemberton’s ability to tap into the underground of hip-hop.

Every Cadence Weapon release over the last decade elicits the same reaction: “New Cadence Weapon, look how revolutionary it is!” He has always found a way to utilize the most fringe form of avant-garde hip hop, combined with a tinge of melodic flow, to get the mainstream hip-hop consciousness to flock to the song.

He has rooted himself in this pattern for the past decade. Some artists are able to maintain this type of presence over the course of an album release, and some are able to maintain it over the course of the season (see: summer songs) or even further. For the 2 latter categories, this is typically reserved for artists who have backings from major labels, which are heavily invested in their artists. Rollie has managed to skirt this convention to maintain independence, credibility with his avant-garde persona, or for some other extraneous reason. Either way, Rollie’s career has treaded a weird path over the past decade.

Is this just the path of Cadence Weapon, or is this somehow the destined path for every other successful rapper in Canada whose first name is not Aubrey? While it is daft to compare the rappers on success alone, a more plausible comparison may be someone like Shad, who, prior to hosting q, was another alternative edge hip-hop artist from Canada.

The challenge faced by the “Canadian Hip Hop Artist,” it seems, is finding a way to be relevant, while also creating a sound that is distinctly Canadian.

Hip-hop is a fleeting genre where careers flash in an instant. For Canadian Hip-Hop artists, it's even trickier considering the reduced number of ears and eyes to take up the product. There’s also the oversized influence of the American hip-hop behemoth dominating our radio waves, so when new releases do find their way to the surface it’s important to stop and take note.

-Aaron Samuel


Without Paula Simons, We Wouldn’t Know About Serenity 

Omar Mouallem steps in for Jesse Brown on Canadaland for the next month, promising to turn the podcast into “Albertaland”’ while Brown is away. Mouallem’s first episode profiles Paula Simons’ decade long coverage of the human tragedy that is Alberta’s child welfare system.

Simons recently won honourable mentions from the National Newspaper Awards and the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom for her writing on baby Serenity for the Edmonton Journal.

Simons is a reporter-columnist, whose pieces are known for being authoritative and pointed, particularly in relation to public interest issues such as child welfare reform. However, Simons writes for a Postmedia publication that is slowly dying. The inevitable demise of Postmedia will likely shutter publications like the Edmonton Journal, depriving the likes of Simons a platform to hold the powerful accountable. And when that happens, we will all be worse off.


Dear White People

There are so many reasons to watch the new Netflix original Dear White People, a show inspired by the film of the same name created by Justin Simien. You may be drawn to it due to the rave critical reviews. Or, you may be curious about the controversy and backlash it received before and after its full release. Ultimately, what matters is that you watch it. Period.

Dear White People takes on issues such as racism, colorism, interracial relationships, sexual orientation, and campus politics, but it manages to do so in an intelligent and entertaining fashion. Perhaps most importantly, the show goes into territory that most creators are otherwise reluctant to address simply because it makes people uncomfortable.

Questions in point:

  1. Are you a sellout as a woke woman of color if you are dating a white man?

  2. Are people more likely to listen to your point of view because of your light-skinned privilege?

  3. Is it wrong to work toward self-preservation and survival rather than to clap back against all the wrongs around you?

  4. What makes a person “not woke”?

  5. Why should a white guy singing along to a rap song not say the N-word?

  6. And, do we do anything other than complain? (The answer is no — we can all agree that breakfast food for dinner is THE BEST).

The show’s depiction of campus and student life will resonate strongly with you if you were also a student activist type — organizing events, getting incensed at the injustices in the world, and striving to find solutions to systemic problems. Watching the student groups struggle with similar issues on their campus will make you nostalgic, but it also reinforces the idea that every generation of young people seems to have the drive and willpower to do something about the injustices around them, rather than to simply accept the status quo.

One of the many things that Dear White People gets right is that it captures the many different identities within the black student community and what it means to be a young black man or woman in America today. Each episode or chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. Not everyone’s political views are the same and not everyone has the same way of addressing the racism on their campus.

Beyond that, however, the show also highlights the constant bewilderment that white people seem to have when asked to address how their privilege and ignorance has real effects on people of color. This past week gave us a couple of important examples of why a show that addresses issues of race head on is so crucial and timely.

We heard of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards who was leaving a party and was murdered by a Texas police officer. The incident is reminiscent of one of the episodes of DWP, which explores how easily a young black person can become the victim of a senseless crime at the hands of the state simply because of the colour of their skin.

Here in Canada, we read about Toronto Star columnist and freelance journalist Desmond Cole, who was warned by an editor that his activism violated the Star’s policies — that he could not be both a journalist and activist at the same time. Quite aptly, Cole wrote “I choose activism in the service of black liberation.”

Art imitates life, and if there is anything I can suggest you make time for in the week ahead, make sure it is binge-watching Dear White People. You will not regret it.

Stay woke, people.


This Week’s New Indie Music (And a Bread Recipe)

In the fall of 2006 I started my first year of university and it was immediately a struggle to cope with the comparatively structureless and lonely days. At some point very early in the semester I decided the solution to my empty Fridays would be to learn to bake bread. Week after week I attempted different recipes, striving towards the elusive combination of a crisp crust and good crumb structure. Most of it was not very good (I still have a perfect smell-memory of over-fermented yeast). Mid-way through the second semester, I abandoned the project with relief.

2006 was also the peak of my music blog obsession. I was reading dozens of them, mostly out of NYC. Through their concert reviews, and the photography of sites like The Cobrasnake, I imagined a life as a bold, partying hipster. (Years later, when I moved to NYC, I recognized this personality would not suddenly manifest, but it was still a thrill to go to venues like Webster Hall after dreaming about them for so long.) While the majority of my favourite blogs are now dead, I still have dozens of old playlists featuring the likes of Hot Chip, Beirut, Arcade Fire, The National, Feist, LCD Soundsystem and Grizzly Bear. It’s embarrassing to realize how little my musical taste has advanced since then.

Anyways, on Friday, LCD Soundsystem and Grizzly Bear both released new songs. So, for that matter, did Perfume Genius and TLC (yes, you read that correctly, and yes, it is terrible). Of the lot, Grizzly Bear’s 'Three Rings' was the only one to make it into immediate and continuous rotation.* I listened to it while making bread for the first time in a decade. I used this recipe, and as the title suggests, it does make an excellent white bread.


This Week's Links

An exhibit of Rei Kawakubo’s work opened recently at the Metropolitan Museum. Here she is on failure: “Maybe the fact that it’s such hard work to do what I do and so much torture and living in hell and getting so tired working dawn to midnight every day for the last 40 years — maybe that would be called a failure in some sense.” And on her creative process: “THERE IS NO MEANING. I AM JUST TRYING TO MAKE A BUSINESS OUT OF CREATING THINGS THAT DIDN’T EXIST BEFORE. IT’S A VERY SIMPLE IDEA.”

Kumail Nanjiani, the comedian who plays the character Danesh with a perfect deadpan in “Silicon Valley”, has a new movie, based loosely on his life, titled “The Big Sick”. Co-written by Nanjiani’s wife and produced by Judd Apatow, the movie was purchased for a record $12 million by Amazon following its Sundance Premiere. The film, which comes out in June, is “part comedy about comedy, part drama about families, part medical mystery, and also, incidentally, a Muslim American rom-com.”

Pepe the Frog was created by illustrator and children’s author Matt Furie back in 2005. Initially envisioned as a “chill frog-duge”, Pepe was quickly co-opted by the alt-right and transformed into a hate symbol. Back in November, Furie started a campaign to rescue Pepe from the forces of hatred. This week, Furie conceded defeat, and symbolically killed of Pepe in a recent comic strip: “It showed Pepe laid to rest in an open casket, being mourned by his fellow characters from Boy’s Club.” RIP.

Xan Rice returns to the places and people of his childhood to find a different South Africa. The piece appears in Granta: 138 Journeys, which tackles travel writing and its contemporary relevance. Rice’s piece, more than any in the collection, highlights that the distances we travel within are more profound than the number of kilometers traversed.

Jia Tolentino’s scathing review of Ivanka Trump’s much-maligned, Toni Morrison-quoting, new book, Women Who Work, is pretty damn entertaining.

“What happened to Justin Trudeau’s all-star Cabinet?” Maclean’s Ottawa bureau chief breaks down a rocky few months for Canada’s Ministers, and hashes out what a successful spring might look like.

“Macron and the Revival of Europe” — the always dramatic Roger Cohen is extremely relieved by the results of France’s presidential election.

The only strawberry rhubarb crumble recipe you need (except, wait, in the topping I do replace some of the flour with oats). After much taste-testing, I can report that rhubarb crumble is always better than rhubarb cake, even this nicely spiced upsidedown one.

Richie Assaly
The Week's Conversations: The Handmaid's Tale, Canadaland, Rostam, #vanlife, Low Maintenance Gardening

A weekly conversation between friends.

The Handmaid's Tale Will Ruin Your Week

I watched the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale this week. Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, the much-hyped new show tells the story of the Republic of Gilead, a dystopian, totalitarian theocracy in which the few remaining fertile women are enslaved to bear children for the ruling class. A relatively faithful adaptation of the novel, the show is expectedly dark, sombre — disturbing, even. There are scenes of execution, torture, and a particularly intense depiction of a protest crackdown. It’s pretty depressing, and will ruin your week. But it’s really good TV.

The acting is superb, led by Elisabeth Moss (Peggy from Mad Men), whose impressive eye-ball acting is paralleled only by Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, and an excellent supporting cast. The production is top-notch, from the eerie costume and set designs (those drab, nauseating color schemes) to the sweeping cinematography.

But perhaps most importantly, the show successfully adopts the heavy feminist themes that are central to Atwood’s oeuvre (despite what the show’s [male] producer and its star think):

"It is a story about the ways in which women are oppressed in a society run by men for their own benefit (no one involved seems to have a problem with the word “patriarchy”), and about how certain women take advantage of the situation to ally themselves with male power for personal gain. It’s also full of warnings about the danger that comes from failing to recognize that such oppression is categorical, and gendered."

[For an excellent, spoiler-heavy recap of the show's premiere, and a compelling exploration of the ways in which misogyny informs  the power structures of Gilead, click here.]

However, much of the media attention showered on the show has focused not on the story’s feminist themes, but on how ‘timely’ or ‘prescient’ it is in the era of Trump. Predictably, this has led to a backlash of think-pieces, explaining in labored detail the unlikeliness of a Gilead. This seems to me a waste of everyone’s time.

Indeed, Atwood has many times described her work as “speculative fiction” that satirizes the social, political, and religious trends in North America. Describing The Handmaid’s Tale, she explains:

"This is a book about what happens when certain casually held attitudes about women are taken to their logical conclusions. For example, I explore a number of conservative opinions still held by many — such as a woman's place is in the home. And also certain feminist pronouncements — women prefer the company of other women, for example. Take these beliefs to their logical ends and see what happens."

By presenting an extreme vision of the future, good dystopian fiction, from 1984 to Brave New World, can effectively highlight or uncover the subtle (and not subtle) misogyny, or the hidden power structures, or the quiet injustices that characterize our society, and can inspire us to adopt a more critical political perspective. The defunding of Planned Parenthood, for example, is not going to lead to the 'farming’ of women, but it is a move based on the misogynist, Gilead-like assumption that the state, rather than women, ought to be the arbiter of reproductive rights.

That being said, Atwood has also pointed out that even the most disturbing aspects of Gilead, do in fact have precedents within the history of the Christian West:

"I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist. I did not wish to be accused of dark, twisted inventions, or of misrepresenting the human potential for deplorable behaviour. The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights: all had precedents, and many were to be found not in other cultures and religions, but within western society, and within the "Christian" tradition, itself."

In other words, The Handmaid’s Tale should not be understood as a roadmap to the future, but a symbol of our darkest instincts and our collective illusions.

Click here for a recent profile on Margaret Atwood, “The Prophet of Dystopia”.


Canadaland's Contribution to the Media Landscape in Canada

I remember when Canadaland launched. At the time, its founder Jesse Brown described the podcast as a platform to provide substantive critiques of journalism in Canada, which he found lacking in the mainstream media.

During undergrad, I was the guy who used to go on long diatribes about the campus newspaper’s failure to properly cover stories, and on more than one occasion, would seek out journalists at the newspaper to criticize them personally on their lazy reporting. Naturally, I was thrilled with the emergence of Canadaland, and even tried (unsuccessfully) to convince another theread editor to quit his job and apply to work at the podcast in its early days.

But, my enthusiasm waned after the first year, and especially when Canadaland launched other platforms to discuss culture and politics — important topics that I think it does a poor job of covering (not to mention this exceptionally idiotic piece raising a non-existent conflict of interest between the judge in the Ghomeshi trial and Marie Henein because the judge’s son works at the same 100+ lawyer law firm as Henein’s brother). I still listen regularly, though I am much more critical of the positions taken and whether the most informed voices are included in the discussions.

Canadaland is at its best when it focuses on journalistic criticisms, wading behind the headlines to provide perspectives on the stories behind the stories, and the ethical issues that arise. This is the podcast’s contribution to the public discourse in Canada, which is both meaningful and unrivalled. Brown, both personally and through Canadaland, has helped to normalize critiques of journalists and their reporting, which is difficult in a country with a small journalism community and where news publications are highly concentrated.

Here are a few episodes over the last couple of months that demonstrate Canadaland’s significant contribution to the media landscape in Canada:

  • The Ugly Anglo” — an exploration of Quebec’s news media and its nuances, which is often overlooked by the rest of Canada (guests: Les Perreaux of the Globe and Collette Brin of Laval University).
  • Post-Postmedia” — what happens when Postmedia finally dies (guests: Kady O’Malley and Stephen Maher).
  • Who Buys a Newspaper Chain in 2017?” — Mark Lever’s purchase of 28 newspapers in Atlantic Canada is questioned in the context of the ongoing labour dispute at the Chronicle Herald, the publication Lever owns (guests: Stephen Kimber and Parker Donham).

New Music from Rostam

The music video for ‘Gwan’ opens with Rostam walking through a Central Park underpass, then proceeds to take us around Manhattan: the steps of the High Line and the Met, the West Side Highway and Times Square at sunset, the narrow streets of Chinatown and the strangely empty ones of the West Village. It looks like it was filmed last week, with the cherry blossoms visible but light jackets still on, that chilly spring wind blowing.

When people say that cities are so crowded, that New York would drive them crazy, I want to show them this video. It is what it feels like to walk around the city after you find your spaces. Everyone else is just window-dressing, set extras under external direction, irrelevant to your own. Sure, Times Square is still unbearable, but the presence of people stops constantly intruding on your own solitude. With your headphones in, playing a song, maybe this song, on repeat, New York takes on a surreality that is liberating.


Live Like Me (and Look at Me)

The New Yorker piece by Rachel Monroe on #vanlife explores the uneasy transition of a movement and lifestyle:

"There is an undeniable aesthetic and demographic conformity in the vanlife world. Nearly all of the most popular accounts belong to young, attractive, white, heterosexual couples. “There’s the pretty van girl and the woodsy van guy,” Smith said. “That’s what people want to see.” At times, the vanlife community seems full of millennials living out a leftover baby-boomer fantasy: the Volkswagens, the neo-hippie fashions, the retro gender dynamics."

She traces the roots of this type of lifestyle to the sense of unease the millennial generation has about finding work and meaning:

"The rise of contract and temporary labor has further eroded young people’s financial stability. “I think there’s a sense of hopelessness in my generation, in terms of jobs,” Foster Huntington said. “And it’s cheap to live in a van.” And so, like staycations and minimalism, vanlife is an attempt to aestheticize and romanticize the precariousness of contemporary life."

Another offshoot of a way to simplify life has been a concerted effort to live a minimalist lifestyle. In a piece in the NY Times, Jacoba Urist, outlines the challenges of living this type of life:

"Minimalism as a lifestyle creed is pretty simple: The less you own, the happier you’ll be. Pare down and declutter, the thinking goes, and your mind will have room to exhale. But minimalism is also meant to project taste, refinement and aesthetic knowledge."

The world made one more step towards minimalism with offering the sale of MUJI homes last week. The $27,000 homes that have less than 100 square foot are the next step to living a well-balanced, eco-friendly, packed-suitcase lifestyle.

Adopting a lifestyle that is based on aesthetics, and developing social capital can feel counter-intuitive to those that are about letting go.


For Lower Maintenance, Plant More Plants in Less Mulch (Please, I'm Begging You)

I am sick of seeing straggly potentillas, some Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, and a few conifers plunked in the middle of some squares of mulch be considered adequate landscaping jobs for front yards. It's embarrassing. And it’s not low maintenance.

You know what’s low maintenance? A deep bed of gravel on top of landscape fabric. Actually scratch that, in my experience you will still get weeds and self-sown delights such as poppies and violas. The will to live is strong in the plant world. But I digress...

For those of you who have decided you do like some plants and would perhaps enjoy sitting in a garden, but want to spare me the pain of having to look at your hideous seas of mulch (or god forbid, dyed mulch), might I entice you to spend a bit of time with Thomas Rainer?

In the past few years he has risen to prominence by advocating, alongside many others, for managing landscapes using a system or community of plants, as opposed to individuals. His book Planting in a Post-Wild World, written with Claudia West, expands on this idea and helps translate it for gardens of all sizes. Or you can take a peek at Rainer’s own urban front yard.

This week he was featured in the NYTimes in conversation with everyone’s favourite garden blogger, Margaret Roach.

"Start by looking for bare soil. It is everywhere in our gardens and landscapes. Even in beds with shrubs in them, there are often large expanses of bare soil underneath. It’s incredibly high-maintenance. It requires multiple applications of bark mulch a year, pre-emergent herbicides and lots and lots of weeding.

The alternative to mulch is green mulch — that is, plants. This includes a wide range of herbaceous plants that cover soil, like clump-forming sedges, rhizomatous strawberries or golden groundsel, and self-seeding columbine or woodland poppies.

The big shift in horticulture in the next decade will be a shift from thinking about plants as individual objects to communities of interrelated species. We think it’s possible to create designed plant communities: stylized versions of naturally occurring ones, adapted to work in our gardens and landscapes. This is not ecological restoration, it’s a hybrid of ecology and horticulture. We take inspiration from the layered structure in the wild, but combine it with the legibility and design of horticulture. It is the best of both worlds: the functionality and biodiversity of an ecological approach, but also the focus on beauty, order and color that horticulture has given us. It’s possible to balance diversity with legibility, ecology with aesthetics.

And it is a shift in how we take care of our gardens: a focus on management, not maintenance. When you plant in communities, you manage the entire plantings, not each individual plant. This is a pretty radical shift. It’s O.K. if a plant self-seeds around a bit, or if one plant becomes more dominant. As long as it fits the aesthetic and functional goals. We can do much less and get more."


Elliotte Friedman is Boring

Last Wednesday, ESPN laid off roughly 100 of its 1000 ‘front-facing’ employees, including on-air reporters and long-time journalists. This most recent round of layoffs (300 employees were fired in October of 2015) is part of the network’s search to “cut costs and adapts to changing consumer habits, with fans increasingly watching video clips on their smartphones at the expense of traditional highlight shows like ‘SportsCenter.’”

It’s always a shame when journalists are laid off, especially those who are dropped in the midst of a lengthy and respected career. That being said, I’m not particularly surprised by the move, nor disappointed, from a purely selfish perspective. With the Oilers in the playoffs for the first time in a decade, I’ve been watching a lot of hockey on TV, and have noticed how distinctly boring the majority of the commentary is. Honestly, I’d much rather scroll through Instagram, or  get my sporting news from one of the newer, edgier sports publications like The Ringer, than listen to 4 men speak solemnly about hockey analytics (in their matching, vibrantly navy blue suits, I swear you can see Nick Kypreos slowly transforming into Elliotte Friedman, who in turn is slowly widening into Kelly Hrudey.)

Admittedly, this is mostly an NHL problem — hockey’s suppression of personality and controversy is well-charted. In fact, I was watching an American feed of the Raptors game last night, and found the banter between the panel during intermission far more laid back, and far more entertaining. There was even a segment that featured a clearly high 2 Chainz shooting hoops with Kevin Garnett. But alas, I’m sure that even Shaq making fun of Charles Barkley’s weight on a nightly basis eventually gets tiresome, too.

I want my sports coverage to be exciting, and dynamic. I want it to be controversial sometimes, and political. I want humor and edge. These are the things that make recent sports documentaries, like O.J.: Made in America or Last Chance U so damn good. And I’m not sure that mainstream sporting networks are currently equipped to break the mold.

So while I don’t celebrate the loss of these jobs, I am cautiously optimistic that the future of sport coverage might be moving in the right direction.


Links From This Week's Thread

Trump Voter Feels Betrayed By President After Reading 800 Pages Of Queer Feminist Theory.

In an interview with Marc Maron, Mac DeMarco describes growing up in the “homophobic hockey town” of Edmonton: “It’s like cold Texas—even crazier.”

In France, a movement is growing to reject the two choices for president in the upcoming election. "Ni banquier, ni faschos," "Ni fascisme, ni libéralisme" and "Ni patrie, ni patron." All are expressions of their distaste for two wildly contrasting yet equally unacceptable options: Le Pen's nationalism and patriotism, and Macron's links to the financial world and the establishment”. Which begs the question: when did liberalism become as bad as fascism?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Internet operated like cable television? Where you had to pay for different levels of access and content? No. That would be fucking terrible, and undermine free expression and access online. But, that’s the trajectory that Donald Trump is orienting the United States towards. Not only are his appointees in the FCC seeking to do away with the net neutrality policies adopted by the Obama Administration, but they are also criticizing Canada for vigorously defending the principle.

In a follow up to our piece on working on coffee shops, HotBlack Coffee in Toronto has shut off its WiFi to customers.

China has banned certain religious names for babies in the western region of Xinjiang, home to  roughly half of China’s 23 million Muslims. This is part of a wider crackdown by the ruling Communist Party on what they deem religious extremism: “Young men are banned from growing beards in Xinjiang and women are forbidden from wearing face veils.”

The rise of right-wing populism in the USA and Europe has created renewed interest in the The Frankfurt School — an influential group of European neo-Marxist (and eventually left-democratic liberal) philosophers who focused on the threat of fascism in late-capitalist societies, and the oppressive effects of mass culture and entertainment: Ex. 1, Ex. 2, Ex. 3.

Trump continues to cozy up with Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte, whose authoritarian crackdown on drugs has killed an estimated 7,000 people. According to Human Rights Watch: “Trump should recognize that he has cut a bad deal for the people of both the United States and the Philippines if he rolls out the red carpet for a Duterte visit without carefully weighing the implications of hosting and toasting a foreign leader whose links to possible crimes against humanity for instigating and inciting extrajudicial killings has already prompted warnings from the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.”

Another gem from The New Yorker: Things I Learned About Finance Bros By (Briefly) Dating A Finance Bro

Susie Cagle addresses Facebook’s dystopic future much more concisely than the New York Times, and she does it in cartoon form!

Chrissy Teigen gives an open accounting of her postpartum depression.

In the US, courts are using proprietary software and algorithms to assist with sentencing and parole decisions, saying data can help identify the likelihood of future violence and recidivism. No worries though, criminal law and policing have never been racist, so the data is probably fine.

So you’ve decided to drink more water

ProPublica (with The New Yorker) doing excellent public service journalism with this piece on the immigrants who work in American chicken plants

Celebrating the heroic feats of immigrant aunties

Amy Sanderson
This Week's Conversation: Tech Monopolies, Le Pen, Regulating Online Expression, NHL Playoff Predictions, The War On Drugs

A weekly conversation between friends.

A Monopoly is A Monopoly is A Monopoly 

Jonathan Taplin writes in The New York Times: “In just 10 years, the world’s five largest companies by market capitalization have all changed, save for one: Microsoft. Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Citigroup and Shell Oil are out and Apple, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon and Facebook have taken their place.

They’re all tech companies, and each dominates its corner of the industry: Google has an 88 percent market share in search advertising, Facebook (and its subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) owns 77 percent of mobile social traffic and Amazon has a 74 percent share in the e-book market. In classic economic terms, all three are monopolies.”

Taplin goes on to argue that Google, Facebook and others routinely stifle or subsume innovation, at the expense to consumers. Moreover, they're allowed to accumulate similar companies, further consolidating their power, without any real regulatory oversight (and there's little political will to impose oversight in the future).

It's amazing how successful Google’s ‘good for humanity’ and Facebook’s ‘we just want to help people communicate’ messaging are. What’s more, their presence as online companies still largely free of traditional regulation (see the latest article on Uber for better discussion of the freewheeling sharing economy) has allowed people to forgo thinking about them as monopolies. Admittedly it also helps that they don't charge in a traditional manner for their services, so consumers are less likely to be as engaged as they are over cable or phone service pricing.

But make no mistake, consumers are paying a price for these services: we pay in advertising and information. We pay by giving up our privacy and allowing our identities to be used as marketing tools.

I think it's worth reading the Uber article where it discusses how Uber paid to receive bundled, anonymous information stripped from people's emails regarding its competitor Lyft, and more concerning, how it continued to collect information from people's iPhones after they deleted the Uber app.

I'm not suggesting that Facebook and Google are flouting the law in a similar manner, but they, and their subsidiaries, are engaged in other data mining exercises to rout the competition and make money. And both of them have the advantage of having billions of users’ data at their disposal, in a variety of formats, from messaging and image sharing to search terms to outward links clicked. It's difficult to imagine how anyone could compete with them at this stage.

It's time we start conceiving of internet companies as any other company. If there are monopolies, they should be regulated or broken up, they certainly should not be allowed to grow. If there are companies flagrantly breaking privacy laws they should be prosecuted (and not dealt with in a private meeting with Apple’s CEO). We continue to sink money into encouraging tech industry, and most of us interact with at least one of the major monopolies on a daily basis, but we cannot continue to maintain some charade that these are companies engaged in social good. They are companies, full stop. They seek profit and market domination. They must be regulated accordingly.


The Dangerous Normalization of Marine Le Pen


On Sunday, France voted to send the pro-EU, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen to the runoff election, slated for May 7. The results of the first round vote are significant: for the first time in modern French history, neither candidate is from a major political party, signalling a strong rebuke of the French political establishment.

Media outlets in Europe and North America, apparently unfazed by lessons of Brexit and the election of Trump, are already predicting a victory for Macron and for the EU: “The European Union is enjoying something of a comeback as populist challengers run out of steam and years of economic stagnation finally begin to lift,” writes Paul Waldie, in the Globe.

This is obviously good news, and perhaps confirms a shift away from right-wing populism in Europe, a shift that started in Austria with the defeat of Norbert Hofer, and continued with the defeat of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. And yet I’ve been off-put in recent days by what seems like a gradual normalization of the radical politics of Marine Le Pen and the National Front.

Writing in The Atlantic, Krishnadev Calamur describes Le Pen as a ‘populist’ who is “against immigration and the EU, and a strong advocate for nationalism and borders.” In Maclean’s Paul Wells suggests that Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-Islamist, anti-European Union stances “are not always easy to distinguish from, say, those of Nicolas Sarkozy.”

To describe Le Pen in such milquetoast terms is a reckless oversight. If victorious, Le Pen will shut down “Islamist” mosques, force French Jews to renounce their Israeli citizenship, and place a hard limit on immigration. As Doug Saunders points out, despite her best efforts to distance herself from the radical origins of the National Front, “Ms. Le Pen’s continuing links to her party’s fascist origins have become all too visible and the anti-Jewish views of her inner circle, and of Marine Le Pen herself, have come to light.”

“[R]eporters examining her party in recent months have found, as Emma-Kate Symons writes in Foreign Policy magazine, ‘an organization that, at its highest levels, is awash with Hitler admirers and Holocaust-denying far-right nationalists, including within Marine Le Pen’s inner circle.’

Recent accounts of the National Front’s inner circle say that Ms. Le Pen’s key advisors and top party officials include a trio of men who emerged from the anti-Israel far right of the 1990s and who have expressed open admiration for the Third Reich and the Vichy regime.

Her senior advisor Frédéric Chatillon, who is banned from politics after being charged with campaign-finance fraud, is reportedly constantly at Ms. Le Pen’s side and has brokered Ms. Le Pen’s relationships with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. He is, according to several recent books and investigative stories on the party, an outspoken Hitler enthusiast.”

And yet, across social media, I’ve seen a large number of progressives bemoaning the elevation of Macron, suggesting that his ‘neoliberalism’ is potentially as dangerous as Le Pen’s ‘populism’. Even Mélenchon has refused to endorse Macron. In other words, even on the left, a blinding backlash against establishment politics and excesses of neoliberalism has opened the doors to a candidate who threatens the very foundations of liberal democracy.*

Those same progressives will point out that they do not support Le Pen, but rather reject the type politicians that make the rise of Le Pen possible in the first place. But this argument, which echoes the backlash against Hillary Clinton, depends on a willingness to overlook or ignore the realities of those who are most threatened by the election of a demagogue like Le Pen — refugees, migrants, and religious minorities.

On Monday, Le Pen announced that she was stepping down as the leader of the National Front, in an obvious attempt to improve her chances at the presidency. And yet, in the words of Natalie Nougayrède: “The choice France now faces could not be more clear-cut: an open, liberal message versus a closed, illiberal one. A platform of inclusiveness versus one of bigotry and nationalist hatred. A promise to strengthen the European project through reform versus a pledge to close borders, introduce protectionism and pull out of Euro-Atlantic structures.”

*In the wake of Trump’s inauguration, Timothy Garton Ash wondered whether we are using the right words to describe the geopolitical upheavals occurring throughout Europe and North America.

“I think we do need a term to describe what happens when a government that emerges from a free and fair election is demolishing the foundations of a liberal democracy but has not yet erected an outright dictatorship—and may not even necessarily intend to. Words like “neoliberalism,” “globalization,” and “populism” are themselves imperfect shorthand for phenomena with significant national, regional, and cultural variations. “Hybrid regime” feels too unspecific, so unless and until someone comes up with a better term, I shall continue to use “illiberal democracy.”


My Team

I struggled in the third grade. Not academically per se, at least according to Ms. Sittler, my saintly third grade teacher who retired the same year after nearly 40 years of teaching. Aside from my poor cursive writing skills, which are atrocious to this day, and some minor behavioural issues (mainly fighting kids in the other third grade class who had the audacity to make disparaging remarks about my class or Ms. Sittler), I performed well academically.

No, my problem was having immigrant parents who considered an 8-year-old that wasn’t spending their waking moments either studying or doing chores to be wasting their potential. This prompted my father to sit down with Ms. Sittler and have her assign me additional homework on top of the year-long curriculum I was mandated to learn Mondays to Fridays, 8:34 AM to 3:30 PM, by the Edmonton Public School Board.

I was less than impressed, and Ms. Sittler was well aware. However, Ms. Sittler devised a plan to make the situation bearable. Ms. Sittler and I shared a passion for the Edmonton Oilers, and decided to centre the additional homework I would receive each week on the team. Mainly, it consisted of listening to every Oilers game (games were infrequently shown on television, and besides, we didn’t have cable), and writing up what happened for Ms. Sittler the next day. The pieces were written in a narrative form, packed with statistics, timings of goals and power plays, and any other information that I wanted to share. These were, by far, the best homework assignments I received that year.


Hockey fans come in all shapes and manners, but I have noticed a few distinct types. There are the academic types, who can rattle off the PIM the fourth line centre of their favourite team  racked up each season during his days in the OHL. Or better yet, create and update the Wikipedia article of the their team’s 5-round draft pick out of Finland that everyone knows doesn’t have chance of breaking into the lineup.

Then, there are the bandwagon types, who come around when things are good, and are quick to leave at the first sign of trouble. They are unforgiving, and particularly vicious when mistakes are made, as if an errant pass was a personal attack, perhaps overcompensating for their lack of dedication.

I fall into another camp. I could care less about individual statistics and understand bandwagon fan only as a pejorative. But, my team is as an intrinsic part of who I am as any other aspect of my identity; an immutable fact, independent of anything else and unshakable. They can be absolutely terrible — and in fact have been for most of the past decade — but that’s of no consequence. They are a part of me regardless, and I will sit through a 7-0 playoff drubbing because I am here for the team, and not only for the wins.


How to Regulate Expression Online in Canada: Treat the Internet Like the Press

The Internet pervades nearly everything we do in our lives, from reading this article to ensuring the mortgage or rent is paid on time. Its rapid ascendance has disrupted social, economic, and legal orders, creating new hierarchies and approaches that have transformed how we understand politics, commerce, and expression. And while we have quickly adapted to the digital revolution in many respects, courts and governments alike in Canada have had difficulty reconciling the protection of fundamental freedoms with the Internet. Fixation over the Internet’s seemingly limitless boundaries and rapidly evolving nature has prevented us from regulating the Internet for what it is: a medium of communication. This recognition can ensure that free expression can be better protected, as Canadian law has a long history of rigorously defending this right when exercised through other media of communication, such as the press and picketing.

The Internet is the system of interconnected global computer networks that facilitates the exchange of information through servers, fiber optic or copper wires, and other pieces of physical and digital infrastructure. Through email, the World Wide Web, and other sources, users can access and communicate information from around the world. The ease and instantaneous nature of communication makes the Internet a revolutionary medium of communication.

Like expression, media of communication are constitutionally protected in Canada under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The clearest example is the press. Canadian courts have long recognized that the press is integral to the functioning of our society, and in order to facilitate the exchange of information through the press, and its constituent parts such as journalists, newspapers, and other participants, it must be provided particularized constitutional protections to ensure its robust functioning. This understanding led to the constitutional protection of the open court principle, which permits journalists to freely enter and report on legal proceedings in Canada, unless grounds for a publication ban are proven.

Labour picketing is another well-established example where Canadian courts have found that in order to protect meaningful expression through the medium, constitutional recognition must also be given to pamphletting, secondary picketing, and videotaping picket lines.

The Internet, like the press and picketing, is an essential medium of communication in Canada, and not only should expression through it be protected, but the mechanisms that allow expression to flourish through it should also receive constitutional protection. This includes principles such as net neutrality, which requires Internet service providers and governments to treat all information on the Internet equally, regardless of who published it, where it is published, and on what topic.

This is not a concern in the abstract. In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada considered an argument that would have hyperlinking to defamatory content be treated the same as publishing the defamatory content. Fortunately, the Court refused to agree, finding that identifying both acts as being the same “would have the effect of seriously restricting the flow of information and, as a result, freedom of expression” over the Internet. Last December, the Supreme Court of Canada heard another appeal regarding the circumstances under which search engines can be forced to delist websites from their indices that have not been proven to contain unlawful content. The lower courts in British Columbia that heard the case initially did not consider the impact of such orders on free expression online.

This past week, the CRTC ruled that Internet service providers cannot engage in differential pricing practices, creating a net neutrality policy that many consider to be the most robust in the world. However, the story doesn’t likely end here. Ajit Pai, the Trump appointed Chair of the FCC, and a well-known opponent to net neutrality, plans to outline his administration’s net neutrality policy today.  

There will likely be more cases where the courts will have to weigh in on the exercise of fundamental freedoms in the digital sphere, including around net neutrality and access to information online. Rather than getting lost in the unique features of the Internet, courts and policymakers would be better suited to regulate the Internet as they have other important media of communication in Canada: by imposing robust protections to ensure information can flow freely through the medium.


New Music from The War On Drugs

I don’t miss having a car. Since moving to Toronto, I’ve realized how liberating it is to rely only on your bike, your feet, and public transit. I do, however, miss blasting music at full volume from my car speakers. I’m not sure there is a place where music sounds better. 

The War On Drugs are the epitome of road trip music. They’ve just released their first-ish new music since 2014*, a 12 minute track titled “Thinking Of A Place”. Its dense and layered atmosphere, its steady pacing, the sprawling guitar solos, and those cathartic chord changes — next chance I get, I’m going to find some open road and queue up this track. 


Round 2 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Our experts weigh in

This year’s NHL Stanley Cup playoffs have been particularly exciting. This has something to do with the fact that no less than five Canadians teams made it to the postseason this year, compared to the zero teams that made it last year. It also has something to do with the fact that there seems to be early signs of a sort of generational shift occurring in the NHL.

Connor McDavid and the Oilers just knocked off San Jose, one of the most experienced and winningest teams of the decade. A newly rebuilt Maple Leafs team managed to give the #1-ranked Capitals an excellent run for their money. Somehow, the Senators made it through to the second round. The Blackhawks was swept in the first round, and the Kings didn’t even make the postseason. It seems like anything is possible at this point.

In other words, the NHL is fun again. For the first time in what seems like years, there’s a bit of a buzz around hockey. Plus, the NBA playoffs are too predictable to be interesting until the later rounds.

So for those who have not yet chosen a bandwagon upon which to ride, here are our completely inexpert predictions for round 2, which starts tonight.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

  • Capitals in 7.  Even with Malkin playing like he got snubbed from the NHL’s top 100 (he did), I sense the Capitals lackluster first round against the Leafs was more of a blip than a sustained decline, putting the Penguins in tough. Both teams need to overcome ghosts of playoffs past- Washington’s inability to get past Pittsburgh, and the potential devastation of “playoff” Fleury. Uphill climb for both teams, one is going home too early. - Nick
  • Capitals in 6. Ovechkin vs Crosby. DRAMA. In all seriousness, this is going to be an exciting series. There’s no doubt that the Penguins are on a different level than the Leafs. Still, I think the Capitals learned from some of the mistakes they made last round. At the end of the day, they have a more consistent, well-rounded team. - Jen
  • Penguins in 7. This will be the 3rd time Crosby and Ovechkin meet in the playoffs with Pittsburgh winning the previous 2. Is this the year the Capitals finally get past the Penguins? Maybe, but it’s hard to bet against the defending champs with Crosby, Malkin & Kessel putting up a combined  26 points in 5 games during the first round. - Davis
  • Penguins in 6. Crosby vs. Ovechkin — the ultimate face-off! Except Crosby is clutch and Ovi is not. This will be a good series, but not as close as it ought to be. - Richie

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks

  • Oilers in 7. In their last 20 games, the Ducks have gone (16-1-3) while the Oilers have gone (16-4-0) making them 2 of the hottest teams in the NHL. With both sides evenly matched I will take the team with the best player. Connor McDavid will lead the Oilers to the conference finals. - Davis

  • Oilers in 7. While Edmonton took the season series vs. Anaheim, the Ducks continued their late season play into the playoffs with their sweep of the Flames (not impressive). This anticipated matchup should be fast, heavy and tight, if the teams can get healthy. It really comes down to is the fact that the Ducks employ washed-up players like Kesler and Bieksa (puke), while the Oilers retain respectable studs like Klefbomb and McDavid. Have you seen McDavid? You’ll pay for the whole seat but only use the edge. - Nick

  • Oilers in 7. Ryan Getzlaf? Corey Perry? What is this, 2008? The Ducks are probably the hottest team in the NHL, but the Oilers (and their fans) are too hungry. McDavid, who has been quietly brilliant, is due for an inevitable offensive explosion. - Richie

  • Oilers in 7. As an Edmontonian, I’m slightly biased with this pick. I won’t deny that this will be a tough one. Still, after rebounding back from that 7-0 loss, the Oilers should be able to hold their own against this experienced, veteran team. It’s going to be a rough fight right until the end, though. - Jen

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

  • Predators in 7. This is a tough one. Two good goalies. Two strong teams. Nashville stands a fair chance of taking this one, though. Fresh from mopping the floor with Chicago, I’m sure they’re mentally prepared to take on the Blues. - Jen

  • Predators in 6. The Preds crushed the formidable Blackhawksin round 1, and now face a not-so-special Blues team. P.K. Subban will continue his subtle revenge on the already-eliminated Montreal team that betrayed him. - Richie

  • Predators in 5. Nashville came into the playoffs as an underrated dark horse, though I guarantee no one had them sweeping the perennial contenders in round one. With one of the most competent defensive cores, and a forward group whose scoring touch turned on late, the Predators are a nightmare for the Blues. On the brightside, Jake Allen was a mutant against Minnesota, demonstrating that a team with unsustainable goaltending can progress. At this point both Allen and Rinne are batting above average - I have a feeling who will blink first. - Nick

  • Predators in 6. The Predators sweep of a strong Chicago Blackhawks team does not bode well for the Blues. Pekka Rinne is a big reason for the first round upset leading all goalies with a 0.70 GAA, 0.976 S% and 2 shutouts. But the Predators are more than a hot goalie with 2 solid scoring lines and arguably the best top 4 defense in the league. - Davis

Ottawa Senators vs. New York Rangers

  • Senators in 6. After teams are eliminated from the playoffs, we often find out that player X played through broken femur, etc. For some reason, the Senators announced at the end of round one that the best player in this series, Erik Karlsson, played, and will continue to play with two hairline fractures in his heel. Brutal. Nevertheless, this underwhelming matchup will be a battle between the two Swedes — King Henry and the soon to be Norris Trophy winner. - Nick

  • Rangers in 6. Finishing in a wild card spot has allowed the Rangers to fly under the radar, but make no mistake they’re a team to fear. With Henrik Lundqvist at the top of his game and Erik Karlsson nursing a fractured foot, the Rangers should get past the Senators. - Davis

  • Senators in 7. This is purely a hunch. The Rangers should win this series handily, but something tells me they will crumble, like they often do. Are the Sens the true underdogs of round 2? - Richie

  • Rangers in 6. Yeah, the Senators have the home ice advantage, but the Rangers still have the trump card: Lundqvist. - Jen.


Café Work 

A man in his late 30s approached me this week in a coffee shop. He wore a pair of blue chinos, a red-green plaid shirt, and a baseball cap, with his backpack double-strapped onto his shoulders. He was dressed well for where we were. It was about 2:30 on Monday afternoon. He fit in.

“Hey, how’s the internet here?” he asked.
“It’s not bad. Better than most of the ones I’ve been to lately”
“Yeah, it’s not bad?” He wanted to make sure. There was some serious work to be done ahead.
“Yeah - and they have plug ins!” I responded, probably too enthusiastically. I know what this man was thinking and wanted to assure him that this was a good one. Maybe he needed to Skype someone.

I’m a fan of the hipster coffee shop. I do a lot of my work there.

Some basics: Good WiFi, un-wobbly tables to spread out over, and plug-ins. 
Some luxuries: As a tea drinker, if they serve a London Fog, it’s a bonus for me and joint tables that let you spread over and make friends to watch over your stuff.
A deal-breaker: overly loud music.

There are essays dedicated to coffee shop experiences and coffice etiquette. There is also research the elements of a coffee shop such as the ambient noise that make you productive.

I am often drawn to the conversations next to me and want to be part of them. Sometimes I venture in, but usually ruminate about a way into the conversation without feeling creepy. This is one of the many reasons I choose not to work from home.

Over the next few hours, I ate an oatmeal cookie, had a refill on my tea, and wrote this.


This Week's Links

The Heart of Whiteness: Ijeoma Oluo interviews Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who identifies as black. “I couldn't escape Rachel Dolezal because I can't escape white supremacy. And it is white supremacy that told an unhappy and outcast white woman that black identity was hers for the taking. It is white supremacy that told her that any black people who questioned her were obviously uneducated and unmotivated to rise to her level of wokeness. It is white supremacy that then elevated this display of privilege into the dominating conversation on black female identity in America. It is white supremacy that decided that it was worth a book deal, national news coverage, and yes—even this interview.”

A rare look at daily life in Pyongyang, in pictures. “Pyongyang is by far the most sophisticated place in North Korea. People from rural areas need permission to move here. For many years, the buildings were drab and grey, but many are now painted in blue, green and pink — reportedly the idea of Kim Jong-un.”

Adam Gopnik explores an alternate explanation for mass incarceration in America: “So what makes for the madness of American incarceration? If it isn’t crazy drug laws or outrageous sentences or profit-seeking prison keepers, what is it? Pfaff has a simple explanation: it’s prosecutors. They are political creatures, who get political rewards for locking people up and almost unlimited power to do it.”

Looking for a place to happen: An interactive tour of Gord Downie’s Canada.

Alberta is phasing out its Debtor’s Prison system, which incarcerated people who failed to pay minor infractions, such as jaywalking, panhandling, and other harmless regulatory offences that disproportionately impacted the street-involved and those with mental illnesses. This change is long overdue, and can address the serious injustices this policy created. In one case, a man opted for a three day prison sentence because he was unable to pay a $287 transit infraction, and ended it up being murdered while in prison by a mentally ill inmate he was placed with.

CBC’s in-depth feature on how Portugal dealt with a heroin epidemic in scale similar to the opioid crisis in British Columbia and Alberta raises the spectre of legalization and holistic support for addicts as being the solution to hard drug epidemics rather than criminalization.

Men: stop recommending David Foster Wallace to women. “These men seem to think I’m saying the thing they love is bad, when really I’m just saying I don’t care about the thing they love.”

Sean Fennessey, Editor-in-Chief of The Ringer, explains why he is ‘anti-Russell Westbrook’: “He is my least favorite athlete.”

How often do you hear somebody humble-brag about how busy they are? It might be time for a Schultz hour.

Why would The New York Times hire an extreme climate science denier?

For Indians, Trump’s America Is a Land of Lost Opportunity: “Recent attacks on people of Indian descent in the United States are explosive news in India. A country once viewed as the promised land now seems for many to be dangerously inhospitable.”

2017 nominees for the Digital Publishing Awards, which represents the best in Canadian digital journalism and publishing.

Richie Assaly
The Week's Conversations: Stoner, Musings of the Very Old, Combating Trumpism, World's 50 Best Restaurants, DAMN., Mount Eerie, Menstruation

A weekly conversation between friends.

The Challenging Wisdom of Stoner, by John Williams

Every few years, a novel makes its way through my group of friends, stoking our collective enthusiasm for literature, and producing the rare joy that comes from reading as a group, however spread apart we are. This happened with Steinbeck’s East of Eden, with David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, and Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World. It’s happening again with Stoner, an underappreciated novel written in in 1965 by John Williams.

Stoner tells the story of William Stoner, a man born into poverty at the end of the 19th century in rural Missouri, and his transformation into a teacher, a husband, and a father. Stoner’s life, spanning two World Wars and the Great Depression is wearisome, featuring an endless string of personal disappointments and professional failures. His marriage is a loveless one, he becomes estranged from his daughter, his friends and accomplishments are few.

When Stoner was published in 1965, a mere 2000 copies were sold, and it quickly went out of print. This is perhaps unsurprisingly, given the novel’s bleak story arc and grim conclusion, which is outlined from the outset in the brief prologue:

An occasional student who comes across the name may wonder idly who William Stoner was, but he seldom pursues his curiosity beyond a casual question. Stoner’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones, his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers.

And yet there is something about the “terse, obit-like prose” that pulls you in — that provides the narrator with a knowing, and authoritative voice. It beckons you, and pulls you close. In recent years, Stoner has made such an impressive comeback. It was republished by the New York Review of Books in 2003, and has become a bestseller in Europe. In what lies its appeal?

“You could almost describe it as an anti-“Gatsby”, Tim Kreider suggests, in his essay titled “The Greatest American Novel You’ve Never Heard Of”:

Gatsby’s a success story: he makes a ton of money, looks like a million bucks, owns a mansion, throws great parties, and even gets his dream girl, for a little while, at least. “Stoner” ’s protagonist is... a failure. The book is set not in the city of dreams but back in the dusty heartland. It’s ostensibly an academic novel, a genre historically of interest exclusively to academics. Its values seem old-fashioned, prewar (which may be one reason it’s set a generation before it was written), holding up conscientious slogging as life’s greatest virtue and reward. And its prose, compared to Fitzgerald’s ecstatic art-nouveau lyricism, is austere, restrained, and precise; its polish is the less flashy, more enduring glow of burnished hardwood; its construction is invisibly flawless, like the kind of house they don’t know how to build anymore.”

There is an early scene in which a young Stoner is asked to explain the meaning a Shakespeare sonnet in a mandatory English literature course. Deeply moved by the poetry, but unable to comprehend its larger meaning or ‘purpose’, Stoner’s lifelong passion for literature and language is ignited: “...the mystery of the mind and heart showing themselves in the minute, strange, and unexpected combinations of letters and words, in the blackest and coldest print.”

Stoner’s love for literature — a quiet, private love — endures throughout his many hardships, as the single constant that provides his life with meaning and coherence, however unglamorous. As Kreider explains: “His life has not been squandered in mediocrity and obscurity; his undistinguished career has not been mulish labor but an act of devotion. He has been a priest of literature, and given himself as fully as he could to the thing he loved.”

Perhaps it is this old-school idea of ‘devotion’, or the idea of dedicating oneself to an ideal as an end unto itself, that connects so deeply with the contemporary reader (indeed, this is one of the the main themes explored in the fiction David Foster Wallace, though using very different means). In a hyper-connected, hyper-secular world, brimming with information, this type of life seems elusive, or distant — we’re more likely to spend our lives ‘searching’ for meaning, and questioning our paths, than to throw ourselves headlong into whatever it is we ultimately choose to believe.

Stoner’s life is imperfect, grueling, and ultimately insignificant. But presented as a whole, “without delusion yet without despair,” it is imbued with meaning and wisdom.


Musings of the Very Old

The world’s oldest person, Emma Morano, died in her home on Saturday, sitting in an armchair at her home in Verbania, a town on Italy’s Lake Maggiore.  

In moments when there’s a struggle to figure out adult life, success, and everything in between, memoirs from the very old offer a calming reflection.

In the New Yorker essay, “This Old Man”, Roger Angell talks about self-satisfaction and taking pleasure in the nostalgia of life, being able to preserve and re-live memories of the past.

Our children are adults now and mostly gone off, and let’s hope full of their own lives. We’ve outgrown our ambitions. If our wives or husbands are still with us, we sense a trickle of contentment flowing from the reliable springs of routine, affection in long silences, calm within the light boredom of well-worn friends, retold stories, and mossy opinions. Also the distant whoosh of a surfaced porpoise outside our night windows.

Angell also talks about the never-ending wish for intimacy that remains.

Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming home at night.

Ashraf is 100 & her husband, Mohammad, is 110. This CBC short doc follows the story of the geriatric couple through their years of bickering and loving each other. The real small world tensions of criticising the salt level in the soup to wanting moments of silence from each other make for comical tale for these two:

It’s the moments of not being able to take yourself seriously but enjoying the small moments make these reflections on a life lived memorable.


Combating Trumpism

By Neil Hollands

If you want to have influence in the American political process, Michelle Obama in 2014 advised an audience, there's only one thing to do: "Write a big, fat check...Write the biggest, fattest check that you can possibly write."

Why is it that 75% of Americans believe corruption is widespread in their government? Nancy Pelosi earned an annual salary between $174,000 to $223,500 during her time as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Yet her personal wealth in 2015 is on public record as $29.35 million.* Assuming Nancy earned the 2017 top rate for her entire time in congress, never paid tax and never spent a penny, she would have to work for 103 years to earn her 2015 wealth from her salary.

Ms Pelosi is by no means unique or unusual in this regard. The list of top 50 wealthiest members of the U.S. Congress is equally populated with both Democrats and Republicans. Personal wealth runs from a low of $7.28 million to $254.65 million.

Where does this money come from? It’s worth noting that the top seven wealthiest presidents in history “earned” their wealth primarily through inheritance. Aside from inheritance, there are many legal ways a politician in power can earn vast sums beyond their salary. One is through speaking fees. Hillary Clinton made $2.9 million speaking to banks from 2013 to 2015. Others are given big bonuses before leaving their private sector job for public office: Haliburton gave Dick Cheney a $34 million severance package when he left to become vice-president. 79% of the 352 members of Congress that left office since 1998, have gone on to work as lobbyists. Then there is the indirect corruption of foundations and/or perks for the family as typified by the Clintons.

The elephant in the room is campaign finance corruption. Supreme Court decisions such as Citizen’s United and McCutcheon have resulted in unlimited dark money that can be pumped into an election. This of course does not include the untraceable money funneled into Super PACS.

Of course, it is possible that all the money lavished on politicians by billionaires and corporations has no influence as most politicians’ claim. Alas that doesn’t appear to be the case.

According to a Princeton study of 20 years of public policy decisions, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near zero, statistically non-significant impact on public policy”.

Indeed, the majority of Americans… tighter gun control. Never happens.

…want increased regulation of Wall Street. Yet are consistently told major reform is impossible by both parties. They get deregulation and public bail-outs of the banks instead.

… still say the rich pay too little in taxes. Tax load for the rich has been consistently decreasing.

…support the idea of a federally funded healthcare system that provides insurance for all Americans. You can see how well the public will is being represented in congress on this issue right now.

… favour cuts to defense spending. You’d never know this listening to presidents and politicians though…

75 percent of Americans and even 76 percent of Tea Party supporters oppose Social Security cuts to balance the budget, yet leaders in both political parties have met to negotiate these cuts.

In other words, the U.S. is an oligarchy. When it comes to major economic policy, it doesn’t really matter that much which team or celebrity you vote for. Both parties have been captured by money from powerful interests. This is the reason why bridges are collapsing and some cities no longer have potable water. Why the use of food stamps is increasing at a time when banks are bailed out with public money and inequality is skyrocketing.

Have a look at the stunning non-effect elections have had on the financial well being of the majority of Americans since 1973.

Wages for 90% of Americans uncoupled from productivity growth in the 1970’s. However it’s not hard to see where the benefits of the continued growth in productivity went. What’s important to understand is this dramatic change wasn’t the result of market forces or technological change. What happened in America didn’t play out exactly the same way throughout the developed world. This change was the direct result of neo-liberal policies put in place by BOTH Republicans and Democrats. From 1973 to 2017 the Democrats have held the House 63% of the time, the Senate 63% of the time and both houses for a total of 12 years. The biggest drop in household income for the 1% top earners occurred during a period when both houses were controlled by the Republicans.

Free trade, something initially suggested by Ronald Reagan, was made reality by Bill Clinton. Both parties continued to support international trade agreements right up to the end of Obama’s presidency when he tried desperately to ram through the TPP.

These “trade deals” are largely written in secret by teams of corporate lawyers with very little input from civil society. They contain Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that allow corporations to sue and overturn sovereign law that impinges on their bottom line.

This chart by Branko Milanovic clearly shows who have been the winners and losers of globalization. Overall globalization has been good for the world, but for Americans the story has been mixed. The American blue-collar worker has been devastated, whereas the technocratic class has fared reasonably well and the top 1% has made out like bandits.

The chart goes a long way towards explaining why the rust belt voted for Trump. For only Trump was talking about the effects of free trade and at least promising not to enact more of these deals. The Democrats, in the meantime, were talking about very little. Their main point was that their candidate wasn’t Trump.

In my opinion, the Republican party is less likely to promote the interests of the common man than the Democratic party is, but the difference between the parties is much, much less than it appears. Certainly on major economic issues neither party has represented the will of the majority of Americans nor is there any demonstrable reason to think this is about to change. There is simply too much money legally corrupting the political system.

If Americans want true democratic representation, if they wish to stem rising inequality and all the dangers this entails, then they must abandon these corrupt plutocratic parties and promote the policies they demand directly.

With a mainstream media that presents all issues within a hyper-partisan framework, it’s understandable that Americans continue to support this false dichotomy. Looking into the actual actions of politicians requires time and effort, it’s far easier to pick a champion and simply follow their flag, to fixate on political wrangling or cultural differences and ignore the big economic realities.

Which leads us to the two forms of Trumpism we have today. Those who voted for Trump hoping this non-politician will break the cycle of corruption, and those who believe that Trump is the source of all problems.

Trump is neither a savior nor is he the source of all evils. He is a harbinger of a nascent revolt against political elites. “Impossible” change, fraught with danger and potential is brewing in all Western democracies.

Blindly following flags without regard for the many who were being hurt got us here. Real change is coming… make sure you know what you are fighting for.

*These figures can never be entirely accurate, because the “financial disclosure requirements for the United States Congress are approximate by design.”


World's 50 Best Restaurants

You can tell I no longer live in NYC because I failed to take immediate note of the release of the latest World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Incidentally, the top ranked restaurant is Eleven Madison Park in NYC, a place where I once drank the most sensational tomato tea (and had some not so exciting desserts, but who am I to judge?). The Best Pastry Chef, also based in NYC, is Dominique Ansel of cronut fame (which I have not tried but I can vouch for his kouign amann and eclairs which I have eaten many times).

One question that I was immediately struck by while reading the list: is the food scene in Lima really that good, or is it just a city that many of the list’s judges are willing to travel to in order to eat? I mean it merits 3 entries… Anyways, in case you were wondering, no Canadian restaurants made the cut.  

Those of you who watch Chef’s Table will recognize many of the names on the list by this point, including Ana Roš of Hiša Franko. Actually wait, she’s not on the list, but she did win Best Female Chef -- a special category created after the list was accused of not including enough women. The tokenism is apparently necessary since this year only three restaurants with female head chefs were found worthy of entry, and all of those are kitchens co-run by males. I mean Pia Leon’s picture isn’t even included on the website and she is head chef at the no. 5 restaurant, Central (in, yes, you guessed it, Lima!).

It’s no surprise that women continue to face an uphill battle in the restaurant world. Just this week, a Toronto Life review of the new wine bar Grey Gardens was published that essentially suggests restauranteur Jen Agg, who has been on a tireless crusade against misogyny in the industry, should smile more, adopt a whisper, and stop tweeting about her accomplishments if she wants patrons to enjoy her establishments. Wow.

Further reading: “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Get By With a Lot of Unpaid Labor




Mount Eerie's Devastating New Album

Phil Elverum is one of those indie-folk artists that come from various small towns in the Pacific Northwest. Listening to his music, it’s easy to imagine him wearing heavy flannels, dwelling in the woods, crafting things out of lumber. Like Elliot Smith or Sleater-Kenney, his music, with The Microphones and Mount Eerie, is serious, lo-fi, both quiet and loud.

Last year, just four months after the birth of their first child, Elverum’s wife, Geneviève, was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. During her treatment and in the weeks following her death, Elverum wrote a series of devastating notes, addressed mainly to his wife, describing with blunt detail the experiences of his grief.

He recorded these notes using just a guitar, a microphone, and his laptop. The result is A Crow Looked at Me, a tragic meditation on the nature of death, and the unfathomable effects of loss. “It is a profoundly detailed dispatch from grief’s rawest place,” writes Jayson Greene, “the moments still inside the blast radius, when your ears are ringing and you feel the shock of mortification slowly spreading to new corners of your existence every day.”

Listening to these songs is a difficult, but powerful experience. The lyrics are literal, and stripped-down — Elverum checks his mail, drives to the ocean, comes across a couple of ravens in his yard — providing listeners with a glimpse into a personalized prison of grief, one that suffuses each moment.

“This new album is barely music” he explains. ‘It’s just me speaking her name out loud, her memory.”

Perhaps most striking for the listener, however, is a simple theme that is repeated throughout the album — one that we spend most of our lives trying to ignore or forget: death is real.

Death is real
Someone's there and then they're not
And it's not for singing about
It's not for making into art
When real death enters the house, all poetry is dumb
When I walk into the room where you were
And look into the emptiness instead
All fails

My knees fail
My brain fails
Words fail


A Reminder (brought to you by McSweeney's and this week's episode of Anne)

An excerpt from “Anything Men Can Do I Can Do Bleeding”:

Hello men! I thought this would be a good time to remind you that anything you can do, I can do bleeding. That’s right, whatever it is you did today, I can probably do it while hemorrhaging from the most sensitive part of my body. And I won’t die! Remember that when you’re standing on the train in the morning surrounded by bodies — roughly half of them female bodies. They could be bleeding. Standing and bleeding. Walking and bleeding. Smiling and bleeding.

Think about it. A mortal being, walking the earth, shedding her blood continuously for a week, all while looking totally normal and smiling through eight hours of continuous meetings to avoid workplace discrimination. And the whole amazing process is partially controlled by the gravitational patterns of the moon. That’s right, my body is controlled by a giant space rock. A floating rock in the depths of space decides when I bleed. I think nine out of ten horror movie writers would agree that that alone makes me about one mutation shy of needing to be killed with a stake.


Links From This Week's Thread

A must-read from the emerging genre of food critics slamming fine dining restaurants: “The cheapest of the starters is gratinated onions ‘in the Parisian style’. We’re told it has the flavour of French onion soup. It makes us yearn for a bowl of French onion soup. It is mostly black, like nightmares, and sticky, like the floor at a teenager’s party.”
See also Pete Wells on Per Se or Ryan Sutton on L’Arpège (of Chef’s Table fame).

Badass video of a woman parkouring through the rooftops of Paris.

Torontonians survived Rob Ford. What can they tell us about Trump? "The press turned up every corner of his life. The police spent nearly a year and, reportedly, a million Canadian dollars investigating his connection to the crack video and the gang members who appeared in it. A judge convicted him of a conflict of interest for a deal involving his family’s company. Key staffers deserted him. Taiwanese news animators and Jimmy Kimmel mocked him nightly. But nothing stuck. He was shameless, and that shamelessness coated him like Teflon."

Did you know — Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining: “a Cadillac with no engine in it.”

A Globe Editorial argues that Turkey’s recent referendum resulted in the decision to replace the country’s liberal-democratic system of government with a dictatorship: “Thousands of these people were out on the streets on Sunday night, celebrating the fact that they had just demolished the institutions that protect their freedoms.”

Where was the first NHL game played? Ottawa or Montreal?

How pickin' cans with my dad shaped my view of Canada: “As we continue to open the dialogue around reconciliation in this country, I hope more people take the time to question their first impressions of us. We are not a single story.”

A Sean Spicer takedown for the ages (or sufficient for this week anyways).

If you’re curious as to why you don’t encounter more spam and inappropriate photos online, watch this 20-minute documentary called The Moderators, which introduces you to some of the 155000 people employed to protect our eyes.

Bread birds! 

Amy Sanderson
The Week's Conversations: Compassion in the Judicial System, Delight of Recovery, Mura Masa, Pulitzer Prize Winners, Cedric Morris, Test Taking

A weekly conversation between friends.

A Compassionate Inside Take on the Canadian Justice System

Last October, the Trudeau Government implemented a new process for federal judicial appointments designed to address concerns over transparency. One of the notable changes was the requirement that candidates complete a questionnaire detailing their personal experience and views of the justice system in Canada, with the answers of appointed candidates posted online for the public to view.

The questionnaires provide privileged insight on the experiences and perspectives of those on the front-line of our legal system as they attempt to deliver justice in a nation that is as diverse and complex as our own.

For instance, Justice David Paciocco, recently elevated to the Court of Appeal of Ontario from the Ontario Court of Justice in Ottawa, provides a “rare, compassionate inside take” on the Canadian justice system, along with his attempts to personally navigate it first as a student, and then later as a lawyer, legal academic, and finally a Judge. Justice Paciocco’s answers are honest, particularly in relation to the experiences of Indigenous peoples, racialized minorities, and women in our legal system, and how it often fails them. However, there is also humility, that even as “the lower-middle class progeny of an unwelcome immigrant population and the grandson of an orphaned First Nations girl” who has risen to become one Canada’s leading legal minds, he cannot fully appreciate the experiences of many who appear before him, and that justice is both a process and outcome.

You can read Justice Paciocco’s answers in full here, but below are some sections that stood out:

I attended white-bread universities when women were only beginning to enter the legal profession. And while I knew poverty living in a northern, working-class community bordered by two reservations and close to another, I was oblivious to the lost opportunities of poor children. I was not conscious of the demands of variety and diversity until the mid-1980s when “first wave feminism” swept Canadian universities.

Looking back, my first reaction was to resist. I resented being treated as a monolithic male who had to bear the blame for inequality I did not create or support. Still, the force of the movement required that I listen and learn, and I did. While I judged some of the solutions proposed to be blunt and excessive, I came to be persuaded that the law had much to answer for in the way it treated women and children, including in the sexual assault area. I have always believed that the law belongs to everyone and should serve everyone. When it became obvious to me that it often failed in that, it had impact. I became increasingly comfortable with the importance of reflecting, as best as can be done, on the way law affects others. I came to accept the concept of substantive equality and “effects discrimination.”...

In the years that followed the student body changed, as the broader community was changing. Many South Asian women entered law school, and then other persons of colour. We spoke about multiculturalism and diversity for the first time rather than just about men and women, and French and English. Meanwhile the intake in the court system was changing. Indeed, it was not long before racialized communities were over-represented in our courts. If you want to see diversity, go to a provincial courthouse.

I now work in those courts daily, and have been for five years. Being a provincial court judge is an immersion in the world of poverty, homelessness and mental illness. In Ottawa, it is a veritable baptism in the challenges faced by Aboriginals, most pervasively, Inuit people plagued by alcoholism and displacement, often stranded far from the north after having come here for medical reasons....

It has been a voyage of discovery, but I have learned that my neighbours, my fellow Canadians, include the diverse people who come before me. As with everyone else, they are as worthy as I am, and they are to be treated with respect and given the benefit of the law. I appreciate that we all see the world through our own experiences, even biases, and that it is challenging to confront our individual perceptions and to try to appreciate someone else’s perspective. Still, we have an obligation to try; these individuals are entitled to be understood by those of us who have power over them, and they are entitled to have their needs recognized. I recognize this obligation and I try to live up to it.


The Delight of Unexpected Recovery

Last week, I found myself sinking into absolute misery, with a constantly streaming nose, sore throat and foggy head. By day three, I facetimed my mom and she took one look at the dark circles under my eyes and sensibly suggested I just find some allergy medication and take it.

Walking to the store was unbearable, it seemed so pointless when I was sure I had some death cold and not garden-variety hay fever. I've never been allergic to anything before. 

After buying every kind of allergy medication our small local shop carried, and calling my mom to consult on which of them to take (and to long-distance supervise my taking of random tablets), I dragged myself off to bed.

I woke up the next day a new person. I felt genuinely grateful to be alive, so much so I had to share my miraculous recovery with everyone I ran into: Two weeks before my 29th birthday and it turns out I’m actually allergic to spring! But a simple pill a day and I am not a miserable, life-devoid, snivelling mess!!! Unbelievable.

This episode reminded me of Oliver Sacks’ (much more eloquent) essay ‘A General Feeling of Disorder’, in which he writes about his recovery to health after a painful surgical procedure:

"On day ten, I turned a corner—I felt awful, as usual, in the morning, but a completely different person in the afternoon. This was delightful, and wholly unexpected: there was no intimation, beforehand, that such a transformation was about to happen. . . .  I suddenly found myself full of physical and creative energy and a euphoria almost akin to hypomania. I strode up and down the corridor in my apartment building while exuberant thoughts rushed through my mind.

How much of this was a reestablishment of balance in the body; how much an autonomic rebound after a profound autonomic depression; how much other physiological factors; and how much the sheer joy of writing, I do not know. But my transformed state and feeling were, I suspect, very close to what Nietzsche experienced after a period of illness and expressed so lyrically in The Gay Science:

Gratitude pours forth continually, as if the unexpected had just happened—the gratitude of a convalescent—for convalescence was unexpected…. The rejoicing of strength that is returning, of a reawakened faith in a tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, of a sudden sense and anticipation of a future, of impending adventures, of seas that are open again."


Mura Masa

I’m a huge fan of Mura Masa, the 21 year-old DJ and producer from the Channel Islands blowing up the UK scene with his infectious beats and catchy lyrics. But, Mura Masa’s music videos are also garnering attention for how they appear to be centered around the personal relationships of actual teenagers living in what seems to be public housing in London. This is a young, diverse lot, both in terms of race and sexuality, confidently showcasing their (young) love.

Trust me, run through these videos and you’ll get a sense of why I am eagerly awaiting the release of Mura Masa’s forthcoming album To Fall Out of Love To.


2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners

On Monday, the winners of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize were announced, celebrating the best in (generally) American journalism, literature, and musical composition. This year was particularly notable due to the new political realities in the United States and the impact on journalism in that country. Unsurprisingly, many of the winners included journalists covering the recent Presidential election: David A. Fahrenthold of The Washington Post for his coverage of Trump’s “generous” contributions to charity, Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal for her reaffirmation of American values in the face of a raucously divisive election campaign, and Jim Morin of Miami Herald for his cutting editorial cartoons.

Beyond national political coverage, the awards also recognized remarkable, public interest oriented journalism at the local level: New York Daily News and ProPublica’s feature on discriminatory eviction practices by the NYPD (a story likely close to one theread editor’s heart, who spent too much time in the housing courts of New York representing marginalized tenants), Eric Eyre of Charleston Gazette-Mail for his courageous coverage of how the flood of opioids were destroying a West Virginia community, the Salt Lake City Tribune’s explosive revelations of how Brigham Young University treats sexual assault survivors, and most remarkably, The Storm Lake Times -- a family-run community newspaper -- and its editorial writing against “the state's most powerful agricultural interests, which include the Koch Brothers, Cargill and Monsanto, and their secret funding of the government defense of a big environmental lawsuit.

Without journalists, these stories would not have been told. And as the industry continue to grapple with its future, it’s important to not only honour the winners, but also to contribute to the cause by subscribing to publications at home and abroad so that the powerful can continue to be held to account.


Cedric Morris on Flower Painting

‘Serpentine Pot’ by Cedric Morris

‘Serpentine Pot’ by Cedric Morris

Excerpts from 'Concerning Flower Painting,' an essay by the artist (and acclaimed iris breeder) Cedric Morris published in The Studio in 1942: 

Flower painting has an extra set of values which varies with individual artists, but always seems to show a great understanding and interest in plants, or in certain plants according to the particular painter. For examples, be he able to express the blowzey fugitiveness of the poppy as could Jan van Huysum, the slightly sinister quality of fritillarias as Breughel the Elder, or the downright evil of some arums, the elegance, pride and delicacy of irises, the strident quality of delphiniums, the vulgarity of some double peonies, chrysanthemums, roses, and of most dahlias; . . . to search for the endless textures and sub-textures, to experiment with the use of juxtapositions of lines, forms and colours--then all this and much more the flower painter has to do while keeping within a very definite decorative convention which seems to suit this work. . . .

All this to point out the difference between flower painting and a good painting of flowers; the former being painted by one who loved and therefore comprehended flowers and the latter by any good painter who happened to choose flowers as one of his subjects much as he might any other still life. . . .

But, you reply, taking an instance where there might be room for controversy, would you consider the well-known studies of sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh as the work of a flower painter? And my answer would be, No, decidedly not. . . .

Can we say anything more about the necessary quality behind real flower painting? Not much in words. It should be painted not written. I like to think that there is behind this special painting an esoteric line of thought that expresses itself in symbols portraying the eternity of experience that flowers themselves have, not merely of struggle and achievement but a crystallization of all past apprehensions.


Why I'll Never Frame My Diplomas

As university students enter exam season I am sympathetic towards their harried state, having been there too many times to count now. But I also wonder what they’re doing it for. I view my diplomas as akin to athletic medals at this point. My whole life has been a training in exam taking: a particular skill that is useless in the real world, like pole jumping or diving.

Take the LSAT for example (which Canadian schools are still committed to using as part of the admissions process). I spent one month exclusively training myself to take it. In the week before the exam I was consistently scoring within 3 points on practice exams, and lo and behold my final score was dead in the middle of that range.

Law school exams were slightly more dubious affairs considering I nearly fell asleep in at least 1/3 of my daily classes, skipped frequently, and stopped reading the textbooks unless there was a threat of getting called on. I would blitz study beginning about two weeks before the first exam and this mostly consisted of writing an extensive set of notes that I could bring in with me to the exam. (We had so-called “open book” exams because what matters in law exams is identifying issues and making coherent arguments, not memorizing specific laws (although it helps); they’re almost impossible to fail.)

Then came the two day state bar exam extravaganza, where I trained 8 hours a day for two months. My dad speaks fondly of the last week before the bar where he came and cooked me meals and made sure I saw daylight on occasion: “It was like going on a retreat. I got a lot of great thinking done, and remember our beautiful evening walks?” To be honest, I remember them better than any of the law I was allegedly learning.

A few months ago I trained for and wrote a set of four exams in one day, my first exams in two years, and found myself made both depressed and somewhat nostalgic by the familiar spirals of anxiety and adrenaline, the laughing not-jokes about failing, the clammy skin and stiff back, the time-warping focus. My body knows the script down to the minute the examiner says “Times up. Please close your exam booklets."

I’m both proud and disgusted by my test taking abilities at this point. On the one hand, it has helped me get into extremely competitive university programs and pass the bar (experiences I am grateful for and don’t regret), but on the other, it has left me with a hollow sense of accomplishment. I don’t really believe my diplomas represent intelligence or aptitude, but merely good training. One theread editor claims this is imposter syndrome talking. Regardless, I can’t stomach the thought of going back to school for any subject, and it’s largely because when I think about the amount of time I have spent “studying” and how much knowledge I now have to show for it, well, it’s not worth the effort. The most valuable skills I’ve learned have all been through extra-curricular activities and internships (admittedly, these were things I was passionate about and extremely engaged in).

These days I don’t disrespect people who earn high grades or get into prestigious programs, but I fight my deeply-instilled value system which prefers them over others. Now I often see those grades, those prestigious degrees, as reflective of a good training regime that comes as a result of privilege, parents, good primary/secondary schools, luck... There’s still value in going to university, but it mostly comes from clinical courses, internships and extracurriculars, interacting with networks of people who are interested in the same subjects, and not from exam-based courses.

So, anyways, good luck to all of you students this month. I hope your training is paying off! But maybe consider putting it aside for a bit to try something harder: engaging with the real world.


An Inner Monologue

A declaration of love, like a speech, but in a very public manner. A giant cardboard sign. Showing someone that you especially knew them through a very special gift.

It was the surest way to show someone you love them or to win love.

That’s the basis for Episode #610: Grand Gestures on This American Life. Act 4 tells the story of radio producer Elna Baker.

And that's the attitude towards love Elna carried into adulthood. When she would talk to our friends about their romantic lives and situations, at some point, Elna would tell them, OK, here's what you have to do. You have to go big. And she'd give advice that, today, she thinks was totally wrong headed. Up until her 20s, she had no experience in love, had never had a real adult relationship, was completely naive about all of it.

But she still cheerfully jumped in with her advice. She encouraged her friend Nick to move to New York City to prove his love for a woman who had broken up with him and did not want his love. She convinced your friend Allie to give a guy that she'd just started seeing this giant birthday crown, homemade with fur and feathers and a star with his picture that kind of jumped off the crown. He never went out with Allie again.


Elna didn't just organize these kinds of schemes for other people. She did them herself.

Elna explains:

I was afraid that they wouldn't like me, if I just was like, hey, I'm interested in you. This is who I am. I thought maybe you like construction paper, and giant signs, and hot glue gun art.

These self-doubts are characteristic of shyness. Not that Elna was particularly shy in her approach. It is completely indirect and ignores social norms that others might be aware of and trying to take control in something that might make sense to you.

In an interview with NY Magazine,  author of Shrinking Violets: The Secret Life of Shyness, Joe Moran offers an explanation for Elna’s behavior:

I don’t think shy people stop wanting to be social and communicative — it’s just that they often take very circuitous ways of doing that.

One of the things I find hard as a shy person is social ambiguity, and spontaneity. I’m in a group of people, and I don’t know how or when I’m supposed to speak up — and, obviously, the longer you leave it, the harder it is to join in. A whole self-defeating monologue starts going on in your head.

In Regret Machines, an essay from Maisonneuve, Nicolas Langelier, finds this self-loathing dialogue in a darker interpretation of Robert Frost’s The Road Less Travelled.

So the guy takes a road knowing that one day he’ll regret it because he’ll never know the marvels that the other road would have held. To attenuate his future regrets, he chooses to lie (to himself). Later, he’ll say he took the road less travelled and that it was for the best.

An example: seventeen-year-old Sarah at a party, sitting beside me in a booth, trying to drown a breakup in peach schnapps. There was a moment when she placed her head on my shoulder but, frozen by her sudden proximity or my scruples, I was incapable of taking the moment in hand. A friend didn’t have the same hesitation and they kissed for a long time right beside me in the booth. Then it was three in the morning and we found ourselves outside on a glacial night, smack in the middle of the Plateau Mont-Royal and far from home. We had no money left, so we walked for over two hours in minus twenty weather. I walked Sarah back to her place in New Rosemont. Great deserted streets and vines covered in ice. Quick kiss on the cheek. Good night. Good night. See you Monday. Then I walked the painful three or four kilometres to my place, my feet blistered and frostbitten. Chivalrous, but incapable of doing the only thing I really wanted to.

It’s often like that—whether at seventeen or at forty. We’re incapable of becoming the hero of our own stories. Despite our hopes for the contrary, we’re regret machines.


Links From This Week's Thread

If we really want to embrace the harm-reduction philosophy, Canada should go ahead and decriminalize possession of all drugs, not just marijuana because:

  • More harm is caused by criminal prohibition and prosecution than [use]...;
  • Criminal laws prohibiting possession do not deter use;
  • Decriminalization of possession does not lead to greater use;
  • Decriminalization frees up resources for police and the courts to deal with more serious crimes;
  • Profits (or taxes) from sales go into public coffers instead of to organized crime.

How Stephen Colbert eclipsed Jimmy “Hair Tussle” Fallon as the current King of Late Night.

“The media’s laudatory reaction to Trump’s Syria strike teaches our incompetent president that launching wars on gut instinct is cool and good.”

The Myth of Liberal Policing

A story of family and fate from Bogota.

Great iPolitics post on who should step in to provide local news after the Postmedia empire dies, taking with it daily newspapers in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, London, Windsor, Ottawa, Montreal and two in Toronto.

An Ontario court has awarded $80,000.00 in damages to a Black man punched and cuffed by a police officer in a case of racial profiling. This significantly increases the damage awards in racial profiling cases, which in the past has been an issue for many victims of police violence, as damages are often not worth the costs of suing.

An important chart from The Economist on how climate change is impacting sakura season

Around this time of year I start putting together a summer playlist and I already found my first song. It's the perfect song. It may be the only song I actually need. 

Amy Sanderson
The Week's Conversations: Uber, Dave Chappelle, Preventing Dystopia, Canadian Magazine Award Season, Kendrick Lamar

A weekly conversation between friends.

Uber Driver Receives Chip Implant in Quest to Gain Rare 'Unquestionable Loyalty' Badge

This week we learned that Edmonton is considering turning to Uber as a potential replacement for bus services in the city. This in itself is not surprising. Edmonton has some of the worst urban sprawl on the continent and creating bus routes that get enough ridership has always been extremely difficult (it doesn’t help that if you can get to a bus route you may have to stand outside in -30C waiting for unreliable busses that only come every hour).

However, I am concerned with any civic plans to partner with a company that has structured itself so as to purposefully evade existing labour laws. On Sunday, The New York Times published an article on Uber’s use of “psychological inducements and other techniques unearthed by social science to influence when, where and how long drivers work.”

Uber sends notices that drivers are close to hitting arbitrary earnings targets when they try to log off, sets up the next fare before they finish their current one (a Netflix-binge-watching-style algorithm designed to override self-control), making it easiest to navigate to a ‘surge area’ (which does not necessarily align with high-paying fares), only sends blind fare opportunities without providing the ultimate destination (again, a way of ensuring all riders get picked up, not just those who are going longer distances)... need I go on? Unpaid badges of achievement (Entertaining Drive! Above and Beyond! Excellent Service!) seem so old school when it comes to motivation, but are still important to Uber drivers! Psych! 

It’s not that these actions are necessarily outside the bounds of what other corporations do, but Uber is problematic in that it relies on thousands of contractors, which it controls exclusively through a closed app system. Uber constantly collects and stores extensive data on each driver as a condition of their employment, and then that data is used to motivate the driver into working to the benefit of the corporation, not the benefit of the driver. There are few to no legal limits on Uber's ability to manipulate drivers into working at no cost to corporation.

“It is, as a result, not too hard to imagine a future in which massive digital platforms like Uber have an appetite for tens of millions of workers — not only for ferrying people, but also for delivering food and retail goods. Nor is it hard to imagine workers’ obliging them, perhaps because their skills do not match the needs of more traditional employers, or because they need to supplement their wages.

In such an economy, experts say, using big data and algorithms to manage workers will not simply be a niche phenomenon. It may become one of the most common ways of managing the American labor force.

“You have all these players entering into this space, and the assumption is they’ll do it through vast armies of underemployed people looking for extra hours, and we can control every nuance about what they do but not have to pay them,” said David Weil, the top wage-and-hour official under President Barack Obama.”

The whole article is well worth a read and attempts to be more balanced than I have been here. But I had to scoff at the nice suggestion that Uber will independently adopt norms that protect drivers from manipulation. Or that, in fact, all that data Uber collects will prove to the corporation they have an obligation to protect drivers! For sure NYTimes, it’s just as you say: Uber hasn’t reached corporate maturity yet, but labour rights are definitely on the agenda, right after converting to self-driving cars.

In the meantime, as Uber, Lyft and other gig-economy corporations grow, legislatures and courts should be considering how labour laws could be adapted to protect workers from the continuing gamification of their reality into one that holds few tangible rewards. Badges though, there’ll be lots of badges.


The Disappointing Return of Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle’s two new standup specials on Netflix are very bad. Sure, there are some funny bits on race in America, hip hop culture, the police — the subjects upon which Chappelle’s legacy was built. Unfortunately, he spends the majority of the shows exploring issues that seem clearly over his head.

Chappelle’s jokes about gay men and the transgender community range from tone deaf to abhorrent. His extended take on the Bill Cosby rape allegations, though at times funny, is mostly incoherent and confusing. At one point, he makes a confounding attempt to excuse Manny Pacquiao’s homophobia, arguing that Asian men have been emasculated, and so need a machismo hero to reinstate their manhood. He even wades into anti-vaccination territory. It’s all very cringey and uncomfortable.

This is particularly disappointing, given Chappelle’s long absence from the stage, and following his excellent, cathartic SNL monologue just days after the election of Trump. But, as a number of critics have pointed out, Chappelle’s homophobia and transphobia looms heavily over these performances. “Even if some of his audience finds these dead-fish-in-the-barrel jokes funny, why does Chappelle?” asks Eric Sasson in the New Republic. “Chappelle’s Show was brilliant because it upended our notions of race, not because it trotted out tired stereotypes.” According to Seth Simons, these specials are a “frustrating jumble of penetrating wit and ignorance disguised as transgression.”

Chappelle’s defenders are quick to point out that stand-up comedy is not for the easily offended; that the stage should be a safe haven for ‘free speech’, where comics can air out new ideas and push boundaries without fear of reproach. Indeed, some of the best stand-up comics are those who are able to identify, deconstruct, and interrogate the borders between what is acceptable to say, and what is not.

But while the notion of free speech certainly involves protecting an individual’s right to say what they want, its underlying purpose is to foster an exchange of ideas, and to encourage dialogue between a diversity of competing perspectives. There’s something unsavory about describing a comic who gets paid $60 million to mock the LGBTQ community for a highly publicized Netflix special as a beacon of free speech.

Fortunately, comics who are eager to provoke and to offend are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain relevance. This might have something to do with ‘political correctness’, but more to do with the fact that it’s not actually funny to hurl racial epithets at audience members, or to single out and mock marginalized communities. Indeed, apart from safer acts like Jerry Seinfeld and Kevin Hart, longevity in the comedy world is rare, while the list of comedians who have fallen from grace grows longer each year.

Today, some of the more successful comics are those who are prepared to recognize the medium’s limits, and engage with rather than decry their critics. As GQ columnist Damon Young points out:

“The rules of comedy—particularly, the rules on where it’s socially acceptable to mine humor from and how to articulate that humor—have changed. And the best comedians, at least the truly transcendent male icons like Louis C.K. and even Chris Rock (whose recent interviews and work suggest that his sensibilities have shifted to reflect our times and his circumstances), don’t just evolve with us. Like the best artists, they help to spearhead the evolution.”

A prime example of this is the famous “Poker Scene” from season 2 of “Louie”, a dramatized version of the conversation that convinced C.K.’s to stop using gay slurs in his comedy. Another example can be found in Michael Che’s excellent new Netflix special “Michael Che Matters”. The hour-long special featuring the co-anchor of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update explores a number of the same issues tackled by Chappelle, but it’s funnier, edgier, and far more consistent. But what stands out most, especially in contrast with Chappelle, is Che’s self-reflexivity, and his willingness to question the soundness of his own positions.

“For Che, doing comedy means being honest above all things—and being prepared for your honesty to run up against someone else’s truth,” writes Dennis Perkins for the A.V. Club: “Confessing that he used to use the word “tranny,” he muses about why just adding a “y” to something is offensive, then tells how a trans friend asked him, “How would you like it if I called you ‘blackie?”…”You gotta stop accusing people just for being honest,” he states. “That’s a teaching moment. You can school me.”


Preventing a Dystopian Future

“The difference between utopia and dystopia isn’t how well everything runs. It’s about what happens when everything fails."

Science fiction writing is often set in utopian or dystopian worlds, shaped around conditions that create either an ideal or oppressive society. But, as Cory Doctorow explains in Wired, these conditions don’t determine whether a world is utopian or dystopian. This is informed by how the characters in the story respond to the adversity they encounter. In the face of disaster, do the characters band together to overcome obstacles, with their humanity intact? Or, do things descend deeper into despair through the emergence of predatory rivalries built on fear and distrust?

Dystopian narratives can be created, even in seemingly idyllic settings:

Here’s how you make a dystopia: Convince people that when a disaster strikes, their neighbors are their enemies, not their mutual saviors and responsibilities. The belief that when the lights go out, your neighbors will come over with a shotgun — rather than the contents of their freezer so you can have a barbeque before it all spoils — isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s a weaponized narrative. The belief in the barely restrained predatory nature of the people around you is the cause of dystopia, the belief that turns mere crises into catastrophes.

This is an important lesson for 2017. As we deal with (Trump) and approach looming disasters (climate change), it’s critical we recognize that the outcomes — utopia or dystopia — are very much in our control. 


Canadian Magazine Award Season

I love magazines, newspapers, and journals. There’s something satisfying about having an eclectic mix of good writing arrive at your doorstep or inbox on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual basis  — to the extent that I spend almost $1,000.00 a year on subscriptions. Subscriptions are also my preferred gifts; there’s nothing better than receiving a subscription to Maisonneuve, Eighteen Bridges, Granta, The Caravan, Wired, Columbia Journalism Review, or The New York Times for a birthday, wedding, graduation, or just because.

Each year, I look forward to the National Magazine Awards (NMA), an annual award show for Canadian magazines. However, after 39 years, the NMA is facing competition from a new Canadian magazine award show called the Magazine Grands Prix, which announced its nominees last week.

The Magazine Grands Prix emerged last year “after years of complaints from some of Canada’s largest magazine publishers that the industry’s annual awards program was a bloated affair that honoured too many recipients.” But, there’s another reason for the new awards show. Big publications tend to not win as many awards at the NMA as they would like, with independent magazines like Montreal-based Maisonneuve and Edmonton-based Eighteen Bridges faring exceptionally well in recent years (Canadaland did a portion of an episode that explored this critique last summer [starts at 23:00]). The publishers of Toronto-based Maclean’s, Toronto-based Readers Digest, Toronto-based Walrus, and other large Toronto-based magazines are apparently concerned that a focus on quality over readership base, government subsidies, being based in Toronto, and other important metrics are preventing them from receiving the accolades that they deserve. They pulled out, and created the Magazine Grands Prix.

By design, most of the Magazine Grands Prix nominees are dominated by larger, Toronto-based publications. However, Maisonneuve and other independent publications also make an appearance, such as The Site Magazine and Peeps. It may be too early to tell if this is a genuine attempt to celebrate the best of magazine publishing and writing in Canada, or petty wrangling; but, on April 20, 2017, the NMA will be announcing its nominees, and it will be interesting to see how the nominations between the award shows stack up.


Kendrick's Return

I’m not sure if we are in another Golden Era of Hip Hop, but it is certainly a great time to be a fan, especially in 2017, with Drake, Future, and others dropping projects so early on in the year.

But, my eyes are on Kendrick Lamar, an artist who stands above his peers, and brings an authenticity to the genre that is refreshing and rare. Lamar dropped “The Heart Part 4” and “Humble” in quick succession over the last couple of weeks, building anticipation for the release of his new album.

Hip hop is known for its artists assuming personas and gimmicks, where hype-people are staples, and “authenticity” is intertwined with materialism and painting drug-fueled fantasies that appeal to horny teenage boys. However, Lamar doesn’t employ these tired tropes, and is sincere in his artistry by providing a window into his life as an African American man from Compton with an unshakable belief in God. This has allowed Lamar to capture the fears and aspirations of this particular era, where Black Lives Matter has emerged as part of the mainstream political agenda (theread editors argue that Lamar’s Alright is the definitive protest song of our times, while his performance at the 2016 Grammy Awards has reached iconic status).

This 2016 interview between Lamar and legendary producer Rick Rubin provides a glimpse into Lamar and his artistry, which can help understand his forthcoming release:


Links From This Week's Thread

Anne-France Dautheville rode around the world on her 750 moto-guzzi in 1973. Here’s her diary in video.

Erika Thorkelson chronicles the story behind the collapse of the Vancouver English Centre, one of the oldest private English language schools in Vancouver, which provided language training and support to thousands of people the world over since 1993.

Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary network based at the University of Toronto that “monitors, analyzes, and impacts the exercise of political power in cyberspace.” It plays a significant role advancing fundamental freedoms and human rights in the digital sphere, particularly on issues related to privacy, security, and expression. Citizen Lab was founded in 2001 by Ron Deibert, a “counterespionage hacker” that has been in the thorn in the side of many security agencies around the world, including Canada. The Globe’s Report on Business recently profiled Deibert and his innovative methods that some cybersecurity experts consider to be of questionable legality.

A brief essay on the changing schools of thought on rape and why it happens, which concludes that the best way to stop rape is to dedicate resources towards investigating reported rapes and prosecuting rapists. I would like to say this is not worth reading, but obviously it continues to be.

Ahmed Kathrada, a leader of the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa along with friend and confidant Nelson Mandela, died on March 28, 2017. Kathrada was a prominent Indian South African leader of the anti-Apartheid movement who was imprisoned with Mandela for 24 years, transitioning from prisoner to politician upon his release in 1989. In his later years, Kathrada became a vocal critic of South African President Jacob Zuma, and his funeral became a flashpoint for the latest power struggle within the ruling African National Congress. His biggest regret: “being denied the ability to have children” due to his lengthy imprisonment.

It took nearly a decade, but the music industry seems to have finally adapted to the digital age, reaching its highest levels of sales since 2009, primarily through streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and even YouTube.

Writing in the Citizen, Tyler Dawson asks: Why should we trust the Ottawa Police Service?: “If police have the power of legitimate violence, they need to maintain their sense of responsibility too, to constantly justify why the rest of us give them that power. Sometimes, that means reining in liberties and impulses the rest of us freely exercise.”

theread is a fan of 4122, a newsletter that curates eclectic pieces on art, poetry, music, and politics. Its most recent edition: number 3.

Gary Bettman is shortchanging NHLers with short-sighted Olympic plan.

This is hilarious. “It makes sense that the [FBI]’s director, James Comey, would dip his toe into the digital torrent with a Twitter account. It also makes sense, given Comey’s high profile, that he would want that Twitter account to be a secret from the world, lest his follows and favs be scrubbed for clues about what the feds are up to. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that it only took me about four hours of sleuthing to find Comey’s account, which is not protected.”

This woman takes eating lunch at her desk to another level:

Amy Sanderson
The Week's Conversations: Grammar, Naturalistic Floral Design, Kendrick Lamar, Love Letters, Anne, New Underground Railway, Duterte

A weekly conversation between friends.

Grammarians, Beware

Grammar is not art. Writing is, and as an art form, best achieves its function when it is not rigidly boxed in by grammarians preoccupied with formalism. Grammarians who filter all language through a grammar-rubric, where all writing is judged and altered to conform to a set standard, are missing the point of the exercise: communication.

That is not to say that grammar or the rules of language should be ignored. Rather, it must be adapted to the situation. Language is contextual, it evolves, and good writing not only captures what is being communicated but the intricacies of the speaker, audience, and circumstances. My DMs are written much differently from how I draft legal facta — to the point where readers may find it difficult to believe that they were written by the same person.

Grammar rigidity is also an exercise of power. The “right” way is often defined as being so for representing the approach to language of the privileged class. Any deviation is a denigration of the language in its “pure” form; dialects, slang, and linguistic creativity are ridiculed. Imposing rigid grammar standards to achieve a “correct” writing form becomes a process of exclusion.

Grammar is fiercely debated by editors of theread. Formalistic grammarians frequently clash with critical linguists more concerned about substance than form. However, there is agreement between all on at least one point. Regardless of form, any writing that appears in the newsletter must be of sufficient quality to warrant its inclusion. That is our assurance to you.


Can Naturalistic Floral Design Be Mainstream Already

About 10 years ago, I discovered Sarah Ryhanen’s work on the blog Design*Sponge. Even at the time, her simple mason jar arrangements were revolutionary, and her blog, an irreverent mixture of flowers and business, felt so of a piece that it was easy to become obsessed, to feel that I knew her. As she pushed herself to explore the boundaries of naturalism and traditional floral design every week, she expanded my understanding of flower arranging and its possibilities, and I was not alone in that experience.

Anyways, fast forward a few years, and the flower revolution continued, with Sarah largely at the head. She wouldn’t necessarily consider herself the leader, but certainly she was the most visible member of a growing group of floral designers dedicated to working in a more naturalistic style and seeking out locally-grown flowers. They celebrated the beauty of individual stems of fritillarias, recalled the scents and old-fashioned delights of sweet peas, cut flowering branches with abandon, and tried to incorporate leaves of kale.

Flower farmers suddenly become venerated heroes in the new movement, and the symbiosis of farmers who grow specialty flowers and the floral designers who market and use the product has only become more intense in recent years. In Canada, we now have cut flowers being field grown in places as cold as Northern Alberta, and Winnipeg. My god. It was unimaginable even five years ago. But that’s the power of Instagram and the internet for you, where these floral trends have led to wholesale lifestyle changes. It’s highly fashionable to be a farmer florist now, haven’t you heard?

This week T Magazine featured Sarah’s work in an article on the new naturalism in floral design and how social media has been integral to powering it into the mainstream. It’s well worth a read to understand and see cutting edge floral art, and they’ve helpfully provided a list of Instagram accounts to follow as well. As someone who’s been following all these designers for years, it’s remarkable to me how even two years ago they were still very obviously influenced by Dutch Masters, but now a Japanese minimalism and colour palette inspired by the 80s has emerged. There’s even backlash to the garden-esque lushness that has been the bread and butter of the movement, with anthuriums and dyed flowers making a comeback in NYC in a big way. Why

Trends come and go, but naturalism looks to be here to stay, and in case you were wondering, I’m still completely obsessed.


The Return of Kendrick Lamar

Yes, it was a big week for Drake, whose More Life ‘playlist’ — his seventh number 1 album — broke the record for most streams in a single week, with 385 million in the US alone.

Far more interesting, though, was the return of Kendrick Lamar, who unexpectedly dropped “The Heart Part 4” last week, his first new music in over a year.

Clocking in at just under 5 minutes, the track is a striking reminder of Kendrick’s reigning supremacy as a rapper, his flow shifting flawlessly between speeds and rhythms as he covers substantial lyrical ground (what other artist is able to weigh in on Russia’s interference in the US election and the beef between Jay Z and Drake on the same track?)

It’s also worth noting that “The Heart Part 4” sounds significantly different than To Pimp a Butterfly and its counterpart untitled unmastered. Instead of the complex neo-soul and notorious avant-garde arrangements that those releases were known for (click here), the track features a moody, stripped-down beat that percolates just beneath the surface, leaving Kendrick plenty of space to do his thing.


I Don't Write Love Letters Anymore

When I was younger, I used to write love letters. Well, love e-mails, notes, and postcards to be more precise. Whatever medium that was accessible to me in my transformative early 20s, and could best convey my feelings.

But, that relationship ended, and with it my desire to write love letters (e-mails, notes, postcards, etc). Life became more structured and less dynamic, and in the process, the desire to write romantic messages seemed to disappear. My forays in love since have been mechanical and largely unspectacular, but it's unclear if this is a cause or symptom of no longer caring to share my feelings as I did before.

Occasionally, I will come across an email that I had sent, and am bewildered by the depth of the emotional intimacy contained. Not out of regret, but of surprise that I had conjured up such feelings, and had the audacity to express them in such a clear and purposive manner at 21. I admire my younger self, and wonder if that romantic passion will ever return.

Unsurprisingly, I am not the only person who enjoys reading old love letters. As outlined in The Love Letters of Manly Men, love letters are keenly sought out by manuscript collectors, who pay top dollar for those penned by historical, mainly male figures. And according to dealers and appraisers, high figures "depend on the revelatory nature of the content" more than the fame of the writer or the rarity and condition of the document.

For instance, the most paid for a love letter at auction was $700,000 in 2002 for a note from Abraham Lincoln to Mary Owens. What stood out for collectors, and earned it that sum, was its emotional depth: a young, unsure Lincoln seeking reassurance from Owens that "she really does want to marry him, despite his meager income." Lincoln's insecurities conflict with our popular understanding of the man as a decisive, formidable leader, and add an additional layer of complexity that is easily recognizable.

My writings have less significance, but I cherish them for the glimpse they provide into a former, better self.


A Wary Endorsement of Anne

Despite having to pause the first episode of Anne within mere seconds of hearing the opening chords of the theme song to do some angry deep-breathing (I watched the damn live concert, isn’t that enough??), I was quickly enamoured with the very 2017 production. It left me fizzy and glowing in exactly the same way the book and the 1985 adaptation do, no matter how many times I’ve read/seen them.

While I can’t say I’m 100% in favour of realism* infringing on what has been one of my most stalwart retreats from the everyday for over 20 years**, episode 1 seemed to suggest creator/writer Moira Walley-Beckett intended to make changes that developed Anne’s character for a current (unfamiliar) audience, rather than to increase drama unnecessarily. Anne’s fiercely open and imaginative personality does seem all the more compelling in the face of the new PTSD flashbacks, and the emphatically feminist bent is welcome. It also helps that actress Amybeth McNulty is absolutely captivating, bringing a grittiness to Anne (my beloved) Megan Follows lacked, and that Walley-Beckett has been faithful to Anne’s verbosity.

Despite the annoying cliffhanger ending of episode one, I looked forward to number two all week, and woke up this morning to a promising text from another theread editor (who has never read or watched Anne of Green Gables before) who found it "Intricate, complicated, great acting.”

I could hardly get through it.

(Spoilers in this paragraph only) L.M. Montgomery’s writing in Anne of Green Gables is all lush descriptions related to nature, quick dialogue, relatively low-stakes drama, and few obvious jokes or dark brooding on social matters from the author herself. In comparison, episode two felt practically Dickensian with looming orphanage cinematography, a playfully absurd milkman, desperate panhandling, a hectic journey to Charlottetown followed by gratuitous head injury, a tearful reunion after Matthew finds Anne and calls her his daughter, plus an overwrought church picnic with towers of biscuits. There was even an extended lunch scene with closeups of burned toast and (what I imagine are) over-boiled eggs!

There is absolutely no doubt after this week that Anne is an adaptation inspired by the book, rather than guided by it. I recognize that Anne is being introduced to a new audience and Walley-Beckett wants to ensure she’s understood as imaginative and innocent by her own choice, full of conviction yet age-appropriately devoid of empathy (as she often is in the book), and absolutely resilient. I’m even willing to overlook the cacophonous church picnic scene as a necessary evil to underscore how readily communities close ranks and bully outsiders (which is apparently one of Walley-Beckett’s themes). But the whole Charlottetown charade of episode two was fast-forwardable, and I recommend you do so, so that you can continue to enjoy this new series.

*Except why are there so many out of season flowers?! If it’s spring, with flowering cherries and apples, then there can’t also be fall-flowering Japanese anemones, and I highly doubt they would have had those just growing under random trees in Charlottetown in the late 1800s. And don’t get me started on how impossible her flower crown combination is…

**Must not become like those 1995-BBC-produced-Pride-and-Prejudice diehards, I’ll take Keira any day.


A New Underground Railway for Refugees?

As the Conservative leadership races draws to a close, candidates are taking a hard stance on immigration and refugee policy. Kevin O’Leary wants to “use the Constitution” to prevent migrants who cross the border illegally from claiming refugee status. Maxime Bernier has upped the ante, and proposed that the government ‘deploy the military’ to crackdown on illegal border crossings.

Granted, there has been a slight uptick in the number of refugees crossing the Southern border in recent months, but neither of these tactics actually consider the individuals whose lives are at stake. I highly recommend checking out this terrific bit of reporting by Jake Halpern, who argues that a modern variant of the Underground Railroad has developed, as refugees flee across the US border. (In Canada, refugees are for more likely to be granted asylum, and have better access to social services.)

Halpern documents the epic travails of several refugees. including an Eritrean woman trying to reunite with her family in Edmonton, and a Colombian clarinet player, who was forced to trek through uncharted forest on his way to Quebec.

“When Fernando was lost in the wilderness, he took a selfie: if he survived and became a Canadian, he thought, he might one day appreciate the image. After taking the photograph, he studied it in the darkness. Mainly, he saw desperation. But he also saw himself through a stranger’s eyes, as if it were a photograph in a newspaper, and he was moved by how far he had come. He still looks at the picture from time to time.”

It’s important to remember that refugees crossing the southern border illegally are not trying to cheat the system — they are acting out of desperation, and risking their lives to avoid violence and persecution. Canada needs a safe border and a robust immigration system, but treating refugees as criminals, or as a threat to be neutralized, is not is principled solution.

Click here for an op-ed by a fellow theread editor on a better way to deal with migrants entering Canada through our Southern border.


Duterte and the Slide Towards Dictatorship

I’ve written here before about Rodrigo Duterte, the populist President of the Philippines, whose brutal anti-drug campaign has resulted in the deaths of more than 7,000 people over the course of 9 months (a death toll, it’s worth noting, that exceeds that of President Ferdinand Marcos, whose dictatorship lasted 20 years).

This week, The New York Times published a shocking profile on Duterte, which details his history of violence, privilege, and scandal. As a child, his mother beat him so often that she “wore out her horse whip.” In university, he shot and wounded a fellow classmate whom he accused of bullying. In the late 80s, he started a death squad in Davao City, and took part in the extrajudicial killings.

“The dissonance between the image of the gentle, caring grandfather and the brutal strongman spilling blood on the streets is just one of many in a common-man president who was born to the elite and has lived a life surrounded by violence,” writes Richard Paddock.

The profile also reveals a disturbing irony in the fact that Duterte, who in his quest to rid the Philippines of drugs has filled the streets with death squads and murderous vigilantes, has himself struggled with drug abuse (back in December, he acknowledged his dependence on and abuse of the opioid fentanyl).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Duterte’s administration did not take kindly to the profile. Ernesto Abella, the presidential spokesperson, referred to the piece as a “well-paid hack job for well-heeled clients with shady motives.”

“One gets the feeling NYT is not interested in presenting the whole truth, only that with which they can bully those who attempt an independent foreign policy,” said Abella, who famously called on journalists to use “creative imagination” to understand the pronouncements of Duterte.

Last Friday, one of Duterte’s most vocal critics and long-time opponent, Senator Leila de Lima, was jailed on drug trafficking charges, in what many consider a retaliation for her criticism of the President:

“By arresting Senator Leila de Lima on politically motivated drug charges, President Duterte is effectively expanding his ‘drug war’ from the urban poor to the legislative branch of the government,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Not only Congress, but other pillars of Philippine democracy, from the press to the judiciary, should be deeply worried.”

Duterte is often compared to Trump, but it’s important to ask: at what point do we stop referring to him a ‘boisterous populist’, and start referring to him as a dictator?


Links From This Week's Thread

The Meaning of Nostalgia: “Nostalgia, most truly and most meaningfully, is the emotional experience — always momentary, always fragile — of having what you lost or never had, of seeing what you missed seeing, of meeting the people you missed knowing…”

Diversity hire. Ethnic. Person of color. Exotic. Urban. What racial terms make you cringe?

In the wake of the London attack, Elizabeth Renzetti reminds us that while terrorism is rare and less deadly in Europe, it receives far more attention and public sympathy in Canada than terror attacks in places like Nigeria and Yemen, where the frequency and number of casualties is greater.

A very important list for those following the Leah McLaren/Michael Chong breastfeeding debacle.

Flying while Muslim

We think this Beaverton article might have been written about Avnish, who this week recommends Making Oprah, a podcast series released towards the end of last year, and Episode 612: Ask a Grown-Up of This American Life, which features Killer Mike and El-P providing life and love advice to teenage girls.

Kraftwerk’s masterpiece Trans Europe Express is 40 years old. Here’s a 4 minute video that breaks down its importance.

I am continuously surprised when people argue Uber and other gig-economy jobs are “great” opportunities for people because, for example, they provide flexible work that you can fit in around other parts of your life. From now on I will quote Jia Tolentino at them until they go away: “Mary’s entrepreneurial spirit—taking ride requests while she was in labor!—is an “exciting” example of how seamless and flexible app-based employment can be. Look at that hustle! You can make a quick buck with Lyft anytime, even when your cervix is dilating.”

Chuck Berry took the Newport Jazz Festival (and let me emphasize that it was a jazz festival) by storm in 1958, in a performance Keith Richards recalls as “Chuck’s proudest moment.” Bert Stern, a fashion photographer, happened to be there and filmed the whole thing, including the dancing crowd.

humans of late capitalism is a tumblr account dedicated to exploring through images the shocking, previously unfathomable circumstances that are unique to our current era.

This New Yorker article on refugee children falling into coma-like states for months or even years at a time is stranger and more devastating than any fiction: “The apathetic children began showing up in Swedish emergency rooms in the early two-thousands. Their parents were convinced that they were dying. Of what, they didn’t know; they worried about cholera or some unknown plague. Soon patients with the condition filled all the beds in Stockholm’s only psychiatric inpatient unit for children, at Karolinska University Hospital. Göran Bodegård, the director of the unit, told me that he felt claustrophobic when he entered the rooms. “An atmosphere of Michelangelo’s ‘Pietà’ lingered around the child,” he said. The blinds were drawn, and the lights were off. The mothers whispered, rarely spoke to their sick children, and stared into the darkness.”

Aretha Franklin kills ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’ while playing piano in a floor length fur coat. Legend. Obama cries.

Amy Sanderson
This Week's Conversations: Derek Walcott, Hyphens and Commas, Ireland, Where Music is Heading, Marriage Advice, Chuck Berry, Crossing Gates, & More


Derek Walcott: An Ode to Caribbean Literature

Derek Walcott, 1930-2017

Derek Walcott, 1930-2017

Caribbean poet and playwright Derek Walcott passed away this week, and it’s been difficult for us to find an obituary that adequately captures who he was and the impact of his writing. That’s true of any literary giant, but especially of Walcott, whose work chronicled Caribbean life while simultaneously confronting our understanding of the region and post-colonial societies.

In 1992, Walcott was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and in his acceptance speech, The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory, delivered a powerful ode to Caribbean literature, and the beauty and possibilities of interracial, post-colonial societies like his own. 

An audio recording of the speech in Waltcott’s own voice can be heard here, but it can also be read below:

The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory

Felicity is a village in Trinidad on the edge of the Caroni plain, the wide central plain that still grows sugar and to which indentured cane cutters were brought after emancipation, so the small population of Felicity is East Indian, and on the afternoon that I visited it with friends from America, all the faces along its road were Indian, which, as I hope to show, was a moving, beautiful thing, because this Saturday afternoon Ramleela, the epic dramatization of the Hindu epic the Ramayana, was going to be performed, and the costumed actors from the village were assembling on a field strung with different-coloured flags, like a new gas station, and beautiful Indian boys in red and black were aiming arrows haphazardly into the afternoon light. Low blue mountains on the horizon, bright grass, clouds that would gather colour before the light went. Felicity! What a gentle Anglo-Saxon name for an epical memory.

Under an open shed on the edge of the field, there were two huge armatures of bamboo that looked like immense cages. They were parts of the body of a god, his calves or thighs, which, fitted and reared, would make a gigantic effigy. This effigy would be burnt as a conclusion to the epic. The cane structures flashed a predictable parallel: Shelley's sonnet on the fallen statue of Ozymandias and his empire, that "colossal wreck" in its empty desert.

Drummers had lit a fire in the shed and they eased the skins of their tables nearer the flames to tighten them. The saffron flames, the bright grass, and the hand-woven armatures of the fragmented god who would be burnt were not in any desert where imperial power had finally toppled but were part of a ritual, evergreen season that, like the cane-burning harvest, is annually repeated, the point of such sacrifice being its repetition, the point of the destruction being renewal through fire.

Deities were entering the field. What we generally call "Indian music" was blaring from the open platformed shed from which the epic would be narrated. Costumed actors were arriving. Princes and gods, I supposed. What an unfortunate confession! "Gods, I suppose" is the shrug that embodies our African and Asian diasporas. I had often thought of but never seen Ramleela,and had never seen this theatre, an open field, with village children as warriors, princes, and gods. I had no idea what the epic story was, who its hero was, what enemies he fought, yet I had recently adapted the Odyssey for a theatre in England, presuming that the audience knew the trials of Odysseus, hero of another Asia Minor epic, while nobody in Trinidad knew any more than I did about Rama, Kali, Shiva, Vishnu, apart from the Indians, a phrase I use pervertedly because that is the kind of remark you can still hear in Trinidad: "apart from the Indians".

It was as if, on the edge of the Central Plain, there was another plateau, a raft on which the Ramayana would be poorly performed in this ocean of cane, but that was my writer's view of things, and it is wrong. I was seeing the Ramleela at Felicity as theatre when it was faith.

Consider the scale of Asia reduced to these fragments: the small white exclamations of minarets or the stone balls of temples in the cane fields, and one can understand the self-mockery and embarrassment of those who see these rites as parodic, even degenerate. These purists look on such ceremonies as grammarians look at a dialect, as cities look on provinces and empires on their colonies. Memory that yearns to join the centre, a limb remembering the body from which it has been severed, like those bamboo thighs of the god. In other words, the way that the Caribbean is still looked at, illegitimate, rootless, mongrelized. "No people there", to quote Froude, "in the true sense of the word". No people. Fragments and echoes of real people, unoriginal and broken.

The performance was like a dialect, a branch of its original language, an abridgement of it, but not a distortion or even a reduction of its epic scale. Here in Trinidad I had discovered that one of the greatest epics of the world was seasonally performed, not with that desperate resignation of preserving a culture, but with an openness of belief that was as steady as the wind bending the cane lances of the Caroni plain. We had to leave before the play began to go through the creeks of the Caroni Swamp, to catch the scarlet ibises coming home at dusk. In a performance as natural as those of the actors of the Ramleela, we watched the flocks come in as bright as the scarlet of the boy archers, as the red flags, and cover an islet until it turned into a flowering tree, an anchored immortelle. The sigh of History meant nothing here. These two visions, the Ramleela and the arrowing flocks of scarlet ibises, blent into a single gasp of gratitude. Visual surprise is natural in the Caribbean; it comes with the landscape, and faced with its beauty, the sigh of History dissolves.

(continue reading The Antilles: Fragments of an Epic Memory)



A Great Victory and a Great Loss: Updates from the World of Good Grammar

Despite what some of my fellow theread editors think, grammar matters. It provides clarity, and imparts an air of authority to a writer’s words. Grammar is also an art form — just watch this video of The New Yorker’s Andrew Boynton going through two pencils copy-editing Trump’s Black History Month’s remarks for evidence .

Grammar also has practical impacts. Last week, a group of dairy drivers in Maine won a major court appeal against their employer due to a missing Oxford comma, and other punctuation mistakes within a contract regarding overtime pay. As Mary Norris points out, the Judge’s opinion in the case “is a feast of subtle delights for anyone with a taste for grammar and usage.” Here’s the short version:

“According to Maine state law, workers are not entitled to overtime pay for the following activities: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.”

The issue is that, without a comma after “shipment,” the “packing for shipment or distribution” is a single activity. Truck drivers do not pack food, either for shipment or for distribution; they drive trucks and deliver it. Therefore, these exemptions do not apply to drivers, and Oakhurst Dairy owes them some ten million dollars.”

This is a major victory, not only for workers’ rights, but for all hard-working proponents of the Oxford comma, who have battled tirelessly for the integrity of the English language.

In other news, Washington Post copy editor Bill Walsh has passed away at the age of 55. Walsh was major authority on language, who wrote several books on grammar. Let us remember his words:

“I’m a big advocate of the hyphen. If you write ‘the orange juice salesman,’ you have a salesman who’s orange. The orange-juice salesman is more precise.”


Crossing Gates

Initially, I was confused as to why this man had set his briefcase on top of my carry-on suitcase. We were all lined up at Gate D in Pearson Airport in Toronto. I did a fake laugh and tried to wheel my bag out from under his. My first thought was what the guy at the security would think if he saw this. I made brief eye-contact and then looked through my phone for new emails again.

Again, I felt a weight on my suitcase. This middle-aged man had set his bag on mine yet again. He took it off quickly this time and smiled. I looked back and saw he was travelling with his family. I figured they must be visiting from somewhere, and I wanted to know more.

I said hi and asked where they were headed. The man responded with some words I didn’t understand. He looked back at his family, signalling his disappointment. He had thought I’d speak his language. Then he turned back and responded with the universal “No English,” along with a few other words. Expecting some understanding, I asked where they were from.

He said Syria, perhaps somewhat used to a familiar line of questioning. The elder son chimed in from behind the line, saying that they’d been in the country for 36 hours.

Three kids and a wife. Two boys, one a toddler, one at the edge of puberty. A young girl who seemed too shy to maintain eye-contact with me. Collectively, they carried more than ten pieces of luggage: suitcases, handbags, and large plastic bags filled with their belongings. They looked tired but they were also excited to finish the last leg of their long journey. They had been in Lebanon and were now going to Charlottetown, P.E.I. to reunite with an Aunt who lived there.

Three of their bags got stopped in the airport security screening. The security guard started unravelling the bags and pulled out some containers that looked like carefully packaged food. The elder son and the Dad gently negotiated with security and then began re-packing their overfilled bags.

I wondered about the somewhat unpredictable year they probably would have ahead of them. Would the younger son fit in more naturally than his older sister and brother? I figured the elder son who’d spoken for his Dad would help carry the family forward the next few years, providing translation and support when needed.

We wished each other quick good-byes and then parted ways


The 25 Songs that Tell Us Where Music is Going

Last week, The New York Times Magazine published its annual music issue dedicated to the 25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going. Each track on the interactive list is accompanied by an article exploring the broader significance of the song and its artist. It also has a neat built-in feature that automatically plays the song you are reading about.

The list is a decent overview of the artists, albums, genres, and themes at the fore of North America’s current cultural epoch. They are also consistent with some of music reviews that have appeared on theread, and the broad overview of music in 2016 we provided earlier this year.

Here’s a complete rundown of the list:

1.     Send My Love (To Your New Lover) — Adele

2.     You Want it Darker — Leonard Cohen

3.     I’m Better — Missy Elliot

4.     Mask Off — Future

5.     Jolene — Pentatonix

6.     We the People… — A Tribe Called Quest

7.     One Night — Lil Yachty

8.     Rewind — Kelela

9.     This Girl — Kungs vs. Cookin’ on 3 Burners

10. Make them Die Slowly (John George Haigh) — Church of Misery

11. Barok Main — Mica Levi & Oliver Coates

12. Mourn at Night — KA

13. Hold My Mule — Shirley Caeser

14. A Woman’s Face – Reprise (Sonnet 20) — Rufus Wainright

15. Copper Canteen — James McMurtry

16. F.U.B.U. — Solange

17. Side to Side — Ariana Grande

18. Fade — Kanye West

19. The Trolley Song — Cecile McLorin Salvant

20. Grigio Girls — Lady Gaga

21. Ooouuu — Young M.A.

22. Changes — Charles Bradley

23. Seigfried — Frank Ocean

24. Your Best American Girl — Mitski

25. Bad and Boujee — Migos

The piece accompanying the track “Mask Off” is a highlight from the list. It offers insight into Future, the complicated rap artist that has attained significant mainstream success in recent years (he’s actually the first artist in history to have two different number one albums two weeks in a row). There are some fascinating anecdotes and smart reviews of Future’s music, but what’s most interesting is the exploration of the motivations behind his work:

Future had just sat down for an interview with BBC’s Charlie Sloth, who asked him about his relationship with Blac Chyna, the Kardashian-affiliated reality-TV personality with whom he’d possibly been romantically involved. “Are you two still cool?” Sloth asked, in a punch London rumble. “We great,” Future responded, in his trademark flat-affect reserve.

Privately, though, the entreaty into his personal life enraged him. He declared an immediate media blackout...

At that point,  Future was roughly two years into a radical public and artistic reimagining. It started in the fall of 2014, not long after his breakup with the R&B singer Ciara and the soft landing of his pop-friendly sophomore album, “Honest.” The failure became an important inflection point. Over the next few years, he created a swelling mass of music with a cloaking grandness to it: Take a step inside, and you were entombed. The songs were lean and incessant and almost completed devoid of any other voice but Future’s. And what the voice was intimating to us, from behind the thickets of blackout curtains, was that our man had given up on his conscience and that he was guzzling the prescription cough syrup Promethazine and downing Xanax and that he was having sex with women he did not really care about and that this was neither making him feel good nor bad but rather it was making him feel nothing.


On the hook to “Mask Off,” Future rattles off drugs, unsentimentally: “Percocets/Molly, Percocets.” For him, sometimes the drugs are great; sometimes, not so much. On “Mask Off,” amid rhymes about how totally fun and good his life is, he calls Promethazine his “guillotine.”

It feels reductive to try to pin an artist down on the sins of his persona. Hip-hop’s greatest running trick has been blurring the lines of “real life” and art. But with the rate at which Future was rapping about drugs, one question was inevitably posed: Is this an addiction? If so, it was a new spin on a classic trope. The arc of pretty much every drug movie mimics the whiz-bang of the initial high and the eye-blackening horror of the inevitable comedown. Future’s music acknowledged that drug addiction isn’t that cinematically neat: It’s the high and the comedown over and over again.


The Best of St. Paddy's Content

Everyone is probably sick of St. Patrick’s day “stuff” by now, but hey, the weekly newsletter format has its limits. Anyways, there was some good Ireland-themed content that came out this week, and it’s worth sharing.

First, Fintan O’Toole explores the hypocrisy and historical amnesia that allows the Trump administration (and others) to “salute the legacy of one wave of immigrants even as he deploys against other immigrants the same calumnies once heaped upon the Irish.”

“In the Trump era, there are only two ways to toast the achievements of the Irish in America. One of them is tacitly racist. It relies on a silent distinction, an assumption that the Irish are somehow different from, say, today’s migrants from Latin America. But what is that distinction? It is not that the Irish were wealthier or better educated by contemporary standards, or more highly skilled or harder working. It is simply that they were white and their whiteness gave them a right to be in the United States.”

Second, Georgina Lawton offers a powerful reflection on the nature of race and identity in Ireland:“‘My mum always told me I was white, like her. Now I know the truth.

Third, as the Post points out, the Republicans had a really rough time trying to commemorate St Paddy’s day: “The day began with a cringe-worthy, mildly offensive Irish cliche in front of a roomful of Irish people, and it all went downhill from there.”

Finally, click here to watch Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s pro-immigration speech, boldly delivered standing just feet from Donald Trump:

“And four decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp, we were the wretched refuse on the teeming shore. We believed in the shelter of America, in the compassion of America, in the opportunity of America. We came and we became Americans.”

Until next year.


RIP Chuck Berry



Listen to these stories by Americans about how their race affects their identities. Some identify as “hyphenated Americans”. Others are given hyphenated identities without much choice. All the narratives offer something different about life through the lens of a hyphenated American.

One that struck for me was Ayman’s story. He talks about being labelled ‘white-washed’ when he visits back home to Sudan. He is called a “Khawaja” – meaning foreigner. Similar terms exist elsewhere: gora (in India) or mzungu (in Tanzania). Meanwhile, back in America, he was labelled Black and Muslim. This feeling of outsider in both cultures is a common piece of navigating hyphenated identity.

Another familiar experience of hyphenation exists for people born into culturally mixed families. For some reading into the issue, check out the NY Times op-ed about the hopefulness of biracial identities in carrying the U.S. forward. NPR’s response to the op-ed paints a bleaker reality for the biracial experience — specifically, facing discrimination for “belonging to a non-white group.”


"The person we marry is a stranger about whom we have a magnificent hunch."

For 25 years, Lois Smith Brady has written for the wedding pages of the New York Times, which includes engagement and wedding announcements, but also explores relationships and marital intimacy.

In a recent column, Brady provides 10 quotes of love and relationships that have stuck with her from the interviews she has conducted through the years (links to the pieces that contain the quotes can be accessed here):

  1. “In a sense, the person we marry is a stranger about whom we have a magnificent hunch.
  2. "I’ve always felt like a fish out of water, and when I met LaMott (her partner) it was like he was the same fish.”
  3. On when love is real: “When you know you know, and don’t believe it any other way. When someone asks you to marry them, you shouldn’t have to make a list of pros and cons. You just know. You jump into their arms and say, ‘Yeah!’”
  4. “One night, a moth was flying around a light bulb and he caught it and let it out of the window, I said: ‘That’s it. He’s the guy.’”
  5. “I feel like Sean and I have known each other since the beginning of time. I always tell him, ‘After we die, we have to find each other in our next life.’ I also tell him if I die before him, I really want him to fall in love again. But in our next lifetime, he has to find me, not her. That’s the deal.”
  6. “I now know what love is. It’s when someone becomes part of every breath, in what way I do not know. But I couldn’t breath without her.”
  7.  “When he gave me the ring, he said: ‘It’s not a big stone you can’t carry around. This ring won’t put you in danger on the subways’ He said, ‘This is a solid ring, like my promises.’”
  8. "It was like a dream. It was surreal. In life, you don’t have to search for bad things — they find you without a problem. Disasters always seem to know your address, even if you move. But the good times, they’re hard to find, and this one was one those truly spectacular times.”
  9. "A wedding vow: “Of my own accord, I present myself, my days, my nights and my life. I present them freely and willingly because they cannot be better spent than in your company.”
  10. On the end: “I always tell the couples I marry, ‘Take time before time takes you.”

This Week's Links

The last episode in Missing Richard Simmons airs today. The podcast series explores Richard Simmons and the reasons for why he hasn’t been seen in public for over 3 years, and is easily one of the smartest, most intriguing podcasts around (though, ethically questionable).

Drake's new 'playlist' is terrific. In the words of sometimes theread contributor Aaron Samuel More Life "does feel more like a playlist that an album. There are no cohesive aside from being great tunes. It's like we fast forwarded 20 years from now and were listening to a drake's greatest hits side 2."

Do Not Disturb is the last track on Drake’s playlist, which samples this beautiful track by SNOH AALEGRA.

At least 70 soldiers and vets who served on the Afghanistan mission have taken their own lives after returning to Canada. A veterans advisory group is set to hold a meeting on suicide prevention — “a long overdue step, say some vet advocates who sit on the committee.”

Sesame Street’s newest Muppet has autism: “Julia’s puppeteer, Stacey Gordon, is the mother of an autistic child, and explained to 60 Minutes the value of creating a character like Julia: ‘Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviors through something that they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened. They might not have been worried when he cried. They would have known that he plays in a different way, and that that’s okay.’”

It’s a long read, but this article on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is essential for those seeking to understand the current chaos in the White House.

Tim Heidecker, the king of absurdist anti-comedy and an increasingly prolific songwriter, has released his best yet anti-Trump song, “mar-o-lago.

A 2014 RCMP report said that the force had identified nearly 1,200 Indigenous women and girls who had disappeared or were slain in recent decades, yet the MMIWG inquiry currently has just 90 names in its database.

Richie Assaly
The Week's Conversations: Police Street Checks, Ahmed Hussen, Get Out, Cultural Expressions of Gender and Sexuality, Names

A weekly conversation between friends.

Police Street Checks in Canada, and How They're Designed to Withstand Public and Charter Scrutiny

Police agencies across Canada frequently engage in street checks, which allow police officers to stop and interrogate individuals that they consider to be suspicious. These stops are distinct from situations where police officers have actual grounds to detain or arrest someone. Rather, street checks are part of a “pro-active” policing model, where police officers question any individual they find suspicious, even if no crime is being investigated. These practices are frequently used in high crime areas, and have been shown to disproportionately target racialized Canadians.

In recent years, racialized communities and rights advocates have pushed back against the use of street checks, including carding, arguing that its discriminant application reflects an inherent bias in police agencies towards Indigenous, African/Black, and other marginalized communities in Canada. In addition to violating Charter rights that prohibit arbitrary detainment or imprisonment, and to equal protection before and under the law, the policies undermine the human dignity of those subject to such practices and further marginalize historically disenfranchised communities.

Sustained grassroots activism in Ontario resulted in the banning of street checks in the province. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for random police street checks in Alberta, where police agencies maintain that the practice is legitimate and have crafted policies to insulate them from constitutional challenge. The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) is perhaps the most tone-deaf on how street checks demean racialized individuals and communities, including those racialized communities that the EPS acknowledges that it must build better relationships with.

For years, Indigenous and African/Black leaders and community organizations in Edmonton have called on the EPS to stop its practice of random street checks (interestingly, the most vocal critic of carding and street checks in the Alberta Legislature is Progressive Conservative MLA and former police officer Mike Ellis, demonstrating that criticisms of the practice run across party and ideological lines). The EPS has responded by saying that random police checks are invaluable for crime prevention, and that stops are not motivated by race. However, the EPS refuses to provide statistics on the race or ethnicity of those who are subject to random street checks. This prevents the public from scrutinizing the EPS’s street check policy, and determining whether it is consistent with how the practice is used by other policing agencies in Canada: disproportionately against racialized minorities.

The basis of EPS’s refusal to provide such information is that it does not record the race or ethnicity of persons stopped during street checks — a basis that is either extremely convenient or deliberate. I am inclined to view it as the latter, largely because of how the EPS devised its most recent street check policy.

In August 2016, the EPS revised its street check policy in response to complaints by community members (read the policy in full here). The EPS was quick to address criticisms related to the opaqueness of records, ensuring that stops were for a policing purpose, and that police officers took steps to minimize or eradicate any biases that may inform a stop. EPS officers conducting street checks are now required to prepare reports that record the factual basis for each stop, which provides a limited basis to review individual street checks.

However, the EPS decided not to require records of the race or ethnicity of a person stopped in for the street check reports. Without information on the race or ethnicity of those stopped, it would be almost impossible for the public to scrutinize whether stops are racially motivated and challenge the practice’s legality on these grounds.

Not recording information in order to avoid public scrutiny and legal challenges is nothing new for governments in Canada. It happens frequently, and reflects the immense disparity in the access and ability to collect information between the state and individuals. In the context of the EPS’s street check policy, the EPS is the only actor that is able to record reliable aggregate information on the race or ethnicity of those stopped. Instead of examining the data itself, the public is left to take the EPS at its word, without objective proof verifying its claim that street checks aren’t racially motivated, and despite anecdotal and statistical evidence from other jurisdictions establishing significant racial bias in street checks.

Unfortunately, there is no basis in law to require the EPS to record information on the race and ethnicity of those stopped during street checks. However, the province is currently engaged in an extensive consultation process to revise the practice province-wide. The province has the authority to ban police agencies from engaging in street checks, or to require the EPS to record information on the race and ethnicity of those stopped. The province should ban street checks, or at the very least, record race-based information on those stopped so that the public can better understand and assess the scope of street checks in Edmonton, and hold the EPS accountable if in fact the practices are disproportionately used against racialized minorities. These are reasonable demands for transparency and accountability in a democracy, and there is no defendable justification for the EPS or the province to refuse.


Getting to Know Ahmed Hussen, Canada's Newest Minister of Immigration

Last week, the Globe published an in-depth profile on Ahmed Hussen — an immigration lawyer, a community organizer, the head of the Canadian Somali Congress, and Canada’s newest Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship.

Mr. Hussen, who fled from civil war in Somalia in the early 90s, arrived as a refugee to Canada in 1993. He earned his political chops first as an activist and organizer for the urban poor in Toronto’s Regent Park, then as a staffer for Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty. His rise to the prominent post of immigration minister — a post recently held by the likes Chris Alexander (of “barbaric cultural practices tip line” fame) and Jason Kenney (the man behind the failed ‘niqab ban’, and other regressive policies*) — is impressive, and significant. At a time when Islamophobia has reached a fever pitch here in Canada, and as a new type of refugee crisis unfolds along the southern border (while the one overseas rages on), Mr. Hussen’s personal experience as an asylum seeker, and his ability to connect and empathize with immigrants and refugees, seems to provide a welcome source of optimism.

Of course, one cannot extrapolate from Mr. Hussen’s mere presence and personal identity the direction that the Liberals will take Canada’s immigration and refugee policy. Indeed, Canadians are increasingly polarized on these issues. Though, when contrasted with the current upheavals in the United States, his public representation of marginalized and disrupted communities is clearly important. As Erin Anderssen and Michelle Zilio write, in reference to Mr. Hussen’s recent meeting with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly:

“Mr. Hussen has a reputation for courteous diplomacy, for treading carefully into contentious issues, and for having learned, as he puts it, “to focus on goals, not noise.” But the two men – one, a Muslim refugee turned immigration lawyer who speaks of the importance of balancing security and compassion, and who understands firsthand the plight of asylum seekers; the other, a hard-talking military general who has floated the idea of separating mothers from their children at the U.S.-Mexican border – are telling symbols of the diverging paths of their respective countries.”

Suffice it to say, one can only cringe to imagine such a conversation between Kelly and Kenney.

* According to the profile, Kenney and Hussen are friends, or are on friendly terms, at least.


Get Out and the Racial Politics of Horror Movies

Believe the hype: Jordan Peele’s debut film, Get Out, is a highly entertaining and satisfying film — one that has connected with audiences and critics alike (it’s earned over $100 million at the box office so far, and currently holds a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

Get Out, which blurs the lines between horror, comedy, and satire, is a subversive exploration of racism in America — one that attempts to convey to audiences the fear and paranoia experienced by black men in hostile or intimidating environments, whether the groomed suburb, or the home of an upper-class white family. The film effectively skewers the subtle racism and microaggressions of the white liberal class, and provides non-black viewers with a glimpse into what W.E.B Du Bois refers to as the double consciousness that characterizes the African-American experience:

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

Get Out also subverts the ways in which race is represented in horror movies, a fascinating topic tackled in a recent episode of NPR’s Code Switch podcast, which features African-American filmmaker Ernest Dickerson, and horror movie scholar Robin Means Coleman. The episode charts the shifting representations of race throughout the history of the genre — from The Birth of a Nation, in which a black man is literally portrayed as a monster, to ‘jungle’ films about voodoo and zombies, to the blaxploitation horror films of the 70s, to the contemporary horror films that feature predominantly white characters in rural or suburban locales.*

The podcast also deconstructs a number of horror film tropes, like the notion of the ‘magical Negro’ that saves the day (see The Shining), and other scary movie cliches. For example, why do the black characters in horror movies always die first? Coleman explains:

“What is scarier than a great big murderous dinosaur is a big black man with a big black gun [...] That’s why you kill off the black man — and it’s important that it’s a man — early in the horror film. It establishes the superiority, the horribleness of the monster. The other thing that it does, is that if the monster is so bad that it even kills off brothers, than the white man who ultimately defeats the monster, has to be intellectually superior, racially superior — that’s sort of the hierarchy in horror films.”

Get Out not only subverts these traditional representations by reversing the classical horror film hierarchy — the protagonist is a black male, and the monsters are a white family — but it also makes a strong moral and political statement by suggesting that the appropriation of black culture by white people is not merely an innocuous trend in popular culture, but rather something more serious, something evil and depraved.

Writing in the New York Review of Books, J. Hoberman offers a particularly provocative interpretation of this concept, and the film’s broader message (potential spoiler alert):

“Among other instances of realistic paranoia and reasonable conspiracies concerning white intentions, the movie—almost subliminally—introduces the notion that the unflappable Barack Obama was a new sort of zombie, a white man occupying a black body.

Get Out articulates the fear that the Obama presidency was smoke and mirrors, a sham and an illusion. And while the filmmaker had likely not anticipated our current situation, it would seem that his film has materialized at the very moment that curtain rose and the real America was revealed.”

By way of defense of the 44th President, I would also recommend checking out Barry (on Netflix) — Vikram Gandhi’s film about Barack Obama’s life at Columbia University in the early ‘80s (or Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, on which the movie is largely based). The film, believe it or not, features basically the same premise as Get Out, and offers what I would consider a more nuanced exploration of racism and identity in United States.

*There has been a number of recent films that focus on and deconstruct the (often harmful and degrading) ways in which African-American are portrayed on television, in film, and in popular culture in general. These include Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13TH (on Netflix) and Raoul Peck’s documentary on James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro (in theatres).


Cultural Expressions of Gender and Sexuality

“A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints” is a touring exhibition that illustrates what scholars refer to a third gender  —  adolescent males seen as the height of beauty in early modern Japan who were sexually available to both men and women. Known as wakashu, they are one of several examples in the show that reveal how elastic the ideas of gender were before Japan adopted Western sexual mores in the late 1800s.

As Susan Chira points out in the Times:

“[The show] arrives at a time of ferment about gender roles in the United States and abroad. Bathroom rights for transgender people have become a cultural flash point. The notion of “gender fluidity” — that it’s not necessary to identify as either male or female, that gender can be expressed as a continuum — is roiling traditional definitions.

… like other societies in the past and present — the hijra in India; the “two-spirit people” in some American indigenous cultures — the diversity in gender definitions and sexual practices in Edo Japan challenges modern notions that male and female are clear either-or identities.”

It is also important to note that the construct of gender and the unique cultural expressions it assumes has concrete implications that are often overlooked. For instance, one theread editor has represented gay men from Pakistan seeking refugee protection in Canada on the basis of their gender and sexuality. In a recent case, much of the arguments revolved around different cultural understandings of gender and sexuality in Pakistan and the Muslim world relative to the West.

The evidence of one of the experts on this topic provides meaningful insight on how the expression of gender and culture differ between the two cultures, which can help address concerns that a gay refugee claimant does not appear or act in accordance with our cultural “expectations” of how a gay man should act in Canada. Often, these refugee determinations hinge on whether you can prove someone’s gender and sexuality, which is more than just a claimant’s assurance that he belongs to a sexual minority group that face persecution, and requires additional evidence, in the form that appearances and actions conform with the cultural expression of their gender and sexuality.


The Argonauts

From Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts:

“How to explain—’trans’ may work well enough as shorthand, but the quickly developing mainstream narrative it evokes (‘born in the wrong body,’ necessitating an orthopedic pilgrimage between two fixed destinations) is useless for some—but partially, or even profoundly, useful for others? That for some, ‘transitioning’ may mean leaving one gender behind, while for others—like Harry, who is happy to identify as a butch on T—it doesn’t? I’m not on my way anywhere, Harry sometimes tells inquirers. How to explain, in a culture frantic for resolution, that sometimes the shit stays messy? I do not want the female gender that has been assigned to me at birth. Neither do I want the male gender that transsexual medicine can furnish and that the state will award me if I behave the right way. I don’t want any of it. How to explain that for some, or for some at some times, this irresolution is OK—desirable, even (e.g., ‘gender hackers’)—whereas for others, or for others at some times, it stays a source of conflict or grief? How does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about their gender or their sexuality—or anything else, really—is to listen to what they tell you, and to try to treat them accordingly, without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?”


Say My Name, Say My Name

People change their names or its pronunciation to to fit in and make others feel more comfortable. A short podcast from our very own Sahil Gupta explores this topic.


Links From This Week's Thread

Are Flute Samples the Latest Sound Trend in Rap Music? Yes, they are.

CBC: Out in the Open’s episode on policing in Canada in the wake of reforms that have resulted from high profile civilian deaths and harassment within police forces is an engaging, probing examination of a complex issue that deserves far greater scrutiny.

For the Frank Zappa fans out there (anyone?) — you do not want to miss Tom Power’s recent interview with Thundercat on Q, where the two nerd out about Zappa’s unparallelled musical brilliance, and his pioneering technique of combining highly technical instrumentation with absurd and provocative humor. In the words of Thundercat: “Zappa is a genuine solar flare. That guy is a beast monster… Zappa was the one, dude. [His music] is beyond classical, it’s transcended jazz. It’s gone to another place where it’s dancing around in a cosmic place.”

Now that he’s president, The Onion is having a hard time lampooning Trump.

The G.O.P.’s health-care bill is a disaster. “...why, you might ask, would the deficit be reduced by just three hundred and thirty-seven billion dollars over ten years when spending on Medicaid would fall by eight hundred and eighty billion dollars? The answer is that the bill would take most of the money that is saved from reducing Medicaid and hand it out to rich people in the form of tax cuts.”

Ezra Levant confident riled up, far-right mob won’t turn against Jews this time.

‘31 Women Writers On The Life-Changing Books They Read In Their 20s’

“Weaponization” works as a throwing up of the hands, and as a suggestion — or an admission, or a strategic claim — that the discourse has failed us. Or, more accurately, it suggests that the discourse has become something dangerous: no mere fight but a terminal conflict without decorum or limits.”

Amy Sanderson15/03/17
The Week's Conversations: Electoral Reform, Desi Dilemma, MMIWG Inquiry, Child Refugees, Britain's Historical Amnesia, blonded RADIO, Growing Up, Anne of Green Gables

A weekly conversation between friends.

Is Electoral Reform Dead? Not Yet

By Katelynn Northam

In June 2015, a third-place Justin Trudeau stood behind a ‘Real Change’ podium and announced that if elected in the upcoming federal election, he’d ensure that 2015 was the last time that Canada used its outdated first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system.

Well, Trudeau won that election. And for the past year, MPs, civil society and voters who took the Liberals at their word have engaged in consultative processes of all shapes and sizes  to help the government make good on that promise.

Some important context: Most of us in civil society, including Leadnow, where I work as a campaigner, supported moving to a proportional representation (PR) system in which the share of seats that a party gets would more closely reflect their share of the popular vote. The weight of the evidence shows that, among other things, a PR system is the best way to ensure that everyone gets exactly as much power as they deserve. It’s used widely in the Western world, and has been recommended for use in Canada by 14 different commissions and studies over the years, including, most recently, the all-parliamentary committee on electoral reform in December 2016. 

We came closer than we ever have this year to getting rid of FPTP at the federal level. But the fear of change and a distaste for power-sharing carried the day. In early February, the Liberals announced that they’d be breaking their very clear electoral reform commitment. 

Since then, I’ve been asked two questions by people who care about this issue: why did the Liberals break their promise, and what’s next?

I think the why is fairly straight forward — the Liberals made a promise while they were a third place party, and didn’t expect to have to implement it. If they did have to implement it, they would have preferred an Alternative Vote (AV) system (also referred to as a preferential ballot).

The AV system allows voters to rank candidates on their ballot. As the most common second choice among other parties’ voters, the Liberals would be the primary beneficiaries of such a system. So in May, when the Liberals announced they were launching an all-party parliamentary committee to study electoral reform, it’s likely that Trudeau was hoping that the process would produce a strong case for moving to an AV system.

However, the committee’s study almost immediately transformed into a debate between the status quo and PR. Almost no expert witnesses advocated for an AV system, and public voices at consultations held across the country were similarly divided between the PR and status quo camps. If the Liberals wanted AV to emerge as a viable option, the weight of the evidence and public opinion was never even remotely on their side.

It quickly became clear to observers that AV would lack the legitimacy to be put forward as viable alternative to FPTP. With the Conservatives already apoplectic at the thought of changing the system without a referendum, doing so in favour of a system that had no expert support behind it would have been political suicide.

In short — the Liberals didn’t get the answer they hoped for, so they cut their losses.

The shelf life on this story has been longer than I suspect people anticipated, and I believe that’s because it’s not really about electoral reform, but about broken promises. It’s about a willingness to make a commitment in order to win an election, and then dropping it once it becomes clear that such a commitment will actually involve doing something risky; something bold; something that would involve ceding power to other political parties (or rather, agreeing to give parties as much power as they actually earned in the last election).

As much as we wanted to believe that the Liberals were serious about collaboration and doing things differently, in making this decision they betrayed their own brand. And that, coupled with other recent disappointments on Indigenous issues, on climate change, on refugees, and so on, may grow into something potentially toxic for the Liberals over the coming years.  

So when it comes to what’s next, I think there’s a few things to consider.

One is the fact that the Liberals have spent serious political capital with their left flank to break this promise, and that means that they’ll have to tread more carefully in the future on other issues. That could mean good things for progressives who are looking for bolder responses to other pressing issues.

It could also mean that electoral reform comes back in the next election, as it could become a serious ballot issue for MPs in progressive swing ridings, where enough people voted based on the electoral reform promise to reconsider voting Liberal again in 2019.

Another consideration is the landscape of opinion on this issue within the parties themselves. Unlike what the media has portrayed over the last year, MPs don’t have monolithic opinions on the issue of electoral reform. Common wisdom suggests that the NDP and Greens like PR, while the Liberals like preferential ballot, and the Conservatives like the status quo. But many Liberals also like PR — two prominent examples are former leaders Bob Rae and Stephane Dion (who has even developed his own system of PR). In fact, the Liberals’ electoral reform promise came from a broader motion on electoral reform adopted at the 2014 Liberal policy convention in Montreal which called on Parliament to study electoral reform and consider both preferential ballots and proportional representation. 

Conservatives are also far from monolithic on the issue. Even Stephen Harper himself was in favour of PR before the Conservative merger in 2003, and it’s the case that conservatives historically haven’t fared as well under FPTP as the Liberals. We should also watch how the current Conservative leadership race impacts Conservative opinions on this issue. A Conservative Party led by someone like Kellie Leitch or Kevin O’Leary might be enough to cause MPs with very different ideologies to reconsider the appeal of remaining in the same party. But without a PR system in place, going separate ways would be difficult for those on the right.

All this to say, there is a breadth of opinion on electoral reform within all the parties, and battle lines are less strictly drawn along partisan lines than we might think. 

Which brings me to my final point. I believe that the increasing polarization of our politics may cause politicians to second guess whether our current system is actually good enough as it is. A lot of MPs may feel, and have said to me personally, that they think it has served us well to this point. I think that’s only because we’ve been lucky to have leaders whose approaches to governance have been basically within the bounds of what we think is morally acceptable. And it’s easy to not be worried about abuses of power when you’re the one with the power.

But politics is changing quickly, and we need an electoral system that is equipped to protect us from being swamped by these polarizing forces. The left began to wake up to the need for reform once Harper came into power, and we may be headed for another wake-up call shortly.

So while the Liberals’ broken promise was a setback, electoral reform is far from dead. More people than ever are now aware that something is broken in the way we currently vote. You can’t put that genie back in the bottle, and it’s only a matter of time before we revisit the conversation. Let’s hope that the next time around, our leaders will have the boldness and courage to do what’s best for Canadian democracy rather than what’s best for themselves in the short term. 


The Desi Dilemma

By Ram Sankaran

Last week, an Indian national living in Kansas was murdered in a racially motivated triple shooting. Though the hate crime was covered by several outlets here in the West, it was front page news in India.  As a South Indian Canadian with many relatives in the United States, this news affected me deeply. The murderer, who before the rampage had asked about the men’s visas and told them to “get out of my country”, should sound alarm bells to any and all visible minorities.

My uncle obtained a degree from the University of Kansas, and I have had several relatives attend post secondary schools as Indian students in fairly isolated Midwest and Southern communities throughout the United States. This was mostly in the 1970s and 1980s, and I cannot remember any of them relating to me even a passing reference to racism they experienced there.

That being said, this spring, just a few months prior to Trump’s election, I visited my cousin who is a Ph. D student living in a progressive, wealthy, midwestern university town, where she works in a laboratory. She indicated to me — categorically — that the tone in the United States had changed so drastically, that even some of her educated, affluent colleagues felt free to tell her that she should go back to India (she is, of course, born in the United States and has little to no connection to the Indian polity).

I would encourage all of you to read a recent Twitter thread on the killings by author, Anand Giridharadas. He argues that although racist demagogues like Trump and other copycats (see Leitch, Kellie) may benefit politically when they rile up the old stock populace against immigrants, the more dangerous effects of their dog-whistle politics are of little actual consequence to them. Indeed, they do not live in communities populated by immigrants, nor do they have to face the violence committed by  racists and deranged individuals who believe they are heroes for having the courage to take the action that lawmakers and politicians only talk about.

Politicians may at times label the threats as “Muslims” or “Mexicans” or “undocumented workers” or “foreigners taking our jobs,” but the heroes understand this is all code for that amorphous group of people who are not from here — i.e. brown people.

Vijay Prasad and others have written extensively on the role of “brown folk”, or Desis, in the United States and other Western societies (I am limiting my use of the term “Desi” in this case to refer only to non-Muslims who are from or whose ancestors hail from the Indian subcontinent.) My understanding of much of their work can be summarized as follows: Desis have generally been placed on a privileged space on the racial continuum. Like the Indian victims in Kansas, they are generally highly educated, and highly skilled professionals or business people (like the Gujurati motel magnates), who have maintained relatively high incomes, regularized their status, and whose descendants have similarly prospered. As a result, many have maintained a political and actual distance between themselves and other immigrants, such as Latinos. In their self-reflection they see themselves more akin to the Jewish diaspora in the United States than less affluent immigrant groups.

Further, the 9/11 attacks created an opportunity for some Desis to emphasize their ‘non-Muslimness’ to their advantage, in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the American economic and foreign policy elite. Don't be scared, we may be brown, but we aren't dangerous. Let us in and we will prosper.

Desis are a notoriously fickle and divisive bunch, so this parsing of themselves from other brown groups is not surprising. As most Hindu Desis know, one’s caste can be gleaned by a last name. Then within the high castes there are many sub-categories, and more sub-categories within the caste itself. Are they Brahmin? If so, are they Ayangar Brahmin or Ayar Brahmin? What is their local deity? How do they make their paisam? Et cetera, et cetera.

Most of the general population is clueless as to these particulars. “Do you speak Indian?” remains a common question asked without a hint of malice, and often with evident goodwill and curiosity. The types of interactions Desis have had and the relative lack of discrimination we have faced has resulted in what I term The Desi Dilemma: Given the relatively high social standing Desis hold in society in general and within non white communities, what level of commitment should Desis have to other non white marginalized groups? To rephrase: “Racism is not a big problem for me, why should I do shit for you?”

To me, the killing in Kansas should, to anyone with a modicum of common sense (an attribute Desis pride themselves on almost as much as the post secondary achievements of their children), resolve this dilemma.

There is, however, still a moronic view out there that if the murderer simply knew these fellows were Indians, they would have been fine. Some of the idiots who endorse this view believe that if Desis wear identifying markers, such as bindis, then the racists will not attack or abuse them.

Really? The racist with a gun in his hand is going to have the sagacity to see and recognize a bindi before he shoots, and then move on to a different target?

For argument’s sake, let’s inhabit the dream world of the purveyors of this argument for a second. OK bindi, no problem — move along, I have someone else to shoot. Does this not leave the problem of the other target?

Desis rightfully pride themselves on their educational credentials, entrepreneurship, ingenuity, and the transmission of language and cultural values to their children. They boast of their contributions to the fields of engineering, medicine, information technology, and business. However, at some point they will have to reckon with Gandhi’s dictum that knowledge without character is dangerous. Does it show character to appease murderers and racists in a misguided effort at self-preservation? Does such shameless opportunism mixed with cowardice exhibit even a semblance of moral responsibility? Does it not make more sense to understand conclusively that we are all in the same boat, and that we should build more cross cultural and religious alliances to neutralize these threats?

The Kansas killing highlights what all Desis need to know: your education will not protect you, your class not protect you, your income will not protect you, your political alliances will not protect you. The racist will not ask you or your children whether you celebrate Deevali before pulling the trigger. They will not check your income and your taxes and charitable and political contributions. They will not check your club memberships or your Rolodex. They will not care that you follow college basketball and drink whiskey. They might ask if you have valid immigration status, and if you do, like in this case, still pull the trigger. They will shoot and, in the image of the Western heroes they seek to emulate, ask no questions later.


Will the National Inquiry Into MMIWG Also Fail Families?

At the end of January, a First Nations woman in Thunder Bay was hospitalized after an 18-year-old man threw a trailer hitch at her from a moving vehicle. "There's young men, on the weekends, they will throw beer bottles at you and yell out 'bogan' or 'squaw' or 'whore,'" said Deanne Hupfield, who grew up in Thunder Bay. "I never thought to call the police. It happened to everybody, not just me."”

That this type of violence is commonplace in cities like Thunder Bay, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg is alarming, and provides further evidence of the fact that racism against Indigenous people is deeply embedded in our institutions and throughout society. And if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us hold biases or fears that cause us to turn a blind eye to the constant disregard to the human dignity of Indigenous people across Canada. I mean how else do we explain how long Indigenous communities have gone without clean drinking water, how many Indigenous children are placed in dysfunctional provincial care systems, or how difficult it is for many Indigenous people to access health care? Our general apathy has led to inhumane treatment; it has led to death.

Which is why it is so important that Canadians dignify Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or missing, and their families, by listening to the participants of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Canadians must hear the stories of these women and their families, and take actions that ensure the safety and well-being of Indigenous women and girls.

But it seems the Inquiry process has, in the way of other great bureaucratic endeavours, struggled to move forward. There’s still no official start date (a recent news release from the Inquiry states it is “set to begin in May”), declared locations for hearings, or an established procedure for how the hearings will proceed. Families and organizations like the Canadian Native Women’s Association (CNWA) have found it difficult to get information from the Inquiry and to participate in the ongoing consultation process regarding hearing procedures.

This is particularly problematic because the Inquiry itself will not be taking the lead in determining where to hold hearings, but will wait for communities to invite the Commissioners or appointed listeners. This presumes communities understand they must contact the Inquiry and can easily do so. In a recent interview, Francyne Joe, interim president of CNWA, said the Inquiry had requested CNWA share information about impacted families so the Inquiry could reach out to them, but of course this is a breach of privacy. She raised concerns regarding the fact that families must contact the Inquiry via their website or email, when many don’t have access to the internet. (The Inquiry’s suggested means of sharing information through an e-newsletter, Twitter and through their website is similarly exclusive.)*  

The slow start is at least partially due to the Inquiry’s desire to create hearing procedures that operate on a families-first, trauma-informed basis, and aim to prevent re-traumatization and create an atmosphere conducive to sharing sensitive information. However, with a clear end date of December 2018, hundreds of families impacted across the country, and millions of Canadians who should take time to listen to and engage with the Inquiry’s findings, the Inquiry must get to work soon, and ensure that communication is easy, accessible and open.

Further reading:

Pamela Palmater - “Colonial hatred is still killing us, and the only solution is collective resistance.”

The Current - “Reconcilliation is a two way street: Indigenous youth want ‘more than canoes’” (includes good commentary on why LGBTQ and two spirit persons should be a part of the MMIW)

REdress photography exhibition, a tribute to MMIWG, comes to Alberta libraries this month

*The urban-rural digital divide continues to be a problem in Canada, meaning reserves often do not have good coverage. However, internet access is also problematic generally for individuals living below the poverty line, or who are homeless/do not have a stable living situation.


Women Strike

Striking is not a privilege. Privilege is not having to strike.”

Today is International Women’s Day, “A Day Without a Woman,”and the International Women’s Strike.

On a day that has traditionally been hijacked by commercial sponsors, it is refreshing to see it used towards ends that are “at once anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-heterosexist and anti-neoliberal.”  This year we should use the day to remind ourselves of the unpaid labour women do, of the misogyny and violence they face, and of the social oppression that affects their standard of living and access to healthcare, education and employment.

While I doubt this strike will see the level of engagement of the recent Women’s March, I remain hopeful that it will be the first of many strikes that mobilize people across the USA to stand up for the human dignity and social security of all.


Child Refugees in Europe

Lauren Collins' article on Europe’s child-refugee crisis in The New Yorker is devastating, but essential reading. The protagonist of her story is a twelve-year-old refugee named Wasil, who, after being kidnapped and held hostage in Afghanistan, was sent away by his mother to seek asylum in the UK. She recounts his journey from Afghanistan to Iran — where he and other migrants were attacked by thieves — to Turkey and Bulgaria. He then crossed hundreds of miles on foot to Serbia, passed through Slovenia and Croatia, and spent a month squatting in a derelict train station in Italy. Finally, he reached France, and spent several months living in the notorious, and now-demolished Calais Jungle.

This epic journey, Collins explains, is actually typical among the hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied child-refugees in Europe:

“Unaccompanied minors are the de-facto vanguard of the greatest migration since the Second World War—its innovators and its guinea pigs...Minors have some of the best chances of making it where they want to go but some of the worst experiences getting there. Homeless and parentless, they live on the extreme edge of the refugee experience.”

Collins also recounts the ever-fluctuating public perception of child-refugees in France, the UK, and other European nations — though there are waves of empathy and support for these minors, there are just as often vicious demonstrations protesting their presence. The latter position is a morally depraved one,  fueled by what can only be racism and Islamophobia, given the exceptional adversity, violence, and danger that these unaccompanied children are forced to endure.

“According to Europol, the law-enforcement agency of the E.U., more than ten thousand migrant and refugee children have gone missing in Europe since 2014. They are obvious prey for human-trafficking groups, who exploit them for sex and slavery. A team of Italian doctors examining unaccompanied children found that fifty per cent of them suffered from sexually transmitted diseases. According to a report by Refugees Deeply, in one Athens park the going rate for a sexual encounter with an Afghan teen-ager is between five and ten euros.”

There were 1.3 million people who sought asylum in Europe in 2015 alone, and it is estimated that a comparable number sought asylum last year. The staggering size of these numbers make it easy to think about the refugee crisis in an abstract, or ‘macro’ manner (Is Canada’s target to process 40,000 refugees in 2017 too high or too low? How can we improve our vetting processes to maintain security?). As we fumble for large, complex solutions to this large, complex problem, politics too often overshadow or gloss over the actual plight of the migrants in question. Indeed, a recent poll suggests that 1 in 4 Canadians want a ‘Trump-style travel ban’.

Stories like Wasil’s are difficult to hear — disturbing even — but they act as a critical reminder of just what is at stake.


Britain's Historical Amnesia

I’m currently living in England, and in the past month or so I’ve been asked several times, “Does Canada have any Indians?”

I understood immediately that they meant First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples, and tried to explain how there were many different (sovereign) Nations, as well as the treaty/reserve system, which seemed to leave them confused. But I was suspicious as to why I was getting the same exact question — turns out one of the GCSE subjects is “The American West:” a hilariously basic take on Plains Indians, the Gold Rush, and Homesteading.

One thing that’s been reinforced to me over and over again through various conversations, is how poor British history education is. We Canadians may whine about yet another unit on the fur trade, the Spanish colonization of the Aztecs, or how Latin American became a proxy playground during the Cold War, but I do wonder if it has trickled down into a more humble sense of nationalism and our place in the world. The British learn very little (to nothing) about their colonial past and the crimes they inflicted upon civilization after civilization across the globe, and, perhaps consequently, glorify their role as a world power with extreme(ist) innocence. Unfortunately, this historical amnesia leaves them in a poor position to negotiate a world which requires cooperation with now-sovereign equals.


blonded RADIO

Looking for a new musical adventure? Check out the first (and maybe only) installment of Frank Ocean’s new Beats 1 Show, blonded RADIO, which you can listen to on Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal (does anyone use Tidal?). “Presented by” Ocean, with selections from collaborators Vegyn, Roof Access, and Federico Aliprandi, the playlist is a bit of a whirlwind — one that contains a heavy dose of trap (Migos, Kodak Black), some classic 70s and 80s soul cuts (The Isley Brothers, Sade), a sprinkling of neo-soul (Outkast, Esperanza Spalding, NAO), a 15-minute Prince interlude, Ocean’s new collaboration with Calvin Harris and Migos (which is better than it sounds on paper),  and a scattershot of other interesting cuts. It’s probably also the only playlist to ever feature a track by both Aphex Twin and Celine Dion. In other words, it’s a playlist that has something for everyone.

Oddly, it's not clear just what Ocean’s role in creating this playlist was, nor whether blonded RADIO will become a regular series on Apple Music’s Beats 1. To me, it sounds like a collection of songs that inspired Blonde (Ocean has said that Prince’s “When You Were Mine”, which is on the playlist, is his favorite song of all time), mixed with sounds that seem to orbit around that game-changing album. Much of what Ocean does is wrapped in mystery, so I suggest you simply sit back and enjoy.

You can also sneak a peek at the track listing here.


Being A Grown Up

For those of us still stuck on "adulting" (the new cringe-worthy term to describe this obsession of coming to terms with growing up), a group in Portland has come up with ways to teach millennials some basic skills like changing a tire (and making devilled eggs?). Kendra Tarr from Calgary, Alta., has also been putting together resources for 20-somethings in transition. While many of us continue to question whether we're adults or not, the video below suggests there's no one answer to what successful adulthood looks like, or how or why we need to achieve it...



Commentary from the theread slack: “Last week I watched an Anne of Green Gables clip where she smashes a chalkboard on this dude’s head. I feel like I shouldn’t have overlooked this. She’s bad ass.”

Yes! YES! You did overlook Anne, that gem of a girl, who is everything I wanted to be (and still want to be). I’m looking forward to seeing her again when Anne of Green Gables comes to CBC/Netflix on March 19!


Links From This Week's Thread

The struggle for transgender rights during the Trump era is likely to be a drawn out and difficult one, as Jeannie Suk Gersen explains. On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would not decide whether a transgender boy in Virginia, Gavin Grimm, could use the boys’ bathroom at his high school: “the development was a setback for proponents of transgender rights, who had hoped the Supreme Court, which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage two years ago, would aid their cause.”

A study on Airbnb in NYC has found “Black neighborhoods with the most Airbnb use are racially gentrifying, and the (often illegal) economic benefits of Airbnb accrue disproportionately to new, white residents and white speculators; while the majority Black residents in those communities suffer the most from the loss of housing, tenant harassment and the disruption of their communities.” Hope you think about that while booking through Airbnb in neighborhoods like Harlem and Crown Heights.

Laurie Penny on Uber’s social poison: “Here’s the awful truth: we have entrusted the reorganisation of our social infrastructure to the sort of people who shout at their subordinates and drivers and view women as a collection of parts. We do not owe these people our money or our admiration.”

The Coming Amnesia’: “In other words, essentially no observational tool available to future astronomers will lead to an accurate understanding of the universe’s origins. The authors call this an “apocalypse of knowledge.””

Carolyn Bennett claimed the federal government has dedicated $200 million to improving lives of indigenous children in care, but internal documents suggest this is disingenuous and some funds are going towards programs that “attract mining investments” instead. Cindy Blackstock says that Indigenous Affairs has bungled spending because of pervasive colonial attitudes.

‘Training for N.W.T. child protection workers now includes learning about colonization’

A useful explainer on what will become of the TPP now that the US has pulled out

We probably have read more about Flint’s water crisis than Walkerton’s - it’s unacceptable that we cannot find a way to supply clean drinking water on reserves.

Shot: The Polish government’s glorification and defense of a conspiracy theory may be a preview of the future of the Trump administration. Chaser: ‘White House Rejects Comey’s Assertion That Wiretapping Claim is False’

The man McCormack credited with this unprecedented reduction in HIV transmissions was not a fellow doctor, nor the head of a charity, nor even a politician. Owen is unemployed, a former sex worker, and homeless.”

There is no rosy future for the American economy: “In our era of no more than indifferent economic growth, 21st–century America has somehow managed to produce markedly more wealth for its wealthholders even as it provided markedly less work for its workers. And trends for paid hours of work look even worse than the work rates themselves.”

South Sudan has fallen apart: tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and a formal famine has been declared in parts of the country.

From BLDGBLOG comes a piece on a northern Quebec mining town and how it acts as an architectural trial ground for future Mars colonies.

“The truth of the matter is that pretty much anywhere in the world men tend to think that they that are much smarter than women. Yet arrogance and overconfidence are inversely related to leadership talent … So it struck me as a little odd that so much of the recent debate over getting women to “lean in” has focused on getting them to adopt more of these dysfunctional leadership traits. Yes, these are the people we often choose as our leaders — but should they be?” From an old HBR article that remains relevant.


* the social media image used for this week's post and newsletter "Protest Against Trudeau Abandoning Electoral Reform (Montreal)" by Jeremy Clarke is licenced under CC SA 2.0.

Amy Sanderson08/03/17
The Week's Conversations: Seeking Asylum in Canada, Oscars, Playground Accessibility, Chef's Table, Creative Genius, Facebook Utopia

A weekly conversation between friends.

How Canada Should Deal with Asylum Seekers Crossing its Southern Border

By Raj Sharma and Avnish Nanda

Over the past few weeks, Canadians have been inundated with media reports of desperate migrants trekking over rugged, snow-covered terrain in freezing temperatures into Canada from the United States to claim asylum. The image of an RCMP officer joyfully welcoming a child migrant has likely appeared on your social media feed, along with a caption proudly proclaiming that refugees are welcome in Canada. This narrative of Canada as a shining castle on a hill for refugees is deeply flawed and does not reflect the enormous obstacles migrants face in obtaining asylum in Canada.

The improbable election of Donald J. Trump has caused many journalists to heed to the wisdom of Jeet Heer: take Trump and his campaign promises both literally and seriously. The Executive Order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees for a 120-day period was the clearest indication that this U.S. administration would be unlike any other. And with Trump’s aggressive crackdown on asylum seekers and undocumented migrants, it’s apparent that the impacts will be felt around the world, including Canada.

Given the situation, it’s hard to blame Canadians looking for an uplifting narrative against the dark, dystopian, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee messaging of Trump, particularly the journalists covering the migrants who have made their way north. However, their uncritical coverage will not age well, particularly if failed asylum seekers from the US are not successful in their efforts to remain here, and the burden of deporting and removing them is simply shifted from stern, armed and body-armored American ICE Officers to the stern, armed and body-armored Canada Border Service Agency Officers.

Canada is not a Disneyland for asylum seekers: there are miles to go before even those intrepid enough to cross international borders can rest easy. There is a rigorous, comprehensive set of requirements that refugee claimants must meet, failing which will result in their claims being denied and removal being initiated. Over the past few years, only about half of all refugee claimants who made their claims in Canada have been successful, which amounts to, on average, less than ten thousand refugees per year.

Asylum seekers — particularly those who have issues establishing personal identity (practically everyone from Somalia), or who fear violence as a result of their sexual orientation — face serious obstacles in establishing their claims here. Additionally, there are strict requirements on the grounds and threshold of persecution. Persecution must be real, preventing them from returning to any region of their country of origin. Migrants seeking better economic opportunities, absent persecution on a personal level, will not be admitted as refugees under Canada’s refugee system. These are some of the basic challenges refugee claimants face in Canada, which is often glossed over by the narrative that refugees are welcome here.

Failing to recognize the significant challenges asylum seekers face in making their claims in Canada only emboldens those who want to shut Canada’s borders to those individuals in desperate need of asylum. Politics, in the words of Henry Adams, has always been about the systematic organization of hatreds, and over the last few weeks, we have witnessed the fanning of fear over the relatively small number of asylum seekers who have made their way north into Canada. For example, political leadership aspirants whose ambition greatly exceed their personal appeal are quick to stoke nativist sentiment, while the Conservatives are demanding action but can’t quite spell out what they think the government should do.

Let us be clear, this is a small leak and trickle, not a deluge and our refugee system has handled far more in years past. The Safe Third Country Agreement, which normally prevents making a refugee claim at a land port of entry by anyone that entered the US first, was only enacted in 2004. Prior to then, Canada was capable of processing asylum claims in an effective and fair manner. This is not a crisis, and should not be treated as one at this point.

However, it would still be wise for Canada to develop a more efficient way to deal with the ‘in-land’ refugees that have arrived in recent weeks to discourage further unauthorized border crossings, and at the same time recognize and provide succor to meritorious individuals in desperate straits. Individuals are taking inordinate, potentially dangerous actions to circumvent the Safe Third Country Agreement and arrive in Canada. We need to encourage asylum seekers to use safer avenues to make their claims.

Such a solution may actually be to extend the Safe Third Country Agreement to those crossing without authorization, which would prevent a refugee claim even made in-land. Instead, provide these migrants at a designated Point of Entry — such as at an airport or border crossing — with a paper-based risk assessment instead of a refugee hearing, and assess at the same time whether there are humanitarian and compassionate grounds to allow them to stay (as of right now, the humanitarian and compassionate grounds assessment is unavailable for most failed refugee claimants for 12 months after their decision). The humanitarian and compassionate grounds assessment is a more flexible test than the strict thresholds of a claim for refugee protection. This would meet our obligations to assess risk, maintain our humanitarian tradition, and discourage actions that undermine the integrity of our immigration system.

The Donald Trump presidency poses many challenges to Canada’s migratory system. But to effectively confront them, we must avoid hyperbole, and instead, understand these challenges for what they truly are and think creatively to address them. If we don’t, we risk a similar form of misunderstanding and politicization of migrant issues that is evident elsewhere in the world, and worse, migrants continuing to put themselves in danger to seek asylum in Canada.


Three Days Late and Already Stale: Key takeaways from this year's Oscars

  • The Oscar’s were pretty damn entertaining this year, despite the Academy’s best efforts. Writing in the New Yorker, film critic Richard Brody suggests that the “dishearteningly competent and mega-managed” event was intentionally safe, and deliberately suave, so as to avoid becoming a conspicuous target of the nascent alt-right:

    “One of the great peculiarities of the movie system is that liberal Hollywood provides the entertainment for blue and red viewers alike… There isn’t a cinematic Breitbart that has made any significant inroads in the business. And that’s the way Hollywood doubtless wants to keep it.”
  • I’m not sure it would be possible to come up with a less interesting and bland series of musical performances. Justin Timberlake sings the song from “Trolls”, perhaps ironically? Sara Bareilles sings a 40-year-old Joni Mitchell song? John Legend performs a piano ballad for the 16th consecutive year? The incredibly uninteresting performance of a whimsical Disney song, one that will only be remembered because the performer was hit in the face by a flag? Brutal.
  • The most powerful political moment was the statement by Iranian film director Asghar Farhadi, who boycotted the Oscars to protest Trump's recent executive order targeting Muslim migrants. Farhadi's drama "The Salesman" was awarded Best Foreign Language Film. Farhadi is also the director of “A Separation”, which at least 2 editors of this newsletter agree is one of the best movies they’ve ever seen.
  • It’s Wednesday, and I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing about the faux rivalry between Moonlight and La La Land, and of reading thinkpieces about the mix-up over best picture.

    “[The mix-up] produced the loudest and most awkward symbol of the transfer of power from old Hollywood to an industry that must reflect a more diverse America as the white guys were literally forced to hand over their prizes. After two years of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the 89th Academy Awards embraced African-American talent.”

    (For the record, this newsletter called Moonlight the best movie in many years back in December, so we can rest safely on the right side of history).
  • Jimmy Kimmel was admittedly a charming host, though his casual racism (“Patrick, now that's a name!") will likely be remembered more than his innocuous Trump jokes, which could have picked at random from any late-show monologue.
  • Mahershala Ali is the first Muslim actor to win an Academy Award (though not the first Muslim to get one: A.R. Rahman -- the A.R. standing for Allah-Rakah, literally meaning protected by Allah -- won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009, and thanked Allah in his acceptance speech.)
  • After two years of being (rightfully) hounded by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, the Academy sought to address its race problem by hiring its first black president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who quickly sought to shakeup the selection process and add diversity to its membership.

To some extent, the shakeup seems to have worked. In addition to Ali’s victory, and a deservedly huge night for the creators of Moonlight,  Viola Davis nabbed her first Oscar, and followed it up with an stunning acceptance speech. If you were also moved by this speech, I highly recommend that you check out this profile of Viola Davis, which details a life filled with adversity, and the incredible will to overcome the challenges of racism, poverty, abuse, and a broken home.

  • Casey Affleck took home the prestigious award for Best Actor, despite the recent revelation that he was sued for sexual harassment by two of his coworkers — both lawsuits were settled. To put it lightly, this controversy brings to light the “thorny ethics of the Oscars” (especially considering the fact that the film “Birth of a Nation”, which was an early front-runner for best picture, was ruined by similar allegations against that film’s creative force, Nate Parker, who happens to be a black man). To put it less lightly, as one theread editor has, “Fuck Casey Affleck”. Here’s a meme of Brie Larson not clapping for Affleck, for your viewing pleasure.
  • Finally, let us take a moment to celebrate the fact that this year’s “In Memoriam” montage included a woman who is “still very much alive”.
  • Actually, ignore everything written here, and just read this excellent take by Jia Tolentino:
    [E]very detail of the awards show was weighted with racial, cultural, and political meaning that it couldn’t possibly sustain. “La La Land” and “Moonlight,” the two Best Picture favorites that were directly pitted against each other at the jaw-dropping end of the ceremony, had long ago become stand-ins for whiteness and blackness, or even, obliquely, for Trump and his opposition. There is only one real narrative in this country right now, and every major cultural event seems to be providing comment on it. At the Super Bowl, the Falcons and the Patriots occupied similar cultural polarities. The No. 1 movie in the country, “Get Out,” turns American racism into both a horror movie and a dark joke. The buildup around Best Picture reflects the general feeling that everything is politically charged at the moment, including, and perhaps especially, the purported absence of politics. Everything is a referendum on identity in the age of Trump. The entire Oscars ceremony seemed to be heading toward a statement about what identity Hollywood itself wanted, whether it would choose social progress or regressive nostalgia, politics or ignorance, reality or escapism—a question that will have hundreds of answers, and which a Best Picture winner can’t actually answer.

Guest Post: The Unmaking of a Right for Children with Disability

Advancing individuals rights in society is hard work, especially in these tenuous times where too many would simply scrap the laws and regulations supporting vulnerable populations.

A recent article in the New York Times addressed fears for the many gains made for persons with disabilities in the United States. The writer tells of Trump’s inaugural speech, where he declares a transfer of power from Washington “back to you, the people”, while behind the scenes his minions were busy scrubbing from the White House web site sections regarding people with disabilities. Added to Trump’s other campaign trail transgressions toward those with disabilities, we begin to see the re-emergence of an overarching message: “You don’t matter.”; “You’re not worth it.”; “You’re not a person.” Importantly, the writer ends with her commitment to ‘never stop fighting for our rights…”.

For me, the article was a powerful reminder of the kinds of efforts that are required to both sustain current rights and advance new ones, particularly for those with disabilities, and more specifically, children with a disability.

While participating in the development of a national accessibility code for play spaces through the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), I witnessed first hand the kind of consensus-building required to achieve a document worthy of approval and subsequent publishing. I’ve also seen how important legislation is for transforming standards into policy directives, that in turn create action on the ground. Seems straightforward – until there comes a time when we are able to rationalize the notion that the rights of vulnerable populations don’t have to be respected, and supportive standards simply dismissed.

For my area of interest, this normalization of rights denigration is playing out quite literally on the playground. Standards for playgrounds in Canada came about as a result of safety concerns and preventable emergency room hospital visits. Access standards for children followed, initially through a consensus process under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and formally adopted into law in 2010. Canada, through CSA, prepared a national playground access code directly aligned with the ADA standard.

After years of steady progress in Canada on both playground safety and access, a new movement is gaining traction to undermine these efforts. This group, led by academics, is adamant that it is not in the children’s best interests to be overly concerned for their safety. Rather, they want to see far greater access to ‘risky’ outdoor active play. They point to playground standards and associated policies as thwarting children’s play experience of risk and thereby stilting a key part of their growth and development. Predictably, they would like to see the CSA’s national playground code reduced to ‘guide’ status, with local policies and bylaws modified accordingly.

And what of accessibility considerations in this new risky outdoor play environment? Kindly they agree that children with a disability should also enjoy the outdoor play but only “in compliance with guidance from a health professional”. In other words, you as a child are different in this new worldview. Good luck.

These well-meaning advocates have garnered national attention, and resistance to playground standards is growing. For accessibility, without national laws such as the ADA in the United States, and little commitment to the CSA approved code, we find jurisdictions and individuals returning to an era where they made up their own guidelines or are simply ignoring access altogether.

So, if we believe in rights, and in this case, children’s rights to accessible and safe public commons for play, how are we to advocate when the tools at hand are under siege at every turn? How are we to give voice to vulnerable populations when vested interests are able to popularize a new narrative that simply leaves them out? To be sure, there are no definitive answers. However, with so many areas of our civil society now being opened to willful compromise, I have every confidence that we’ll collectively respond to the current (dis)order with much more sophisticated strategies for preserving and advancing rights.


Even the King Bows Three Times to a Monk

If you’re a ‘foodie’, you’ve probably already seen every episode of Chef’s Table, a lavish Netflix original documentary series that profiles renowned chef’s from around the world. It’s an incredible series, created by David Gelb — the director of the acclaimed documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about an 85-year-old sushi master, and his monomaniacal quest to perfect the art of sushi* – whose passion for food is made clear by the stunning, high definition shots of each dish, backed by epic orchestral music. It’s pretty much the Planet Earth of food.

But like Jiro, the series also uses food as an entry point into the complex personal stories and of each episode’s character, and the philosophy that drives them. You salivate, but you also cry.

Episode 1 of Chef’s Table brand new season is sensational. Based in a breathtaking mountainous region of South Korea, the episode profiles Jeong Kwan, who is not in fact a chef, but a Buddhist monk who has been cooking ‘temple food’ for the Chunjinam Hermitage at the Baekyangsa Temple for half a century. Western food critics and chefs who have had the opportunity to try her food call it “life-changing”.

Kwan is presented as a paragon of Buddhist life — disciplined, eloquent, compassionate, and without ego. She understands cooking as an expression of her faith and personal philosophy, and as a genuine form of communication. She also drops a number of unforgettable lines: “Soy sauce is eternal. It is life itself.”

But the episode’s most moving moments occur when Kwan shares her account of leaving her family to pursue the life of a monk — a heartbreaking decision she believes is necessary for the pursuit of true freedom.

The kimchi she makes looks pretty damn tasty, too.

* In a review of the film, Roger Ebert muses on Jiro’s crowning achievement — attaining the highest honor for a chef of three Michelin stars: “You realize the tragedy of Jiro Ono's life is that there are not, and will never be, four stars.”


Creative Genius

It’s tough to figure out the magic in creating something unique.

In an interview on the creative process, Ira Glass talks about the difficulty of producing something you’re actually proud of when you start off:

Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great.

Ta-Nehisi Coates agrees with the grind as the process to a creative breakthrough:

You were hanging out with your friends, you guys were having beers, you were talking about something, and you had this great idea. And they said “That’s brilliant, someone should go write it.” And you sit down to write it, and almost always, what was brilliant before, when you were sitting around talking, is somehow not so brilliant when you go to write it.

If you want further exploration into this, take a listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s Creative Genius episode on the Revisionist History podcast. He breaks down the creative process based on work from the economist David Galenson. Galenson says there are two broad categories of genius. There are those that are prolific in their young age, Conceptual innovators –  Picasso or Bob Dylan, these are often the prodigies. There are other creators – experimental innovators, people such as Leonard Cohen or Ira Glass. They go through the slog of trial and error and slow iterative process to craft their work.

There is also another element in all of this that’s somewhat unsatisfying. It’s randomness of the inspiration for ideas and their timing in taking off.

In the podcast, Gladwell takes us through how the initial version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah almost didn’t get picked up by any record label. Other artists do numerous renditions of the song. One of these renditions happens to be heard by Jeff Buckley who does his own version. And it was only after Jeff Buckley’s tragic death did the song become wildly popular.

Ok enough, time to listen to some music. Compare Cohen’s and Buckley’s versions here for effect.


The New Facebook Utopia

Last week Zuckerberg dropped a 5700 word letter (manifesto? declaration??) detailing how Facebook will orientate itself towards “develop[ing] the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.” Obviously, the tech dystopians have been raising the alarm that this is a global corporate takeover. Ben Thompson has a clear breakdown of why Facebook is overstepping and how its sweeping power can be checked:

To that end, Facebook should not be allowed to buy another network-based app; I would go further and make it prima facie anticompetitive for one social network to buy another. Network effects are just too powerful to allow them to be combined. For example, the current environment would look a lot different if Facebook didn’t own Instagram or WhatsApp (and, should Facebook ever lose an antitrust lawsuit, the remedy would almost certainly be spinning off Instagram and WhatsApp).

Secondly, all social networks should be required to enable social graph portability — the ability to export your lists of friends from one network to another. Again Instagram is the perfect example: the one-time photo-filtering app launched its network off the back of Twitter by enabling the wholesale import of your Twitter social graph. And, after it was acquired by Facebook, Instagram has only accelerated its growth by continually importing your Facebook network. Today all social networks have long since made this impossible, making it that much more difficult for competitors to arise.

Third, serious attention should be given to Facebook’s data collection on individuals. As a rule I don’t have any problem with advertising, or even data collection, but Facebook is so pervasive that it is all but impossible for individuals to opt-out in any meaningful way, which further solidifies Facebook’s growing dominance of digital advertising.


Links From This Week's Thread

Snack on Edna Lewis’s ‘Busy-Day Cake’ while reading this fantastic story of Princess Pamela and her soul food.

Why doesn’t Canada have universal coverage for prescription medication already? Apparently it could save us $4 billion a year and improve access to necessary medication.

Joseph Lewis is considered to be the first Black person to live in what is now Alberta. Lewis worked in the fur trade and arrived at Greenwich House in 1799, a Hudson’s Bay trading post near Lac La Biche. Lewis is one of many early Black settlers in Alberta that most Albertans know nothing about due to a general indifference towards chronicling the contribution of non-White settlers and communities to the history of the province.

The next time someone tells me that the women in Essex bring it upon themselves when they wear “slutty” clothes, I’m going to call them out for their “patriarchal mom-ism,” a phrase bell hooks deployed in this short but compelling interview on the state of feminism. “I think that we have to restore feminism as a political movement. The challenge to patriarchy is political, and not a lifestyle or identity. It’s as if we have to return to very basic education for critical consciousness, around what visionary feminist politics really is about. And let’s face it: visionary feminist politics is not about having a woman president. It’s about having a person of any gender who understands deeply and fully the need for there to be respect for the embodied presence of males and females, without subordination.”

Tom Power interviews Raoul Peck on his new documentary, I am Not Your Negro, a film based entirely on the words of James Baldwin.

Oxford University graduates in philosophy, politics and economics (a PPE degree) make up an astonishing proportion of Britain’s elite. But has it produced an out-of-touch ruling class? “In 1985, less than half of students at selective colleges [in the US] came from families in the top income quartile; in 2010, 67 percent did. ... Coming Apart documents quantitatively the growing tendency of the members of America’s cognitive elite to marry each other, live near each other in “Super Zips,” and launch their children into the same schools, and thence onto the same path to worldly success. Deresiewicz puts this betrayal of the democratic impulse neatly: “Our new multiracial, gender-neutral meritocracy has figured out a way to make itself hereditary.””

Roxane Gay deserves your attention: “In the world of writers … Roxane Gay is a rock star. People stop in their tracks and stare, people shout out exhortations of her greatness, drinks appear unbidden for her at the crowded hotel bar, bras are offered for signing. Two weeks before, on January 25, Gay pulled her forthcoming book, How to Be Heard, from Simon & Schuster after learning they had offered famous-internet-bigot Milo Yiannopoulos a book deal. “White man just walked by me, threw his fist in the air, and shouted Roxane, keep hope alive. Keep it up,” Gay tweeted over the weekend. “I don’t know him.””

For those of you curious about the drive to reduce sugar consumption, here’s an update on alternatives like stevia, allulose, and monk fruit, and why none of them are perfect, leading companies to also attempt to redesign the very structure of sugar crystals.

‘The Careless Language of Sexual Violence’ remains relevant and blazingly straightforward. Read it [again].

For North American hunters, the ultimate pursuit isn’t deer, moose, elk, or bear. It’s sheep, with permits costing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A more useful Facebook-related manifesto:When a comment about how “illegals need to get out” is left on my post ... I just delete it. I don’t have time to debate something so backward, and I don’t have time to explain. My page is my part of the debate at large, this is true. But I’m not debating those who show up wedded to bigotry…

On Monday the NYTimes published a piece entitled “He’s a Local Pillar in a Trump Town. Now He Could Be Deported.” This is a good Twitter thread calling out those who view this article as an example of compassion, when in fact it is an example of White Innocence, selfishness and hypocrisy. More than that though, the Times article is an example of what can happen when the majority of your newsroom is White: there are less reporters able to address the issue from a different viewpoint or to challenge framing. The lack of diversity at the Times and other major newspapers was discussed in greater detail just last week by Paul Delaney, who was a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and worked for the Times for 23 years.

New statistics on hate crimes in Germany: “Nearly 10 attacks were made on migrants in Germany every day in 2016, the interior ministry says. A total of 560 people were injured in the violence, including 43 children. Three-quarters of the attacks targeted migrants outside of their accommodation, while nearly 1,000 attacks were on housing.”

RIP Ren Hang: “Hang's very existence was a provocation – his commitment of that existence to film even more so.”

Amy Sanderson1/3/2017
The Week's Conversations: Motion 103, Beyoncé, Talking to Racists, Music and Sports in a Hyper-Political Time, Vancouver's Housing Crisis, Uber's Sexist Workplace

A weekly conversation between friends.

Meanwhile in Canada: Motion 103

In October 2016, a petition was presented to the House of Commons, calling for a condemnation of Islamophobia, in all its forms. A motion passed with the support of all members, including Conservative MPs.

Now, with another motion before the House of Commons condemning “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” some Conservative MPs are up in arms, accusing the motion as an attempt to stifle legitimate expression, and perhaps even, provide a backdoor to the imposition of Sharia Law.

There are many reasons why the Conservative opposition to Motion 103 is flawed, inaccurate, and reflects the irrational fear or hatred of Islam and Muslims that the motion seeks to condemn. Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong articulates perhaps the most definitive defence of Motion 103. Warda Shazadi Meighen and Lorne Waldman also provide a substantive critique of the opposition to Motion 103 that is worth reading.

Or, you can simply read the text of Motion 103 itself to understand that the opposition to Motion 103 is exaggerated and itself insidious:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Motion 103 does not provide Muslims or Islam privileged status in Canada. It is simply an attempt to recognize and better understand the sources and consequences of Islamophobia in this country, and is similar to the motions the House of Commons has passed in relation to challenging other forms of systemic racism in Canada and around the world. And this recognition and understanding is worth pursuing, given the murder of six congregants of the Culturel Islamique de Québec in Quebec City by a man who hated Islam and Muslims.

The debate among Conservative MPs over the existence of Islamophobia less than six weeks after an unprecedented terror attack that killed and seriously injured individuals for no other reason but for being Muslim demonstrates that Islamophobia is real and needs to be confronted. Regrettably, Islamophobic sentiment runs deep in some corners of this country, and it is likely that this will not be the last time that condemning hatred towards Muslims becomes a rallying point for bigots attempting to denigrate the place of Muslims in Canada.


Reading: A Home Remedy for Prejudice

Last week, prejudice against Muslims in Canada took a nasty turn, as the type of blatant Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry that is usually found stewing in the ‘comments section’ went public.

At an event in Toronto hosted by The Rebel, over a thousand people railed against Motion 103, claiming that the non-binding resolution to respond with evidence-based policy to the rise of Islamophobia was in fact an attack on free speech. The next day, the free speech subterfuge was dropped, as small crowd gathered at an “anti-Islam” protest outside of the Masjid Toronto. Muslims prayed inside.

Though anti-Muslim rhetoric remains mostly on the fringe in Canadian politics*, it is undeniably becoming more prevalent, and is seeping slowly into the mainstream. Indeed, no less than four (!) of the candidates running for Conservative leadership not only attended, but spoke at the Rebel-hosted rally.

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Quebec City, this is particularly a concerning development. Reading the news this week, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dismay and even hopelessness. How can we combat what seems like blind prejudice? How do we push back against a powerful political movement of which Islamophobic rhetoric is apparently a central part? Of course, there are no simple answers to these questions.

I was heartened to read about the case of Garry Civitello, a middle aged white American who called into a show on C-Span last year, where he admitted that he was prejudiced against black people. Heather McGhee, a black woman, responds with some simple advice: “Get to know black people, read up on black history, stop watching the nightly news.”

Civitello accepted her challenge. He read books by Cornel West, Bryan Stevenson, and J. L. Chestnut, Jr., and slowly, his viewpoints were transformed: “My fears, my anxieties—those still linger. But I’m starting to see root causes. I was assuming people were being lazy. Or they didn’t care. They were being irresponsible in society. Now I’m finding out, no, they can’t get loans in banks—they have to use pawnshops. And I inherited a house!”

It’s not easy work to talk to friends and family about race, racism, or Islamophobia. And simply encouraging them to watch less network news and read more is a clearly a facile solution. But it’s a start.

At this important crossroads, it is also critical that the Canadian media works to share the stories of Muslims in Canada — to elevate their perspectives and bridge the divide that has slowly been widening for years.

* A fellow theread editor disagrees with this statement. Indeed, the Bloc Québécois have a history of running blatantly Islamophobic campaign ads.


How to Argue with Racists

Daryl Davis’ cool attitude, specifically his willingness to befriend white supremacists though he himself is Black, is kind of hard to understand. I had a chance to hear him on Love + Radio this week, as part of a 2-part series the show put together. The first episode is “The Silver Dollar.”

As the son of a U.S. Foreign Service officer, Davis grew up enrolled in international schools around the world. His classes were always mixed. Those formative years let him access being multicultural as the norm rather than an attitude of tolerance.

When he moved back to Belmont, Mass., as a 10-year-old kid, he remembers having soda bottles and rocks thrown at him at a scout rally. This experience of feeling othered was completely new to him:

“It was so incomprehensible to me that someone who knew absolutely nothing about me would want to inflict pain upon me, for no other reason other than the colour of my skin. They didn’t know anything about me! I hadn’t done anything. And I literally thought, they were lying to me.”

Alongside a career as a musician, writer, and actor, he deconstructed the belief systems of some prominent KKK members and convinced them to change their minds. And it wasn’t through seminars, speeches, or Twitter wars, it was through friendship.

Here’s Davis again:

“If you have an adversary, an opponent with an opposing point of view, give that person a platform, regardless of how extreme it may be. And believe me I've heard something so extreme at these rallies it'll cut you to the bone. If you agree with them, great - no problem. If you don't agree with them, that's fine, too. You challenge them, but you don't challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently and when you do things that way, chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform.”

“If you have something that’s mean, and you’re mean to it, you make it meaner… Same thing with hate.  If someone hates you, and you’re beating on them, they’re gonna hate you more...But you can drive the hate out with logic, love, and respect. And that’s the logic”

In the second podcast of the series, "How to Argue," Nick van der Kolk takes in some tips from Davis about how to do this. Here are Davis’ top tips:

1)    Gather your information. Get an astute knowledge of the other person’s side before meeting them. Review it in your head. Be as familiar with their position, as well as your own.

2)    Invite them to have a conversation, not a debate. Try and understand why they feel the way they do.

3)    Look for commonalities - something, even with your worst enemy.

The patience to engage the other side and have these conversations is becoming difficult. This last week, we saw the echo-chambers of groups like Rebel Media emerge and anti-Islam protests in Toronto. It can be hard to imagine having meaningful conversations in these settings.  Davis’ gentler, long-game approach perhaps offers something different.


A Renaissance Madonna, A Yoruba Love Goddess

Beyoncé’s pregnancy photos were glorious. "She appears as not one but many women—or, instead, maybe the universal woman and mother—at once Virgin and Venus, Flora and Leda.” "In her curves, her wimple, and her beatific face, Beyoncé is set against a bright blue sky like a late medieval or Renaissance Madonna. She is as soft as the Aldobrandini Madonna.” The photos manage to reference imagery surrounding the Virgen de Guadalupe, Queen Nefertiti and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, among others.  I loved them immediately.

And then came her Grammy performance, which references Yoruba river/love goddess Oshun, African water goddess Mami Wata, the Hindu goddess Kali, and the Roman goddess Venus. “[T]he distinct Baroque character of the piece, with the gold, the rays around Beyoncé’s face, the carpet of roses, and the flowing robes bring to mind Latin American Baroque virgins and female saints, including perhaps Saint Rose of Lima, the first American woman to be beatified.” If you haven’t watched it, then I’m not sure what we’re doing here. Who cares about Adele or our fellow theread editor’s crisis of faith over indie rock, Beyoncé is a walking embodiment of femininity and power, an empress of music, a Black woman and mother, and you should be paying attention. The fact that she could put together this piece and force millions to watch it during an award show is perhaps the single greatest thing that has happened in the last month (and great things have been few and far between).

"The Grammys performance was a gentle display of maternal vanity and a celebration of the sort of spirituality that converges with aesthetics. Much has happened to Beyoncé since she last performed at the ceremony: In 2015, she wore all white and sang "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" along with a choir. Since then, Beyoncé has expanded her public spirituality beyond Christianity, expressing interest in the ethnicity and animist spirituality that arrived to Louisiana centuries before. She is placing herself in a lineage — an act that takes vulnerability, humility, haughtiness. She's doing this for her children."


Vancouver's Unaffordable Housing is Driving Millennials Out

Housing is increasingly becoming the dominant political issue in Vancouver.

Political advocacy groups such as Abundant Vancouver have formed to advocate for housing policies that allow for greater housing accessibility, and seem to represent a large and growing segment of Vancouver’s population that are shut out of the housing market due to high costs. Not only is home ownership outside the realm of possibility for many in Vancouver, but rental prices have also increased substantially, despite the high number of vacant homes in the city.

Things seem to be coming to a head with the City of Vancouver’s policy review for pre-1940s character homes, which would make it more difficult to demolish them to build denser housing. With 60-85% of Vancouver consisting of single-family homes, there is genuine concern that further inhibiting the ability to build multi-unit housing on pre-existing single family lots would increase inaccessibility when the aim should be the opposite.

Perhaps it’s time to challenge the planning and design philosophies that have led to the dominance of single-family homes in Vancouver and housing inaccessibility. These debates are not new, and in certain lights, recall debates over housing in the 1970s, when Mayor Tom Campbell sought to turn neighbourhoods such as Kitsilano and Kerrisdale into a slew of high-rise buildings.

But, regardless of its antecedents, the consequences now are clearer than ever. Vancouver may lose a generation of residents, mainly millennials, still in their prime working and social development years, which would have significant impacts on the economy and character of the city.


Music in a Hyper-Political Time

A friend of mine who has followed my musings on the “end of indie rock“ recently asked me:

“If indie rock is fundamentally about the minor plights of young privileged people, is there political space for it anymore? I guess the best indie albums show that personal disasters are still disasters, like the last Sufjan album.

It’s an intriguing proposition, and one that begs the age-old question: does popular music really need to be political to matter? Isn’t the best music timeless and universal? Doesn’t the best art transcend the context in which it is produced?

In a recent interview about this year’s Grammys with Neil Portnow, the president of the Recording Academy, he was asked to comment on the outrage that followed Adele’s victory over Beyonce for album of the year, and on accusations of racism within the Academy. His statement rings incredibly hollow:

“We don’t, as musicians, in my humble opinion, listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity. When you go to vote on a piece of music—at least the way that I approach it—is you almost put a blindfold on and you listen.”

Of course we don’t expect Grammy voters to base their votes on gender or ethnicity. But to pretend that we can simply cloak ourselves in a veil of ignorance, or to consume art some sort of apolitical vacuum, is absurd. We’re talking about Lemonade , not The Ride of the Valkyries (though even that is probably political).

Not all art is political, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the context in which it is produced, nor the individual stories of those who produced it. Especially today.  

I think it’s safe to say that we’re living in a uniquely hyper-political era — one in which shopping is a political act and in which professional sports are viewed through a political lens. Indeed, the weeks of controversy surrounding the Trump team’s struggle to book artists for the inauguration is evidence of a newly heightened expectation that artists and musicians, in order to remain relevant, are obligated to express some moral or political stance.

Whether all this is ultimately a good thing, or a necessary thing, is difficult to say. One thing’s for certain, though — there’s no better music today than the music of resistance and solidarity:


Links From This Week's Thread

Pride Toronto has hired Olivia Nuamah as its new executive director, the first time the organization has appointed a black woman to the role: “The fallout from Pride's stand on police at the parade has been unprecedented, with some members of the LGBTQ community saying they will boycott Pride. Ms. Nuamah will have to repair this damaged relationship with police, retain the many members who feel the organization no longer represents them and keep an open line with Black Lives Matter.”

An important reminder to “Question Your Answers”, featuring Michael Kenneth Williams. And an equally important reminder to “Question Your Questions”, featuring Rakhee Morzaria.

Top 30 Under 30.

Listen to this incredible live performance of “Compared To What” by the jazz legends Les McCann and Eddie Harris from 1969. The trumpet solo is riveting.

When Things Go Missing” is a read into how the loss of things and people affects us in our lives.

Voter ID laws suppress minority voting, finds a new report conducted by The Washington Post.

A new NYTimes series on how climate change is affecting cities starts off with a piece on Mexico City.

Uber is a model startup that has no interest in respecting its dwindling female employees

“Sanctuary Cities” offer immigrants very little protection in both the US and Canada.

“Populist correctness” is the new political correctness, argues Arwa Mahdawi.

Theresa May’s Empire of the Mind

Every single day, when I woke up in the morning, it felt like the front of my brain was on fire.” —   Former NHL goaltender Corey Hirsch shares the story of his life-long struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Sportswriting Has Become a Liberal Profession: “There was a time when filling your column with liberal ideas on race, class, gender, and labor policy got you dubbed a “sociologist.” These days, such views are more likely to get you a job.”

Santiago Ramón y Cajal is the father of modern neuroscience, and his remarkable scholarship and academic drawings are the subject of a travelling art exhibit that has received rave reviews. Cajal’s drawings are full of detail and radically transformed our understandings of the nervous system. This exhibit’s only Canadian stop is in Vancouver at an undetermined date.

Amy Sanderson
The Week's Conversations: SNL, End of Indie Rock, Free Trade, Speed Sisters, Rachel Notley, Borders, 20th Century Women

A weekly conversation between friends.

Because [She] Came Out Here to Punch You, In the Face

In Revisionist History podcast #10, an episode on the art of satire, Malcolm Gladwell asks whether we remember Sarah Palin, herself, or Sarah Palin, as played by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live? If all you can recall of Palin is the quote “I can see Russia from my house,”  the answer is clear. Malcolm goes on to claim that Fey’s portrayal actually benefitted Palin and wrongfully humanized her (although I tend to agree with this strong rebuttal). He also argues that The Colbert Report was next to useless since both conservative and liberal viewers found it affirmed their viewpoints (see Jeet Heer’s piece for more commentary on Colbert and Stewart).

The one successful example he holds out is the Israeli show Eretz Nehederet, and, specifically, its sketch on kindergarteners learning about “peace” through recitation of right-wing Israeli rhetoric. The basic conclusion of the podcast is that satire must be extremely risky and uncomfortable to be useful; it is not about laughter, which only distracts us from acknowledging the truth.

Back when I first listened to this podcast, I was fed up by Alec Baldwin’s take on Trump, and sympathetic to Gladwell’s condemnation. President Trump is already a mockery and Baldwin basically just shows up with a wig on; nothing is surprising or particularly damning about the take. I’m not sure precisely why Baldwin’s sketch is a failure: perhaps because his caricature does not pressure us to do any imaginative work. His makeup is shoddy but half the time Trump looks like his makeup is shoddy; he relies on clipped, imperative, ridiculous statements, but this is Trump 100% of the time; he smiles and wants praise for decisions that will fuck over millions of people, and, surprise, this is real life. Baldwin’s takes are played straight to the point of boredom (unless you’re Trump).

Then Melissa McCarthy rolled up on her segway podium as Spicey, and reinvigorated my interest in SNL and the potential for satire.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, is an incompetent bully, and I would argue that McCarthy’s impression works because Spicer is relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Like Fey taking on Palin, McCarthy subsumes and elevates a person that would otherwise be lost to history in less than a year after resignation, dismissal or electoral loss. She plays him as larger than life, infallible, a spluttering zealot, incapable of exercising judgment or emotional control.

One would have thought having a woman play Spicer would make the impression more laughably goofy, but in fact it elevates it into something sharper and directly belittling. And this impression could get sharper still. I read one piece that said McCarthy putting a leafblower up a reporter’s skirts was "not so funny." No, it was offensive and biting and exactly in keeping with this administration’s treatment of women and their rights. I hope they go further this week and Spicey uses some dollies to explain the term “cuck,” and why “Justine” Trudeau is one. Let’s all be humiliated by misogynistic abuse.

Yet, SNL squandered an amazing opportunity with the Leslie Jones sketch last night, where she auditioned to play Trump. After she’s done all the prep and gotten her makeup done, Lorne Michaels shuts her down and she attacks him, yelling in his face that she always plays characters that are yelling. That right there is a stereotype of Black women, perpetuated by racists, that would have made her particular portrayal of Trump more belittling and biting to them. Instead of Jones victoriously earning her due, the sketch petered out with Melania picking her up. The whole thing was poorly done and did more harm to women, Jones in particular, than good.

Jones should play him. I don’t know much about comedy, and maybe Black Trump played by a woman hits all the wrong notes for most people, but I 100% would watch her banning blonde barbies and railing on about hordes of Mid-western opioid addicts launching zombie attacks (instead of another tired joke about Chicago). Perhaps Beyoncé can guest star for some therapeutic Mercedes-Benz smashing.

If you’re confused why it makes total sense to me that women would take the lead in satirizing this administration, Lauren Duca, of gaslight fame, wrote a helpful article this week on how “Donald Trump is living out all the ridiculous stereotypes of a female presidency.” Even though SNL has never really been my cup of tea, I’m inspired by the work of McCarthy and Kate McKinnon (who played Jeff Sessions this week). Allowing women to take these lead roles and have uninterrupted air time cuts deeper than anything Baldwin could ever muster, simply because it’s being done by talented, unapologetic women, who are wronged daily by this administration of anti-feminists. McCarthy’s stone-cold, vengeful Spicey is the kind of conscious-altering satire we need more of these days, and please SNL, please, give us Jones as Trump in earnest.


The End of Indie Rock?

Though ‘indie rock’ has seriously floundered in recent years, I’ve remained hopeful for its eventual return to form — and these hopes have been buoyed by recent releases by the likes of Ariel Pink and Weyes Blood and Julie Byrne, and by solid previews of new music by Mac Demarco and Dirty Projectors.

But perhaps I’m being overly optimistic. In an oddly bookish exchange between Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth and Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes, the two indie-rock titans discuss the lethargy of contemporary indie rock, and pine nostalgically for a return to the good old days of 2009, when the genre reached its peak with the release of the “Bitte Orca / Merriweather / Veckatimest” trifecta.

Asks Longstreth:

Responds Pecknold:

Also don’t rly know what counts as “indie rock” these days… like, Whitney, Mac DeMarco, Angel Olsen, Car Seat Headrest? Idk if any of that has “cutting edge” written into the M.O., even if it’s fun to listen to. Feel like everything else that gets covered that’s progressive is in other landscapes, either more commercial ones or less commercial ones.

Unsurprisingly, there was a swift push back against these comments, and the played-out trope of two already established musicians in their thirties complaining about how much better music was in their twenties, and yet the conversation provides much to consider.

Pecknold is correct, to some extent. This is an excellent track by Mac Demarco, but we’ve heard ‘it’ before. This song by Julie Byrne will give you the chills, but there are many like it.

Longstreth is also correct. The artists currently pushing the boundaries, and those who are creating what seems like vital, and important music, are operating almost exclusively within the boundaries of soul, R&B, and hip-hop.

For example, leading the way in 2017 are two vocalists who, despite their underground ubiquity in recent years, have only just released their debut solo albums.

The first is Sampha, who, with the release of Process — a stunning and emotionally charged debut album — has finally taken center stage after years of toil in the shadows of stars like Drake, Frank Ocean, and the Knowles sisters. “Sampha’s work is a bit gospel, a bit R&B,” writes Carrie Battan. There’s some classic soul, made to feel modern with synthesizers; there’s experimental electronica, made to feel classic through the use of analog instruments and quiet piano interludes. But he is not often concerned with creating a tangible framework or song structure so much as with evoking a vibe. The future of independent music is a place where drums and choruses are deeply out of fashion.”

The second artist is Syd, formerly of The Internet and Odd Future, whose Fin is a chilled-out mixture of R&B and hip-hop grooves, and “baby-making anthems.” Writes Alex Frank: “This is a demonstrably cool album, but it’s hot when it needs to be, and gay listeners (like myself) will be psyched to have songs that are romantic and sexy but do not belabor the fact that they are sung from one woman to another, manifested by an artist who sounds entirely comfortable with her persona and talent.”

All this begs the question: who will save indie rock?


Blame Domestic Policy, Not Trade Deals

My patience is thinning for organizations that protest trade deals like CETA and the TPP, or, in one special case, protest any new trade deals like the aforementioned but also push the government to improve NAFTA if it’s reopened.

When we talk about Brexit and the US election, many of us on the left have empathized with those who have been left behind by globalization, and, to a greater extent, automation and technological advances. We have failed to adequately retrain workers, repurpose capital, and redistribute wealth to compensate and sufficiently make citizens feel secure about themselves and their families.

Too often left-wing advocates (and Bernie Sanders fans) blame trade deals or even globalization itself for unemployment and dying manufacturing. But, as Simon Tilford argues in a recent piece for the Centre for European Reform, this is not a failure of globalization, it is a profound failure of governments and their policies.

The aforementioned advocates claim that globalization leads to job loss, hurts worker rights, increases drug prices, imposes unreasonable intellectual property rules, and introduces opaque legal processes, etc. However — and I know this is basic but seems to endlessly need restating — trade agreements overall have been responsible for raising income levels around the world, reducing hunger, introducing base level environmental and labour standards, and lowering consumer good prices. Eliminating tariff and nontariff barriers results in greater net exports and greater domestic growth, even as some businesses and individuals will suffer. (This is always going to be true of capitalism: it happens when one business finds a more efficient, less expensive way of making a product and puts another firm out of business; some people lose their jobs, but overall the consumer and the market benefits.) We value social safety nets for this reason, as it helps cushion the blow of direct harm in order to bring overall societal benefits.

I tend to agree with Tilford, that it is government policy, or lack thereof, that has led to the economic disparity and fractured communities we face today. Particularly damaging have been policies that have limited tax increases on corporations and wealthy individuals, failed to properly regulate the finance industry, and cut social welfare programs. Raising minimum wages remains contentious.

Actually, that’s a good one to discuss, because businesses protest that raising minimum wages forces them to comply even at the risk of damaging their bottom line, shedding workers and reducing competition. But we all know that overall, since everyone must comply, businesses will adjust, and more disposable income will result in more consumption, which will lead to more jobs, etc. We don’t fight increased minimum wages with inflammatory posters about theoretical job losses, that’s what the other side does. So how is it that we can mentally overcome direct harms for diffuse benefits in one situation, but as soon as other countries are involved (with the exception of NAFTA somehow?) we freak out and become irrationally protectionist. Is anti-free trade rhetoric on the left really anything other than thinly disguised nationalism/xenophobia? At the very least, it is a distraction from addressing the real sources of economic disparity and social anxiety: a failure by national governments to implement progressive taxation, corporate governance and social legislation. Nothing to do with trade deals at all.

For a long read on the benefits of NAFTA and the potential for change going forwards, try this blog post

Dogwood’s response to accusations of racism and xenophobia surrounding its ‘Stand Up to China’ campaign


Speed Sisters is an Essential Documentary

Speed Sisters is a powerful documentary about the first all-female team of race car drivers in the Middle East. The film was directed by Amber Fares, a filmmaker originally from Alberta who spent years in the West Bank capturing the stories of five women of various backgrounds and histories, united by the gritty the world of drag racing in Palestine.

Like any good sports documentary, Speed Sisters contains excitement, intensity, and humor. And yet, set amidst a pervasive backdrop of military checkpoints, armed soldiers, and concrete border walls, the film is also permeated with tragic themes of captivity, and the draining demands of hopefulness.

Though Fares’s story is not explicitly political — the actual conflict between Israel and Palestine are hardly mentioned — her decision to focus on the struggles and adversity faced by her female characters, and their willful determination to overcome them, acts as a powerful critique of the ongoing occupation of the West Bank. In one particularly moving scene, two of the racers leave the West Bank for the first time in their lives. They reach the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, and, overcome by the limitless beauty of the open sea, they dive in, fully clothed but free.

A low-budget, independent film, Speed Sisters was actually released, to limited audiences, back in 2015. Since then, slowly but surely, the film has amassed an impressive array of critical acclaim, and has been screened in theatres across the world since its release. Just this week, it made its way into The New York Times.

In the wake of Trump’s Muslim ban, and what feels like a resurgence of Islamophobia in the West, it feels imperative to listen to the stories of men and especially women in the Middle East, and of people living in marginalized communities here at home. In 2017, Speed Sisters feels essential.


Rachel Notley Has Faced 431 Security Threats: Previous Five Premiers Faced 36, Combined

Keith Gerein reports in The Edmonton Journal:

“The statistics show that from 2003 to 2015, Alberta sheriffs recorded 55 security incidents involving six premiers.

Nineteen of those came in the last half of 2015, which happened to be current Premier Rachel Notley’s first months in office. At least three of those incidents required police intervention.

In 2016, protection services changed its process of reviewing and monitoring security threats, in part to include more surveillance of social media. That year, 412 incidents were reported involving Notley, 26 of which were forwarded to police as they were deemed to have approached a criminal threshold.”


Borders (What's Up With That?)

Guest Post by Aliya Bhatia

One thing I learned from studying history is that the idea of a coherent or static “national identity” does not really exist. Although invoked regularly by politicians, our favourite athletes, and our patriotic parents, the concept of national identity as something that characterizes a country and informs the actions of elected leaders is largely a misconception. In my lifetime alone, I have seen new nations come into existence (South Sudan, Czech Republic), nations overlooked or unrecognized (Palestine), and nations that form new identities (India and maybe even the United States.)

I was really heartened by reading about this when I was younger. As someone who has lived in six cities across four different countries before the age of thirteen, I’ve always been curious about the notion of identity. At my angstiest, I thought it was stupid. Why should I, or anyone for that matter, align my identity to a nation-state whose existence is fickle?

Perhaps the incoherence of national identity has something to do with the arbitrariness of borders. In What Makes a Border Be, Fariha Roisin—a thoughtful writer and one half of the Two Brown Girls podcast — explores the relationship between identity and borders — both constructs, too nebulous to be nailed down or constrained by walls: metaphysical or not.

“What are borders? Who has defined them, and what defines them?” Rosin asks.

“In the West, settler colonies have created them. And these borders aren’t always physical: France has constructed an excoriating border from Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, the Sudanese and Somalis—all those they colonized and bled red of resources. The border is created with a rhetoric of the savagery of Muslims, as well as a furor of anti-blackness and haine de l’Arabe. France’s Islamophobia is masked in a concern for misogyny, in a championing of cacophonous feminism, when it’s really an Orientalist/escapist hatred; a fear of the unknown, of le sauvage, the brutality with which they’ve painted a thick portrait of the other, of us…Borders aren’t just geographic, they’re economic and racialized, too.”

This piece has helped me understand the arbitrariness of President Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” as accounts proliferated on Twitter of individuals who were stopped that were not Muslim but Zoroastrian, born in Tehran. Or had a parent who was born in Yemen, but were not themselves from there. Or weren’t even from one of the seven countries, but from somewhere like Morocco. Or had merely travelled through one of the seven countries. It’s hardly a surprise that border guards, when confronted with an order that conflates national identity with religious identity for political means, would use it to enlarge their powers. In the process they sow fear and entrap innocent Muslims, non-Muslims, people that look Muslim or have Muslim-sounding names, or that have merely travelled to Muslim countries.

The arbitrariness of the seven countries banned is intentional, as Trump is not attempting to guard the US border against these particular nationals, but against Muslims. All Muslims. It’s politically motivated, informed by self-interest and financial reward (President Trump has holdings in both Saudi Arabia and Indonesia), and intentionally xenophobic.  

Roisin’s argument is a timely and eloquent reminder of the difficulties of defining and defending borders, and the fluidity of identity. She ends her piece wistfully, but I read it as a call to arms—it serves as a reminder to me, that as easily as we can construct these borders (or walls), we can (attempt to) deconstruct them.


MOM: 20th Century Women

In 20th Century Women, Annette Bening plays a single mom, Dorothy, who had her only son at 40. As she raises her son, she is faced with the question of “How do you be a good man?”

To tackle this question, she calls upon two women, Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning), misfit confidantes and housemates for the family. The two girls help to watch over and guide Dorothy’s son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). They do their best, but their own personal baggage and relationships with Jamie complicate the process.

Through carefully carved out slow tracked shots, director Mike Mills establishes his character studies. It’s one of those movies about the messiness and unpredictability of family life.

Although many of the milestones that Jamie goes through were completely unfamiliar to me, including playing the hyperventilation fainting game or running away from home, the overall themes were still relatable.

The movie also challenges traditional roles of parenthood. One of my favourite dialogues in the movie is when Jamie asks her mom “Do you think you’re happy?”

Instead of a generic deflection, Dorothy asks: “Seriously? Look, wondering if you’re happy, it’s a great shortcut to just being depressed.”

This relationship between mother and son is so often unexplored in films. 20th Century Women highlights this relationship in the midst of many transition points. Jamie is finding his own identity as a teen and is no longer relying on his mom. Set in the late 1970s, it’s also a time of political, cultural, and technological change. Dorothy is rediscovering what it means for her to be a single woman in her mid-50s again.

But ultimately, it’s the exploration into the unsaid thoughts and insecurities we have with each other and ourselves that makes this movie great.


Links From This Week's Thread

Slavery in Quebec: “February is Black History Month. In Quebec, most people are unaware of the black and native slavery in their province’s past. And yet, between 1629 and 1833, there were a reported 4,185 slaves here. Many lived in Quebec City, where they were employed in the homes of wealthy and prestigious families.”

Some days…

A 5 minute video on Bordier Butter, only the best butter in the world.

Most lawyers fighting Trump’s Muslim ban on the ground are women. This is true about pro-bono and public interest legal work generally: women dwarf men when it comes to pursuing public interest legal careers in both in the United States and Canada.

Thanks to a new decision by the Federal Court of Canada, “[T]here is now a road map for the global removal of search results of content that may be factually correct, but which also implicates the privacy rights of individuals.” Here’s a more detailed discussion of the decision from renowned Canadian privacy lawyer David T.S. Fraser.

Also, gear up for a battle to maintain the Net Neutrality rules put in place by the Obama Administration, and which underpin the democratic character of the Internet.

Canada is in the midst of a full-blown drug epidemic. Andrea Woo explores the options available to policy makers to address the crisis.

Rising temperatures due to climate change will strongly affect economic growth, and has the potential to restructure the global economy.

The Indian state of Punjab held its most competitive elections in recent memory with three major contenders and a host of social issues on the ballot, including addressing the growing drug epidemic impacting predominantly young men. The Caravan has a fantastic run-down of the campaign, which wrapped up on February 4, 2017. Results will be released on March 11, 2017.

Amy Sanderson15/02/17
This Week's Conversations: Talking to Kids About Prejudice, Education Technology, Thundercat, Electoral Reform, Bissonnette and Roof, Migrant Rights, Bannon, and more.

A weekly conversation between friends.

How to Talk to Kids About Prejudice

By Ram Sankaran

The Political Wall Between My Father and Me by Tari Ngangura in the Globe this week is interesting on several levels. Paradoxically, many activist parents wish for their children to engage in less activism or less extreme activism so they can avoid pitfalls to their career and their general well being. However, what drew my attention in the piece, especially as a father, was the discussion relating to how immigrant or non-white parents teach children about race, as it is a subject I have ruminated on for some time.

In my own experience, from a young age, my brown immigrant parents emphasized to us that we were a minority; that there were disadvantages to this ("You will need to work twice as hard than a white person for the same job." etc.), and that the world was not a fair place for minorities or for poor people. Meritocracy was to some extent an illusion to present the image of a well functioning, just society. In reality, most of the more dire warnings did not come to fruition. While we had episodic racism (mostly the usual inaccurate epithets "Paki") directed at us, the system actually worked. We were able to achieve in our education and our careers, and have generally been fortunate in life.

Nevertheless, the words did stay with me. In my political life (largely confined to Twitter), I have always had a focus on racism, religious discrimination, and class issues.

Now that I am a father, I have used a similar approach with my own children. My warnings are not as stark or as dire as those of my parents. My toddler knows she is brown (although if you told her she was Pink several times, she might also agree). My son is of school age (Grade 3), and my approach with him has been to emphasize that he is brown, some people may not like him for that reason, and he has the right to protect himself as necessary to ensure he is being treated with respect. We have now moved on to me advising him that others should also be treated as individuals. When he hears Muslims or Jews or other people being disparaged because of their race or religion, he has the choice to speak up for them or stay silent (there is no obligation to act as a hero), but the choice is his and he can exercise it based on what he thinks is right. I am lucky that my son is such a warm, empathetic, and perceptive boy who can receive this information with the right degree of seriousness, but also humour.

It has surprised me that when I discuss my approach with a segment of other parents, they have found it unsettling.

Isn’t he too young for that? What if he doesn’t understand? I want to talk to my kids, but am going to wait until they are older.

There is merit to these counter-arguments. I think they come from a good place, namely from the idea that kids are not born as prejudiced people, but are taught prejudice by adults. It is a point that really can’t be and shouldn’t be argued.

That being said, I have noticed the people most unsettled by my approach usually come from the same background: white, socially liberal, fiscally conservative. This particular political identity has always raised more questions for me than answers. In a sense the identity indicates what someone is against (racism, sexism, homophobia, big government) then what they are actually for. One could certainly hold these views while not actively engaging in any particular project or active involvement. Nevertheless, many of these people are active. Most of these people are warm-hearted and involved in the community usually with charities, sit on boards for arts foundations, volunteer and do things for others on a personal level. They are the type of people that aren’t comfortable when others are too opinionated (why are they in my social circle again?); or when conversations get overly political.

But we are living in a toxic environment when it comes to racial animus and religious discrimination. There is a lot of dirt out there and if we, as a society, want to stay as unified as possible, everyone will need to get their boots dirty.

The instruction from my parents on matters of prejudice allowed me to navigate my own life and find constructive outlets for the pressures on me and on others. That being said, given the emphasis provided by my parents, I also grew up with and to this day have blindspots. For instance, the plight of aboriginals and the discrimination experienced by LGBT persons were issues never raised or discussed in our house. There were hollow spaces in terms of my learning and understanding of these issues from a young age. Those empty places were filled in by my culture and surroundings. I didn’t have the intellectual framework or even courage at a young age to deviate from the prairie culture around me on these issues. As a result, and to my discredit, I was a homophobe and at best was indifferent to aboriginal issues and at worst a racist like many of my contemporaries. To this day, I have to do more intellectual work to weed out my own biases on these issues to find the framework to understand these marginalized groups with the empathy and consideration they deserve.

Where vacuums exist, something inevitably fills in the gaps. Did I mention these were toxic times? There has never been a time in my adult life where hatred, venom and violence have been such a large part of the public discussion. They are affecting all marginalized groups, but, in particular ethnic and religious minorities, in my opinion.

We spend a great deal of time, appropriately in my view, ensuring that our children/adolescents understand the nature of human sexual activity (“the birds and the bees” talk). It boggles my mind that we as parents don’t think that talk about race or religion discrimination (and there could be other issues, but at this time those are my major preoccupations) is similarly appropriate of frank and semi-formal discussion with our kids, regardless of our race.

Just as we know that work ethic, discipline, and being respectful of others are things we can teach to our children (as well as racist and discriminatory beliefs), we need to start seeing as anti prejudice as something we need to constantly learn and re-learn and teach and re-teach to our children. We cannot simply passively rely on our culture and institutions to do this for us. We cannot assume a hands off approach will automatically result in the next generation being a more unified society.  It will be uncomfortable and tentative. We do not have a singular approach to transmitting information and there is no vaccine. But the risks at this time are very high, and so is the payout. Have the talk.

For once, I agree with the conservatives: it starts at home.


Why Do Schools Need So Much Data?

In a continuation of our semi-regular columns on techno-dystopia (see 1, 2, 3), this week I bring you excerpts from a recent speech by Audrey Watters, an outspoken critic on issues related to education technology:

“One of the “hot new trends” in education technology is “learning analytics” – this idea that if you collect enough data about students that you can analyze it and in turn algorithmically direct students towards more efficient and productive behaviors, institutions towards more efficient and productive outcomes. Command. Control. Intelligence. 
The risk isn’t only hacking. It’s also the rather thoughtless practices of information collection, information sharing, and information storage. Many software companies claim that the data that’s in their systems is their data. It’s questionable if much of this data – particularly metadata – is covered by [privacy acts]. As such, student data can be sold and shared, particularly when the contracts signed with a school do not prevent a software company from doing so. Moreover, these contracts often do not specify how long student data can be kept.

Again, the risk isn’t only hacking. It’s amassing data in the first place. It’s profiling. It’s tracking. It’s surveilling. It’s identifying “students at risk” and students who are “risks.”

I swear to you this: more data will not protect you. Not in this world of “alternate facts,” to be sure. Our relationships to one another, however, just might. We must rebuild institutions that value humans’ minds and lives and integrity and safety. And that means, in its current incarnation at least, in this current climate, ed-tech has very very little to offer us.”


Thundercat, Smooth Jazz Virtuoso

You may not have heard of Thundercat, but he’s all over the place. That bonkers bass solo in Flying Lotus’s Never Catch Me*? That’s Thundercat. That nearly sub-bass line in Kendrick’s “Wesley’s Theory” — the one that sounds like it might damage your stereo speakers? That’s him, too.

As a bassist and a producer, he has also left indelible marks on recent releases by Erykah Badu, Kamasi Washington, and Ty Dolla Sign, to name just a few. He’s released three strange, but critically-acclaimed solo albums, and is set to release a fourth this month.

Admittedly, his music is not for everyone (neither are his videos). When I first saw him live, opening for Flying Lotus, his band assaulted the crowd with 40 minutes of chaotic, noisy, jazz/funk/metal-fusion. Thundercat spent most of the set absolutely shredding over compound time signatures and atonal jazz scales. Much of the crowd was dumbfounded. Some covered their ears.

Fortunately, in addition to his virtuosity, Thundercat is also a talented songwriter and vocalist, who over the years has polished his sophisticated take on neo-soul and funk. More recently, he has undertaken the bold experiment of revitalizing the ever-lampooned sounds of ‘smooth jazz’ from the 70s and 80s.

His new single, from his upcoming album Drunk, represents the pinnacle of this experiment. Featuring Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald (!), “Show You The Way” has to be one of the goofiest and yet most satisfying throwbacks in recent memory:


Dear Elizabeth May

I can’t say I was surprised when the Liberals announced there would be no further action on electoral reform. It was always going to be a long shot, and, in this time of turmoil, it’s hard to fault the Liberals for viewing it as too politically risky.

Unless of course you think politicians should act as selfless representatives who act only in the best interests of the people, and the people in turn will celebrate and re-elect them for this behaviour.

Perhaps it’s this type of thinking which led Elizabeth May to make her tone-deaf remarks on Wednesday regarding the decision. She emotionally declared that she was “deeply ashamed” that our “feminist Prime Minister... threw two young women cabinet ministers under the bus.” and “with Le Pen and Trump, … We are in a time of dangerous politics. You must never do anything as a politician who understands what’s at stake, you must never do anything that feeds cynicism.”

Speaking as a somewhat young person, this is not what is feeding my cynicism at this point. Honestly, it’s May’s inappropriate accusation of sexism and references to Le Pen and Trump that are. It’s out of line.

This is the kind of language that contributes to radicalizing our politics, because it dismisses the reality of them completely. Politicians act in ways that will get them re-elected, and as long as they act within the laws and norms of our system, we accept that this is a limitation of democracy. It’s a pragmatic system, and our approach to politicians should be as well. So let’s save insinuations of sexism and breaking of norms and values for times when it’s actually happening, not over a political situation that has nothing to do with the fact that the ministers are women, or in any way threatens our democracy. Our democracy is still functioning, unlike our friends’ to the South.


Vancouver's Bubble

Vancouver has had an especially bad year with the opioid crisis currently confronting Canada. Out of the 914 people that died in B.C. in 2016, 215 were in Vancouver.

The drug supply is partly to blame. More than 80% of Vancouver’s drug supply is thought to be tainted with fentanyl. Fentanyl is a 100 times stronger than morphine.

There was a significant increase in overdose deaths since October 2016. Carfentanil —  an opioid 1000 times stronger than morphine — may be a possible reason. Carfentanil was found in 57 of 1,766 specialized urine tests conducted over two weeks in January in treatment facilities across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. Prior to this, authorities were unable to test for Carfentanil.

The story of people dying from fentanyl or carfentanil-related deaths is still seen as a problem affecting addicts living in the inner city. People are often surprised to find out that the crisis is impacting people beyond areas like the Downtown Eastside, and even non-opioid drug users. This narrative helps to separate the drug crisis from the rest of society, normalizing it.

On a recent visit to the city, I met people carrying naloxone who’d never used drugs before. There were women with stores in Gastown, the business district next to the Downtown Eastside, who’d used naloxone for people who had overdosed outside their stores. They have become part of the army of bystanders that are helping save people from overdose deaths.

But the real heroes of the crisis have been drug users and community organizers in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. The Overdose Prevention Society that was started by Sarah Blyth responds to hundreds of overdoses every month.

Travis Lupick tells the story of a shadow health-care system that has slowly developed in Vancouver since an overdose epidemic swept into British Columbia in 2011. People living in SROs (Vancouver’s infamous single room occupancy hotels), have set up naloxone dispensaries from their rooms. They stock naloxone kits and help bring back people from the brink of death on an hourly basis.

Doug Nickerson, a 58-year old man living in Surrey, B.C., single-handedly has reversed over 113 overdoses over the last four years.

Groups like VANDU are finally finding themselves at the center of attention from governments and media. An entire community is dying off from this drug crisis. It’s time that the people at the frontlines are recognized, consulted, and supported on the work they do best. Recognizing that the drug crisis an issue that affects everyone, not just the vulnerable, is a step in getting the support it needs.


Charleston and Quebec: The Similarities Between Roof and Bissonnette

It’s hard not to draw similarities between Alexandre Bissonnette and Dylan Roof. Both were young white men from stable, middle class backgrounds drawn to radical White supremacist ideology that resulted in horrific acts of terror. Bissonnette directed his violence against Muslim congregants of a Quebec mosque, while Roof targeted worshippers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, a potent symbol of African American identity in the southern United States. Both men staked out the places of worship that they planned to attack, even speaking with congregants, and in both cases shot their victims while they prayed with their eyes shut.

As the courts in the United States consider whether to impose the death penalty on Roof, Jelani Cobb explores the significance of the act on the African American community in South Carolina, and around the United States. What is fascinating is that Roof is represented by Canadian-born American attorney David Bruck, an anti-death penalty legal activist, who has famously argued that “the imposition of capital punishment, a practice that reinforced the value of the lives of white victims over those of black ones, is as troubling as violent crime itself,” due to its racist and uneven application.

But there are tensions within Bruck’s forceful critique of the death penalty in the context of a man who murdered Black parishioners in what many consider to be the most significant African American church in the United States, which has played a critical role in the emancipation and civil rights movements from its founding in 1816 until today. In fact, Roof chose to attack the church for that precise reason, and has attempted to use the trial to defend his attack as a promotion of his racist ideology. However, polls in South Carolina still show that African-Americans favour sentencing Roof to life in prison rather than imposing the death penalty, while the vast majority of Whites prefer the death penalty in this case (the difference perhaps reflects a personal understanding of the criminal justice system, and how it discriminates against African Americans with harsher sentences, including the death penalty, for the same crimes committed by White Americans, particularly, and constituting ‘The New Jim Crow’).

Bissonnette won’t be subject to the death penalty in Canada, but as the six counts of first-degree murder that he has been charged with proceed to trial, I will be keeping an eye on whether Bissonnette will use the process to promote his ideology like Roof attempted to do so in South Carolina. I will also be following the response of the Muslim-Canadian community, as it assesses how well our judicial system is equipped to address hate crimes of this nature and the individuals who commit them. And if the words of Imam Hassan Guillet at the funeral of three of the victims of the Quebec attack are any indication, it will consist of both justice and compassion for all, including Bissonnette.


What Does Bannon Really Believe?

There’s been a lot of talk this week about Stephen Bannon — the former Breitbart editor and chief of the Trump campaign, now the President’s senior strategist and chief counselor. How much power does he have, and how much control over Trump? And, perhaps more importantly, what does he actually believe in, and hope to accomplish?

Most are quick to paint Bannon as a brilliant villain pulling the strings from the shadows, or a cunning Machiavellian consul, who flatters his master only to deceive and usurp. Here, he is characterized as a man who wants to destroy the Republican party and replace it with a nationalist economic populist party like the far-right ones in Europe. Here, he is characterized as a dangerous radical seeking to disrupt and tear down the liberal order.  He is a voracious reader, who devours works of history and political theory “in like an hour." His belief in an inevitable existential conflict between the West and ‘Islamic fascism’ is well-documented, and helps to explain the hard-line immigration policies that Trump has rolled out in the early days of his administration.

He’s also painted as a brilliant strategist — “a skilled practitioner of dialectical engagement” — with “complex views on capitalism”. Unlike Trump, he is an avid reader, whose tastes overlap considerably with those of white nationalists.

If all of this is true, we may be in serious trouble.

Fortunately, I came across an article by Ronald Beiner — a professor we studied with at University of Toronto. A Hannah Arendt scholar and an expert on civil religion and political philosophy in the 20th century, old Beiner doesn’t take threats to the liberal order lightly. With a heady balance of seriousness and irony, Beiner’s article represents an earnest attempt to draw out a clear understanding of the political thought or worldview of Stephen Bannon. He concludes:

“[Bannon’s] worldview comes across as a fairly incoherent hodge-podge of incompatible ideologies whose common thread is hatred of (liberal) elites. One can speculate that Trump was drawn to Bannon because Bannon shared Trump’s sense of the political opportunities ripe to be exploited of European-style right-wing populism: whatever is driving the rise of populism in Europe can drive populism in America as well. Beyond this strategic instinct or insight, neither of them seems to have any particularly coherent idea of what they believe in, apart from the notion of a conspiracy on the part of a sinister liberal-cosmopolitan elite ("the party of Davos") against common folk in Kansas and Colorado. As the statement of a political philosophy, one has to say that it is pretty shallow and poorly thought-through."

Is this a (relatively) good thing or a (relatively) bad thing? Who do we want navigating the ship of state? Someone who is shortsighted, and lacking knowledge of the sea? Or a skilled navigator that wants to sail us into dangerous territory?  Better a Karl Rove  than a Carl Schmitt? Right?

Either way, we’re clearly entering a dangerous era of political uncertainty.


How to Support Migrant Rights in Canada

Donations to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and other front-line civil society organizations in the United States, have surged in the early days of the Trump Administration. As Donald Trump strips away the fundamental rights and protections afforded to women and girls, immigrants and refugees (especially, Muslims), and the environment, large swaths of the public have decided to push back by turning to non-partisan civil society actors to defend their interests and values.

Many Canadians have also donated to these American organizations, but are equally concerned with the threat that Trump poses to Canada — particularly the rhetoric of Canadian politicians inspired by his movement, and concerns whether our country is doing enough to provide support to those impacted by his policies. However, it is difficult to know which organizations in Canada are worth supporting, as it’s not entirely clear which are working on the front-lines of these issues.

I work on civil liberties and rights issues in Canada, and follow closely the legal organizations that operate in this sphere. My work includes direct-service and strategic legal work on a range of issues, including migrant rights. From my perspective, the only relevant civil liberties organization in Canada is the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). The BCCLA is on the front-lines of almost every liberty and rights issue in this country, including the right to die, state surveillance, solitary confinement, citizenship revocation, and far too many to list here. They do direct service work, but also broader systemic work through strategic litigation, policy development, and awareness building. In recent years, they have also shown a willingness to directly take on lawsuits, which unlike the United States, is rare in Canada.

When it comes to specific legal organizations working on migrant rights issues, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) is the legal advocacy organization that is most deserving of your support. Since it was founded in 2011, CARL has been doing critical legal work that no other organization can or will do. During the Harper years, when Canada’s migratory laws and policies took a turn for the draconian and inhumane, it was CARL that led the fight, winning key legal battles to ensure that migrants, especially refugees and refugee claimants, were treated with respect and dignity.

The BCCLA and CARL are non-profit organizations in Canada that are doing meaningful legal work to protect and enhance the liberties and rights of people in Canada on both an individual and systemic level. As things here and south of the border develop, follow them to see how things are unfolding here in Canada, and what you can do to support.


Links From This Week's Thread

The Quebec attack has caused many Muslim-Canadians to reflect on their experiences and place in Canada. Sarah-Taïssir Bencharif’s “A Multicultural Ideal, and a Difficult Reality” is one of many worth reading, along with Shireen Ahmed’s “Mothering in a Time of Terror.”

David Gutnick founded one of Quebec’s radical far-right neo-Nazi organizations, which was committed to violence to advance its nationalist views. But something changed for Gutnick, and now he works against White radicalization in Quebec. Here’s an interview with Gutnick in which he explains the reason for his hate and why he walked away from his neo-Nazi worldview.

It’s time to use Trumpspeak against him: “Look at Yemen. Disaster. Totally preventable. More nuclear arms? Is he joking? He’s dangerous. Unsafe. Has to go. It’s horrifying, an embarrassment. Everyone knows it. If you’re not boring yourself, you’re not doing it right. Seriously.”

The Alt-Majority: How Social Networks Empowered Mass Protests Against Trump.

I work from home.

Rumors about Mick Fleetwood that you should probably know about.

The early years of La Blogotheque never goes out of style for me, and in my weekend of lonely procrastination and studying I felt obliged to revisit some old favourites including this classic by Beirut and the infamous freight elevator version of Neon Bible. Ok, ok and the all time best version of Mumford’s Banjolin Song. AND this San Fermin performance, damn.

Catherine Wallace is the latest recipient of the Atkinson Fellowship, which provides “a seasoned Canadian journalist with the opportunity to pursue a yearlong investigation into a current policy issue.” Wallace “is exploring the future of journalism at a time when the news industry is in a financial crisis,” and is publishing her findings in the Toronto Star as part of the Atkinson Series. Wallace’s first piece looks at whether universities or citizen groups can help fill the void with the collapse of for-profit journalism models.  

From digging up news to spinning it; former journalists make the jump to political press secretaries.

This gritty portrait of a group of Iraqis that are on the front-line of the battle for Mosul is gripping in its depictions of their motivations and misery, as well as how Luke Mogelson captures the realities of modern urban warfare.

Richie Assaly
The Week's Conversations: Quebec Attack, Canada's Oldest Mosque, Arrival, Killings in the Philippines, Jason Kenney, Battle of Mosul, Bad and Boujee

A weekly conversation between friends.

Holding Canada to its Promise

The murder of six Muslim congregants of the Culturel Islamique de Québec in Quebec City by a young white man with xenophobic, anti-immigrant views challenges the narrative that Canadians like to tell themselves: that Canada is a country of freedom and prosperity, where one can practice their faith without the threat of violence.

And for the most part, what we think of ourselves is true. We are a tolerant and inclusive society that respects and accommodates difference. Our secular, multicultural, liberal democratic roots make it easy for people to live and be themselves, regardless of race, religion, sexuality, or ability. Social harmony is a product of understanding the linkage between you and your community’s right to live and thrive with the right of your neighbour and her community to do the same. We are all in this together.

Sunday’s attack taught us that we are not immune from the hate and violence that we often associate with the countries we fled from, and not the one we ended up in. There are dangerous consequences of the hate and bigotry that has long simmered in this country towards Muslims. Hate and bigotry that has been normalized, by vote-seeking politicians that play to our fears, by journalists unwilling to dive deeper than sound bites, and by casually racist or Islamophobic comments that find their way into our everyday discourse.

Canada, and the ideals it rests on, has always been dependent on those willing to hold it up to its promise. From the highest institutions of power to the broadsheets to the streets, it is incumbent on us to build, to agitate, and to push this country in the direction that respects our place and embodies our values. Sunday was a reminder that there is much more work to be done.


Thinking About Canada's Oldest Mosque

The Al-Rashid Mosque in Edmonton was the first mosque built in Canada, and among the first in North America. The building was designed by a Ukrainian-Canadian contractor named Mike Dreworth in a style resembling an Orthodox Church. When it was completed in 1938, there were only 700 Muslims living in Canada.

I know this bit of historical trivia because my great-grandmother, an immigrant from Greater Syria who came to Canada over 100 years ago, was one of the 32 founders of the original Al-Rashid Mosque.

I consider this connection profound, and, at the risk of sounding insufferably post-modern, it has had an important impact on the way I understand the concept of identity. As a non-Muslim, settler Canadian, whose roots have been uniquely twisted over the course of three generations, the fact that I can trace my ancestry to the very beginnings of Islam in Canada has been a consistent reminder of the fact that our country is not simply a conglomeration of distinct, discrete communities, but one defined by a whole mess of shared and interconnected experiences and histories.

For example, in the decades that followed the construction of the Al-Rashid Mosque, the Arab diaspora in Western Canada flourished, as did “a Canadianized version of Islam,” as my cousin Guy Saddy describes it in an article from 2008:

For these Edmonton Arabs, religion was a less significant bond than ethnicity. Intermarriage between Christians and Muslims (both Arab and not) was fairly common, and among the eight children in my father’s family only half married within the faith. My mother’s side was even less bound by tradition. Her father, a Lebanese Muslim, had married a Canadian-born woman of Scottish ancestry, and of the five children in her family only one, my mother, married a Muslim.
Because the Arab community was small, practices that emphasized similarities between Christians and Muslims were played up, and differences played down. The mosque functioned more as a community centre, a place where Arab youths would gather to dance the traditional dubke or, on occasion, the jitterbug. Things as seemingly unimportant as music and cuisine— fatiya and kibbeh, tabbouleh, and hummus—became bridges between two groups that were increasingly identifying as one.

Today, there are over 1 million Muslims living in Canada — a population made up of dozens of unique communities, who speak different languages, and who trace their origins back to various corners of the world. Some Muslims are keen to integrate into ‘mainstream society’. Others are more conservative. Together, they represent not a single demographic, but a great multitude of traditions. Some of these communities are new to Canada, others stretch back generations. Each has played a role in shaping the contours of our country.

The Al-Rashid Mosque, now a historically designated building preserved in Fort Edmonton Park, is a powerful reminder that diversity isn’t only about tolerance and accommodation, but about acknowledging our shared experiences. It’s about embracing the ways in which our history is formed by the perennial tension and interaction between different communities; by the ongoing effort to seek harmony and resolve contradictions between competing visions. This, to me, is the proper understanding of multiculturalism.


Arrival's Brilliance

Arrival is one of the most conceptually brilliant and intricate films of the year. Through its beautiful cinematography and direction, the film explores themes such as time, narrative, language, and human life and agency in the context of first contact with extraterrestrial life.

Denis Villeneuve — the Canadian film maker behind Polytechnique, Incendies, Prisoners, and Sicario — directed Arrival.  Villeneuve broke out of the Quebec film scene with Inciendies, one of the best films to come out of Canada in recent decades, which is an adaptation of a play that chronicles a daughter and son uncovering their mother’s past in the middle eastern country she fled for Canada.

Arrival is also an adaptation. It’s based on the award-winning short story of acclaimed science fiction author Ted Chiang. Earlier this month, The New Yorker published a profile of Chiang that fittingly provides more questions than answers into him and his works.

Central to the plot of Arrival is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which theorized that there is a link between language and how we perceive the world. That the different structures of languages shape how speakers understand their surroundings and the world. In the film, the protagonist learns a language that is not communicated in a time-linear fashion, which in turn alters her perception of time.

For those who speak or understand multiple languages, the idea of language shaping your understanding of the world doesn’t seem novel. But what may be surprising is that this theory has been partially debunked, and forcefully criticized as being invented and a product of colonial eroticism (the Smithsonian Institution tackles the theory and its critiques, and is well worth a read).

Arrival is a film that will mesmerize you with its visuals and strong performances, while its themes will resonate with you well after watching it.


How Language Discriminates: Trump's EO and Canada's Racist Migratory Past

Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.

- “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” - Executive Order of President Donald J. Trump (Friday, January 27, 2017)

This portion of Donald Trump’s executive order on refugee resettlement received widespread condemnation for denying Muslim refugees entry to the United States. However, the policy doesn’t explicitly mention Muslims, or appear to discriminate against any one religion in particular. In reality, though, it’s an example of legislative drafting designed to mask the discriminatory intent of the state — a technique that formed the core of Canada’s racist migratory policies during the early 1900s.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Canada’s official policy around immigration reflected a conception of Canada that was racially White, and of Christian European heritage. The Canadian state passed a series of discriminatory migratory policies designed to achieve this purpose.

Asian migration was of particular concern. British Columbia had large Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian communities that were growing, which threatened the racial purity the Canadian state sought to achieve.

The Canadian government enacted taxes, sponsorship restrictions, and quotas to decrease and dissuade the number of migrants from China and Japan. However, migrants from the Indian subcontinent posed a unique challenge for legislative drafters.

Migrants from British India were subjects of the British Empire. As subjects of the British Empire, they were theoretically entitled to free movement within it, which included Canada. This forced the Canadian state to develop a policy that didn’t appear to specifically target migrants from the Indian subcontinent, but still prevented their entry.

What it came up with was the Continuous Journey Regulation, which prohibited the entry of persons to Canada who arrived “otherwise by continuous journey from the country of which they are native citizens and upon through tickets purchased in that country."

On its face, the regulation appeared neutral, and didn’t explicitly discriminate against South Asians. In reality, it effectively barred their entry. Most ships could not make the continuous journey from India to Canada at the time, and the government forced the only company that offered the service to suspend it. In the end, no migrant could make a continuous journey from India to Canada.

Measures like the Continuous Journey Regulation are examples of what I consider to be ‘adverse effects discrimination legislation’. Legislation that is neutral on its face, but discriminatory in its effect. This allows the state to claim that the aims of the policy are not discriminatory, as it impacts everyone, but in reality, affects a particular identity group or class of persons more severely than others.

Trump attempts to achieve the same through his Executive Order. It “prioritizes” religious minorities over refugees belonging to religious groups comprising the majority (a policy taken directly from the Harper Government). With most refugee source countries having a Muslim majority, this significantly curtails the ability of Muslim refugees to resettle in the United States. It also ignores the reasons of persecution, which is not exclusively faith group affiliation, but are context dependent and include a myriad of other factors, including ethnicity, political belief, sexuality, and other grounds. Ethical refugee resettlement decisions should be focused on need, not on religious affiliation.

However, unlike a century ago, Canadians and Americans are less likely to support these discriminatory migratory practices, and are willing to take to the polls, streets, and even airport terminals to ensure that our governments treat refugees with dignity, regardless of religious affiliation.


Killings in the Philippines

A few weeks back, I mentioned an article written by Adrian Chen in The New Yorker on the rise of Rodrigo Duterte, the populist, boisterous President of the Philippines, and his brutal anti-drug campaign. This week, the number of Filipinos killed by Duterte’s campaign surpassed 7,000  — which amounts to about 30 murders a day since he took office in June of last year.

By themselves, these numbers are shocking. A closer look, however, reveals an even more disturbing picture — one characterized by extrajudicial killings, overcrowded prisons, and communities shattered. (Daniel Berehulak’s photo-essay on the killings is a must-read).

Indeed, Duterte has boldly upheld his vow to disregard human rights in his effort to rid the country of drug-related crime. The focus of his campaign has appeared to quickly shift from drug ‘pushers’ to drug users — typically poor, young men who use crystal meth to endure difficult work and long hours.

In a recent article, bluntly titled “Murderous Manila”, James Fenton describes in lurid detail the two types of killings that he witnessed as a nighttime crime reporter in the capital. The first type of killing, carried out by police officers, is referred to as the ‘buy-bust operation’:

“ which the targeted criminal attempts to buy some drugs, only to find that he is dealing with undercover police. He panics and reaches for a weapon, a pistol perhaps or a kind of homemade shotgun. Before he can use it (so the familiar script reads) the police shoot him dead.”

As Duterte himself has implicitly admitted, guns are often placed at the scene of the crime.

The second type of killing, carried by ‘unidentified gunmen’, is referred to as an EJK, or an extrajudicial killing. These killings, which outnumber those carried out by police officers by a ratio of 2 to 1, are usually gruesome, usually public, and usually involve serious collateral damage. Fenton writes:

“The rules of the buy-bust may be a transparent fiction, but an EJK is an act of terrorism. Its anonymity is of the essence. Nobody knows who is organizing this program of killings, or who is carrying them out... Meanwhile the message to the public at large is: whatever happens, Duterte’s hand is in it; and there is no real distinction between a buy-bust and an EJK.”

It’s difficult to tell, at this point, how far the killings will go. Duterte remains very popular, and has ridden a wave of broad acquiescence. Unfortunately, his administration will likely be emboldened by the presidency Donald Trump, who has in recent weeks endorsed the violent campaign, and stated that Duterte is doing things ‘the right way’.


Jason Kenney Should Come With a Warning Sign

Forgive this jaunt down memory lane, but it was just about two years ago when we got serious about putting together a project to document the changes of The Harper Decade. This week, we have watched Trump issue executive order after executive order, along with various other actions, that are all strikingly reminiscent of Harper’s policies or campaign promises. Gagging federal scientists and burying of evidence of climate change? Been there. Refusing to fund global abortion services? Been there. Dismissal and hampering of the press? Been there (and still there, arguably). Permanent campaign and wedge politics (not new to American politics but this is next level)? Been there.

And now, we see Canadians holding themselves up as paragons of virtue for welcoming refugees and immigrants.

Even Jason Kenney is garnering praise for sharing a touching personal story about an immigrant.

Excuse me for shouting incredulously, but JASON KENNEY?! Jason. Kenney. Jason Kenney, who, along with Stephen Harper and his government, are responsible for some of the most exclusionary and harmful immigration policies and anti-Muslim sentiments in the past decade? Jason Kenney, who declared countries with the most refugee applicants “safe,” and used this as a basis for denying their claims (this is still in place, despite a promise by Trudeau to repeal it). Jason Kenney, who tried to deny refugee claimants healthcare. Jason Kenney, who took out billboard advertisements in Europe to taunt persecuted Roma refugees that Canada would not accept their claims. Jason Kenney, who declared a niqab ban. Jason Kenney, whose government first proposed policies that would effectively bar Canada from accepting Muslim refugees (a policy that was adopted by Trump, and is the current source of much of the international condemnation).

Many of the measures announced by Trump were first proposed and implemented by Kenney in Canada. However, our media seems to have developed a case of collective amnesia, publishing pieces praising Kenney’s compassion towards refugees that are ignorant to the callousness with which he and his government treated refugees and refugee claimants for over a decade.  

We fully agree, diversity is a great Canadian strength. We have always been, and will continue to be defenders of multiculturalism, tolerance and open immigration policies. However, Canada can do more, and is less than two years removed from a government that was openly hostile towards Muslims and committed to making it more difficult for refugees and immigrants to come to Canada. As such, we would do well to support our American friends who are protesting this ban, continue to speak out in our own country against those like Leitch who would impose similar restrictions, and to never, ever praise Kenney for a politically opportune moderate stance on immigration, as his history shows he has nothing but contempt for those who seek refuge and welcome in our country.


Mosul: the Largest Urban Military Operation Since WWII

Back in October, as the battle for Mosul began, I started reading the Mosul Eye, from which I learned more about the city, its people, and the occupation by ISIL.

Mosul has for centuries been an ethnically and religiously diverse city, one that has historically governed itself more as a city-state with close ties to Aleppo in Syria, than as a part of what is now Iraq. Unfortunately, due to its proximity to oil, when the British and French proceeded to divide their colonial spoils in the early 20th century, Mosul was lumped into Iraq. Later, under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Mosul would lose its independence and see its social structure eroded by isolationism and divisionist politics. Mosul Eye argues that this is what ultimately left the city vulnerable to attack by ISIL, which gained full control of the city of 1.8 million people in June 2014, and has resulted in the displacement of over 500,000 Mosulis.

Today, Mosul is the last Iraqi city still occupied by ISIL, and it remains a major supply route for ISIL in Syria. As a result of years of occupation, Mosul is incredibly well fortified, and is still inhabited by over a million civilians, making it a difficult target for air raids or ground attempts. However, in mid-October of 2016, a joint operation was launched by the Iraqi army, Kurdish peshmerga and a Shia paramilitary force, with backing from US, British and French special forces, to retake the city.

In November and December, as the correspondent of the Mosul Eye optimistically discussed the battle for Mosul, fled the city, and then began publishing reports from different neighborhoods as they were slowly and systematically cleared, it faded from my attention. I assumed it would be resolved and I was engaged in reports on the Syrian government’s final assault on Aleppo.

So it is in shame that I point you to this compelling LRB article by Patrick Cockburn on misinformation regarding the situations in Aleppo and Mosul. “[B]y presenting the siege of East Aleppo as the great humanitarian tragedy of 2016, [foreign leaders and the international media] diverted attention from an even greater tragedy that was taking shape three hundred miles to the east in northern Iraq.”

The battle for Mosul continues, affecting approximately 1.2 million Mosulis. Cockburn writes:

“[O]n 11 January, the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said the city was ‘witnessing one of the largest urban military operations since the Second World War’. She warned that the intensity of the fighting was such that 47 per cent of those treated for gunshot wounds were civilians, far more than in other sieges of which the UN had experience. The nearest parallel to what is happening in Mosul would be the siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995, in which 10,000 people were killed, or the siege of Grozny in 1994-95, in which an estimated 5,500 civilians died. But the loss of life in Mosul could be much heavier than in either of those cities because it is defended by a movement which will not negotiate or surrender and kills anybody who shows any sign of wavering.”

Most damningly, Cockburn points out the differences in the way the media approaches civilian deaths due to airstrikes:

“When Russia or Syria targets buildings in East Aleppo, Russia or Syria is blamed: the rebels have nothing to do with it. Heartrending images from East Aleppo showing dead, wounded and shellshocked children were broadcast around the world. But when, on 12 January, a video was posted online showing people searching for bodies in the ruins of a building in Mosul that appeared to have been destroyed by a US-led coalition airstrike, no Western television station carried the pictures. ‘We have got out 14 bodies so far,’ a haggard-looking man facing the camera says, ‘and there are still nine under the rubble.’”

Further reading: The Mosul Dam “If the dam ruptured, it would likely cause a catastrophe of Biblical proportions, loosing a wave as high as a hundred feet... Large parts of Mosul would be submerged in less than three hours...; in four days, a wave as high as sixteen feet would crash into Baghdad.”


Bad and Boujee: Best Song Ever

It was released way back in October, but the Migos' smash hit “Bad and Boujee” is only now sitting atop the Billboard chart — an unlikely feat in an era of hip hop largely dominated by a small group of superstars. This certainly has something to do with Donald Glover’s recent shout-out at the Golden Globes, where he referred to the track as “the best song ever”. The song’s success was also buoyed by an endless stream of memes on Twitter and Instagram.

But real credit belongs to Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff, who, despite an incredibly long string of mediocre releases (including 5 full-length projects in 2015 alone), have worked tirelessly to refine their signature sound. “We’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing, making the same music,” [Quavo] said “I feel like the world just caught up.”

Credit also belongs to the label executives at Quality Control Music, who sent Migos to work the Atlanta strip club scene, to ‘get the vibe of the people’: “When you see girls on that stage singing the words, you know you got a hit on your hands.”

Migos’ new album, Culture, is out now.


Links from the Week's Thread

If you haven’t heard of Joe Wai, you’re likely familiar with this work (especially if you’re from Vancouver). He’s the architect behind iconic spaces in Vancouver, including Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Skwachays Lodge, and was a key figure in stopping the bulldozing of Chinatown in the 1970s. Wai was a city builder who left an indelible mark on Vancouver. Wai passed away earlier this month, and the Globe & Mail published a fitting tribute to his life and contribution.

A 32-track playlist from artists and immigrants on Trump’s banned country list.

The Broadcast is a new podcast that explores women and politics in Alberta. Created by Edmonton-based journalists Trisha Estabrooks and Alex Zabjek, the podcast has already tackled a range of interesting topics: assessing Nellie McClung’s legacy through the lens of contemporary feminism, why there should be statues of Bertha Wilson in every city, Danielle Smith and Katherine O’Neil on how female politicians are defined, and Sandra Jansen’s experience under two female Premiers (Premiers Redford and Notley).

Wall Street Journal has juxtaposed content from conservative and liberal Facebook feeds in an attempt to understand the other’s echo-chambers. Shared posts “must have at least 100 shares, and come from sources with at least 100,000 followers.”

Three-Ingredient Stovetop Mac & Cheese for another depressing month of winter (where you hate leaving the house for the grocery store).

A feminist take on Little Women's Meg

The New York Times takes next step on a Canadian expansion and hires a new Toronto bureau chief.

New music from Mac DeMarco: "My Old Man" and "This Old Dog."

Amy Sanderson01/02/17
The Week's Conversations: Diversity in Canadian Media, Women's March, Punching Nazis, Trump Protest Songs, Nature of Time

A weekly conversation between friends.

Voices of Culture

Canadians are proud of their diversity. This country is home to people from diverse cultural and identity backgrounds, making us unique from much of the world. However, our media doesn’t do a good job of capturing that diversity. It leaves out many untold stories of how those of us from diverse communities live and interact in this multicultural experiment called Canada. Stories that I have personally witnessed, like the daily potluck lunch hosted by the Filipino staff at the hospital I work at, where they share food and gossip with anyone willing to join. Or this touching reunion of Chinese immigrants at T & T Supermarket with their families.

The lack of diversity in Canadian media has been highlighted before. I grew up watching television shows dominated by the stories of white characters and families. The more diverse stories that I did see drew on cultural tropes of people’s understanding of what it might mean to be ethnic.

Last week we heard Q’s interview with @Hatecopy. Canada has had a string of social media stars with a strong following. @JusReign and @Superwoman are household names for millions of Canadians. Lily Singh (Superwoman) is now a top-earning YouTube star. These successes draw on themes of identity conflicts, and the tension of trying to live between two different worlds: while mainstream success remains elusive, public taste does seem to be evolving.

HBO’s Insecure offers one example of a successful example of this. Centering on the “black female friendship,” Issa Rae offers a candid look of the day to day lives of her friends living in South Los Angeles. It may not be that different for an average 29-year-old millennial navigating work, relationships, and life. It offers normal experiences people of colour facing their day to day issues, rather than being played for their cultural troupes. Instead, the white hipster teacher with the Buddy Holly glasses is relegated to that role in the show.

This week Aziz Ansari hosted SNL. Being the first South Asian to do so created a lot of buzz and excitement. And he delivered. Check out his monologue, or the skit on “La La Land” if you haven’t yet.

Offering diverse stories that resonate with the experiences and realities of diverse communities is important. It provides a greater sense of recognition and belonging to those of us from diverse communities, and challenges those who don’t to better understand the country they live in. But more than that, it makes us all active participants in the stories that define what it means to be Canadian, which, for a country as proudly diverse as Canada, should encompass us all.


They Marched for Inclusion

“As if this contentious dialogue in the women’s movement is by accident,” [Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian-American Muslim activist who is one of four national co-chairs] laughed. “Contentious dialogue is by design.”

It is extremely heartening to see the hundreds of thousands of women who turned out en masse to protest and stand up for their rights. All last week there was article after article published about the difficulties of the Women’s March  - the agenda was too broad, too exclusive, too inclusive, too sensitive, too petty, too race-oriented - it was the exact fucking same as the media coverage of Hillary’s campaign pre- and especially post- election. I had no patience for any of those pieces, except this one.

As I was sitting, watching a livestream of Tamika Mallory give an impassioned speech welcoming White women to the world of feeling explicitly excluded, and essentially telling them to check their privilege without saying the word privilege, all I could think of is, well, welcome to identity politics in all its glory.

It is not easy because it is inclusive, it is not simple because it is inclusive, it is not for any one thing because it is inclusive. If you can’t deal with the discomfort and empathy this requires, then you’re probably closer to Trump on the spectrum than you think.

Women are a hugely diverse group. We are not aligned on any one issue. But the patriarchy affects us all every day; the misogyny and sexism of Trump’s campaign, which seized the media and public’s attention for months, will go on to affect us every day, and this is true even if we don’t live in the US.

These majority movements are never going to be perfect, there will always be people that say something insulting to another group of people or make it feel exclusive. But, for the most part, the hope is that we all manage to act with dignity and respect, and rise above “to push feminism toward a transformational step,” which acknowledges race and class as well as gender.

I am so impressed by the organizers of the Women’s March. Their speeches on Saturday were powerful and motivating. And the demonstrations that have rippled out from the DC protest are bringing women together around the world. It’s been decades since we’ve seen an unapologetically women-centric protest on this scale and I welcome it. I hope that women take home that empowerment and engage in all aspects of their life with renewed vigour and energy. Everyone, literally everyone, will benefit, because ultimately this is a movement built on inclusion.

“Because those who have pushed the movement from inside to change and grow and be better — even when they don’t always agree on what better means — have helped us meet the shifting forms of inequity from era to era.”

What Will You Risk to Protest?

Now is as good a time as any to also contemplate violent protests, since people are cheering on the guy who punched a Nazi, Richard Spencer. A nice, White, liberal guy wrote a boring article in Macleans about “going high,” and how we should all denounce this action.

Wait, let me change topics for a second.

I’m White. Lately, I’ve been feeling uncomfortable when I attach White as a descriptor, because I’ve never really done it before, and maybe if you’re White, you’re feeling aggravated having to read the word White as well, as if I’m implicating us all in this one guy’s opinion! And why did I have to bring race into it anyways! Well, I propose that you join me in looking at that feeling and biting it back just as you would any outright racist statement.

Maybe you’ve also been frustrated by people of colour who have spoken out against the Women’s March or asked where all these white women have been for years and years. In Canada, did we rally and protest for MMIW? In the States, have we been to any Black Lives Matter protests? They are making fair critiques, and it’s something that we need to sit back and listen to.

But it should not stop or discourage you from acting. This is all part of the process.

Anyways, back to violent protesting. People have been jubilant about the peacefulness of the marches. I think this reflects the explicitly non-violent nature of the Women’s March, and the fact that there was nothing to actively resist (the inauguration was done, Trump was in church somewhere, etc.). However, there was also nothing to resist because police did not show up with cannons and tear gas. This is in contrast to Black Lives Matter protests which are regarded as public safety hazards before they even happen. It’s something to think about.

What are you willing to put on the line for rights? What will you be asked to put on the line for rights? What force [against the reigning power] will it take to get rights you are owed?


Non-White Guy: Punching Nazis is Wrong

I am not White, and the sense of satisfaction that some derive from Richard Spencer being sucker-punched in the face is disturbing.

Spencer is a White supremacist who has promoted the genocide of black and brown people in the United States.  Spencer is also one of the most visible faces of the Alt-Right movement and considers Donald Trump’s victory to be progress in terms of his vision of American society. Spencer promotes dangerous ideas that could have serious consequences for racialized people in the United States, where an unapologetic and aggressive form of White supremacy has taken hold.

But Spencer’s views do not justify violence being directed against him or others.

I am concerned with justice, and there is no justice in physically assaulting someone for having views that differ from your own, even if it denies the legitimacy of your existence. The beating of Spencer only satisfies the base desires of those of us who oppose the likes of Spencer; it does not build that just and inclusive world we ultimately seek.

The beating of Spencer, and the support it received, also undermines the democratic value of dissent. For minorities and those holding minority views, the ability to dissent has sustained our communities as we resist oppressive acts of the state and majority. Foundational aspects of our liberal democracy today, particularly in relation to the treatment and rights of disenfranchised communities, were once fringe ideas, that subjected those who espoused them to the threat of vigilante violence. But our system protected and supported these dissenting views (though, not always), allowing them to eventually gain a following, and result in a more just and equitable society.

Admittedly, there is a difference between calling for greater acceptance and inclusion of black and brown communities, and calling for their eradication. These statements are not morally equivalent. But I am uncomfortable with the private regulation of expression that includes violence being used against those we disagree with. In Canada, we have hate speech laws and reasonable limits on expression that ensures that uncomfortable expression is protected, while expression that can cause a diminishment of human value or violence is not. This system, though not perfect, recognizes the balance between allowing and limiting expression in a democracy, and that there are serious stakes on all sides.  


Protest Music in the Age of Trump

What makes a good protest song? Subversive lyrics? A chant-ready chorus? A predominance of bongos?  We asked some friends to share their thoughts on a few of the biggest Trump-era protest songs: 

Arcade Fire ft. Mavis Staples — I Give You Power

Amanda: The vibe of this is so menacing. There’s just this seething, of trust betrayed that has felt really palpable lately – not just that someone would so blatantly use a position of power for their own gain, but a sense of betrayal at fellow citizens for getting him there in the first place. I think this song really harnesses that feeling, but as a protest, I don’t know how effective it is. It’s a threat, a snarl, sure, but it’s not about action yet.

Aliya: Menacing is SO the right word and I think it’s really powerful that the Arcade Fire released this, especially as a standalone. Arcade Fire was one of the bands to put Montréal and Canada on the musical map, after years of somewhat of a “cultural drought”, at least on the international stage. To hear them come out and speak of something across the border tells the fans that the impact of a Trump presidency will be worldwide and will permeate the north and Justin Trudeau’s supposed progressive utopia.

Richie: I dig this song. Who knew that Mavis Staples would sound so natural on an Arcade Fire track? It’s got an appropriate sense of urgency to it — that looping bass synth, Win Butler’s signature yelp. More importantly, it is a song written from a perspective of the people — the multitude, the mob: “I give you power/ Watch me take it away.” In the wake of a brutal campaign, built largely on threats — threats to build a wall, to deport illegal immigrants, to ban Muslims from entering the country, to undermine reproductive rights — it feels good to threaten back.

Rakhee: Somewhere out there a twelve-year old genius girl is listening to this song in her parent’s basement while she hacks into Mr. Trump’s computer mainframe. I can’t wait to see what she finds

YG & Nipsey Hussle  — FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)

Richie: I’m not sure if anything will top this song. It’s visceral, it’s angry, and most importantly, it’s cathartic. As Trump’s outrages and pile higher and higher, as his threats to the dignity and safety of marginalized communities grow more violent and pointed, nothing less than an all-out rejection, a resonant ‘Fuck Donald Trump!’, seems appropriate. Plus, everyone loves G-Funk

Amanda:  I love how this song uses the harshest language against Trump in this casual, almost breezy way. It’s so natural, it captures this feeling of, “he’s so obviously terrible, how could you come to any conclusion other than ‘fuck this guy’?” As a protest song, I think it’s pretty much perfect – direct in purpose, simple in language.

Rakhee: Pardon me while I empty my savings account, purchase a red low-rider and drive to Washington while blasting this song…topless? I don’t know, it is winter…But then again, Fuck Donald Trump.

Fiona Apple — Tiny Hands

Richie: I’m not sure what I think of this. On the one hand, it makes absolute sense to focus directly on the very disturbing fact that the President of the United States was caught on tape admitting to and encouraging sexual assault, especially in the context of the Women’s March. On the other hand, it sounds more like a ringtone, than anything else. I’d venture that this one will quietly slip into oblivion.

Aliya: This song is a really surreal experience because it feels like the experience of being at the protest itself, something very few "fight" or "protest" tracks can really capture. It riles you up, the staccato beat makes you feel like you're actually walking, marching even, with purpose, and it's layered to resemble the kind of organized chaos that make up most protests.

Death Cab for Cutie — Million Dollar Loan

Rakhee: This is the opposite of a protest song. There’s no optimism in it, nothing that makes you want to get up and act. Don’t listen to it unless you want to be reminded of that time you broke up with your terrible boyfriend in grade 8 and then had to see him in high school for another excruciating four years. 

Aliya: I don't know how to react. The tune is so earnest and so quintessentially Death Cab, that it almost seems like a mockery. It also makes me feel like I need a beer and a window to really contemplate our new reality. Maybe that's the point.

Richie: Can emo save the world? No, certainly not. But I agree, this is quintessential Death Cab. And yeah, a beer, a window, and a mini-existential crisis would go along real nicely with this tune. But is it a protest song? Has it galvanized the indie rockers into action? In other words, is it effective? Or simply timely? 

CocoRosie ft. ANOHNI — Smoke ‘em Out

Richie: If last Saturday was any indication, women will be at the forefront of the movement against Trump. Led by CocoRosie — a duo of ‘freak folk feminists’ — and ANOHNI — a transgender artist whose recent album was a blistering critique of the Obama Administration — this terrific track manages to capture the excitement and energy of the Women’s March on Washington — it’s an angry song, but it’s somehow fun, and filled with optimism. Like the top comment for this song says: “The future is female.”

Aliya: This is such a jam! Just on the surface, it’s so enjoyable and loud that it makes you feel like you need to get out and get to work. On that level itself it feels like protest. I agree with what you’ve said above, by merely existing and speaking up ANONHI and CocoRosie inherently resist. Add their other work, and Drone Bomb Me to the mix, and they’re the voice we need to lay the foundation for the next four years. 


Time is Trippy

Alan Burdick’s recent essay in The New Yorker is a profound meditation on the nature of time. “Can we perceive a pure moment—a budding, blank duration?” he asks. “Does it flow like a river or is it granular, proceeding in small bits, like sand trickling through an hourglass?”

There are no simple answers to these question, of course. Philosophers have for millennia contemplated these mysteries, which have proven a bountiful source of both frustration and inspiration.

"The instant, this strange nature, is something inserted between motion and rest, and it is in no time at all," Plato remarked in the fourth century B.C.E. "But into it and from it what is moved changes to being at rest, and what is at rest to being moved."

Burdick focuses on two thinkers in particular. The first is St. Augustine, who tackles time and consciousness in his Confessions, written in 397 AD. To Augustine, a moment is defined by tension inherent in our mind’s duel effort to recall what came before and to determine what happens next. It is the simultaneous consciousness of both the past and future, and the ceaseless tension between these things. “'Time is nothing other than tension,'” Augustine wrote, 'and I would be very surprised if it is not tension of consciousness itself.'”

The second thinker Burdick focuses on is the psychologist William James, whose major works were released in the late 19th century. One of James’s major insights, according to Burdick, is that perhaps time is not something that is experienced at all, but, rather, something that is created by our consciousness:

Time seems to flow in discrete units—it seems somehow independent and self-contained—not because we perceive units of empty time but because each of our acts of perception (or, more likely, our memories of those perceptions) is discrete. 'Now' arises again and again only because we say 'now' again and again. The present moment, James contended, is 'a synthetic datum,' not experienced as much as manufactured. The present isn’t something we stumble through; it’s something we create for ourselves over and over, moment by moment.

Ours is a ‘disenchanted age’, characterized by a widely shared assumption that all things can be explained by science and reason. Burdick’s essay is a nice reminder of the existence of those perennial questions that cannot be tackled seriously without the support of philosophy.


Links from the Week's Thread

The opioid crisis is forcing the Trudeau government to consider prescription heroin and other unconventional therapies. This is consistent with what experts have been calling on the government to do, including Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, who argues that prescription heroin programs can help stem the devastation the crisis is causing across Canada.

914 people died of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. last year. 80% of these deaths were men. An explanation.

The Grassy Narrows First Nations has been subject to mercury poisoning for decades, and no one in power seems to care.  

Leitch vs O’Leary: who deserves to be called “Canada’s Trump”?

The state of freedom of press in Canada: "The year and a half since Trudeau’s election has seen a cascading series of scandals and press freedom violations which undermine Canada’s claim to respect media rights."

For the audiophiles and music nerds: Pitchfork has put together a list of The 50 Best IDM Albums of All Time.

A reflection on the inherent randomness of life

A historian is crying. His tears are clocks.

From The Guardian: “Israel has announced plans to build almost 600 new settlement homes in occupied east Jerusalem, just two days after Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president, with officials stating the “rules of the game have changed.””

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: 2017 will see an indie rock renaissance. Here is a new track from the awkward dudes of Real Estate.  You should also check out this excellent profile on Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors, whose upcoming album is one of the most anticipated of the year.

A fascinating account of investigating corporate corruption in a globalized world

Barack Obama's book recommendations (via Kottke, who suggests that Obama may be the most wide-read president in history, at least when it comes to reading works by women and minorities)

Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963): “First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate… who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Amy Sanderson25/01/17
The Week's Conversations: Apolitical Drake, Butter, Franzen on Munro, Muslim-Canadians on 'Canadian Values,' Facebook, Rural Alberta Advantage

A weekly conversation between friends.

More Life, More Politics



The age-old relationship between hip hop and politics is irrefutable. Birthed as a voice for disenfranchised communities, hip hop has largely held true to its roots through the years. One of the earliest examples of political hip hop was 1982's "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, a meticulous narrative of the struggle of life in the Bronx during the Reagan era. In the 80s and 90s, N.W.A., Public Enemy, Tupac, and Nas were just a few of the many artists who used their music to address what they saw wrong in the world. And how can we forget the 2000s; a decade that saw Kanye West take to live TV in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to declare what was on the mind of many: "George Bush doesn't care about black people." The list goes on and on.

With that as our backdrop, Drake's reluctance to discuss political or social issues in his music has been painfully palpable. He is arguably the biggest rapper alive. He sets records with every new release. His cultural influence is monumental. Yet, in the face of everything newsworthy about 2016, Champagne Papi gave us little more than his typical tributes to ex-girlfriends and a few overplayed dance tracks (albeit, all BANGERS). Don't get me wrong, narcissism isn't unusual in hip hop music. In fact, it's almost a prerequisite. Hip hop artists are often self-obsessed in their lyrics, rallying fans that identify with the fabled "rags to riches" struggle. But Drake isn't just any hip hop artist anymore. He's the biggest commercial artist in the world, giving him a colossal platform to discuss things that really matter, and one which he's so far loathed to use.

Drake fans (myself included) will be quick to point out that he has in fact dabbled in social commentary in some recent releases, which I would be remiss not to mention. For example, on "6PM in New York", he raps:

And I heard someone say something that stuck with me a lot
'Bout how we need protection from those protectin' the block
Nobody lookin' out for nobody
Maybe we should try and help somebody or be somebody…

Similarly on "Charged Up", his much-anticipated diss track directed at Meek Mill, Drake claims "Cops are killing people with they arms up / And your main focus is tryna harm us?"

But to call these fleeting references "political commentary" would be an affront to artists like YG and Nipsey Hussle ("FDT") and Eminem ("Campaign Speech"), to name a few, who released some of the most politically-charged tracks amidst the same erratic political climate. So what gives? Some might point to Drake's desire for commercial success being paramount. But selling albums and political engagement are not mutually exclusive. Beyonce's Lemonade was undoubtedly her most political project ever, and was hailed as one 2016's best albums. What's more is she sold 1,527,000 copies, which is coincidentally just shy of Drake's 1,579,000 copies of Views. You can do both. Others refer to his being Canadian as part of the reason. But the man calls L.A. his second home and raps about almost every other aspect of American life, so why not politics?

I think the real answer probably lies with style – more specifically, politics ain't his. Despite what he would have you believe, Drake didn't grow up disenfranchised. He's wasn't subjected to political or civil oppression, and neither were most of those around him. His artistic influences include the likes of Lil Wayne, Aaliyah, and Usher, not the socially-conscious hip hop juggernauts of the 90s who many young rappers cite. That's not to say he didn't have his own struggles, but they weren't political or systemic. They were internal. In other words, he's probably never had much of any reason to be critical of the powers that be. But now, his success puts him in a unique position of being able to be critical and demanding on a world stage, to put words to his fans' feelings about the world around them. I don't think he's ignorant or naïve, or even apathetic. I think he simply doesn’t (yet) know how to reconcile his methodically-crafted brand of narcissism and ostentation, with any semblance of a bona fide and compelling opinion on societal issues. The self-absorbed and egotistical persona was fun for a while, but it's time to move on. The refined, hyper-aware, and socially-conscious role is something he'll have to grow into, like many artists before him. And luckily, there's no shortage of successful and engaged hip hop artists from whom he can take cues.

I've always said (to pretty much everyone's dismay) that Drake is the voice of our generation. If he plays his cards right, I truly think he can be the voice of the next, too. #Graham2028 (jk) (not really).


Butter: Essential to January Survival

I don’t know why people think resolutions are going to stick in January - I only make it through by surrounding myself with routine and comfort. And no, before you ask, I have not, nor am I likely to ever read about hygge; this is all based on animal instinct (i.e. hibernation).

Anyways, lately there’s a lot of baking while having solo dance parties, followed by watching movies and eating popcorn. Basically, I find butter is essential to surviving January.

I’m afraid I’ve become a bit of a butter snob too. I’ll make do with pretty much any butter for baking, but for frosting and anything involving browned butter I insist on unsalted butter. And for popcorn there’s no contest: salted cultured butter (European style) is the clear winner. For eating fresh, I’ve fallen for Riviera Petit Pot butter (a salted cultured butter) from Quebec - not exclusively, but as a treat. The dessert of butter.

For those of you who haven’t spent some time tasting butters, might I suggest January is an excellent month to pick up a few varieties and conduct a test. No need to eat it plain (although I’ve done it), but choose a good quality bread that you’re familiar with to minimize distractions, and layer the butter on thick. I prefer mine slightly cool, so when you bite through you get the pleasing ganache-like texture of high fat content, but to each their own.

To prime your palate try listening to this episode of The Current with author Elaine Khosrova on the history of butter, or watch this episode of Mind of a Chef, where Magnus Nilsson visits a tiny Swedish mountain hut to make beautiful butter (this episode pulled me out of my post-US election despondency). I can also recommend this short video on the bread and butter of a restaurant in New Jersey (it really is good butter, I tried it), and this article on one of the best butter makers in England, who incidentally was inspired by Magnus Nilsson’s butter… Oh man, this guy even has a butter-filled instagram!! BE STILL MY HEART.

*Denise Balkissoon does not endorse this message


Jonathan Franzen on Alice Munro

Jonathan Franzen’s classic review of Alice Munro’s Runaway, from 2004, is itself an exceptional read. His impassioned defense of short fiction, and his overflowing admiration of ‘Munrovian’ storytelling, is sure to revive your faith in literature:

Reading Munro puts me in that state of quiet reflection in which I think about my own life: about the decisions I've made, the things I've done and haven't done, the kind of person I am, the prospect of death. She is one of the handful of writers, some living, most dead, whom I have in mind when I say that fiction is my religion. For as long as I'm immersed in a Munro story, I am according to an entirely make-believe character the kind of solemn respect and quiet rooting interest that I accord myself in my better moments as a human being.

What 'Canadian Values' Mean to Muslim-Canadians

We conceived The Harper Decade as a platform to address issues overlooked by mainstream Canadian media, but important to understanding how Canada had changed under the Harper government. One of the most important issues we wanted to address was Islamophobia. Islamophobia grew significantly under Stephen Harper through both state policies and rhetoric that targeted Muslims, often hidden under the guise of addressing gender equality, citizenship, or national security issues. In the lead up to the 2015 election, progressive critiques of Harper seemed to avoid explicitly labeling his government Islamophobic. We wanted to challenge that narrative, and did so with Faisal Bhabha's Does Stephen Harper Care About Muslims?

The piece seemed to foreshadow the desperation  of the Harper campaign as it neared election day, with the Conservative party dropping all pretenses or subtleties over who it was targeting with its restrictive refugee sponsorship policies,  politically charged hotlines, or prescribed attire for citizenship oaths. The Conservatives did everything they could to make Muslims in Canada feel that they did not belong in this country.

Muslim-Canadians responded at the polls, teaching the Conservatives the consequences of their racist policies by turning out to vote in large numbers. In the riding I organized in, the Muslim-Canadian vote proved to be decisive. The community turned out in record numbers through a grassroots campaign months in the making to defeat one the most vocal Islamophobic Ministers in cabinet. After the election, many of us behind the campaign thought that this was the last time we would see conservative politicians in this country openly campaign on restricting the rights and place of Muslims in Canada. 

Kellie Leitch proved us wrong. Islamophobia appears to run deep in this country. 

However, the responses of Muslim-Canadians to Leitch's 'Canadian Values' bullshit have reaffirmed my faith in this country, and that proponents of diversity, tolerance, and inclusiveness will prevail in the end. This includes a fantastic feature by Ishmael N. Daro, which shares the perspectives of 11 Muslim-Canadians on the meaning of Canadian values in the context of the 'Canadian Values' debate. If anything, I hope it demonstrates to Leitch and others that Muslim-Canadians will not sit idly by while their place in this country is undermined.  


Beacon Hill

On May 1st 2016, a wildfire started just southwest of Fort McMurray, a city where I’d spent most of my teens growing up. While wildfires aren’t totally uncommon in the region, the dry and above average conditions at the time quickly made the situation unmanageable. By that evening, several neighborhoods were being evacuated and by May 3rd the entire city of more than 80,000 people was being evacuated.
I remember the evening of the evacuation, watching the images on the CBC’s news reports. Beacon Hill was one of the hardest hit areas and some of the footage that came out of there made it look just biblical- real fire and brimstone sort of stuff. The next day I actually heard rumours that the high school I attended burnt down (it didn’t) but because the city was empty, no one could really confirm anything. Everyone feared the worst.
Now, like a lot people who grew up in Fort McMurray, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the place. Growing up there, I knew it wasn’t the last stop for me but my life has become inexorably tied to the place and it’s shaped my life in more ways that I could have ever anticipated.
It’s been a number of years since I’ve been back to Fort McMurray and if I never go back then that will be my choice, but I knew the city would always be there. The idea that maybe there might not be anything to go back to one day wasn’t something that I’d ever prepared myself for.
Oddly enough, after the fire threat had passed and before the evacuation order had been lifted, there were two unrelated explosions one day apart which destroyed several houses and damaged a number of others in the area. Of the three places that I called home while living up there, I lived a stones throw from both of those explosions.

- Nils Edenloff of Rural Alberta Advantage on its latest release, Beacon Hill


Another Reason to Ditch Facebook

Facebook has 98 data points on each of its nearly 2 billion users. Google Maps, Uber, Snapchat, your email — these applications track your location, monitor your activity, and plug all of this information into various algorithms in order to build a digital profile of you. These profiles are then sold to companies that can use the data for a variety of things: targeted advertising, market research, criminal investigations….

Unsurprisingly, these profiles are typically inaccurate (click here to get a glimpse at your own*). And yet these inaccuracies have not stopped the ongoing collection and use of this mostly meaningless data and confused simulacra. Why? Well, mostly because there’s a lot of money to be made from it. As Sue Halpern points out in an excellent overview of this issue, Facebook has made a killing selling its data to advertisers: “the company made $2.3 billion in the third quarter of 2016 alone, up from about $900 million in the same three months last year.”

Halpern also demonstrates how, in addition to being inaccurate, this type of data is dangerously reductive, often diminishing an individual’s profile into a series of assumptions or stereotypes based on their presumed race or ethnicity, to the neighborhood they live in, or the amount of money they make. And, again predictably, this has led to all sorts of predatory advertising and insidious commercial activities, from selling bad credit to low-income individuals to linking typically black names to ads for criminal background checks. Halpern writes:

“Many of us have been concerned about digital overreach by our governments, especially after the Snowden revelations. But the consumerist impulse that feeds the promiscuous divulgence of personal information similarly threatens our rights as individuals and our collective welfare. Indeed, it may be more threatening, as we mindlessly trade ninety-eight degrees of freedom for a bunch of stuff we have been mesmerized into thinking costs us nothing.”

Remember the good old days (maybe 2008?), when we thought social media was going to save the world?

*For example, Facebook thinks that I am "interested in", among many other things, beauty (I guess), the neighborhood of Ekali, near Athens (never heard of it), "homo sapiens" (not really), "buffet" (correct), and "Close Friends of People with a Birthday in 7-30 days" (??).


Links from the Week's Thread

An epic new track from the Black Madonna: “He Is the Voice I Hear”.

Check out @Hatecopy. She talks about her Pakistani-Canadian identity and following on Q last week.

When Desire Goes Dark : “[A]t some point in the last year my urgency to sustain or possess something (an emotional state, a relationship, a milestone of financial success) evaporated, and my me-ness along with it. “

For the Moonlight fans: Geography as identity

The Insecure soundtrack (a more comprehensive YouTube selection of the soundtrack) is receiving as much critical acclaim as the show itself. No surprise: Solage curated it. 

Speaking of Solange, she is featured on the latest episode of the podcast Song Exploder, dissecting her hit single "Cranes in the Sky".

The ethics of BuzzFeed’s decision to publish Trump-Russia memos.

Head Chick in Charge: 'Vivica's Black Magic'

Amy Sanderson17/01/17
The Week's Conversations: Selling Carbon Pricing, Giving Female Authors their Due, Leitch Trumps, the Boyden Controversy

A weekly conversation between friends.

Note from the Editors

We went out for dinner this week — perhaps the only time we’ll all be together for at least a year. Predictably, it was a three hour free-for-all that touched on things like that subpar article on the clitoris in the Globe, the merits of Fauda, and the philosophical roots of Glen Coulthard’s Red Skin, White Masks (look for a longer piece on this soon). Also, why my opinion on that new Dirty Projectors song (“so-so”) was biased by the fact that I have been watching Lemonade on repeat for the last 3 days. I admit, I might have liked the song more had the video featured a woman smashing a car (like the new Metronomy… though I’d still prefer a baller mustard-coloured dress to the jean jacket).

But the conversation we keep coming back to surrounds our fascination with American news. Why do we keep sharing American think-pieces on racism and populism? Where are the quality Canadian commentators on these types of political issues? Why do big name Canadian writers seem more interested in provoking controversy than articulating well-founded positions? Why are we inundated with the likes of Jonathan Kay* and Andrew Coyne, but don’t seem to have a David Remnick (Doug Saunders and Marsha Lederman may be the closest we have)? How do we read and share Canadian news in a way that sparks the same nuanced conversations that we get out of a standard New Yorker article?

In some ways, it comes back to what we wanted out of The Harper Decade project: partisan-free conversation on important issues. No arguing just for the sake of it or giving time to bullshit issues of purely political significance. So, we’re working on how we might play a role in creating or sharing more of that content.

Mostly, we’re here, like all the other newsletters about these days, to earnestly share our obsessions; another small, quirky life raft in the sea of dead blogs and faltering platforms (good luck, Medium!). Thanks for joining.

*WTF was that Walrus piece on men’s rights activists? And Kay’s failure to remember his mother was on the board of one of the groups profiled? Spare yourself, and don’t read it.


Selling Carbon Pricing

On January 1, 2017, carbon pricing policies to reduce greenhouse emissions officially came into effect in both Alberta and Ontario. Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan includes an economy-wide carbon tax, while Ontario opted for a cap-and-trade system that integrates the province better with similarly situated jurisdictions.

The differences don’t end there. The two provinces also diverge significantly when it comes to the way in which they are selling their respective policies to residents.

In Alberta, Rachel Notley’s messaging focuses on how her plan provides economic benefits to the province during a period of transition, and outlines a path to continued jurisdiction over this area. It’s about household rebates, rewards for retrofitting, diversifying the economy, corporate tax cuts, and reaching new markets for Alberta oil. It’s direct and unemotional.  

While Kathleen Wynne’s government also mentions financial rewards, its focus is on selling the plan through a much more persuasive marketing campaign that will be sure to reach wider audiences. From the moral argument to act, to preserving aspects of Ontario that may be compromised by climate change, these advertisements mix seriousness with humour, and are translated into a number of different languages.

Alberta can learn from Ontario on how to effectively sell its climate change plan. Alberta should reconsider the decision to avoid touching on the moral or emotional arguments around reducing emissions through carbon pricing. Attaching this significance to carbon emissions is the best way to solidify support and undercut the rhetoric around the financial cost to act. At the very least, it should throw in some humour.

(h/t to Dave Cournoyer and his blog post on Alberta’s carbon tax for inspiring this piece.)


Who's Afraid of Female Authors?

By Zak Black

As we enter 2017, it's something of a relief to see that discussions of the best books of 2016 are replete with works by women. Zadie Smith's Swing Time, Elizabeth Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton, Ann Patchett's Commonwealth, and Annie Proulx's Barkskins all appear in many of the most prominent conversations about the best fiction of 2016. The last of these is also refreshing for how emphatically it puts the lie to an old trope about women writers: that they lack the ambition and scope of a Melville or a Pynchon. Barkskins comes in at just over 700 pages and follows its protagonists and their descendants from the seventeenth century to the present, and from New France to New Zealand. (Read a review here.)

While there is a ton of great fiction being written by women right now, a bracing essay from the Harper's archives serves as a useful reminder that female authors have rarely received the same kind of attention as their male counterparts. Francine Prose, the author of the piece, shows persuasively that by both quantitative measures (number of pieces published by men and women in the New Yorker and Harper's; number of female and male recipients of major American literary awards; etc.) and qualitative ones (descriptors of female fiction like "sentimental," "fey," "trivial," etc.), women suffer from a gender bias in literary criticism. Though Prose was writing in 1998, her analysis remains pertinent, as a more recent study of literary criticism in Britain and the US, and another in Australia, show. Men continue to be overrepresented as both reviewer and reviewed. 

Asking her readers to compare excerpts and guess the authors' genders, Prose reveals to us our own tendency to read gender into literature when we don't know the author, or read literature into gender when we do. Consider the example of a group of college students who, after having been corrected for supposing that "Flannery" is a man's name, claimed retroactively that they could tell all along that the writer was a woman. In the words of one student, herself a woman, O'Connor's sentences seemed "sentimental," and "not concrete like a man's." Keep in mind that this is an assessment of an author who describes vehicular homicide (Wise Blood), or the drowning-death of a mentally handicapped relative (The Violent Bear it Away), with unblinking candour.

Our tendency to interpret each other's words through the lens of gender bias should of course concern more than just literary critics. But the case of literary criticism is particularly revealing. As Prose points out, almost none of the male critics to whom she refers would acknowledge preferring male to female authors, yet they prove themselves much more willing to trust male authors over female ones (in the zany world of postmodern fiction, trust can sometimes be everything), more willing to circumscribe the realm of female authors to the 'minor' matters of the heart and hearth, and more willing to punish with charges of incompetence those women who dare to write about subjects like war or economics.

But perhaps the problem runs deeper than a basic sense of male superiority. Prose quotes Virgina Woolf on the question of why men seem so intolerant of "the hard news" when told to them by a woman: "Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size... That serves to explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men. And it serves to explain how restless they are under her criticism... For if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished." Margaret Atwood picks up on the same problem in an interview with the Paris Review: "Men are very sniffy about how they're portrayed by women... The male amour propre is wounded."

It's a bitter irony that men prove so sheepish about seeing themselves reflected back in female authors, in the midst of a society that has long coerced women into seeing themselves through men's eyes alone. Most of us want to see ourselves—but for this we prefer kindly mirrors. We like to know the truth about ourselves—but from friends who romanticize our faults even as they acknowledge them. One of the greatest gifts a work of fiction can give is to show us what had hitherto gone unnoticed. It's a cowardly reader who refuses that gift just because the revelation is unflattering.


Leitch Goes Full Trump

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is trying to bring the rhetoric of white nationalism to mainstream politics in Canada. Her proposal to implement a ‘value screening test’ for new immigrants may sound innocuous compared to, say, a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States, but both are rooted in an ideology that seeks to protect and prioritize the rights and privileges of white mainstream society at the expense of already marginalized groups and communities; one that seeks to other and demonize immigrants to Canada.

This week, Leitch went ‘full Trump’, first announcing that “she would charge immigrants a fee to cover the cost of her proposed Canadian values screening test at the border.” Next, in an email sent to her supporters on Sunday, she promised to “drain” the Rideau Canal of the influence paddlers and lobbyists.

High profile Canadians, including criminal defense lawyer Marie Henein, have begun to speak out. A recent blog post summarizing a recent speech by Henein paraphrased her argument as follows:

Kellie Leitch is running for the leadership of the federal Conservative party.  If she wins and the Conservatives come back into power, which they will, Kellie Leitch will be our next prime minister. It’s time for Canadians to stop suffering fools like Ms Leitch quietly.

Will other high profile professionals speak out against Leitch’s campaign? Will other civil society leaders step up? I sure hope so.


The Joseph Boyden Controversy

Writing in The Metro, Danielle Paradis tactfully introduces a number of questions — none with easy answers — that must be addressed to understand the (complex) controversy surrounding Joseph Boyden’s identity: What exactly does indigeneity mean? How do communities define themselves, and how are they defined by others? In what ways do colonialism and racism shape the way we approach or understand these questions?


'Spaced Invaders' by Sonny Assu at the Vancouver Art Gallery

‘Spaced Invaders’ by Sonny Assu. Part of    ‘Interventions on the Imaginary,’    on now at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

‘Spaced Invaders’ by Sonny Assu. Part of ‘Interventions on the Imaginary,’ on now at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Meet the Indigenous Artist ‘Tagging’ Emily Carr Paintings:

“I really wanted to get back into exploring humour and having some fun and being playful with my work again,” [Sonny] Assu says. “And that’s where this series came out of as well... something fun, something playful.”
“The series was started as a response to my understanding at the time of Emily Carr’s work, influenced by Marcia Crosby’s essay ‘Construction of the Imaginary Indian,’” he says. “[I was] thinking about the misconceptions of Canada being this vast, open wilderness with very little to no inhabitants in it, and people witnessing Emily Carr’s works and thinking it was a documentation of this dying and vanishing race, and wondering how this misconception became commonplace.”

Dirty Projectors are Back

Dave Longstreth is one of indie rock’s most valuable and most versatile artists. Since the last Dirty Projectors album — the excellent Swing Lo Magellan (2012); a rewarding fusion of prog-rock, R&B, and Harvest-era Neil Young  — he’s worked with Blood Orange, Joanna Newsom, Kanye West and Rihanna, and, most recently, Solange (as a writer and producer, Longstreth was a major contributor to the critically acclaimed A Seat at the Table).

The good news: it sounds like the Dirty Projectors’ hiatus is over (though there remains no sign of Amber Coffman). The bad news: it sounds like Dave Longstreth has a seriously broken heart. “Little Bubble” is an intricate and beautifully melancholic ballad, with layered vocal melodies wrapped in warm, modulating orchestral strings. It’s unlike anything the band has released before. I’m very much looking forward to this album.


On John Berger

Reading someone’s obituary can be an odd way to learn about someone — things are a bit backwards. But that’s how I found John Berger, renowned Marxist philosopher, writer, and artist. But it's hard to box Berger in: he was a Renaissance man. What struck me in the tributes to Berger was how the simplicity in creating and observing art led to a unique style of interaction with his friends. Berger touched the lives of the people he met on a profound level.

As luck would have it, Colin MacCabe wrote an essay before his death on how Berger influenced how we see art. He writes of how Berger evolved Marxist thinking to shed itself “of belief in historical progress,” while carrying on a mission to “record the most important of social realities.” You can tell MacCabe has lost a friend and a mentor. MacCabe describes his interaction with Berger: “both the listening and the response are so charged that you feel you are in a heightened form of conversation.”

Ben Lerner writes a tribute to Berger in the New Yorker. Berger’s work tells us that “political commitment requires maintaining a position of wonder." Watching birds, people, or art all offer “an alternative to a world in which money is the only measure of value.”

Ben Lerner ends the tribute by quoting Berger’s poem:

Each pine at dusk
lodges the bird
of its voice
perpendicular and still
the forest
indifferent to history
tearless as stone
in tremulous excitement
the ancient story
of the sun going down

Tilda Swinton was another one of Berger’s admirers. She worked with Berger’s friends to create a film that pays homage to him. In the film, Swinton says “the last time I’d seen him after a long time apart, he looked at me before speaking for at least two minutes. And then told me, that my face had grown into itself.”


Links from the Week's Thread

Paula Simons debunks the misconceived, and often racist notion that Indigenous people in Alberta are all ‘exempt’ from the province’s new carbon tax: “[T]he persistent erroneous belief that “Indians” don’t pay taxes, or that Indian status somehow gives people super-duper marvellous benefits that others don’t enjoy, does corrosive damage to our social compact.

Two extremely accomplished, articulate women, Ausma Zehanat Khan and Monia Mazigh, have a conversation on feminism, Islam and civil liberties in the latest edition of the Literary Review of Canada: “Unfortunately, these initiatives to reinterpret some sensitive issues in Islam are disliked by traditionalists and judged inadequate by many feminists. So I am caught in the middle,” Mazigh explains. “No matter how insistently I call myself a feminist, I am judged otherwise, and no matter how much I call myself a religious Muslim, I am also judged otherwise.” Click here to read more about the Tunisian Truth and Dignity Commission mentioned in the conversation.

Vancouver-based journalists are raising the bar when it comes to their coverage of the city’s opioid crisis. Some recent examples include stories on the perils of cheque day, a grassroots supervised-injection tent that has finally received government funding, and on the role of street dealers in the context of the overdose crisis.

Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry calls out her government for failing to act on the opioid crisis because it hasn't yet spread to Ontario

Beyoncé interviews Solange.

This is the clearest article I’ve read on the white populist pull from both the left and the right in the US and Europe, to the detriment of the center (a result of placing economic/class concerns second to racial ones).

A disorienting trip into the future of driverless cars.

Amy Sanderson10/01/17