Archive for Thoughts

Alberta’s public employees should strike

They could never take away freedom of expression all at once for the same reason nobody’s first sexual experience is hopping out of a plane naked getting whipped by a dominatrix, trusting she’ll open the parachute on time—because you’re all tied up thanks to her Japanese rope bondage prowess and you can’t move your arms—and then repaying her with a hearty serving of barrier-free analingus before arranging the landing such that she slides neatly onto your erect penis (or throbbing strap-on… ladies).

Of course not. First you work your way up to just sex. Then maybe you experiment with light bondage, dental dams, … skydiving. And before you know it, the situation above is the only thing that gets you off any more.

Only sex is fun and taking away rights isn’t. The point is, what can seem far away and unachievable can become so matter-of-fact and accepted given enough steps where somebody stops and says, “see, it’s not so bad right now, huh?” When the end result is good, but just initially intimidating, that’s fine. But when the end result is bad, well, we have a problem.

Which leads me to this. In order to avoid the problem, if you’re a public employee in Alberta, I urge you to strike. You should strike as long as Bill 45 is in place. Because Bill 45 is how it starts.

Okay, I’m a journalist, and I try to keep kind of a balance. I obviously have my biases, try to be aware of them, and try to compensate for them by ensuring I at least try to speak to people who don’t agree with me. I don’t think we get anywhere by pretending that journalists aren’t biased, but it’s a pretense we—readers and writers—all dance anyhow.

One of my biases, and one that every journalist, every writer, every person should have, and one that I will not compensate on is for freedom of expression.

According to Alberta’s Bill 45, a person conselling a public employee to strike is breaking the law. I could be fined for this article, once it comes into force. I don’t plan to take it down, anyhow. And I’ll probably post it around a second time just to make damn sure I break the law.

Here’s the section in question. Note (4).

4(1) No employee and no trade union or officer or representative of a trade union shall cause or consent to a strike.

(2) No employee and no officer or representative of a trade union shall engage in or continue to engage in any conduct that constitutes a strike threat or a strike.

(3) No trade union shall engage in or continue to engage in any conduct that constitutes a strike threat.

(4) No person shall counsel a person to contravene subsection (1) or (2) or impede or prevent a person from refusing to contravene subsection (1) or (2).

(5) No trade union or officer or representative of a trade union shall, in any manner, discipline a person because that person does not contravene subsection (1) or (2).

Who does (4) include? Beyond unions and the workers themselves, it’d affect newspaper columnists, bloggers, or, you know, just you, talking to your friend in the public service. I don’t know if it’ll actually applied and enforced that way, prosecutions requiring the minister to sign off, but it’s there, and it’s going to scare some people away from speaking their mind, and that’s enough.

Many people won’t notice this at all because they just don’t pay attention to things and it won’t directly affect them. Many will notice it but reason it has nothing to do with them because, why, they’d never tell anyone to break the law. Many people don’t like unions anyway, so “fuck ’em.” See, it’s not so bad right now, huh?

They’re already in “not so bad” territory. You can see why someone might think, say, that advising someone to murder someone should be against the law. Don’t have to agree with it, but inciting or encouraging violence is at least one of those cases where people might question absolutism.

So what makes the Progressive Conservatives’ law so insidious is that they can appeal to situations like this in order to argue that advising someone to break the law be against the law itself.

It’s cowshit because even if you accept that there are exemptions with freedom of expression there’s a huge difference between a VLT machine serviceperson striking and the same person committing murder—whether at your advice or not—and it shouldn’t take me, some fresh out of university 26-year-old or anyone else to state the obvious.

I know I’m not the only one who’s telling public employees to strike, and I know there are people lining up to jeer at us, dismissing us as would-be internet warriors who think we’re so cool and edgy for “breaking the law” on our laptops. Yeah okay I admit it’s basically the wet dream of any serious writer to be presented with the threat of censorship like their words are so scary they have to be outlawed, and yeah, the chance that I’ll actually be prosecuted for this is minimal considering the number of other people who will do it, the chance that a court will knock this law down anyway, and my low level of influence, but, still, it’s the principle.

And I’d rather look like an overreacting idiot now and argue a principle that I believe in than live in a society ten years after nobody bothered.

Beyond the fundamental right we have to say what we want, some laws should be broken. Alcohol prohibition would never had ended had people obeyed the law, and marijuana prohibition will not be lifted so long as people don’t smoke pot. It’s nice to think we live in a society where the law becomes just over time merely because the system works, people follow the rules and engage rationally with issues, struggling to balance freedom and restrictions, but in reality, any change is faced by enormous one-way inertia. You can tighten rules, you can add rules—actions seen as incremental improvements—but you have a hard time loosening or removing them. I mean, that would be admitting we were wrong—horror. At least if a new party comes into power they can make a change based on the justification that somebody else was wrong, but this is ‘berta, and we’ve got more than forty years of Tory rule behind us and at least a couple more ahead.

Pot won’t be legalized by politicians suddenly realizing that science is a thing, but because they’ll note that acceptance of pot smoking has reached a point where not only can they accept legalization personally, but can be public about it. This acceptance, by and large, isn’t going to be because anybody read a scientific paper. It’s going come from people trying it themselves, or knowing others who do, suggesting to others that they try it, and seeing no substantial harm come of it.

Breaking an unjust law can be an important part of fighting it. But break it or obey it, freedom of expression means that at least the debate about what the right thing to do is fully allowed.

Nobody should ever be made to feel that they, by law, cannot advocate a person does what they believe to be the right thing, because the right thing and the law don’t always match up. See history.

What a government’s saying when they try to outlaw words is that they have the right ones, and you’re a criminal if you have the wrong ones. You will say what the government wants you to or else. When a public worker comes to you for advice on whether to strike, you behave and say “no” like a good citizen, or you will be fined.

Any obvious violation of a charter right should be shut down by the courts. Probably, this will be. But look, we can’t rely on the courts forever. If people who think freedom of expression should be restricted in these ways are able to get into power, and are able to stay in power, and are able to spread their influence, it is only a matter of time before enough of these people are in power to enact changes such that the courts cannot protect us.

Even if it’s struck down, they can point to the virtue of it having passed the democratic process to promote reform. They can try to make what they want allowable. Regardless of anything that happens from here, one group of people, elected in a fair, democratic election in this province, have chipped at the marble column of freedom of expression. We can pick up the chip and glue it back in, but it will take time, and the fact that we have to should frighten us.

There are two options here. If assume that the bill is precisely as the PCs want it to be, then we have a party in power that wants to control what you can say.

Giving some generous benefits of the doubt, the other option is that someone, somewhere, writing this law, accidentally went too far with the speech stuff. Unfortunately, the predominant style of governance that the country’s conservative parties seem to be employing is the “bill is perfect ram it through hell to the opposition” method which requires that they never admit nor fix mistakes voluntarily, even if they discover them and admit them internally. Why, that’d shake confidence in the strong stable majority.

The first option is outright malicious and shows contempt for people. The second is just as bad. I can’t pick which is worse because every time I come up with a reason why the first one is, the second one punches it in the face.

Regardless of how it happened, it did happen. And one cabinet shuffle later, Dave Hancock, the PC MLA who put forward Bill 45 (46 having Doug Horner) is now Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education.

The guy who does not understand freedom of expression has been put in charge of Alberta’s universities. Oh, and he’s Deputy Premier too, because this is apparently how we roll in ‘berta.

It’s easy to sit back, for whatever reason, and assume that everything will work itself out. That somebody else will deal with the problem.

My reason for being tempted against saying anything is the worry that coming out against it could affect how people view anything else I may write on the bills, or on labour at all, and who will and will not agree to be interviewed. I’ve stuck hard to 4(4) for this reason. But who will and will not agree to be interviewed is directly linked to these bills. If it’s a crime to threaten a strike, to advocate to the public service that there be a strike, and somebody thinks there should be a strike, and they’re sufficiently intimidated by this law, then I don’t get them speaking their mind to me, and we only hear real opinions from those who denounce the idea of a strike. Better to offend a politician doing a background check on me after an interview request than not advocate for the right of others I may contact to speak freely.

One side of the debate bullying the other into silence is not how we do things. Fundamentally bad decisions in a democracy plus silence equals, generally, fundamental bad. Enough bad legislation with enough time with enough silence and too little dissent is how we fail. They have bad legislation, they have time, and now they’re working on legislating silence. I’d rather take the risk, break the law, and be one of the people who give an unequivocal no to this than shut up and follow the rules.

2013 in pop culture: an educated guess

I largely ignore pop culture. It’s not that I hate everything other people like—video games is the one medium-wide exception to my general ignorance, and I’ll sometimes swoop into a TV show entering its final season on time to finish with everyone else or just lag one season behind to watch it all at once—t’s just that I’ve usually got other shit to do.

But what this means is that I typically only experience what everyone else is seeing first-hand through the lens of tweets and Facebook statuses. So here’s what I can remember about what I learned this year.

In music, David Bowie released an album around about March, and more to the point, he’s actually good again.

After that, there was a song at some point called Blurred Lines that some people found really rapey. Whether it was objectively rapey or not, Robin Thicke launched a feminist revolution, and radio stations played the shit out of it anyway.

Some time later, at an awards show, Miley Cyrus had sex with Beetlejuice on stage, and people started falling over themselves to condemn or praise her for it. Sinead O’Connor and Amanda Palmer started writing letters to her. Also she released an album about the demolition industry.

And you might be racist if you support her dancing.

Throughout this era, I think, Kanye West released an album about being Jesus. You might be racist if you don’t like it or him. There was also a video with horses, motorcycles, and nude Seth Rogan fucking Kim Kardashian.

I know who Seth Rogan is because I saw some movies with him in once, but I’m still unclear on who Kim Kardashian is. I’m sure she’s immensely talented, however, judging by the number of times I saw her name. It was usually associated with Kanye West and not, so far as I can tell, any movie, book, album, or other work of art that she herself created, but there’s surely something I just missed.

Anyway, Kanye West’s album redefined the music industry and involved such topics as racism, slavery, and being a god.

Justin Timberlake released something too, which I know because the clerk at HMV told me, with a half-smile that admitted I wouldn’t be interested but that he had to ask anyway, that because I spent whatever amount buying blu-rays of 2012’s Game of Thrones season I could get it at some discount. I didn’t hear much about it besides that, so I’m assuming it was average to bad.

Maybe about here, there was the apparently annual novelty song about what a fox says.

And then I think there was an album by The Arcade Fire that can only be fully appreciated while in costume or formal wear. Seems a little pretentious to me.

I think something happened with Katy Perry? I don’t know, she probably wore too few clothes or said something that offended someone.

Anyway, R Kelly released an album about underwear, and everybody suddenly remembered he’s a sex offender who goes after teenagers after apparently having looked the other way for the past decade. Hands were wrung over whether it’s “okay” to like his music even if the person himself is obviously a terrible human being.

And then Beyonce surprise-released an album with no notice or traditional marketing which was revolutionary (even though plenty of smaller acts have done the same thing) and which also had a video for every song (now you’re just showing off). One song was about giving a blowjob, I think. She was simultaneously praised as the greater woman-empowerer on the planet and Platinum Tier Feminist, and What’s Killing Feminism  depending on who you talk to.

That’s it for music.

As for TV, to get it out of the way, I did keep up with The Walking Dead and finished Breaking Bad with everyone else, so I’ll not mention those.

Otherwise, the year saw Dexter end, and almost nobody was happy with it. From this, I’m going to assume that he wasn’t caught or killed, because that would be the only really satisfying ending. So I’m guessing he took his boat out to international waters with Deb where they finally consummated their love and he lives as a fisherman, trading fish for boat gas in South America.

A lot of political hacks and wannabe-political hacks loved House of Cards, as they all imagined themselves working for the U.S. government and shitting all over democracy because politics is fun.

Orange is the New Black is a show on Netflix about women in prison having a lot of sex with each other. Girls is a show about “real” women having a lot of sex. There was one episode that a lot of people found a little rapey and over the line, but others thought it was portrayed well. Both of these shows have done very well this year.

Game of Thrones finally aired the Red Wedding, which as I gather, shocked and shattered the dreams of those who hadn’t read the Song of Ice and Fire books enough to know that George R. R. Martin kills your best friends. On a related note, A Dance with Dragons was finally released on paperback this year, allowing me to start catching up with the series I’d last seen clear on the other side of my degree.

I imagine Mad Men kept chugging along, but I could never get through the first season, after which I’ve been told it gets much better. As far as I know, the show is still about drinking whisky and selling cigarettes.

From what I have heard, Downton Abbey is about the probably risque and naughty adventures of the servant crew of a 19th Century British country estate. I’d bet there’s an episode where the cheeky chambermaid and a foul-mouthed but lovable cook are having sex in the bedroom of the manor’s Lord, and have to hide in a closet as he enters with a woman who is not his wife, and then worry about what they do with the information given that revealing it might jeopardize their own secret relationship.

And that’s about as much as I can remember for music. So finally, movies.

The first one I remember hearing about was Olympus Has Fallen, in which judging from the poster, America assumedly mistakes its seat of executive power for the mountain that the Greek gods live on and then burns it. Morgan Freeman plays the president and gives a rousing speech to Gerard Butler who plays a gritty secret service agent who will stop at nothing to defeat the terrorists. Meanwhile, Aaron Eckhart plays a bureaucratic type or intelligence analyst who has to contribute to the cause with his mind. Charisma, strength, and intelligence. The classic role-playing game trio of characters, these three are ready for any challenge.

No female characters are important enough to be on the poster, so I’m also assuming that the wives or girlfriends of Eckhart and Butler play a token largely off-screen role, and that Morgan Freeman plays the first openly gay president and has a crush on Butler.

With the phenomenal Twilight series over, Stephenie Meyer’s masterpiece The Host was released. Nobody cared.

People did care about Iron Man 3, however. As the third movie, it probably wrapped up all the important plot threads and themes, while leaving one or two minor things open “just in case.” Robert Downey Jr. said some amusing things and fought some dudes. At some point he almost died but was saved at the last moment and came back to win the day.

Star Trek: Into Darkness came out, during which the Enterprise went on another adventure. Kirk swaggered, Spock battled with not having emotions and Bones complained about being a doctor, not being other professions. JJ Abrams probably dialled back all those god damn lens flares after everyone told him that yes, actually, it was annoying. Beyond that, all I can say about the rest of it is that Benedict Cumberbatch took off his clothes and those whose sexual orientations cause them to find men attractive became extremely aroused.

Someone decided it would be a good idea to film a big budget version of The Great Gatsby. The reaction was mixed, so the movie probably didn’t totally shit on the original, but fell far from really putting forward its message. Either way, a lot of people failed to get the message so much that they actually held parties in the style of Gatsby.

In The Fast and the Furious 6, one gang of street racers challenges another to a car duel. The winner would earn the rights to street race throughout whichever city it’s set in, while the losing gang would be reduced to a shameful life of doing drugs and putting car drugs in their cars to make them go faster—but also furiouser.

Also an actor from the series died in real life. The Fast and the Furious 7 will take a detour and will be a cautionary tale about the dangers of going too fast and being too furious.

The Hangover 3 was inexplicably released, which features a collection of handsome rich men waking up the day after a party in an expensive hotel room with no memory of what happened. They will try to figure out what happened the previous night, which involves first being chased out of the hotel by an exotic cat. Somebody will get captured by drug lords, while another will find that they somehow got married to an ugly stripper. They will also comically stumble around and vomit on each other for the first half hour because they’re still basically drunk.

It’s fucking hilarious.

Man of Steel was okay.

White House Down was Olympus Has Fallen all over again, only the president is younger, and they cut out the Eckhart character to focus on the blossoming relationship between Channing Tatum’s character and Jamie Foxx’s president.

The Lone Ranger wasn’t very good. Johnny Depp plays the Native American version of quirky Johnny Depp, and you might be racist if you’re okay with that.

Adam Sandler felt like one Grown Ups movie wasn’t enough, so he and a who’s who of lazy comedy play a bunch of grown men acting like children while their wives watch, put their hands on their hips, and sigh. There’s a heartwarming lesson in there that you probably should have learned about before you made it to seven, but hey, never too late—especially if you want to learn heartwarming lessons accompanied by gross things.

Sometime after Gravity tore everyone a new mindhole, Ender’s Game made it out of development hell. They probably took out the naked shower fight scene, and the twist was given away early. Harrison Ford was gruff and old. Most people who enjoyed the book found out what a dickhole Orson Scott Card was afterward and felt too dirty to see the movie. Other people probably got bored of watching a kid play a video game.

There was a new Carrie movie because kids can’t be trusted to watch old things.

Someone started work on a Mandela movie when they heard he was getting sick a while ago, and struck gold with the timing. It probably made a lot of money. Relatedly, we also found out this year that every country besides South Africa itself always opposed apartheid and always supported Mandela. It’s a goddamn mystery how it lasted so long and why he spent almost three decades in prison given this new information, but it is what it is.

Anyway, The Hunger Games had a new movie that was probably a pretty okay adaptation of the books, while Peter Jackson submitted to audiences a magnificently long piece of New Zealand masturbation, the second part of a trilogy formed from a single children’s book. In a few more years, he’ll probably ask to be allowed to refilm The Lord of the Rings trilogy, making the point that if he can squeeze a trilogy out of the Hobbit and have people pay for it, he could probably get (at least) a trilogy out of each of the three Lord of the Rings books now that he really thinks about it, and needs a project to keep him busy literally until he dies.

And that’s it. That’s what I think happened this year.

I’m just not comfortable with poppies

When I was in school, there was a protest against the war in Afghanistan. I didn’t go.

It was during a break, as maths crept closer, that a murmur spread throughout the kids that we were all going to go out behind the gym and protest the war, surrepticiously timed such that class must be skipped.

I’m sure some of them cared. But a lot of them didn’t. They just wanted to not go to class. I know this because they told me. I decided that if I was going to protest a war, I wasn’t going to do it beside people who wanted to exploit the occasion of our country becoming complicit in murder of its own people and others for no good reason to skip maths.

In a class of maybe thirty, there were no more than four of us who didn’t go to the protest.

I live in Canada now, but this was in my first country: the United Kingdom. Going back further, come November, all the other kids started wearing poppies. I was a conscientious young child, I cared about other people’s suffering, I heard it was about World War 1, so I got one too. It felt like I was doing the right thing.

At some point, it no longer felt like I was doing the right thing, at least for me. It was probably whenever I realized that what’s normal isn’t necessarily what’s right. It was probably also after I realized that World War 2 was not the exception to the idea that WW1 was “the war to end all wars.” It was certainly by 2001.

I learned about other wars. About how WW1 led to WW2, and about how WW2 led to the Cold War and it’s countless proxy wars, And Korea. And Vietnam. And true, my country wasn’t necessarily involved with them all, but they still happened. After the trench warfare, poison gas, and completely wasteful slaughter of WW1, war kept happening. Maybe here or there from the perspective of the allied forces or “the West” or “our side” you could justify this one or that.

And then it finally happened. A war broke out and I was old enough to follow it. My country leapt into Afghanistan with the United States. Yeah, 9/11 was not a good thing, but the answer to terrorism is not additional killing. I was 13 and could figure that out.

 

Afghanistan turned out to be a drag, but it just wasn’t enough for the warmongers. On claims that at the time were dubious at best, and later were found to be completely fictitious, and against the wishes of the United Nations, we later went ahead and unseated Saddam Hussein. By no means was he a saint, but the collatoral damage we so deftly provided makes us hardly better.

I don’t want to get bogged down in recycling the “Afghanistan and Iraq sucked you guys” arguments everyone’s heard a million times before. This is about poppies. The point here is, at 13 and 15, I concluded that these wars were unjust. And those who started and supported them wore poppies.

As a child I was taught empathy. To think about how I would feel should somebody do a certain action to me. When I was a Christian, it was what Jesus taught. When I was at university, it was what Kant taught. It’s not a perfect principle, but it’s as good a rule of thumb as anything else.

How would I feel if someone stronger than me were to take something of mine?

How would I feel if a country stronger than mine were to take mine?

I thought about how I would feel if—yes, I were living under an awful regime—a bunch of foreigners started bombing my city to free me. Especially if, you know, those foreigners had propped up the awful regime I was living under up until the point that war was more convenient for them. And then enforced a democracy with no regard to the culture or history under which I was living.

Democracy acknowledges that in matters of governance, physical strength should not determine power. In the countries I’ve lived in, citizenship and the age of 18 entitles you to the exact same power as anyone else. I’m grateful for this.

We don’t want a system whereby the person with the biggest army gets to rule. We tried that, but sooner or later, somebody with a bigger army comes along, and a lot of people die. Particularly, lots of who we used to call peons, peasants, serfs, commoners. On the whole, in the West, we’ve decided (and not without a small degree of dragging those previously in power kicking and screaming with us, and certainly not without lingering and new problems) that everybody gets the same basic say in government, at least on paper.

This goes out the window on the world stage, despite the United Nations and despite the primate chest beating about the importance of every country being a democracy. You’d think that any country so commited to democracy that it decides to impose it upon others would first get the democratic approval from other equal players to do so. But no. The people with the biggest army decide what happens. We could stomach giving people a direct say in their representation in government on the nation state level. We could not stomach having that be the case internationally.

The U.S. has never pretended to be an equal player. It’s a schoolyard bully that punches you in the face, steals your lunch money, spits on the teachers for good measure. He’s stronger than anyone else, so nobody can do anything. We’re just like, “well the friend of the guy he’s beating up scratched him earlier so it’s okay, r-r-right guys?”

But forget the U.S. for now. I’m talking about poppies.

My point here is, every November, every politician in both of my countries, every media person, and almost every public figure who graces the TV screens, wears a poppy.

Including all those fucks who decided that even though soldiers died for our democracy and our freedom, that democracy doesn’t count on the world stage. All those fucks who decided that we should go to war and kill more people without justification. All those fucks who decided that in the name of security, we all get spied on by our own and foreign governments, we have our property confiscated at airports, and we pretend that the “post-9/11 world” is a real thing rather than a sick measurement of Osama Bin Laden’s success that we contintually tick higher and higher and higher.

Not all politicians, public figures, and media, supported the wars. But so many did. And these fucks wear their poppies proud and smiling like they never did a thing wrong.

I don’t think ill of your everyday person wearing a poppy. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re not slavering warhawks hankering for the next big one. They want to remember and publically acknowledge that people fought and died for the freedom they enjoy, and for the freedom of others. Perhaps they’re veterans themselves remembering their fallen friends. They may also want to remember the civilian slaughter that accompanies war. Whatever it is and whatever the colour: great. And for the record, though I don’t wear a poppy, I do remember myself, and not just on November 11.

But I refused to stand beside the disingenous protestors, and I refuse to be in the company of those who would take us to more war and sign away what was fought for, desperate for the veneer of nobility like people won’t notice their sins.

When or if the War on Terror ends, and civil liberties are respected once more, I’ll wear the poppy. And if it’s a “when” rather than an “if,” the next time we march to war or strip away rights, it’s coming right back off.

Yes, our veterans fought and died for our rights. Disrepect to the veterans is not an individual turning down a poppy. It’s the representation of a society signing away those hard-won rights while wearing one.