Category Archives: Thoughts

Running out of breath for the right reasons

I remember it vaguely. The brightly coloured carpet; the toy with the painted wooden beads that slid over rollercoastered wires, back and forth.

I was six – or was I four or five? – when the specialist told my parents I had been diagnosed with asthma. And now it’s honestly been too long to remember not having it.

I’m certain I didn’t understand what it meant at the time, and even today I don’t tend to associate the occasional symptoms with a chronic respiratory condition. For the better part of two decades, it’s been an inability to really participate in sports, and avoiding petting zoos at all costs– or homes that resemble them – that have been the hallmarks of living with asthma. It was having a common cold get much more complicated, or the anxiety of going out without an inhaler, that affected my life the most.

Today, the symptoms – the physical ones and the lifestyle ones – are mild, and I’m lucky. I can go to a concert and the clouds of cigarette smoke barely tickle my throat, and there are few activities that trigger a flare up.

But with a smoky reminder of B.C.’s some 180 forest fires lingering all over Metro Vancouver, I’m also reminded that I’m one of three million Canadians living with the disease, and of how fortunate I am that mine lies at the calmer end of the spectrum.

Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer for a number of worthy organizations with the community outreach committee I chair as part of the Vancouver Board of Trade’s Leaders of Tomorrow program. This week, I’m looking forward to raising some funds for a cause that’s particularly close to my lungs.

On Saturday, I’m running around Vancouver in support of the BC Lung Association as a participant in RUSH Vancouver. I’m doing this because it’s an awesome event for a great cause, but also because as recently as several years ago, running around the city would not have been possible without rapidly becoming less and less able to breathe. (Don’t get me wrong: I’ll probably still lose my breath, but it will not be related to asthma.)

It’s bound to be a great event, for a worthy cause, on a beautiful day, and I’m really looking forward to it.

More information about the BC Lung Association is available here, and my personal fundraising page for Saturday’s event is available here.

With me luck!

Sunday at the track

It’s a dangerous game when it feels this good – but when you’re up a few bucks and winning at the track, it’s hard to remember how losing the last 29 races felt. 

Betting on horses is a lot like life. You pick a path, a plan, a method that you use to help you get ahead. When it works, it explains yours wins and boosts your ego.

For a moment, you’ve got it all figured out. The cash starts to add up. You’re in the green. You suddenly know what it means when Panic At The Disco is heading the herd right out of the first third with odds at 8-1. It makes sense that that jockey’s horse would show instead of place. It really does make a difference that Number 6 has one more win this year over the next best runner. The sun is shining on the track; you see it all so clearly. You buy into the anticipation at $2 a pop as you wonder how much you’ll rake in this round.

And then something happens – your pick doesn’t place. Or win. Or show. It’s last by a mile.

Something went wrong. Your method is broken. It’s time to change gears; or is that unlucky? Do you bet on the horse or do you back the driver? It seems safest to bet with the odds – but even 1-1 isn’t a sure thing. If you’re playing for money, you go to the highest payout. If other people catch on, that system breaks too. Betting ahead of the crowd could leave you with a poor-track record and even poorer odds. If you wait too long, you may forget your pick altogether. Actually, sometimes that works.

With all the unpredictability, there are perhaps only two certainties when it comes to gambling. The first is that highs will inevitably be followed by lows. If you’re lucky, they may eventually be re-followed by highs. But that’s if you keep at it: It’s a numbers game after all, and the more you bet, the more chances you have to get lucky.

All of those numbers mean something. They must mean something. Other than serving as excuses for why you just can’t catch a break. The weather, the music, the number of beers you’ve had, the black cat that didn’t cross your path as you were entering the casino, are also great justifications for why you’re slightly off.

But if methods and justifications aren’t as reliable as we hope, then they really only serve to explain our losses and wins to those around us: Your big winning secret; how to properly choose a winning horse based on its name alone. 

And that’s the second certainty – that betting on horses is a lot like life in that the company you keep as you spend your change and as you spend your time is what makes any day, including a day at the track, a success.

 

Neutrality vs. religion

So the Quebec government has proposed restricting all public employees from wearing visible religious symbols. It’s to create an inclusive society, says Premier Pauline Marois. To liberate women from subservience. To keep a neutral face on the public, she says.

A neutral face on society is Orwellian rhetoric – and it’s scary. What is “neutral”? Is it to appear atheist and secular? In which case, this neutral face isn’t exactly neutral anymore. When it comes to religion and science and disbelief in either of those, there is no default, because they all offer a different answer to the same question. The default for all of mankind isn’t atheism, nor is it the Big Bang or Christianity or Islam. The problem in thinking that secularism equates “neutrality” is that for those who live lives led by religion, excluding religion from certain parts of their lives is sacrilegious. It’s okay to think that your way of seeing the universe is the way, but no one should impose that on anybody else. Especially not a state.

Are we not a multicultural society? Is Quebec not part of this great Canadian mosaic that forms the basis of our country’s confused identity? Nobody is “neutral.” I’m a woman, and I like to think that I look like one. I’m caucasian, and my tan isn’t significant enough to persuade otherwise. Nothing is over, but here in Canada we like to claim we sorted out our issues with racial discrimination ages ago, and that today, we’ve made progress in gender equality. Why do we get so squeamish when it comes to dealing with religion? 

Not being of any religious affiliation myself, I can’t speak for the more devout. But from my understanding, your religion isn’t just a hat you put on when in your private home – or at your church, mosque, synagogue, temple – only to take off when in public. Sure, assuming free will, it is a choice to be religious, just like it is a choice to uphold the values of your chosen religion. But let’s not forget that religion isn’t just a source of personal identity: It’s a belief about the world that encompasses all of the people in it and all of their actions; how we came to be, where we’re meant to go. It permeates not just one aspect of a believer’s life, but all of them. Religion is a way of life, and not being allowed to practice your way of life in public contradicts the point of religion. This applies across the spectrum, from lying to eating certain foods to wearing religious garb: If you act one way half of the time, and another the other half, are you really a believer? And it’s a totally different situation when you aren’t allowed to choose how closely you choose to follow your religion of choice. Such a mandate, like Quebec’s proposed charter of values, is doubly controversial: It impedes practicing your religion and it removes the personal choice of how you practice your religion.

It is a constitutional right to have freedom of religion, as well as freedom of expression. We also have the right to not be discriminated against based on race, gender and religious beliefs. I don’t think we have the constitutional right to all public services – I am not entitled to services for people with disabilities, and I don’t claim entitlement or argue for it with some distorted idea of all-for-one and one-for-all equality. We are all legally entitled to certain things, but that’s entirely different from being constitutionally guaranteed certain rights and privileges. This would mean that if someone feels uncomfortable because they’re seeking a public service from someone wearing a religious symbol, their claim to “not have to feel uncomfortable” gets pitted against the rights of someone expressing their constitutional freedom of religion. Wouldn’t the onus be on the person feeling uncomfortable to just go elsewhere? The concept of “entitlement” versus “fundamental rights” is complex, tricky and all but clear.

I get inclusivity, I also get fairness. And I think that people feeling weird about religion should not have a whole system that protects inclusivity brought down to their narrow-minded standards.

Speaking of fairness, I was going to say that the only “fair” thing about this unfair proposal is that it would apply to all religions equally. That was before I saw this poster.

charter_poster

The first three images show what “non-ostentatious” symbols would be allowed in public under the proposal; the five underneath them are examples of what will be banned.

There has been a lot of backlash to the proposal – from the federal government to local business leaders to those partaking in Montreal protests. Some people have it wrong, others have it right. A quote from Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, in the Globe and Mail: “It is important for people across Canada, and particularly in Quebec, to know that if they don’t feel welcome in that community, they’re certainly welcome in this one.”

Wag of the finger

Let’s play a friendly game of Guess Who…

“Once completed, this memorial will teach future generations how millions lost their lives and suffered in inhumane conditions at the hands of Communist regimes. It will also serve as a reminder […] that glorifying Communist symbols insults the memory of these victims…”

…I’ll give you another clue:

“We must never take for granted our core values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

Canadians, Jason Kenney has a message for you, and it goes something like this: We, Canada, do not condone communism.

Two weeks ago, Kenney, our Multiculturalism Minister, announced that up to $1.5 million of taxpayer dollars will go towards building a Tribute to Liberty anti-communist monument on Parliament Hill. According to an article in the Ottawa Citizen, this monument will serve as “a memorial to people killed by communist regimes.” Its title, according to Tribute to Liberty Chair Ludwik Klimkowski, is “A Memorial to Victims of Communism, period.” (Note: For the sake of inclusivity, the previous name “Monument to Victims of Totalitarian Communism” was scrapped in favour of a broader, more ambiguous title. Apparently nobody really cares whether China gets offended. Sorry China.)

The announcement coincided with Black Ribbon Day, which marks the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression agreement signed by the Communist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939. BRD remembrance events are held across the country, and according to a 2011 government press release, the House of Commons unanimously agreed in 2009 that the August 23 be Canada’s national day of remembrance for “the victims of Communism and Nazism.”

In the same release, Kenney stated that: [I]t is only fitting that we pause every year to commemorate the hundreds of millions of people who have been victims of Communism and National Socialism, among the worst examples of totalitarianism in our history. Additionally, the release mentioned that the government was working with Canadian communities affected by “Communist and Nazi totalitarianism” to erect monuments of remembrance to “the victims of Communism and to the victims of the Holocaust.”

Now, let’s take a moment to entertain whether it is at all possible that nobody at the senior levels of Canadian federal government understands that there exists a difference between Stalinism and communism.

Unlikely.

Which leaves us with the slightly more worrisome possibility that nobody cares that there’s a difference. That, or that the lack of clarification was intentional, which is arguably the worse explanation of the three.

If we take this news the way we were probably expected to take it – at face value – what we have is the creation of a monument that pays respect to the victims of Nazism and Stalinism, two atrocious ideologies that caused widespread suffering, and the death of millions. But let’s not assume that this is the doing of “communism.” (An assumption that blames a theory, not its executors – a potentially more offensive line of thought.)

The victims we are supposed to be remembering were victims of two oppressive regimes led by ruthless extremists. They were not victims of communism. And even though many were victimized while living under communism, the causality is far from simple.

Communism is an economic ideology. In and of itself, it theoretically does not victimize. And given that its purpose is to provide people with a model for how to most effectively and efficiently run organize society, unless based on twisted fundamental values, it wouldn’t aspire to victimize. But even if it did when applied in practice, the victims would presumably be sufferers of the economic variety (even though a major point of communism is to establish economic equality).

Under Stalin, people were victims of Stalin. Just like under Hitler, people were victims of Hitler and Nazism, and not “fascism” per say. The 21st century equivalent would be claiming that victims of Osama bin Laden’s extremist political and religious views were victims of Islam.

Is there anything intrinsically wrong with communism, to the point where it should be ostracized as a legitimate point of view? It may have flaws, but so does capitalism. So does the whole spectrum of political ideologies, democracy included. And speaking of democracy: What we value in Western society, as Kenney so eloquently put it, are our freedoms and our human rights. Democracy is just an ideology that is conducive to giving us what we value. Democracy isn’t reality; nor is it a value in and of itself. What it represents – political engagement, the protection of rights, etc. – is what we value. If there were another political model that worked better , would we ever say to ourselves: “Oh, but it doesn’t give us democracy…”? In a capitalist country like Canada, does anyone ever say: “This is great, except for the fact that it’s missing some communism…”?

I think I heard someone say that never.

Both democracy and capitalism are fundamental to Canadian society: Our culture, history, reputation would be unrecognizable to us had either or both been different. But because our everyday lives are steeped in both ideologies, it’s so easy to assume that the way things are for us is the way things are naturally. It’s easy to think that the way things are is the way. And that, is a scary thought. 

To someone who decidedly and informedly chooses to believe in democracy and capitalism as good operating systems, that appropriating communist symbols is now considered wrong may not affect you or your life in the slightest. However if you make your decisions informedly, you should be aware enough to realize that a politician calling communist symbols disrespectful to victims of communism is complete and utter propaganda. 

Scheduled to be completed in 2015, the Tribute to Liberty monument will stand between the Supreme Court and the Library and Archives in our nation’s capital, where it will espouse our supposed tolerance for a plurality of views (including anti-communism) by knocking one of those views.

And now: A humourous – but poignant – tribute to the victims of capitalism.

Unlearning

I aggressive-compulsively flip from catty radio channel to catty radio channel every morning in my car. Brave passengers would challenge that this happens any time I drive, but considering I’m usually doing those people a favour by driving them, their argument is rendered invalid. In full honesty, it’s mostly a morning thing: Setting the appropriate tone for my day is important, so this annoying habit flourishes unbridled between 7:45 and 8:15am.

My “right” to be annoying about changing channels is questionable – how important could setting my “day tone” really be when I refuse to just listen to my iPod (because I don’t listen to my iPhone) or the CBC? Leaving my attitude up to chance is rather risky, and the odds get worse as the chances that something of quality will pop up on one of my car’s preset stations are slim. But what can I say, I live on edge.

My obsessive desire to land on the right song in the right moment meant I heard “and [dah-non] has come under fire…” as I casually clicked past before frantically clicking back. Where in the world is Dah-non? I thought with a knot in my stomach and a pang in my head. A foreign attack reported in prime listening hours… This must be huge.

Well I have one word for you, and it’s yogurt. Excuse me for being “cultured” and thinking Danone was a Kazakhstani city.

Next.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about thinking – the kind where you condescendingly analyze that voice in your head that condescendingly analyzes everything else. I’m not a judgmental person, truly. But my mind is on autopilot when it comes to interpreting other’s behaviours, as they relate to me.

This thinking-about-thinking exercise came about after every pre-set radio channel decided to air ads simultaneously. Either a regional marketing conspiracy, a sign from God or a frustrating coincidence – take your pick. Whatever it was, I started to break down the things I’d been told in an introductory seminar the previous night:

The motivation behind another person’s any given action? No way of actually knowing it.

We can make informed guesses, and maybe a majority of the time, they’ll be generally accurate, especially if you’re condescendingly analyzing somebody you know. But at the end of the day, you can’t know why somebody did something the way you can know that two apples plus two oranges will leave you with… two apples and two oranges. And if you claim otherwise, the word you’re looking for is trust. Which is faith. Which is not logic.

A few big ideas on why it’s probably true that we simply cannot know – difference, statistics and moral hazard. We’re all human, but we’re also all different – or my personal favourite: we’re all unique, but no one is that unique. Statistically, there will always be doubt, and there will always be risk. No matter how informed you are about anything, there’s going to be that chance that you are, however informedly, wrong. Morally, people do things and promise things with no intention of committing to them. We’re all guilty of this one. And because there’s no mental transparency, not even professional micro-expression reading can avoid mathematics.

This “moral hazard” thing is applied to a range of concepts, most notably economics, which I’ve been studying a lot of. 

In September, I will re-attempt Microeconomics 101, although I think I’m past the point of no return: Too many courses across many other disciplines has created a cocktail of cognitive dissonance in my head. I’m going backwards, straining to accept the rudimentary principles that were intended to serve as a starting point. Now, they seem more like sweeping statements, so broad that while they may largely be right, I already know they’re far from whole.

The whole concept of having to “unlearn” something in order to “relearn” something else is an interesting one. I’m tempted to say that I think “unlearning” is more like learning to recognize beliefs you hold as beliefs you hold, before going on to challenge them. Unlearning doesn’t quite fit with “forgetting.” But if unlearning always precedes relearning; isn’t relearning to unlearn unlearning? To eschew critical analysis only to adopt a different set of beliefs?

I’ve written this post over the course of two days. I did not eat yogurt this morning; I had potato salad. With a yogurt-based dressing, but that’s okay. I’m not one for extremes. 

“It is very important that Canadians remain vigilant” – Part 1 of A Lot

Vig-i-lant [vijuh-luh nt]: 1 – “keenly watchful to detect danger; wary”; 2 – “ever awake and alert”.

Vig-i-lan-te [vij-uhlan-tee]: noun “any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime”; adjective “done violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures”.

Tomorrow, on July 9, a man and a woman will sit or stand or swear to remain silent in front of a provincial court as they face their charges. According to the July 2 RCMP report, these charges are as follows:

“[C]onspiring to place an explosive in or against a place of public use, a government or public facility, with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, for the benefit of, at the direction or in association with a terrorist group.” These fall under Sections 431.2(2), 83.19 and 81(1)(d) of the Criminal Code of Canada.

But you don’t know what those are, do you?

Because you, along with pretty much everybody else, have not memorized the Criminal Code. Or read it. Or even really care. 

But I’m going to tell you why you should care. It’s simple, it’s numberless, and it’s this: Because if you care, you’ll realize that you don’t have to. Well, not about the things you are supposed to be vigilant about. “Terrorist plot”; “Al Qaeda ideology”; Satanic music; radicalization; methadone; pellet guns; loud yelling; unpaid rent; burqas; writing on the wall; The Lust Boys; neighbours; a television with holes in it; brainwashing; a cat in police custody; cookers; cars; a black truck; a street; a flustered landlady; that same cat’s urine; piles of laundry; a basement suite in Surrey… This mumble-jumble could pass as a college frat party gone only slightly wrong, so let’s get a grip: Half of this list shouldn’t be very applicable to the story I’m trying to tell – and the half that is is not comprised of the terms you think.

So to start, how about we “remain vigilant” about not buying into things without some understanding.

– – –

81(1)(d) 

“(1) Every one commits an offence who […]

(d) makes or has in his possession or has under his care or control any explosive substance with intent thereby

(i) to endanger life or to cause serious damage to property, or

(ii) to enable another person to endanger life or to cause serious damage to property.”

83.19 

“(1) Every one who knowingly facilitates a terrorist activity is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

Facilitation

(2) For the purposes of this Part, a terrorist activity is facilitated whether or not

  • (a) the facilitator knows that a particular terrorist activity is facilitated;
  • (b) any particular terrorist activity was foreseen or planned at the time it was facilitated; or
  • (c) any terrorist activity was actually carried out.”

431.2(2) 

“(2) Every one who delivers, places, discharges or detonantes an explosive or other lethal device to, into, in or against a place of public use, a government or public facility, a public transportation system or an infrastructure facility, either with intent to cause death or serious bodily injury or with intent to cause extensive destruction of such a place, system or facility that results in or is likely to result in major economic loss, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life.”

– – –

Before moving on to the elephant in the room, I would like to reiterate that the court hearing for these charges is tomorrow. Which would probably make it inappropriate to speculate about intent, motive, and reasoning, given that the two individuals in question have only been charged with allegedly committing these crimes. Did we have a trial? Did these people confess that yes, they were inspired by al-Qaeda? Is it legal to charge that someone was “for sure” motivated towards this thing they’re not yet convicted of?

I’m calling it out as inappropriate, but I won’t say the hype and speculation are wrong. And that’s only because I don’t know where to draw the moral line that separates the bad sins from the socially acceptable ones. (But I’ll describe this elusive line for you and you can tell me when you see it – it’s fat and grey and relative, and most likely on your left ’cause we all like to be “right”.)

Speaking of fat and grey, this elephant…

I’d like to see a data visualization of how, and in what contexts, the words “terrorism,” “terrorist,” and “terrorist plot” have been used over the course of the past week. Without any definition of what specifically is meant. I mean, not only is it being used left, right, and centre, but both arrested individuals are charged with “knowingly facilitat[ing] a terrorist activity”, so we should probably know what it means.

Oh, but everybody knows what terrorism is. Really, is that so. If it’s so simple, go ahead and define it. On your own. Try it. Try coming up with an all-encompassing definition that can be used to describe 9/11 and global embassy bombings and suicide bombings in the Middle East that doesn’t also include a mass-shooting. Or would you consider that terrorism as well? Can you explain why? What’s the difference between a crime, and an act of terrorism? Is it scale? Is it motive? Is it religion? 

Only innocent people get hurt? You better qualify innocent. Only perpetrated by guerilla groups, by fringe groups, by radicals and vigilantes? So a state can’t commit terrorist acts? Think about that one carefully.

Is your head spinning yet?

Let’s go to the Code. “Terrorist act” is defined as follows:

  • (b) an act or omission, in or outside Canada,

    • (i) that is committed

      • (A) in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause, and

      • (B) in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act, whether the public or the person, government or organization is inside or outside Canada, and

    • (ii) that intentionally

      • (A) causes death or serious bodily harm to a person by the use of violence,

      • (B) endangers a person’s life,

      • (C) causes a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or any segment of the public,

      • (D) causes substantial property damage, whether to public or private property, if causing such damage is likely to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C), or

      • (E) causes serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system, whether public or private, other than as a result of advocacy, protest, dissent or stoppage of work that is not intended to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C),

and includes a conspiracy, attempt or threat to commit any such act or omission, or being an accessory after the fact or counselling in relation to any such act or omission, but, for greater certainty, does not include an act or omission that is committed during an armed conflict and that, at the time and in the place of its commission, is in accordance with customary international law or conventional international law applicable to the conflict, or the activities undertaken by military forces of a state in the exercise of their official duties, to the extent that those activities are governed by other rules of international law.”

– – –

Slightly less “glorified” and “sensationalized” when written in bureaucratic jargon, right? It’s in reference to this – if you’re still here caring with me – that John Nuttall and Amanda Korody will be judged.

We’ve learned something about the law. Wonderful. But what’s the point?

Aside from trying to emphasize that in general, it’s good to look things up, one observation that can be made is that when media uses the word “terrorist” or “terrorist act,” it usually has a way of sounding much more dramatic than the above definition. Another, is that this definition is pretty damn vague. (Be vigilant about that.

The question on my mind, though, is whether or not this attempted act, in and of itself, was really, by definition, an attempted terrorist act.

But that’s another post.

Stay vigilant, my friends.