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Category Archives: Thoughts

Thoughts…

American horror story?

“What is it like to be a journalist in the middle of a Donald Trump rally?” asked Linda Steele. “We are about to find out.”

The segment was posted June 16 and we are still waiting. It’s no pound sterling pre-Brexit cliffhanger, but it was a lead up that led nowhere. We never found out. 

And this is because the “journalist” and political correspondent CKNW had on wasn’t really a journalist in the way that it counts: objective, impartial, unbiased. Jared Sexton Yates penned an article titled ‘American Horror Story‘ – that’s the first clue. Pair it with his equally dramatic stream of live tweeting from the front, and you have a descriptive opinion piece by a writer who witnessed a series of unfortunate events knew he wouldn’t like even before he showed up.

To his credit, the piece was published in The New Republic, an opinion journal. But that’s not Yates Sexton’s regular stomping ground for anti-Trump tantrums. He writes prolifically for the Atticus Review, an online publication that is “decidedly left on social issues,” fictional in nature and boasts the tagline “six degrees left of literature.” Steele did sort of get the political correspondent piece right: Yates Sexton has written 47 posts and counting, many of which focus on the U.S. election in a style that’s heavy on the politics and light on the correspondence. (In one, he calls Ted Cruz a “rat fink asshole” and celebrates the fact that his bid for the republican nomination ultimately saw him “sent to crawl back under whatever piece of shit rock he emerged from in the first place.” Ouch.) 

If that’s not enough, Yates Sexton is also an assistant professor of creative writing. Not that journalists can’t publish novels, or have their own political leanings. But if a journalist isn’t going to leave their political pets at the door, the elephant in the room – or the donkey – should be fully acknowledged. Rhetoric and politics should be labeled as such. Yates Sexton is of course freely entitled to his views, and to voice them, but Linda Steele’s interview and the accompanying CKNW web piece failed to warn listeners and readers that the show’s next guest was decidedly biased, and that’s a big issue.

This isn’t a post in defense of Trump. It’s an offensive against the real (North) American “horror story”: the extensive sloppy, sensationalized and unashamedly biased media coverage of the U.S. election. 

The truth is that Trump does a fine job telling the world his thoughts on Islam, homosexuality, immigration and women. At the start, media had a choice to challenge those ideas and cover him seriously, or to not cover him at all. Some outlets chose the latter, most chose the former, and now the time to reassess those choices has passed. Trump’s candidacy turned global media into insatiable distributors of the greatest reality show the world has ever seen. Those who oppose it come across as biased. Those who subtly or explicitly voice their bias end up reaffirming Trump as a leading voice on any and every issue – including Brexit.

This is what’s wrong with CKNW’s segment with Yates Sexton. It’s clearly anti-Trump, but covers Trump in a way that won’t sway his supporters, will increasingly agitate his opponents and will keep Trump in the headlines. Any new information that was introduced was tainted by the bias of the person introducing it – I mean really, how do you expect a “progressive” writer to react to a Trump rally? – and to an electorate that can’t actually vote in this election anyway. Here’s the kicker: even if everything Yates Sexton reported was 100 per cent, objectively true (minus the qualifiers), the perception that it might not be speaks louder.

If you’re going to be biased, the boldest most biased act is to simply not cover Trump. But I guess cutting out the propaganda is bad for ratings.

To listen to Linda Steele’s interview, which includes hard-hitting questions such as what Trump supporters “were saying about gay people,” visit CKNW.

 

 

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Monkey business casual

“Give me your shoe,” yelled the monkey.

“Ayeeeeeee eek eek,” I shrieked back. Nonsensical nonsense; monkey mumbo jumbo.

“I won’t ask you again,” he warned, tugging harder.

A garbled string of sounds was all I could muster. He seemed to understand.

“Fine,” he scoffed through a mouthful of sandal. He tossed me and my shoe out of his way and out of his mind.

Putting a stolen pair of glasses over his green amethyst eyes, he slowly ambled barefoot back into the jungle of Uluwatu.

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Caal v. HudBay v. Ghomeshi

It never ceases to fascinate and irritate how it is that some trials and news items go viral, while others don’t. The stories that are sexy or salient enough demand our attention and hijack our watercooler talk; the rest, if they do make headlines, barely penetrate our day-to-day discourse. It’s some kind of viscous circle: the more we pay attention, the more content we get and the more content there is, the more we can consume. In the flawed democracy of the western media empire, we vote with our clicks, and the reality is that some news just makes for better bait.

The Ghomeshi trial is a strong example of this, same with any trial involving someone of celebrity. It would be encouraging if the hype and the coverage came from a remarkable mass interest in our legal system, but that’s not even the case: it’s just a continued fascination with celebrity. That and, in the case of Ghomeshi, a strong interest by a few and a general interest from many in women’s rights, feminism and the future of how sexual assault is treated and handled in Canada.

There’s another case underway in Ontario that bears no celebrity, but deserves the attention of those who wanted to see Ghomeshi be made an example of. It should also have the ire of the self-declared feminists who wanted the justice system to hold the accountable, accountable.

The ongoing case Caal v. HudBay Minerals Inc. involves a gang-rape of 11 women by mine security personnel, paramilitary and military forces during a forced expulsion of their community from ancestral lands. The plaintiffs are claiming that Skye Resources Inc., then the owner of the open-pit nickel mining operation – The Fenix Project – “was negligent in requesting and authorizing the forced evictions of [the community] without taking adequate and reasonable steps to guard against the use of violence by company security personnel during this eviction” (the full claim is available here). When HudBay merged with Skye Resources, it assumed its assets, responsibilities and liabilities, as would happen in any other merger.

This case is incredibly significant because it’s one of just a handful of times a case involving a Canadian company’s operations abroad have been brought forward to a Canadian court. Even more rare, it’s moving forward.

When in Guatemala last year, I visited mines operated by the subsidiary companies of Goldcorp and Tahoe Resources, respectively. Both have been mired in controversy. At the time, criminal proceedings were pending in Guatemala regarding a violent altercation between mine security personnel at the site operated by Tahoe’s subsidiary. A civil suit based on the same set of facts was also launched in B.C. In 2015, the B.C. Supreme Court declined to hear the lawsuit.

Jurisdiction was a major factor regarding Tahoe’s Canadian case. When it comes to “corporate social responsibility” in general, and the reach of Canadian law not only beyond state borders, but across the borders of other sovereign states, jurisdiction is everything. As a consequence, seeking justice, maintaining accountability and applying legislation becomes murky and complex.

HudBay’s case has already set precedent, and regardless of how it’s resolved, it will continue to set precedent with how the Canadian legal system handles the actions of Canadian corporations abroad. It also happens to be a very vivid case involving horrific instances of sexual assault. It’s not just a case of whether HudBay was liable and negligent: it’s also about Canada’s ability to hold its own corporations to account. The Canadian justice system’s strength and reach is on trial. Maybe we should pay it some attention.

The events that led to the case were overviewed by The New York Times recently, and the article is worth a read.

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Raceish

To properly define racial privilege, we first must define race. We also need context, and to determine whether “privilege” in certain contexts is a bad thing. Maybe it’s just a product of that context.

The funny thing about race as a social construct is that it exists purely as a social construct. The more we feed it, or fragment it, the more it becomes a building block of society. Judging people by the colour of their skin, privileging certain groups over others, using unequal means to justify seemingly “equal” ends are all ways that place race – or gender, age, ability – at the centre of society. 

Call me an idealist, but my version of equality and a healthy, vibrant and functioning society is not one where decisions are made around race. But it’s not in vogue to craft our world around utopian ideals.

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“If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether [it] has racial overtones.”

This is point number 36 on a 46-item checklist meant to “check” your white privilege. Some of the others include whether you have access to makeup that matches your skin tone, can find a hair stylist who can deal with your hair, whether you get audited, and that you can “expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of [your] race” (emphasis added for dramatic effect).

Putting aside that the article presumes that, in our increasingly globalized world, all people of a race share the same experiences, I would like to point out a disturbing lack of Ukrainian-Irish “experiences” in my Top 40 playlist and my choice of abstract art.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack was shared with me by a friend who was assigned to read it in a graduate program. It’s an opinion by an author whose work has been cited thousands of times (according to Google Scholar), yet actually cites no sources itself. It was also published in the late 80s and would be considered outdated, if it weren’t currently part of graduate-level curricula, or strongly similar to a lot of the rhetoric surrounding race relations in the U.S.

While it is just one person’s argument, it’s frightening that an opinion so one-sided, myopic and jaded is considered on its own healthy, challenging academic fodder. (Or maybe it is: it’s certainly challenging to read.)

The jist of it is that there are many “privileges” to being white in North America, and that you are not allowed to be okay with it. Whether “it” means privileged or white is irrelevant; they’re used fairly synonymously. The 46-point list itemizes the many things white people don’t have to concern themselves, something that results in privilege. 

The author laments that her schooling “gave [her] no training in seeing [her]self as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture.” Because apparently, anyone who is white – and especially anyone who is a white male – is not only an oppressor, but should actively and continuously be aware of their role as an oppressor.

I think it’s inaccurate to think that everyone who is not white and living in the U.S. actively wonders whether their “bad day” has racial overtones. Ironically enough, if you are a white male seeking a job at a workplace with a racial and gender diversity quota that needs to be met, I think you may actually wonder whether not getting hired did, in fact, have racial overtones. But for all the privileges white men may have, one they don’t seem to have in this day and age is the privilege to complain. So let’s move on.

I don’t think the points made in this article, or in the many articles and columns on this topic that have come out since, encourage equality, regardless of race or gender. In fact these sorts of contributions to the ongoing public dialogue on equality instead highlight race, and create greater divisiveness. Articles like this create victims and abusers, oppressors and the oppressed.

Having access to makeup that matches one’s skin tone and being able to easily find a hair stylist that can deal with one’s hair have nothing to do with privilege. If I go to South Sudan, or Uruguay, and I can’t find the products or services I need, I wouldn’t say that either of those make me oppressed. I also wouldn’t argue that someone who has a low income is oppressed either, unless they live in a society that consistently denies that person employment, loans and assistance because of who they are or how they look.

The above is illegal in Canada and the U.S. It is illegal to pay a women less than a man would get paid for the same position, and it’s illegal to deny someone employment, or to pull them over, based on the colour of their skin. Society can’t force any individual to not hold views that are racist or sexist, but as members of that society we can ensure that we help create a system that does not promote or enforce either. 

Articles that slam “whites” as oppressors (because you know, we’re all the same) and quizzes like Buzzfeed’s ‘How privileged are you?‘ (I’m at 66) just exacerbate our differences, and get us nowhere.

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Ghomeshi: it’s all the rage

In the court of public opinion, everyone is guilty. But then again, everything we see is framed, subjective, slanted, opinionated and edited. We draw limited conclusions based on limited facts. The hype surrounding certain trials echoes the hype of movies: even before the ending, we have the good guys, the bad guys and deeply set… Keep reading.

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The big disaster of 2016

Ready your rain boots and clever weather portmanteaus: there’s an environmental apocalypse coming and no, it’s not snowmageddon or #blizzard2016. Last year was the hottest year on record, and even though 2015 hosted historic climate talks, scientists say the results are not enough to stymie warming at 2 degrees Celsius a year, widely acknowledged as “the goal… Keep reading.

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