#elxn42: fear, frustration, disbelief, and hope

Although I haven't been blogging much (or at all) about the upcoming Canadian federal election, I've been thoroughly and utterly obsessed by it for months. These last weeks have brought an almost intolerable level of suspense and frustration. I've been expressing that on Facebook, rather than here on wmtc - small bursts of agony, links to share, commiseration. Seesawing emotions, trying to keep hope alive and despair at bay.

If seat projections are to be believed, only a month ago, the New Democratic Party was mopping the floor with blue and red. We would see Canada's first NDP government. It might even be a majority! The Harper Conservatives would limp in at dead last.

Fast-forward to last week, and - again, if polls are to be belived - the NDP has lost a huge chunk of seats, to the gain of both the Conservatives and Liberals.

The generally accepted explanation for this is Stephen Harper's disgusting anti-niqab campaign. Supposedly Harper waved Islamophobia, racism, and xenophobia in the face of Canadian voters, and they ran screaming away from the NDP into the arms of the tried-and-true blue team. Orange crush turned into orange crash.

I simply don't believe it.

I don't believe this niqab nonissue resonated so strongly with so many Canadians that they would actually change their voting preference. I believe that most Canadian voters understand that a woman covering her face during a citizenship ceremony, as she does daily, is not actually an election issue.

So: are the polls to be believed?

Many sources point out that polling is based on an antiquated model. Pollsters call landlines, which already selects a demographic. Caller ID narrows it down even further. So polling information is gleaned from people with landlines who are willing to answer their phones and willing to answer questions. Online polls are basically useless.

Making it even crazier, many voters are (supposedly) influenced by these polls. People are willing to vote NDP if it looks like the NDP can win. So-called strategic voters obsess on voting Liberal, as if they can predict what everyone else is going to do.

This excellent editorial in The Hill Times suspects the Canadian electorate is insane, and incapable of imagining what real change would look like.
A wise man once defined insanity as the act of “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Being that our political pendulum seems to be swinging back toward old faithful (the Libservatives) I’m going to go ahead and suggest the Canadian electorate start facing some cold, hard facts. Namely, that our country may very well be insane.

As much as we liken ourselves a wiser and broader-minded breed than our neighbours down south, Canada has been oscillating back and forth, back and forth, between two primary governing parties since 1867. Just two.

And though these two parties like to think of themselves as different as night and day, in many ways, they’re one in the same. Don’t believe me? Indulge me for a moment...
Are the polls and seat projections wrong? Are they wrong on purpose? If you noted the media meltdown after Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader of the Labour Party in the UK, it's not out of the question. Tom Mulcair is no Jeremy Corbyn, but an NDP government would be a herald of change, of people pushing back the corporate hegemony. Why would the corporate media want that?

Was the NDP majority government in Alberta - can you believe I just typed that?! - predicted? Was the 2011 Conservative majority predicted? Was the first NDP Official Opposition predicted? I find a lot of conflicting answers to these questions.

I have some problems with Tom Mulcair. I don't agree with absolutely everything he says. But if he will deliver on promises, if he will take us in the direction of the NDP platform, we may just see "the Canada of our dreams".

Some good stuff:

Globe and Mail editorial: The niqab is a distraction. Voters should focus on real issues.

Chatelaine: I'm Muslim and I'm sick of hearing about the niqab

The Common Sense Canadian: Niqab defence might cost Trudeau and Mulcair, but they're right

Paula Simons, Edmonton Journal: Don't like the niqab? Don't wear one.

The Sun (The Sun!!): NDP popularity a sign of voters' optimism

The Beaverton (Canada's answer to The Onion): Unemployed Canadians so happy to see politicians addressing the niqab again

John Cruickshank, publisher of the Toronto Star (a must-read): The niqab crisis: by the numbers

Don't-Be-A-Fucking-Idiot.ca, Created By A Human Being Who Gives A Shit: A SWEARY

And finally, VOTE THAT FUCKER OUT!!, definitely NSFW.

excellent selection, price, and service from canada computers

Allan has been using Canada Computers & Electronics for a while, but for some reason, I was not onboard. I thought they were a small outfit that wouldn't have a good selection or good prices. Wrong! They have a full selection, very good prices, and excellent customer service.

Right after we moved, we needed three computer-related purchases in a row. When it rains, it pours, eh?

First my computer wouldn't connect to the internet, and we suspected it needed a new wireless card. At the store, we didn't have the right information, and bought the wrong one. Allan returned it the next day, very easily, and came home with the correct card (which was less expensive).

Next, setting up our TV and Roku, we couldn't get a decent connection. It's a good thing we already knew that Roku works great, or we would have thought the whole streaming thing was crap. In the last two places we lived, the distance from router to Roku was much greater, and our connections were always fine. Now we're in a smaller space, the router is much closer to the Roku, and we can barely connect. We find this very strange!

I did some research online, and thought we should try a wifi range extender. Back to Canada Computers: another good selection and very good price. (The range extender solved the problem, and we intend to buy a second one, to cover both our wireless networks, the ISP and the VPN.)

Then, most annoyingly, my external hard drive failed. That's my backup, all my photos, my own writing clips, and whatever else. Yup, I failed to backup my backup. Photos from trips are also on CD, and some are on Flickr, so it wouldn't be a total loss. But it wouldn't be fun.

We went straight to Canada Computers. They told me how their data recovery service works: a minimum of $20, and if they can't recover the data, they'll let you know and you can collect the drive, no further cost; if they can recover it, it's $80 per hour for labour, and usually runs around $200. I expected to pay around $200, so that seemed fine. I also had to buy a new external, someplace for them to save the data if they could recover it. (It's been an expensive move!)

Two days later, they called to say the data was recovered. When we picked it up, we were very pleased to be charged only $80, the minimum one hour of labour. That kind of honesty gives me a really good feeling about going to Canada Computers again.

Also, although I always call them "Canada Computers," the store is actually "Canada Computers & Electronics". They sell TVs, home appliances like refrigerators, and small appliances like coffee makers and toasters. Their staff actually knows about the products they sell, and their prices are competitive. Good bye, Best Buy and Future Shop!


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #19

A mother and her young son enter the library, returning a big stack of books for beginning readers. A conversation is already in progress. Imagine this in a voice - no, a whine - of pure sadness.

"But why do I have to return it?"

"Because it's not yours. It belongs to the library."

"But it's the best book ever."

I hustled over. I assured him he could take it out again, as long as no one was waiting for it. "Can I please see the book?" He reluctantly handed it over, near tears.

It was an easy reader with lovely Eric Carle-esque illustrations... a nonfiction book about spiders! I renewed for him. "Here you go." His face lit up.

Mom said, "You will have to return it eventually, you know."

Boy: "But whyyyyyy?"

Mom: "Because it belongs to the library."

Me: "I bet I could find other books that you would love just as much."

He looked very skeptical. "This is the best book ever."


a gray rug, a black kong, a happy white dog

We need to get rugs or carpet runners for Tala; she's slipping on the wood floors when she and Diego play. But with one heavy shedder and one heavy drooler, we're not too keen on buying nice rugs. While looking for something else at Ikea, we found a rug they were promoting: $17! They're not bad looking, either.

I put the rug down, Tala immediately ran down the hall, retrieved her squishy bone toy from my office, ran back, and settled in for a chew. She saw that rug and she knew exactly what she wanted.

For $17 each, we can cover a good portion of the floor with these babies, and make Tala very happy.


votepopup: voter education at the library

On the long list of anti-democratic policies the majority Harper Government has enacted, the Orwellian-named Fair Elections Act ranks near the top. More properly called a voter suppression law, the Act effectively disenfranchise tens of thousands of Canadians.

The Council of Canadians has taken the issue to court, including an ongoing Charter Challenge, but those won't affect the upcoming election. That means there's only one way to lessen the effects: voter education. 

Last night at the Malton Library, we contributed to that effort, with #VotePopUp, a voter education program for new Canadians. 

Some weeks ago, I learned that one of our libraries had hosted this program, and jumped onboard. I worked with an amazing community organizer, who has a bit of funding from Samara Canada and Elections Canada, and copious amounts of know-how through the Peel Poverty Action Group and her own nonprofit, Building Up Our Communities.

I promoted the program through various community organizations in Malton, and by chance it was scheduled on the same night as a newcomer ESL class, known here as LINC: Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada. These programs have been hit hard by Conservative and Liberal budget cuts (do you see a pattern here?), but thanks to dedicated teachers and social workers, they survive.

So last night, 39 adults crowded into a room in the Malton Community Centre to talk about voting. 

Why vote? Am I eligible to vote? Where do I vote? What ID do I need? How do I mark the ballot? ... and a few dozen similar questions were answered. Many of the students have voted in their original countries and are very keen to do so in Canada. Many of their original countries make voting much easier; others, more difficult. 

The program is completely nonpartisan, of course. By another excellent coincidence, there is an all-candidates meeting in Malton tonight, the night following the program. We were able to distribute flyers and explain what would happen at that meeting.

The presenter had prepared a mock ballot, and students chose the issue most important to them: jobs, transit, education, healthcare, and so on. Jobs won by a landslide. Using that, I was able to demonstrate how this would tie in with an all-candidates meeting: "What will your party do to bring more jobs to my community?" 

The library is the perfect place for a program like this. Our customers can use free, public computers to register to vote or look up their polling station. They can ask experts for free (and friendly!) help. They can use their library cards as a piece of voting ID. The public library is all about democracy and levelling the grossly unfair playing field. Voter education is naturally a piece of that picture.


bernie sanders, the pope, and the politics of amnesia

I see a lot of excitement online, in places like Common Dreams and The Nation, and in my Facebook feed, about Bernie Sanders, supposedly remaking US politics, and Pope Francis, supposedly remaking the Roman Catholic Church.

About Sanders, I shake my head and wonder why long-time Democrat voters do not see him and his candidacy for what it is. About the Pope, I wonder why progressive people allow themselves to care.

Sanders is the new Dean

Bernie Sanders has been praised as a maverick, an independent, and a socialist. All of which may have been true at various points in his political career.

Right now Sanders is running for President as a Democrat. He is not spearheading a movement to build a new alternative. He is not refusing corporate funding and appealing to the grassroots. He is not "challenging politics as usual," as headlines in progressive news sites often say. He is seeking the Democratic nomination, which means he will play within the boundaries of that game.

And that game demands that Bernie Sanders not run for president. I suspect it's already a done deal: that in return for firing up progressive voters and helping them to believe that their cause is the Democrats' cause, he has already been offered a cabinet position, should Hillary become POTUS. I'd be shocked to learn that this is not the case.

However, whether or not there is already a backroom deal in place, we can be assured that Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic presidential nominee. No matter the size of the crowds at his appearances, no matter the polls. The nominee is not chosen based on crowds, nor on polls.

Just as we have always been at war with Eastasia, there has always been a Bernie Sanders. His name has been Dennis Kucinich, and Howard Dean. His name has been Jesse Jackson, and Paul Wellstone. He exists to reassure and corral the liberal vote. He does his part, then fades away, as the "electable" candidate is tapped for the big show.

I recently saw this headline: Sanders and Trump Offer Two Roads Out of Establishment Politics—Which Will We Follow?. In what way does Sanders offer a "road out of establishment politics"? During his tenure in Congress, he has voted with the Democrats 98% of the time. Sanders is seeking the Democratic candidacy and Trump is seeking the Republican candidacy. What is anti-establishment about that?

Francis is not the new anything

And then there's the "radical pope". If ever there was a time for the "you keep on using that word" meme, surely it is when the word radical is applied to the leader of the largest hierarchy on the planet.

In what way is this pope radical? He has said some things. He has made some statements.

Pope Francis has declared that Catholic priests will temporarily be allowed to absolve the sin of abortion without obtaining special permission from a bishop. And media hailed this as the Church softening its stance on abortion!

Absolution? The Pope should be begging our forgiveness for the untold number of women who have died from illegal abortions, the orphans and desperately poor children whose mothers were denied contraception, the families forced into poverty by the Church's own policies. The Church offers a brief amnesty for women who exercised their human rights? Fuck you.

Pope Francis has made some statements against unchecked capitalism and in sympathy with the world's poor. Has the Church renounced its immense, tax-exempt wealth in order to feed the hungry world?

"God weeps," said this Pope, at child sexual abuse, and similar statements of contrition that survivors have heard from two popes before him. Pope Francis praised his bishops' handling of the sex abuse crisis, only to back down after an outcry from survivors and advocates. One more "carefully choreographed" statement. One more nothing. If survivors themselves had not risen up and demanded the world hear them, the Church would still be playing whack-a-mole with pedophile priests.

Pope Francis has acknowledged that LGBT people are human beings, and perhaps will not suffer eternal damnation for leading their own lives. Gee thanks, Pope.

There is no doubt that Pope Francis has changed the tone of a tone-deaf institution that is decades, if not centuries, behind the times. Because liberation movements - of women, LGBT people, indigenous people, sexual abuse survivors - have changed our very world, the Church was finally forced to acknowledge modernity.

But he has altered nothing of substance, and certainly has not moved one iota towards radical change.

This pope name-dropped the great radical leader Dorothy Day, much as every US politician quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. But besides his speeches in the US, what did Pope Francis actually do? He canonized Father Junípero Serra, a Spanish priest who was actively complicit in the genocide of indigenous peoples of North and South America.

Yet this change of tone and some heartfelt conciliatory speeches are enough for the media - including much alternative media - to hail Pope Francis as a Great Bringer of Change.

Mass amnesia

I watched in wonder as liberal USians hailed Obama as the Great Bringer of Change, then had their hearts broken, as per usual. Yet now, less than a decade later, they appear to be hypnotized again.

Bernie Sanders will not save us. Pope Francis will not save us. We are the people we have been waiting for. If we want radical change, we have to band together and create it ourselves. Idle No More. Occupy Wall Street. Fight for 15. The member organizations of 350.org. Food Inc. No One Is Illegal. Marinaleda. Los Indignados. And a million other groups - groups without names, groups without media coverage - groups of people, acting collectively. This is the way forward.

Vote for Sanders in the primaries. Then dutifully vote for Hillary for president. And wonder why nothing ever changes.


the great weed of 2015?

You will not be surprised to learn that Allan and I own a lot of books. And CDs. And even LPs! Many, many hundreds of each. We have culled our collection a bit over the years, out of necessity, but living in houses for the past 10 years, we expanded again without much thought.

Now here we are in an apartment. It's a large apartment, to be sure, but we no longer have extra rooms where we can stash as much stuff as we like. And neither of us wants to fill up every inch of wall and floor space with books and music. 
Thus we are contemplating weeding our own library. And this is very strange. 

Books are us. Or are they?

When I was in my 20s, I wanted to own every book I'd ever read. I was one of those people who believed that my personal library was a statement about myself. I needed to proudly display my politics and my tastes through my bookshelves and records. I loved seeing other people's libraries, and loved when people perused mine. I can recall that when we found ourselves in the home of a new friend, we would soon be looking through their books and music.

For many years, we loved amassing as large a music collection as we possibly could. Allan wrote about music, and we were inundated by freebies. At the time it seemed like the coolest thing in the world. Music would just appear! On our doorstep! For free! Eventually the piles and piles of CDs irritated me. But still, free music! 

We both still drool over huge, beautiful libraries. When we watched "It Might Get Loud," we had to pause to stare in wonder at Jimmy Page's gorgeous music collection on what must be custom-made shelves. 

Now we're talking about weeding our CDs by as much as half. Allan has a huge amount of digital music, but we both recognize we listen to only a small fraction of what we own. 

Do as the digital natives do?

The whole concept of a library being a personal statement has been erased by the digital age. Most people under a certain age have never owned a physical medium of music. The sharing ethos of the internet has led to things like BookCrossing, BookMooch, Read It Foward, and Little Free Libraries.  

How this affects writers and musicians is another story, and a sad one. But somehow all these readers and listeners manage to form their identities and communicate their points of view without owning a whole bunch of stuff that sits on a whole bunch of shelves. 

I don't know if this is a function of working in a library and having ready access to so many books, or just a general change in my desires. I was much more materialistic when I was younger. But I don't know what's driving this urge to purge.

Here, a minimalist writes about breaking the sentimental attachment we feel towards our books. I'm not sure I'm ready for that. But it suddenly doesn't seem as important to have all these books. 

what i'm reading: the doubt factory, a young-adult thriller by paolo bacigalupi

A thriller about public relations? And for teens? It sounds improbable, and The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi is an improbably terrific book. Marrying a somersaulting plot with heart-pounding suspense to an unabashed political agenda and a hot love story, Bacigalupi has delivered a stunning youth read.

On the political front, we contemplate "the place where big companies go when they need the truth confused. . . . when they need science to say what’s profitable, instead of what’s true.” All the tricks of the trade - astroturfing, fronts, false flags, sock puppets, money funnelling, stealth marketing, planted news, and outright false data - are touched on, along with the human damage they cause.

And the political is nothing if not personal. Alix leads the good life of a private school girl in Connecticut, and is forced to confront the possibility that her privilege is built on other people's pain. That pain is impossible to miss, when she meets a group of homeless kids, all orphaned, one way or another, by her father's handiwork.

Pharmaceuticals, pesticides, fossil fuels - you name it, Alix's dad has helped confuse the public, shield wrongdoers, and ultimately cause the death of thousands, while a few brave class-action litigants are painted as selfish and greedy, and those who say otherwise are branded as conspiracy kooks.

Alix is attracted - perhaps dangerously so - to a young man who turns out to be the leader of a radical group focused on exposing her father's complicity in all that suffering. Betrayal lurks behind every door, but who will betray, who will be betrayed, and who will be exposed?

My only minor complaint is that the political agenda gets a teensy bit preachy at times. Preachy politics in fiction are usually a dealbreaker for me, but with The Doubt Factory, I was so hooked by the plot and the suspense that I didn't mind. More importantly, I don't think young readers would give it a second thought.


what i'm reading: soul made flesh: the discovery of the brain and how it changed the world

The ancient Egyptians, when preparing a body for mummification, carefully preserved the heart, liver, lungs, and other vital organs in special canisters, now known as canopic jars. The brain was yanked out and throw away as trash. A millennium or two later, human knowledge of the workings of the brain was every bit as erroneous and incomplete.

Until the 1600s, no one knew what the brain did or what function it served. Even William Harvey, the pioneering British scientist who discovered the circulatory system, believed the heart was the centre of human thought and consciousness. Less enlightened but highly influential schools of thought postulated that the human body contained four souls: animal, vegetable, rational, and material. Other theories counted up to seven souls. Descartes and Hobbes, those pillars of the Age of Reason, believed in an anatomy that contained at least a few souls.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, no one knew what the brain did, and no European had ever seen an intact human brain. By the time the century had ended, the most common conceptions of man, god, and the universe had been upended and replaced.

Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain and How It Changed the World by Carl Zimmer is the story of that scientific revolution, a fascinating, complex tale of the birth of neuroscience. The relatively unknown and unheralded Thomas Willis, part of the group of scientists and philosophers known as the Oxford circle, brought the brain and its functions into the fore, and began scientific method into the bargain. Zimmer tells the story against a historical and social backdrop of English civil war, regime change, and religious persecution.

Willis was the first person to accurately draw the brain and other organs, and the book is illustrated with reproductions of Willis' original drawings. He was the first person to draw connections between the brain and conditions such as epilepsy and migraines. He was the first person to bring scientific method to bear on human illness.

People frequently say "The more things change, the more things stay the same," expressing the belief that throughout history, the details may change, but basic humanity does not. Soul Made Flesh exposes the fallacy in this thinking. In a pre-scientific age, people interpreted their world in completely different ways than we do now. The questions they asked, and the arguments they defended, were as different from the questions of our time as those of the believers of Zeus or Quetzalcoatl.

I recommend this book with one caveat. Seventeenth century Europeans had very different ethics and mores than we do. Willis and his fellow scientists performed experiments on live animals, and more than a few humans whose lives were not thought valuable, such as condemned prisoners. I am not squeamish about medical details, but my compassion for animals made parts of this book difficult to read.

a historic opportunity for residents of peel region: vote ndp on october 19

In the upcoming federal election, Peel residents have an opportunity to make a real difference for ourselves, our neighbours, and all of Canada. We can support a platform aimed at supporting working people, preserving and expanding public healthcare, restoring our democracy, and protecting our environment. We can vote NDP.

NDP candidates are running in all Peel ridings. For me, these five candidates stand out as stellar choices to represent our region.

Rosemary Keenan, running in Brampton Centre, is a longtime leader of the Peel Poverty Action Group and the Peel Sierra Club. She has had a long career as a teacher, school principal, activist, and community organizer. In other words, she's been working to improve life for working people in Peel for decades. As a member of a federal NDP government, she'll have a greater reach and more opportunity to make a difference.

Adaoma Patterson, running in Brampton West, is a long-time advocate for working and low-income people, and for public services. She's had a lead role in the Peel Poverty Reduction Strategy, and has worked (both as staff and committed volunteer) for key agencies like Ontario Works, United Way, YMCA, and the Caribbean Association of Peel.

Progressive people in my own riding, Mississauga Centre, have an opportunity to create real change by voting for Farheen Khan. Farheen has managed a women's shelter, and has raised more than $2,000,000 for progressive causes in Peel, and another $1,000,000 for international relief.

Like almost everyone I know in Peel, Farheen grew up in an immigrant household. Her story will be familiar to many: after immigrating to Canada, her parents’ credentials were not recognized, and they were forced to work multiple jobs just to survive. Farheen's experience working at a young age, experiencing both poverty and violence, led her to choose a life of community service.

In Mississauga Malton, where I work, NDP candidate Dianne Douglas has worked and volunteered for many organizations that improve life for residents of Malton. On my drive to work, I pass a huge billboard picturing the Liberal candidate, who wears the turban and beard that is a frequent sight in Malton. But what good is a turban and beard if you support the corporate status quo? Malton needs an MP who champions public service and healthy communities. That is Dianne Douglas.

Peel residents should be familiar with Michelle Bilek, who is running in Mississauga Erin Mills. Michelle is an educator, a community activist, an advocate for women, children, and low-income and homeless people. As a young person, Michelle experienced homelessness, and worked her way through two university degrees. Among her activities, she is a member of Peel’s Regional Diversity Roundtable and of the advisory board of the Homelessness Partnership Strategy.

These are not the only NDP candidates running in Peel. If you live in Mississauga, Brampton, or Caledon, you can scroll through this list of NDP candidates running in Ontario to find your candidate.

In the past, most of Peel Region had been represented in Parliament by Liberal MPs. That all changed in 2011, when the Liberal Party suffered its historic collapse, and most Peel ridings flipped to the Harper Conservatives. But those dreadful results had a silver lining, and it was orange. In 2011, the New Democratic Party won historic levels of support in Peel. On October 19, 2015, we have the opportunity to strengthen that support, and elect NDP MPs throughout the region.

Unlike Conservatives, who believe in making life easy for banks and oil companies, the NDP will build and strengthen public support so that all working people have an opportunity, not only to survive, but to thrive.

The NDP is the only party that gets all its support from working people and labour unions, the only party not supported by major corporations. That tells us something right there. The Conservatives are spending five times as much as the NDP in this election. How should our election be decided: by voters, or by money?

If you're not sure where you vote, or you're unsure if you're registered to vote, you can check here: Elections Canada.