Sunday, December 28, 2008

Parliament is in an Election Way

Oh no, Parliament!

With Globe & Mail strategist Scott Reid predicting a possible election in as few as nine months, we honestly can't say that we didn't kind of see this coming. An election is always joyful news when Parliament has decided it is ready to have one, but unplanned elections -- eesh. This all could have been prevented with some minority government control. Shame on you, Stephen Harper. Everyone knows that pulling out doesn't work!

Of course, one strategist prediction does not an election make. Maybe the house should consider pissing on a few other strategists and see what they say. But let's assume the worst. Canada's been having elections left, right, and centre (mostly right) lately; we are poised to burst out into a chorus of Every Confidence Vote Is Sacred. But if we were responsible, we would at least use the rhythm method or something to keep these elections at bay until we could afford them. Elections are expensive, and what with the economic downturn at all, now is really not an optimal time. A federal election held right now would be an unhappy one, poorly neglected, and so ugly that even the social workers wouldn't take it away from us. We're all too busy cooing over our neighbour's beautiful recent election. (Really, isn't that Obama just the cutest thing?)

It's really too bad that we can't enjoy this election and celebrate the miracle of democracy. Ours is a particularly sweet brand (usually). Isn't it great that we can just dissolve the government whenever we -- well, okay, our MP(P)s -- want and elect a new one? Isn't it great that we don't have to sit around grumbling for four-plus years when our elected leader is being a huge douchebag? Maybe the current situation isn't the best example, but pretend it was a year or two ago and think about what your answer would have been. Jon Stewart certainly was impressed by it.

Now is the shitty-depressing-time-immediately-after- Christmas of our discontent, yes. But not all is lost. It is not too late to have a coalition government and terminate this election, if only we can get past the (apparent) moral issues. This could all be just a bad memory of a dumb mistake, and hopefully a lesson learned about making sure we practice safe minority governments. Canada, keep in mind that this is merely a rough patch. If we hold tight for a bit, we too may produce a shining beacon of a leader around whom we can all rally, an Obama to end our Bush administration. A knight in shining armour who won't get our country in trouble and then try to kick us down the stairs when they find out.

I'm just sayin' ... if I were a bettin' woman ...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yet More Coalition Banter

A handful of things have been preventing me from blogging lately, namely school work and personal frustration. But I have definitely been feeling guilty about it, and I seem to be arguing politics fairly regularly through Facebook and e-mail anyway, so I suppose I may as well do it on my blog (isn't loudly trumpeting one's views and the exclusive validity thereof the reason anyone even gets a blog, anyway?)

I doubt I have anything very original to say re: the coalition, given the plethora of discourse that already exists on the topic, but I feel compelled nonetheless. Canadians discuss politics when they aren't exciting, so this shouldn't be at all surprising. So. The Coalition. A coup d'état spearheaded by the scattered and discordant left plus the evil separatists, that is bent on deposing the democratically-elected right and sending Canada straight to hell, of course. It couldn't be simpler*!

*Valid only for right-wing media.

Where to even begin? A coup d'état is a sudden and decisive action in politics, esp. one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force1, or at least the "illegally or by force" is what is usually implied when the term is used. A coalition, on the other hand, is a group of usually two to six male lions that drive off and replace the male lions in a pride in order to mate with the females and protect the resulting offspring. Ooops, wrong definition. I meant to say, a coalition is completely legal, and they happen in Europe all the time. As I'm sure anyone who has heard the phrase "62% Majority" (i.e. Canadians who read or watch the news, or exit their houses from time to time) is aware, the general argument contre the "coup" and "democratically elected" defense is that 62% of Canadians who voted said "I'd prefer someone other than the Tories to be in power." Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that 62% of Canadians support a coalition government, but, well, there are certain implications . . .

So, let's say that the left gets its shit together and does this thing. There is still the issue of the evil, soul-sucking Bloc whose main goal is to fuck up Canada as much as possible. I hear they eat kittens, too.

Bloc MPs, as depicted by the English media. Lucky for Harper that his patronus was a prorogue!

Wait, NEWSFLASH! It turns out that the Bloc is not made of evil and darkness, nor are they actually this poorly Photoshopped in real life. They are just regular MPs, elected by (whether anyone likes it or not) regular Canadians, and are a regular part of the House. The only difference is that they are epically disinterested in anything outside of their own province. In fact, the Bloc hasn't been running on a platform of separation for a while now. See for yourself.

Contrary to what the ROC seems to fear, a coalition with support from the Bloc does not mean that Quebec will be setting up boarders and issuing passports tomorrow, nor will they be holding a referendum, nor will the rest of Canada be forced to speak French, join unions, and close stores at 5 PM on weekdays. What those who rant and rave about the Bloc wanting to "hurt" Canada don't realize is that the Bloc simply doesn't care enough about the rest of Canada to "hurt" it. All they care about is Quebec getting a sweeter deal.

Interestingly enough, I take Bloc-related complaints from the Québécois more seriously than those coming from the ROC. One of my friends (interestingly enough, a federalist) is baffled that the Bloc, who of course did start out on the whole idea that Quebec should be independent, should be taking the side of the guy responsible for the Clarity Act. (This conversation took place before the Iggy Takeover.) "They are either dumb, or hypocrites," he said. He was no more supportive of Dion teaming up with his "mortal enemies" (and this is where the credibility stops for me).
"So basically you are against them putting aside their differences for the good of parliament?"
Welp, there you have it. Partisanship is the biggest barrier to national functioning.

Speaking of partisanship. I would have no problem with the Tories governing for a while -- I mean, they are the party that the fewest Canadian voters hate, fair and square -- if Harper was willing to play nice and share. The Conservatives got 38% of the vote, you can't argue with the facts. But that means that they did not get 62% of the vote, and the fact of a minority government is that you actually cannot just flip the bird at those who did not vote for you (or else you risk losing the confidence of the House, surprisingly enough). Harper, your buddy Charest just won a majority in Quebec and he's willing to play nice with Pauline Marois, or at least he says he is. Did you not think, "Hey, maybe stacking the senate with conservatives might piss off liberal and even centrist Canadians"? Or "Re-opening the gay marriage debate would be really cool, except that the vast majority of Canadians don't really seem at all interested in that"? If you're going to pretend that an election is winner-take-all, well, don't be surprised if the kids in second and third place decide to beat your ass.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Coalition Rally on Parliament Hill - Video

As rallies go, this one had all the makings of a good one: clever signs, lousy weather, counter-protesters, and upbeat fiddle music.

This was slapped together a bit rapidly, but is still decent. Unfortunately, I arrived a bit late and didn't get any decent footage of anyone saying anything good. But there is plenty of clever sign footage!

(I apologize for the quality. I am still getting used to iMovie. I'll post something of higher quality within the next 24 hours.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sexy Candidate Reprise: David Grégoire

David Grégoire, of Sexy Candidate 2008 fame, is taking another stab at his home riding -- this time in the upcoming provincial election.

After suffering a thrashing at the hands of Bloc-er Roger Gaudet in the federal election, David is presenting himself again in the same place (called Masson instead of Montcalm for provincial purposes). With an even sexier photo and hopefully more money to run his campaign so that he won't have to rely on scooting around town with campaign signs strapped to his back (although that WAS pretty cool), he's running in a riding which has not traditionally been keen to elect Liberals, or really anyone other than the PQ until last March. But maybe with Charest's focus on "L'économie d'abord", more Québécois will be scared into voting for a party who can protect their financial interests . . . the ones who can be bothered to vote, anyway. Basically, the Liberals are hoping for a re-do of the federal election -- I mean with the governing party maintaining the status quo, not the Liberals getting trounced!

Let's review David's "sexy" credentials:
  • Diverse skill set -- works as mathematician, plays the piano
  • Intelligent -- is member of Mensa Québec
  • Contributes to the economy and tourism industry -- owns a B&B
  • His accent is as sexy as he is innovative -- as evidenced by this Infoman clip
If you need any further references, look no further than Radio-Canada. In an attempt to cash in on the obvious success of the Sexy Candidates 2008 list, Infoman named David Grégoire Miss Candidat Fédérale 2008. Of course, that was October 16. Remember, folks, you heard about David Grégoire being sexy from me first.

Here's to wishing David Grégoire the best of luck on December 8, and of course, promising him a spot on the Sexy Politicians Hotlist if he pulls out a victory.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trudeau, the B&B Comission, the failure of second-language education, and why this is important

Normally, I am a pretty big Pierre Trudeau cheerleader. Had I been born around the same time as my mother, I'd be one of the many screaming star-struck girls cheering like he was the Beatles. Had P.E.T. been doing his thing in the last federal election, I'd be wrapping myself in nothing but a Canadian flag and posting "I've got a Crush on Trudeau" videos on YouTube. Unfortunately, there was one point on which Trudeay really screwed things up -- and it's an issue rather close to my heart.

In the early sixties, The Man in Ottawa had noticed young Québécois getting all uppity. They figured that they had better do something if they hoped to put a stop to all this talk of secession, so the Pearson government created the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, or the B&B Commission. They spent six years cruising around Canada, collecting data and asking for the opinions of the public.
Great CBC Archives footage here -- source here.

Finally, André Laurendeau and David Dunton came out with some recommendations, including the creation of the Official Languages Act, the creation of bilingual districts "where numbers warrant", the going-bilingual of Ontario and New Brunswick (to join Quebec, which was at that time officially bilingual), and giving parents the choice to send their kids to school in a minority language, again "where numbers warrant".

The Trudeau government, which had showed up in the House the year before, looked at the B&B Commission's recommendations and thought to itself, "Awesome. We are all over this. This is going to be the thing that re-asserts our centralized power, not to mention shuts up those whiny Québécois nationalists, uh, builds national unity." The Official Languages Act was adopted that year, making Canada officially bilingual -- because apparently up until then, Canada had been blissfully ignoring reality. Hooray, Trudeau government! Twelve gold stars.

Unfortunately, the rest of the B&B Commission's recommendations didn't get quite the same treatment.

New Brunswick said "Good stuff," and made itself as officially bilingual as Canada, but Ontario went "Hmm, that looks expensive," and stopped returning Canada's phone calls. They did, however, plunk out a few French schools to keep people happy, as did many other provinces. This protected francophone populations outside of Quebec from assimilation, and everyone lived happily ever after. Oh, wait, no, that's not what happened at all!

Trudeau, with the best of intentions, decided that everyone should learn the "other" language (be it English or French) in school. Everyone in Canada became bilingual and could now make friends with each other. The hate stopped, and everyone sat in big circles with guitars singing bilingual songs of peace. Then Trudeau woke up, ate some breakfast, and turned on CBC. Obviously he didn't watch this clip, but it would have been really appropriate if he had. He would have noticed that second-language education in the primary grades may not have been working so well.

I expect that my experiences of second-language education is fairly typical for those who grew up in areas without official-language minority populations. In this case, it meant being taught French by anglophones who had once spent one to three years in France, or less often Quebec, when they were in their early twenties. After that, they spent the next twenty years speaking to twelve-year-old anglophones and occasionally watching French films, which has led to an entirely understandable breakdown in their proficiency, notably their accents. Their teaching materials are limited and often the cost of these materials is not completely covered by the school, leading to kids like me coming home asking for a cheque for fifteen dollars to pay for my French book while my mother grumbles and wonders where her tax money is going. French is rarely actually spoken in the classroom before grade 10, at least by anyone other than the teacher. Unsurprisingly, even the most studious French student is frequently confused and understands very little actual French. She can say "Je m'appelle Suzy. Comment t'appelles-tu?" off by heart, although she does not know what the words appeler or comment mean, and if someone asks, "C'est quoi, ton nom?" she will not have any idea what they are asking.

The fact that second-language education is made of fail is not the fault of the government, or the school board, or the teacher, or the student. The fact is simply that the conversations drilled into student's heads rarely occur as rehearsed in real life. Anglophones who once spent a few years in France are in short supply as it is, never mind people who are actually intimately familiar with French. And learning a second language is difficult.

Trudeau's dream was that every Canadian from coast to coast would be bilingual. This is like trying to make every Canadian a physicist. It's hopelessly unrealistic. A letter-carrier in Newfoundland, a farmer in B.C., or a chef in the Yukon simply doesn't need to speak French, will likely not have any opportunity to practice it on a daily basis, and, assuming he or she isn't a "languages person" will find it prohibitively difficult to learn. Now, if you live in, say, Montreal, learning a second language is pretty gosh darned easy! If you are a minority language group, it is even gosh darned easier!

"Where numbers warrant" is one of the key phrases when it comes to the B&B Commission, and it also represents a sad paradox. The only way to get people to be bilingual is to give them a chance at immersion. But realistically, this means minority language groups, and minority language groups are really good at getting assimilated, especially if they are francophone (thanks in large part to the nauseating overproduction of anglophone culture south of the boarder). So they only way to realistically make people bilingual is to put them in daily contact with the other language group, and the only way to do that is for the other language group (or the first one) to exist in such a position as they are likely to disappear within a few generations. Awesome.

This is not to say we should abolish compulsory second-language education in public schools, in the same way that we should not abolish math. We just need to reform our expectations, and by extension, our methods.

Trudeau's mistake was thinking that language barriers were the biggest obstacle to national unity. This isn't the case. For one thing, having every person in a country being perfectly bilingual renders one language superfluous. For every bilingual person, that's one or more people who don't need to be bilingual. But language barriers are not barriers to goodwill. The biggest problem with national unity is Otherness. Since the Plains of Abraham, this problem of subjectivity and objectivity has existed between English- and French-speaking populations in Canada. Today, it is becoming more of a problem that affects regions in Canada (i.e. the West, Central Canada, and the Maritimes), and sometimes allophone immigrant populations versus anglophone or francophone Canadians (Bouchard-Taylor Commission, anyone?).

The problem of the Other exists primarily when there is little familiarity of what is being "otherized". Hence, Canadians talk about the "pea soup-eaters" or the "maudits anglais". The Official Languages Act was moving in the right direction; seeing French on your ketchup or breakfast cereal says "Like it or not, the pea-soup eaters are your fellow Canadians," and also "Regardez, les maudits anglais ne fourrent toujours le chien." But it's a big step from reading the cereal box in the morning because your neighbour stole your newspaper again and not talking about how ignorant and selfish the damned (anglos/Quebeckers) are. If you hated second-language education in school, this probably did not help things.

Instead of focusing on producing language proficiency in schools, we need to focus on producing cultural proficiency. Being able to swear in another language is not good enough. Exposure to the other language's literature (probably translated), music, cinema (subtitles!), food, and geography would not only make second-language education a lot more fun, but it would do what mere dialogue memorization could not hope to: it would instill a sense of familiarity, hopefully weakening the traditional "us versus them" sentiments that have too often characterized the "two solitudes" and put everyone more in the "us" category. Of course, "Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought," says Simone de Beauvoir, quite truthfully. But we must be careful who we make the Other. It is interesting that from a "Canadian" perspective, this distinction does not exist. Unilingual Canadians can have a bilingual identity -- just ask Joe Canadian (ten bucks says his French is terrible).

Why is this important? Because Canadian unity is important. It is important to our identity, and it is important to our ability to function. It is as important today as it was at Confederation. Canada, for all the federalism we practice, cannot ultimately be governed by a decentralized government. We share the same values, and we need one another for social, cultural, and economic reasons. I actually have to go write an essay about that right now, so I'm going to let Stéphane Dion finish explaining for me:
If we have achieved all this -- and many other things as well -- it is quite simply because we are together. It would not be possible for ten inward-looking republics north of the United States to offer their citizens the same quality of life and the same future as the great, generous federation that brings us together. Canada is a success because we have worked to draw the best from each culture, each population, each of our provinces and territories. Because we have learned, perhaps better than any other people, that equality and unity are not synonymous with uniformity. Because we know that respect for diversity is what enables human beings to join forces to achieve what is the most true and the most universal.
- Recognizing Quebec: An Expression of Canadian Values, September 10 1997.

Two years after the latest referendum on Quebec's secession. Are there still two solitudes? It depends on who you ask.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Update on Sexy Politicians

Just a quick note that the Sexy Politicians Hotlist has been updated, not only to reflect job changes but with added Sexy Politicians Yulia Tymoshenko, Nicolas Dufour, and Josée Beaudin. Unfortunately, it is really hard to find anything interesting to say about someone who has only just been elected (not to mention their birthday and romantic status). There is a decent amount of buzz around Baby of the House Nicolas Dufour, what with him barely being old enough to have his first baccalaureate and all, but if anyone knows anything about Josée Beaudin other than the pitiful point-form notes on her Bloc profile, please let me know!

Translation of the Sexy Politicians list to come in the near (entirely undefined) future.

I apologize for the lull in blogging lately. National Novel Writing Month and term paper season are to blame, so you can expect full blogging once more in December. In the meantime, if anyone would like to help me research hermeneutics, 18th-century stairists, or socioeconomic forces influencing the interfaces between French and English Canada, consider this an open invitation.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Drop fees, raise standards

If you've been on a college campus recently, you will surely notice the plentiful Drop Fees campaign material. The CSF's relentless campaign to get tuition fees in Ontario lowered has come back reliably every year, inspiring some students to activism, and irking others (the general argument being that lower tuition fees mean a devalued degree).

Myself, I have felt somewhat ambiguous about this. It's true that tuition fees in Ontario, when compared with the rest of Canada, are pretty high (although still next to nothing when compared to, say, the US). Right now, I am paying just under $5 000 per year in tuition fees for my BA; if I was a resident of Quebec and studying at U Montreal or U Laval, I'd be paying just under $2 000 for the same thing. Yes, this means higher taxes for the citizens of Quebec, but if I was a baby boomer, one who anticipated retiring in the next decade or so and expecting to need doctors, nurses, pharmacists, accountants, law enforcement professionals, and above all, CPP contributors, well, I would understand the need to fork over part of my paycheque for education.

Yesterday, November 5, my school like many others joined in the rallies, marching from the atrium of the university centre to downtown Ottawa. Some students came up with an innovative way of advertising the march: sidewalk chalk. Chalked messages covered a number of surfaces around campus, like the one I saw in the quad this morning:

If you're worried about lower tuition fees devaluing your degree, I propose a solution. Let's campaign for lower tuition fees in Ontario -- and higher admissions averages.

(Either that, or better education in our high schools. After the "literacy test", the obsession with the five-paragraph essay, and teachers who act more like baby sitters than instructors, it is a wonder than anyone graduates with any academic literacy at all.)

American Election results

Dear Americans,

Thank you for not fucking up this election, and electing another Republican. We have yet to see if Obama can make up for Bush as far as we are concerned, but our hopes are pretty high at this point.

Sincerely, The Rest of The World.

I almost wish that Election Night in America had been a little closer, just so that we could all have enjoyed some seat-of-our pants type excitement. But of course, Obama winning by a large margin (even if he only had 52% of the popular vote) is infinitely preferable to McCain winning. After all, the only good McCain is a French fry! (Shut up, that is probably the last time I’ll get to say that.) When they called Virginia for Obama, and Will pointed out that one of the first states to succeed from the Union had just elected a black man for president, I realized that I was watching history in the making. appearing as a holographic guest on CNN just cemented that fact.

Canadians, if you guys are anything like me, you may be feeling mild chagrin mixed in with your relief. The vast majority of Canadian PMs have been (often old) white men. In Canada, if race is a factor in an election, it means that it is the late nineteenth century and an old white anglophone man is running against an old white francophone man. Okay, okay, it is true that Canada’s head of state is a black woman, and she succeeded an Asian woman. But there is a difference between being appointed and being elected (and the GG’s power is more or less entirely symbolic). How do we, Canada, known for being crazy left-wing socialists compared to most of the world, get away with electing old white guys all the time? England, India, even Pakistan is outstripping us! Even France has Ségolène Royal. The closest we have is E-May, and she barely even made it into the leaders’ debate. Even Ruby Dhalla doing a practice run in the Liberal leadership race would be a step forward. Are we racist?

The one thing that kept me on my high left-wing horse this election actually made me feel just a little worse about humanity. Half the voters in California voted in favour of Proposition 8, which, in a nutshell, flips the bird at gay marriage. You just know that Dan Savage is devoting an angry, sarcastic column to this. Socially liberal Canadians, please join me in symbolically facing south-west (or south), and chanting, “Shaaaaaame.”

Even if the overall results of this election were awesome, there are a few drawbacks we have to consider. One, Hustler’s Who’s Nailin’ Paylin? just won’t be the same (even if I’ve seen the non-sex YouTube spots, I feel like I have to see the whole thing, even if I fast-forward through the usual formulaic sex scenes). I am not sure whether copies of this film will appreciate in value, or whether they’ll be in the porn shop bargain bin come January. Two, now we all have to junk our clever I Hate Bush merchandise. That stuff won’t be cool again for another twenty-five years, at which point it will be appropriated by hipsters trying to look cool and ironic by making references to events that occurred before they were born. History repeats itself.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night in America

The News is already predicting/outright saying that Pennsylvania has gone to Obama. If this is true, the fight is more or less over; but you can still play the CNN Election Night Drinking Game!
  • Drink every time CNN talks about having "the best political team on television"
  • Drink every time a pundit talks about Palin being a liability
  • Chug when Obama wins a state that Bush won in 'o4
  • Drink when a Republican pundit says the race is still close
  • Drink when Obama being black is mentioned
  • Chug when a Republican says "maverick"
  • Finish your drink if McCain doesn't carry Arizona
  • Drink every time the Bradley Effect is mentioned
(Thanks to Will.)

More on the election post-election.

Monday, November 3, 2008

November Reading

For November's novel, I've picked a Canadian author: Timothy Findley. If you ask someone what their favourite Findley novel is, assuming they have read Findley, they will probably say Not Wanted on the Voyage or even The Telling of Lies, but I keeping with monthly themes (and, it seems, an unintended theme of sex), I've picked:

The Wars (by Timothy Findley).
Cliché, I know, but hey, I could have picked Private Peaceful (I don't care if it is meant for the twelve-plus crowd, it's one of my all-time favourites).
The Wars, despite its name, is about much more than war. Although the first world war is the dominant event and element, and it contains much of the same themes as war literature -- the senselessness and futility of war, the disconnect between those giving orders and those fighting, homoerotic undertones -- historiography and gender roles are the dominant themes.

Typically, when one talks about "gender roles" in literature, especially literature written before the mid-twentieth century, it is from a feminist perspective. The Wars, however, was written in 1977, well after the second wave of feminism. And hey, if women can question their traditional role in Western society, can't men? The Wars looks at gender roles from what is sometimes called a masculinist perspective, which is more the companion of feminism than its opposite.

What is masculinity? Is it rigidly defined, or is the word polysemous? With words like "metrosexual" in the modern lexicon, we have fuzzier definitions of gender roles, but in 1917, things were pretty clear. Findley subverts traditional gender roles in this novel (consider the many meanings of the line from which the novel takes its name, "And this was what they called the wars."). He presents "successful" and "unsuccessful" masculinities. Successful ones are most often presented in terms of being a caretaker, and not necessarily in the financial sense. Robert Ross, the main character, is his sister's caretaker, and later, a caretaker of various animals. His father is at his best as a caretaker, rocking his wife or reading to his children. Most of the military officers, in their roles as caretakers of a sort, fail in their occupations. Unsuccessful masculinities are presented as vain attempts to fit the traditional mold. Robert, in his attempts to be "manly", finds only frustration at every turn. Even his role model of manliness is caught having kinky gay sex before Robert even makes it across the Atlantic. The heterosexual relationships Robert has are at best awkward and at worst violent.

Anyone who has studied war literature, especially war poetry, knows that homoerotic undertones are fairly common. In The Wars, even homoeroticism is complicated (for poor Robert, even masturbation is weird and creepy). Homosexuality expressed physically is depicted as horrifying, while mere homosexual feelings are confusing -- which of course is not surprising, considering this is 1917. The only person who seems to understand man-on-man love is little Juliet d'Orsey.

As much as the traditional gender roles of men are frustrated in The Wars, women get a similar treatment. Mrs. Ross, while her husband plays caretaker, responds with a helpless kind of anger to most of the events in the novel. Barbara d'Orsey acts like a playboy, moving from one good-looking man to the next with little regard for the emotional damage she causes. She uses men for sex as long as it is convenient for her; once a soldier loses his good looks and strong arms to the battle, she moves on. She is presented not so much as an "evil" character as a foil; she genuinely does not seem to understand what she's doing. Her little sister Juliet, on the other hand, acts like a fly on the wall and can observe sexual relationships objectively, being too young to have one herself.

As for the historiography of The Wars. The Wars presents history as a series of puzzle pieces to be put together, or rather as a series of disjointed fragments which overlap and leave gaps. The narrator is an unnamed individual who is trying to piece together the story of Robert Ross for reasons we are not told. Essentially, The Wars is saying that history is unknowable in its true and unadulterated form. Narratives inevitably only present one perspective, sometimes a thoroughly incomplete ones. This has plenty of implications for both war and gender roles.

If you like war literature and/or homoerotic themes but don't have time to read a whole book, check out some war poetry. Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfrid Owen is a personal favourite, but you can't go wrong with any Owen, Sassoon, or Hardy. Alternatively, if you like combinations of hilariousness and anti-war sentiments, get a good modern translation of Aristophanes's Lysistrata.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Fun

For a bit of Halloween fun, one of my favourite poems, Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven.

As much as I like the Simpson's version, they leave out a few stanzas, including the operative one. You can read the full version here, or search YouTube for the recording-only version read by the incomparable James Earl Jones. If you like Poe's poetry as much as I do, or think you might, read another of his popular gothic poems, Annabelle Lee.

Or, if you like zombies and/or sciency stuff, check out the science behind the zombie legend.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Two Solitudes?

In 1945, Hugh MacLennan wrote the famous Canadian novel Two Solitudes. Since then, the term "two solitudes" has outstripped the novel itself in fame as a term symbolizing the traditionally strained relationship between English and French Canada, especially the lack of cultural understanding between the two groups.

In 2008, does the term "two solitudes" still apply? Or has, as Governor General Michaelle Jean said when she was appointed, the time of two solitudes passed? In the age of internet message boards, wikipedia, and widespread recreational travel, do the two cultures which make up Canada understand each other better or worse? Have equalization, language laws, the B&B commission, and the declining role of religion in everyday life done anything to improve communication between "Canadians" and "canadiens"?

Anglophone Quebec has always been an interesting case study of two solitudes. While it is true that anglos in Quebec, like any minority language group, tend to settle in clusters, they still live and work in an essentially French environment. According to Statistics Canada, the anglophone population of Quebec is declining, but still significant:
"In 2001, about 10.5% of the population in Quebec spoke English most often at home. While this was higher than the proportion of 8.3% who reported it as their mother tongue, the proportion using English as their home language continues to shrink."
StatsCan also reports that anglophones in Quebec have one of the highest rates of bilingualism nationally -- around 67% as of 2001.

Separatism has always been seen as possibly the biggest stymie to national unity. Wondering if this meant, as non-Quebeckers tend to assume, that separatists "hate anglophones", I composed a short e-mail to the folks at Le Québécois, a separatist newspaper, to ask them about whether anglophone Quebeckers would have a place in a Québec libre.

While waiting for their reply, I struck up a conversation with a francophone friend of mine on the topic. This guy is originally from Ottawa, currently studying at the Université de Montréal.
"Anglophones who insist on speaking English in Québec willingly refuse to integrate themselves," he told me. "They don't have a place in Québec. They're taking advantage of the benefits of living in Québec while still insisting to bring their English Canada with them. It's like a Muslim couple from Afghanistan who comes in Canada and the wife wears a burqa. Anglos who speak English in Québec don't truly believe they are part of the Québec nation."
"What about anglos whose families have lived in Quebec since before confederation?" I asked.
"They are British invaders, in a way," he replied. "Or the children of."
Interesting that he should think that anglos are unwilling to integrate into Quebec culture, considering their high rate of bilingualism, and the fact that according to StatsCan, almost one-third of anglo-Quebeckers had a franco spouse as of 2001, and the language transfer rate (i.e. anglophones who spoke French more often than English) was slightly above 10%.
My friend also complained about the rates of bilingualism between the two groups:
"The problem isn't that [anglophones] aren't learning French. It's that they don't care to." I pointed out that learning a second language isn't exactly easy, to which he replied, "It's not our fault if you guys aren't as intelligent as us and cannot learn two languages."
"Haven't you ever met a francophone who didn't speak English?" I asked, incredulously.
"I don't know a single francophone who doesn't know English, ever. In 22 years," he replied. He later conceded that he had met European francophones who did not speak English, but never a Canadian one. Interesting, considering that in 2006, only 42.4% of francophones in Canada spoke English. Granted, this is a much higher rate than the national 17.4% of bilingualism among Canadians, and among francophones outside of Quebec this number increased to 83.1%. Learning a second language is indisputably a difficult thing to do, especially when you have no chance for immersion -- as is often the case in most of Canada. Apparently, for some Canadians, the idea of two solitudes is still very much applicable today.

Finally, Le Quebecois responded to my e-mail. I was surprised to discover a response much more optimistic to inclusiveness.
"[...] je référerai au grand théoricien du nationalisme qu'est Anthony D. Smith. Feront partie du Québec libre ceux qui auront le sentiment d'en faire partie. Ce que cela signifie, c'est que les Anglos, les Allos et les Francos qui croiront faire partie de la Québécitude feront partie de cette nation nouvellement libre."
(I refer to the great nationalist theorist, Anthony D. Smith. All those who feel that they are part of a free Quebec are part of it. What this means is that all the anglos, allos, and francos who believe in Quebec-ness are part of this newly-free nation.)
Apparently, for other Canadians, even separatism does not necessitate two solitudes.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cheap and Environmentally Friendly

We all try to be a little bit environmentally friendly in our lives (well, those of us who aren't huge dicks, anyway). But sometimes, while the spirit may be willing, the wallet may be weak. Right now you are probably saying, "Rebs, I know what you are saying. I am under 26 and am gay for the planet, but being under 26 and all, I can barely keep myself in Ramen noodles and beer!" Ideal Reader, don't I have the same problem. The Good News is, you too can save money while being good to the earth! In fact, most of the common sense ideas were originally designed not to save the earth, but a few dollars.

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #1: Remember what you learned in elementary school.
This one won't save you much money, but it is free, or as we like to call it, budget-neutral. Do you remember learning about the "3 Rs" back in second grade? I don't mean reading, riting, and 'rithmatic, I mean reduce, reuse, and recycle. For example, you can REDUCE the amount of trash you produce by REUSING those plastic ziplock baggies and RECYCLING your pop cans.

Recycling is, unfortunately, not very profitable for most things. Even with all the neat things you can make out of old pop bottles (pullover sweaters!! who would have guessed?) it is still an expensive process. But new technologies are constantly being developed, with new applications being discovered for recycled materials. But one thing that is actually profitable is aluminum -- pop cans for example. Aluminum is pretty awesome as far as poor metals go, and epically recyclable.

One of the things you can do to improve your recycling quotient is to make sure you know what kinds of plastic can be recycled in your area. Most of us instinctively throw an empty yogurt cup or margarine dish into the recycling box, but what about shampoo bottles, or that Tupperware dish you accidentally left on the stove burner and burned a big hole in? Your municipality should publish a list of what can and can't be recycled, as well as instructions for sorting. Just call them up and ask for a copy.

If you are too poor/cheap/lazy to procure an extra recycling box, or if you live in a building where there are big communal recycling boxes in the basement, you can make your own. For example, use an empty cardboard box (2-4s work great if you are mostly recycling paper), and just dump the whole package in your recycling pile.

Get Rich, Hobo-Style: In all provinces and territories, empty beer bottles (and frequently other types of beverage containers) are refundable, usually at 10 cents per bottle. If you are drinking the cheap buck-a-beer stuff, this means that 11 cases of empties equals one free full one! (10 for the beer and 1 for the deposit.)

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #2: Reuse the stuff you buy.
Ziplock baggies are awesome. They keep your cheese from going all dry and hard in the fridge, and your egg salad sandwich from falling apart in your knapsack. They also keep your toiletries together and unexploded while traveling, and your large safety-pin collection from being scattered all over the bottom of your sock drawer. But the best thing about ziplock baggies is that one package can last upwards of a year if you take care of it. All you have to do is wash them out every now and again!

Glass bottles and old plastic containers are similarly awesome. Glass bottles, unlike the plastic ones, stand up much better to being washed-out and refilled while also not leaking crazy toxic shit into your drink. Plastic containers such as those used for packaging yogurt and margarine make great free tupperware (although their level of dishwasher- and microwave-safeness is seriously questionable).

There are tons of ways to reuse the stuff you buy. Things you should not reuse include toilet paper, condoms, and old science textbooks.

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #3: Buy stuff meant to be reused.
Rechargeable batteries, tupperware, lunch boxes, water bottles, and paper clips are all great ideas that we know we should use (even if we don't).

But ladies, you may be missing something that is environmentally-friendly as well as being budget-friendly and friendly for your use as well.

The DivaCup requires an initial investment, but it lasts about 10 years (or until you first give birth, if you haven't already, at which point you'll need a new size). Think of how much you spend on your period in a year, then multiply that by 10. The DivaCup can cost you as little as 30 cents per period, or less (depending on how much you end up paying for it). In addition, it is made of medical-grade silicon, making it hypoallergenic, super-easy to sterilize, and less irritating to your va-jay-jay than super-absorbent tampons. It's great for traveling, as it doesn't take up much space in your bags and you won't have to worry about running out of supplies. Best of all is that it produces no waste after the initial packaging. If you'll save money with this baby, you will definitely save space in the landfill.

Other environmentally-friendly period products include sea sponges, which are worn internally and last a few periods each, and cloth pads, which are worn just like disposable ones but last for ages. Both are washed between uses. If you think washing in between use is gross, go ask your grandmother what she used during the war.

If you are not totally ready to switch to reusable products, you can at least make your Aunt Flo slightly more environmentally-friendly by switching to o.b. tampons, which are tiny and have no applicator, yet are still extremely effective. According to their website, these little suckers generate 1lb less waste per year than your average applicator tampon.

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #4: Reuse stuff other people have already bought.
When was the last time you went to Value Village, Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or your other local thrift shop? I mean to buy stuff, not to drop off a garbage bag full of ill-fitting clothes you haven't worn in a year. Thrift shops are not the best place to go for up-to-the-minute fashion or a specific item, but they are great for staples like jeans or dress shirts/blouses, or the quirky or unique items. For homemade Halloween costumes, they are a great resource. The best thing to do is go with a few friends and a camera and make an afternoon of it. In between trying on wacky things that were very understandably donated, you'll likely find a few gems. Second-hand shoes are already broken in, and finding a classic item of clothing that fits you well is more flattering than a trendy overpriced item. It helps if you know how to sew, or have a friend who does; shirts, for example, are easy to take in for a better fit. Remember, things can be made into other things, too! Cool bedsheets, table cloths, and pillow cases make great skirts, shirts, and scarves. And if you don't mind mismatched sets, you can get an awesome kitchenware collection. No more drinking wine out of tumblers!

Church sales are another great place to look for things like kitchenware, books, records, and occasionally (though less often) clothing. They are often run largely by old ladies who undercharge for everything, and I challenge you to find Treasure Trolls or Moon Shoes at Toys'R'Us.

Another great resource for higher-ticket items is classifieds, like craigslist or kijiji. Both have free stuff sections too, if you are really poor, or you can try Freecycling. If your apartment is full of shitty secondhand stuff anyway, it may as well be as cheap as possible!

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #5: When it comes to packaging, less is more.
Buying in bulk has an advantage other than being less expensive. Larger sizes mean fewer smaller sizes, and thus, less packaging. Individually-wrapped items are almost always more expensive than their wrapped-all-together counterparts. 2L of juice and a 99-cent reusable sippy box versus 13 juice boxes? You do the math. Go ahead and buy bulk! Just make sure that buying in bulk isn't causing you to eat in bulk.

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #6: Don't pay more for processing.
Bottled water. Ugh. Don't make me say it again; we all know that bottled water is the hugest scam ever. There is a saying that bottled water started with some guy in France asking himself, "How dumb do I think Americans really are?" The answer, apparently, is dumber than he could ever have hoped or dreamed. If you are out somewhere with no water fountain in sight and you are dying of thirst, at least buy some apple juice or something in a glass bottle. That way, you are at least paying for some nutrients and flavour, and when you get thirsty again, you can refill your glass bottle with water at the nearest tap or fountain. The vast majority of tap water in North America and Western Europe is safe to drink, and if for some reason it isn't, there will usually be a sign nearby like "Don't drink this shit". If for whatever reason tap water gives you the heebie-jeebies, get a Brita filter. They are epically less expensive and environmentally devastating than bottled water. If you just like your water cold, for pete's sake put it in a Kool-Aid pitcher!

This section is great for talking to your grandparents about their experiences during the war(s). Back then, nothing was wasted, especially if they lived in Europe but even those living in Canada were saving everything to help the war effort. The Great Depression was another big saver; you might notice that your grandparents would never dare throw away leftovers and will wrap up and save the smallest crumb of food. (For a great example of this, read The Widows by Suzette Mayr. For one, Frau Schnadlehuber spreads bacon fat on her toast because just throwing out perfectly good fat is unacceptable.)

Very few items of clothing are ever thrown out at my grandma's house. If your underpants or bath towel are so old and worn out as to be indecent, the item in question will be cut up to make rags, which will be used to clean the bathroom, kitchen, and anything else requiring rags. No Lysol wipes here! Pine Sol? Screw that. Mix a little lemon or vinegar with water and put it in a reusable spray bottle -- this will clean 95% of anything that needs to be cleaned with a rag. Vinegar, baking soda, and hairspray are all part of her laundry stain-combating inventory. Why pay extra for commercial products when household remedies are much cheaper - and coincidentally, more environmentally-friendly? My grandfather, in the same vein, has jars upon jars of saved nails, screws, and other odds and ends in the garage, but that's a different story entirely ...

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #7: Garden.
This may or may not be a workable idea for you, depending on whether you live in a house with a backyard, or an apartment where all your plants are either smokeable or from Ikea (the plant equivalent of being a zombie). If you don't have a backyard but still want to garden, you can check out community gardens in your area -- bigger cities especially often have public areas where you can have a little plot, although sometimes there are restrictions on what you are allowed to grow (flowers or veggies -- although you might circumvent this by growing edible flowers).

Vegetables are the best thing to grow for a great combination of cheap and environmentally-friendly. Many vegetables also taste much better when home-grown, as things like tomatoes and corn start losing their flavour the moment they're picked. Tomatoes are especially good for home gardens as they are easy to grow, versatile in cooking, and tend to grow quite profusely (you'll be giving your neighbours tomatoes throughout the month of July). You can even grow them in large pots if you have a balcony or fire escape but no back yard. Other great backyard crops for southern Canada are cucumbers, green beans, chives, sweet corn, strawberries, raspberries, and zucchini.

A great, environmentally-friendly boost to your garden is fertilizer, such as dried cow, pig, or sheep poop, available from your local Canadian Tire for around $10-$15 per bag. Wait, you don't want to pay money for literal crap? Then maybe you should try composting. This involves a big black box in your back yard which you fill with basically anything that's biodegradable. Pure plant matter (fruit & veggie scraps, non-treated lawn clippings, leaves, dead flowers) works best, followed by table scraps and certain other kitchen matter (moldy bread, coffee grounds and filters, wet paper towels). Egg shells are compostable but tend to decompose at a much slower rate, so you might still see them in your flowerbeds when you spread your compost. Dairy and meat are also technically compostable, but not recommended as it's not very hygienic and tends to smell terrible and attract wild animals. Poop is also technically compostable but certain bothersome laws prevent you from pooping in a bucket and putting it in your garden.

If you can't garden, you can at least make the gesture and do number 8 ...

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #8: Buy local.
Ever notice how apples from Canada are cheaper than apples from Fiji? How tomatoes from Canada taste a lot better than the ones from Mexico? This is nature trying to tell you something.

Buying local is actually more environmentally friendly than buying organic, as not all chemical farming practices are bad. Buying organic strawberries from California instead of eating your own damned strawberries still means inflated prices and carbon emissions due to transportation, and strawberries that taste like nothing. Of course, if you live in Nova Scotia and you want to eat bananas, your locally-grown search might be, um, fruitless. You might have to make some dietary shifts. But, depending on where you live, there is probably a rich variety of fruits and veggies available. Go to weekend farmer's markets or buy from roadside stands and you can be sure you aren't buying anything grown more than 60 km away.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Liberal Leadership Litigation

As we all expected, poor Mr. Dion did the smart thing and announced his resignation on Monday. However, he surprised us all -- and showed he had some fight in him -- by resigning to delay said resignation until May, when the Liberals will swarm Vancouver in an attempt to get elected leader of the party. Oh boy, oh boy, who will it be, this new leader?

Top contenders as of right now seem to be Bob Rae and Micheal Ignatieff, the two front-runners in the last Liberal leadership race before Dion snuck up with a surprise-attack Kennedy endorsement. But are either of them up to the job? I mean, it was bad enough two years ago, what with the Sponsorship scandal and Jean Chrétien's book and Canadians hating Paul Martin's big dumb face. Now, with their worst showing in over a century (that sounds WAY longer than "since Confederation," for some reason), the Grits are going to need some serious horsepower to pull them out of the mud. They'll need someone who can demonstrate strong leadership, ensure that the party isn't so desperately cash-strapped, and inspire confidence in voters in the way that Dion didn't seem to be able to.

While Rae and Iggy would probably objectively make good leaders, they both have baggage. Iggy the egghead spent 30 years gallivanting around the USA while Rae let the Ontario economy go down the tubes as premier in the 90s, before abandoning the Ontario NDP for the federal Liberals (the fact that his reasons for leaving were probably totally accurate is beside the point!).

So, I propose a few other names for Liberal leadership.

Indiana Jones
circa Raiders of the Lost Ark

Will pointed out that if Indiana Jones was a spry, treasure-hunting, Nazi-thwarting professor in the '30s, he is almost certainly dead by now, to which I reply that Indiana Jones is a fictional character and therefore cannot technically die. Dr. Jones almost certainly has tenure, considering he seems to be able to take long sabbaticals from work (maybe he simply doesn't lecture during the summer semester) and often be on the questionable side of the law without ever being fired, or even subject to a performance review. So we can safely assume that he has the intellect and dedication necessary to run a party and hopefully a country. After all, politics and Judeo-Christian history are practically the same thing, right? Furthermore, he's a doer as well as a thinker, and has an uncanny ability to talk his way out of situations before busting out the gun and/or whip.
Leadership skills: He can lead crusades and raiders, why not a parties and countries?
Financial force: He doesn't seem to be independently wealthy, so we are assuming he gets funding for his crazy adventures from the university. If you can convince your faculty to give you money to go find the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail, you win the Lifetime Fundraiser Award.
Voter confidence: If he can woo the female vote as well as he can woo the females, he is basically set.


Batman is a total BAMF. No one is going to mess with him. Unfortunately, the House of Commons is more about verbal debates than ass-kicking, so Batman might be at a disadvantage there, but he looks so tough that it is going to be hard to criticize him for fear of what might happen in the parking lot afterward. Bruce Wayne is a business magnate, so we can feel confident that he knows what he's doing with the economy, and if his cabinet is anything like his collection of advisers in The Dark Knight, it will be iron-clad.
Leadership skills: So-so. He's more of a figurehead than a policy-maker, that's for sure. He had better find a Harvey Dent to be his deputy if he ever gets elected.
Financial force: Again, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, so his head for finance should be good. At least you can rest assured that he will pay his tab after the leadership race is over.
Voter confidence: Questionable. Batman may not be the Prime Minister Canada wants, but the one it deserves ... or needs ... something like that.

Vladimir Putin

Sometimes I wonder if Vladimir Putin is a man, or a drop of some war god's testosterone-laden sweat made flesh. Putin's CV of ass-kicking could rival that of Batman -- Putin does it without a fancy suit or gadgets. Now, he even has a DVD out to help you learn judo! You too can fight tigers, Georgians, and nosy journalists.
Putin has an advantage over the other contenders on this list: political experience. He was President of Russia for a while, and then he decided to be Prime Minister (the electoral process is so messy, wouldn't you agree?). He might have a bit of a difficult time putting together a caucus, however, as nervous MPs look the other way while thinking about polonium cocktails.
Leadership skills: Proven to be absolute, even if it means circumventing democracy (or the spirit thereof).
Financial force: Russia's economy is no longer crap, so someone is doing something financially right. In a pinch, he can always sell more judo DVDs, or pose for a Vladimir Putin swimsuit calender.
Voter confidence: Depends on the demographic. He's already a political sex symbol, and fascists will love him. But the Ukranians aren't so crazy -- Putin would lose the prairies like Rae would lose Ontario.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Election post-mortem

The 2008 Canadian federal election is over, and across the country, Canadians voted for change.

They voted for climate change. They voted for senate reform -- stacking it with Tories in order to pass bills. They voted for copyright reform, changing our laws to make them match those of the US -- yeah, that country we are always spending so much time telling everyone we don't resemble.

Canadians voted against the arts (and by extension, the economic benefits thereof) and against the Status of Women. They voted against the effective rehabilitation of young offenders, and against effective outreach to and rehabilitation of drug addicts through Insite, an initiative which has demonstrated promising success.

Those who voted for a Conservative MP for their riding actually voted against the interests of their riding; rather, they voted for the interests of the Conservative party. Everyone knows that Harper doesn't do free votes.

And almost 40% of them voted "I don't care." Not voting is as much of a statement as actually voting. They voted to let the government do whatever the hell it wants with their money, their laws, their country, their world. They voted that they didn't care where their money went, which laws they would be expected to obey, what would happen to their roads, schools, hospitals, parks, investments, public spaces, postal service, prices of goods and services, public service, publicly-funded radio and TV stations, and mountains of other things that affect them every day. In case you ever think your vote doesn't count, remember the riding of Egmont in P.E.I. Conservative Gail Shea broke a 24-year Liberal legacy, winning by sixty-two votes.

But, if you look closely at the numbers, only about one in five Canadians actually voted for Harper. The voter turnout rate was about 59%. Harper got just under 38% of the popular vote. If this English major has her math straight, that means 22% of eligible voters marked an X beside a Conservative candidate. The House of Commons is being controlled by the desires of one-fifth of Canadian citizens over the age of 18. Viva indirect democracy! Viva first-past-the-post!

E-night was depressing for everyone, with the possible exceptions of the Bloc and certain NDP supporters. The Bloc saw Harper's careful wooing of les Québécois fall flat, with the Conservatives actually losing one of their 11 seats in Quebec. The NDP picked up a handful. But the Tories fell short of their hoped-for majority, the status quo remained (meaning zillions of wasted dollars for an election which changed next to nothing), and the Liberals had their worst showing since 1867.

The Grits are in trouble. They're flat broke, and unable to fundraise like their Conservative counterparts. While they point fingers at the Conservatives' stagnant membership growth, they are in no position to compete. And while Liberal leaders traditionally get two bites at the apple, party insiders are already talking leadership race. Even Dion's supporters understand that he is maybe not the man for the job. As much as I like Dion (and I'm not even a big-L Liberal!), it's painfully clear that an adorably dorky professor is not doing it for Canadians. What the Liberal party needs now is strong Leadership -- someone who can rally the troops. People are looking at Iggy and Rae. What they need is Indiana Jones, Batman, or Vladimir Putin. Sure he hates journalists, but come on! The man shot a fucking tiger!

Liberté guidant les peuples
Liberty is another candidate for Liberal leadership, here demonstrating her ability to guide people.

As for what will happen next in the House? Well, there is some good news. Harper has made it clear that he's given up hiding under the covers about the economy, and is prepared to tackle it head-on. We're all nervous about a recession, possibly even a depression -- not to mention pissed off at those stupid American banks for handing out mortgage loans like meals at a soup kitchen. With any luck, my twelve-year-old cousin will still have something of an RESP in six years, and my mother will be able to retire, some day. That is, if the government manages to cut back its expenses -- and good luck, what with the EI and other expenses that inevitably accompany economic hardships. In the meantime, I'm going to take my tax cuts and run, because I know better than to rely on any more government-funded programs.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


If the Conservatives get a majority, I swear to fuck, I am moving to Canada Europe.

Election time Employment

(or, How I Almost Ran for The Greens But Decided to Pass My Classes Instead)

One fine evening in July, after a few beers, Will finally convinced me that the fact that the Green Party did not appear to have a candidate for Durham meant that I had to present my candidature. I crafted a very eloquent e-mail to the guy from the riding association, outlining my qualifications (young smart left-winger, strong connections to the community, nominally bilingual). A few weeks later, he e-mailed me back, full of enthusiasm and talking about an upcoming nomination meeting. By this point it had become painfully clear that a writ was going to drop right smack-dab in the middle of the academic year. Sheepishly, I conceded that running in a riding six hours away from school might have a large negative impact on my GPA. Maybe next election.

The under-25 crowd has been seeing more than its fair share of nominations this election. The Liberals, for example, are running Gabriel Arsenault, a 20-year-old second-year U de M student, in Chambly-Borduas. Meanwhile the NDP is running a handful of under-20s, not unlike the Canadian Action party, and the Green Party will run just about anyone who's had their 18th birthday before the writ drops. The Tories' youngest candidate is 24, but they have plenty of old candidates and don't need fresh faces quite as badly. Shawn Reimer, 18, is running as an independant in Fort McMurray-Athabasca. How is it that so many fascinating political newbies can crop up amongst the demographic with the lowest voter turnout rate? Maybe they can at least rouse their friends to the polls, highschool-prez style.

Running in your local riding, or a riding nowhere near your local riding, is not however the only avenue of active participation in the electoral period. Many people choose to campaign for their local candidate of choice -- a particularly popular choice with students, as "payment" tends to come in the form of pizza most frequently. Perks include all the buttons and pamphlets you want. Campaigning can take the form of putting up signs or cold-calling unsuspecting electors, or it can also take the form of going door-to-door passing out lit and asking people if they have a personal relationship with Jesus how they plan to vote. Especially during October elections, it is not unlike Halloween, but instead of giving you candy, people launch into tirades about why they are or are not voting for the candidate you represent, or just kind of look at you awkwardly.

Finally, there is non-partisan work available through Elections Canada, in the form of working as a poll official. (If you are dying to work on E-day but still cling to partisanship, you can always be a scrutineer and just spend all day annoying poll officials.) As a poll official, you will get the sweet sense of satisfaction which comes from having upheld democracy in its purest form, without endowing it with political ideals. You will also get cranky voters who refuse to show you ID, don't speak English (or French), and are confused as to where they are and what they are supposed to be doing. But you will get good money for it -- assuming your definition of "good" is "better than $10/hour". But since you are working as a poll official, you probably do not have a regular full-time job anyway. You are probably either a poor student, or a bored retiree or housewife. Unfortunately, they specify that you cannot bring booze to work as a poll official during the training period (one can only imagine what kind of problems necessitated this specification), but the job itself is pretty interesting as it is, except for the slow period between noon and 7 pm.

I would elaborate, but it's past midnight and I must be getting to bed -- I have a poll to officiate tomorrow morning!

Monday, October 13, 2008

How to Vote

The polls open in less than twelve hours and close in less than twenty-four. (For those of you not in the loop, it's 9:30-21:30. Yes, you can vote after work.) By this point, you had better know for whom you are voting. Wait, what do you mean you have no idea?!

Well, if you prefer to vote for candidates rather than parties, good for you. You're a selfish bastard. See if your riding is offering a Sexy Candidate to vote for.

If you vote for parties rather than candidates, congratulations on being a lazy, scheming bum who cares more about politics than the needs of your riding. You should check out the Toronto Star's super-fun Party Game (props to Vincent for finding this). Or, if arts are your favourite issue this election, check out my article on arts-related platforms at the La Scena Musicale's website, here and ici. You can read more La Scena Musicale articles about the arts and politics: The Arts Get Political and Understanding Canada's Cultural-Industrial Complex, if you like the economy too.

Have fun excersing your democratic right/duty.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Election 2008 soundtrack

Campaign songs do not seem to be as popular for the 2008 Canadian election as they once were. Instead of custom-made ditties, plain old pop and rock songs with vaguely relevant lyrics are being blasted as the candidates march up to the podium. Not unlike what they've been doing in the U. S. since 1923, but not very much fun.

Nevertheless, various parties (not just the partisan vote-for-us kind) have remembered the power of music to rouse, incite, motivate, and other such synonyms. Despite the cuts to arts funding, the musicians have made sure that the 2008 election will not pass with mere boring talking!

In the interest of keeping you up-to-date and entertained, I present to you: The Top Five Songs of the 2008 Canadian Election.

Wayne & Shuster's Musical Parliament sketch would be great here by way of introduction, but every copy that ever existed seems to have mysteriously disappeared off the internet -- and by "mysterious" I mean "probably due to copyright violations". So you'll just have to imagine it.
Speaker of the House comes in, wearing sequined robe
Speaker: Hello! Hello!
Liberals in matching jackets: How-dee-do!
Speaker (in epic anglo accent): Bonjour et comment allez-vous!
Tories in matching jackets: Bonjour et comment allez vous!
Now start singing that damned doo-doo-doo part that always gets stuck in your head, accompanied by the obligatory desk banging to keep time.

#5: Le Bloc répond présent ! - Bloc Québécois
I know I was just complaining about the lack of campaign songs, but the Bloc actually stepped up and got themselves a real chanson de campagne. This one is a little more militant than their cheery Band-Aid stylin' 2004 campaign song. Seriously, if I was new to Quebec and didn't know anything about the Bloc when I first heard this song, I would have rushed out to vote Bloc, before wrapping my arms around the people beside me and bursting into song Woodstock-style. 2008's effort makes me feel like I should punch someone. Or at least, I should if I'm a québécois(e) de souche.

Listen/download here.

Best lyric: Si parfois, j’ai l’air en colère
C’est pas juste mon caractère
C’est parce que je suis fier
(If sometimes I seem angry, it's not just my personality, it's because I'm proud)

Hey, whose pride doesn't sometimes result in rage, right?
The Good: It's very catchy and makes a great drinking song.
The Bad: Depending on who you are drinking with, you may have some explaining to do.

#4: Bounce - Baba Brinkman
This partisan song, by "the Geoffrey Chaucer of hip-hop" has been called the unofficial Liberal campaign song. It's kind of obvious why it isn't official. But it is awfully clever -- if Dion had as many supporters as separatism, Baba Brinkman could be the Loco Locass of the federal Liberal party!

Listen here.

Best lyric: Canadians know they can't trust a man
With a mustache that looks like a muskrat
In the shape of a dustpan

What does Layton's mustache look like to you?

The Good: It's funny because it's true!
The Bad: So partisan it should contain an "authorized by the Liberal Party of Canada" tag ... but then again, a lot of non-authorized material is just as partisan.

#3: You Have A Choice - K-OS, Ed from Barenaked Ladies, Sarah Harmer, Hawksley Workman, Jason Collett from Broken Social Scene (and many more!)
This song is non-partisan in a sort of inculsive, everyone-but-Harper kind of way. Justin Trudeau probably had multiple orgasms while listening to this song; it's a rousing (incendiary, motivational) exhortation to take action, which in this case is synonymous with Vote Not Conservative, aimed squarely at the under-26 crowd. The conglomeration of popular artists responsible for this music and it's "We can make a difference!" message gives it a Band-Aid feel, except we haven't heard it enough to make us hate its guts.

Listen here / download here.

Best lyric: We can change things for the better
Not just dressing it up with a sweater

If you were unsure whether or not this song likes Harper, things should be clear by now.
The Good: Has the power to make apathetic young voters feel like voting, would sound good on your iPod.
The Bad: The clichées will eventually get to you.

#2: Time For Some Campaignin' - JibJab e-cards
Yeah, so this is an e-card. It's got the best original soundtrack an e-card ever dreamed of! A tip of the hat to the American election - because if you are following Canadian politics, chances are you are following American politics at least nominally, and of course everything that gets elected in the U.S.A. affects Canada. Make sure you watch the video, because half the jokes are visual. And they're all pretty funny, from Hillary smacking Bill with a frying pan to Obama riding a magical unicorn to the "Increase your Manhood" campaign promise. This would also make an excellent drinking song, and I am tragically sorry I didn't know it a few weeks ago - it would have made an epic sing-along in the pub after the kickoff party, with a few lyrical tweaks.

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Best lyrics: We spend billions of dollars to make our point clear

To get you to step up and cast your vote here

Then we spin you around and poke you in the rear

This song sounds like an optimistic pro-voting ballad, but it keeps a healthy sense of perspective -- whoever gets elected is gonna screw you somehow anyway.
The Good: It's a shining tribute to the power and beauty of indirect democracy.
The Bad: It exposes how deeply flawed indirect democracy really is.

#1: I've Got A Crush on Harper - Mashline Girl

What are Canadians really good at? If we ask History, one excellent answer would be "copying stuff that Britian and America does and bastardizing it to make it 'Canadian'". You guys all remember the Obama Girl, right? Well, this has been sanctioned by as the "official" Canadian version. As far as copying stuff goes, it's pretty faithful. Although we figured Obama Girl was more or less serious about her crush; Mashline Girl is young and female and we are not sure what would attract her to Harper so much. She either loves irony, or being told what to do by her man. At least there's someone else out there who agrees with me - Canadian politics needs more sex if the voter turnout rate among youth is ever going to improve!

Watch here / download here.

Best lyric: When you're back in office with a new mandate
I won't leave you alone, 'cause I got a crush on Harper

Nothing is sexier than a stalker you've never met.
The Good: Finally, someone is sticking up for Harper.
The Bad: ... possibly ironically.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

October Reading

How about a little break from all that election business, hmm? Let's take a break for something less distressing and more relaxing, like say, Victorian Gothic literature!

Now that it's October, I hope at least a few of you have read (the Wikipedia page for) The Canterbury Tales. October is when things (well, leaves) start to die, and we celebrate this by hanging little plastic leaf-ghosts in our trees, or in some cases, by planting extravagant overpriced decorations bought at Wal-Mart on our lawns. Fun! And of course, what goes better with scaring the shit out of small children than feeding them large quantities of sugar? If you ask anyone under the age of 16, nothing.

Myself, I'm pretty into the whole Halloween thing. I love costumes and ghost stories and parties with candles shaped like eyeballs. I lament the days when making construction paper turkeys at school segwayed into making construction paper witches' hats. Luckily, although I am too old to get the same kick out of construction paper that I once did, age has opened up a new door to getting a kick out of literature.

Therefore, since literature must replace both construction paper crafts and tons of free candy for us grown-ups, I present my Halloween literary choice: Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Quick: what is Dracula about? Vampires? Nope, guess again. The correct answer is sex. To be more specific, female sexuality and sexual mores during the Victorian era. Now, I don't know if this is pure hermeneutics of suspicion or if Bram Stoker one day decided, "I think I'll write a gothic novel that contains heavy themes of sexuality as it is seen by society today," or something to that effect. Let's all be relativists for a moment and look at context.

Bram Stoker (1847-1912) was born in Dublin, had a childhood, got married, had a kid, etc etc. His contemporaries included Oscar Wilde and Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle. Gothic literature was also popular around the time Stoker was writing. He wrote a handful of other novels (mostly adventure) but they weren't as good and no one cares about them anymore.

You can certainly see the adventure themes in between the sex and Christian moralism in Dracula. The men all but shout "This is no place for a woman!" as they march off to stand strong against vampire hussies together (compare: King Soloman's Mines, everything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote, the Hardy Boys).

One of the more interesting things about Dracula however is its undertones of suspicion regarding modernity. Stoker was writing around the time that the Industrial Revolution was picking up steam, and people were understandably suspicious about all this sciencey stuff. One of the morals you could draw from Dracula is "All the doctors in the world won't prevent your turning into a scary vampire hussy." Of course, we need the crazy foreign doctor Van Helsing (who, surprisingly enough, is nothing like he was in the moderately successful 2004 film Van Helsing) to tell us all this. Those crazy Dutch -- they'll believe anything!

In that same vein, apparently Christian paraphernalia is a weapon. Count Dracula is the pure and unquestioned embodiment of evil, yeah, I accept that. And apparently the Christian God and the paraphernalia thereof is the only one he recognizes. Wait, what? Not even a tip of the hat to anyone else? Well, maybe, but we don't know how the Jews or Muslims fared up against Dracula. In fact things are not even looking too bright for the Protestants. Wait, wasn't Stoker Irish and -- oh yeah. Apparently, it's not the faith you have in your crucifix or your communion wafer, it's how you wield them.

The mix of gothic versus modern certainly is interesting. You get your fill of gloomy castles and graveyards and innocent damsels in distress, but then it invades your nice, clean, modern, happy London! What's a band of guys who are in the process of losing a prospective finacée to do? Read Dracula to find out, obviously.

But, let's talk about the sex. (Spoiler alert) Lucy, not Mina, is the one who actually becomes a vampire. She is the obvious choice since she is a total slut who briefly contemplates the idea of marrying three men. Read the bit where Lucy gets bitten for the first time over again -- does it not sound like a really scary Victorian version of a girl losing her virginity? Vampires, whores, they're all bad for society and dangerous to men. When garlic flowers don't work, just move straight on to the wooden stake. Mina, of course, is the model of Victorian womanhood and therefore manages to resist Dracula's advances. She's such a good little Victorian wifey that she inspires a scene absolutely made of cheese towards the end of the novel when -- well, I won't spoil it that much. Also, check out the vampire vixens that Jonathan meets during his séjour with Count Dracula. Voluptuous seems to be one of Stoker's favourite words here. What does voluptuous actually mean?

• adjective 1 relating to or characterized by luxury or sensual pleasure. 2 (of a woman) curvaceous and sexually attractive.
— DERIVATIVES voluptuously (adverb) voluptuousness (noun).
— ORIGIN Latin voluptuosus, from voluptas ‘pleasure’.

(Thank you, AskOxford!) Now, Stoker is using this term in a negative way, remember. Because as we all know, sexual pleasure is for whores and rakes. Now lie back and think of England.

Okay, so Stoker doesn't treat sex in quite the same way that Chaucer does. Try not to be disappointed though. Dracula's still more fun than a barrel of vampires, and if you like getting into the Halloween spirit, totally appropriate. If you are into the Halloween spirit but maybe not vampires and sexual symbolism, try some Edgar Allen Poe (his poetry is great for reading out loud!) or perhaps Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. If, on the other hand, you can't get enough of this whole mixing-Victorian-sexual-morals-with-the-supernatural business, I suggest you check out Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Harper prend des forces: Conservatives court Québec

The Tories have adopted this as their French-language slogan for the 2008 election.

In an effort to woo votes away from the Bloc in Quebec, Harper is courting Québécois voters. And he's going about it in an extremely effective way. A quick glance at the Conservative press release page is a pretty clear indicator of this. On September 18, while the arts community was still fuming over the cuts to funding, the Tories released a communiqué affirming that they were "committed to French-language TV" and that "Stephen Harper and the Conservative Government greatly value and support Quebec’s unique arts and culture." This was part of an announcement dedicating $25M to Quebec's TV5, including $15M for TV5MONDE, which has all kinds of implications for better branding of Canada as a bilingual nation (an endeavour which is currently sadly neglected). The day before, there was an even better one: "Conservative Government to Ensure CRTC Reflects Canada’s Linguistic Reality". Among the provisions is the resolution that the chairmanship of the CRTC will alternate between anglophones and francophones, and the big one: "Hearings related to French-language or Quebec broadcasters will be heard by a panel consisting of a majority of French-language or Quebec CRTC members." Some degree of self-government? That's just what we've always wanted!! In addition to these arts-related concessions, there are plenty of headlines in the following vein: "[Insert Québécois constituency here] Deserves a Conservative MP" or "Real Leadership in [Constituency]". They even make a token gesture of recognition for Franco-Ontariens!

Another big score for the Tories were their comments about 1837 and "true patriots". Québécois love talking about patriotes. And another of Harper's self-government-promising moves? On la St-Jean(!), he promised to "practise an open federalism, a federalism that respects the autonomy of the provinces and the original principles of the Constitution." Touching a nerve that goes all the way back to Confederation.

Perhaps the most illustrative gesture was the photograph of a smiling Harper in front of his Québécois campaign poster.

Many other Conservative candidates in Quebec have similar photos. But the TV ads are pretty illustrative as well. For example, this one, which, though it contains no Magic Sweater Vest, is just as wholesome -- they're drinking orange juice, and no one seems to stop nodding. There is even a chick in there! Of course, Harper only manages about three sentences, but his accent is definitely impressive for a Calgarian. More of the same are available here. Many of them begin with an "everyday normal" citizen apologizing to M. Duceppe for his incompetence in the face of Conservative leadership, and they all end the same way: "Avec les conservateurs, le Québec prend des forces." ("With the Conservatives, Quebec is getting stronger.") The ads are perfect, but for one small detail: Avec les conservateurs.

Apparently, the Tory PR department was hoping that the Québécois would overlook the fact that they (the Tories) currently only hold 11 of the 75 seats in Quebec. Ce n'est pas le Bloc indeed! If Quebec is prending any forces, it is not because of the Conservatives.

Harper and his gang are, like any party in any region, up and down in the Quebec polls depending on which paper you read and when. On August 29, the National Post declared that a "Quebec poll holds bright prospects for Conservatives". Exactly one month later, the CBC wondered whether Harper's Quebec support was softening. On September 14, CTV said that "the poll suggests Prime Minister Stephen Harper's gamble of recognizing Quebec as a nation has paid off," while the Toronto Star announced on September 25 that a "Bloc rebound hurts Tories in Quebec." Polls are awfully fickle like that.

Fickle polls are not enough to quiet my artsy, female, left-wing, social-justice-loving nerves though. All these ads about forces being prended have given me the envie to grab Quebeckers by the fleurs-de-lis and shake them, saying "Qu'est-ce que vous pensez?"

Quebec, despite being a distinct society, has inherited a lot of things from France: language, religion, a vague hostility towards immigrants, and a fairly socialist mindset. After all, the mandated 35-hour workweek, unionmania, cheap beer, and a penchant for protesting didn't come out of nowhere. The Conservatives, however, have not typically been associated very strongly with socialism. Not that any of the other parties who've made it to the house have (with the possible exception of the NDP), but none so weakly as the Tories. Let's compare and contrast a little more, shall we?

Things Quebeckers likeThings Harper has done or wants to do
Arts and culture, a very important component of patrieCut truckloads of arts funding, specifically the type that would help emerging Canadian artists; Bill C-10
Not sending the military where it doesn't belong (See Boer War, Conscription crisis, etc)Increase military spending
Rehabilitation of young offendersYouth Crime bill
The HabsBe a Leafs fan

Seriously, Quebec. Don't get fooled. Remember la grande noirceur? Remember Le ciel est bleu, l'enfer est rouge? Didn't turn out to apply so well to politics, did it? Quebec, you do better under more liberal governments! I wish I could appeal to a sense of communion and federalism, but of course "federalism" means very different things in Quebec than it does in the rest of Canada.

I don't like to advocate the use partisan materials in such a way, but Quebec, maybe you should listen to that Bloc attack ad. Stephen Harper is saying all kinds of pretty things to you now -- but beware of cadeaux vides.

EDIT: This seemed pretty relevant, as well as entertaining.
Culture en Péril/Culture in Danger