Thursday, November 8, 2012

How the election was really won

American liberals have a lot to celebrate after the election on Tuesday. Not only was President Barack Obama re-elected, but ballot initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage passed in three states, a record number of women were elected to the US Senate, and anti-choice rape apologists (such as Todd "legitimate rape" Akin and Richard "rape is a gift from God" Mourdock) were defeated, just to name a few. This post over at Shakesville rounds up many of the victories, and even more are mentioned in the comment thread.

Naturally, Republicans and their supporters are pretty disappointed. Some of the reactions from the right have been pretty extreme, from declaring that Obama is the anti-Christ and the world will soon be ending, to calling for an exodus to Canada, Europe or Australia (I don't think they thought that through very well), to calling for a revolution and saying the election was stolen. I have a couple of things I'd like to say to them. First:

While many dedicated Americans worked very hard on campaigns that helped Barack Obama get re-elected, in addition to all the other progressive victories, they were not working alone. Since the election is now over, it's safe to reveal the truth: they were aided by a vast conspiracy of gay feminist socialist Canadians.

That's right, right-wingers: you really can blame Canada for this one.

It all started in May of last year, when Stephen Harper's Conservatives won a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. While the Tories aren't quite as scary as the GOP, they've been studying the Republican handbook, and it's all getting programmed into the HarperTron. (What, you didn't know he was really a robot? The conspiracy does.) We feared that one day, Canada might not be the liberal paradise it is today, and we needed to secure our future by ensuring that we had someplace to go in things got really bad. Thus a coalition of gay feminist socialist Canadians was born, and we turned our attention on the United States.

First, obviously, we needed to make sure that people could get gay married if we were forced to emigrate. This was tricky; you Americans keep putting gay marriage on the ballot, and it was always defeated. Many states voted to enact bans on sam-sex marriages, and Minnesota was poised to be the next state to do so. We couldn't let that happen. Members of the gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy were dispatched, and the ballot initiative failed. We also ensured that same-sex marriages were legalized in three states-- Maryland, Maine and Washington-- marking the first time that Americans voted in favour of marriage equality (though, of course, they had plenty of help). Finally, we needed to see one of our own in government, so we pushed hard for the election of Tammy Baldwin, the first-ever openly gay Senator.

Now, there were a number of anti-choice candidates running for Senate and Congress who made some truly horrific comments regarding rape. Once again, members of the gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy were dispatched, and those candidates all fell over like dominos. It was another victory for liberal Americans and the conspiracy.

Next, we needed some good, socialist representation. The re-election of Bernie Sanders was pretty much a guarantee, so the gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy set to work on ensuring the election of Elizabeth Warren as well. She won, and the conspiracy claimed another victory-- quietly, of course, at least until now.

Finally, we needed to clinch the presidency for Barack Obama, or else all the other victories we worked so hard for could be undone by Romney. Obama wasn't our first choice-- ideally, we'd have Zombie Jack Layton as a candidate-- but he's a hell of a lot better than the other guy running. Guaranteeing the re-election was the tricky part. First, the gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy had to infiltrate the New York Times and gain the allegiance of blogger and poll aggregator Nate Silver. We had intelligence stating that he really is a witch, though not in the way people are thinking. The reason why his election forecast model is so perfect is because he's able to magically manipulate the election results themselves, which is why the gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy needed him. Had his model predicted a Romney win, all our ground work would have been for naught. Fortunately, Silver is a Democrat, so he was only too happy to help us.

So there it is, Republicans: this is the real reason why you lost. Your garbage policies and hateful candidates didn't help, but in the end it all came down to a gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy working to turn America into a progressive paradise.

We'll see you in 2016.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mental illness and violence

If I believed it was possible to jinx oneself, I would say that I jinxed myself; yesterday I said I had the best sleep ever, and then last night I didn't sleep at all. Fuck you, insomnia.

In spite of being something of a political junkie, I did not watch any of the US presidential debates; insomnia is to blame again, here. I have a hard enough time falling asleep as it is without my brain being all excited over politics, both in terms of dwelling on what answers I liked, and what answers I did not like. As a result, my knowledge of what was said during the debates was limited to what was reported in the news and on the various blogs I follow.

Mitt Romney said a lot of stupid shit in the debate on Tuesday (binders full of women, eh?), which I expected. I've seen a lot of commentary regarding Romney's answer to the question of gun violence, in which he cited heterosexual marriage and parenting as the solution. Not only is this insulting to single-parent families and other non-heteronormative families, it comes across as a personal attack on President Obama, who spent parts of his live being raised by a single-mother. Hey, Romney, I haven't forgotten which one of you was the bully that helped hold a kid down and give him a haircut because you thought he was gay, and it definitely wasn't the guy in the single-parent household.

That being said, I wasn't at all pleased with President Obama's answer to that question, either:

So my belief is that A, we have to enforce the laws we’ve already got, make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We’ve done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we’ve got more to do when it comes to enforcement.


And so what I want is a — is a comprehensive strategy. Part of it is seeing if we can get automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. But part of it is also going deeper and seeing if we can get into these communities and making sure we catch violent impulses before they occur.
Because my depression really makes me want to get my hands on an AK-47 and shoot up a public place. Thanks, Mr. Obama, I didn't know that about myself.

The idea that mentally ill people are more likely than anyone else to be violent is just as bullshit as Romney's suggestion that heteronormative marriage leads to less violent offspring. It's also insulting, as is the correlation Obama made between mentally ill people and criminals. Not only are mentally ill no more likely to be violent than someone who isn't, we're actually more likely to be the targets of crime, including violent crime (source). This is in part because of the negative stigma surrounding mental illness, a stigma that the President of the United States just helped to perpetuate.

Targeting the mentally ill is not going to reduce gun violence in the US. Personally, I think that what's needed is a serious overhaul in the way Americans view guns, as well as their precious Second Amendment. American politicians, however, seem to be unwilling to criticize a problematic gun culture, and so instead they draft ineffective laws that aim to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Obama's answer wasn't all bad; better enforcement of existing gun control laws is a good starting point, and trying to catch violent impulses before shit gets bad also sounds like an idea. Still, there was no need to give credence to an ableist, factually-incorrect stereotype about mentally ill people in the process. Part of Obama's gun control strategy should be protecting the mentally ill, not stigmatizing us.

I expected better from this president, and I'm kind of seething over how badly he fucked up with this question. I'll never express my anger with a gun, though.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Youth, poverty, and trying to make a difference

Go figure; I commit to writing more, and my health nose-dives again. For the record: insomnia sucks, 5am is a lousy bed time, and taking an MAOI makes it much more difficult to treat. I managed to sleep last night, though, and it was definitely the best sleep I've had in two weeks.

Almost three months after losing my job, I still haven't been able to find new employment. Granted, my health has gotten in the way of my search somewhat, but the bottom line is that my only income right now is EI, and it's very difficult to make ends meet with so little to work with. This is especially true in my particular corner of rural Nova Scotia; rent is inflated, and there's very little available in the way of assistance. Low-income housing is only available for seniors or families, and down-on-their-luck unemployed youth just don't have any resources available. No wonder so many of my former co-workers left town.

It just so happens to be municipal election season, so after I gave up on my search for some sort of housing assistance, I decided to look into candidates. Sadly, not many of them have websites, and those who set up Facebook pages just post things about where they've been canvassing around town, groups they met with, and so on, as opposed to campaign promises, their views on various issues, and so on. I eventually found some information on the website of the local weekly newspaper. Turns out I missed the mayoral debate, though according to the article the "big" issue was the local exhibition grounds and what it meant for town verses county relations. I suppose that's important, but for someone who might very soon have to leave town due to being unable to afford the rent, it's not a big priority.

I emailed both candidates and I told them my story: I'm twenty-six, not able-bodied, recently laid off, and I can't afford rent. I wrote about how many of my former co-workers left town when we lost our jobs, how young people-- many of whom are unemployed or under-employed-- simply can't afford to stay here, and how that's going to further damage an already depressed local economy. I asked them what they plan to do about ensuring that there's affordable housing for those who need it.

Both candidates replied back; one asked to meet me.

It turns out another problem youth have is that we're not very good at getting our voices heard.

Fortunately, the candidate I met with today is aware of the difficulties young people face in town, and housing difficulties in particular. The thing is, I was the first person to come forward and talk about the problem on a more personal level. I suppose I'm not entirely surprised that this is the case; young people tend to be more politically apathetic, even about the issues that directly affect us. The issues I addressed haven't really been discussed in previous council meetings, in part because the councillors don't think of these things, and in part because we youth aren't telling them. I was asked to get involved, and to share my experience and concerns with the newly-elected council.

So, tomorrow I'll be learning more about the local Poverty Reduction Council and the affordable housing initiative they're working on, as well as their other projects. This stuff is important, and while youth concerns are acknowledged, we need a voice, too-- so once I'm done talking, I'll be encouraging others to speak up, too.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Rob Anders opens his mouth, more shit comes out.

Last week, Conservative MP Rob Anders was in trouble for an especially nasty comment he made concerning late Opposition leader Jack Layton and current leader Thomas Mulcair. To quote:

Anders told iPolitics that one of the great stories journalists were missing was "that Mr. Mulcair, with his arm twisted behind the scenes, helped to hasten Jack Layton’s death."

"It was very clear to me watching the two of those gentlemen in the front benches, that Jack Layton was ill and that Mr. Mulcair was making it quite obvious that if Jack wasn't well enough to fight the campaign and fight the election that he should step aside, and that because of that, Mr. Layton put his life at risk to go into the national election, and fight it, and did obviously an amazing job considering his state of health, and that he did that partly because of the arm-twisting behind the scenes by Mulcair and then subsequently died," iPolitics reported Anders as saying.

Anders has since apologized for these comments, but not before Peter Stoffer, a well-like NDP MP,  called him a dickhead, which is probably about the politest thing one could call Anders considering how vile the man is. Layton's widow, Olivia Chow, has accepted the apology, and suggested that Anders sponsor her in her 5km charity run for Prostate Cancer Canada.

Anders is still a dickhead, however, and lest he lose his title, opened his mouth again and let more hateful comments spew forth from it. He has come under fire for circulating a petition on his website and at a local (presumably Calgary) church that asks MPs to vote against bill C279, which aims to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crime section of the criminal code to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and gender expression. According to Anders, however, "Its goal is to give transgendered men access to women’s public washroom facilities, [and] it is the duty of the House of Commons to protect and safeguard our children from any exposure and harm that will come from giving a man access to women’s public washroom facilities."

There is so much wrong with that statement, it's hard to know where to start. My first reaction was to facepalm over yet another transphobic asshole going on about bathrooms. I'm not the only one to react this way, either; Susan Gapka, chair of the Trans Lobby Group, pointed out to Anders that, "Trans people have been going to the washroom since the beginning of time." She also stated that Anders' "fear-mongering, storytelling and myth-making" is the reason why this bill is needed in the first place. Once again, trans people are accused of being pedophiles, as opposed to honest folk who just wanna take a piss in peace like everybody else.

NDP MP Randall Garrison is the bill's sponsor, and was quite polite in voicing his opposition to Anders' petition:
He said the comments made by Anders were either made out of ignorance or he is trying to spread fear about transgender people by equating them to sexual predators.

"He clearly doesn't understand the basic concepts to do with transgender Canadians," said Garrison.

He said the bill fills a gap because there are legal questions about whether transgender people are included in protections that are available to all other Canadians.


"I guess it's what I've come to expect from Mr. Anders ... time for his weekly apology," he said.

To date, Anders does not appear to have issued an apology.

Sadly, it doesn't appear that anyone has approached Peter Stoffer for his thoughts on the subject, either. Somebody should get on that.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Drugs and stuff.

I wish I could say that the reason why I haven't posted anything in two months is because I've been busy, but that has not been the case. I was laid off two and a half months ago, and since I didn't have anything better to do at the time, decided to change up my crazy pill cocktail. This meant being weaned off of the three medications I had been taking so that I could start a new one without any negative drug interactions.

The weaning process took a month, and it was absolute hell. My depressive symptoms returned the second week, at which point I stopped being able to sleep on top of everything else. There really wasn't anything that could be done to relieve my symptoms, either, short of trying to find a sleep aid out there that I haven't already tried (it's a long list) that would be compatible with the new anti-depressant my doctor wanted to try once the weaning was over (a much shorter list). After the detox, there was the usual four to six week waiting period before the new drug would reach a therapeutic level. Fortunately, it's there now, and while the hunt for a new sleep aid continues, I'm back to being a mostly-functional human being.

The anti-depressant my doctor wanted to try is called Parnate, or tranylcypromine. It's in that scary class of drugs known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, or MAOI. They've got a bad reputation in pop culture, and a bad reaction to an MAOI has been the cause of death in more than one episode of some crime drama or novel. There's also a wealth of bad information out there about this class of drugs, and what a person can and cannot ingest while taking one, and it makes them seem more dangerous than they actually are. Furthermore, I have to wonder if this bad reputation is the reason why I'm only trying a drug in this class now, after seven years of trying to treat my depression.

MAOIs work by inhibiting an enzyme called monoamine oxidase. Among other things, this enzyme aids in the metabolization of tyramine, a compound commonly found in food. If too much tyramine is ingested, it can lead to a hypertensive crisis-- high blood pressure, essentially. On TV, this means that if you eat a piece of cheese, you'll drop dead within minutes. In reality, though, this is unlikely, unless the person already has very high blood pressure. You might feel quite ill, and should probably seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of high blood pressure, but death is unlikely. Sorry to be the asshole to point out a medical inconsistency in CSI and the like. (I am not actually sorry.)

Anyway, now that my health is more stable, I hope to be updating this blog on a regular basis again.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dan Cathy has the right to remain silent, or not

The more people talk about freedom of speech, the more I am forced to conclude that the average person does not know what freedom of speech really mean, or what rights it grants. It has been coming up a lot in response to Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy being a homophobe and saying homophobic things and donating money to homophobic organizations, and people deciding to boycott Chick-fil-A as a result (easy for me to do, as they don't have any locations in Canada), and other people countering that by making a point to visit Chick-fil-A to support Cathy and his free speech and blah blah blah.

Why do Cathy's supporters keep talking about freedom of speech in this context? His freedom of speech is not being threatened, and yet Cathy's allies keep citing that as a reason to support him. Some of his fiercest advocates are politicians, and they really should know better than to frame this as a free speech issue, seeing as the First Amendment (or Section 2 of the Charter, if you're Canadian) states that the government cannot prohibit people from expressing their opinions and beliefs. The government is not going to be passing laws anytime soon that will put Dan Cathy's right to spew homophobic vitriol at risk*, nor will the government stop him from donating money to homophobic organizations. Furthermore, because of his aforementioned support from various politicians, and the fact that he is free to donate obscene amounts of money to political campaigns and lobbyists who either agree with Cathy's statements, or at the very least wish to protect his right to say those things, I imagine that his First Amendment rights are safer than those of many of the people speaking out against him.

Nobody, least of all the government, is trying to take away Cathy's freedom of speech. Furthermore, if that was the intention, a boycott of Chick-fil-A isn't a very effective method of doing so. This isn't about free speech, and it never was.

What I think people are doing- perhaps intentionally so- is telling the public that because Cathy has the right to freedom of speech, he also has the right to be free from criticism of that speech. Here is a lesson for those many people who don't understand the First Amendment: if  you talk like an asshole, other people are equally free to tell you to shut the fuck up. Both Cathy and his opponents are protected by the same rights that many idiots seem to think people are trying to take away from Cathy. I feel like this should be blindingly obvious, but I guess not; I suspect some people are deliberately misinforming others about these rights, which is contributing to the confusion. Either way, the result is that people are hiding their homophobia behind this veil of free speech. People say they're standing behind Cathy and/or Chick-fil-A because they want to protect his rights; really, they just don't like gay people. They're supporting Cathy because they agree. in whole or in part, with the things he is saying, and pretend that they're sticking up for the First Amendement when really what they're doing is trying to silence those who would boycott Chick-fil-A. (What about their free speech, hmm?)

A boycott of Chick-fil-A doesn't threaten anybody's free speech, but it will cost Dan Cathy money. A successful boycott would mean that Cathy no longer has huge profits from this company that he can turn around and donate to homophobic organizations. If the result is just one less person being subjected to harmful "pray away the gay" techniques, that's a success.

Obviously I understand that some people may not support Cathy, but might still visit Chick-fil-A for reasons that may be outside of their control; personally, I hate that so many clothes and shoes are made in sweat shops, and I absolutely do not want to support companies that exploit their workforce, but I'm also low income and because of my back problems, there are very specific things I need when buying shoes. Sometimes, I have to give my hard-earned money to companies with practices I do not support because there's no affordable alternative. Many people, however, are in a position where eating at Chick-fil-A is a choice, and those people should be aware that their money is going to homophobic organizations. If you do not support those organizations, you should not spend your money there.

Finally, to the people who try and claim that this is a free speech issue, please shut up-- and I say that not because I'm trying to take away your precious rights, but because you need to stop talking and learn more about what the First Amendment actually means.

* I realize that hate speech laws may limit the vitriol a person can spew, but I'm not familiar with how they work in the United States, nor do I know whether or not LGBTQI people are protected by hate speech laws. From what I know of Canadian hate speech laws though, I'm pretty sure Cathy's statements, however repugnant, are not in violation of those laws.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cheesecake: A recipe

Whenever I make cheesecake, I follow the same recipe, which was given to me by the awesome Urs of My bookmark to that recipe no longer works, so I had to spend some time searching for it just now. I shall post it here so that I don't lose it again, and also because it's just an awesome recipe.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F

About 18 Oreos
2 tablespoons of melted butter
1/2 cup chocolate or white chocolate chips

Grind the Oreos up in your food processor, mortar and pestle, coffee grinder, but don't chew them up and spit them into a bowl. That's nasty. Add the butter, mix well, and press the crumbs into your springform pan. What? For Pete's sake, go to the store and spend $10 on a springform pan.

Toss the pressed crust into the oven for 8 minutes, just to get it hot, then pull it out and scatter the chips in it. Give them a minute to get melty, and gently spread the molten chocolate/white chocolate/peanut butter/whatever goodness over your crumb crust with the back of a spoon. This will help seal the crust and keep it from getting soggy. Also, who will argue with a layer of chocolate? A jerk, that's who. If someone argues, punch him in the dick, and don't give him any cheesecake.

3 8-oz packages of cream cheese (or neufchatel, if you're worried about fat. Oh, hey. Wait. If you're worried about fat, DON'T EAT CHEESECAKE.), softened.
1 14-oz (regular sized, kinda smallish, the shit's dense) can of sweetened condensed milk. (Nope, there isn't a sugarfree variant of this recipe. If you're worried about sugar, DON'T EAT CHEESECAKE.)
3 eggs*
1 teaspoon flavoring (vanilla, peppermint extract, lemon zest, amaretto, chambourd, wasabi, worchestershire)
Cream that shit together.
For chocolate chips: Toss a cup of chips in a teaspoon of plain flour to coat, then fold them in. The flour keeps them suspended instead of rising or sinking.

Pour the batter into the sealed crusts, and bake at 300F for about an hour. Letting the cake cool in stages (turn off oven after 45 minutes, crack the door at an hour, remove the cake a half-hour later, let counter-cool for 2 hours, then refrigerate) will help prevent cracking. If it cracks, start over and eat the evidence.

* If you give the eggs a light beat before adding to the rest, they'll integrate faster and you'll reduce the risk of overbeating. Overbeating is what happens when the proteins of the eggs start congealing or some biochemical reaction occurs that Alton Brown would tell you about and probably get off while he did so, but it makes your cheesecake feel unpleasantly eggy and foamy when you eat it, and if you don't care, then it means more cheesecake for you. Jerk.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Soda Cracker Diet

Every so often at work people will organize a potluck, and we had one last week-- probably the last one we'll have before the place closes. I planned to make a cheesecake, but the day before the potluck, when I was going to make said cake, my anxiety kicked it up a few notches, and the idea of getting out of bed was suddenly panic-inducing, so alas, no cheesecake. There were still plenty of other delicious things, however, and we all stuffed ourselves silly and regretted it afterwards, like we always do.

Most of us, anyway.

I know some of my co-workers are on diets and trying to lose weight. One in particular is on one of those weird programs where there is a list of foods you're allowed to eat, and you must not deviate from that list or you fail at dieting and life. Or something. I say it's a weird diet because it even forbids eating certain vegetables, and what the fuck kind of diet does that? This co-worker sat at a different desk than usual so she wouldn't be near the food, nor could she see it.

I hate diets. I hate the whole concept of dieting. I especially hate diets that restrict you to certain foods. I know that dieting doesn't work, and that the vast majority of people who diet will gain the weight back, and that this sort of yo-yoing is even worse health-wise than being overweight. (And being overweight isn't necessarily unhealthy, either.) No one has asked me for my opinion on this diet or dieting in general, and while normally that doesn't stop me, my workplace is not the place for a soap box.

The day after the potluck, I left work an hour early feeling very, very sick to my stomach, and I haven't been back at work since then. From what I've heard, though, other people have also been absent at work for the same reason. The rumour was food poisoning, but the symptoms don't match. It's not that important, though. The point is that my co-workers are vomiting a lot, and of course this is something to be shared on Facebook.

One of my co-workers posted that she had finally succumbed to the illness that had taken out a bunch of us already. I replied, comparing my symptoms with that of the others, and mentioned that I was on a soda cracker diet for a few days. Clearly I should not have mentioned the D-word, because it was at that point when things got silly.

One co-worker replied that "it" (she didn't specify if she was referring to the illness itself or my soda cracker comment) was the best diet ever.

Another co-worker replied to mention how much weight she had lost since becoming sick.

I was-- and still am-- flabbergasted at those comments. There are people who believe that wanting to puke up everything you try to put in your stomach-- even water-- isn't so bad, because at least you're losing weight! At least you're not cheating your diet!* And I feel like I'm the only one participating in that conversation who sees that sort of attitude for what it is: potentially destructive, disordered eating behaviour at worst, and a very unhealthy attitude towards food and weight loss at best.

It's so frustrating to see comments like that, because there's really nothing I can do. I tried combating opinions on dieting and weight loss and just being fat in the past at work, and I ended up hitting a brick wall so hard it was hurting my own mental health and attitude towards food. I don't have it in me to fight that battle again.

I still have all the supplies for making cheesecake, and I think I'm going to make it tomorrow. Originally I was going to bring it to work, to make up for not bringing anything to the original potluck, but fuck that; I'm going to bring it to my DnD session tomorrow night, and I think it'll be enjoyed a lot more there amongst people who don't seem to give a shit about calorie content.

*Actually, soda crackers probably aren't allowed on weird restrictive diets because evil carbs, or something like that.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Why a study on using positive thinking to treat depression has me cynical, not hopeful

From the BBC:
Cardiff University researchers used MRI scanners to show eight people how their brains reacted to positive imagery.
After four sessions of the therapy the participants had seen significant improvements in their depression.
The most glaring critique of this research is the sample size: only eight people?! The people conducting the research acknowledged that more research is necessary, however. That's not why I'm feeling cynical about the study, however.

On the surface, this looks like something that could potentially help some people manage their depression. There's nothing wrong with that. My concern is how this will feed into the narrative that people with depression might feel better if they just think positively!

Yes, because thinking wonderful thoughts is the secret to flight and the cure for depression.

Obviously, this attitude aggravates me to no end. It's easy for someone who isn't mentally ill to conjure up happy thoughts. Someone with depression, on the other hand, might find that a bit more difficult. It's important for any article discussing mental illness and possible new treatments to be aware of the stigma and prevalent narratives surrounding said illness, and to ensure that the article doesn't further those things.

Yes, this research has potential. I won't be pleased if people who are not familiar with depression cite it when telling a depressed person to think happy things, though.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bill 13 Passes

Light on the posting since I need to pick up extra hours at work (and Civ, I'll be honest), but I wanted to write a quick note to say that Bill 13, the Accepting Schools act (of which I have previously written) has passed its final reading, and will become law in time for school to start in September. The Liberals and NDP voted in favour of the bill, and the Tories opposed; no surprises there. The provision that students be allowed to form Gay-Straight Alliance clubs (and call them by that name) was left intact, and both public and Catholic schools must abide by it.

My younger brother starts grade 9 this fall, and he has opted to attend the local Catholic high school instead of a public one. (My parents gave us all a choice in picking our high school; my sister, just a grade below me, went to the local public school.) I started grade 9 twelve years ago, and while it's quite likely that the textbook used in religion classes has changed since then, I'd still love to get my hands on my brother's copy.

I want to see if any pages have been ripped out.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tim Hortons pays workers a living wage, people upset

From the National Post:
Taxpayers are subsidizing the shortfall at the hospital’s three kiosks featuring Tim Hortons — one of the most successful restaurant chains in Canada — largely because the coffee-pourers are well-paid CAW workers.

Windsor Regional Hospital servers make about $26 an hour — $20 in wages, the rest in benefits. At regular Tim Hortons outlets, which are typically profitable, wages vary. One employee told The Star she started at the Ontario minimum wage of $10.25 an hour.

I've seen a lot of articles headlining the fact that the people working at the Tim Hortons locations in this hospital are earning $26 an hour. This is quite biased against the workers. Their actual wage, as stated in the above quote, is $20 per hour; the additional $6 is the value placed on the benefits those workers receive.

The locations are operating at a loss, and the hospital is having budget problems as a result. (I also doubt that Tim Hortons is the only reason why the hospital has budget problems.) The blame is being pinned on the people working at the Tim Hortons, however, and I don't think that's fair. Those workers are being paid a living wage; why do so many people see that as a problem?

Are they being paid more than the average Tim Hortons worker? Yes, absolutely. The problem, however, is that the average Tim Hortons worker is underpaid, especially considering how physically taxing their job can be. I've worked at Tim Hortons, and it hurts!  The people who own Tim Hortons can make huge profits, and those profits are made on the backs of their underpaid workers. It saddens me that people are complaining about the wages of the Tim Hortons employees at Windsor Regional Hospital when the real problem is that their work is horrifically undervalued. It also completely ignores the fact that the losses experienced by those locations might have causes other than the wages of its employees. Why is no one considering that?

The average Tim Hortons worker, and those working similar jobs, does not earn a living wage. This is a serious problem, especially if the government follows though on its proposed Employment Insurance changes and forces more people into those jobs. (The idea that I might have no choice but to work at my local Tim Hortons again actually scares me.) The obvious solution is to increase minimum wage, but this all too often just leads to an increase in the cost of living (because heaven forbid businesses take a small cut in profits rather than raise prices on the goods and services they offer). I don't know what the solution is, but I do know that attitudes of the people who wrote that National Post article I linked to above, and similar articles, needs to change before a solution can be found. People earning a living wage should be something to strive for, not a cause for so much criticism.

The hospital could hire as many as five more registered nurses with the money their Tim Hortons loses every year. However, is giving the 40 or so Tim Hortons workers a living wage such a bad trade-off?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Go ahead and call it gay, and tell the Catholics to give the money back

The province of Ontario-- where I was born and raised, and where I lived for the first 20 or so years of my life-- has been spending a lot of time lately talking about bullying in schools, for which I'm grateful. I was bullied as a kid. It's a horrible experience I wouldn't wish on anyone, and it has shaped who I am as an adult. Schools have gradually been getting tougher when it comes to bullying, and now the provincial government is stepping in and means to pass anti-bullying legislation, called the Accepting Schools act, or Bill 13.

As always, the devil is in the details. Included in this bill is a requirement that students be allowed to form Gay-Straight Alliance (or GSA) clubs, or a similar anti-homophobia club that may include the word "gay" in the name. You can't say "gay" without getting religious and "pro-family" groups getting pissed off, and they've latched on to this particular provision of the bill, calling it some gross violation of their religious beliefs. The Catholics are kicking up the most fuss, and because of way the education system in Ontario is set up, the government has something of an obligation to actually listen to and consider their opinions on the matter. Unfortunately.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I got nothin'

Human foot sent to Conservative Party headquarters:
An Ottawa coroner has confirmed a package delivered Tuesday to the Conservative Party of Canada's headquarters in downtown Ottawa contained a human foot.
Major Crimes Staff Sgt. Bruce Pirt said the suspicious package was delivered through Canada Post and conceded it's possible it was sent as a "gruesome message."
There's really nothing more I can say about this. 'Cuse me while I collect my jaw from the floor before someone ships it off to Ottawa, too.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Worse jobs


The government is finally providing some details on the Employment Insurance reforms they're proposing. It doesn't look good:
The rules will split EI recipients into three categories based on how often they’ve claimed EI in the past. Frequent users would be given just six weeks of EI to look for work in a similar occupation before they will be expected to take “any work” available, provided it pays at least 70 per cent of what their last job paid.
The Chronicle Herald  has a breakdown of the three categories.

The government claims that these changes are not an attack on seasonal workers, though it seems most people here in Atlantic Canada aren't buying it. The thing is, seasonal workers are going to fall into that "frequent users" category, and being forced to accept any available job within an hour's commute and at a possible 30% pay cut, it sure sounds like an attack to me.

That hour commute is nothing to sneeze at, either. Winter is the off-season, and we get a lot of snow out here. A commute like that could be deadly. One of my co-workers was killed this past winter on her way to work. No job is worthy that, and especially not one that pays 30% less than one's last job.

The government continues to repeat the line that these changes are necessary to address labour shortages:
Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley said the changes are necessary because hundreds of thousands of Canadians remain unemployed despite a skilled labour shortage that is “hindering our ability to prosper as a country.”
OH FOR THE LOVE OF COD WOULD YOU SAY WHERE THE LABOUR SHORTAGES ARE, ALREADY?! I keep hearing that there are industries that are hurting for workers, and I'm hoping to go back to school to get the skills I need to maybe fill one of those jobs, if I can ever figure out what skills they're looking for.
This is going to impact everyone because what we want to do is make sure that the McDonald’s of the world aren’t having to bring in temporary foreign workers to do jobs that Canadians who are on EI have the skills to do,” she said.

Some small-business owners are also welcoming the changes, though others are skeptical. On one hand, these businesses will now have plenty of EI-claimants applying for and accepting jobs because they'll lose their benefits if they don't, and those applicants won't be in a position to demand a higher wage. On the other hand, this could lead to a higher turnover rate for those businesses as soon as fishing or farming season rolls around again. Plus, those people will likely jump ship as soon as a better offer comes around; this is why some places won't hire people they believe are "over-qualified", a complaint I've heard many job-seekers make. Or maybe an employee will simply switch to another low-skilled, low paying job. This, I believe, is the reason why the call centre I'm about to be fired from had such a hard time getting and keeping workers. What's the point in staying at a job you hate when you can get another job you might hate a little less, and for the same pay?

But hey, maybe people in Nova Scotia will be able to find jobs related to the $25 billion shipbuilding contract the Irving Shiphard in Halifax was awarded earlier this year. Oh, wait. Nevermind. **facepalm**

Image credit: The Chronicle Herald

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Because I Am A Girl

Today's my day off work, so I finally dragged my lazy ass down to the local hospital to get the bloodwork done that my doctor asked for three weeks ago. It's a long walk-- Google maps tells me it's 2.7km and should take about 33 minutes, though it took me a bit longer than that-- and up-hill both ways. Because in Nova Scotia, walking uphill both ways isn't just something your grandfather tells you when he talks about his own youth. Anyway, today it took me even longer than it ordinarily would because I ended up stopping to talk to a young woman wearing a vest that read, "Because I am a girl".

That right there is a feminist trap if ever I saw one. I see something like that, and I'm drawn to it faster than free coffee at dawn. Why yes, I think I will stop, turn off my iPod, and listen to what you have to say.

The woman was working on behalf of Plan Canada, a charity that, to quote from their website, "is a global movement for change, mobilizing millions of people around the world to support social justice for children in developing countries". They do this by doing things like building schools, providing immunization and other necessary medicine, improving access to safe, clean drinking water and... promoting the rights and interests of children, especially girls.

Because I Am A Girl is an initiative of Plan that is basically all about supporting women and girls. They recognizing that educating and supporting women is one of the best ways to eliminate poverty and improve the lives of the community as a whole. They aim to get and keep girls in school, and so so by not only providing them with food, but sending them food to take home when the school day is done. They also seek to improve access to health care, including reproductive health. (There is no specific mention of contraception as a component of the reproductive health care they provide, though I imagine that is included.) Plan is also not affiliated with any religious groups, which is something I feel is important; I'm generally skeptical of supporting any non-profit group with a religious agenda, especially since many religions are inherently anti-women

This definitely sounds like the sort of charity I'd love to get behind. I want to give them ALL THE MONEY, except I have about a dime in my bank account right now. I mentioned that I was low-income to the woman I was speaking to, and that in light of a lay-off notice I received, I'm in the financial position to make a donation right now. Fortunately, I still have my teaspoon, and a blog where I can promote a cause that I think it worthy of support. I encourage others to check out Plan for themselves.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Plan, and they did not ask me to write this. The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Because goblins, that's why

I have often complained that I need an accio spell for my purse. In fact, whenever I'm digging through it for something, I always say to myself, "Accio keys!" or Accio iPod!" or "Accio shitatthebottomofmypurse!" It hasn't worked yet, sadly. Maybe it's because I don't have a wand.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with my purse. One of the reasons why I love it is because I can fit so much stuff in it. One of the reasons why it bugs me is... because I can fit so much stuff in it. On an average day, I will have the following things in my purse:

Wallet, keys, cell phone, headphones, iPod, portable CD player, CDs batteries, hand cream, notebook, pen, pencil, e-reader, pain killers, other pain killers, anti-anxiety medication, work badge, flashlight, various charging cables, eye drops, glasses case, condom, various receipts and other small pieces of paper, and my dice.

And I need to have all of those things with me, all the time. I'd be the perfect Boy Scout, except for the lack of penis. I'm always prepared for anything, and I could need any of those items at any moment.

Yes, even the dice. What happens if I run into a gang of goblins? I roll initiative, that's what. And then I try really, really hard to get that accio spell to work.

More bad jobs

In addition to changing some of the rules for employment insurance (which I have already touched on), the Conservative government also plans to fast-track the approval process for temporary foreign workers as past of their massive budget bill. They also will allow employers to pay temporary foreign works 15% less than they'd pay Canadian workers. While I have no problem with businesses bringing in workers from other countries, I completely disagree with paying them less.

Union leaders have accused the Tories of using these things to drive down wages. Businesses, on the other hand, are claiming that they're facing labour shortages, and these changes are necessary to allow them to get the workers they need.

I keep hearing about these labour shortages in the news, and I really wish someone would go into more detail about this. I mean, I'm about to get laid off, and I'm hoping to get assistance from the government to allow me to go back to school so I can get job training. Where are these labour shortages? What fields should I be looking into?

From The Globe and Mail:
Louise Vandenhurk, who owns and runs a Dairy Queen [emphasis mine] in Estevan, Sask., says she would love to hire local workers, but can't find any. She said student applicants are so busy with other activities that their windows of availability are too small to be worthwhile for employers.

I think a big factor contributing to a labour shortage in the fast food industry is because the work sucks (and I've worked in the industry, so I'm speaking from experience), but, most importantly, because the work doesn't pay enough. One would be lucky to pay rent and other expenses working a minimum-wage job. You can forget about buying a house. Savings? Good luck with that. Who needs retirement, anyway?

This is the sort of job EI claimants might be forced to accept. These are the jobs temporary foreign workers might be brought in to fill, and earn 15% less for their efforts.

If the government wants people to fill these jobs, then they need to make it possible for one to live off such a meager income. They should not be forcing people into a minimum-wage job until then.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stuff I've been reading

First, something very close to home: Former Nova Scotia bishop Raymond Lahey stripped of clerical duties over child porn conviction. Apparently this is "one of the most serious penalties that the Roman Catholic Church can impose". What's a guy gotta do to get excommunicated, these days? Lousy Canuck has more.

From The Globe and Mail: 2012 vs. 1984: Young adults really do have it harder today. In response, A 29-year-old on the difficulties of landing a first job.

Across the pond, a couple of posts about the austerity measures in Ireland, and the Fiscal Compact treaty: Burning Our Future To Fuel The Past, Rabbit Of Government Versus Truck Of Euro, and  So Where Do We Get The Money?

Finally, 30 days' worth of grilled cheese sandwich recipes. I recommend exercising caution before clicking on that last link. Make sure you have plenty of bread and cheese handy, first, because it might make you hungry.

I plan on writing more about possible EI changes later this week, as well as something on the student protests in Québec. Anyone got suggestions for other things I should write about?

Hey, is this thing on?

So, I've been doing this blog thing for about two weeks, now. Apperantly I have some people reading what I have to say. Hello, people! It's pretty quiet, though. I played around with some settings last night, including a new layout and installing Disqus. Please, feel free to comment, if only so thay I know it works! I promise, I don't bite.

Unless you're into that, anyway, in which case my preferred safeword is "Santorum".

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bad jobs

According to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, there is no such thing as a bad job. This is the attitude members of government are taking as they propose changes to Canada's Employment Insurance (EI) system, changes that could affect myself and my co-workers. (By the way, the layoff notice I got? It was not pink. I was disappointed.) While some have been fortunate enough to find employment elsewhere, many of us will find ourselves collecting EI. That's what happens when the third-largest employer in town shuts its doors in rural Nova Scotia. Many of the people I work with are nervous about these changes, and with good reason. Not many details have been released yet, in true secretive Tory fashion, but from what I've read in the news, it doesn't look good.

First and foremost, there have been proposed changes to the types of jobs people collecting EI are allowed to turn down. Under current rules, you can turn down jobs that aren't in the field you're trained in, or jobs that are significantly below your previous rate of pay, without losing your benefits. Flaherty wants to change that. This has lead to criticisms from the Opposition NDP that teachers, nurses and software developers might be forced to accept a job driving a cab or serving coffee at Tim Hortons, criticisms which are probably hyperbolic.

Obviously, it would be bad if highly skilled individuals are forced to work in fast food or risk losing their EI benefits. What about people already working low-skilled jobs, though? My current job- the one I'll be losing in just over two months- is an entry-level job at a call centre. I would like to be able to move on up to getting a job that will let me use the skills I have, but under these changes, I stand a very real chance of being forced to take that Tim Hortons job. My co-workers will be in the same boat. For me, working in fast food would mean taking a pay cut, for starters. Assuming fast food pays minimum wage-- and most of the time, they do-- I'd earn about 11% less than I currently do. When you're already low-income and struggling to pay the bills, that can be significant. I'm also losing my health insurance when I lose my call centre job, and jobs in the food service industry don't generally offer benefits. I can only think of one that does-- McDonald's-- but I don't know if those benefits will be in any way comparable to what I have now. My prescription drug costs alone would be in the area of $200 per month without coverage. I absolutely cannot afford both an 11% pay cut and the need to pay for my medications completely out-of-pocket.

Collecting EI already means I'm taking a pay cut; I'll receive 55% of my wage, which will actually put me below the poverty line. That 55% is coming out of my gross wages, however; the amount I get after deductions (which includes paying a premium for that health insurance I mentioned earlier) is a good bit lower than that. Also, my cost of living is higher when I'm working compared to when I'm not. I no longer need to worry about transportation costs, for example. Finally-- and probably most significantly-- I will be better able to afford my medication if I'm collecting EI. This is because my gross income while collecting EI means that I'll not only qualify for the Family Pharmacare program here in Nova Scotia, but my deductible will be quite low. Working a minimum wage job would mean my deducible would be four times higher. I would not be able to afford my medication.

Let that sink in for a minute: I am better able to pay for my medication when not working compared to if I was working.

Without my medication, I would be unable to work. Hell, even with my medication, I have a hard time working; I can't imagine what my life would be like without it. What this means for me is that, when I look for a new job, I have to be picky. I cannot afford to work at a job that does not offer health benefits which would allow me to pay for the medication I need to do the job.

Minister Flaherty is quite wrong when he says that there is no such thing as a bad job. If changes to EI mean that I am forced to take what is, for me, a bad job, I would be unable to keep said job. My health would deteriorate until I am forced to quit or take a leave of absence, or I end up getting fired for some combination of poor performance and too many sick days.

Unlike the idea of teachers and nurses working at Tim Hortons, what I am describing is not hyperbole. If changes are made to the type of jobs EI claimants are allowed to refuse, this could very well be my reality, and it is a very scary reality.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Is Barack Obama the first gay President?

No! Why are we even asking this question?!

It's the fault of Newsweek, and an article written by Andrew Sullivan. Obama recently came out in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples. This is a good-- though not entirely unexpected-- thing. The US president has been slowly working to repeal legislation that discriminates against gay and lesbian Americans: the Obama administration no longer defends the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), for example, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell is no more. Marriage equality is a natural progression-- or evolution, if you prefer-- of these actions. It doesn't make Obama "the first gay President", however.

To my knowledge, Barack Obama has not come out as a gay or bisexual man. While I don't want to assume heterosexuality, I do think it's a safe conclusion to make, here. He seems to be very much in love with his wife, at any rate. Why, then, is Sullivan portraying Obama as the first gay President, when as far as anyone can tell, he doesn't fit the bill?

It's an allusion to a 1998 quote by Toni Morrison, referring to the possible impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton:
Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.
 Fortunately, Morrison was wrong about Clinton being "blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime", seeing as it was only 10 years later that Barack Obama was elected President. Morrison later went on to clarify what she meant by that phrase:
People misunderstood that phrase. I was deploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated, vis-à-vis the sex scandal that was surrounding him. I said he was being treated like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp. I have no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race.
How, exactly, is Obama's statement supporting marriage equality anything like Clinton's treatment in 1998? There's no comparison that can be made, here.

Sullivan tries to draw a comparison, though, by looking at Obama's childhood, as a black man being raised by a white mother and grandparents.  From the article:
The core gay experience throughout history has been displacement, a sense of belonging and yet not belonging. Gays are born mostly into heterosexual families and discover as they grow up that, for some reason, they will never be able to have a marriage like their parents’ or their siblings’. They know this before they can tell anyone else, even their parents. This sense of subtle alienation—of loving your own family while feeling excluded from it—is something all gay children learn.
Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet. He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family. 
There is something about this comparison that rubs me the wrong way. To me, it looks like Sullivan is grasping at straws in order to make the claim that Obama's experience as a black youth is similar to that of gay youth, when the reality is that they are two different things. Frankly, by calling Obama the "first gay President" and using his childhood upbringing to demonstrate how it's just like a gay child's upbringing (except in all the ways it's different) strikes me as trying to erase Obama's identity as a black President.

(Which is not to say that one can't be both a black and gay President; it's just that Obama is only one of those things, and it's not the thing Sullivan or Newsweek claims he is.)

 I like the way Renee Martin of Womanist Musings put it:
What Barack Obama did does not make him the gay president, anymore than Bill Clinton was the first Black president.  You don't take on the identity of a marginalized person simply be [sic] attempting to be an ally. Now, to be clear, I'm not pulling a no homo here, I am talking about the appropriation of a marginalized identity in order to give the appearance of being liberal, inclusive and tolerant. A straight man, cannot by definition be the gay president.  He can advocate for GLBT rights and in fact should do so, but I reject this appropriation. 

To be fair, it's not Obama appropriating a gay identity, here; it's others bestowing it on him. I suppose Obama could grab hold of this identity and use it to garner support form queer Americans (not unlike how Clinton supporters used Morrison's"first black president" comment), but I doubt that he will. While the President has been frustratingly slow in going public with his support for same-sex marriage, I think he has too much respect for the gay community to take on an appropriated identity.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: Nelly Furtado's Big Hoops (Bigger the Better)

One of the things I thought was pretty cool about Nelly Furtado's music was the variety. I remember flipping through the booklet of my copy of Folklore and thinking, "She used all these instruments in just this one song?" To me, Furtado seemed really unique among artists. I admit, the first time I heard Promiscuous (the first single I'd heard from her 2006 album, Loose), I was disappointed. I had been expecting more songs like those from Folklore, or from her debut album, Woah, Nelly!, and I definitely wasn't expecting to hear yet another hip-hop song. The track grew on me, though, and six years later, I still play it on a regular basis. I mean, the song just oozes sexual positivity, and that's definitely a theme I can get behind.

Big Hoops (Bigger the Better) is more like the stuff from Loose than from either Folklore or Woah, Nelly!; it's the sort of song you might dance to at a club. It's also really, really catchy. Furtado has stated that this song has her channeling her 14-year-old self, back in the early '90s. She said that hip-hop wasn't really a big thing in Vancouver at the time, so if she wanted to hear hip-hop, she had to try and catch it from radio stations south of the border. I have to say, my own inner child is also loving the idea of big hoops, since I wore a lot of big earrings when I was young, too.

It was the video for Big Hoops that made me stop and think, though:

First of all, the stilts? Impressive. Mostly, though, what caught my attention were the hoop dancers, starting 20 seconds in.

I watched the rest of the video, bought and downloaded the song and played it a few times (like I said, it's catchy), but I kept thinking back to the use of Native American hoop dancers in the video. I remember there were some criticisms (and rightly so) surrounding Native American appropriation in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, 2010 (where Furtado preformed), as well as the use of indigenous imagery in marketing for the games. (This article discusses the issue far better than I ever could, and I recommend it for those who are interested.) I was initially concerned that Furtado had fallen into the trap of appropriating elements of other cultures (Aboriginal culture, in this case), and doing it in an inappropriate and/or racist way, not unlike what was done during the Olympics. However, this was the same artist who sang Powerless (Say What You Want), so I wanted to read up on the subject before passing any judgement.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I am not an expert on the subject, but based on what I've read and learned? I think Furtado got it right.

It's not Nelly doing the hoop dancing; rather, it's Tony Duncan, an Apache world champion hoop dancer from Mesa, Arizona. Also in the video is his brother, Kevin Duncan, and his wife Violet preforms a shall dance later on in the video. In other words, Furtado and her team brought in the experts for this video, as opposed to hiring white dancers and putting them in some bastardized stereotypical Native American costume. There are some shots with Furtado and the Duncans together (including the last shot of the video), but she's got her big hoops on, not a costume. It looks to me like Furtado tried- and succeeded- to include elements of Native American culture in this video, rather than just appropriating those elements.

I also highly recommend reading what Native Appropriations has to say about the video.

After Big Hoops, I'm really excited to see what the rest of Furtado's album, The Spirit Indestructible, has to offer.

Also, very much wanting to one of these tank tops, which not only look awesome, but support Free The Children's efforts to build an all-girls school in Kenya, which is definitely a cause I can get behind.

Okay, let's talk about abortion.

Normally I stay the ever-loving fuck away from anything written in the Toronto Sun, but today's an exception. Today was the annual March for Life, a protest held in Ottawa calling for abortion to be outlawed. I suppose this year is a bit special since not only do we have a Conservative majority in Parliament, a back-bencher MP from Kitchener, Ontario, Stephen Woodworth, tabled a bill in Parliament just a few weeks ago calling for a special committee to be formed to discuss when life begins. He says our current definition isn't scientific, or something like that.

Now, I'm not a biologist, but I think it's safe to say that, scientifically speaking, a fetus is alive. I think that's something both pro- and anti-choicers can agree on. I'll even go as far as to say that life begins even before conception, since both the sperm and egg cells that go on to form a zygote are alive. That scientific enough for you, Mr. Woodworth?

It comes as no surprise to me that columnists for the Toronto Sun would like to see the abortion debate re-opened. A choice quote: "Canada is the only developed nation without any restrictions on abortion."

Anti-choicers like Woodworth see that as a major hole in Canadian law. I, on the other hand, think that's something other countries should strive for.

Quick history lesson, here. In 1969, Canada began allowing women to have legal abortions, but only if they could convince a panel of doctors (known as a Therapeutic Abortion Committee, or TAC) that one was medically necessary. This requirement was challenged by Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who set up an abortion clinic that specifically catered to women who wanted abortions, but didn't have TAC certification. Morgentaler wanted to challenge Canada's existing abortion laws, and he finally succeeded in having those laws struck down in 1988. Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative party was in government at the time, and they twice tried to pass new abortion legislation. The first bill didn't pass the House of Commons, and the second was defeated in the Senate. (I knew there was a reason Canada had a Senate!) There have been some backdoor attempts to outlaw abortion since then (Woodworth's bill being one of them), but no bills changing the legal status of abortion in Canada have been brought forward since Mulroney. Anyone curious can read more on the subject on Wikipedia.

 Woodworth's bill doesn't propose making abortion illegal, per se, but it's not fooling anybody, either: by examining the point at which life begins, Woodworth is trying to grant legal rights to a fetus, thus outlawing abortion once again. At the moment, a baby only gains rights after it has fully emerged from the birth canal. From the Toronto Sun article I previously linked:

It would be perfectly legal in Canada to kill a baby that was halfway down the birth canal because there is no protection for life until the baby is fully delivered and breathing on its own.
Let's be realistic, here: no one is going to decide to terminate a pregnancy halfway through giving birth. In Canada, less than 1% of abortions occur after 20 weeks. When they do occur, they are almost always because the fetus has already died or will have serious birth defects, or because the woman's health is at risk if the pregnancy continues. An abortion at that stage in the pregnancy is done because it's medically necessary. They become less safe as a pregnancy continues, and it becomes increasingly more difficult to find a doctor who will preform a late-term abortion for that reason. There are plenty of medical reasons why abortions don't happen at 40 weeks gestation, and legal limitations on abortion are unnecessary.

Some anti-choicers are faux-feminists, especially when it comes to sex-selective abortions:
We can’t even discuss the problem of sex-selective abortion in Canada in a rational way, at least not in our legislatures.
Two recent papers by the Canadian Medical Association Journal have shown what many people have known for years. Immigrant women from certain Asian countries, namely China, India and South Korea, are obtaining abortions when they find out they are carrying a girl. Girls are unfortunately not valued in some cultures and so they are aborted before they even have a chance at life. The result is a gender imbalance with far more boys born in these certain communities than nature would have.
Is this the country that we want? A country where girls are aborted simply for being girls, where our most vulnerable, those without a voice of their own, can have their life taken away from them?
Surely a civilized and mature country like Canada can do better than this.
We do not demonstrate that we value women by taking rights away from them. If those people truly cared about the issue of sex-selective abortions, they'd be working hard to ensure that woman have all the opportunities men do. There is still a problem with misogyny in Canada, and people who claim to value girls should be trying to eliminate that, not trying to outlaw abortion.

Woodworth isn't trying to outlaw abortion, though; he simply wants to form a committee that will look at updating a 400-year-old definition of when life begins so that it's more in line with modern medical and scientific advances. I've already established that a fetus is alive, though. The thing is, if we're going to discuss the legal definition of when life begins, we should not be having a scientific discussion. This isn't about science; it's about rights.

Namely, it's about whether or not we let the rights of one person infringe upon the rights of another.

Here's the thing: for 40 weeks, a fetus lives inside the body of a woman.  It is wholly dependent on her for survival and nourishment, and it does so by taking nourishment from her. Finally, it exits her body, and painfully so. Furthermore, in spite of all our medical and scientific advances, pregnancy and birth are not completely safe. Does a fetus have the right to steal nourishment? Does it have the right to injure, and possibly kill?

Or, put it this way: do we give those rights to a parasite?

It might sound crass, but a fetus and a parasite have a lot in common. We do not give rights to a parasite; in fact, should a human being become infected with one, we generally seek its removal. Why, then, are people trying so damn hard to force a woman to keep her fetus-parasite?

One can also look at it this way: we do not force people to share their bodies with another person, even if it means that the other person will die. No one is forced to donate their organs, or their blood, or their bone marrow (which I've heard is quite painful). Yet some will argue that a woman must share her body with a fetus, something we'd never force her to do if that fetus was an adult.

This is what Woodworth and his ilk want. Fortunately, even under Stephen Harper, arguably Canada's most conservative Prime Minister ever, it won't happen. Abortion won't be discussed in Parliament, not because people don't care about the issue, but because it's been decided, already. It was decided in 1988 in the Supreme Court, and again by the failure to pass legislation restricting abortion under Mulroney. It's long past time for Woodworth and others who would try to limit abortion to just give it up, already. At this point, it's just a waste of Parliament's time, and a waste of my tax money.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

In the news

Just a couple of news items I've been reading, which I may or may not write more about in a future post.

First off, US President Barack Obama finally comes out in favour of marriage equality. As expected, presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney confirms that he is still a homophobe. Today, an article from the Washington Post reveals just how much of a homophobe Romney is, recalling incidents from Romney's high school days where he bullied-- violently so, in at least one instance-- classmates who weren't masculine enough. Romney claims he doesn't remember, but it definitely wasn't because he thought those students were gay!

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard remains firm in her opposition to same-sex marriage, and plans to vote accordingly on the three private-members bills that hope to change Australia's marriage laws.

Some good news out of Argentina: the Senate unanimously passed a gender identity bill that not only allows people to change their name and gender on official documents without requiring surgery or psychiatric permission. Furthermore, people who wish to transition will be able to do so, and have it covered by both the public and private health care systems.

Today is my day off work. I am now going to go celebrate that with a nap, and possibly more posts will come later.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Well, this sucks.

Amendment One passes in North Carolina, banning same-sex marriages in the state.

Obviously this outcome is full of suck, but there is one particular thing I want to highlight (emphasis mine):

The vote came after weeks of heated debate in church pews and over the airwaves. More than $3 million was spent on the rival campaigns. Ministers formed coalitions pushing for and against the measure, and cities passed resolutions condemning it. Former President Bill Clinton and the Rev. Billy Graham weighed in on opposite sides, and law professors skirmished over the consequences. 
So, I'll be over here waiting for the tax-exempt status of all the NC churches who participated in the campaign to be revoked.

I imagine I'll be waiting a while. Separation of church and state, my ass.

On Christian privilege

Recently, a student at a high school here in Nova Scotia was suspended for five days because he refused to stop wearing a t-shirt that school officials say some students and teachers found offensive. The shirt in question states, "Life is wasted without Jesus." When the student, William Swinimer, was asked to stop wearing the shirt, he refused, and then went as far as to wear it to school every day for several weeks. (I imagine it must have stunk something fierce, unless he had more than one copy of the shirt.) Finally, the school suspended Swinimer, and it drew a lot of attention across the country (and maybe even further). The school has since reversed its decision and allowed Swinimer to return to school and wear his shirt.

Upon first hearing about the story, one of my initial reactions was to wonder what dress code policies the school has in place, and whether or not Swinimer's shirt was in violation of said policy. I think I must be the only one to have this reaction, as I haven't read any articles mentioning it. Then again, I had to wear a uniform in high school, so my perspective is a bit different.

On the surface, this seems like a pretty cut-and-dry issue; people have the right to freedom of religion and expression in this country, and while Swinimer's response to being asked to stop wearing that particular t-shirt is a real asshole move, he's still well within his rights. (And, to be honest, when I was Swinimer's age I probably would have done something similar.) I think the school was in the wrong for suspending Swinimer because of the shirt. I do not, however, support Swinimer.

This article  is the first one I read about the controversy. Swinimer is quoted as saying, "Some people say you're not supposed to have religion in school. Well, every other religion is in that school and they constantly put Christianity down."

Ahh, yes. Poor Christian student, so immersed in Christian privilege that he can't see all the Christian influences around him. It seems like he's forgotten that he wasn't in school over Easter weekend, or that he gets time off for Christmas. He doesn't have to go to school on his religion's Sabbath day. In fact, until recently, you couldn't go shopping on a Sunday in Nova Scotia. But no, there's no Christianity in schools, and everyone picks on the poor Christians.

There's another choice quote from The Gazette:
As young Swinimer himself pointed out last week: Kids at his school can sport Satanic motifs without apparent difficulty. The Twilight books, which glorify vampirism? No doubt that's OK. But an overt expression of Christianity? Tut, tut.
Twilight is Satanic, now? Really? A series of books that put heavy emphasis on sexual purity until marriage, about a man who stalks his girlfriend, narrated by a woman who sees his abusive and manipulative actions as the ultimate expression of his love for her? A series of books written by a devout Christian? Are all books save the Bible banned in the Swinimer household?

Today was supposed to be Swinimer's first day back at school. Yes, he was still wearing his t-shirt. However, the student's father, John Swinimer, made quite the show of pulling his son out of school upon hearing that the school was holding voluntary forums on how students can appropriately express religions beliefs. Waving a Bible around, he said, "[William] will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and arithmetic — good old fashioned academics."

Good old fashioned academics, eh? Like a return to the days when religion was taught in public schools?

The forums being held by the school-- which are entirely voluntary-- are being facilitated by  a representative from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, along with psychologists, school staff, and hosted by officials from the provincial Education department. John Swinimer's actions suggest that he doesn't want his son participating in discussions on religious tolerance, or how to express beliefs in more respectful way. From the Globe and Mail:
[John Swinimer] said he wouldn't allow William to participate in discussions about freedom of expression and religious tolerance that provincial Education Department officials were hosting inside the school.

"When they're having forums, when they're having other extra-curricular activities, he will not attend that school."
 Other students from the school are now speaking out, saying that William Swinimer's suspension is about more than just his t-shirt. Swinimer would frequently try to evangelize other students, and, according to this article from the CBC, he paid particular attention to foreign students. Swinimer would also tell students they were going to hell if they didn't convert.

Was Swinimer's rebellion really about freedom of religion, or was he more concerned with being able to harass other students who didn't agree with his particular flavour of Christianity, or Christianity at all? Based on the reaction today, on what was supposed to be Swinimer's first day back at school after his suspension, I'm inclined to think it's the latter. They're steeped in Christian privilege, and fighting like hell to keep it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The basics.

For far too long now, I've had a very hard time writing anything. I'm still having a hard time with it. Even now, after two sentences, I'm stopping, pausing, switching to a different browser tab, and just struggling to get the words out on the page. I want to keep trying, though. Maybe if I write all the words that keep running around in my head, they'll stop keeping me up at night.

So let's start with the basics.

I'm 26 years old.

I'm Canadian, originally from southwestern Ontario, now living in Nova Scotia.

I'm a woman, though I'm not especially feminine.

I'm very politically aware, and I'm a small-l liberal (not to be confused with capital-L Liberals. I actually vote NDP.)

I'm a feminist.

I'm somewhere on the atheist-agnostic spectrum, religiously speaking.

I struggle with mental illness, among other health problems.

I like to read historical fiction, and I have a slight obsession with Greek mythology, especially where it concerns Gorgons.

I'm a geek, and I enjoy table-top gaming. I also nerdrage over the way DnD handles gorgons (they're wrong!)

I'm a Slytherin.

I'm currently working a shitty job, but I'll be unemployed as of July 26 when the site where I work will close.

I really don't know what I want to do with my life, and I'd really like to get that sorted out before I lose my job, or at least have a general direction in mind.

 Maybe if I stick with this writing thing a bit more, I'll figure something out.