Double Standards and False Equivalencies

October 12, 2017 § 1 Comment

Harvey Weinstein is disgusting.  At the very least, he is guilty of being a lecherous, disgusting man.  At the worst, he’s a rapist.  His defence of coming-of-age in the licentious 1960s and 70s is bullshit.  Many men came of age then, and they don’t commit sexual assault.  Nor is Weinstein alone, I’m sure.  As my friend Matthew Friedman noted, he is certainly not the only Hollywood mogul who used his power to bully young women into places they didn’t want to go, to use his power to sexually abuse them.  Think of the long-standing and endless jokes about casting couches and the like.  Weinstein just got caught. After 40 years.  In many ways, Weinstein is like the president, who, of course, boasted on tape for Access Hollywood, how he commits sexual assault.  As Marina Fung noted in the Huffington Post, the Weinstein tape is the sequel to the Trump tape.  And, of course, let us not forget last year’s scandal in Canada, where Jian Ghomeshi was accused of similar things as Weinstein and walked.  And then, of course, there is Bill Cosby.

Make no mistake, Weinstein, Trump, Ghomeshi, and Cosby are just the tip of the iceberg. And thus far, there have been no criminal consequences for any of these men.  Hell, Donald Trump was elected president.  Weinsten, Ghomeshi, and Cosby have lost their good reputations, so there’s that.  But that doesn’t really amount to much.

Republicans, of course, are having a field day with Weinstein, especially because he is such a huge donor to Democratic Party causes.  And he donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year (and Barack Obama’s in 2008 and 2012, and John Kerry’s in 2004, and Al Gore’s in 2000, and Bill Clinton’s in 1992 and 1996, and so on).  A lot of conservatives are calling Hillary Clinton to account for Weinstein (and her husband, and Anthony Weiner).  And even some progressives are calling on her to account for Weinstein (and her husband and Anthony Weiner, and Donald Trump).

This is also bullshit.  It is also creating a false equivalence.  Hillary Clinton has nothing to account for when it comes to Weinstein, nor do Democrats in general.  What Weinstein did is downright reprehensible, as I’ve made clear.  But he is one (formerly powerful) man.  She has nothing to do with what he did.  Nor does she have anything to do with what Anthony Weiner did.

We can start with the hypocrisy of conservatives demanding Hillary Clinton account for Weiner when they refuse to for Donald Trump.  But we can go further.  Calling out Hillary Clinton is just further proof of the sexism and misogyny in our culture.  It is further proof of the way in which our culture (and I mean the totality of our culture, progressives, centrists, and conservatives) holds women to a double standard.

It is bad enough that Harvey Weinstein violated countless young women.  It is worse that our culture expects the female Democratic Party candidate for President in 2016 to account for this disgustingness.

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Erasing the Indigenous

October 10, 2017 § 6 Comments

In 2015, then-new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau justified appointing women to half of his cabinet posts with ‘It’s 2015.’  And we all applauded.  He was elected largely because he wasn’t the incumbent Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.  But he also won based on election promises of gender equality, LGBTQ equality, as well as a ‘new deal’ for the indigenous population.

But here we are two years on, and the plight of the indigenous population of Canada remains the same as it ever was.  Trudeau has not exactly lived up to his campaign pledges to re-set the relationship between First Nations and the Canadian state.  This is not all Trudeau’s fault in the sense that he reflects a deeply racist Canadian society.  I have written about this numerous times (here, here, here, and here, for example).

Last week in my Twitter feed, I was gobsmacked to come across this:

This couldn’t be real, could it?  It had to be another bit of Twitter and untruths.  But, no, it’s real:

Even Global News picked it the story today.  So, let’s think about the history presented in this Grade 3 workbook.  According to it, the indigenous population of Canada agreed to simply pick up stakes and move to allow nice European colonists to settle the land.  Nevermind the centuries of occupation, and all of those things.  Nope, the very nice Indians agreed to move.

I wish I could say I was shocked by this.  I’m not.  This is pretty much part and parcel of how Euro-Canadian culture thinks about the indigenous population, if it thinks about the indigenous population at all.  Or, when Euro-Canadians think about the indigenous population, it’s in entirely negative ways; I don’t think I need to get into the stereotypes here.

I tried to do some research on this workbook and the company that published it, Popular Book Company.  My web sleuthing turned up next to nothing.  If I Google the book itself, all I get are links to Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Indigo.ca (Indigo is Canada’s largest bookseller).  Finally, I discovered that this series is popular amongst homeschoolers in Canada, and, as of 2015, over 2 million copies were in circulation.  My attempts to find anything out about Popular Book Company came to nothing; all I could find out is that it’s a subsidiary of a Singapore-based company, PopularWorld.

I suppose the actual damage done by this outright stupidity is limited.  Nonetheless, it exists.  But how this stupidity occurred is another thing.  From what I learned on the interwebs, this edition of the Grade 3 curriculum was published in 2015, the previous edition in 2007.  I can’t tell if this stupidity was in the 2007 version, but it is certainly in the 2015 edition.

I have experience working in textbook publication. I have written copy for textbooks, I have edited textbook copy.  And I have reviewed textbooks before publication.  And this is for textbooks at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary education.  To get to publication, textbooks go through rounds of edits and expert review.  My guess is this didn’t happen here.  I have also worked with provincial boards in Canada to revise curriculum, including textbooks.  Deep thought and careful consideration goes into this process.  And I have friends who work with homeschoolers, at least in Québec, to ensure that the textbooks and curriculum homeschoolers use and follow is appropriate.  And they take their job seriously.

So how did this happen?  Who wrote this stupidity?  Who allowed it to go to publication?  And why did it take two years for anything to happen?  Initially, Popular said it would revise future editions of the workbook.  Eventually, however, it agreed to recall already extant versions and make sure that this is edited when the book is re-printed.

Great.  But how did this happen in the first place?

Even the Losers

October 6, 2017 § Leave a comment

Tom Petty died this week.  He was young, too, only 66.  Massive heart attack.  Like many other people, the soundtrack of my life has been peppered by Tom Petty, both with the Heartbreakers and solo.  I remember his single with Stevie Nicks, ‘Stop Dragging My Heart Around,’ in 1981.  It was an almost total radio presence as I sat in the backseat of my mom’s car driving around Victoria, BC.  ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ was a staple of MuchMusic (Canada’s MTV) in the mid-1980s, and remains one of my favourite videos of all-time.  ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ was on constant play in the jukebox of the restaurant I worked at in the spring of 1994.  And while I haven’t followed his more recent music, his Greatest Hits package is in rotation in our house.

I can think of no greater tribute I can pay to Tom Petty than the fact that even in my hardest of hardcore days, in the early 1990s, I still dug on his music. Of course, I got gently mocked by my friends and roommates for my insistence on melody in my music.  But I remained unapologetic.

In the wake of his death, I keep reading how he embodied Americana in the stories he told in his songs.  I’m not so sure about that.  Tom Petty’s lyrics always seemed to me to be kind of out there, the characters of his songs out of some alternative universe.  He didn’t sing of white picket fences and apple pie.  He didn’t sing about Ford pickups and football.  In a lot of ways, he mocked this America.  His songs were about the underdogs, I always thought.  Like Eddie in ‘Into the Great Wide Open,’ which in many ways is a typical Hollywood success story, except for the dark undertones of the lyrics.  Hell, one of his biggest hits was called ‘Even the Losers,’ and it was them that Petty seemed to champion to me.

It’s a fact of life that people get old and they die.  But sometimes, the death of celebrities hits hard.  Last year, it was David Bowie and Leonard Cohen whose deaths left me reeling (especially Cohen’s, I don’t like a universe without Montréal’s favourite son in it).  This year, it’s Petty’s.  I guess this happens when the soundtrack to our lives gets suddenly muted.

 

The Death of Language

October 4, 2017 § 1 Comment

We live in an era where the President of the United States labels anything he doesn’t like as #FAKENEWS.  Last year, we watched Brexit succeed (at least in a referendum) where the Leave side was guilty of inventing several truths that were actually lies.  And one of the President’s surrogates has coined the term ‘alternative facts’ to describe lies.  I wrote about this last year in the wake of the Presidential Election.

The damage to public discourse and the use of language through politicians who lie nearly every time they open their mouth is obvious.  But there is another source of danger when it comes to the actual meaning of words and their usage: sports journalism.

As my friend John likes to note, nothing should ever get in the way of ESPN’s ‘hot take’ on any and all, most notably language and truth.  But it’s not just ESPN.  Take, for example, Canada’s TSN (for those who don’t know, The Sports Network is the largest sports network in Canada, with a monopoly on broadcasting the Canadian Football League; it also holds regional marketing rights to NHL games, as well as Major League Baseball, and various other sports.  It is also 20% owned by ESPN).  A headline earlier this week on TSN.ca states,  that “Pens, Lightning Battle It Out in First 7-Eleven Power Rankings of 2017-18.”

Um, no. The Penguins and Lightning are not battling it out to top the power rankings.  Why?  Because these are entirely subjective rankings created by TSN.  The Lightning and Penguins did not play a game, a play off series or anything for this honour.  TSN’s staff just ranked them as the two best teams in the game.

And so you may not think this a big deal, TSN’s headline writers are just looking for attention to encourage people to click on the story.  Sure they are.  But in so doing, they are messing with the meaning of words.  They are cheapening the meaning of the verb ‘to battle.’

This kind of thing is pretty common in sports journalism, whether through laziness or incompetence, I can’t tell.  But you will notice that around trade deadlines or amateur drafts or free agency periods, sports journalists will tell you about the ‘names’ being thrown around.  Sure, they are names being bandied about (mostly by these very same journalists, who get to make up the news and then report on it).  But names don’t get signed, trades, or claimed in drafts.  Players do.

Maybe you think I’m just a crank for being worried about language.  Good for you.  You’re wrong.

Of course language is mutable, of course meanings of words change over time, and the way we speak changes.  Ever heard someone speak 18th century English?  Or how about the word ‘awful’?  Initially, the word meant ‘full of awe,’ or something that was truly awesome (to use a word that has developed to fill the void caused by awful’s evolution), as in the ‘awful power of nature.’  Today, we would say the ‘awesome power of nature.’  And awful means something that sucks.  But these are changes that have occurred over centuries, and occurred due to colonization, and the like (want to have some fun? Compare the meaning of English words in the UK and the US).

The mis-use of words like ‘battle’ to describe an artificial power ranking that actually has nothing to do with the teams allegedly in this battle is something else entirely.   So is discussing the ‘names’ that were traded.  It’s a mixture of exaggeration and laziness.  And, ultimately, this kind, I don’t know, laziness or idiocy like this renders language meaningless.

 

Griffintown Book Launch

September 19, 2017 § Leave a comment

This Thursday, 21 September 5 à 7, come to my book  launch at Hurley’s Irish Pub, 1225, rue Crescent, Montréal.  2nd floor.

griffintown poster copy

#FakeNews, Memes, and US History

September 5, 2017 § Leave a comment

Sometimes I think that memes are going to be the undoing of all of us.  They tend towards the stupid.  I have written of this before, here and here.  This weekend on Facebook, I came across this meme:

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And once more we have a stupid meme.  The quotation from Lincoln is out of context, and it would appear that Robert E. Lee never said this.  Let’s start with Lincoln.

The quotation here comes from a letter he wrote to the prominent New York City abolitionist Horace Greeley, on 22 August 1862.  Lincoln wrote to Greeley in response to the latter’s editorial in his influential New York Tribune, calling for the emancipation of the Confederacy’s slaves immediately. Here is the full text of that letter:

Executive Mansion,
Washington, August 22, 1862.

Hon. Horace Greeley:
Dear Sir.

I have just read yours of the 19th. addressed to myself through the New-York Tribune. If there be in it any statements, or assumptions of fact, which I may know to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptable in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it in deference to an old friend, whose heart I have always supposed to be right.

As to the policy I “seem to be pursuing” as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.

Yours,
A. Lincoln.

In other words, for Lincoln, his primary duty was to uphold the Union.  And, as any American historian will tell you, every action he took during his presidency was directed at exactly that goal.  Slavery was not an issue for the Union, it was not why it went to war.  That, of course, changed on 1 January 1863 when Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation came into effect.

As for Robert E. Lee, there is no evidence whatsoever he said this.  It is most likely that this fake quote is a mangling of something he did say or write, but I even have my doubts about that.

Lee, of course, was the the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia for the Confederate States of America, a failed statelet that existed from 1861-65.  During its short lifespan, the CSA did not gain the official recognition of any other state.  And it ended with the massive defeat of the Confederacy’s army.  At any rate, Lee fought to preserve slavery.  Full stop.

Slavery was the primary reason for the secession for each and every of the Confederate states.  It was also the primary reason for the existence of the Confederacy.  Not states’ rights. Not taxation.  Slavery.  And this was what Robert E. Lee fought to preserve.

So even IF this line from Lincoln could be extrapolated to mean something, and even IF Robert E. Lee said what this meme claims, it is irrelevant.  One man ultimately ended slavery, the other fought to preserve it.

But, the meme is not correct.  It is FAKE NEWS.

Remembering Zmievskaya Balka

August 11, 2017 § Leave a comment

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the massacre at Zmievskaya Balka, a ravine in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.  The literal meaning of Zmievskaya Balka is ‘ravine of snakes.’  It was here on 11-12 August 1942 that the Jewish men of Rostov were marched out to the ravine, just outside the city, and shot.  The women, children, and the aged of the Jewish population were gassed, and their bodies dumped at Zmievskaya Balka.  Communists and some Red Army soldiers met the same fate, along with their family.  All told, 27,000 people were massacred.  At least 20,000 of them were Jewish.

This massacre is one of the forgotten ones of World War II and the Nazis.  My guess is no one reading this post will have ever heard of it.  Soviet and Russian authorities have done their best to make sure the massacre, or at least the Jewish fact of it, is forgotten due to the on-going anti-Semitism of the state.

In 2004, activists managed to get a memorial plaque erected that identified one of the massacre sites and noted the Jewishness of the victims.  In 2011, approaching the 70th anniversary of the massacre, this plaque was removed. It was replaced with a more banal commemoration of the “peaceful citizens of Rostov-On-Don and Soviet Prisoners of War.”  This erases the primary act of the Nazis in Rostov 75 years ago: the eradication of the city’s Jewish population.  And, it obscures the Nazis murderous anti-Semitism.

This morning, organizers held a march to the sites of the massacre in Rostov, to remember this brutal massacre.  We owe it to them to hold the memory of these victims in our