Tag Archives: Vic Toews

This week in trickle-down theory

Mea culpa – I’m a believer in trickle-down theory.  Not as it applies to wealth, but rather, the preponderance of nonsense in the world, and in particular, that which is inflicted upon us by those who know better and do so strictly for political and/or monetary gain.  In a democracy that pretends to be educated but usually falls short, it is incumbent upon us to remain forever vigilant, and to expose such professional charlatans at all times.  That is one of the cornerstones of free speech that people tend to forget about – the responsibility to respond, to correct deliberate misinformation, and to shame those who lie blatantly.  Or, as I’ve said before, free speech may give you the right to say things that are stupid and hateful, but it also imposes upon me the duty to call you out on it and tell you you’re being a dick.  On this week’s episode of The Newsroom, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) delivered an inspiring opening monologue whereby he apologized for the media’s failure to do just that.  With that in mind, there are a couple of items floating around the news this week that need to be called out in the same spirit.

As you may have heard, there was a shooting at a summer barbeque in Scarborough a few days ago that left two people dead and twenty-two injured.  Canada’s douchiest federal cabinet minister, Vic Toews, never one to miss an opportunity to pimp his draconian views to the nearest microphone, used it as a springboard to attack judges who had struck down mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes, a rant that I’m certain was a great comfort to the families of Joshua Yasay and Shyanne Charles.  It’s a typical reaction of a privileged white guy who has absolutely no clue what it’s like on the other side.  Toews insists that the prospect of longer mandatory prison terms would have scared the shooters straight before they drew their guns – you know, because in the heat of the moment when you’re drunk, desperate, angry and armed, the thought of jail is always just enough to arrest a murderous rampage.  Proponents of mandatory minimum sentences always miss the central reason why they’ve been an utter failure wherever they’ve been implemented, and that is, when you’re going to commit a crime, you don’t think you’re going to get caught.  Who cares if there’s a mandatory jail term?  That won’t matter, because f*** the police, you’re going to be the guy who gets away with it.  Experts the world over have declared mandatory minimums needlessly expensive and ultimately futile, but that doesn’t matter to Toews, who barely waited until the bodies were cold to throw some red meat to the equally closed-minded tools who keep electing him.  Please, Vic, just go away – go get that judgeship you’re lusting after and pass all the hanging, cat-o-nine-tails and public stoning sentences you dream of late at night when the demons come.

Speaking of red meat to rednecks, Peter Worthington and the Toronto Sun decided this week as well to give a nutcase who spews conspiracy theories on street corners a national megaphone.  A self-proclaimed “cleric” who lectures at Yonge & Dundas next to the wild-eyed weirdo mumbling about aliens and the rapture thinks that the answer to the problem of sexual assault is to legislate that women dress more conservatively.  The Sun ran his photo on the front page with a headline warning about the terrifying restrictions on your freedom that this scary man wants to impose on YOUR FAMILY – propagating Islamophobia in the name of ad revenue.  Peter Worthington even found it necessary to blather a self-righteous denunciation of this guy’s out-there rants in a featured column on Huffington Post Canada, assuring us ever so helpfully that the laws this man is advocating won’t ever happen here (although, if Vic Toews gets his way, you never know).  Thank goodness for your sage and learned wisdom, Peter, because I was under the impression based on the Sun’s coverage that this random guy who yells at passersby as they duck into Starbucks somehow had Supreme Leader-like authority over our government, our courts and public opinion, and that as a result we were one precarious step away from the imposition of sharia law across Canada.  Phew – dodged a bullet there.  Regardless, the Sun’s coverage had its intended effect, which was to stir up the blood of its core readership, spur a metric tonne of “if you don’t like it here, go home” comments, and get everybody hopped up about immigration yet again.  Instead of doing what any sane person not trying to get people to buy a fourth-rate rag of a newspaper would have done, ignore the guy.  And be thankful that we live in a country where women can dress however the hell they want, and that Neanderthal opinions that are law in other parts of the world are only the meaningless ramblings of a twit here.

Finally, Howard Stern, struggling to stay relevant, decided to turn his sad sarcastic guns on the attendees at last week’s BronyCon, sending his staff out to interview fans of My Little Pony:  Friendship is Magic and using both ambush and out of context quotes to make them seem like creepy loners one step removed from the guy in the rusty panel van with “FREE CANDY” scrawled across the side – a line gleefully parroted by one of my colleagues the other day.  I’ve talked at length about MLP: FIM and bronies before, and why I think the show’s popularity beyond its target demographic of young girls is a wonderful thing.  When the majority of acclaimed programs on television regularly feature spurting blood, decapitations, drug overdoses, chopped up bodies and any number of variations of grisly deaths, not to mention a general attitude of “drama” being people behaving horribly to one another, why is it considered deranged that audiences are gravitating towards a show that promotes friendship, tolerance, kindness and understanding – and one that manages to do so with a clever sense of humor and without being treacly or preachy at the same time?  Honestly – in whose company would you rather spend an hour:  Walter White or Rainbow Dash?  We are living in the most cynical era of human history and it is not the slightest bit shocking that people are still turning towards hope, and a reminder of what human beings can do when they are good towards each other.  If Howard Stern wants to make fun of that, then he’s welcome to, but it just reinforces how bitter he must be deep inside.  Twilight Sparkle and friends would probably feel sorry for him, but they’d still offer him a big hug and a cherry-changa.

I’m not under any illusion that what I’ve written here will convince its subjects to change their ways, or that it will even reach their eyes.  What’s important to remember is that this is all a grand discourse, meaning that it’s not just sitting back and accepting what is shovelled in front of us, lapping it up with a grin and asking for more, please.  It’s responding to rants with reason, attacking bias with facts, countering ideology with logic and a sense of fairness.  Calling out the bullshit.  And in particular, it’s ensuring that the small minds don’t continue to set the rules, and by consequence the level on which our discourse is to take place.  We need to raise the debate, and it’s not something that you can do once and then forget about.  It’s like the lat press at the gym – the weights are always going to want to fall back into place, and you have to keep pulling down on the bar.  That’s how you get stronger.  That’s how a society gets stronger – by not letting the weakest minds continue to trickle their inanities down over everyone else’s heads without due response.  As the old saying goes, don’t tell us it’s raining.

Rob Ford and political chicken

I’m no fan of Rob Ford.  I find him to be a regressive, rude, bullying, half-witted right-wing douchebag I wouldn’t trust to have my back in a bar fight, let alone as the mayor of one of the most progressive cities in the world.  Yet this uproar over his recent purchase of some fried chicken at a local KFC, dutifully recorded and uploaded to the Internet for the digital world’s derision, is a step too far.  I recall a conversation with a guy I used to work with, when we were talking about Ford and I was relating my less than favourable opinion of him.  This fellow said to me, “I appreciate that you don’t ever talk about his weight.”  My response was, why should I?  He could be a 98-pound beanpole and still advance policies that make my stomach turn.  Ford’s physical condition has absolutely nothing to do with how he conducts himself or how he performs as a public official, which are the only things we should be judging him on.

The counter-argument is that Ford made his weight an issue ripe for public scrutiny by politicizing his “Cut the Waist” challenge.  Contrast this with the response to Vic Toews and his infamous “child pornographers” comment.  There were two major initiatives on Twitter:  the @vikileaks feed, which posted publicly available records of Toews’ divorce, and the spontaneous #TellVicEverything campaign, in which users overwhelmed Toews’ Twitter feed with the mundane details of their lives – what they ate for breakfast, what was playing on their iPod, how many pigeons there were in the park and so on.  The former was disgraceful, because it made political hay of Toews’ family problems.  The latter was hysterically funny, because it mocked Toews’ boneheaded political stance.  It made the policy a laughingstock, without belittling the man’s private life.  That’s what the other guys do.

Imagine if Rob Ford were a liberal titan, boldly advancing green initiatives and progressive social policies and vowing to make Toronto car-free and overgrown with trees by 2020 – would we on the left side of the spectrum be so inclined to laugh about a lapse in his diet?  Anyone who’s ever dieted knows how hard it is, how bad the cravings can get, even when you’re not under the 24-hour stress of leading a city of millions.  We’ve all had our weak moments where we reach for the ice cream.  That’s not a criticism of Rob Ford; if nothing else, it humanizes the guy a little, and reminds you that under all the bloviating and bluster there is in fact a very vulnerable soul.  Which I would still never vote for.

The past few elections in Canada, and the upcoming American presidential contest, have brought to the forefront of the public consciousness a hideous scorched earth form of political campaign where nothing is off limits.  Effective government leadership demands that the best people step forward, and how will we encourage those folks to step out into the spotlight when the mere public rumination of a run for office can spark the filthiest invective from the opposition in response?  The silent demographic who do not vote because they cannot abide the cynicism of politics are not silent without cause.  They have been systematically alienated from a public debate that operates on the intellectual level of a high school cat fight.  It’s all too tempting for liberals to want to get down into the mud and fight just as dirty as their conservative counterparts, but doing that only accomplishes two things – it accepts with resignation the premise that government and public service is the realm of savages, and often engenders sympathy for the opponent (and by accidental consequence, the opponent’s argument).  It takes more courage to stand up to a bully with words instead of fists.  But sometimes, a victory won with words – the right words – can be all the more decisive.  Canadian and American progressives may dream of a day when right-wing parties are a nausea-inducing anathema to the voting public, but we won’t get there by calling Conservatives and Republicans fatty-Mcfat-fats.

A comedian whose name I can’t recall once opined that it was stupid to be a racist, because if you got to know the person really well you could find a much better reason to hate their guts.  Likewise, it’s ridiculous to go after Rob Ford because of his weight.  He could be the most drool-worthy, sculpted embodiment of Adonis on the planet and still be a lousy mayor.  Call him misguided, call his policies ludicrous, call his approach to governing positively inept, but if the guy wants a bucket of extra crispy chicken for dinner after a bad day, leave him the frack alone.

This is your brain on digital media

Arianna Huffington addresses the Toronto Digital Media Summit, photo by yours truly sitting four rows back.

Johnny Mnemonic features a pre-Matrix Keanu Reeves as a “futuristic” (I put the quotes around futuristic because many of the movie’s concepts have grown quite out-of-date) courier whose packages of data are uploaded directly into his brain.  Eager to take on a high-paying job, Reeves’ character agrees to carry more information than his brain can handle.  I find myself in a similar situation after two days at Toronto’s 2012 Digital Media Summit, having assimilated the insights of dozens of expert speakers and panellists, including representatives from Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Microsoft, on what this whole concept means and where they think it might be going.  The key word there is “think,” because digital media is progressing too fast for the majority of us to simply keep up, let alone predict.  Today’s phenomenon is tomorrow’s relic, and what seems like a ludicrous concept this morning might be a smash success this afternoon.  The statistics are cosmic in their scope:  2 billion people on the planet access the Internet as part of their daily lives.  52 billion pages indexed on Google, 1.3 million articles on Wikipedia, 100,000 years’ worth of YouTube video shared on Facebook in 2011 alone.  Futurist Michael Tchong, one of the featured speakers this past weekend, refers to it as an ubertrend, which he defines as “a major movement, pattern or wave emerging in the American lifestyle that ripples through society leaving many subtrends in its wake.”  Although opinions on how to harness these ripples are numerous, one fact that seems to be shared is the idea that all of this is fuelled by the human need for connection – and kinship.

Associated with that need for connection is the humorous acronym FOMO, that Tchong suggests is behind much of the social media explosion – Fear Of Missing Out.  When so much flies by at lightspeed, billions of times every nanosecond, we are terrified that we might not see all of it, whether it be the latest updates from our friends and family, infinite funny cat videos or actual breaking news.  Texting and driving, Tchong says, happens because some of us have decided that being in touch is more important than being alive.  Perhaps, if one can venture down the garden path of existentialism, for many people being in touch is being alive; this idea of ambient awareness that I have discussed before.  But it is far more than simply wanting to know what’s going on – it’s wanting to know.  Arianna Huffington, who gave the closing keynote address yesterday, referred to her early book The Fourth Instinct, which suggests that beyond the usual human needs for survival, sex and power, there is a hunger for spiritual fulfillment and meaning; to answer that fundamental question of Life, The Universe and Everything (yes, Douglas Adams fans, I know it’s 42, but stick with me here).  Digital media is a sublime leap towards the realization of this answer, because it brings people together in a grand unified search.  This is why I put no stock in the philosophy of every man for himself; the mere existence of the ubertrend under examination here suggests that we are inclined towards a sense of community, of belonging, and that the reason why the technology of information has been the fastest to progress (instead of jetpacks) is because it reflects what we want most as a species gifted with intellectual curiosity.

And as expected, many fear the undiscovered country it is leading us towards.  Misguided approaches to regulate digital media, such as SOPA, ACTA or the Vic Toews nonsense going on in Canada, are the last refuge of an old guard longing for the simplicity of the era when everything could be explained as God’s will.  Ironically, that fear comes from the very same place as the curiosity that drives the democratic exchange of ideas as exemplified by digital media.  When information rested only in the hands of a few, those few were respected and admired as learned leaders.  The more the truth spreads, the less those people are needed – the influence they have built for themselves, out of this same, basic longing for community, diminishes as others cease to listen to them, until they are finally left alone, and forgotten.

So what then, in a nutshell, could you say is the biggest takeaway from my massive data intake of the last two days?  Certainly enough thought to chew on for the conceivable future (and more than a few blog posts I’m sure), but above all else, reinforcement of the notion that a global community, a global family, is not just a pipe dream of a few starry-eyed prognosticators, it is a place we are going whether we like it or not.  Our existence as individuals in a population of 7 billion mirrors our tiny earth adrift in an incomprehensibly vast universe, and just as each of us longs to find meaning as part of a family, our entire race hungers for meaning within the endless dark.  Why are we here?  Maybe Cousin Phil has an idea – check his status update.  Connection, knowing that we are not alone, is tremendously liberating – it reassures and emboldens us to take the next step.  Host Rob Braide of Galaxie Radio kicked off the conference by invoking the analogy of a drunk who drops his keys on a dark street and wanders to the safety of a street light instead of looking for them straight away.  The connection provided by digital media is that light.  And the more light the better.

Laughter is the best campaign slogan

Canadians are funny people – we do not and never have taken ourselves seriously.  You would never hear true Canadians bellowing vainglorious pronouncements of superiority and boasting of Canadian exceptionalism and the divine right to apologize to no one.  Certainly we consider many things sacrosanct:  public health care being the most notable, and lately, what we do online.

In a deeply cynical move marked by paranoia and shameless political calculation (par for the course from our feds lately), Vic Toews, the Minister for Public Safety, has introduced legislation that will allow police to spy on your Internet activities without a warrant.  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, indeed; one does not need to have read Orwell to understand the implications.  The legislation has been given the Helen Lovejoy-esque moniker of the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, and the Minister himself raised the discourse to the highest echelons of intellectual debate by accusing those who didn’t support his draconian measures as supporters of child pornography.  I’m forced to question once again, as with the late Senator Ted Stevens and his infamous “series of tubes” comment, why it seems that those with the least knowledge of the Internet always seem to be the ones placed in charge of regulating it.

The response to this act of political dumbassery has been swift.  Rather than rising up in anger, Canadians have responded in the way that is so uniquely their own – with biting wit.  A Twitter hashtag, #TellVicEverything, is trending as Canadian tweeps take to the popular microblogger to advise Vic Toews, since he seems so obsessed, of every mundane detail of their lives:  what they’re eating for breakfast, what shirt they decided to wear today, local weather updates, the weird look that teenager just gave them and even movie spoilers.  (Sheesh – Darth Vader is Luke’s father???  Damn you anonymous Tweeter!)  There is no weapon more lethal to a purveyor of anger than a good joke at their expense; as it says in my bio here, a belly laugh is more powerful than a hateful scream.  To the angry brain, laughter does not compute.  They are so resentful of the idea than anyone is allowed to be happy instead of them, that their souls have literally lost the capacity to process humour.  I would find it cause for pity were not so many of these people in positions of nation-wide leadership and influence, instead of where they belong:  in therapy.

Why, if Canadians are such funny people, do we keep choosing the angriest among us to be our leaders?  Check out Wikipedia’s list of Canadian comedians, and then look at the list of members of the House of Commons and the Senate – you’ve never seen a dourer herd of sourpusses in your life.  You could suggest that national problems require a serious approach, and serious people.  I’m not questioning that – I just don’t think seriousness and the ability to laugh at oneself are mutually exclusive.  With the latter quality comes a sense of humility and appreciation for the weight of responsibility of the office; at least it does in every politician, every person, I’ve ever admired.  Whereas a complete lacking in the ability to recognize and find humour in one’s failings is a common trait held by every dictator in human history.  What remains frustrating is how the angry candidate wins and then everyone acts surprised when he gets into office and continues behaving like a sociopath.

How wonderful would it be if the funniest candidate won for a change?  If we chose someone who reflected our actual laugh-loving values, instead of those of the embittered loner pissed off that he was picked last for gym?  At the risk of invoking a Bush-era campaign tactic here, if you wouldn’t invite the guy over for a beer because his silent brooding and inflammatory blog posts hating on everyone and everything that didn’t agree with his worldview creeped you out, why on earth would you assume he’d be a good leader?  I’d much rather have the guy who knows the airspeed velocity of an unladen African or European swallow.  One thing is for sure – they’d be a lot more fun to watch.

Anyway, in case Vic is looking in, and in the spirit of being Canadian, I had chicken à la king without the noodles for lunch today, I’m trying to avoid carbs.  Kevin Spacey was Keyser Söze, Soylent Green is people, and Bruce Willis was dead the whole time.