Saturday, 3 November 2012

Single mom receipt: STFU already!

I woke up this morning to find the internet in a bit of an uproar over the “single mom receipt” (I’m not going to link the image, for a multitude of reasons, some of which are listed below.But let me google it for you.). Basically, it’s a Visa receipt that shows a bill for $138.35 and on the tip line, “single mom sorry” is written in, and at the bottom of the receipt it says “thank you it was great”.

When I first saw it, I thought, “ouch!” Followed by, “gosh that’s pretty rude... sucks to have been the server”.

Then I started reading the comments on social media.

There seems to be several immediately apparent categories of responses:

“If she couldn’t afford it, she shouldn’t have splurged. <insert follow-up statements about single mom’s being irresponsible, on welfare, think they’re entitled to whatever, blah blah blah>.” We know nothing about this situation. If the receipt is authentic (which I have significant doubts about), then sure, it’s rude, but people do assholy things all the time. (Like park in 4 parking spots, pick out all the shrimp from the seafood medley in the buffet, leave dog shit on the sidewalk, etc.) The amount of judgment being thrown around in this particular case seems over-the-top. Although, not really that surprising because single moms represent everything the purity myth is against in our society: "Women are out of control and have too much sex! Welfare queens! ZOMG! They need to get back in the kitchen and make me some pie!"

“I’m a single mom, and I’d never do that.” It makes me sad that this response is so common, because it’s obvious that single mom’s realize that society sees them not only negatively, but also that they’re all the same somehow. Of course, given all the nasty statements being made about this single mom in particular, and single moms in general, if I was a single mom, I’d feel pretty defensive too. I know plenty of single parents, and they are a diverse group of people; yet broad sweeping statements are being made about a significant population of women. This is no different than broad sweeping statements made about ethnic groups or sexual minorities or democrats and republicans. It’s prejudicial. 

“I can’t believe someone would do that to a server. Some of them only make like $2 an hour and depend on their tips to survive!” I find these type of statements the most interesting. I understand that in the U.S., minimum wage for wait staff is sometimes calculated with tips included, so that servers really are dependent on tipping in order to survive. What I don’t understand is, why are people so outraged over a single incident of an alleged single mother not tipping, but not outraged at the ridiculously low wages people are being paid in the service industry?

There is something deeply disturbing to me about the collective response to this meme. Whether this receipt is authentic or not, it seems to have unleashed a torrent of judgments and attacks on single mothers that extend far beyond this particular individual. 

We live in a world where men still make more money than women doing the same jobs; where gendered violence continue to affect the lives of a great number of girls and women; and where we continue to have to fight for basic human rights for all. Yet it seems to me that people are much more willing to be outraged by a receipt, which may or may not be real, and may or may not have been left by an actual single mom.  

Can we just shut the fuck up about this already, and start giving a shit about real issues?

Friday, 20 July 2012

Who's responsible for your social media? YOU. JUST YOU.

I've seen some insensitive/distasteful/whatever bullshit on Twitter before, but today, social media idiocy left me nauseous to a whole new level.

What. The. Hell.

(In case you don't know, the #Aurora tag was trending because of the Colorado movie theatre shootings that have so far left 12 dead and dozens injured.)

It would appear that they've since deleted the tweet (it doesn't appear on their feed, but because so many people responded in disgust to it, it's visible when you look at the replies).

They claim that it was an honest mistake, via the following (I've rewritten it as one paragraph as it was tweeted in chunks):

"We are incredibly sorry for our tweet about Aurora - Our PR is NOT US based and had not checked the reason for the trend, at that time our social media was totally UNAWARE of the situation and simply thought it was another trending topic - we have removed the very insensitive tweet and will of course take more care in future to look into what we say in our tweets. Again we do apologize for any offence caused this was not intentional & will not occur again. Our most sincere apologies for both the tweet and the situation. - CB"

So now what?

As a communications professional, I found this incredibly frustrating, as it illustrates the problem with how many organizations manage social media content. Obviously, this online retailer wanted to have a Twitter presence; yet, whomever they hired to manage their PR couldn't even be bothered to check the context within which #Aurora was trending. THERE IS NO REASONABLE EXCUSE FOR THIS. The apology implies that the problem is that the PR firm is not US-based, but uh, it's not like it wasn't immediately obvious to me (in Canada) from one glance at the content that had the #Aurora hashtag was about something a retailer should not be piggybacking on to sell a fucking dress.

We are responsible for what we say; and if we decide to hire someone to do it for us, WE ARE STILL RESPONSIBLE. Yes, this was a "mistake", but it was an AVOIDABLE mistake, because any communications professional who dares call themselves that should have done their due diligence and taken the 10 seconds it would have took to check what #Aurora was referring to.

Should the company be forgiven? It's obviously not the type of retailer I would shop from, but if I did, I would stop. Apology or no, what happened tells me that they only want to engage on social media to sell shit, and couldn't even be bothered to do so in a genuine way. The company and their chosen representatives got caught (in the most offensive of ways) trying to SELL SHIT IN THE AFTERMATH OF A MASS KILLING. May their (I hope) quick demise teach companies, organizations, and individuals that there are real consequences for callous and inexcusable negligence.

/end rant

Monday, 18 June 2012

"50 Shades" Trilogy: A Symptom of How Fucked Up Our Culture Is About Relationships

(Warning: language may offend some, and there is an extended fecal analogy. If you love the 50 Shades books, this will likely make you uncomfortable. I ask that you read this piece anyways, in the hopes that it will get you to think about why you've embraced the story. I get that people may get pissed at me; however, I'm willing to risk it to provoke some critical thinking.)
So many people seem so excited about these books. “It’s so hot! I can’t put it down!” was the general sentiment. Given that I really like smut, I thought I’d give it a try, wanting some good old escapist fiction, preferably with a lot of fucking. I will confess, I’ve read romance and erotica novels before, but just for the sex scenes, which I find by skimming for euphemisms for penis. 
The first book was... tolerable. At least, it was when I started it. But by the time I was halfway through the third book, it had retroactively become awful. Sort of like how the memory of a mediocre appetizer gets tainted because you find a zombie cockroach fellating a dead rat in your dessert. 
What. The. Fuck.
I am grossly embarrassed for straight women and AS a straight woman, because we’re obviously the target demographic. I am also heartbroken, because the success of this book tells me how absolutely starved for sensual material we are that there would be enough of us to make this pathetic turd of a trilogy a commercial success.
The writing sucks. I’ve marked first-year undergraduate introductory psychology papers that I suspect may have been written while drunk and high that had a better grasp of the English language. I am pretty sure I have sent and received texts written on the toilet that stank significantly less in terms of mastery of language. While we’re on that analogy, I’d say I’ve shit out turds that stank less than these books. In fact, I think it is actually possible that I have shit out turds that could write better prose. Anyways, I could go on (forever) about how bad the writing is, but plenty of other people have done this already. Just google “horrible writing” and “50 shades” if you want to read more on that.
As I mentioned before, I am not beyond able to enjoy the occasional romance or chick lit novel. Campy sex scenes can be both hilarious and titillating (and really, who doesn’t like laughing and being wet in the crotch at the same time)? Unfortunately, the sex scenes (and there are plenty of them, since the two main characters repress all of their relationship problems by fucking instead of having actual conversations to resolve their issues) are incredibly cliched (even for erotica standards). Again, others have stated in better words than I possess the problem here; my favorite is an review with the heading “How can this much sex be so boring?” by user: readthebook. Instead of spending most of my attention on the sex scenes, by middle of book two I started skipping them, because they were all the same anyways. Poorly written rape/coercion/reluctance fantasies are not my thing. (For the record, I am certainly not a prude about these things, and spent a year in graduate school interviewing women about their rape fantasies and what their narratives tell us about our culture.)
The plot was ridiculous, even for the genre. I get the sense that I’m right in the middle of the demographic for the intended target audience (straight, middle-class, early 30’s), but if someone told me that even 10% of what happened in this book happened to them I’d call emergency mental health services and see if I could have them placed on a 72 hour hold. What happens to the main character is about as likely to happen to any reader as they are likely to become the Captain of the Starship Enterprise and have a three way with Spock and Bones. I laughed out loud so many times my partner probably thought about calling emergency mental health services himself. 
Then there’s the barrage of bullshit that rained down on my feminist self. Repeatedly the protagonist is manipulated by her “lover” when it comes to birth control. If a man told me to get on the pill or start getting the shot because he doesn’t like the feel of condoms, I’d take one and pull it over his head and dump his controlling ass. It gets even more offensive at the end of the third book when he says something along the lines of “next time, we’re having a scheduled elective C-section” because he was “so stressed out” by the birth of their first child. As a Doula and a feminist and a human being who recognizes where I end and where my partner begins, THIS IS NOT OKAY. Holy shit. 
At this point in my rant, as my friend pointed out the other day, I’m usually breaking out in my Hulk-angry-sweat. The sad part is, I’m not done yet.
This is not a love story. This is a biography of an abusive relationship, complete with emotional, physical, reproductive, and sexual abuse. The fact that it can be successfully sold as a love story breaks my heart. I know that for a lot of people, the definitions of what constitutes abuse is fuzzy; we’re inundated with stereotypes about who abusers are and there is huge amounts of blame placed on victims. This book reinforces society’s acceptance of abuse as excusable; that if there is love abuse is not possible, that only through and through “bad guys” perpetuate abuse on other people. THIS IS NOT HOW THE WORLD WORKS. How many times have we read in the paper or seen on the news the neighbour or coworker say, “he seemed so nice, I didn’t think he was capable of it” after something horrific has happened? I’ve been involved in the field of violence against women long enough to know that this is nearly almost ALWAYS the case. One of the reasons there is so much relationship violence is precisely because we never think it’s the guy next door who’s beating up his partner. The fact is, they are almost always next door to someone who doesn’t think they’re “capable”. The reality is that most relationship abuse goes unreported; the person being abused has been systematically desensitized to the violence they experience; and many end up in a place where they believe to stay is what it means to love and that whatever happens to them is what they deserve. Those of us who dream of a world without violence perpetuated by people who are supposed to care about our wellbeing are constantly battling against the media’s portrayal of unhealthy relationships as romantic and desirable; this trilogy is a weapon for abusers because it tells a story of violence and sells it as a story of love. 
I hesitated when writing this because I know a lot of people who have apparently read and enjoyed the books. But then I realized that this is no different than when I call someone out on their use of racist or homophobic language; it just seems more difficult because 50 Shades is so popular. Well, it wasn’t okay for people to call each other “faggot” even when lots of people did it; so I will not shy away from calling out the misogyny that permeates these books even if it means some of my friends will take offense. There was a time when I would have bought into the “romance” of relationship abuse, but as a writer, a feminist, as a woman who worries for future generations and the status of women today, I cannot in good conscience not say SOMETHING. So here it is.  

Friday, 27 April 2012

Rank Ordering of Hate in Hockey: Racism > Homophobia > Sexism

I thought it was awesome that the Boston Bruins organization issued a statement condemning the racist tweets by Boston fans directed towards Joel Ward of the Washington Capitals.

I was just saying to someone the other day how I thought one way to reduce the homophobic tweeting by ignorant hockey fans would be for an NHL superstar (or two or three, or perhaps a whole frickin' team) to step up and say, "Hey fans! We love that you're enthusiastic about our team, and sure, trash talking and chirping can be a lot of fun... but lay off the homophobic language. That's hateful and there's no place for that in hockey." I ranted about those tweets in a prior post, along with mentions of racism and misogyny. I wasn't surprised though, that nobody made an official statement about it.

Why are some forms of hate worthy of speaking out against by the NHL, and others not?

It's because we rank-order the seriousness of hate.

Racism is not okay. There seems to be significant consensus about this. In a LOT of places, if you throw out a racial slur in public, chances are good that people will speak up against it. Or at least send you enough dirty looks to make you think twice about doing it again.

But homophobia? "That's so gay." I hear this all the time. When I used to teach high school kids about sexual harassment and bullying, this was one of the toughest lessons. Labeling that phrase as homophobic gets many kids, and sometimes a few teachers, getting defensive and say things like, "but I don't mean it THAT way. I have gay friends/family/whatever!"

I always countered this with "If someone thought something was bad, and instead of saying 'that's so gay', they said 'that's so Chinese', would that be racist?" (I chose this particular example because I am Chinese-Canadian). Unanimously, the group would respond, "yes". Then I would ask, "so how is this different than saying 'that's so gay'?" Nobody really has a counter argument to that.

That example works because we have less tolerance for racism than for homophobia. This gets even worse with sexism, especially the more subtle kind.

I absolutely despise the whole "Sedin Sisters" thing. Some people argue that it's harmless, but you know what I hear when people speak derogatorily of the Sedins by calling them sister? It implies that sisters are somehow less desirable than brothers. It's an insult to my whole gender.

I can never decide, when an organization speaks out about one kind of hate but not another, whether I should be happy that they are speaking out at all, or if I should be annoyed that they aren't speaking out about the other forms. One could argue that, in the case of Joel Ward, there was a specific person that was being targeted; and that it was the right thing for organizations to speak up about it. Yet, given the statistics, it is impossible that there are no gay players at the NHL level.

There's a lot of discussion about when and if someone currently playing in the NHL will ever come out. Who can blame them for not doing so, given that so much homophobic attacks continue unchecked?

As for sexist bullshit, I fear that the likelihood of someone speaking out against that to be even lower, since there are no women in the NHL. I feel for the many girls and young women I know involved with hockey, to know that not only are there many logistical barriers that limit their participation, but so many social barriers as well; social barriers that nobody is doing anything about.

I feel as though I've been obsessed with the sociopolitical side of hockey recently, but for me, these situations are not separable from the actual game. Don't get me wrong, I'm all riled up for playoff hockey (and my team isn't even in it!), but I know it'd be more enjoyable if it wasn't tainted by all of this hate. Yes, I realize the futility of my optimism, but given the positive response of NHL players to the You Can Play Project, I still continue to hope that those involved with hockey, whether they are fans, players, teams, or the entire league, can speak up and DO SOMETHING about this. I am nobody, and I don't expect to instigate change; but there are many in positions of power, who by speaking a few words, whether in an interview, on Twitter, or on Facebook, can ask more from others and perhaps reduce the hateful behaviour. Hockey isn't the world, but wouldn't it be a great example if the hockey world came together to do something about this? Perhaps it would be something the rest of the world could learn from.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Hockey Fan Hate on Twitter Drinking Game!

I can't cope anymore. It just never ends. The shit people say on Twitter during, after, and in-between hockey games (I guess that means ALL THE TIME) is terrible. I wrote about the homophobia thing in a relatively thoughtful and lengthy blog post earlier this month, but I'm just so incredibly jaded by the ongoing abuse online. It's time to resort to alcoholism. So I wrote this drinking game to help us all cope with the hate.

All players pick a team (or for the epic version, just drink for every category): homophobia, misogyny, and racism.

Now open up Twitter, use whatever relevant hashtag is appropriate to access the latest Twitter conversation about a particular hockey game or series, and follow the instructions below:

For those on the homophobia team, take a drink for every tweet containing:
  • "fag" or "faggot"
  • "homo" when not referring to whole milk in Canada
  • references to one player fucking another or being fucked in the ass
  • accusations of "gayness" ("You're so gay", "that's fucking gay", etc etc.)
  • any other homophobic bullshit
For those on the misogyny team, take a drink for every tweet containing:
  • the use of "pussy" when not referring to a cat
  • insulting references to somebody's mom: ("motherfucker" or "mofo", etc etc.)
  • references implying women are weaker than men ("XX plays like a girl", "The Sedin Sisters", etc etc.)
  • references to rape ("I'm going to bend XX's wife over a table...", "XX is going to fuck XX's wife", etc etc.)
For those on the racism team: take a drink for every tweet containing:
  • a racial slur
  • statements about foreign players and insults to their native country
  • references to "your people" or "those people"
Regardless of team, drink for every tweet containing:
  • a death threat
  • a threat to personal safety
  • a threat to destroying another city/country

Seriously, if I had started doing this at the beginning of the playoffs, I'd be dead by now from alcohol poisoning. Yes, this "drinking game" is meant to be funny; but the fact is, the language people use is exceptionally hateful and each and every tweet spouting hate makes the world we live in that much more toxic. Again, I love trash talking with other hockey fans: but there is absolutely no reason it has to include language like this. Intelligent people can chirp without resorting to hate. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

How One Misogynist Tweet Restored My Faith In Humanity

"Fleury sucks, right? Fuck your mothers."

I saw this from one of my new Twitter connections; one that was made during the traffic from my last post on homophobic tweets by hockey fans. So I was a little startled. It didn't make sense; someone that bothered to make a connection after reading my piece about homophobia threw out an obviously misogynist hockey tweet? Huh?

I waffled for a few minutes as to whether I should say something. I decided to respond. (More about this shortly.)

"Dude... isn't a comment like that rather misogynist?"

I braced myself for defensiveness, possibly with a side of name-calling. Or maybe the classic "don't you have anything better to worry about?"

Instead, I got an admission that he was aware he fucked up, and a thank you for calling him out on it.

This made me insanely happy. I was bordering on giddy. 

Sounds strange, right? I mean, I shouldn't be happy that this happened at all.

Let's go back to my waffling. It seems strange (even to me) that a few days ago I could go on a long rant about homophobic comments on Twitter (which ~1,700 people read), and then hesitate to call out one person on one comment. But the thing is, this felt more threatening. As soon as I responded, I psychologically braced myself for a reply that was abusive and/or threatening. 

I don't think I'm alone in feeling like it is dangerous, if not physically, then at least emotionally and psychologically, to call people out on bad behaviour. Partly because it happens so darn much, and I think a lot of us have been socialized to focus on the negative feedback we get from people, and give it much more weight than the positive. The feedback I've received from the blog about homophobic tweets have been overwhelmingly positive; yet its the few negative responses I've received that I've spent a disproportional amount of time being bothered by. (When I think about it rationally, those criticisms don't make a lot of sense, and indicate that the readers missed the whole damn point anyways... so why should I care? Yet I do.)

There gets to a point when one's engagement with social justice makes it impossible to turn another part of yourself off. There was a time when I could stand up against a homophobic comment but still stay silent when a sexist one was thrown out there. Or fight for gender equality while at the same time using fatphobic language. But when you engage with these issues, eventually you figure out that they're all interrelated; that to participate in one form of hate holds you back from fighting against another. It's like the red pill of social activism kicks in, and you can never go back to living in ignorance. 

The problem is, there's no way to tell who's there already. So when I called this person out, I was bracing for the worst: that even though he was someone who'd take a stand against homophobia, he could still buy into many other forms of hate.

The best part about this story though: is he didn't. He got it. He didn't even need for me to tell him he fucked up. He knew before I responded; he admitted it out loud (er, out Twitter?), and in public (uh, Twitter public). 

And as a result, I feel safer to call out bad behaviour in the future. Certainly, there will be those who respond abusively; but this set a precedence that gives me hope. Sometimes, when you call someone out on something, it can actually show you that there's hope for change. 

Ironically, I'm pretty sure that even as I type these words, he's beating himself up over his comment. Before he signed off for the night, he said that he hated how this one horrible thing he said defined him tonight. 

Dude. That's not true. Yes, there was that one nasty tweet. But then there were the dozen that followed where you owned up to it, tried to make sense of what happened (without making excuses), and demonstrated, by example, to everyone who follows you on Twitter that even nice people say nasty shit, but the difference between the good and the bad is that you admitted you should have known better, and accepted full responsibility. To me, it was the follow-up statements that defined who you were tonight.

So to you, and to all those in the Twitterverse who shared my blog, thank you. You've restored my faith that my words have power; that it is worth it to put my thoughts out there, and that there are other similarly-minded people. That speaking out, while sometimes may result in shit and abuse, can also result in connecting with a community of people who share my frustration about the state of the world, and that makes me feel less alone. 

May we all be more forgiving of ourselves when we fuck up.

And may we all feel safer to speak up against all that's wrong in the world.

Good night. It's time to eat ice cream. :)

Saturday, 14 April 2012

How the LA vs. Vancouver Playoff Series is Breaking My Heart

Last year I cheered on the Canucks, all the way to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. 
This year I haven't quite chosen my allegiances, so I've simply been watching Round 1 with neutral interest in the game. 
But something happened yesterday in the LA vs. Vancouver series that broke my heart.
After beating Vancouver in Game 1 on April 11, @LAKings tweeted: 

"To everyone in Canada outside of BC, you're welcome." 

I laughed out loud when I saw it. That got @LAKings a follow from me, and perhaps tilted me slightly towards cheering for them in this first round. I mean, cheeky use of social media AND an 8th place underdog hoping to upset the President's Trophy winner? Sounds like fun! I'm relatively new to loving hockey, but one part I've enjoyed immensely is the chirping. (I'm an Oilers fan, so I'm used to having trash talked at me, since we're not exactly performing at elite levels these last couple of years). There are some teams that people just love to hate; in Canada that's typically Toronto, and that's reflected in the chirping. Every time Oilers played the Leafs this year, there were several people with whom trash talk was exchanged for the entire 60 minutes of play. With the Leafs out of the playoffs (no surprise there... stealth chirp! Ahaha!), Vancouver has taken the place of the "Canadian team we love to hate". All in good fun, or so I thought. 
I had heard on the radio and on all the sports shows that the Kings' tweet really pissed off a lot of Canucks fans, but I didn't read any of the specific tweet retorts. Then after Game 2 last night, @LAKings tweeted: 

"We apologize to anyone this tweet offends: #LAKings lead series 2-0." 

Again, from my perspective, hilarious. Certainly, I can understand it would be upsetting that the Canucks lost two in a row at home, but I always thought hockey upset was different than... real upset. Of course it sucks to have your team lose. But there are bigger problems in the world to worry about. Like racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Which brings me to the responses I found really upsetting:
"STFU U Faggot!! Its A 7 Game Series U BITCH!! PUSSY"
"@LAKings you guys are fucking retarded! Doughty an brown should have got the gate too. Kings lick balls! Eat a dick!!"
"@LAKings YOUUU FUCKEN CUNTSSSS go suck a dickk"
"#LAKings fuck you! Team consists of faggots, burn in hell. #Canucks will be back to crush all of you"

"Hey fag how much LAking dick you gonna suck in this series. You pathetic piece of shit. Your sister is a whore"

And the list goes on and on and on. @LOLVancouver RT's many of these if you'd like to see more. I found these exceptionally disturbing as to their hateful content. (They were also disturbing in terms of poorly constructed sentences and terrible grammar, but that's for a whole other rant).  

I can understand being upset, after the team you love loses two at home, and the other team's poking fun at you. I can accept that some people have the urge to tell LA to "fuck off" or "shut up". But why do people have to resort to a huge amount of homophobic slurs and sexist comments? 

How do you think it feels for someone who is gay to see these responses, as homophobic slurs were the most common? So much hate being communicated. I can relate a bit to the gendered slurs ("cunt" & "whore"), but having worked in violence against women, I've grown a pretty tough skin (but then, tough skin or not, why should we have to put up with abusive language directed towards anybody?). Do the people who tweeted these actually hate women, gays, and the developmentally delayed ("fucking retarded")? I hope not. But then... why would they use words this way?

I know, I know, some will claim the "free speech" defence. Someone always does. But free speech doesn't mean we're not RESPONSIBLE for the things we say, and their potential impact on people. I am "free" to tell my mom I hate her and wish she was dead (for the record, I'm using that as an EXAMPLE, I don't actually think that about her), but I'm not going to because that's really, really hurtful. In fact, when free speech is available, I believe it is the speaker's responsibility to choose wisely. You know, the whole Spiderman "with great power comes great responsibility" bit.

As Canadians, I believe part of our national identity is that we are, on average, supposed to be "nice people". There's nothing nice about what's going on here. As a Canadian, as a hockey fan, as a human being that believes the world has enough hate floating around already: this is unacceptable, and inexcusable.  

I also think that this does hockey a huge disfavour: with the recent "You Can Play" project, elite hockey players are speaking up against homophobia. There is a lot of talk about how it's troubling that in this day and age, there are still no openly gay NHL players. I can't even imagine what reading these comments would be like to a player who isn't "out", regardless of what team they're on (statistically speaking, if the NHL remotely reflect the general population, there's probably on average one or two gay players on EVERY team's roster). 

Before some of you resort to the "but when I call someone a faggot, it's just words I'm used to using, it has nothing to do with gays" or "but my friend/brother/sister/whatever is gay and they know I love them", please think about why the gay community (or any other group who has to put up with abusive language that's commonly used in society) should have to put up with your limited vocabulary. There are lots of other insults you can throw around, insults that doesn't come with the baggage of years of marginalization and persecution. You can be funny or angry or lash out at a hockey twitter account without resorting to any of that. 

Let's turn up the hockey cheering, and turn down the hate, yeah?

Note: Much thanks to George Laraque, Matt Moulson, You Can Play Team, Patrick Burke, Aishah Simmons, Not Another Hockey Blog, Puckdaddys, and many, many, MANY more who shared this blog.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A hopeful lefty: An oxymoron in Alberta?

This morning I woke up to no fewer than six different people having posted on FB lamenting about a poll showing a lead for the Wildrose

From the article: "The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday through an online panel of 1,050 respondents and shows the right-wing Wildrose at 43 per cent of decided voters, the PCs at 30, the New Democrats at 12 and the Liberals at 11 per cent province-wide. Of those sampled, 19 per cent were undecided."

Unless we can now force people to participate in online surveys, how is this remotely a random sample? In a first-past-the-post electoral system, and a poll of that sample size, this tells us almost nothing about the strength of individual campaigns. I've become generally bored of the endless stream of "polls" indicating this or that. From my perspective, they seem to serve no purpose other than fear-mongering (well, for those of us on the left, anyways; on the right the impact is more a call-to-action). This is problematic for me, as an NDPer, as the reaction of like-minded individuals seems to be hopelessness and despair, while at the same time it galvanizes the right (the PCs react to these polls with "oh my god, we have to do something to fix it" and the WR gains momentum). 

Perhaps I'm just weird, but I actually have more hope now than ever. There's vote-splitting on the right! Votes for the WR are certainly not being drawn from core NDP support; when I see a WR sign, I see that as a "not PC" sign. In some ridings, growing WR support may well contribute to an NDP victory. 

Now that I've brought up vote-splitting, strategic voting also needs to be addressed. I must confess: I used to be a believer. I used to think that a vote that didn't result in a winner was a wasted vote. But I don't believe that anymore, both logically and morally, because strategic voting is a compromise that pushes me to the right. Liberals in Alberta are, in my opinion, already further to the right than elsewhere in Canada, in part because they want to appeal to more voters. In the current election, they are led by someone who was elected as a PC! The NDP and Liberals in Alberta are NOT the same thing. Not remotely close. Certainly not close enough to justify "strategic" voting.

Is a vote for a candidate that doesn't win really "wasted"? On the surface it seems that way. But I think that each vote still carries weight, because the margin of victory and HOW the vote is split matters in terms of how a representative must respond to their constituents. Lets say a PC candidate is elected with 40% of the vote. I would think he'd have to work with his constituents in a different way in a scenario where 35% of the vote went to the Liberals and 15% went to the NDPer, versus if 35% of the vote when to the NDPer and 15% to the Liberal. I would go as far as to argue that the latter scenario forces the representative to accommodate more "lefty" concerns. By voting according to your personal political beliefs, even if your candidate does not win, your vote still has impact on how a riding is represented. It also indicates to the rest of the world that you will not compromise on your values.

Another problem with strategic voting is that it assumes that the quality of candidates are equal in terms of their suitability to represent people, and completely dismisses the fact that individual candidates need to EARN votes, regardless of party. I was recently involved in a conversation about Edmonton Mill Woods. Someone asserted that "the only choice if you want a non-PC MLA is the Liberal". (Full disclosure: I am working on the Edmonton Mill Woods NDP campaign for Sandra Azocar. But this blog and these views are my own.) Given that Weslyn Mather had already had a chance as an MLA for Mill Woods, and lost her seat to Carl Benito (and we all know how well he turned out), why on earth would anyone think she is well-suited now to represent the riding? In this article, Mather points the finger at her own supporters for her failure to hang on to the seat in 2008: "She blames her 2008 loss on supporters not bothering to vote." I'm sorry she lost her seat by a slim margin, but I think she needs to be taking responsibility for failing to get the vote out on election day. Each vote must be earned; to blame "supporters" for not voting epitomizes the stereotypes of politicians taking those they serve for granted. People don't vote because candidates don't give them good enough reasons to do so. I am really, really sick of the whole "let's blame it on the voters" excuse. Low voter turnouts are a systematic problem; a symptom of the broken political landscape, and "people not caring enough to vote" is a failure of all the parties to provide people a compelling enough reason to go to the polls. 

Someone recently joked (or at least, I hope it was a joke) that perhaps to keep the Wildrose out, a "strategic vote" may be one for the PCs. It's clear to me that this would be compromising ourselves into something unrecognizable. As progressive Albertan's we've compromised too far, and for too long. Come election day, I hope that each of us votes consistently with our values, because without those values, all hope really would be lost.   

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Quinoa Mushroom Risotto

I don't usually buy into food fads or whatever, but I had heard enough about quinoa to think it might be worthwhile to give it a try. Before this I had only eaten it in a salad, which was good, but nothing to get excited about. But then I heard that you can use it as a rice substitute... and that opened a whole bunch of doors... Note: I ramble a bit, but it's a good reflection of what I actually do in the kitchen...

This will serve four people... recipe is as I made it (I don't really measure anything when cooking, so consider all this approximations); below the recipe are suggestions for variations. 

This will be easiest in a large non-stick skillet.

3 cups cooked quinoa (I was super happy to discover that you can cook quinoa in the rice cooker; 2 parts water to each part grain. I cooked mine in chicken broth I had handy, but you can pretty much cook it in whatever).

2 cups raw sliced mushrooms (I used mini portas, but you can use whatever mix of mushroom you like. I think this would taste fabulous with lobster mushrooms...)

1/2 cup diced onion (I prefer sweet, but it's onion, doesn't matter that much)

4-infinite cloves garlic, chopped (I like my garlicky, but others may not. Personally, I don't believe there is such a thing as too much garlic.)

1/2 of a small tub of cream cheese (I used Philly Lite).

1/4-1/2 cup milk or cream (depends how saucy you like your risotto)

Blob of butter for sautéing. Use olive oil if you want it to be a smidgen healthier.

Heat skillet on medium-high. Throw on butter or oil. Once heated through, throw in onion. I like my onions just short of burnt, so I cook them a while before adding mushrooms. Continue cooking until mushrooms are to desired doneness (my mushroom desires vary depending on the varieties of mushrooms involved). Add chopped garlic. I like my garlic potent, so I only stir it around for 30 seconds before continuing; however, if you like your garlic flavour milder (it sweetens as it cooks, but loses it punch), add it earlier/cook it longer. Dump in the quinoa; heat through. Turn down to low heat. Throw in cheese; add milk/cream  as needed to prevent cheese burn. Mix it all around. Salt and pepper to taste. If it's not cheesy/saucy enough, add more cream cheese/milk/cream. 

This is how I made it for a late quick dinner (I already had cooked quinoa handy).

Suggested variations:

You can of course, throw in all kinds of other vegetables and meat. Spinach would be tasty, or maybe small chopped bits of cauliflower/broccoli. I was tempted to throw in some chicken, but then got lazy. Shrimp would be tasty; but for god's sake, don't overcook shrimp, everyone in Alberta seems to overcook shrimp (except for Olga). 

At the onions/mushrooms sautéing stage, you can toss it a few dribbles of balsamic vinegar and let that reduce. I also sometimes throw in a few squirts of Worcestershire sauce. If you want a show, you can throw on some wine or vodka and flambé it at this point too.

A spoonful of curry powder with the cheese adding would turn this into a fusion dish. You can also get creative by adding whatever herbs/spices you find in the cabinet (I would normally do this, but it was late and I was lazy). Parmesan seems like a reasonable addition, but I find it often overpowers; it would make it all clumpier so you may have to compensate with more liquids.

Anyways, I've rambled on enough; I don't think you can really get this wrong... throw stuff in a pan, cook until tasty :)

Monday, 2 January 2012

Departure depression

I love going places, but I hate the leaving. This is true even of home, mostly because of the dog. This post is about leaving my other home; my original home.

Leaving Hong Kong is different than leaving any other place. Perhaps its because it was the first place I really knew; my original home. My uncle Hay, his wife, and little girl live in the apartment I was brought home to from the hospital. The hotel I stay at when I'm in town is just down the street from that building. The smell of the MTR (HK's subway) is my exemplar for what underground transit is supposed to smell like. The most common flavours of ice cream here are (in addition to vanilla), mango and coconut (which is what I wish was the case everywhere).

Something in me changes when I'm in this city. I walk faster. My tolerance for shopping increases (though is still low, compared to my shopper friends). I'm impatient with tourists behaving dumbly as pedestrians (another post about this is in the works). For a brief time, I live an approximation of the life I would have had if we had not immigrated to Canada.

I don't think I would enjoy living here for any prolonged period of time, but I always get departure depression. It's probably because I really adore dad's side of the family; even at age 32, all my uncles and aunts (and even many of my younger cousins) spoil me to pieces. My desires become the primary decision-making influence when it comes to meals (and my family really loves eating).

It may well be easier if I ever had the opportunity to see even a few of these people over the rest of the year (Cecelia, Stanley, Doris: COME VISIT ME ALREADY!!!! Yes, I'm calling you out publicly!!!!), but no one from my dad's family has come visiting since 2002 when my dad was in Edmonton for my wedding. Admittedly, when I'm actually in Edmonton I don't think about my HK family that much; but when I'm about to leave town and not see them again for at least a year, it's hard not to be a big ball of teary mush about it.

The thing is, there's nothing that can be done (other than try to guilt-trip people into coming to see me). I have a life in Edmonton, one that I enjoy and is full of friends I love, not to mention 1.5 dogs who I miss the second I leave the city.

So there is nothing to be done, other than to accept that a little piece of myself will always and forever be tied to this place. The mini-heartbreak of coming and going will simply be a part of my life experience on a regular basis. Unless we develop transporter technology.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year's resolutions: a totally self-indulgent post

New Years resolutions feel often like a procrastinator's desperate attempt to appear non-procrastinaty once a year.

Well, I'm pretty darn good at procrastinating, so perhaps an annual ritual of pretending not to be such a person might actually be a good thing. Besides, perhaps thinking a bit about what I might want to do over the upcoming year is good exercise given the year of changes 2011 unexpectedly turned out to be...

Back in September, I turned 32. According to this random life expectancy calculator Google found me, I can expect to live until I am 85 (longer if I get my butt off the couch more frequently, by far my biggest health issue is that I am not active enough). So lets just assume I have 53 years left to go, give or take.

That's a lot of time. But I've also lived a lot of years (my apologies to those who have been around longer, this isn't meant to be a slight), and on this first day of 2012, I find myself without a job, and much more significantly, without a clear sense of what meaning I want to bring to my existence on this planet in terms of how I might contribute professionally.

So, a few days ago, I decided that given that I have the means and a safety net, it's time to stop seeking traditional employment. I'm kinda sick of being told "you're great, but we don't want to hire you". I am confident enough in my abilities (thanks to the lovely reassurances of friends, this must be acknowledged), that I would have decent odds of being successful being self-employed. So with my lovely father's support, I have decided I will go get a realtor's license.

I struggle a little with the idea of reinventing myself professionally in a field that isn't exactly known for its activism and social justice contributions. That said, I know that for me, money does buy a significant degree of happiness (mostly in terms of my desire to convert financial resources into food-related experiences). As many writers of books on happiness point out, sure, money certainly does not guarantee happiness, however, it does make its achievement significantly more likely. Also, my involvement with activism and working in non-profit has left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth (and apparently, on shitloads of email lists that I don't want to be on), so I am okay with selling out. I'll worry about fixing the world once I've got my own life in order. I think I'd be pretty darn good at real estate, and I love the idea of a successful day being that I helped find someone a space to make a home.

Resolution #1: Get a real estate license. 
Commitment: aiming for license in six months.

Speaking of homes, mine is a disaster. Some advice: if you ever split with your partner, you may want to think about the advantages of being the one that moves out; the most significant one being that when you're the one leaving, you simply take what you actually want and leave the rest. When you're the one that keeps the space, you also end up with all the stuff that NEITHER of you wanted. I need to purge, purge, purge. So, when I'm back in the country, I will be starting a weekly online garage sale/giveaway.

Resolution #2: Reduce materialistic burden by not owning so much crap. 
Commitment: weekly purging of at least 3 items (and I will try not to cheat by getting rid of three tiny things just to make my quota).

Resolution #2a: When something comes in to my possession, something must go out.
Commitment: treat the ownership of material things like eating and pooping.

I love books, and I love reading. This one will be easy, as its something I suspect I do at this approximate scale anyways:

Resolution #3: Read every day; finish a book a week.
Commitment: post reviews, share with others.

And as always, attempt to write more:

Resolution #4: Blog twice a week; attempt to write daily (blog or otherwise).
Commitment: actually post shit on my blog twice a week.

Taking care of myself: needs improvement.

Resolution #5: Increase activity level over time. This is deliberate vague yet unidirectional to encourage actually being able to accomplish such a thing. 
Commitment: do shit that will make me die later rather than sooner.

Related to taking care of myself:

Resolution #6: Care less. Seriously. Especially about people and things who, in the end, doesn't really matter in the context of my life and my values.
Commitment: care less about things beyond my control, and things that even if are in my control, aren't worth the effort. Summarized by "fuck it"!

So... anyone want to be on my accountability team? (This means nagging an appropriate amount if you catch me failing to stick with the six items above). I pay in cookies.