Thursday, November 16, 2017

Worth Reading - November 16, 2017

Some humour to start, The Beaverton reports that General Sir Isaac Brock's final wish was to have a 'mediocre' university named in his honour. 

Macleans writes that the Trudeau Liberals may be running out of steam as they reach the half-way mark. 

The Scarborough subway is a terrible, no-good idea and a monstrous waste of public energy and money. But hey, it's going ahead anyway

Aaron Wherry looks at how the Liberals are doing at fulfilling their promises to Canadians. 

Adam Radwanski writes that the culture has swung from one extreme to the other to bad results. 

Jen Gerson articulates a thought that haunts me. We are the greatest threat to democracy

Hadiya Rodrique pens a piece talking about her experiences as a black woman in Toronto's professional circles. 

A teaching assistant is under scrutiny for using video clips that illustrate a debate on language from TVO.   

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Morality and Foreign Policy

Before I write this all out I should say that I am undecided on this topic. It began as reflecting on a series of news items over the last couple of weeks. In the end this may end up as more of a Devil's advocate piece, or just reflect some evolution in my thinking.

In Western democracies we often use sanctions, political or economic, to penalize governments who violate human rights or operate outside of the geopolitical concert. It's a tricky balance riddled with hypocrisy. There are glaring examples of these contradictions, such as Chinese and Cuban relations with the United States.

Countries exist within a spectrum of human rights. The willingness of us to tolerate a government's human rights abuses seems inversely proportional to its economic importance. We make arms deals with Saudi Arabia and trade with increasingly autocratic Turkey, while we help overthrow the government of Libya and sanction Iran.

However our policies can be slow to respond or adapt, especially when European states are involved, or a big economic relationship is in play. Hungary has been going down a troubling path for years now but there is no calls to discipline them.

For decades there have been questions about the effectiveness of these policies. South Korea and China have improved in their human rights and grown their economies as the world has entered and trade increased. Cuba, Iran, and North Korea seem to have become more and more entrenched as the sanctions dragged on. Sanctions hurt the wrong people and enrich the elite.

I'm not suggesting we sell nuclear technology to North Korea or weapons systems to Iran. What I am doing is questioning the utility of broad sanctions. Sanctions and penalties may make sense for regimes that employ slave labour or terribly exploitative worker practices because giving access to our market only encourages these abuses.

The logic of sanctions also raises questions. Cuba and North Korea, as examples, have been under broad sanctions for decades. They have failed to bring down their regimes. Will four more decades improve the situation or condemn generations to poverty and backwardness? Eventually under this logic doesn't regime change become imperative? If forty years of economic hardship is justified isn't the use of force to compel regime change? Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate the folly of such interventions, but laying endless economic siege hardly seems worthwhile either. In the case of some countries the sanctions are so strict all that is left is military force for negotiation.

Part of my writing on this was inspired by some of the coverage of President Duterte of the Philippines. The man seems a brutal, awful man, but should we let that define our relationship with the 103 million Filipinos?

To a certain extent, especially in semi-democratic/democratic countries it feels like punishment for their choices. It is a grand scale of election meddling. Say Canada put something in place to sanction Duterte, does the government remove them if a challenger beats him in the next election?

As cold as the calculus is it might be worthwhile to consider the opportunity costs for Canada in these sanctions. What options are being abandoned for a system that has not truly proven to be effective? I know in recent years sanctions have targeted leaders rather than countries. In that instance at least I can see a correlation. However, with over one hundred and ninety countries no blockade is tight, so I think it would be worthwhile to consider our effectiveness and intentions when we call for bans, boycotts, sanctions and penalties on those regimes we find odious.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Worth Reading - November 9, 2017

As we examine questions around housing affordability, a writer at Strong Towns suggests that we might need to make 'lower quality' housing an option to reduce price. 

This week marked the centennial of the Russian Revolution, Anne Applebaum offered some of her thoughts on the topic in the Washington Post. 

In local Brampton news, Gurpreet Dhillon is switching offices, or trying to, in the next municipal election. 

This week incumbent mayor Denis Coderre lost re-election to a challenger, and Chantal Hebert suggests it could be a warning to the elite of Montreal. 

Jagmeet Singh has come out in favour of wide drug legalization

This piece is a little bit older, but it suggests the five things Singh must do now that he leads the NDP.

Martin Regg Cohn writes about Ontario's approach to cannabis legalization. 

The Toronto Star has two different takes on the 'zombie' law which targets pedestrians using their phones while crossing the street. Here is one in support. Here is one against

The Greater Toronto Region is becoming more geographically divided by wealth and polarizing between extremes. 

Research suggests there is an unknown chamber inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Consolidation of Culture

I had a pair of conversations this week that goes together with some recent news that I found irritating. The news was that the Disney Corporation may be seeking to buy out 21st Century Fox.  The conversations with my friend involved the artistic hollowness and shallowness of the film industry and culture more broadly.

I would like to think I am not a terribly naive person. Popular culture is a business enterprise. That's fine, since the time of patrons and master craftsmen artists have needed supporters to financially back them. But for those who love to the market it might be time to consider the consolidation of our cultural industries.

An alarmingly small number of massive corporations produce most of our popular culture, especially in the areas of film and television. Furthermore, these companies are often deeply entwined with one another in business deals and frequently share common interests. If you want to see the twists copyright laws they are a good case in point. Disney perhaps is the peak of these oligarchs, and I fear nostalgia and positive associations deflects much of its criticism.

Defenders of, or those comfortable with, these few titans dominating our cultural life might point to the "meritocracy" of services like Twitch or YouTube which allow 'anybody' to find their own audience and create content and share it widely. Both are platforms owned by massive companies, Amazon and Google respectively. We have many example of creators running afoul of these company and losing their businesses, demolishing the illusion of their independence. Market concentration has made competition incredibly difficult as has the simple reality of creating such a service in 2017.

While many enjoy the products of these few dominant media companies the consolidation and death of meaningful competition is a concern. Disney has being pressuring distributors for special treatment for the upcoming Star Wars film. Though distribution is also problematic, this can happen as companies become excessively dominant in the market. The space for small, independent artists is dictated by large companies over again. A rich culture is a diverse culture that takes risks. It may be time to shatter the oligarchy that dictates the terms for the films and television we watch.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Worth Reading - November 2, 2017

Sorry for missing the Tuesday post. Hallowe'en is a big holiday for me and between work and finishing off decorations and a costume I lost track of time.

Toronto City Council appointed a replacement for the departed Pam McConnell, Edward Keenan suggests their conduct was unsavoury

Samara Canada released some research on the topic of heckling this week. 

Strong Towns looks at the collapse of the shopping mall and its impact

Strong Towns takes a look at the idea of fine-grained versus coarse-grained urbanism. 

Steve Paikin writes about how the Ontario Liberals are struggling with democracy in its own party

Senator Jeff Flake made a splash with his speech on American political life. The New Yorker answers back with this piece on the GOP's complicity in the Trump era

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Worth Reading - October 26, 2017

Google's proposal for Toronto's waterfront would bring it back to the 19th century. 

Adam Radwanski writes about how the by-election bribery trial was a waste of time

Paul Wells offers his take on Bill 62

The New Republic calls Trump out for being a weak president

Edward Keenan writes about term limits for municipal politicians. 

A Dalhousie student faced critical backlash after criticizing Canadian history and in specific White Canadians

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Bill 62 is a Disgrace

Bill 62 is a disgrace. In the fullness of time it will be seen in the same light as separate drinking fountains for different races. It is a clear, cowardly attack on a cultural practice that applies only to a tiny minority.

In case you are unaware Bill 62 is a Quebec piece of legislation that will prohibit those covering their faces from receiving or providing public services on behalf of the government. While I appreciate Quebec has  a different tradition of secularism than English Canada it is hard not to see this as a targeted hit against Muslims.  I sincerely doubt the framers of the law had any concerns about excessively observant Catholic nuns in mind. The law is clearly intended to penalize Muslim women.

My values tell me that the state shouldn't be in the business of dictating our clothes (aside from basic decency). The hue and cry that these sorts of laws are intended to protect and liberate women seem, at best, paternalistic. In modern Canada we all access government services constantly. From buses to police officers, from driver's licenses to permit clerks, we frequently have to interact with public servants and depend upon their work.

In a secular society it is not required for the people not to profess their values or hide their religion, rather, it is the government that should be neutral and fair. This law hardly perpetuates the idea that Quebec government is an unbiased party. Instead it seeks to punish those who do not conform to its preferred group.

As a feminist raised in the West I do not like the niqab or the burka. At first blush they seems to be in the long tradition of controlling women's bodies and sexuality. That being said, I have no intent or desire to ban them or badger women who wear them. Nor would I prohibit mini-skirts for the opposite reasons. It's not my place. I've spoken with women who wear head coverings. They have been consistent that it is a choice they have made, and that they like it.

Quebec could do much for the Muslim women in its society. This act seems a declaration that a small subset and the broader community do not belong. While the law is likely to be struck down by the courts it would send a more powerful message for elected leaders to repeal it. I doubt that will happen. However, sometimes moral courage appears at surprising times.