Thursday, September 21, 2017

Worth Reading - September 21, 2017

Steve Paikin raises the question of whether or not we might see a NDP government in Ontario in 2018. 

Aaron Wherry breaks down the NDP leadership race

Chantal Hebert questions whether or not Jagmeet Singh will be the next leader of the NDP. 

The Vancouver Sun reports on some of the feelings of Sikh Canadians on Jagmeet Singh. 

The Manitoba government will amend a law that banned floor crossing

Metrolinx continues to struggle to provide Ontario's urban core with effective transit

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

TV Review: Ozark

Sincere apologies for missing last week's Worth Reading. I got bogged down in family business and didn't have time to put it together. I should be fine for this Thursday.

This week I was requested to write about Netflix's original series Ozark. given how rare a request is I feel compelled to follow-up and talk about a show that I found very enjoyable.

I have heard a few comparisons between Ozark and Breaking Bad. I think the point of comparison might be instructive given my response to both. I'll return to this idea later.

Ozark has a simple premise (sort of). Chicago-based financial advisors who double as money launderers for the second largest cartel in Mexico. Their liaison, Del, in the pilot arrives at their office to accuse them of theft. The volume of cash involved is difficult to fathom, transported in bundles in oil drums. even a light skim would be an incredible amount of wealth.

Our protagonist, Marty Byrde (played by Jason Bateman), seems like an honest criminal. His partner has been stealing without Marty's knowledge. Marty seems detached, disinterested and the boring one compared to his flashy, fast-talking partner. Del wipes out the whole company except for Marty who, in a desperate moment, promises to launder the entire cartel's money - an incredible sum - through new opportunities in Missouri. The Ozarks offers a massive amount of waterfront property, ripe for investment and development. The show repeats the factoid that the Ozarks have more shoreline than California.

One of the things I like best about Ozark is that it shows a fascinating set of intersections in a part of America that is rarely depicted except in a comedic instance. Ozark is rural, poor, and "Southern", but many of the same themes from the scenes in Chicago carry over: greed, crime, graft, and corruption. Ozark is, in many ways, about crime and how class and geography shape the form crime takes. the trailer park petty criminals exist alongside the high-end cartels, but exist at very different standings.

Marty is a high-end white collar criminal. One interesting aspect to the show is that Marty Byrde avoids violence as much as he can. He has no taste for it. Like many white collar criminals he's in it for the money and perhaps the thrill, but he's not a monster. The show toys with the morality of his and his family's position. How responsible is the money launderer for the suffering and violence of the cartel?

On that note, the show is a simple fish out of water story which features a strong cast of local characters.  Marty, his wife (Laura Linney), his fifteen-year-old daughter and young son do not belong, nor particularly like the Ozarks, but are forced to live double lives in order to avoid utter destruction. The three eldest in particular to adapt to the local culture, which in their eyes are backwards rednecks. Marty must navigate the capitalist and financial realities of the region in order to clean enough money to save his family.

Now let's turn to the comparisons to Breaking Bad and why I think this show could be superior in my estimation. Ozark is chopped full of interesting, fun characters. Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde is perfect in his fast-talking scheming ways. There is hardly a finer moment in the show than when Marty is launching into a monologue trying to bully someone or manipulate them. I found Bateman's haggard, desperate performance leavened with just the right amount of humour. While I never warmed to Laura Linney's character, Wendy, I appreciated her character's motivations and struggles as an interesting aspect to the plot. Even the two children have arcs that reveal more about the family and their new setting. The Langmore family, and in particular Ruth (played by Julia Garner) add grit and consequence to the story of the Byrde's disruption of the Ozarks.

One of the reasons I like this television series better than Breaking Bad is because I enjoy the characters. I can understand Marty Byrde in a way I never could with Walter White. I disliked every character on that show and took little pleasure in their triumphs or failures. Early on I was totally sold on the Byrde family and the people they pull into their orbits. I want to see their journeys and how they end up. Ozark feels grounded in a sort of troubling reality while Breaking Bad felt like it had chemistry and little else to lend it credibility.

I am eager to see what the future of this series is and would highly recommend it to those who think the themes discussed above in a crime drama would appeal to them.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Why Writing About Politics has Been Harder Since 2016

As much as I wish it was not the case I have found this blog more difficult to maintain over the last few months. Some of it, I have no doubt, is personal. My life now is far less conducive than it once was to reading and writing regularly. It was easier in some ways to write the blog three years ago when I was working full-time and had lots of demands on me than now when I am tragically, painfully underemployed. But this post isn't about my personal life, I think I'd like to talk more explicitly about my willingness to engage and debate politics in the current era.

Let's get the orange elephant out of the way. Donald Trump's disruptive effect on the body politic is often stomach-turning. I have heard political theorists state that creating a sense of crisis or constant disorder keeps the public off balance and gives governments a freer hand in the exercise of power. I in no way can credit the Trump administration with that level of foresight. What I can say is that the way the America (and sometimes the world) stumbles and falls into crisis after crisis is draining. It is exhausting.

A human being only has so much bandwidth. Even for the most engaged there is only so much a person can pay attention and care about. As a person who tries to get people to care about incredibly dry subjects I understand this innately. I wish I could say that this was a simple process of eliminating the irrelevant, but it's not. I have not poked my head into the North Korea news in the last month because I don't think my brain could process it at present.

I went through a similar phenomenon actually about eight years ago. Before 2009/2010 I used to follow American politic extremely closely. However, in the wake of Obama's election the healthcare broke my ability to stomach more news. Despite its importance and the fact that I supported health care reform watching the drama unfold literally over months left me burned out.

As much as I'd like to blame the Yankees alone in this I must say our own politics has left me feeling downtrodden as well. I really dislike our Prime Minister. I dislike him because like many New Democrats I feared precisely the current state of affairs. Elected on a long list of promises he appears to have become the vanguard of the status quo on a number of important files. The sabotage of electoral reform was a major blow. Trudeau and the Liberals have left a long string of bad decisions and broken promises that seem to be plunging back into the same, repeating cycle of bad policies.

Ontario is not much better. A tired Liberal government grinds forward. Its chronic mismanagement and politicking means that its good policy babies are going to get tossed out with its scandal-riddled bathwater in the near future.

Municipally hasn't been much better. Brampton's City Council continues to disappoint. New, bizarre problems with the city administration seem to constantly pop up, and it feels as though the political leaders are waiting for the 2018 elections to sort out their differences. Toronto likewise has continued a series of bad policies as the City Council there and Mayor Tory have tried to find the centrist middle consensus and stomach bad policies continuing.

Twitter was my go to home for political engagement, but now it is a din of disappointment and frustration and anger. I am a person who has constantly encouraged people to engage in the political sphere. I think engagement is a public good in and of itself, but it comes at a cost. It costs us time, and energy, and intellect and it costs us our will.

This isn't a final post before some hiatus. I just wished to share why sitting at my keyboard and typing for this blog is harder sometimes than others, and not just because I have no idea what the hell to write. Keep on staying engaged friends, but it's okay to unplug.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Worth Reading - September 7, 2017

Steve Paikin lays out Kathleen Wynne's position going towards the next provincial election

There was an anti-Islam and anti-hate counter protest in London, Ontario recently. 

Here is Althia Raj's profile of NDP leadership candidate Guy Caron

As millions of students go back to university Steve Paikin asks what the purpose of university is

How Justin Trudeau's governing style mimics Stephen Harper's

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

TV Review: Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On

Hot Girls Wanted was a 2015 documentary that Netflix produced into a six episode documentary series. In advance I will warn the reader that the series deals with explicit sexual content so those who may be offended should likely avoid it. The series was the work of Rashida Jones, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus.

If I had to describe the series I could say it displays the gritty intersection between modern sexuality and technology (especially the internet and smart phones). From my perspective the documentary is tasteful and explores topics like pornography and sex without showing excessive nudity.

I think the way human sexuality has been filtered through technology over the last 20 years is fascinating. Moreover, I think the reciprocal effects this has had on our culture is fairly disturbing. The documentarians go out of their way to highlight relevant statistics that illustrate the content they are sharing. For example, the prevalence and widespread use of porn, the accessibility to and interest minors have with pornography, and the cultural implications of pornography.

I figure at this stage it would probably be best to give you an idea of what each episode deals with. In the first episode they discuss feminist porn/porn produced by women and how the changing business model of pornography is making it more difficult. Episode two looks at casual dating apps like Tindr and its impact upon relationships. Episode three looks at the world of 'talent' recruitment in pornography and the way the industry chews up young women. The fourth takes a look at male talent in the pornography business, but also the disturbing depictions of race and women within mainstream porn. The fifth looks at camgirls and the relationships that form between models and their big donors. It does this by looking at one pair in particular who meet in person. Finally, the last episode examines the court case of a young woman who recorded a rape and streamed it on the internet.

I can easily see how some readers of my blog will be repulsed by these topics. It's not exactly the regular fare of this blog, certainly. One point that the documentarians return to again and again is the ubiquity of porn. If it isn't a part of your life than it is part of most of those close to you and it is shaping the society you live in. Episode two is probably the most accessible for those who wish to avoid graphic content.

The show is at times ugly and unpleasant, but also contains within it genuine emotion beyond pity and sadness and shame. Pornography and sex is still deeply rooted in shame. Despite the social acceptance of it, to a certain degree, those who participate in it, profit from it, produce and feature in it will be tarred. Given its widespread appeal I think the documentary challenges our inherent hypocrisy on that. 

I find monitoring and observing our changing attitudes about sex, sexuality, romance, and love to be perhaps one of the most compelling topics that one could explore at present. I would love to see Turned On do many more seasons. I highly recommend it to those interested in these topics and with a constitution to match the content. Give this provocative series a watch and hope that they can continue to dig into these ideas.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Worth Reading - August 31, 2017

Northern Ontarians are pressing for better political representation, or perhaps independence

Althia Raj writes that Jagmeet Singh's success at signing up members may not be enough to secure a quick victory

Though perhaps to throw more cold water on the Jagmeet Singh story above, there is this article accusing the Singh campaign of inflating their membership numbers

Many of us dream of moving to a place that we believe conforms better to our values and sensibilities. This is a story of a woman who decided to make her home, Tulsa, better than moving to her idea, Portland. 

In an interview Guy Caron, NDP leadership candidate, lays out his vision for the future of Canada's economy. 

Margaret Atwood recently spoke out on housing policy in Toronto, John Michael McGrath offers his critical response. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Update on the NDP Leadership Race

The New Democratic Party released its membership information in the lead up to the leadership vote this fall. These numbers matter now because they will the party members eligible to cast ballots for the next leader of the party.

Impressively the membership has reached 124000 members, which roughly puts it back to where it was at the 2012 leadership race. For many observers the success in the party in getting new/renewed members was somewhat surprising. Since the 2015 election and the ousting of Tom Mulcair the party has felt somewhat listless. Anecdotally the members I have met have not felt optimistic about the party moving into the future. That's not to say the party is dead, I think the average member now sees government as out of reach for the next little while.

However, as the leadership race has moved on I have heard New Democrats expressing greater pleasure with the candidates in the race. I think for many, as with the Conservative leadership race, it felt like the A-team sat this one out. I think it's clear though that the four candidates grew during the race and expanded their abilities and reach. While coming from a place of bias, I am hearing more and more positive feedback about Guy Caron after his debate performances and a series of strong endorsements.

Barring any further withdrawals from the race the competition is between Charlie Angus (NDP - Timmins-James Bay, ON), Niki Ashton (NDP - Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, MB), Guy Caron (NDP - Rimouski-Neigette-Temiscourata-Les Basques, QC), and Jagmeet Singh (ONDP - Bramalea-Gore-Malton).

The party also announced the geographic distribution of its membership. It is as follows:

British Columbia
New Brunswick
Newfoundland and Labrador
Nova Scotia
Northwest Territories
Prince Edward Island

There are areas clearly where the NDP needs to do a better job in recruiting members and building the grassroots. Clearly Atlantic Canada and the North needs some attention by dedicated activists. Sadly, so does Quebec. Areas of strength are not all that surprising. British Columbia is freshly out of an election campaign and has a new NDP government, Ontario is the country's largest province and has two leadership candidates who call it home. Alberta could have stronger numbers, but it has its own government and Manitoba is home to Niki Ashton and a recent NDP government.

Geography doesn't matter in the NDP race as the election will use one member one vote. Still, this may suggest that Jagmeet Singh's efforts to sign up new members in Ontario and BC has paid off handsomely. CBC has a nice write up here. In the discussion you can see that party memberships are down across the country but up starkly in Ontario.

Looking at these numbers I cannot help but feel this provides more evidence for why a system like the Conservatives used would better serve the party. Right now this race looks like who can win over the GTA and Greater Vancouver.

As I said in an earlier post there is not a tremendous amount of information we can go off of. Jagmeet Singh and Charlie Angus can definitely be considered the top contenders, but we cannot be certain. A huge percentage of members are undecided and we are three weeks away from the vote. We now know who may be voting, even if we have no ability to predict how they will vote.