Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Have a Holly Jolly Anti-Capitalist Christmas

If you're anything like me, you spend the holiday season doing your best to avoid participating in the annual orgy of consumerism known as Christmas. The simple strategy to achieve this is to avoid buying presents for anyone at all. However, issues tend to arise when you apply this principle to close family members who have truly bought into the 'presents=love' mentality. Here are three things you can do with your family this year to avoid feeding the insatiable greed beast that is capitalism:
  1. Have an anti-capitalist gift exchange. Everyone in the family either makes a gift to give or gives away something they already own. You can distribute the presents any way you want (ex. secret Santa). This ritual will hopefully inspire your family with creativity and give them a lot more joy and bring you closer together than exchanging store bought presents ever could.

  2. Another cheap or free way to have your family give each other something meaningful is to put together a family mix CD. I know that mix CDs are a little out of date in 2010, but your parents still haven't figured out how cassette tapes work, so they won't mind. Divide the 80 minutes that make up a CD-R into as many parts as you have family members. For example, if you have five family members, that's 16 minutes each. Then have each person pick enough songs to fill up their allotment and write a short description for each song and an explanation of why it is meaningful to them. Collect all the song choices and burn them onto a CD, collect all the write ups and make a booklet, and then make enough copies for every family member.

  3. Deliver Christmas hampers for the Christmas Cheer Board (or equivalent organization). Driving around with your family delivering hampers is the perfect opportunity to listen to that mix CD you all made together!

I will being doing all three of the above activities this Xmas and Jacquie gets full credit for coming up with the first two.

What rituals do you engage in during the yuletide with your family and friends?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Vasecotmy Saga: The Quest...Ends?

In my last vasectomy-related post, I talked about why I wanted to get a vasectomy and my experience of trying to obtain one from one Dr. Jason. He turned out to be a bust, but I was not demoralized and moved on to the next vasectomy doctor on my list: Dr. Billinkoff.

Billinkoff is the king of vasectomies in Winnipeg. His website is relatively modern and professional looking and it even includes a very informative and unintentionally hilarious pre-appointment video (the password is "patient"). I thought that he would be so slick and focused on getting patients in and out of his clinic as fast as possible that he would look past my young age and lack of children and give me the vasectomy of my dreams.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Billinkoff managed to be even more patronizing and dismissive than Dr. Jason was. He didn't care that I had done a ton of research or that I had made the decision not to have children many years ago. He told me to come back when I was 28. He also said that he only performs vasectomies on men of my age who had demonstrated a severe lack of responsibility by fathering several children by several different women. And therefore, because I had demonstrated that I am a mature and responsible cock owner, I am ineligible to make the responsible and mature decision to get a vasectomy (I'm paraphrasing slightly). Pointing out the illogical nature of Billinkoff's arguments did nothing to sway him. I left his office that September afternoon feeling very frustrated indeed.

After Billinkoff, there was only one vasectomy doctor left in the entire city: Dr. Milner at the Assiniboine Clinic. I was completely stunned when as soon as Milner started talking he seemed to be speaking to me as if I was an adult. He understood that I had done the research necessary and that I had been rejected by two other doctors but had remained steadfast. What may have been the deciding factor, though, was that Milner will soon be retiring so there's almost no chance that he'll be the one to perform the reversal surgery if I have a post-op change of heart. Now, all I have to do is wait until March when the actual surgery takes place.

Although I'm elated that my quest was a success and I'm happy to share the good news with you that if you'd like to get a vasectomy and are youngish you can go to Milner, I'm on some level disappointed that I won't be able to use the restriction on male reproductive rights to start a public awareness campaign or a claim of human rights violation. Oh well, it's not like human rights violations are hard to come by.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Would Rather Father a Revolution

The following is an alternate version of the article that is in the November 24th edition of The Manitoban. It's a tad too heavy handed and dry, but it's somewhat helpful in further expanding on my arguments for why activism and parenting are at odds.

Being a parent is a very demanding job. It involves huge sacrifices and requires a willingness to give up most of your own life for the sake of another person. Parents have to constantly fret about what impact their decisions will have on the well-being of their children. For a parent with politically radical ideas and whose life is based around radical activism, the task is made even more difficult. Because of the inherent contradictions between my values as an activist and the values of good parenting, I have decided to be childfree.

The most important thing to keep in mind while thinking about parenthood is that having a child is a choice. Thanks to the pill and other birth-control technologies, no one has to bear children if they choose not to. Simply because the dominant culture emphasizes parenthood and because it is a “biological imperative” to have children, doesn't mean that not having children is somehow wrong or immoral. Having children and not having children are equally valid lifestyle choices.

I think that a good parent is someone who puts the needs of their child before the needs of all others, including their own. On the other hand, I think that being a good activist means that you privilege the greater good above the needs of any individual or group of individuals. Logically speaking, it would then be impossible to be both the best parent possible and the best activist possible at the same time. At best, concessions could be made towards one identity or the other, depending on the circumstances. In the end, you would either be compromising your parenting or your activism. Since my aim is to be the best activist I can possibly be, I have to choose not to be a parent.

A related tension that would potentially arise when trying to be both a radical activist and a parent would be between being completely devoted to living your ideals and being completely devoted to being a good parent. I find it difficult to imagine that I could achieve both. An example of a situation where this tension would arise would be selecting a school for my hypothetical child. It would be the right choice to enrol my kid at the nearest inner-city school. This way, racial segregation between visible minorities and whites would be lessened and my child would have a full understanding of the implications of inner-city ghettos for the poor. However, because they would be white and relatively privileged, they would probably experience hostility from their fellow students. They would also receive a poorer education than they would at different school in a more affluent area. Because I would love my child and would not want to sacrifice their well-being for a principle, I would probably put them in the school that best serves their interests. I would put the needs of my child before the needs of the racially and economically marginalized. As I have already stated, this should be antithetical to the values of any good activist.

Learning about the horrors of the world (colonialism, genocide, poverty, etc.) is a thoroughly traumatic experience. Because I was raised in a white middle-class household, I was guarded from the naked truths of the world until I was an adult. By that time, I had built up enough emotional maturity to deal with reality and turn my anger and despair into something constructive (IE The Plan). If I were to have a child, it would inevitably be exposed to the worst of human nature, just by overhearing conversations of adults around it who are concerned with making the world a better place. I think it is likely that if the curtain was pulled back a few years earlier, that I might be institutionalized today. It would be hard to justify choosing to bring an innocent child into that environment knowing the near inevitable result. This is not to mention the other problems, such as being made a pariah by their peers for having strange thoughts about systemic oppression or veganism. Is it even possible to raise a child in a radical environment that doesn't grow up to be both self-loathing and hateful of everyone else for assisting in the daily atrocities committed by human beings against each other and the planet? I'm not sure it is.

So what would being childfree and trying to help all children look like? Besides endeavouring to end capitalism and replace it with a more humanitarian economic system, there are many practical things you can do. For example, I volunteer at the Winnipeg Remand Centre with a program called 'Get The Story Out'. It involves bringing children's books to the inmates and having them read out loud into a voice recorder. I then send the book and a CD with the inmate's voice on it to their child. My hope is that by doing this, I'm in some small way fostering the connection between those children and their fathers and that that in turn may end the cycle of incarceration for that family. Some other options for volunteer work include helping out with an after school homework program like the one at the Spence Neighbourhood Association, or supervising in an inner-city school lunch room.

All this having been said, I know some great parents who are also great activists, and my intention is not to disparage the choices that they have made. I also don't mean to omit the many other great reasons for not having children such as saving money, having free time, protecting the environment, simply not wanting any, etc. Living life childfree and living with children are profoundly different lifestyles and I encourage everyone to consider their options carefully.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Up with students! Down with corporatization!

It's been about a month and a half since I pulled my little "boxing against corporatization" stunt at the U of W, so I figured that I'd make a blog post compiling the coverage and response it received as well as my retrospective thoughts on the matter.

First, here is the news piece about the action:
Here is my letter to the editor that appeared in the same issue of the Uniter as the story above:
And here are the letters that comprised a short back and forth between myself and one of my detractors:

Get it? "Think outside the box"? GENIUS! Even though it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever in that context, I fully understand why he used it. That shit is just too damn clever not to use.

As far as the action itself went, I'm very happy with it. It was a lot of work, but it paid off with the Uniter coverage, the awareness I raised while collecting signatures, and the attention I got from the UWSA. I haven't changed the minds of those in power of the U of W student government yet, but at least I started a conversation that should be happening in every university across the globe. They now know that some people care enough about the issue to wear a box and look like an idiot.

The way I framed the issue was purposefully moderate in an attempt to appeal to the average student. The question I asked when I was collecting signatures for my petition was, "Who do you think the UWSA should prioritize: students or corporations?" The question I really wanted to ask would have been, "Why should corporations be allowed to advertise at all, anywhere, ever?"

But back to the question I actually did ask. It's a simplistic representation of reality, but I don't think it's an unfair question. By giving RBC, MTS, BMO, Rogers, etc. prime real estate to sell their wares for profit at the expense of the student groups who are merely attempting to create community out of the goodness of their hearts, is careless at best and at worst belies a deeply flawed perspective of what the post-secondary experience should be about. I'm afraid the truth may be closer to the latter.

During my conversations with various UWSA folks, one talking point that kept getting repeated was that we need sponsors in order to pay for a big party that students are demanding. Really? If there was no O-Week next year do they think that there would be a riot? Would most students even notice? I'm not saying don't have a party at all, but I am saying that it could be radically scaled back in terms of cost without sacrificing its capacity to improve school spirit and let the kids have a little fun. In fact, I think an O-Week that focused on local up-and-coming music acts, rather than the biggest name out-of-towner that they could afford would have created a better sense of community, given some great unheard bands some visibility, and supported the Winnipeg arts scene in general.

I think if O-Week involved teams from different faculties getting together to compete against each other in various games and sports, it would go a long way to reducing the apathy that I saw on campus when I attended the U of W. Not to mention how incredibly cheap it would be. Pit the Physics department against the Classics department in a game of soccer. Make the Kinesiology kids play a quiz game-show type game against the Drama kids. Have Anthropology square off against Politics in a no-holds-barred water balloon relay. Offer prizes, make the teams dress in the same colour, and maybe even give out hot dogs (as long as some are tofu).

I'm not complete curmudgeon. I don't hate fun. What I do hate is the completely unnecessary turn towards corporatization that the UWSA took during this year's O-Week. I care because I spent four years of my life at the U of W and my time there made me the person I am today. To see it cluttered with corporate booths trying to entice gullible students into taking on more debt load than they already have was heartbreaking. The UWSA needs to start thinking outside the box. OH SNAP!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Vic Toews Is a Douchenozzle

So, as I'm sure most of you have heard, there was a bit of a kerfuffle around the recent Autumn Convocation Ceremony at the U of W due to the fact that the U of W Senate decided to grant Vic "Mr. Family Values" Toews an honorary doctorate of laws. You won't be surprised to find out that Jacquie and I were at the centre of that kerfuffle. For those of you who haven't been paying attention to the news, see below for a handful of resources to get you caught up.

Jacquie's brilliant editorial: http://uniter.ca/view/4970/


















Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Vasectomy Saga: The Quest Begins

The decision to get a vasectomy should never be made lightly. Although the procedure is among the safest surgical procedures one can have performed, its results are permanent and can have an important effect on one's life. The decision to have children is also permanent but the implications for one's life are much more severe. Once sterilized, you can still adopt, foster, or buy a puppy to sate that damnable urge to procreate. On the other hand, it is quite difficult to rid yourself of a child once it has been birthed because post-natal abortions are sadly still illegal.

Before I get into the personal stuff, let me tell you a little bit about vasectomies. The procedure involves making a small incision in the scrotum and then severing the vas deferentia. The vas deferentia are the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles to the urethra where they mingle with the seminal fluid before being ejaculated. Five hundred thousand vasectomies are performed every year in the United States. In Canada, the rate of couples who choose vasectomies over tubal ligations is twice as high as in the States. Vasectomies are the single most effective method of birth control available today (0.02-0.2% failure rate).

Why do I want to get a vasectomy? There are many answers to that question, but let me give you just a few. For starters, I simply don't want to have any children. I don't aspire to be a father and I never have. Even if I did eventually want to have children (which I won't), I'll adopt. I know it's not a simple process and I know that it takes years, but it would be worth it to go through that effort to save a child from the disastrous foster care system we have in this country. I would want to take care of a child who already exists, rather than needlessly creating more. Another reason that I want to have a vasectomy is so that I would no longer have to rely on my partner taking a pill every day to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Jac is extremely responsible and reliable, but she isn't as reliable as a permanent solution like a vasectomy. Also, by not purchasing the pill, we would stop the constant flow of money to the for-profit pharmaceutical industry. I want to take control of my ability to reproduce, and for me, getting a vasectomy is by far the best option.

I recently began my quest for sterilization in earnest by going to my family doctor – a nervous, nebbish fellow – to ask for a referral to a testicular technician. I had done some research about getting a vasectomy at a young age, and I was ready for a struggle. Most doctors won't perform the procedure unless you've succeeded in living for at least 25 years or have already sired a sizable litter of man-pups. I don't fit either of those categories, but I fancy myself a persuasive sort of fellow, so I decided to give it the old college try.

To my surprise, Dr. Coodin didn't put up much of a fight at all. I think it might have had something to do with his discomfort with the subject of scrotal surgery, but he only asked a few short questions - “You're 23? Any kids?” - and agreed to send off my profile to a doctor who was more talented in the area of ball sack butchery than himself.

I selected Dr. Jason for my first attempt at achieving permanent baby-freedom because: 1) the name Dr. Jason connotes the sort of laid-back attitude that I'm looking for in a vasectomist. A guy with a first name for last name should be the same sort of guy who doesn't ask a lot of questions before performing semi-invasive surgery. And, 2) he had come highly recommended from my spouse's former spouse. Yes, you read that right. Jac's former common-law had a vasectomy done while they were together. She's a real black widow, that one.

It turns out that Dr. Jason isn't nearly as cool as his first-name-for-a-last-name name would suggest. When I gave him a call to discuss my eligibility, he went on an on about all the tragic sob stories he has been privy to, where men who got vasectomies too young soon lived to regret them or had to resort to multiple surgeries and huge medical bills (vasectomy reversals aren't covered under public health insurance) to get them reversed. What about all the sad stories of people getting pregnant when they weren't ready for the responsibility of having a child, I wanted to ask. But I held my tongue. This man was the gatekeeper to the land of prophylactic and pill-free bliss that I've always dreamed of. I had to prove to him that I am the most mature and thoughtful 23 year old in history and/or that I hate babies more than a crazed French woman.

The good doctor asked me very pointedly, “Do you travel a lot?” It's a question that doesn't really seem to have anything at all to do with vasectomies, but my mind raced to come up with the perfect answer to this potentially all important question. I guessed that Dr. Jason, like many other people, is annoyed by listening to babies cry on airplanes, so he doesn't want frequent fliers to spawn. “We want to switch back and forth between living in communes and living in the city,” I proclaimed proudly. It was a mostly honest answer, as Jac and I had tossed around that idea with some seriousness and I hoped it would meet the threshold for being too well-travelled to conceive. He then relayed to me a tale about a young military man who he gave a vasectomy to because he travelled so much that caring for a child would be impractical. Yes! Travelling lots is the right answer!

Alas, all the effort was all for nought. Dr. J said that if I was 19 months older he would love to stick sharp instruments into my nether-regions, but at this present time he would be unable to fulfil my wishes. I made him promise to refer me to another sterilization specialist and we bid each other adieu.

Stay tuned for the continuing vasectomy saga. This is only a temporary set back. My resolve has redoubled. I will have my infertility or I will die trying! Or maybe I'll just write a strongly worded blog entry about it.


Frequently asked vasectomy questions: http://health.lifestyle.yahoo.ca/channel_section_details.asp?text_id=1584&channel_id=1028&relation_id=22613

Description of most of the birth control methods available today: http://www.alternet.org/sex/145999/unhappy_with_your_birth_control_10_methods_you_may_want_to_try/?page=1

Someone with a very similar perspective on vasectomies: http://www.alternet.org/sex/140543/why_my_vasectomy_will_help_save_the_earth%27s_resources/?page=1

Friday, August 27, 2010

Response to "Destructive Tactics" comments part II

The following is my response to a comment left by someone using the pseudonym “B”. I apologize in advance for its ridiculous length.

What are you going for with this essay? Are you trying to evangelise potential converts from the black bloc? Or convince fence-sitters to join you in what you say is not condemnation but certainly reads like it.

Yes, my purpose is two-fold. Firstly, to convince the black bloc to refrain from utilizing tactics which result in a net loss in the battle for a just society. Second, to convince activists on the left who do not engage in property destruction to voice their opposition to failed strategies.

I tried to keep the tone of my essay dispassionate and focused on the effectiveness of tactics. If the essay in any way appears to be condemning the black bloc as people, then that reflects a failure of my ability to communicate my ideas clearly. This essay was not meant to chastise, admonish or condemn. It is meant to be a frank explanation of why property destruction of the sort we saw in Toronto only helps those forces that we oppose.

Doubt you’ll get very far with such smug condescension, and I consider such a project flawed anyway.

I'm disappointed that you've chosen to attack the tone of my essay before addressing its arguments.

Like Greg said above, “in solidarity” is not an empty platitude; instead of lecturing those who choose other means of struggle, how about respecting diversity of tactics?

This sentence belies the fact that you've missed the very thrust of my essay. It is meant to undermine the notion that “respecting diversity of tactics” should be the default position. Instead, I assert that the default position should be to regard every tactic with a critical eye in order to determine whether it effectively attains our goals.

I've elaborated on the “in solidarity” issue in the previous post, but allow me to reiterate. As enlightened class-conscious individuals, we must see ourselves as being in solidarity with all victims of capitalism and authoritarianism. No person on the planet is exempt from being victimized by those forces. Therefore, to single out one group and to declare solidarity with that group is at best redundant, and at worst a coded phrase implying no questions allowed.

“Before engaging in any political act, it is of the utmost importance to first determine the intended goal of the act. In almost every case, the goal of the highest import is to affect change; often, this is impossible or implausible to achieve directly. Therefore, one must frequently resort to to affecting change indirectly; often by winning ideological converts.” Here’s where you construct your straw man. First, you imply that people who engaged in property destruction didn’t think about it or aren’t goal-oriented. That’s certainly true for some, which I don’t consider a big deal, but don’t assume that for everyone.

No straw man is constructed and no such implication is made. I'm only setting out my ideal formula for deciding upon a course of action. I will grant you that most people who engaged in property destruction were thoughtful and had specific goals in mind. However, they were either flawed in their goals or flawed in their tactics. The disastrous results of the G20 protests speak for themselves.

Peaceful” protestors are also susceptible to having flawed goals or flawed tactics. I am making the assertion that everyone should examine their goals and tactics in order to ensure that they will bring about the desired societal transformation.

Then you narrow the discussion by deciding that winning converts is the only worthy purpose of a political act. Untrue.

Again, you have misinterpreted my words. I don't say that winning converts is the only worthwhile goal. I only say that it is often the only way to achieve radical societal change. This is especially true in a society such as ours with such a dearth of class-consciousness in the populace. Consciousness must be raised before direct action is taken. Otherwise, the populace will be frightened and appalled by the direct actions, which is exactly what we saw during and after the G20 protests.

The agenda of the summit did not proceed exactly as planned, as several disruptions did reach it. Even were that not the case, the actions outside would not have been a failure.

What do you mean when you say that the actions taken (property destruction?) were not a failure? Are you saying that you think the G20 protests were successful at achieving their goals? I find this particular line of thinking quite consternating.

I have not heard anything about the summit being disrupted in any way. Please provide evidence of such a disruption. If in fact any disruption did take place (which it very well may have), the disruption was insignificant. The summit did not end early, the discussion amongst the G20 leaders occurred, photo ops happened, and Harper was able to claim that the security expenditure was necessary and successful.

I'm tempted to even go a step farther and speculate that the summit proceeded even better than planned. Due to the property destruction that occurred and the media's focus on the burning police car, both the exorbitant security cost and the neo-liberal austerity policies that were negotiated during the summit disappeared from the public discourse.

Property destruction did effect change, though, in the hearts of some who were there or saw it from afar. Many who were alienated by the images of burning police cars and broken windows were a lost cause. I heard from people who couldn’t or wouldn’t attend who were warmed by the flames from those cars. People who have directly experienced police violence often feel a visceral reaction of pleasure when they see a blow dealt to the police, symbolic or otherwise.

You live in a very small, very opaque bubble if you can't see that the burning police car image turned away more people than it brought in. I will readily admit that some people – myself included – enjoy seeing police property destroyed. On the other hand, many are disgusted by actions such as the property destruction in Toronto. This includes marginalized individuals who experience police brutality on a regular basis and whose hatred for police is stronger than you can imagine. They see smashing storefront windows in front of cops as petulant provocation by a bunch of selfish rich kids.

With regard to the alienated populace being a “lost cause,” I'm saddened by your pessimism
. To me, no one is a lost cause. I'm not willing to give up on anyone. There are certain terrible truths about society that are so obvious, anyone can be made to understand them if we are persistent.

Paraphrase: “the message has been lost”? Oh come on. What makes those liberal messages more important to you? Just because you agree with them?

Promoting human rights, defending the environment, and decrying the evils of globalization are liberal messages? That's news to me. I thought the radical left all agreed on these principles. Are these not the same messages that the black bloc are attempting to communicate with their property destruction? It's hard to imagine that anyone outside of the radical left could have gleaned any sort of message from the black bloc's property destruction besides anger and violence.

How many demonstrations have you been to where your message isn’t “lost”?

Many. When the protest is peaceful, organized and focused the message is rarely lost.

The media will run a teeny story about your pet cause if you’re lucky, and what do you get from that?

I will admit that many peaceful protests such as International Day Against Police Brutality or Prisoner Justice Day also fail to raise public awareness or affect direct change. I am highly critical of these bland, once-per-year, going-through-the-motions type events. They allow weekend activists to pat themselves on the back because they think they've done something decent and then go about their daily lives guilt-free. Depending on the specifics, I'm actually more perturbed by these sort of demonstrations than the property destruction that I'm decrying in the article. This is why I challenge the readers of the article to come up with new creative strategies of protest.

It’s ironic that you advocate the good protester/bad protester divide as “an opportunity to win converts to the side of anti-statism”, thereby reifying the legitimacy of the state. Non-violence can be a crime, too, whenever they want it to be.

Nowhere in my essay do I ever come close to slipping in to the “good protester/bad protester” debate. The question is one of good tactics/bad tactics. I agree that “non-violence can be a crime whenever they want it to be” (they, being the state, I assume). However, I say again and again in my essay that the question is not what does the state view as violent or criminal, but what do the masses view as violent or criminal. I defy you to find anyone who genuinely believes that sitting in a park chanting or standing on the street singing O Canada constitutes a crime.

That the state often permits [non-violent protest] just proves its ineffectiveness as a standalone tactic.

Wrong. The fact that the state allows something says nothing about its effectiveness. The state is not omniscient nor is it omnipotent. It can't always understand which protestor tactics are effective or ineffective. It may understand that crushing non-violent opposition with force would undermine itself more than letting it be, but that does not mean that the non-violent opposition does not undermine the state. This only means that non-violent protest undermines the state to a lesser degree than the state committing violence in response to non-violence would undermine the state.

Here is how I would lay out a punnet square of possible protestor behaviour and possible police response and what the results would be in a context similar to Toronto during the G20:
  1. Non-violent protest (of the creative variety which I advocate) without police response somewhat legitimizes the state by showing that the country is free and democratic, but also somewhat undermines the state by promoting ideas that run counter to the state's agenda.

  2. Non-violent protest with a violent police response undermines the state to a great degree by demonstrating that the country is not truly free or democratic and that they are threatened by opposing ideas.

  3. Violent action by the state in response to violent protest is the most effective way to reify the legitimacy of the state. This situation allows the state to be seen as a heroic force that brings about a much sought-after orderliness by disposing of violent thugs.

  4. The state not reacting to violent protest is a very unlikely scenario, but I believe it would result in the populace yearning for a more powerful authoritarian state, and thus buttress the state's legitimacy.

As you can see, the commonality of the two undermining tactics are non-violent protest. Regardless of how the state will react, non-violence is the best option.

I mentioned above that the state is not omnipotent. This means that it does not have unlimited resources to quell protest whenever it occurs. The state must pick and choose when and where it will respond to dissent. Therefore, even though a given action undermines the state's authority, it might not be acknowledged due to a practical decision about the allocation of resources.

You say you “long to engage in this debate” but it sounds like you’re settled that non-violence is the way and if only all those fools who failed to see that would just listen. For more on this, see Harsha Walia’s appearance on a panel on diversity of tactics.

I am simply putting forward my opinion. I might be swayed if I were presented with arguments that defeated my own and demonstrated that property destruction was a positive element of the G20 protests. My argument may be bluntly worded, but that is simply the style in which I write. I have watched that video several times while I was researching for the original essay and was not persuaded by her arguments any more than I am by yours. I may respond directly to her comments in a future post, but right now I'm feeling pretty G20-ed out.

“When oppression is blatant and heavy-handed, the response to that oppression can be equally primitive and be successful.” The word “primitive” is problematic, consider avoiding it.

The words 'smug' and 'condescension' immediately spring to mind. I am fully aware of the dubious history of the word 'primitive'. However, the context in which I used the word is entirely non-problematic. Failing to take into account the context in which words are used is problematic. Consider avoiding it.

Surely you’ve been exposed to the idea that non-violent movements have only historically been effective in concert with “violent” factions? Here is a video with more on that.

This video is a attacking a position that I do not hold. The scope of the original essay was meant to be very specific: property destruction performed in a way similar to how it was performed in Toronto in a context similar to the context in Toronto is ineffective and should be discontinued due to its ineffectiveness. My wording may not be as careful and precise as I would like it to be, but that is what the thesis of the essay boils down to.

I do not preclude the possibility that militant or violent political action can be effective and has been effective in the past. I did not mention MLK or Gandhi in my essay because I understand that their version of protest was not the only one happening in during their struggles. Also, I understand that Toronto was a very different sort of place than the U.S. was during the Civil Rights struggle and India was during the struggle for independence. In those times and places, the oppression was more 'real' and the resistance movement involved a much larger percentage of the population than we have in the resistance movement against capitalism and authoritarianism today. For those two reasons, comparing those contexts to our context is a case of apples and oranges. Our actions must take a different form than theirs did. If a large enough portion of the population gains class-consciousness and the state/capitalist forces become reckless in their response to the resistance, then violence and property destruction will have a much better chance of helping rather than hindering.

“Instead of burning police cars, let's cover them in flowers or colourful paint.” I’m not opposed, but it would warm my heart far less than flames.

Your views (and mine) are not those of the majority. You are not the target audience. Your heart does not need warming.

Have you read How Non-Violence Protects the State? Or Pacifism as Pathology?

No, but consider them added to my reading list.

It’s good that people are willing to talk about tactics, but coming to the table with an air of self-satisfied certainty isn’t conducive to dialogue.

It seems to me that you perceive “an air of self-satisfied certainty” as a result of your disagreement with my position, rather than as a direct result of my tone. Obviously, the way I wrote my essay has been conducive to dialogue; 14 comments and counting says it all.

I used to believe more as you do but have come to support a more broad range of struggle, don’t pretend as though if only people would think about it they would obviously agree with you.

I pretend no such thing. I believe that I am correct in stating that the property destruction that was carried out in Toronto resulted in a huge setback for the radical left and I believe that my arguments effectively communicate that fact. Furthermore, I believe that if people read my arguments they may come to agree with me. Is this not the underlying assumption of any essay that is meant to convince its readers?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Response to "Destructive Tactics" comments

A great thanks is in order for all the people who took the time to read and comment on this post. It took a lot of effort to create and I'm glad to see that it has succeeded in drawing out both agreement and dissent. I recently discovered this article from Canadian Dimension: How the 'black bloc' protected the G20. It expresses my feelings exactly, albeit in slightly more competent prose.

Below are some excerpts from the comments that the original post received and my thoughts in response.
Alex DP said...
“Well to be quite honest protest doesn't really win many converts at all. But who wants those anyway. Not me.
What gets allies is power, material security and spiritual community. These are the bread and butter of resistant communities. They come from alternative building, and oppositional institutional creation, not protest. Protest can protect them and highlight the awesomness of these new social places and spaces, but the point is to build a community that is trying to break free but is super inclusive, and all about taking care of each other...
working class culture and institutions are the missing ingredient to white radicalism of this day and age.”

You seem to have separated “converts” from “allies”. To me, they're the same thing. I think the right kind of protest can win allies, but far too often protest takes the form of people carrying signs and walking the streets while halfheartedly mumbling slogans. Good protests involve creativity and actions that capture the attention of everyday citizens. The bubble event I participated in yesterday did a decent job of achieving that ideal. I agree that alternative-building should be the major focus of the radical left. If I were to make a hierarchy of effectiveness of tactics, I would say 'alternative building'>creative protest>boring peaceful protest>property destruction. Could you elaborate on what you mean by “working class culture and institutions”?

slappy the dolphin said...

“I think we need a People's power that can make a decisive break from the what-is, and fend off the re-establishment of the old order. At the same time, we'll need to continuously struggle within the movement against forms of oppression that continue until all forms of oppression and exploitation are abolished. That's some historical task. And it's not one that's started and completed as easily as smashing a Starbucks' window.

Another thought I had recently is this: I see capitalism as the masking of a social relation between humans as the relation of humans to things via the market. Property destruction seems to be the other side of the coin here, where smashing a Starbucks' window is confused for smashing capitalism. Capitalism is a social relation, and it is only smashed when we revolutionize the way we relate to one another. We need to break with commodity fetishism.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

PSG said...

“Rather than discuss the topics of property destruction, per se, I'd like to raise the discussion up a notch and ask you to consider whether summit demos have passed their "best before" date. To get this discussion going, I suggest you read a thoughtful critique of the whole idea at http://narcosphere.narconews.com/thefield/4006/summit-protests-are-obsolete. Follow that up with a reading at http://canadiandimension.com/articles/3143/.

Keep the debate alive and maybe we can get past the destructive actions of a small gang of ultra-leftists and devise effective strategies and tactics in the years ahead.”

Both those articles are very well written and poignant. As I said in the post, I think protest actions need to be focused, organized, creative and designed to capture an audience's attention and goodwill. I disagree with your use of the term “ultra-leftists”. Is it possible to be too far left? I call myself a radical leftist and wouldn't disagree if someone tried to label me as an ultra-leftist. To me, leftism entails a valuation of equality, justice, human rights and freedom. Is it possible to value those things too fervently? I don't think that using the term “ultra-leftists” in a pejorative sense has any place in a discourse amongst thoughtful self-declared leftists.

Anonymous said...

“Personally I don't want to spend my time trying to convince the middle class fence sitters that something is wrong. "Winning" them over to your side it not my fight. I feel as a group the middle class has the privilege to information and the education and environment to understand how fucked everything is. I'd say most of them get it. Aside from the odd super conservative I meet everyone I know is "on our side" when it comes to protecting the environment and equal rights. In my mind the issue is not getting people on our side but showing people what it means to be on our side.”

Showing people what it means to be on our side is extremely important, but I disagree with your sentiment that people in general are already on our side. Most people are unaware that capitalism even exists and that there are alternatives to it. They just think that things are the way they always have been and the way they always will be. People may think that rights are good and the environment is good but class consciousness still needs to be raised.

“When I talk to my friends from those neighborhoods and say "look at this picture of someone throwing a rock at a cop" or "holy crap, they beat the fuck out of that storefront" I have never been met with shock or disgust. More often than not it's "Serves them right, fucking pigs" and I tend to agree.”

I don't believe that your sample is representative of the majority. Most people are shocked and disgusted by images such as those. In my experience, no one is harder on the underclass than the underclass themselves because they buy into the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality harder than anyone else. Because all they think they have is their bootstraps so they think it's their only chance for freedom and happiness. Also, they're too thoroughly deceived by the mass media and too deficient in critical thinking to question the idea of hating their neighbours for being just as poor as they are.

“I think "destructive tactics" strips the polished veneer from our neighborhoods. Those are the images that inspired me.”

You are in the extreme minority. It's great that those images inspired you, but when you count net gains and losses I think those images drive more people away than they attract. One needs to gain class consciousness and a radical perspective before those images can inspire. Without that awareness, people only see violence.

chris said...

"I'm like some of the other commentators, I wouldn't rule out property destruction/phyiscal confrontation and probably even violence, but the ends would really have to justify the means. i.e. I think the actors in that scenario would have to be damn good and sure that the merits outweigh the negative consequences.

Of course, there's also a massive, massive different between largely-white political activists committing property destruction at a summit rally and a directly-oppressed and marginalized community fighting back against the power of the state (Oka/Kanesatake, Gaza flotilla, whatever). But we can also see what happens when political violence goes 'wrong': the IRA had a generally good reputation internationally until they chose to pursue car bombing as a tool.

Obviously a few broken windows are not anywhere equivalent to a carbombing, but the point is that in both circumstances nothing was gained and something was lost: not exactly a formula for success.”

I wouldn't rule out property destruction/physical confrontation/violence either, and I hope I didn't give that message in my essay. I think that certain circumstances warrant a violent reaction and that in some circumstances, violence can be an excellent tool for gaining public support. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla incident is a perfect example of this.

Greg said...

"I don't have much use for empty platitudes such as “in solidarity,” and I reserve my condemnation for my ideological enemies."
'In solidarity' is not an empty platitude - it expresses a fraternal bond and unity in struggle.

Allow me to explain my thinking. In solidarity is meaningless in the way that most people use it because we should be in solidarity with all of our fellow victims of capitalism and state authoritarianism. From the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich, we are all victimized in some way. The rich may be victimizers as well, but victims nonetheless. We should not discriminate between groups of people with our solidarity. Solidarity is the default position. Being in solidarity with the Black Bloc should be a given. The important question is, do you think their strategy is sound in that it will achieve our collective goals? I am in solidarity with them, as I am with all people, but I wish for them to re-examine their tactics because I believe they are doing more harm than good to the anti-capitalist struggle.

Anonymous said...

“I think one thing that you are not considering is what it means for some people to stare into a few lines of riot cops and not run away; to take a section of the city for a while and express their resentment directly on something tangible.”

I'm fine with staring at lines of riot cops and not running away. In fact, I encourage it. If that's all the black bloc did then I would be among their greatest supporters. Taking a section of the city for a short time or permanently is also great. However, expressing resentment directly should not take the form of random window smashing. Instead, let's use our not-insignificant capacity for imagination to think of ways to express our resentment in ways that the general public would be able to understand.

“Also protests are spoon-fed to the public by the media. I think it might be naive to think that any single message would ever get through to a significant portion of the population. People that consume such media already do not understand anarchism even in theory, never mind direct action.”

It might be naive, but it's not impossible. Not understanding anarchism is the default. Let's work hard to bring that understanding to the general public. I'm not willing to give up. Are you? The best way to perpetuate that non-understanding is by having the most visible representation of anarchism be black-clad window smashers.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Destructive Tactics

The debate over the use of Black Bloc tactics has been happening for years, but was recently thrust into the spotlight by the events of the Toronto G20 Summit. Although I haven't participated in a full-scale discussion on the topic of Black Bloc tactics with my fellow anarchists and socialists, it appears that many people on the radical left are “in solidarity” with the Black Bloc and favour a “diversity of tactics”. On the other side, you have moderate leftists who, for the most part, condemn the Black Bloc. Some even go as far as to blame the Black Bloc for the crackdown that resulted in the arrest and detention of hundreds of “peaceful” protestors. I don't have much use for empty platitudes such as “in solidarity,” and I reserve my condemnation for my ideological enemies. Therefore, I wouldn't classify my position on this matter as typically radical or typically mainstream. Instead, I hope that I've formulated an opinion that achieves pragmatism and avoids the pitfalls of orthodoxy.

Before we proceed any further, let us abandon the euphemistic phrase “Black Bloc tactics” and call a spade a spade. We're talking about property destruction. Whether you believe that “property” is a legitimate concept and whether the property is private or public, we should all be able to agree that what is at issue in the Black-Bloc-at-the-Toronto-G20 debate is property destruction. Whatever else one wishes to place under the umbrella of “Black Bloc tactics” should not be germane to this discussion.

Before engaging in any political act, it is of the utmost importance to first determine the intended goal of the act. In almost every case, the goal of the highest import is to affect change; often, this is impossible or implausible to achieve directly. Therefore, one must frequently resort to to affecting change indirectly; often by winning ideological converts.

Did the property destruction that took place at the G20 affect change directly? The answer is an emphatic no. The corporations that own those damaged storefronts collected their insurance money and continued with business as usual. The agenda of the summit proceeded exactly as planned. The heads of state who participated in the summit were not inconvenienced in the slightest. The headless zombie that is capitalism continues to plod forward with as much cold brutality as ever before.

Did the property destruction affect change indirectly? Again, an emphatic no. Instead of winning converts, the images of burning police cars and broken windows served to alienate a great many potential allies. Those very same images allowed the federal and provincial governments to justify (in the eyes of the public) the billion dollar security budget and the audacious crackdown on protestors. The police didn't need the anarchists to justify the security budget, but it definitely helped. Without the property destruction, that sort of expenditure in the midst of an economic recession would have been much harder to justify and the crackdown may very well have not taken place. If the crackdown had still taken place, a greater number of people would be persuaded to see it as an overreaction.

Another indirect result of the property destruction was that the important messages about human rights, the environment, globalization, etc. that were being expressed by the protestors were lost in the din and more easily ignored by the mainstream media and the public.

There is some good that can be salvaged from the the events of Toronto. We now have a perfect opportunity to openly dialogue about tactics and how protests should look going forward. Also, through a concerted effort we can draw the public's attention to the fact that the vast majority of those who were brutalized by the police were completely innocent of anything remotely resembling a crime. With the right message, this can be used as an opportunity to win converts to the side of anti-statism, anti-capitalism, or at the very least, anti-Conservative-ism.

I long to engage in this debate with my friends on the left. Do tactics matter? If so, how should they be guided? Should we do what feels good or should we do what works? What does “works” mean in the context of protests? What are the goals we are seeking to achieve? I contend that if we are hoping to achieve radical change, then tactics are foundational to that pursuit. The way to achieve radical change is to gain popular support from a wide swath of society. This doesn't mean watering down ideology to make it palatable to the masses, but it does mean that we need to communicate our ideas in such a way that people will be able to hear, understand and consider them.

Some activists and commentators are saying that the property destruction that occurred in Toronto paled in comparison to the violence perpetrated by the police. Of course this is true. But that doesn't make property destruction a good idea or the actions of the Black Bloc justified in any way. Why not endeavour to draw an even greater distinction between the radical left and the fascist corporate foot soldiers that make up the police force? When oppression is blatant and heavy-handed, the response to that oppression can be equally primitive and be successful. In modern Western nations where oppression is subtle and sophisticated, our response needs to be equally nuanced.

Smashing windows and responding to police force with force is primitive. These acts only communicates rage and randomness to the average person. We must ensure that our actions communicate messages that are obvious and unambiguous.

Actions that are illegal are not a problem in themselves. Actions that provoke the police are not problematic in themselves. Breaking laws that can be demonstrated to be illegitimate or bringing about a police response that can be demonstrated to be illegitimate are effective strategies. Instead of burning police cars, let's cover them in flowers or colourful paint. Instead of smashing windows, let's cover them in slogans that will raise the consciousness of the populace. Let's render their security expenditures absurd by appearing completely nonthreatening to the general public. Let's do the opposite of what the police and government expect and want by creating iconic images of non-violent civil disobedience that will resonate long after we're gone.

I hope this can be the start of a productive dialogue. Please post a comment below and let me know what you think.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Response to "Shady Bizness" Comment

Anonymous said...

If you were SOOOOO concerned with the "First Nation" individuals well being, then why did you continue to stand there and observe? You would think, that an individual so pro-active as yourself would step in and involved, instead of watching and then making a few phone calls afterwards. You can write letters and make phone calls and even hold signs but unless you risk something, and get involved in peoples lives, all of that means NOTHING!!

Nothing? Do you honestly think that the actions that I took are exactly the same as the dozens of people who could have stopped, could have observed, could have spent hours making phone calls, could have sent letters, could have gone to the Public Safety Building, etc. but chose not to and instead just walked by while averting their gaze?

How dare you accuse me of not actually caring about a First Nations person's or anyone else's well-being. You don't know me and you have no basis upon which to make such an unfounded accusation.

Here are two key reasons why I didn't get "involved": the entire event happened in less than one minute and my instincts always bend toward pacifism, I was afraid because the Biz worker was literally twice my size and would have kicked the shit out of me too if I had stepped in.

Don't you find it a tad hypocritcal that you're accusing me of being risk averse and cowardly when you didn't even post your comment under your real name?

And you know what, I do get involved in people's lives. I regularly go out on Copwatch patrols to let the police know that they're being monitored by people who care and to give out rights information to people (often First Nations and poor) who may find themselves interacting with the police. I also volunteer at Winnipeg Remand Centre and try to improve the lives of inmates (often First Nations and poor) and their families. In the future, I will hopefully do even more.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Shady Bizness

"The poor have to labour in the face of the majestic equality of the law, which forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."
-Anatole France

The following is a chronological account of events:

Monday June 28th at 2:00pm, 171 Donald St.
-I first noticed the Biz worker and the citizen while the Biz was wrestling the beer can out of the citizen's hand.
-The citizen is first nations, in his 40's, approximately 130 pounds and visibly intoxicated.
-The Biz worker is approximately 30 years old and approximately 280 pounds.
-The Biz worker successfully obtained the beer can and proceeded to pour it out onto the sidewalk before dropping it.
-The citizen curses and the Biz worker shouts "Get out of here!" several times.
-The citizen picks up the emptied beer can and makes a swinging motion with it. He is about five feet away from the Biz worker. Some droplets of beer leave the can and fly in the general direction of the Biz as it is swung by the citizen.
-The Biz worker shouts, "That's assault! You're done!" and charges towards the citizen.
-The Biz worker grabs ahold of the citizen's arms and slams him chest and face first into a nearby low wall while pressing all of his considerable weight into the citizen's back.
-The citizen curses and struggles while the Biz worker radios for backup.
-The Biz worker pulls the citizen back from the wall and then slams him into the wall for the second time.
-The Biz worker shouts "Stop!" several tims while the citizen continues to struggle and curse.
-The citizen reaches backwards and tugs on the Biz worker's shirt.
-The Biz officer says something to the effect of "That's it!" and spins around to body slam the citizen onto the sidewalk head first with all his weight on top of the citizen.
-The citizen screams in pain and struggles to free from the suffocating weight.
-Backup eventually arrives and the citizen is placed in handcuffs before being stood up.
-The citizen's face is half-covered in blood.
-The Biz officer who committed the assault came over to me and took down my contact information.
-I was approximately 15 feet away from the "action" for the entire duration.

Wednesday, June 30th:
-I called Rick (958-4628) from the downtown Biz to register a complaint against the Biz worker that committed the assault.
-I recount the event to Rick.
-Rick tells me that he is aware of the incident and that the board of directors will be notified.
-Rick takes my information in case there are criminal charges laid.
-Rick promises to call me back and update me on what happens to the Biz worker in question.
-Rick tells me that the Biz worker was hired through a diversity program from a first nations group.
-The Biz worker was only hired for the summer and was not previously a Biz volunteer.
-When I suggested that there is something wrong with how they train Biz officers in crisis management and conflict resolution, Rick informed me that the Biz worker in question had not actually recieved his full training yet.

Tuesday, July 6th:
-I contacted the police in order to make a statement/ complaint/ give my information to make sure that if there was a criminal trial that I would be on file as a potential witness.
-I went to the public safety building where the officer at the front desk told me that if I wanted to make a complaint against a Biz worker I would have to call LERA.
-I called LERA and they told me that Biz workers are not sworn officers and are therefore not in their jurisdiction.
-I called the police and informed them that I had been given the wrong information and I would still like to make a complaint/statement.
-The officer on the phone began to interrogate me and asked me indignantly why I had taken so long to call.
-The officer told me that I should call the Biz and let them know because it was not a police matter.
-The officer told me that citizens are often poor judges of what constitutes assault and I should just let the Biz handle it because they know best.
-Eventually, after several minutes of argument and attempts to get me to hang up and allow the Biz to handle it internally, the officer took down my contact information and said he would "look into it" in an unconvincing tone.

This incident demonstrates grave issues on several levels. First, the individual Biz worker was a violent individual and should be charged criminally. Second, the Biz's hiring and training practices are severely flawed. Third, the police do not understand where the Biz falls in terms of jurisdiction and the police make it very difficult to register a complaint. If I was not university educated and relatively thick-skinned I would not have succeeded in getting any sort of satisfactory result with the police. I would have simply hung up and succumbed to their bullying tactics. Obviously, something needs to be done to fix this sad state of affairs. It is not just a few bad apples, this problem is deeply systemic.

Why is having open liquor a crime anyways? How often is it simply an excuse to criminalize and abuse the poor?

I contacted the Biz and was fed platitudes, I contacted the police and was bullied and given misinformation. I contacted the Free Press and was promised coverage on 3 separate occasions but was never contacted back and no story ever appeared. I sent the above to my City Councillor Jenny Gerbasi who sits on the Board of Directors of the Downtown Biz. Hopefully, something will get done.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Leftist Letters to the Editor

Against all odds, the Free Press decided to print my most recent letter to the editor. View the letter itself here: Who do they work for? It appears that if your letter is short enough, they'll print just about anything!

Writing to the editor is intellectually stimulating, ego-gratifying and (word that means a release of pent-up negative emotion that I can't remember right now). It's a low-risk, low-effort hobby that all good leftist should engage in. So, in order to encourage other politically-minded bleeding-heart pinkos to send in their own letters, I decided to create a facebook page. I called it Leftist Letters to the Editor. If you join, you can use the page to post letters that you submitted but never got printed, post letters you did get printed, see the letters of others, and recieve semi-regular suggestions in your news feed of articles worthy (in my humble estimation) of response (either praise or derision).

Edit: cathartic

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The letter to the editor that the Free Press did print

Jac wrote an insightful letter to the Free Press that actually got published. Unfortunately, they gave it a completely unrepresentative title which means that the editors interpreted it to mean almost the complete opposite of what was intended. I can find no fault with the flawlessly precise writing and therefore must conclude that the editors are nincompoops. Link to the edited version here.

Below is the original text:
Friday's Free Press would be excellent fodder for any course in media literacy, as it contains examples of both refreshingly enlightened and disappointingly irresponsible journalism as writers respond to the recent spate of violence in the West End.

In his article, “Con out early; girl, 6, violated,” Mike McIntyre appears bent on making the point that Judge Ray Wyant's decision to sentence a non-violent property offender to only six months in jail directly led to the sexual assault of a six-year-old girl. McIntyre reminds the reader that Greg Glen Hope “would likely have been in jail at the time of the attack had the Crown got their way,” and laments that Hope's early release “allegedly pav[ed] the way for Sunday night's attack on the child.” Considering that the charges in question were one break and enter and a string of probation breaches, what would McIntyre have had Judge Wyant do? Assume that all property offenders or individuals who breach their probation are potential child predators and err on the side of caution by handing them the maximum sentence possible? This type of editorializing plays well with a scared and angry public, but it adds nothing to a productive discussion about how to make our neighbourhoods safer.

Dan Lett, on the other hand, takes a level-headed approach in his editorial “Deal with crime wave's root causes,” pointing out that more police and more helicopters are mock solutions designed to create an illusion of safety and exploit public ignorance about the causes of crime. The solutions we really need are not so simple – or popular – and it takes a brave journalist to call for them at a time when fear and anger are running high.

Tragedies such as those in West End bring the problem of crime and violence in impoverished neighbourhoods into the public eye and mobilize citizens to action. Such action can take one of two forms: we can look closely at the causes of crime in the inner-city and come together to lobby for the complex, compassionate and sensible solutions that such crime necessitates; or we can roll out the same tired old harsher-sentences, let's-get-tough rhetoric that not only doesn't work in fighting crime, but also creates more pain and more tragedy.

The media is critical in helping to determine which of these paths a community will take. Thoughtful responses such as Lett's help to facilitate the first approach. Articles such as McIntyre's only add fuel to the already tremendously destructive fire of the latter.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Great GMO Blog Debate

The following is a continuation of the debate between myself and a fellow blogger. You can read the beginnings of the debate here, watch the video that was responded to here, read the transcript of that video here and view the website of the man speaking in the video here.

In retrospect, I should not have just posted a video link without actually giving my perspective on the matter and saying which specific arguments in the video convinced me. I should have also specified that my problems with GE organisms were largely outside the scope of the scientific issues you tackled in your original post. Finally, I should have re-viewed the video before posting it because I hadn't seen it in a few months and didn't recall the exact content. Hopefully this response will clear things up.

Allow me to summarize your first post: “all natural” and “organic” are scientifically meaningless, genetic engineering is more efficient than artificial selection; genetic engineering results in lower production costs, fewer pest problems, reduced use of pesticides, and better yields; we need to be vigilant about the over-use of certain pesticides; overall, GE crops are good for people and the planet. I agree with every single point you make except for the conclusion that you reach (good for people and planet). How is it possible that we agree on all these facts and yet reach different conclusions? The answer is that you left out some very important questions about implementation in your analysis.

Unsurprisingly, the same types of greedy corporations that build showers that electrocute soldiers in Iraq and drill for oil without adequate safety measures or contingency plans also do shady things with GE crops that don't show up in scientific studies about crop production and profitability.

For starters, some GE companies sell “terminator seeds”. These seeds only produce one generation of plants because the seeds produced by the first generation are sterile. This is very harmful for impoverished farmers in the third world because they rely on saving seeds from the previous year's crop. Terminator seeds force them to return to agriculture companies year after year in order to buy new seeds. The companies' goal is not to feed the world more efficiently; they are only motivated by profit.

GE crops are patented and many can only be sprayed with patented pesticides that are produced by the same companies that make the seeds. This has resulted in a reduction of competition between pesticide manufacturers which means that the price of pesticide goes up and farming becomes a less viable way to make a living.

Another problem with the patenting of life that occurs with GE crops is that it results in multinational corporations enforcing their patents by suing farmers. Through no fault of their own, these farmers have their crops contaminated by airborne seeds or pollen from neighbouring fields. A famous case of this sort occurred in Canada to a man named Percy Schmeiser. Even though Mr. Schmeiser won his case in the end, he still had to endure a lengthy and expensive legal battle. Other farmers have not been lucky enough to have the resources to wage legal warfare with the army of lawyers employed by the biotech industry.

When one company's GE crop dominates a region then there is a drastic loss of genetic diversity. Genetic diversity is an important safe-guard against catastrophic crop failure due to disease, fungus or pests. Crop failure on a large enough scale could result in millions of deaths due to starvation.

GE crops have approximately the same nutritional value as conventional crops. Unfortunately, selective breeding in conventional crops is guilty of causing our food to be less nutritious than it once was. For the entire history of agriculture, plants have been bred for their resistance to environmental factors, quick growth, pleasing appearances and ease of transportation. The most important thing that genetic engineers should be worried about is making sure that the food we eat is more nutritious; not just heartier, bigger and more attractive.

I emphatically agree with you when you say, in summarizing the original post, that “science isn't the enemy.” You've outlined several arguments that demonstrate that there are clear advantages to using GE foods and that the labels 'all natural' and 'organic' rely on consumer ignorance of the naturalistic fallacy. However, while science isn't the enemy, it also isn't the panacea that some make it out to be. Science needs to be reigned in by sound legislation and rigorous regulation in order to protect the environment and future generations of humanity. Despite the fact that his rhetoric is a little over the top and many of his facts related to the science of GE crops are questionable at best, Mr. Smith's recommendations to only grow GE crops indoors and to end the practice of patenting life seem quite reasonable to me. He encourages us to be vigilant of both the scientific and economic dangers involved with GE crops. What better ways could there be to assure cautious progress?

P.S. Spider-goat FTW!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The letter to the editor that the Free Press wouldn't print

In response to this article I wrote this letter to the editor:

Re: Province to give tax credits for fertility treatments (May 18)

According to Paula Chorney of the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada , "Infertility is a life-stresser that is all-consuming." Is that sort of like the stress that comes with trying to feed a family of four while on welfare?

Instead of subsidizing the birth of more children to the tune of $800,000 per year, our tax dollars should go towards helping children who have already been born – for instance, those living in rural First Nations communities who don't even have access to fundamental essentials such as clean drinking water.

Infertile individuals who desperately want children should consider adoption. I understand that the adoption process is far from easy and the system is far from perfect. Yet, wouldn't it make more sense to spend $800,000 annually on improving the flawed system and making the adoption process less painful?

The government should not be in the business of helping families “do exactly what they've always dreamed of doing.” It should be focused on meeting the basic needs of its citizens. Once it has begun to do an adequate job of that, perhaps we can discuss the subsidization of expensive treatments that allow more rich old white women to get knocked-up.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Anti-Wedding Transcript

Jennifer (wearing a Snuggie):

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join together in matrimony this man and this woman, united in their opposition to political and economic systems of repression and hierarchy; their dedication to class treason and civil disobedience; and their appreciation of the importance of good dental hygiene.

Theirs is a union founded upon a commitment to activism, anti-patriarchy, and the destruction of church and state. They share a kindred passion for egalitarianism, a disgust for heedless consumption, and a reluctance to further burden our already fragile ecosystem through reckless procreation. Today we celebrate their hopes, dreams and aspirations as they unite in a marriage of pragmatism and convenience, of possible monetary benefit, and of admitted probable impermanence.

Let us open this ceremony by inviting Amanda, the maid of honour, to come forward and read a passage that means a great deal to the happy couple. Amanda will be reading an excerpt from Emma Goldman's writings on love and marriage, found in her 1917 “Anarchism and Other Essays.”

Amanda (as a giant banana):

Free love? As if love is anything but free! Man has bought brains, but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. High on a throne, with all the splendour and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and colour. Thus love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king. Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere. In freedom it gives itself unreservedly, abundantly, completely. All the laws on the statutes, all the courts in the universe, cannot tear it from the soil, once love has taken root. If, however, the soil is sterile, how can marriage make it bear fruit? It is like the last desperate struggle of fleeting life against death.

Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?


Thank you, Amanda. And now I'd like to call forward the best man, Kelsey, who will be reading a passage from Deuteronomy, chapter 22, verses 13-30.

Kelsey (as Waldo):

Suppose a man marries a young woman, and later decides he doesn't want her. So he makes up false charges against her, accusing her of not being a virgin when they got married. If this happens, the young woman's parents are to take the bloodstained wedding sheet that proves she was a virgin, and they are to show it in court to the town leaders. Her father will say to them, “I gave my daughter to this man in marriage, and now he doesn't want her. He has made false charges against her, saying that she was not a virgin when he married her. But here is the proof that my daughter was a virgin; look at the bloodstains on this wedding sheet!” Then the town leaders are to take the husband and beat him. They are also to fine him a hundred pieces of silver and give the money to the young woman's father, because the man has brought disgrace on an Israelite woman. Moreover, she will continue to be his wife, and he can never divorce her for as long as he lives.

But if the charge is true and there is no proof that she was a virgin, then they are to take her out to the entrance of her father's house, where the men of the city are to stone her to death. She has done a shameful thing among our people by having intercourse before she was married, while she was still living in her father's house. In this way, you will get rid of this evil.

If a man is caught having intercourse with another man's wife, both of them are to be put to death. In this way, you will get rid of this evil.

Suppose a man is caught in a town having intercourse with a young woman who is engaged to someone else. You are to take them outside the town and stone them to death. She is to die because she did not cry out for help, although she was in a town, where she could have been heard. And the man is to die because he had intercourse with someone who was engaged. In this way you will get rid of this evil.

Suppose a young man out in the countryside rapes a young woman who is engaged to someone else. Then only the man is to be put to death; nothing is to be done to the woman, because she has not committed a sin worthy of death. This case is the same as when one man attacks another man and murders him. The man raped the engaged woman in the countryside, and although she cried for help, there was no one to help her.

Suppose a man is caught raping a young woman who is not engaged. He is to pay her father the bride price of fifty pieces of silver, and she is to become his wife, because he forced her to have intercourse with him. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

No man is to disgrace his father by having intercourse with any of his father's wives.


Thank you, Kelsey. (To Jacquie and Rob) May those words from the Good Book provide you with comfort, direction and guidance as you embark on your life's journey together.

(To the camera/congregation) And now, the couple will read vows that they themselves have prepared. (Rob passes his bouquet to Kelsey)

Jacquie (as Rob Halford):

I, Jacquie, take you, Rob, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have, to hold and to financially support from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until such a time as our political paradigms become incompatible and we amicably part, resolving to remain friends and to set each other up with other fellow radicals who could help us continue The Plan.

I promise to share with you my joy and my sorrows, my successes and failures, and also my access to health and dental benefits, including but not limited to 70% of eligible prescription drugs, 70% of paramedical services such as massage therapy and naturopathy, 100% of contact lens or eyeglass expenses up to a maximum of $125/year, and basic insurance coverage for accidental death or dismemberment.

I promise to love you, comfort you, and keep you, for as long as we both find the relationship sufficiently fulfilling to justify its continued existence. This is my solemn vow

Rob (wearing a white lace wedding dress):

I Robert, ask you, Jacquie, to be my lawfully wedded wife. I promise to give according to my abilities and take only according to my needs. I promise to be your equal partner and respect and nurture you without infringing upon your sense of personal identity. I promise that I will respect your agency and never demand any form of obedience from you. I promise to stay married to you for as long as our partnership continues to be mutually beneficial. I promise to save the world, bit by bit, every day, according to the tenets of The Plan. Finally, I promise to utilize a multi-systems analysis that encompasses radical perspectives on gender, sexuality, race and class when debating and theorizing about issues of pronounced political import. This is my solemn vow.


(To Amanda) May I have the rings, please?

In keeping with the declarations you have made, you give and you receive these rings. Jacquie, will you place this ring on Rob's finger and repeat after me: With this ring, I thee wed.

Jacquie: With this ring, I thee wed.

Rob, will you place this ring onto Jacquie's finger and repeat after me: With this ring, I thee wed.

Rob: With this ring, I thee wed.

I now call upon the wedding couple and their witnesses to make this legal as we sign the marriage registry. As we do so, Kelsey will serenade us with a song of great significance to the bride and groom, originally composed by the self-appointed gods of metal, Judas Priest.

(Jacquie and Rob sign the registry, followed by Amanda. Amanda takes the registry and pen over to Kelsey, who then signs it, and resumes playing “Breaking the Law”.)

Thank you, Kelsey. Jacquie and Rob, having witnessed your vows for each other with all who have assembled here, I now solemnize this marriage: by the power vested in me, however unwisely, by the Province of Manitoba, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.