Category Archives: Culture

Respecting Differences…(cough cough)


Now that the Ontario Catholic School Board has solved the problem of how to scupper the Gay-Straight Alliance movement within its system, while giving the very superficial appearance of support, all the poor, bullied, abused, suicidal Catholic students can rest easy. They’ll get their club. Sort of.

For instance: the name itself does not and will not contain the word “gay”, or any other word that implies “gay”. Also, any discussion or material that promotes awareness of homosexuality, or encourages activism for it, will be shut down by the mandatory supervisor, or by the invited chaplaincy. In other words, the catholic school board will support its gay population, provided it does not attempt to discuss (re: encourage) homosexuality.

What the administration says:

“We may not agree with the advocacy of a lifestyle, but still believe that gay students, and for that matter any students, should not be bullied.”

What the administration means:

We disagree with this lifestyle, and we will do everything in our power to shut these kids down, and, if possible, cure them of their affliction through the teachings of our Christian doctrine.

{By the way, the Catholic Church’s singular reason for existing is to advocate a lifestyle.}

What the administration says:

“We are totally against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and have nothing against homosexuality. But this is about anti-bullying specifically, not promoting a lifestyle that goes against our Catholic teachings.”

What the administration means:

Children should leave the business of bullying homosexuals to the experts: the Catholic Church. Look, for instance, how we’ve managed to satisfy the government’s demand that we allow GSA-style clubs, without permitting any discussion of homosexuality. And look how we give the illusion, to the public and parents, if not the students themselves, of caring. Brilliant, if we do say so ourselves.

{You may have noticed that the two sentences in the quote contradict each other.}

What the administration says:

“[The Respecting Differences clubs] are not intended as a fora for activism, protest or advocacy of anything that is not in accord with the Catholic faith foundation of the school.”

What the administration means:

If you can’t live like a good Catholic, you should get outta Dodge.

Good idea, children. If you are, or think you might be, homosexual, it behooves you to get away from the destructive influence of the Catholic Church in all its forms, including its schools. They will never help you. They will only hurt you. If you don’t believe me, re-read the quotes above. Ask a native Canadian. Ask a Protestant Irishman. Ask around, kids.


Vive le Israel


Television talk-show host Stéphane Gendron embodies everything that is wrong with Canada’s most fractious and xenophobic province. There is no shortage of intolerance in North America. Ask a black man in Georgia. Ask a Democrat in Texas. Ask a Liberal in Alberta. But nowhere is intolerance more pervasive, more entrenched in cultural ideology than in Quebec, a province that abhors anything and everything that is not Mayflower Francophone. Case in point: Mr. Gendron’s televised assertion that Israel “does not deserve to exist.”

Oh, Quebec, where did we go wrong?

Let’s be clear: Everyone has a right to exist. Even bad people. Even that neighbour whose three dogs bark twenty-four hours a day. Even the unidentified juvenile delinquent who broke into your car only to discover there was nothing of value to take. Even the New York waiter who was rude to you (it’s his job, by the way, so get over it). Bad people exist, and perhaps the best the rest of us can hope for is that we can lead by example, encourage good behavior, perhaps show these baddies a bit of love or respect, a kind word—something they need, in order to see the light. What they don’t need is for some crackpot to leap out of the Canadian woodwork, making inflammatory statements. Do you hear me, Mr. Gendron? Foreign policy is not the preferred domain of lifestyle celebrities—Oprah notwithstanding.

Strife between Israel and its neighbours has persisted for more than half a century, and it will not begin to abate until all parties stop using the phrase “right to exist.” There can never be peace with that hair in the soup. And it’s a phrase that has no meaning in the real world, since they all do exist, and will continue to do so, regardless of the other side’s best efforts. It’s unhelpful for a bystander, eight thousand kilometers away, to make an uninformed and naïve proclamation on national television.

Even more foolish was his attempt to defend his action. “I have the right to express publicly my position,” said Mr. Gendron.

Not if it promotes hatred, sir. For your own good, and for the good of the world, it behooves you to stick to the topics on which you are informed: cheese and fashion. Merci beaucoup.

 


Umbilicus Rex


Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth wants to compel parliament to re-examine the issue of when a fetus becomes a person under the law in Canada. He assures us it is not about abortion. “Whatever view one has on abortion, it would surely be important to know whether or not a child is a human being before birth.” My question to Mr. Woodworth: Why?

Let me count the ways.

Firstly, Mr. Woodworth is a former Catholic school trustee and crusader for the Right to Life movement—for the Liberal party, back before he was outed as a Conservative—so we know where he stands on abortion, if not politics. If he simply wishes to conduct a well-rounded “conversation,” as he claims, he would gather a few experts, intellectuals and clergy in his own drawing room, serve tea and biscuits, and do a little brainstorming to satisfy his own academic curiosity. No harm done. He would not be taking it to parliament. On the other hand, the primary reason an RTL advocate would want to “legally” define when life begins is so that the right to choose can be “legally” stripped from Canadian women.

Secondly, Mr. Woodworth is a lawyer. Once Canadian law recognizes the constitutional rights of a fertilized egg, there will be no end to the litigational possibilities. Imagine: lawyers suing mothers on behalf of miscarried or stillborn fetuses for “failing to provide the necessities of life.” Accuse her of eating the wrong foods, failing to adequately sequester herself during the pregnancy, not practicing her Lamaze breathing often enough, living in the wrong climate, wearing tight clothing, not praying hard enough for a living birth, &c. Proceeds of a successful suit going to the lawyers and the Church? Where does the father fit in? Is he, too, culpable? If that mother smokes a cigarette or takes a sip of wine during pregnancy, does that constitute intent in a murder charge? What if the prospect of giving birth presents a real and significant risk to the mother? Whose constitutional rights weigh heavier, mother or child? What if the pregnancy is the result of a rape? What if the mother carries HIV, knowingly or not? Attempted murder? …well, you can see the endless opportunities for an ambitious lawyer. Beats chasing ambulances.

Mr. Woodworth seems to be concerned that there is currently no law governing abortions in Canada, the previous law having been struck from the books nearly a quarter century ago. What he fails to understand is that there is no need for an abortion law, as the last twenty-three years have clearly demonstrated.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that there is an “eat well” law dating back to the eighteenth century, that compels Canadian citizens to consume, each and every Sunday, at the dinner hour, a meal consisting of Meat-and-Three. Sure, it’s good to have a well-balanced diet, so perhaps it made sense, two hundred and fifty years ago, to force people to do it by law, especially since so many of them were farmers. But what about vegetarians? In order to support the MAT law, the government would have to make vegetarianism illegal, wouldn’t they? What about children who hate vegetables? Will the food police be called in to supervise the “sitting-at-the-table-until-you’re-done” decree? What if the family can’t afford meat, even once a week? Will the government subsidize these families with “meat stamps?”

I know it sounds absurd, but it is no different than a woman’s (or couple’s) decision to have an abortion. There is no debate required, really, to see that, as long as the child is connected to the mother via umbilical cord, it is, by any and all rights, the property of the mother, to do with as she likes—regardless of someone else’s beliefs. If one were of extraterrestrial origin, one could objectively refer to the fetus as a tumor, no different than a goiter, except that a goiter will probably not take care of you in your old age. The goiter/fetus cannot have individual constitutional rights because it is not an individual; it is a physical and measurable extension of the host body (aka: the Mother).

What would Mr. Woodworth do if the Pope stepped out onto his balcony and announced to his flock that a woman should not have a left arm?—that “a left arm on a woman is an offense to the eyes of God.” Somehow I doubt he would introduce a private member’s bill in parliament to have constitutional rights applied to the appendage, even though it is the tradition host for a wristwatch, plus, who would hold the paper steady whilst the host body attempted to write a letter?

Perhaps Father Woodworth would, on top of an anti-abortion law and a Meat-and-Three law, like to legislate mandatory Sunday service for all Canadians. If he believes it is acceptable to impose his Christian morals regarding our diet and birth rights, why should he exclude our everlasting salvation? He doesn’t seem to care that we are not all Christians, or at least do not all fall in line with his moral and ethical compass. To be sure, there is no shortage of examples where leaders of state attempt to control their subjects through the narrow and inflexible lens of religious doctrine. Look at the middle east. Look at the American Tea Party. Look at the tail end of the Roman Empire. The Crusades.

The irony is that his own party, the Harper Conservatives, do no wish to have this discussion, not because it doesn’t fit within the boundaries of their ideology (which is certainly does), but because they are savvy enough to avoid alienating half their voters (aka: Women). They know from experience that the way to office is to steer clear of contentious or polarizing issues. Stick to the babble-fluff, and the stuff that makes good headlines (Tough on Crime!). And Mr. Woodworth ought to know his party does not appreciate members who speak out of turn, or who fail to toe the party line. He was smart enough, it seems, to have got himself through law school, but he can’t see that he’s asking questions that have already been answered with relative clarity, and he also fails to see the risk he takes by opening a door that his own peeps wish to keep shut.

Then again, I reckon he’s only using the Conservative party as a transitional stopover, on his way to his real goal: leader of the NDP. Or perhaps a bishopric. Good luck, sir, and be glad you are free, as a good Catholic, to make the decision for your wife whether or not she has an abortion. Choice is good.


Woman Unmasked


If there was ever a shred of doubt remaining that our beloved Conservative government is hopelessly and chronically xenophobic, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has put those doubts to rest. His latest decree, forcing Muslim women to remove their burkas or niqabs, while taking the oath of Canadian citizenship, demonstrates a clear political (see: ideological) motive that is quite apart from any practical concerns.

According to Mr. Kenney: “The citizenship oath is a quintessentially public act.” Well, sure it is. And these women are there, in public, participating in the ceremony, as required by law; but why do they need to be unmasked? For security reasons? To verify their identity? No. He claims to speak for a group of unidentified citizenship judges, who are, according to the minister, concerned that they can’t tell if these women are actually speaking the oath or not. If I were one of those judges, I, too, would not wish to be numbered and named.

Okay, let’s break this down into manageable bits.

First, the security risk. Presumably, Muslim women pass through the same security screening and metal detectors as the rest of the future Canadians, before they are permitted to enter the ceremonial chamber. There is no reason to believe this headgear presents any significant increase in potential danger to the public. A person setting out to do harm can just as successfully hide a “doomsday device” under her arm as under her chin, which means removal of a niquab would not help.

Second, the question of identity. This has also plagued election overseers, in recent years, who use photo ID, such as a driver’s license or photo health card, to make a formal identification. Let me offer a simple solution: permit these Muslim women to step behind a curtain with a female official, where they can momentarily reveal their face and thus prove they are who they claim to be. There is no valid reason to expose these women to public scrutiny, unless the aim is to punish or humiliate Muslims for being different, or at the very least for being on the “wrong” side of the religious fence.

Finally, there is the judges’ concern. Honestly, this part seems made-up, as if Mr. Kenney needed just one more thing to add to his list of reasons, and so he concocted this band of unknown judges out of thin air. Then again, judges are people, too, as liable to be fraught with prejudices and intolerance and kooky ideas as anyone else. But let’s explore the complaint by asking some simple questions: What if these women are not saying the words? What if they are quietly giving thanks to Allah for delivering them safely to the land of plenty and opportunity? What if, behind that burka, they are humming the melody to Rihanna’s Only Girl in the World? Will any of that make them less Canadian? Less honest and law-abiding? Less productive in society? On the other hand, if they mouth the required words for all to see and hear, does that guarantee they will be better citizens? What is to prevent any applicant, man or woman, covered or un-, from shouting the ceremonial phrases with real gusto, and then going outside, to the very public streets of Canada, to commit a crime or live off the dole or drive while intoxicated?

And why stop at Muslim headgear? What if my bushman beard hides my lips from the judge’s keen eye? Should I be compelled, by government edict, to be clean shaven before I am allowed to take my vows? What about those soon-to-be-citizens who have little grasp of English, and therefore neither know nor care what they are reciting? Does anyone take those vows seriously? Ceremonies are, well, ceremonial. Most of us, sooner or later, take wedding vows. The words are often little more than a means to an end, which isn’t to say we aren’t taking the ritual seriously, but the words themselves are not the important bit. Speaking them loudly and articulately does not make them more or less effective or meaningful. It’s the ritual that is important; it’s the willingness to participate that demonstrates that intentions are well-meant.

Forcing these women—who have strict and meaningful (to them) reasons to remain covered in public—to reveal themselves for no sensible reason is nothing more than a petty display of power by a government that has proven, time and again, that it does not like visible minorities. Remember Omar Khadr? Suaad Hagi Mohamud? Maher Arar? It’s a shame that this sort of prejudice can occupy so much time and energy, when there are clearly more important issues that deserve our attention these days. That this “problem” could be so easily solved (see paragraph 4, above), illustrates that our government is engaged in an active war on the “foreign” element for reasons that cannot be objectively justified.

Dear Muslim brothers and sisters, welcome to Canada. Please don’t forget to exercise your fundamental right to vote.

 


Occu-Pie-In-The-Sky


I’ve been waiting patiently, these past weeks, for the Occupy Movement to amount to something. So far, the wait has been disappointing, even downright boring. I’m now ready for them to disappear, return to their parents’ basements, update their cv’s, beg for their job back at Starbucks. Somehow, by the fading remnants of my youthful idealism, I hoped someone intelligent and charismatic would step forward and take this movement by the reins, tell them, and us, what they are against, who it is they are against, and what they intend to achieve with their camps and marches and pumping fists. I was waiting for the next MLKing.

But apparently all the smart, charismatic people are as embarrassed and put off by this crowd as I am. They don’t want to be associated with a mob that has repeatedly and unswervingly proven to have no coherent thoughts or ideas of its own. It would simply be too much work educating and informing the protesters, never mind the public and governments and business leaders. Only the lawyers have shown up to the party, because it’s a photo op.

Yes, we know that the protesters are against the “one percent,” but what does that mean? Are the 1p the real villains? To be sure, they may be envied for their success and wealth. Which of us would turn down an opportunity to joint that elite group? Not me. But I’m either not smart enough or not lucky enough to get super-rich, so I have to work for a living. The American protesters complain that the American Dream is dead. Well, not exactly; the dream has merely been corrupted over the past quarter century. When the dream (which, by osmosis, also infects Canadians) was born, during the post-war boom, it meant that any person willing to put in some hard work could succeed. Not necessarily become yacht-driving billionaires, but had the potential to steadily increase their standard of living. Buy a small house, then, after working hard and saving a bit, move up to a bigger, nicer house. Trade the car in every three years. Buy a colour television set, with remote control. Take a vacation in Bermuda. Send the smartest of their children to university. This dream was especially attractive to the immigrant population, who pursued the dream with the twin disadvantages of being immigrants and arriving in the country with five dollars in their pocket.

The prevailing view today is that the Dream owes young people, without requiring the prerequisite hard work. They expect the 52″ flat screen and a new BMW 325i on their first turn around the block. They vacation in Mexico or Cuba twice a year, thanks to a credit card. They spend $250 each Thursday night on designer martinis, because how else will they find love, now that Lavalife is passé? They’ll get the downpayment for their first condo from their parents, who know that their children will otherwise never enter the housing market because they are unmotivated and financially illiterate. Ambition is no longer present in 99-percent of today’s youth. The remaining 1-percent will go on to join the despised elite. So, yes, the great American Dream is dead, but it was not killed by the 1p.

Back to the current protesters: Apart from the fantasy of forcing the 1p to write personal cheques to the other 99p, what is their plan for change? I mean a real plan. Why don’t they even know who it is they should be protesting to? If they knew that, they would have voted, instead of loafing around parks, bitching about how hard-done-by they are. Yes, university students have crushing loan debt by the time they graduate, but whose fault is that? Not the 1p. Ask your government, who used to forgive student loans, back in the days when universities didn’t take anyone and everyone, but selected only the smartest cookies from the jar. Once they opened their doors to anyone who could pay the tuition, the government could no longer forgive such an avalanche of loans, and today’s grads are paying the price, literally, for decades. But, again, this is not the fault of the 1 percent. If student debt is your beef, it is legitimate, and you should protest it. But to whom? Well, to the universities, to begin with, for ruining the student loan system in order to make more money. And the government, for letting them do it, and then buying into the change by demanding repayment. It’s only sad that I have to tell you what to protest about, that you can’t figure it out for yourselves.

Of course, if you take my advice and eventually succeed in this protest, you may discover you are one of the many who aren’t smart enough to gain entry into McMaster’s engineering program. You may have to settle for Media Studies at Sheridan College. You may have to learn a trade. Open a shop. Drive a taxi. You may not believe it, but that’s the way things used to be, back when the Dream was still alive.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to suggest every protester is a third-year MBA candidate. These are examples. Whoever you are, and whatever your specific gripe, let’s hear it. Let’s hear what you’d like [insert target here] to do about it. Maybe you lost your job and now you’re losing your house. In that case, you’d be correct in targeting the banks, but not because they were bailed out (which, in Canada, they were not), but because they put several deadly bullets in the Dream during the past fifteen years, throwing credit cards and lines of credit and 0% down mortgages at anything that moved. And you could be forgiven for accepting these spectacular offers, because the banks told you it was okay to do so. Well, the banks have learned that lesson, and have now recovered some of their previous caution and good sense, so a protest at this point is a bit late. But it’s worth mentioning, in case they ever get that funny idea again, in the future.

My point is this. If you can’t think of something specific to protest, and who to aim that protest at, you need to say goodbye to your homeless confreres, pack up the tent and go home. I’m sure the press will not miss you for long, as there is always something actually important going on in the world to keep them busy. You’ve had your fifteen minutes, and now it’s time to call it a day, before the cops show up with warrants and pepper spray.

I suggest you go away and think hard about your life, about what’s really wrong with it. If you put to work those grade-11 analytical skills you’ve kept dormant these past few years, you just might come up with a plan. In the meantime, try to enjoy the flatscreen television that you won’t have to pay for ’till 2012.


Note to School: Grow Some Balls


Now that public schools have reduced gym class to 15 minutes per week of Wii Sports® (any longer and they could be promoting carpal tunnel syndrome), now that schoolyard playgrounds have been dismantled due to falling/bumping/pinching dangers, now that schools have eliminated all opportunities for children to burn off pent-up energy except for hallway bullying, they have now taken away the balls. Yes, no more balls for the kiddies.

Yes, there were “incidents.” Children are spazzy, which is why we give them things like balls to toy with; it promotes bodily coordination and muscle control. And, of course, it burns off pent-up energy that would otherwise manifest itself as a classroom disruption or hallway bullying. But people were getting hurt. Students, teachers, parents. One mother received a concussion after taking a ball in the head. This is serious. We are only now realizing how dangerous concussions are. My deepest sympathy to that woman, and anyone else who has suffered from a ball “strike.” Perhaps there could have been better supervision in the schoolyard. Perhaps the blow was intentional (boys sometimes have a strange idea of what “fun” is); who knows?

But here’s the thing: the world is filled with misadventures. Accidents happen all the time, everywhere, to all sorts of people, indiscriminately. There is no way to prevent accidents from happening. By confiscating the students’ balls, is Earl Beatty Public School a safer place to be? Doubtful. There is an innate need in children to launch things into the world. If not a ball, maybe a rock, a stick, a shoe (some other kid’s shoe), anything that can be kicked, thrown, spit, swung, lobbed. It gives them easy satisfaction, teaches them the principles of physics, makes kooky splotchy patterns as the strawberries mom packed for lunch strike the brick wall.

If you ask the school administration, they will tell you it’s in the interest of safety, this castration. They brought it on themselves, those spazzy, uncoordinated kids! Above all, we must protect the children from all potential harm, at any cost, no matter how silly or misguided our actions. In other words, they wish our children to grow up and venture into a world where they are afraid of everything. Afraid because they’ve been padded and helmeted and coddled to such an extreme, they have no idea what pain is. Falling down and scraping your knee is as integral to the learning process as kicking a ball or throwing some other kid’s shoe. If you have never felt pain, you can have no empathy for other people’s pain (including pain you might cause). Pain can teach a child where the limits of safety and common sense are. And this pain is most often inflicted during play time, during a physical activity; something modern day children sorely lack, through no fault of their own. It’s natural for them to want to see how fast they can make the merry-go-round spin before they lose their grip and get flung willy-nilly to the cold, hard ground. Never mind the grass stain or torn jeans: they risk a broken collar bone. So be it. Now they know, and probably won’t have to explore that question again. Lesson learned.

And that’s the point of education, isn’t it? To learn their lessons? There has to be a better solution than taking away the balls. If the staff sit down and think about it, they will discover a better solution exists. The fact that harried teachers are no longer motivated to do anything beyond the minimum requirements (thank you corrupt school board and unreasonable, angry helicopter parents), and the fact that the school administration is more afraid of liability than anything else (except more budget cuts), it’s no wonder they’ve taken the easy road. Take away the damned balls. It’s not really about safety, or at least not about the children’s safety. It’s about getting the phone to stop ringing ringing ringing.

Children need balls (and not just the boys). They need to be given the chance to play ball, with all its inherent risks, if they are to grow into sensible, sane adults. As opposed to cowering ninnies, peeking nervously out from behind their living room curtains at every hooting owl and passing bicycle. All this ball-taking may be good for the future of the therapy industry, but it’s bad for the kids.

Wake up, educators, and smell the rubber.


The Long Haul


Today is the day opposition MP Olivia Chow introduces to parliament the issue of side guards for trucks on Canadian streets. Most sensible citizens, whether a part of pro-bicycle lobbies or not, will agree that such guards will improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians, and may in fact save lives. The side guards cannot prevent a truck from colliding with anyone or anything, but they can prevent those people or things from falling beneath the truck’s wheels. This can only be seen as a positive thing.

The current government has already pooh-poohed the proposal, a decision supported by Transport Canada and the Canadian Trucking Alliance, citing lack of significant evidence the side guards will save lives. They propose instead to increase the number of bike lanes, and develop education campaigns—presumably for cyclists, not motorists.

Both sides, to some degree, have a point. Yes, side guards can improve safety. But at an average installation cost of $800 per truck, there is virtually no chance this legislation will pass. Ever. During the second Great Depression, the last thing the government is going to do is force truck drivers and trucking companies to shell out that sort of cash for what they perceive as a “specialty” problem that has not been proven “empirically.” It’s a contentious topic at the moment because a pregnant mother was recently cut down on the streets of Toronto by a truck that didn’t see her until it was too late. There is little doubt a side guard could have saved the woman’s life. The issue becomes all the more sensitive in the face of such a tragic loss.

In the midst of our grief, let’s not forget the current mayor of Toronto is actively removing bicycle lanes from city streets, because he is a “car guy” who resents the presence of bicycles on his roads. If the mayor were a different sort of man, perhaps a new bike lane might have saved that woman’s life. Perhaps, just perhaps, even a bicycle safety campaign might have made a difference, even though, by all accounts, this woman was a safe and experienced city-street cyclist. What if Toronto took a page from Montreal and banned righthand turns on red lights? There are any number of ways the streets could be made safer.

My point is this: some things are good for the “show,” will get you some press, if that’s what you’re after. Pursuing legislation to force trucks to install side guards is a showy waste of time and energy, because it is doomed from start to finish. Politicos and lobbyists need to pick battles that they have a chance of winning. Why not introduce a bill forcing manufacturers to install side guards in all new trucks coming off the assembly line? It worked for seat belts and daytime running lights. The onus of safety goes to the manufacturer, who can hardly afford to deny the safety benefit—at least not publicly. It may take years, but it could happen.

In the end, we have to realize there is no way to make roads one hundred percent safe for everyone. Accidents will happen, some due to human error, others to engineering or infrastructure shortcomings. All we can do is be as careful as possible (I’m talking to you, too, taxi drivers and bicycle couriers!), and seek plausible, realistic changes. It serves nobody to expel a lot of steamy rhetoric, when it’s simply going to disperse harmlessly into the ozone. As I said earlier: pick battles you can win.

And remember to get out and vote at election time. Toronto is learning the hard way what it means to elect an angry buffoon to office. The next cyclist to get creamed on Jarvis Street might have grounds to sue the current mayor for spending tax dollars to remove brand new bike lanes from that busy road, thus endangering life and limb. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Drive safe, people.


Scary Stuff


It must be something in the water out there. After judging the term “early-school-leaver” to be a more appropriate (re: sensitive) label for the high school dropout (a slur, said they), the Calgary School Board has taken another giant step into the Dark Ages.

Two of its elementary schools have banned scary costumes, including weapons, violent imagery and masks of any description, from in-school Halloween celebrations. In fact, the staff have neatly hijacked the occasion from its relatively harmless pagan origins, and recast it as a “caring” assembly. Lo!

Don’t get me wrong, caring is important, but if they were going to shoehorn it into an occasion, surely Valentine’s Day or Family Day would have been more appropriate. Or they simply could have chosen a day at random during the school year. What difference would it make, unless you are a crackpot whose veins are coursing with politically correct righteousness?

I’ve met the type before. Some years ago, parents and staff at my daughter’s private school petitioned to ban witches and ghosts, because they promoted the occult. That mob even objected to black crayons in the classroom—the preferred colour for all things evil. It was our cue to rescue our little one from the clutches of PC evil.

But you don’t have to look very hard to find comprehensive studies showing that children are not only attracted to all things “scary,” but in fact use the experience of being scared to help them develop into sane and sensible adults. In other words, we need to be scared as part of our early development. It’s not for nothing that the horror genre, in all its mediums, is most popular with young people. As adults, we already know how frightening the real world is, so we lose interest in it, as a stimulus—substituting red wine to dull the fear.

If a boy dresses up as King Arthur, wearing crown and sword, is he promoting violence or honour? Evil or chivalry? If a girl dons a witch’s costume, is she accepting or promoting the occult, or is she is merely dressing up? Is the Fairy Godmother’s star-tipped wand a weapon? God help the poor child who wants to be Spiderman for a day!

It’s only the grownups who read more into it, which is a shame for those Calgary children who will be denied the opportunity to celebrate Halloween, and forced instead to talk (or listen to talk) about “caring.” Once again, the public school system demonstrates that it knows little about education, or children. A little superstition might just help these school leaders stop over-thinking things, and permit the children, one day a year, to be children. The real “scary” stuff is misuse of political correctness.

 


The 99-percent Solution


So, the previously-idle hordes of disaffected youth are finally mobilized, occupying St. James park, in downtown Toronto, as they await the opening market bell at the TSX. Let the bedlam begin!

Okay, so they still don’t have a plan, as such. They are thinking about occupying a bank or two, until they get kicked out, after which they plan to retreat to base camp at the park. If they don’t get beaten or arrested by police. All in all, it’s probably more of a plan than any of the protesters might have had for Monday, had the opportunity to protest not come along. Thank you, New York.

A number of experts are also exploiting the opportunity to get themselves before the media and offer sound bites, mostly (and strangely) positive. One psychologist thought it was encouraging that the protesters were feeling the urge to protest, suggesting the current urge was more profound than those in the Sixties and Seventies. He didn’t seem to take into account that the current protesters didn’t know what they were protesting against or who they should be protesting to. And this is important because you aren’t going to effect change unless you know those two things.

For example, our Toronto protesters are “against” banks. But Canadian banks protected Canada from a large portion of the financial carnage because they are already heavily regulated (unlike banks in the U.S.). The protesters should be grateful to our banks (ABM fees notwithstanding!). They should not be protesting the Toronto Stock Exchange, either, which has done nothing wrong. In fact, they should encourage the TSX, and wish it all the best as it tries to recover from the global meltdown. A healthy stock exchange can only help everyone, because it means business is good. Canadian tax rates and loopholes are different than those in the U.S., as is the corporate tax structure. We cannot take our cues from American protesters on this subject.

If the protesters wanted to do something positive, they should have got off their duffs last week and voted. A shameful 49 percent turnout in Ontario. In fact, if they failed to cast a ballot, citizens should be banished from protests of any kind. If you don’t vote, you young person camping out in St. James park, you have no right to complain. In order to march the streets of Toronto, shouting slogans and pumping fists, you should be required to prove you voted.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, there is no shortage of things to legitimately protest about. What’s missing in this current “occupy” movement is a genuine leader. Where is our Martin Luther King? Our Gloria Steinem, our Jane Fonda? Where is the camera-friendly orator, who can articulate what this protest is, or should be, about? To date, no one has stepped forward; not a movie star, not a politician, not a journalist (come on, Rick Mercer, what are you waiting for?). Someone has to tell them, and the rest of us, what their objectives are. With a bit of leadership, perhaps they can relocate to the proper front lawn (City Hall…Queen’s Park…Parliament Hill…), aim their grievances at the right people. Until that happens, the only thing they will succeed in doing is giving their poor parents a few days’ peace, back at home.

And please, dear protester, the poop-and-scoop policy applies to humans, too. Keep Canada clean.


Gimme a Slice of “Occupy” With Ice Cream


There was a time when kids had a reason to protest. Remember the Sixties? Not only a pointless war (arguably the first, really), but also a burning need to excise the last vestiges of slavery from North American society (with marginal success). It’s still hard for an old codger like me to remember that Sammy Davis Jr. was not permitted to stay in the glitzy Las Vegas hotels he performed at, to sold out crowds and international fame, because he was black. The very thought that such a thing could have happened during my lifetime outrages me to the point where I want to march downtown and stage a protest…

There is no shortage today of pointless wars (pointless, unless you are in the oil business). Iraq. Afghanistan. Libya. Waiting in the wings: Iran, Syria, Canada. There is the never-ending issue of whether or not Palestine should exist; or Israel, depending on your stripe. There is the ongoing debate about the accuracy of global warming science. There is the G20. There is British Petroleum, which was permitted to drill deep holes in the ocean floor without a plan for plugging the hole, in case of an emergency. So many things to raise the hackles, get the blood pressure up. So many legitimate causes for complaint and protest…

So what is this new global movement, begat in NYC, called Occupy [your location]?

When asked what they were against, as they blocked traffic in downtown Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street protesters shrugged for the cameras and announced that they would get back to us, once they figured it out. The most anyone could get out of them was that they opposed the rich getting richer while the poor got poorer.

T’was ever thus, dear souls. Might as well protest the unfairness of a rose that smells like a rose, while the turd smells like…well, shit. Why should the west get all the sunsets? It’s just not fair.

The significant aspect of this movement, as it spreads around the free world like a flash mob tweet, will appeal chiefly to anthropologists, many of whom will no doubt make their careers on the study and analysis of today’s youth, and how helpless they are. Yes, young people are demonstrating, literally and figuratively, how dependent they are on the grownups to spoon feed them the answers—a technique that earned them a B+ at public school. They just can’t seem to figure it out for themselves, and I don’t believe they are faking it. They really, truly don’t have the gears to figure it out.

Which explains why a crowd is gathering in downtown Toronto, as I write, calling itself Occupy Toronto, sporting no leadership of any description, and, as far as observers can tell, nothing specific to be against. The only thing they have agreed on is that it may or may not be in their best interest to communicate with the police, although a cynical few are convinced the cops will beat them up, no matter what they do.

Of course, getting beaten by the cops and thrown in jail was a badge of honour, back in the days when protesters protested about something. I mean, if you feel strongly about something…say, the proliferation of atom bombs…then you will enjoy your beating, knowing that you’ve touched a nerve, made your point, perhaps even encouraged change.

What will this group achieve? I think they’ve already achieved it: mild ridicule. We won’t be too hard on them (which has been the problem from the start). They’re just kids, after all. Grown up kids, who can’t find jobs, unless a parent can get them an internship at the office. Yes, times are tough, jobs are hard to come by. But I have a suspicion that most of these protesters’ parents would be more forgiving of these young adults who show no inclination to move out of the parental home, if only they would select one of the genuine issues to protest, instead of tweeting each other about roses and sunsets.

Good luck, kids, and remember: your parents can’t do your homework forever.