#abpoli


With the exception of kindergarten and my undergrad years, I attended Catholic schools my entire life. Religion. Religion. Religion. Even in university, I fulfilled my humanities requirements with religion classes. As a result, I am pretty well grounded in the ideas that motivate a lot of conservatives.

In the Canadian province where I live, the government turned over from 40 plus years of conservative rule to a social democratic government a few years ago. One would have thought – given the wailing and gnashing of teeth – that end times were upon us. The concern came from a somewhat genuine place as the province was sliding rapidly into an economic downturn that pounded the province financially and conservatives, being who they are, never feel safe even in good times with “lefties” at the wheel, so the angst was raging at eleven most of those early days.

But, the new provincial government went with the tested and true method of taking on some debt and not drastically cutting anything and now, nearly three years on, things are really looking up.

Looking up is never a good thing for conservative parties who are out of power. They don’t have much to offer citizens in good times. So, they fall back on what they do best – social issues. And understand, when I say “do best”, I don’t mean they are offering great ideas. I mean they are incredibly efficient at stirring up bitterness, bigotry and outrage because say what you will, those things absolutely work with the disenfranchised, ill-formed and people who get all their talking points from a pulpit.

Where I come from in the US Midwest, and was a teacher for many years, curriculum updates are normal and slightly boring for non-educational wonks. They are undertaken at regular intervals to little fanfare.

Here, they are seen in the farther reaches of conservative-land as communist agendas made flesh. Zombie flesh that will devour the souls of good little future conservatives by distorting the cold hard facts of life with unicorns, rainbows and puppies. Children who might have entered a solid trade are rendered useless university students by a social studies curriculum that doesn’t spend significant man hours on Bahamian British troops sacking the White House during the War of 1812 or the importance of Canadian soldiers being used by the British as cannon fodder at Paschendale. Important factoids, don’t misunderstand, but less important than children understanding that we live on treaty land, our obligations as a society and how our parliamentarian system works and what our Charter Rights actually are and how they differentiate us from our southern neighbor.

The feeling among the “concerned” conservatives is that the provincial government is using the curriculum update to instill thoughts and feelings in students that will keep them from voting conservative as adults. It’s brainwashing for future votes.

I attended a school system where “brainwashing” was a primary mandate. In theory, I should be a Catholic rather than an atheist and militant feminist, so anecdotally, I roll my eyes a bit. Even my school mates who still consider themselves Catholic are cafeteria at best. Having gone to  agenda laden Catholic grade school and high school, I am super dubious about the brainwashing potential of social studies or science.

When I look back, I can pinpoint the moment I began to doubt and my usefulness as a future member of the Women’s Conservative Auxillary probably ended. It was grade two. I announced I wanted to be a priest. I was told, “But you’re just a girl, so you can’t.”

The beginning of the end.

We like to believe children are blank slates, and what fills them up is what we actively write on them, but that isn’t true.

My Dad sent me to a Catholic school because he wanted me to be a conservative really. Like he was. But if he’d truly wanted that, he’d have lived a conservative life and been more aware that he really wasn’t as conservative as he thought he was and with his own upbringing, never really stood a chance at being one anyway.

Yes, he was a sexist and voted against the ERA. He was hurt by my anger when I found that out because he never  thought that his vote would impact me because he raised three daughters to be independent and able to take care of themselves. He never told us we couldn’t do things because we were girls. He expected us to do well in school. In math. He didn’t think we needed to marry and never offered his opinion on our dating or living arrangements. He thought in his Depression Era influenced way that this was enough.

He taught me the basics of politics during the Watergate crisis, and when I was 12 and wanted to volunteer at Jimmy Carter’s campaign headquarters in our town, he drove me there. He was proud as hell of me. When Carter won, he assured me that my volunteering had mattered in that win.

Dad was a democratic socialist by actions. He believed we had a duty to our communities via taxes and volunteering. He helped found the first credit union in our city. He was on the board of directors for 40 years, and I remember going along with him when he went to talk with people who’d fallen behind on their loan payments. He was helpful and understanding. His family was wiped out during the tulmultous years leading up to the Depression. His baby sister died in childbirth because they couldn’t afford a hospital birth and they grew up shuffling from one relatives farm to another. Charity cases. He understood being that poor, and what a credit union represented to people and could do for them.

He sent me to a Catholic school believing that it would teach me to be a Christ like person and conservative. In school I heard one thing and watched the nuns and priests be something else.

And all the while I had a front-row seat for hypocrisy in school, I had a Dad who volunteered for church groups, pray lines, tutoring at the alternative high school, Meals on Wheels, read the newspaper from front to back to stay informed and modeled a commitment to casting his ballot in every election long after he stopped believing in partisan politics because he believed his vote could add up with others and matter. Not every time but enough times to make a difference over the long haul.

If a person is worried that their child might not grow up to think, behave or vote in ways they’d prefer they didn’t, it’s not the schools they showed be worried about.

Dad could never figure out why I wasn’t conservative  but of course I wasn’t because he didn’t raise me to be.

Schools don’t raise children. Parents do.


 

The latest silliness in Alberta politics disguised as concerned activism stems from the announcement by Earls restaurant that they will be sourcing the beef for their meat laden menu only from suppliers that are certified “humane”.

Given the apparent lack of “humanely” procured raw meat in Canada, this means that Earls will be looking to our southern neighbor for the dead animals it needs to keep the ravenous consumers sated.

The official opposition party, Wildrose, which never misses an opportunity to lustily engage in drama and antics that most people lost interest in when they grew up, decided to support a boycott of Earls’ chain. Never mind that they were choosing one group of Albertan workers over another, or that as a political party perhaps their efforts might be better spent calmly assessing the situation and thoughtfully offering a solution for the ranchers and farmers who now appear to need to new certifications to compete with American producers.

No. A boycott is the go to. A gold standard move.

Politicians shouldn’t be expected to think any harder than the average toddler about issues that arise. Gut reactions and mindless pandering is what has made Alberta – indeed all of Canada – the superpower nation it is after all.

Boycotts as a political tool generally are about highlighting social or rights issues and forcing change by striking at fiscal bottom lines.

Increasingly, in Alberta anyway, boycotts are grounded in the notion that change is bad, and no one should ever have to do it for whatever reason.

Just to disclaim a bit, I’ve eaten at Earls two, maybe three, times. Ever. Red meat is the staple of their menu, and though I enjoy a burger or piece of steak here and there, I have never been much of a red meat-eater. Earls is just not on my radar.

If I were to boycott it though, my objections would be about the sexist way it expects its female wait staff to dress. I frown a lot about chains which put the servers on the menu as though they were a meat dish too.

But, that’s a topic for another day.

Today, I am finding the whole #BoycottEarls to be yet another cynical move by an increasingly desperate right-wing conservative movement to remain relevant.

Because connecting with people and inspiring them with real ideas and policies that speak to life in 2016 and a future that is sure to be different from our parent and grandparents is a lot more work than fanning (or creating) frivolous outrage in the current news cycle.

And who wants to work hard?

Let’s leave that to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Such a fool. Look where paying attention, giving a shit about everyone and working hard has gotten him, eh?

There’s everything consumer oriented with a business wanting to let customers decide about products on offer. It’s capitalism, as I understand it. And personally, I like knowing what I am consuming. So Earls is just following the growing interest of customers who aren’t as inclined to mindlessly shovel shit into their mouths anymore.

That said, it’s just as okay for people to decide not to eat at Earls because it offends their delicate sense of privilege or their politics.

But let’s not pretend that this boycott is about anything of importance. No one’s rights are at stake. There aren’t any great social issues in play.

#EarlsBoycott is another minor skirmish in the Alberta poli-war, which is important in its own way but certainly not worth jeopardizing the employment of Earls’ kitchen and wait staff.

In an atmosphere where Alberta is still shedding jobs, it begs a query as to why the Wildrose Party would so eagerly play partisan politics with the employment of some of the provinces less affluent workers. It seems to be a game to them, and Albertans should be wary of political parties that see jobs and citizens as pawns on a board to be played with in such an off-handed manner.


If you’ve ever wondered why we can’t have a nice world. One that runs well and works for most everyone most of the time. It’s because of partisan bullshit. This deeply seated need too many of us have to pick a side and stick to it right, wrong, whatever because “GO TEAM!”

I have meandered all over the partisan map.  At some points half of my beliefs have been in opposition to the other half even.

However, most of the time I straddle the center line with the occasional tight-rope walk just to spice things up.

So when I am confronted with blind lemming followers of this or that, the best I can muster anymore is “Well, good for you. At least you care enough to sort of pay attention.” Seldom do I add “If only you’d bother to think for yourself and apply a bit of pragmatism and common sense.”

But you can’t have everything, right?

There are people who want to be involved and immerse themselves in doing their little or lot bit for the cause, and so what if they mostly don’t understand how their cause fits into the bigger picture? They care. Deeply. That matters. Right?

And it’s better than apathy. Right?

I’m not so sure.

Last night my Twitter feed was inundated with retweets about Ayn Rand’s personal failings.

The tweeter is not someone I follow. He’s a pompous ass. He only interacts with the adoring throngs because he isn’t interested in any sort of conversation that might show him up or disprove his preferred view of reality.

That’s fine. Twitter is kind of about building your own little tunnel vision and sharing it with those who are similarly blinkered.

But the gist of his argument boiled down to “Ayn Rand took amphetamines and had serial killer fetish, therefore her theories about capitalism are bullshit.”

I got a D in Logic and Reasoning back in the day. In retrospect I should have gone to class more than I wouldn’t have had to pull an all-nighter to get a B on the final and hold onto my pathetic D.

However, poor background aside, I am fairly sure that Ayn Rand’s rambling nonsense on all things the far right-wing loves is crap because it’s crap and not because she was a questionable human.

If you wanted to apply the questionable human equals someone who is full of shit logic, it just so happens that Thomas Jefferson, that great American Founding Father, would tumble off his pedestal too.

After all, how can the father of personal liberty hope to escape judgement given that he was not only a slave owner but he forced his 15-year-old sister-in-law into a sexual relationship with him because he owned her.

Yes, Jefferson’s long-time intimate companion Sally Hemmings – who bore him six children – was not only his sister-in-law and his slave but, according to some accounts – was the doppelgänger of his dead wife.

Creepy and worlds of wrong barely begin to cover this situation and yet, Jefferson is revered. His ideas are seminal in terms of American political world building.

Personally, I think Ayn Rand’s appeal is that most people who bother to read her dirge of a novel, Atlas Shrugged, are young adults or teens when they do. The themes are appealing to the young, and who really ever goes back and re-reads the “great” novels of their youth? Hardly anyone. The fuzzy memories are always better.

Randian love and worship is a sign that you’ve not quite grow up yet. At least in your political world view anyway. It’s like people who cling to the idea that pure socialism will save us all. An immature idea that refuses to incorporate the reality that life is complicated because “people”.

Even though Rand’s idea are simple-minded, her personal failings and quirks are just human. Humans can be awesome. They can completely suck. But for the most part, they are somewhere in the middle. None of these states of being detract from the things people can accomplish.

For all Rand’s faults, she wrote a novel decades ago people not only still read, but they find things in it which push them to think and learn, and let’s be real, not everyone who reads Atlas Shrugged gets stuck in the limited world view.

I fear there is no way to cure for the world of side-taking or the inevitable outliers who live and die in the absolutism that makes the world a less nice place for us all.

Personally, I am done pretending to care about the fringes. Feigning politeness rather than rolling my eyes. I am part of the problem if I don’t.

Sometimes the other side is right. Sometimes the middle path is the best way.

And sometimes people need to calm the fuck down, grow up and spend some quality time in the real world with real people who don’t reinforce every blind prejudice they learned as a child.

 

 


ewoks defeat empire tweetIt’s been an interesting week. Unless you happened to be sitting in the Alberta legislature and then it was – to quote Thomas Lukaszuk, MLA for Edmonton Castle Downs, a “week from hell”.

This trip to the hellmouth came courtesy of our new Premier’s attempt to slay a vexing dragon that has menaced conservatives in both his party, the Progressive-Conservatives, and their rivals and opposition, the Wildrose Party.

Both parties have problems with a small religious and socially conservative driven base, continually seeking assurances that Alberta will stay as rooted in the 1960’s on certain social issues as is possible given the fact that it’s now the 21st century.

There are a number of things that send this base into a frenzy but two things in particular give them panic attacks.

The first is the fear that as parents they won’t have control over every aspect of their children’s education. Specifically (though probably not exclusively) anything pertaining to sex.

What passes for sexual education, generally, has me shaking my head most of the time and grateful for the fact that I have been instructing my daughter in the basics since she first noted the concept of gender and the differences between them.

The misinformation and bias I’ve observed in teachers, and in the provincial curriculum, is fodder for another day (and frankly, was something I ran into frequently when I taught in the United States too), but I have countered it with fact and honest, even-handed discussions. I am not too worried that some random teacher’s poor delivery method is going to ruin my child.

But there is a subset of Albertan parents who are determined to keep facts from their children even if they have to keep facts from my child to achieve this end.

And that is where Bill10 enters our story.

But please indulge a little back story.

The province of Alberta has a long history of not being keen about granting rights to LGBTQs in most instances and about same-sex marriage in particular. While the rest of the provinces came to the realization that legally it was simply impossible to deny this basic right, Alberta’s premier, Ralph Klein, pitched a fit.

However, Canada became the fourth country in the world to recognize that access to marriage was a right for all in 2005.

This would be the end of the story but for the fact that Alberta’s socially conservative still grumble (despite the fact that the world hasn’t cracked in half and the four horsemen aren’t roaming the earth in the wake of civil marriage) and not so subtly find ways to make their displeasure known.

One of the ways was to not allow sexual orientation to be named explicitly in the Alberta Bill of Rights Act (which as an aside is the province’s way of reminding Canada that they never did like Pierre Trudeau or his Charter of Rights and Freedoms) and to eventually grant the wish of a minority of parents in Alberta by allowing them to demand notification from teachers every single time that sexual orientation came up in the classroom.

The first thing is just mean-spirited and sore loser-ish. It can’t be explained any other way.

But the second was simple control-freak paranoia based on the outdated idea that people are taught to be lesbian or gay or transgender or bisexual or queer.

Speaking as someone who spent two decades teaching junior and senior high, let me reassure everyone that no one taught your son or daughter his/her sexual orientation. They showed up at the door pre-programmed.

Not once was I ever surprised to learn, years after I taught someone in grade seven, that he or she was gay. Not. Once. Because I knew it even if it took them a few more years to figure it out.

So, Bill10.

The Alberta Liberal Party tried, unsuccessfully, to fix the aforementioned issues. Valiant attempts. But as they had been all but crushed as a viable opposition party in the province, these attempts failed.

Recently though a Liberal MLA named Laurie Blakemen tried again with a private member’s bill, Bill202.

It was simplicity itself. Corrected the injustice and laid to rest the idiocy and could be summed up in three sentences. How can you not love legislation that you don’t need a lawyer to interpret for you to actually understand it?

Blakemen presented her private member’s bill. People liked it. There was much rejoicing!

bill202

And then Premier Prentice decided he wanted to be the one who presented a bill that righted wrongs (’cause that’s how he rolls) because rejoicing isn’t okay unless the PC’s are facilitating it.

Bill 202 went through a first reading. The government responded with “yeah, but we have a bill of our own, which will do all of these things and probably fly and shoot rainbows out its bum too and we will tell you all about it … just as soon as we write it down.”

Premier Prentice then disappeared in a puff of smoke like Cinderella’s godmother because more important work pertaining to pipelines and bitumen was waiting for him in Quebec, and so his faithful front-line minions were left to write and present the new and improved bill to the legislature.

Which they did.

And everyone went “meh?”

Because Bill10 was not really new – it borrowed heavily from Bill202, so much so that if the legislature was a university and MLAs were students words like plagiarism might have been tossed about and people would be failing and possibly even expelled.

So they tried again.

And everyone went “wtf?!”

contrast 202 and 10

Bill 10 had gone from a bad pirating effort to quasi-apartheid aimed squarely at LGBTQ children, who just wanted to be allowed to form GSA’s (gay straight alliance clubs) in their schools so they could cope with the normal transition stuff that teens face in a safe place, free from bullying and full of warmth, understanding, and friendship.

Why, when it’s usually the most tired refrain in the political universe, was no one “thinking of the children?”

But the PC government dug in even as some of their own – brave and eloquent souls like Thomas Lukaszuk and Doug Griffiths – stood up and said, “this isn’t right”.

The tiny undermanned opposition parties (for a welcome change) banded together in an impressive showing of rebuttal and take down and common sense.

And the small but semi-vigilant Alberta media and social media had the opposition’s back. Publishing news articles, op-ed and tweeting like frenzied Shakespearian chorus.

Citizens took to the airwaves. They petitioned. They shared heart-rending personal stories about the isolation and discrimination.

Truly it was the Evil Empire versus the plucky Ewoks. If by “evil” you mean “misguided and misinformed” and by “plucky” you mean “relentlessly mocking”.

And Ewoks, in case anyone has forgotten, are wee, furry fluffballs that chitter like Alvin and the Chipmunks. And they have wicked sharp teeth.

While the rest of Canada – as it usually does unless it is wagging fingers about climate change that their first world lifestyles apparently don’t contribute to at all – ignored Alberta, Albertans stood up and said, “Um, no. We are not a gaggle of inbred hillbillies. Bill10 simply isn’t right. Scrap it and come up with something better. Maybe like Bill202.”

When Canada finally did notice, it was over.

At the height of civilian dissension, Premier Prentice tersely told the media (in Ontario) that “Rights are not absolute.”

Yes, he did.

Not exactly the words most citizens dream of hearing from the mouth of the guy who basically rules over them with virtually no checks on his authority.

But upon returning to the legislature – just in time to fire up the Christmas decor – Prentice had regained his sanity, re-girded his political loins and shelved Bill10.

What’s next? Maybe nothing. Shelved bills have a habit of disappearing into the bowels of government like the Ark of the Covenant in a US military warehouse. But maybe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the socially progressive in the Alberta legislature and Alberta politics in general. Perhaps that day has finally arrived.

Regardless, the real issue is still unresolved. Our kids can’t start GSAs in many of the rural schools or in any of the Catholic ones. There is still bullying and marginalization during a time in their lives when just growing up – physically, emotionally and academically – is hard enough work.

We are failing our kids and by “we”, I mean all of us.

Two weeks have been wasted by adults more interested in political points than in doing their damn jobs. When does this end? Who is going to man up and take the first step towards making things right?