Friday, November 9, 2012

Lest we remember.

Lest we remember.

[white poppy photo] Lest we remember the veterans left disabled, impoverished, and denied supports.
Lest we remember the internalized violence of the military, the brutality, the “friendly-fire”.
Lest we remember the countless women soldiers sexually violated and shunned by the military.
Lest we remember the military families turning to food banks and charities for support.

Lest we remember the facts about past wars, rather than opportunistic jingoism.
Lest we remember that our “government” would rather spend millions advertising lies about past wars than spend a dollar to avoid having a soldier, or their family, fall into poverty.
Lest we remember the politicians who care so little about what happens to people in the military and veterans that they doze off in meetings with them.
Lest we remember that they spend our money to send our children, our siblings, our parents, our friends, our neighbours, to kill and be killed, to maim and be maimed, to destroy and be destroyed.

Lest we remember the military’s contributions to the long history of genocide and injustice against indigenous people of this land.
Lest we remember the contributions of anyone not white enough, or male enough, or “straight” enough, or Christian enough, in our reworking of history.

Lest we remember that Eisenhower’s warnings about the rise of the military-industrial complex came true.
Lest we remember that ever more and more of our resources, energy and wealth, are being siphoned away into the military and the corporations that profit from it, while poverty, disparity and injustice grow.

Lest we remember that, for all the posturing about protecting rights and freedom around the world, our military has ignored many who truly needed it, while attacking those who didn’t.
Lest we remember that our military turned a blind eye, and a deaf ear, to the people of Rwanda.

Lest we remember that war destroys not just human lives, but all other creatures and plants, and the very Earth.
Lest we remember that there is nothing good, or patriotic, or just, about killing and destruction.
Lest we remember that war is not glorious, or honourable, or just.
Lest we remember that war is vicious, destructive and the death of our “humanity”.

Lest we remember that no one has “freedom” while we continue to spread the injustice of war.

Lest we remember, we forget.

(Photo by Michelle Ress, used under Creative Commons license.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

An activist view on protest restrictions outside Calgary City Hall

There have been some concerns raised about the way the new “Municipal Complex Bylaw 38M2012” may restrict protest outside Calgary’s City Hall and Municipal Building downtown. (You can download a PDF of the bylaw. If the filename comes up as “DirectDownload.aspx” just change the name to end in “.pdf”, and hope that The City eventually fixes that problem on their website.)

Please keep in mind that I am not a lawyer (although I play one on the Internet :-) ).


Since I posted this, friendly City Councillor Brian Pincott has informed me that the old bylaw required a permit for any use of the Municipal Plaza. The new bylaw takes away that requirement, actually making it more accessible to protest.

I honestly had no idea of that particular old rule—and violated it at least dozens of times with permit-less rallies there. (Which illustrates the general leniency of bylaw enforcement in a lot of—but certainly not all—cases.)

Is the Bylaw trying to outlaw protest?

I suspect that people expressing concern about this bylaw “banning protest” may have seen the part restricting protest inside the building. That does not apply to the exterior of the building (notably, “Municipal Plaza” and the sidewalk—which are where all of the countless protests I’ve participated in there have been held).

It’s important to note that the inside of the “Municipal Building” and City Hall, like with all buildings, have been restricted from protest demonstrations for at least as long as I am aware of, so this does not change that.

What is changing for protests?

One significant provision the bylaw introduces, that I don’t recall being in place before, is that, during business hours, no bullhorns or other sound equipment can be used without approval.

(As a matter of pure speculation on my part, I’m guessing that this provision is a result of the religious evangelists who relentlessly, noisily, set up right outside City Hall many times every week.)

What was already restricted?

In addition to restricting amplified sound, some other notable restrictions that can affect protests (all of which were previously in place, if I recall correctly) include:
  • Candles are restricted under the fire restrictions (no candlelight vigils without express prior approval in writing). Exception for religious ceremonies (so no ban on smudges).
  • No free-standing signage (e.g., placards we carry are okay but no sandwich boards set up on the ground).
  • Not permitted to engage in “event” activities on areas designated as memorials (such as the police memorial that obstructs a big chunk of the Plaza).
  • Not permitted to engage in “events” there overnight between 11pm and 7am.
  • The municipal plaza may be booked by groups (or The City) for events. When booked, it is designated as “exclusive use” and other activities will not be permitted. We should still be able to make reasonable use of the public sidewalks in those cases, provided we don’t interfere with the booked event.
  • There is a generic grant of authority to the “Complex Manager” to arbitrarily declare activities as prohibited (10.2.d). I would not expect this to impact most protests — except in cases where there is apparent or actual threat of violence, significant obstruction of individual access to the municipal facilities, or people engaging in offensive/lewd activities.

There is an interesting bit I believe they got wrong. The Bylaw includes the public sidewalk as part of the “Municipal Complex” and subject to the restrictions set forth in the Bylaw. Given what seem to be relevant precedents up to the Supreme Court level, I would not expect that to hold up in court if they tried to restrict “reasonable” protest on—and general public access to—the sidewalk.

However, there is also precedent for mass events (such as concerts and festivals) to be reasonable restriction of access to public space. So, it is legal to restrict protest and other use in those public spaces that are temporarily occupied by such an event (like when the New Year’s Eve celebration blocks off Macleod Trail and adjoining sidewalks between City Hall and Olympic Plaza).

Restrictions against gathering on the steps

Here is something that could potentially affect us: In the maps at the end of the Bylaw, you can see that they define all of the steps and ramp areas as “Entrance/Exit zones” and prohibit gathering in those areas entirely (10.3.a).

I’m thinking, in particular, of the steps adjacent to the sidewalk that are immediately north of the main ramp to the municipal building, since we have countless times used those as a position for people to address a crowd.

In spite of that definition and restriction, my expectation (given what has gone on before both at the “Municipal Complex” and other government sites) would be that we would generally continue to be able to make general use of those areas outside business hours so long as such use did not significantly impair access to the site for non-participants. During business hours, we could probably make limited use of those areas unless things were “quite busy”.

In any case, the provision does give the City clear grounds to direct us away from those “Entrance/Exit zones” as they may choose.

Summing up

All in all, given past experience, after an initial read-through, I do not expect the changes and additions in this bylaw to notably impact most protest actions around the municipal building and city hall.

There could be cases where they call for a shutdown of use of bullhorns or p.a. systems—but I would be surprised if they use that much at all against protests (since, again, I’m guessing the primary reason for that is not protests, but the noise from the noisy religious evangelists who set up right outside City Hall annoying the City Council members in their offices there). In any case, legal restrictions governing amplified sound were already in place, so I don’t see the bylaw changing that for us.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Discussion inspired by comic about societal views on rape and feminism

Comic: Sometimes I have the time and patience… I’ve been a part of some lengthy discussions online sparked by this comic by Kate. (I first saw the comic via my friend Lee who shared a link from imgur)

Please read the full comic before proceeding…

Yes, some of my language below is insulting, but that is in keeping with the flavour of the cartoon (and my frustration level).

These discussions centre around feminism in particular, but have strong parallels to other anti-oppression struggles. Here’s some of what I wrote in those discussions:

“But, but, but… men are victims tooooo!

Every time some male idiot chimes in with some awful statement, like the ones the off-camera dude does in this cartoon, I mourn a little for humanity.

I’m a male survivor of sexual violence, a male survivor of non-sexual assaults, and a male survivor of extensive bullying, but I don’t feel in any way threatened by recognizing and shouting the fact that patriarchy is an extreme evil, that violence in our society is heavily gendered with females being the predominant targets, that females are systemically targeted for sexual violence and abuse, that the longest running war in human history is the war against women.

The idiot males trot out numbers of female-on-male partner violence, but conveniently ignore the context that the vast majority of those incidents are self-defence or responses to extended periods of abuse (I also consider those responses to abuse a form of self-defence).

The idiot males trot out numbers of male victims of violence, conveniently ignoring the fact that the vast majority of those are male-on-male violence. Males make up the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of violence.

By trotting out their complaints of “reverse sexism” these idiots act to reinforce patriarchy by belittling or dismissing the very real sexism, the very real systemic gender oppression, in our society.

Acknowledging and addressing the pervasive sexism in society does not mean putting men down. It does not mean “emasculating” males. It does not mean putting women, women’s issues, and women’s needs, above men. It means acknowledging the truth of our reality and working to end oppression for the real benefit of all.

As a male survivor, advancing feminism (and all other anti-oppression struggles) makes the world a better place for me and everyone I care about. It's not a “zero-sum game” where advancing women’s rights means taking away from men’s rights. The reality of anti-oppression work is that it’s more like an “exponential game” where every advance against oppression makes things better for everyone (even those who society has raised in the role of oppressors).

“Resistance is HOT!”

Yes, women who fight for their rights, who challenge oppression, are “HOT AS HELL” — because it speaks to an intense strength of character to rise above the massive forces of oppression arrayed against them in virtually every aspect of life under patriarchy.

Patriarchy harms everyone

The enforcement of gender roles harms both those placed into the role of oppressor and those oppressed. No one gets out of systems of oppression unharmed. But it remains critical to acknowledge which way the oppression flows.

I've long held that the greater responsibility for the work of feminism rests with men, being the ones that patriarchy has handed the position of "Privilege". We have greater opportunity to contribute to the work because of our privileged position.

To be clear, when I speak of men’s “greater responsibility for the work of feminism” I don’t mean to suggest that men should be leading or guiding feminist movements. In all anti-oppression struggles, those coming from positions of privilege need to spend more time listening to, learning from, and supporting the oppressed than anything else. The work of feminism needs to be rooted in meaningful, supportive and learning, partnerships.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Object-oriented design using Ruby on Rails

Warning: Computer programming geek talk time. Skip this if you’re just here for my politics…

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been doing a pile of reading (and screencast watching) on approaches to object-oriented design when using Ruby on Rails. I always take it as a good sign when I learn a new approach that makes me think “I want to go back and rewrite all my code this way.” (Although, of course, that would not be the best choice. It’s usually better to integrate new approaches with ongoing/new development rather than start over from scratch.) There’ve been a few of those moments during this recent reading, so I’ve decided to compile a list of what I’ve been looking at — both as a reference for myself, and to reinforce what I’ve been studying.

There is a pile of good stuff in these articles (and vids), but the single biggest for me is the point about segregating “business logic” (the methods that actually do the domain work) from persistence (database calls). There are a few different ways suggested for doing that here — I’m not sure yet which I favour.

Objects on Rails is probably the most comprehensive piece on this subject. It’s an ebook (viewable free on the website, or for $5 in non-DRM PDF, ePub and Kindle formats). There is little hand-holding in this book. Unless you are already well-versed in things like ruby meta-programming, it can be a challenging read (but well worth it even if you don’t get everything right away — some of the other materials that follow should help round out your understanding). I’ll go ahead and call this the essential piece out of this collection. It’s not to be skipped.

Some related articles include:

Something that came up a few times is how to apply the SOLID principles to Ruby development (since SOLID was conceptualized around typed languages like C++ as opposed to dynamic languages like Ruby).

The subject of DCI also gets a bunch of attention, but I haven’t got through these readings yet:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The following was posted on Facebook. I reprint it here in its entirety.

An Open Letter to English-Canadians, who might be feeling that Quebeckers have taken leave of their senses.

by Daniel Weinstock on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 1:09am

An open letter to my English-Canadian friends. Please circulate in your networks as you see fit.

You may have heard that there has been some turmoil in Quebec in recent weeks. There have been demonstrations in the streets of Montreal every night for almost a month now, and a massive demonstration will be happening tomorrow, which I will be attending, along with my wife, Elizabeth Elbourne, and my eldest daughter Emma.

Reading the Anglo-Canadian press, it strikes me that you have been getting a very fragmented and biased picture of what is going on. Given the gulf that has already emerged between Quebec and the rest of Canada in the wake of the 2011 election, it is important that the issues under discussion here at least be represented clearly. You may decide at the end of the day that we are crazy, but at least you should reach that decision on the basis of the facts, rather than of the distortions that have been served up by the G&M and other outlets.

First, the matter of the tuition hikes, which touched off this mess. The rest of the country seems to have reached the conclusion that the students are spoiled, selfish brats, who would still be paying the lowest tuition fees even if the whole of the proposed increase went through.

The first thing to say is that this is an odd conception of selfishness. Students have been sticking with the strikes even knowing that they may suffer deleterious consequences, both financial and academic. They have been marching every night despite the threat of beatings, tear-gas, rubber bullets, and arrests. It is, of course, easier for the right-wing media to dismiss them if they can be portrayed as selfish kids to whom no -one has ever said "no". But there is clearly an issue of principle here.

OK, then. But maybe the principle is the wrong one. Free tuition may just be a pie-in-the sky idea that mature people give up on when they put away childish things. And besides, why should other people pay for the students' "free" tuition? There is no such thing as "free" education. Someone, somewhere, has to pay. And the students, the criticism continues, are simply refusing to pay their "fair share".

Why is that criticism simplistic? Because the students' claim has never been that they should not pay for education. The question is whether they should do so up front, before they have income, or later, as taxpayers in a progressive taxation scheme. Another question has to do with the degree to which Universities should be funded by everyone, or primarily by those who attend them. So the issue of how to fund Universities justly is complicated. We have to figure out at what point in people's lives they should be paying for their education, and we also have to figure out how much of the bill should be footed by those who do not attend, but who benefit from a University-educated work force of doctors, lawyers, etc. The students' answer to this question may not be the best, but then it does not strike me that the government's is all that thought out either.

And at least the students have been trying to make ARGUMENTS and to engage the government and the rest of society in debate, whereas the government's attitude, other than to invoke the in-this-context-meaningless "everyone pays their faire share" argument like a mantra, has been to say "Shut up, and obey".

What strikes the balance in the students' favour in the Quebec context is that the ideal of no up-front financial hurdles to University access is enshrined in some of the most foundational documents of Quebec's Quiet Revolution, in particular the Parent Commission Report, which wrested control of schools from the Church and created the modern Quebec education system, a cornerstone of the kind of society that many Quebeckers see themselves as aspiring to. Now, it could be that that ideal is no longer viable, or that we may no longer want to subscribe to it. But moving away from it, as Charest's measures have done, at least requires a debate, analogous to the debate that would have to be had if the Feds proposed to scrap the Canada Health Act. It is clearly not just an administrative measure. It is political through and through. Indeed it strikes at fundamental questions about the kind of society we want to live in. If this isn't the sort of thing that requires democratic debate, I don't know what is.

The government has met the very reasonable request that this issue, and broader issues of University governance, be at least addressed in some suitably open and democratic manner with silence, then derision, then injunctions, and now, with the most odious "law" that I have seen voted by the Quebec National Assembly in my adult memory. It places the right of all Quebec citizens to assemble, but also to talk and discuss about these issues, under severe limitations. It includes that most odious of categories: crimes of omission, as in, you can get fined for omitting to attempt to prevent someone from taking part in an act judged illegal by the law. In principle, the simple wearing of the by-now iconic red square can be subject to a fine. The government has also made the student leaders absurdly and ruinously responsible for any action that is ostensibly carried out under the banners of their organizations. The students groups can be fined $125000 whenever someone claiming to be "part" of the movement throws a rock through a window. And so on. It is truly a thing to behold.

The government is clearly aware that this "law" would not withstand a millisecond of Charter scrutiny. It actually expires in July 2013, well before challenges could actually wind their way through the Courts. The intention is thus clearly just to bring down the hammer on this particular movement by using methods that the government knows to be contrary to basic liberal-democratic rule-of-law principles. The cynicism is jaw-dropping. It is beneath contempt for the government to play fast and loose with our civil rights and liberties in order to deal with the results of its own abject failure to govern.

So that is why tomorrow I will be taking a walk in downtown Montreal with (hopefully!) hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens. Again, you are all free to disagree, but at least don't let it be because of the completely distorted picture of what is going on here that you have been getting from media outlets, including some from which we might have expected more.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

If they were serious about reducing abortion rates…

A quarter of a century ago I attended protest rallies to stop the then Conservative government of Canada from bringing forward legislation to take away women’s rights to decide what to do with their own bodies.

Today, there are protests against the current Conservative government of Canada’s effort to bring forward legislation to take away women’s rights to decide what to do with their own bodies.

For those opposed to abortion, prohibition won't stop it — that will just lead to more dead or mutilated women like there were before it was legalized. If you really want to stop abortions, work to prevent the unwanted pregnancies that cause them.

So, what’s the single biggest factor in rates of unwanted pregnancy? Women who are living in poverty. If you’re opposed to abortions (or pro-choice, for that matter) — the best thing to do is to work to end women's poverty.

See also:

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Vote strategically, or vote your conscience?

With the way the Alberta provincial election seems to be shaping up, I’ve heard a lot of folks talking about possibly voting strategically for the Progressive Conservative Party in their ridings out of desperation to avoid having the Wildrose Party win. People are struggling with whether to vote for the candidates most likely to block the candidates they dread, or to vote for the candidate that would best represent them.

I’ll avoid, for the moment, discussing here the broken nature of our electoral system that leads to such choices…

Voting Your Conscience

It’s never a mistake to vote your conscience — to vote for the candidate who best represents your values — even if you expect them to “not have a chance”. Even if they don't win, showing support for those candidates shows which positions have support and does a couple things:

  1. It shows those elected which types of voters they need to appeal to more.

    When the Alberta Greens saw significant increases in percentage of vote (even though we didn’t win seats from those votes) there was a corresponding increase in some of the green policies being adopted by the provincial government — a prime example being the grizzly bear hunt ban. Subsequently, when the Alberta Greens were taken over and shut down (the takeover was led by a fellow who is now a Wildrose candidate, make of that what you will), there was a corresponding backtracking on those policies — in this example, the grizzly hunt ban was lifted.

    Even parties that don’t win can affect policies because the winning party wants to get some of those votes in the subsequent election.

  2. People who vote mostly vote for who they think can win. A party that receives increasing votes in an election stands a much better chance in the next election because more people will think they have a chance of winning. It’s not good that so many people vote that way, but it’s reality.

    So, we’re not just voting for this election, but for future elections, too, where there will hopefully be better chances of people we support winning.

Strategic Voting

All that said, there are times where a “hold your nose” strategic vote may be your best choice.

I once (just once) voted for a federal Progressive Conservative candidate, Joe Clark, in order to prevent the election of a Reform/Alliance candidate. Clark was definitely on the “Red Tory” side of that party (before it was taken over by Reform/Alliance), and even served as parade marshall for the Calgary Pride Parade one year — so it wasn’t an utterly heinous choice.

So, what should one do?

In the end, both the strategic and conscience votes have an impact — so neither can be dismissed out of hand as invalid choices in our current system. It’s up to you, as an individual citizen, to make the hard decision which of the possible outcomes is the better focus for your vote.

Even when it doesn’t seem like it, when the media and leading parties try to marginalize diverse opinions, all of our votes do actually make a difference.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Wildrose Alliance Party would set back social advances in Alberta

A survey of party leaders conducted by the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association last year has some troubling quotes from Wildrose Alliance Party leader Danielle Smith:
The Wildrose is committed to enshrining property rights in an Alberta Constitution, and views the protection of property rights the most fundamental role of government.
So, property rights trump social responsibility, human rights, the environment, health, education, democracy?

And, yes, in spite of recent denials and obfuscations, she is on the record in favour of “conscience rights”:
the Wildrose will ensure conscience rights for marriage commissioners and health professionals.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Calgary Activist Network — back from the dead

[Activist Network] Back in January I started doing a bunch of work to rebuild the Calgary Activist Network website. The network had largely wound down in the mid-2000s, leaving just a single page of links to a few other online resources.

Now the calendar of events is back up and running and I’ve posted over 60 events in the past couple weeks.

The new feature I’m most proud of is the ability to  subscribe to the calendar of events using calendar applications on your computer or phone. With that, you don’t have to remember to visit the website, but can instead just look at your calendar to see what’s coming up.

At this point, it’s just me posting events to the site, but I hope to get other folks adding listings soon. (There’s still a little bit of back-end code I need to put together to get that workable — and understandable by non-geeks.)

Currently, to add an event to the site, people can send an announcement to the Calgary activism announcements email list (which has been running in one form or another since 1999). Please use plain text in those emails, and no attachments (no posters, pictures, Word documents, etc.).

The updated Activist Network site should make it easier for me to get announcements out to the email list, for those who prefer email.

There are a couple of other spots available where announcements are going out. On Facebook, there is the Facebook: Calgary Social Change page. On Twitter it’s Twitter: @CalSC.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Western Interventionism in Activism

There’s a basic question activists should ask before taking an action in support of people outside our own communities: What do the people affected want to do?

What we heard directly from Sudanese activists, at the time Calgary-based Talisman Energy was exploiting that country’s oil, was “get your company out of our country.” So, that’s what we worked to do. What we heard from South African activists during apartheid there was “cut South African business off.” So, we boycotted and promoted sanctions.

If we’re going to do anything “for”, “about”, or — much better — with the people of, Uganda, the direction of our efforts needs to come from the people there who are working for positive social change in their communities. If they decide there are ways that we in “the west” can be useful in making a difference, then great — let’s do that. But if they decide that they need to handle whatever they’re doing without our involvement, it’ll not be our place to interfere or presume to “know better.” They’re not ignorant, primitive, simple-minded, backward, or in any other way less than us (it’s probably the other way around, assuming they haven’t spent their lives being bombarded to the same extent as us with U.S.-dominated western media).

While visiting Europe, in response to the question “What do you think of western civilization?” Gandhi is reported to have said “I think it would be a good idea.” Yep.

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