Category Archives: Canadian

The Fallacy of Focusing on National Figureheads

Vitriol is an odd thing. And I hate being the guy who writes about the “social media age” like it’s this thing that appeared in the last couple of years. Even before Facebook, early adopters of online communication remember the glory days of website forums, chat rooms, and other social media sites that existed long before we had the term social media (most people remember Myspace, fellow Edmontonians remember Nexopia). But, despite sounding like a clueless blogger, the social media age has reared an excessive amount of vitriol from the public. I’ve covered this before in other essays and it seems to be a topic I’m fixated on. I don’t know why I’m so fixated on it. Early adopters of forums can remember the all-caps ranters and trolls long before it became a topic of social media etiquette. It’s the focus and targets of this vitriol that’s fascinating me today.

The current US leader is obviously on the receiving end of a lot of this online aggression and that’s quickly becoming old news (though a lot of what’s going on around him continues to be fascinating), so I want to focus on my homeland of Canada, and specifically the current hate-campaigns towards our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In my last open letter, I brushed on the fact that public opinion of him has been dropping. The online comments towards him and his activities have been looking more and more, well, American as of late. But he’s also been the target of some odd criticism.

One thing I’ve noted that he’s been criticized a lot about has been his international presence. The fact that he’s been an active diplomat for Canada has resulted in this odd argument that he doesn’t actually care about Canadians and he’s doing nothing for us. This is very odd for a lot of reasons. The first being that a major part of the job of Prime Minister is having that international diplomat presence. A world leader has to interact with the world.

The second odd thing about this is this assumption that if the Prime Minister is working on something international, then he’s clearly doing nothing domestic. The Federal Government is made up of a lot more people than just the Prime Minister. In fact, as of 2016, 258,979 people have been employed in some sort of Federal Public Service and 197,354 people are employed in that core administration of Federal Public Service. That’s a lot of people and believe me not all of them are working on the same international missions that Trudeau has been publicly working on. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that a very large majority of these 197,354 core administration and 258,979 Federal Public Service workers are focused on domestic issues.

There’s one very specific online incident that this brings to mind. There was a story that came out about a financial pledge Trudeau made for an international issue (what the issue was escapes me and at this time I’m having difficulty finding the exact story that was cited). The individual who posted about it expressed that the money that was being pledged for this international effort would be better used domestically for homeless issues. This would be a valid argument, if the current Federal Government wasn’t the first Federal Government in many years to be developing a national housing strategy. In fact, only weeks before this post came across my social media feed, the Federal Government released $12.6 billion to municipal foundations for affordable housing. Edmonton organizations alone received $18.2 million. Yet, this significant amount of funding wasn’t mentioned once during the entire social media based debate. All that was focused on was the fact that the Trudeau government was giving funds to other countries.

I could speculate endlessly about why important information about an issue that this individual obviously cares about would be so blatantly missed. It got plenty of news coverage, both online and on television, and plenty of elected officials took part in major public announcements. But, none of those elected officials were Prime Minister Trudeau.

Are we treating world leaders the way we treat celebrities now? Think about the way most people watch movies. The focus is placed on the major star power driving the film’s cast. Sometimes, we focus on the directly. Rarely, we focus on the writer. Sometimes there’s even a focus on the special effects studio. But never do we focus on set designers, make-up artists, production assistants, editors, grips, camera technicians, or the hundreds of other critical roles that go into a film. The same is becoming true for government. All we can see are the leaders, totally forgetting how much more goes into any governmental body.

If you’re looking to leaders to represent your interests, you’re looking in all the wrong places. Further, we don’t need leaders. We need representation. And this is how our governmental system is actually set up. Unless the leaders are picking fights with other countries or moving on motions that will drastically change the organizational structure of a country, the actions of the leaders are typically highly inconsequential.

The motions and activities that the government tends to move on stems from the local representatives: the Senators, Ministers, Members of Parliament (MP), and on the provincial level the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). Even the City Councils can have some sway with the Federal Government. That $16.2 billion being released for affordable housing organizations was a major ask by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which is Chaired by Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. Leaders don’t typically make unilaterally decisions on motions and Acts.

Everything that goes through government stems from motions drafted by MPs and MLAs, which reflect the interest of their constituents. With this in mind, it can be argued that yelling at the Prime Minister or the Premier or the President over Facebook is kind of an utter waste of time. If you want to see real change being made in government, contact your local MLAs, MPs, and even City Councillors. They are the voices in the ear of governments and they are the one who actually spur change. Not the leaders.

I would argue something similar for our southern neighbours. By no means am I going to say something like, “Just give the guy a chance, he might be really good.” But, what I will stress is that you shouldn’t focus your attention on trying to get his attention. Instead, look to your back yard. Who is your senator? Your governor? Who represents you in Washington? Those are the questions you should be asking and those are the elected officials who you should be focusing your attention on. The guy in the White House will never hear you, never pay attention to you, and frankly does not care. But your local elected officials do care and they will hear you. Get your local governors and senators on your side and you can do a lot more in Washington than you ever could by criticizing anyone on Facebook.

Again, we don’t need leaders. We need representations. And that’s how our government is structured. But we keep forgetting that. If you want to create social change, stop looking to leaders and start looking in your back yard.

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Attention to Small Details

Rob always plays fantastic; I can never say enough good things about him. There’s something about how his Gretsch hollow body guitar rings out when he’s standing on stage alone. It’s like his voice melds perfectly with the guitar’s sound and carries through the bar, entrancing anyone who steps through the door. While he’s playing, I see a guy standing at the front, cash in hand to pay the cover for tonight’s show, and he’s just frozen, staring at the front where Rob’s performing. The guy working the door doesn’t seem to mind: he’s just as entranced as the guy with the money. I don’t think he even realizes that ten dollar bill is for him.

Tonight’s show is a little different. Where normally each performer gets thirty to forty-five minutes to play through as many songs as he knows before the next performer comes on, tonight there are three of us alternating every three songs. Joe’s on first tonight: an energetic classic bluegrass kind of guy with the dirty flannel shirt and thick mustache hiding his top lip to go along with all the other genre clichés. The thing is Joe knows how to nail it. Between each song he reaches into his back pocket to pull out his comb and adjust his pompadour and he taps his steel guitar to count himself in at the start of each song. It’s like he’s possessed by the spirit of Woodie Gutherie himself, the way he commands the audience and gets people on their feet dancing. I’ve seen full jazz symphonies playing old Louie Armstrong songs with the most swing who can’t get that kind of reaction out of people.

Joe blasts through his three songs in a frenzy, making Rob’s set right after a little awkward at first because of the tempo change, but a welcome change to all the out of breath dancers in the bar. Rob’s dark eyes peer out into the audience, always looking like he just spotted the prettiest girl in the bar and he doesn’t want to take his eyes off her. His low, humble voice sneaks out between his lips, lined with a dark mustache and goatee. His black hair is combed back, but a small strand always hangs in front of his face. His black hair matches the black vest and tie he wore over top his pressed white shirt; and, all those neutral tones make his sharp blue guitar pop and glow like it’s a gem he just found and he’s presenting it to the love of his life.

I stand behind the stage during Rob’s first set, trying to remember all the words to my songs. I keep the chords easy enough to remember, but it’s always those damn words that never seem to stick in my head. I stretch my arms and crack my knuckles, reciting the words over and over again. I don’t know why I still do that before every show I play; I always wind up adlibbing lyrics with whatever I see in the bar and, if I’m lucky, am able to go back into the choruses smoothly. I wonder if Joe and Rob run into this same problem that I do. Every time they play, they just nail it, every word seems perfect. I just don’t have that kind of attention to small details.

Robs thanks the audience and steps off the stage, patting me on the shoulder as I put the final fine-tuning to my guitar and get ready to go. I stand in the middle of the stage and stare out into the audience, staring back at me. For a moment, I completely forget where I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. I look down at my guitar and a bright stage light illuminates me, standing alone on a stage. I raise my hand to cover my eyes and think to myself, “Fuck I hate stage lights.”

Fucking brilliant.

I walk up to the microphone. “My name is Chester, I haven’t changed my Bob Dylan shirt for three days and I really hate stage lights. So I’m going to try something different today.”

I hop off the stage and start strumming my acoustic guitar. Wandering around the bar, I start singing as loud as I can whatever words I remember. For the first song I stand in the middle of the dance floor, hoping people will stand up and stand around me; I wound up just standing in the middle of the floor looking like a bigger idiot than I would have on stage. If people aren’t going to come to me then I’m going to have to go to them.

For my second song, I walk over to the bar. The first line of the song has something to do with having a crush on a girl working in a hardware store, but I can’t remember that. On to adlibbing.

“Hey Mister Bartender/Can you pour me a pint of Keith’s/I’m feeling awfully dry here/and I can’t remember any of my words.”

This got a few laughs out of the audience while I keep playing through the songs. When the bartender hands me the pint I stop of a moment and let my strings sings out.

“That’s four-fifty for the pint, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool,” I hand the bartender a five and pop another two dollars into the tip jar before taking a sip of the pint and continuing my song.

I stand at the bar for the rest of my first set, tapping my boot against the bar to the rhythm of my songs. I finish the first set covering Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” knowing if I forget the words I better adlib a damn fine verse otherwise some folk purist is going to throw his beer at me.

Crap, what’s the second verse again?

“The bar looks awfully full tonight/And I hope you’re all having a good time/Make sure to tip your bartender/He’s a really really nice guy.” I turn and give the bartender a high five. “Joe and Rob are playing next/They put on a great show/Please don’t kill me/For not remembering this song.”

I kick back into the chorus and I spot a few people singing along, so I walk up to them and invite them to take over the verses. Some are too shy and kind of just left me strumming and negotiating, but one young lady wearing thick rimmed glasses and a bright purple hoodie stands up on her table and sings the last verse for me and joined me for the last chorus.

Ok, I’m winning them over, but what are Joe and Rob going to do to try and one up me?

Joe takes the stage and it’s like bluegrass in red heat. He strums frantically, faster and faster, giving me an idea what it would be like if Slayer tried to cover Robert Johnson songs. The audience claps along with Joe’s boot stomp and the harder he stomps, the harder they clap. Worse though, the faster Joe plays, the faster everyone drinks. Now the room is full of drunk college-aged adults who arrived with a false sense of irony in mind in liking a style of music that would normally have been reserved for their farmer grandfathers, and they’re all screaming and hollering along.

Joe finishes his third song and Rob stands on the side of the stage, mouth hanging open and arms hanging on his side, with a look on his face that only says, “What the fuck am I supposed to do now?” Rob coming on stage is like following trying to follow up a cocaine filled, pre-born-again-Christian Megadeth set with Joan Baez: people are either going to fall asleep, throw things, or attack poor Rob. The energy in the room is still too high for bedroom-eyed-ballads. But once Rob starts playing again, the energy did drop, but people are in that trance again, like those bedroom-eyes have the power to settle a rabid pack of hyenas. I stare at Rob and suddenly realize that three songs have passed and it’s my turn.

And I have no fucking idea what I’m supposed to play.

I give my six strings a slow strum to make sure everything’s still in tune. Then I pick a random chord. I strum it for a minute, not having any clue what chord I’m playing (I can’t read music, I make it up as I go) before picking another random chord and strumming it to the same tempo. It was sounding alright, I only know a couple of positions that I’ve given odd nicknames to (two-top-two-bottom, middle-string-magic, pretty-high, a-lot-of-open, and so on) and lucky for me, as long as I play these chords on the lowest frets of my guitar they generally sound good together no matter what order I play them in.

Strum… strum… strum…

Shit, I need words.

“It’s snowing again outside/The winter keeps me cold/Could we keep warm together tonight/If I could be so bold.”

Did I just sing a line about using snow as an excuse to get into a girl’s pants? People are giggling, keep going with it.

I keep this up for the entire set and I don’t know how I was able to pull this off. Whatever I see coming through the room, walking around, and even outside with the smokers, I just keep singing whatever pops into my head. I keep turning my surroundings into poetry.

Towards the end of my last set, I start strumming this one riff, and I keep strumming it over and over again, walking around the room. I stop beside a girl and I give her a nod and she nods back.

“How are you liking the show?” I ask whilst I keep strumming.

“Good,” she replies.

“Has it actually been good?” I stare into her green eyes, keep strumming. My eyes wander down her floral sundress, keep strumming. Down to her black ballet-style shoes, keep strumming. I look back up and she adjusts her thick rimmed glasses.

“Actually good,” she continues. “It’s been interesting.”

I nod. “It has been interesting hasn’t it?”

I keep strumming.

“Probably time to end the song, isn’t it?” I ask.

“Probably,” she giggles.

“When should I stop?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugs.

I keep strumming.

“K, I have an idea,” still strumming. “Pick a number.”

“Okay, uh, twenty-one.”

“Okay, we’re going to count down from twenty-one, ready?”

“Twenty-one,” she begins.

“Twenty,” I join in.

“Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen,” I listen and I hear it getting louder behind me.

“Sixteen, fifteen, fourteen,” even louder behind me.

“Thirteen, twelve, eleven,” the whole bar’s counting along.

“Ten, nine, eight, seven,” they’re stomping and clapping and pounding the tables along.

“Six, five, four,” wait, what do I say when I’m done?

“Three, two, one,” and I stop strumming.

“I’m Chester, I have no idea what just happened, and I hope you weren’t bored tonight, thank you.”

Unfortunate Rejections

No one likes being rejected, and I’ve been rejected by them all. Girls, employers, credit companies, if they can reject you, I’ve been rejected by them. And I can sit here and punch myself in the face until all my teeth fall out and my jaw’s ready to fall off of its hinges, and it won’t do anything. I’ve long since accepted that griping changes nothing, I’ve been griping over rejections long enough to figure that out. But to the same token, things get a lot worse when you let all those gremlins knawing at the back of your neck fester (I’ve had plenty of experience with that as well).

Some people drink to deal with the feeling that everyone has just kicked you in the guts. Some people revert to drugs or violence. Some people go deep into listing off clichés. I fall into that dangerous trap sometimes, which leads to harder clichés like a bed of roses, a bee in your bonnet, and a blast from the past. Every time I write one of these I hate myself a little bit more. But like the oldest trick in the book, sometimes you need to write down a long list of clichés because it just fucking feels good – especially when nothing else feels good.

Yes, I have experienced a recent rejection. No, my girlfriend didn’t dump me – strangely enough, the repulsive smells, sounds, and sights have yet to drive her into a murderous frenzy (though after eating all the leftover pizza in the fridge, I think I’m getting closer). This was a different sort of rejection: the only kind that hurts this much while co-habiting with some who tolerates the sights, smells, and sounds from a 27 year-old man child.

I have been job searching lately and I had an interview for a job that was actually interesting on a day-to-day basis, paid well with all the grown-up benefits, and actually utilized the skills I studied while in university: the trifecta of fucking awesome job. I got the call, booked the early interview, nailed the questions in the interview, the manager and I talked for nearly two hours, everything was coming up me. Mentally, it was like I was already there. I was ready to tell the little not-for-profit that still pays me below the poverty line where to go and how to get there, I started thinking about what it would be like to not struggle check to check and actually start saving for one of those important grown-up investments like a condo or a car whose check engine light hasn’t been on for two years straight. I was ready to move on.

Unfortunately, the job had other plans for me.

While I was at work a couple of days back, I decided to check my personal email. There it was: the name on the email matched the organization who interviewed me; the subject line had my name and the job I applied for; and, a bit of the message was readable underneath the subject. The first word my eyes narrowed in on was “unfortunately.”

I’ve become fat too acquainted with unfortunately.

The worst part was that even the email told me about how I nailed the interview, I really knew my stuff, and I was perfectly qualified for the job. There was just one person that little bit more qualified than me, unfortunately. I would probably be dealing with this better if I were under-qualified, if I did fuck up the interview, or if there was something that made me a clear wrong choice for the job. At least then there would be some growth possible, I could have learned something. There could have been some growth possible.

And that’s the really hard part of rejection. When you’re pursuing something like a new job, a girlfriend, or something that requires good credit, it means you’re ready for something new. You’re ready to grow. Rejection is the world saying back to you, “No, you’re not ready to grow yet. You need to stay in your situation a little while longer. No matter if it sucks. You’re not ready to grow yet.” No one wants to hear that. Life is too short to wait. I could be dead tomorrow. I don’t want to die working a job I became over-qualified for a week after I started. I don’t want to die still in crippling debt, leaving it to my parents, my girlfriend, or whoever else is unfortunate enough to inherit my estate. Sure, they’ll get a decent book and vinyl collection, but not enough to make it worth paying off my lifetime of poor choices.

God, at this point I wouldn’t even leave that pretty of a corpse. You have no idea what living below the poverty line does to an already unfortunate face.

It’s cliché nowadays for the post-grad millenials to be complaining about a difficult job market, feeling going through university wasn’t really worth it, and being afraid of what the future looks like. I think about my parents who were married, owned a house, and were starting a family by the time they were my age. My parents and other people of their generation always say, “You’re just a different generation. You’ll do things later in life than we did. That’s all.” I’ve been hearing this since I was 22. By all means, I’ve certainly progressed since then. It’s just a little depressing that at this rate I’ll be a home owner by 40 if I’m lucky.

I’m well aware I’m lucky to have a job to begin with. I’m not a barista, I don’t work a drive-though, and my job allows me the freedom to do things like bash my job on a blog. Being unfortunately rejected, I’ve had to re-engage myself into my job and start thinking long term with my projects again. It’s been difficult knowing what was so close in reach. But I can’t give up.

At the end of the day, I still have bills to pay. I can’t afford the luxury of hating my job to the point where I can cold quit and spend some time unemployed. My credit rating is bad enough as is, last thing I need is to miss any more payments and delay my ability to buy a house even longer.

But my job hunt isn’t over yet.

I know I’m ready to grow. It’s just a matter of showing it. I’m not going to stop putting myself out there because I’ve been kicked down by a few unfortunate rejections. It might seem like I’m banging my head against a wall. But eventually, the drywall will crack and I’m going to break through to something better.

Commercial Interests in Media: Syria vs. Award Shows

Today’s been a fascinating day for me.

I’ve always been something of a media junkie, paying especially close attention to world news and international politics. Somewhere around fourth grade the US decided to bomb a country called Bosnia. At the time, I had no idea why. All I knew was somewhere in another country, people in the middle of the night were being woken up by bombs dropping around their houses.

I don’t remember there being much protest. I don’t remember hearing any opposition in any of the news sources that I read or watched with my parents. I just remember at the time President Bill Clinton giving the order and watching footage of planes taking off from aircraft carriers and wondering how long it would be before something like this happened close to my house.

Most of all, I wondered why no one was questioning why this was happening. I had no idea if this was a necessary mission or not. I never saw any debate. No one explained what was happening. It was expected that we simply accept this at face value.

Albeit I was nine years old at the time and probably wasn’t paying as much attention to current issues as I thought I was, but this is something I feel is still prevalent today and possibly getting worse as information becomes more accessible: somehow the important world issues are being ignored by the public. It’s hard to make an argument as to what the public should and should not consume, but my interesting day today proves that there’s something seriously broken with the current media machine.

At work I usually take the time to surf through quite a few news sites to skim through headlines and catch up on stories that interest me – much like my father did every morning with his newspaper. I knew there was big news coming out of a country that caught my interest much like Bosnia did almost twenty years ago. I heard that UN officials had finally entered Syria to inspect weapons and sites where civilians had been hurt to find out if any dangerous chemicals had been used. While travelling through the country by car, snipers started shooting at the UN officials. Nobody knows if the snipers were part of rebel forces or if they were pro-regime.

I wanted to know more.

As I surfed through my favourite newsfeeds through the internet, I noticed common front headline through each site: a pop-star’s potentially racially ignorant performance at an awards show. If there was some sort of moral outrage over some of the content to the performance, I would understand the controversy. But, every headline focused on one facet of the performance: the way the performer gyrated her posterior region.

Some useless bubble-gum princess’ ass is more important than the world peacekeepers being shot at.

I understand that everyone is not interested in world politics. If regularly consuming media has taught me anything is that people will always be far more interested in celebrity culture than the politics that actually affect their everyday lives. I know this first hand.

I’m almost certain the reason why I never found that full story behind what was happening in Bosnia when I was nine years old was because I was far more interested in the Star Wars THX re-releases that same year. What can you expect? I was only nine years old. But I still never fully understood. And those bombs still dropped.

Assuming that somehow the public will become more informed with better, more accessible and more frequently updated online news sources is something I idealistically hoped for. And I’ve had the privilege of many great conversations based on new facts learned from (and yes, they do exist) reliable online sources.

But it’s also created something of an oversaturated cloud of noise. It’s hard to sift through all the constantly updated stories, the specialty websites versus the general interest news sources. Where before the newspaper landed on your front doorstep, you read the headline, and thus became informed, now it’s almost as if it’s more work for people to read through, think about what they want to be informed on, and find it.

With so many options laid out in front of them, of course people will always pick up the candy first.

I can’t help but speculate, though. Even these past few years I have to wonder if anyone is paying any attention.

Europeans countries are experiencing the kind of economic downturn that makes the great depression feel like a time of economic surplus. Spain, Italy, Greece and so many more saw massive riots in the streets because of the egregiously high youth unemployment. Cyprus just about had a civil war when their banks tried to freeze everyone’s accounts.

Top headlines at the time: the Royal Wedding.

When George W. Bush declared war on Iraq in 2003, arguably one of the worst military decisions since Vietnam.

Top headlines at the time: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.

I wonder if it’s becoming easier for human rights violations knowing that media is controlled by commercial interests and it’s always easier to sell candy?

The Syrian Assad regime is potentially using toxic gasses against their own citizens.

But there’s new pictures of the Royal baby.

Did you know there was genocide in Darfur? The conflict started in 2003 and is actually still ongoing.

Did you know British warplanes have been landing in Cyprus, getting ready to enter Syria and raising more tensions in Damascus? Syria is now an international conflict. Their closest trading partners are Russia and Iran.

How do you think this is going to end?

Russia refuses to back down on its anti-gay laws yet the Winter 2014 Olympics will still be held in Sochi; and, millions of people will still watch and ignore that probably outside of the very stadium where people are winning medals and Coca Cola is telling you to drink up, another human being is being beaten and arrested for how they were born. Another human being is being killed in Russia because of some sense of honour the neo-right and new skinhead movement in Russia holds.

We ignored a similar issue at the Olympics in 1936.

But the papers will keep writing about it. It will be the headlines on all the news websites. This will be all people read about and watch.

Commercial interests: this is why I quit being a journalist.

We Should All Huck Eggs at Thomas Lukaszuk

220px-Thomas_Lukaszuk,_MLA_Deputy_PremierRecently, I wrote an open letter to Alberta’s Deputy Minister Thomas Lukaszuk about this administration’s treatment of public sector institutions such as health care and education.

I also published an essay about the cuts to primary education and questioned what were the motives behind these gross budget reductions.

I see myself sometimes as a speculative and hyperbolic rhetorician, where I notice things that those in positions of authority and power are leaning towards and make mention or borderline dystopian outcomes that they could lead to. Will my suggestions actually happen the way I write? Probably not. Is it a feasible outcome that helps the reading public think? Absolutely.

I can now only question how hyperbolic my suggestions are: there are other who are agreeing with me.

Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal published a column where she analyzes Lukaszuk’s interference with the University of Alberta and much of what she says mirrors much of my dystopian speculations.

“If the U of A is in crisis, it’s mostly because the province created one and thereby created for itself a perfect excuse to stick its nose into the university’s governance.”

It feels something like that moment of clarity that Mel Gibson experienced in Conspiracy Theory when it finally came to fruition that there is something scandalous afoot and that “they” really are after him. It’s a moment, “even I barely believed what I was saying. Yet here we are.”

“A cynic might well wonder to what extent this financial crisis was manufactured for that express purpose — to further the province’s Campus Alberta homogenization agenda.”

This cynic has had an issue with the Campus Alberta homogenization agenda (no need for quotes, this isn’t a term of phrase, it’s just what it literally is) since it was first announced. It simply screamed of killing academia in place for more programs that can further the agendas of big business and oil.

“It’s a Tory pattern. Create a policy mess. Then make the board and bureaucrats responsible for carrying out that policy convenient public scapegoats when things go awry.”

I understand that the Alberta Conservatives have a mandate to end deficit budgets in Alberta. I have a conservative side myself and I like the idea of surplus governments. The problem arises in that the Alberta Government is suddenly sacrificing essential services to Albertans to try and meet this budgetary agenda. They’re no longer looking at Albertans as people; only as beans to count.

It’s no far-reaching cryptic secret that educated populations make more money, which then results in better local economies. It’s why Scandinavian countries, which offer free post-secondary education, run very few deficit budgets and some of the largest surplus governments in the world.

It appears that the Government of Alberta has traded sensible facts and truths for sticking with idealistic agendas.

It also appears that my own conspiracy theories may not be that far off from the truth.

I guess it’s time we all put on our tinfoil hats, stand screaming on street corners and huck eggs anytime we see Thomas Lukaszuk or any member of his and Alison Redford’s Conservative caucus. We might sound like we’re crazy, but we’re the public that these elected officials should be serving.

We’re not numbers.

Dying of Old Age

I’ve got this thing for dying of old age

It must seem like a crazy liberal ideal

Or some sort of privilege reserved for the rich

But I’m not sure if I’ll be allowed to in my country

Abolishing something like long-gun registry

I just don’t see the need for semi-automatic assault rifles

While police only carry pistols and we farm all of our animals

And why this is a controversial discussion

You’re afraid of fighting big government

While you keep funding all of these big businesses

Who buy politicians like they’re trading stock options

You might think I’m crazy for not wanting to die

In some flashy blaze of glory like a tragic hero on TV

I think I’d rather read a book in my bed

Close my eyes and fall to sleep in the peace and quiet

Because there are no good guys

And there are no bad guys

There’s just a lot of confused people

Who’ve been given all of this freedom

But we don’t bother to educate them

And explain to them what this freedom means

I wish people would give money to schools

Like they give money to weapons manufacturing

I wish parliament listened to educators

The same way they listened to millionaires

I wish people would stop shooting

Before they looked at where they’re aiming

I wish I could die of old age

But I’m almost certain some neighbourhood watch security

Will follow me while I’m walking on my own block

Say I’m a threat because I’m tall and have tattoos

Assholes like my always get away with it

Or some other oversimplified ignorant ridiculous bullshit

Any reason to stand his ground and shoot

Living out his old west cowboy fantasy

Shooting the bad guy in a blaze of glory

And be deemed the big hero

He and his big shiny fucking gun

Maybe I’m just an idealistic Canadian

Who’d rather not see his country turn this way

And who doesn’t understand what’s so fucking great

About being able to kill anything

Or why anyone would want to listen to Ted Nugent spout on about

Shooting into underprivileged neighbourhoods from a helicopter

He talks so tough and he loves his guns

Don’t forget he dodged the draft

Along with Mohammed Ali

And Arlo Gutherie

And William Gibson

And Jimi Hendrix

And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

And Stephen King

And Bruce Springsteen

And don’t get me started on Bill O’Reily

And Dick Cheney

And Karl Rove

And Donald Trump

And OJ Simpson

And Newt Gingrich

And Al Gore

I guess that they all wanted to die of old age too

I’m not trying to oversimplify a bigger issue

I just don’t worry about big government knocking at my door

Because if it got to the point

Where this was something to be worried about

I’d rather not worry that the government at my door

Was paid for

By Halliburton

An Open Letter to Men’s Rights Edmonton

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 1.18.43 PMDear Men’s Rights Edmonton,

Your recent poster campaign has garnered you a lot of attention. CBC, Edmonton Journal, even the Huffington Post had you up as a top story for your “Don’t be That Girl” satirical campaign, obviously playing off of the internationally acclaimed and award winning “Don’t be That Guy” campaign.

This isn’t your first tirade into the realm of public postering to promote your organization, but this time it seems you hit a real soft spot on people and got what I think you were exactly looking for: controversy.

You’re out to polarize opinions, gain as much negative attention as you can for the sake of finding maybe a handful of people who will listen to what you have to say and an even smaller handful that will jump on board with you and your cause.

You attacked a well loved campaign in this city that has helped many victims be able to stand up for themselves and be able to report crimes perpetrated against them. By satirizing this campaign, it once again demonizes the victim and is a clear-cut example as to why less than 10% of sex crimes are actually reported.

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 1.16.24 PMDo girls yell rape when it was in fact consensual? I don’t know, I’ve never been put in that position nor anyone in my current social circle has been put in that situation. Rape obviously happens and every situation is unique so I won’t be as ignorant as to say that it never happens. But I have to wonder if perhaps you’ve been the victim of one such incident that then spurred you to take this on as a cause to wave a flag for.

The problem is, no one knows who you are. I’ve been looking into your Twitter account (@MensRightsEd) where you have three (3) followers and have tweeted less than ten times and I’ve been exploring your website (mensrightsedmonton.com) looking to find who is behind these posters and which local intellectual is behind taking on such a controversial topic. You’ve cited work from PhDs such as Dr. James R Brown and there are a few images of a pale-faced gentleman in a red backwards hat, but only when you watch your first Vlog do we get to know who you are, Mr. Eric Duckman (though, I have to wonder about your name being the same as the private detective cartoon voiced by Jason Alexander) yet we know virtually nothing about you except for that you spend a lot of time thinking about why feminism is so wrong and that perhaps you daily use a protractor to figure out that perfect angle to wear your hat.

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 1.16.15 PMNormally, I don’t bother with Internet controversy groups who sometimes poster and wear sandwich boards: if that were the case I’d spend all my time talking about Westboro Baptist Church. But you’ve especially caught my interest for two reasons: number one, you’re in my city, and number two, I don’t find your messaging deplorable as much as I find it horribly misguided.

As a men’s advocacy group, you focus a lot of your time on women.

Further, I have to ask, aside from postering and posting thing son the Internet, what exactly do you do for men?

There are so many more constructive ways for you to act as an advocate for men’s rights: you could work with legal councils on high profile rape cases to ensure the defendant’s rights are not being infringed on due to the emotional content of the case. You could work Public Relations during controversial cases where you would discuss the public stigmatization even before rulings are made in a court of law. There are so many more beneficial ways you can get your message across without constantly attacking feminism and demonizing women. Yet when I explore your website, every page has at least one comment, post, or wise-crack about how “dumb feminists are.”

duckmanAgain, because we know nothing about you, I can only speculate as to what your motives are. Have been shot down at a few too many frat parties? Been beat up by a few too many boyfriends of girls you hit on? Been generally always awkward with women so now your only reaction is to call them stupid? Have you yourself been accused of rape and had to deal with the social stigma of being a rapist?

I don’t know if I’ll ever know. All I know right now is you’ve garnered some attention for yourself, have a small web presence, and just like so many of your predecessors, you’ll fade from people’s minds in no time.

Enjoy the attention while it lasts, because it won’t.

Paul Kane Park: Because it’s Finally Summer

The fountains are still empty in Paul Kane Park

Kids take advantage of the smooth concrete

With skateboards and scooters while the grown-ups

Lie on the grass like they’re beachside in Florida

My office window overlooks Paul Kane Park

While I watch the trees finally bloom

Only days away from June

Edmonton’s downtown dwellers ditch work

To get outside and catch a whiff of those first budding leaves

The scent’s sweet smell is like a sugary summer treat

The workers will leave work well before five

And fill the bars’ patios drinking and talking and laughing

They wear sunglasses and undo the top buttons of their shirts

Sip on light beers and cocktails between bursts of blustering laughter

Like a celebration of another year of survival

Celebrating the blooming trees and the sun

Celebrating bright daylight well past nine o’clock

Celebrating summer like we’ve never experienced warm weather before

I walk down to Paul Kane Park

And find a bench overlooking the empty fountain

Where sidewalk chalk outlines pictures of suns and stars

And downtown dwellers lie in the sun and drink cheap beer

The windows to the walk-up apartments

Are open and I watch the blinds swing in the light breeze

A cool breeze that tickles the hair along my bare arms

And the leaves on the trees swing like the curtains in the windows

The streets are empty around Paul Kane Park

The cars stay parked, all the people decided they rather walk

With headphones in their ears

And sunglasses covering their eyes

All smiling and saying hello as they walk by

With a look on their face that says “We made it through again”

Sharing the celebration of summer

Like it’s the first summer they ever experienced

And the last summer there will ever be

And they don’t know when the sun will recede

And the leaves will start to fall again

And daylight ends when the sun sets at three

So they celebrate now

Like tomorrow there will be no sun

Or warm weather or patios

Or sweet smells from blooming trees

Like tomorrow, there will be no summer

The Edmonton Public School Board’s 2013-14 Budget and the Alberta Government’s Cuts to Essential Services

This year, the Alberta Government passed a budget through that both borrowed money to balance its books and heavily cut essential services. Today, Edmonton’s education system was dealt a serious blow when the Edmonton Public School Board approved its own budget for 2013-14: including cutting 339 jobs – 182 of which are teacher positions.

With close to $50 million being cut from grade-school education (don’t even get me started on the close to $150 million cut from post-secondary), many school in Edmonton saw significant cuts to their budgets. Jasper Place High School saw some of the largest budget cuts, while Terwillegar School saw some of the lowest cuts (I can’t help but notice the class discrepancy between the two schools as well, where the Jasper Place is an older area of Edmonton with lower income housing and Terwillegar is a newer area of Edmonton with much higher income housing, just a funny “correlation”).

It’s frustrating that the Alberta Government has cut so deep into education to the point where teachers need to bring their own school supplies to the classroom just to get through a semester, but still refuses to tax additionally on the massive industries we have tearing apart Alberta’s North. I understand that these companies are massive job creators and are good for Alberta’s economy, but let’s think about the kinds of jobs they are creating.

Any labour specialization in Alberta requires post-secondary certification. This means that anyone wanting to specialize in welding, pipefitting or crane-operating needs to graduate high school, right? Or at least get through university as a mature student after age 21.

Specializing in a trade is VERY different from traditional education. Skills such as critical thinking and reading comprehension aren’t explored as thoroughly (if at all). This is why high school is so important; these skills can develop that early.

Let’s think about our graduating high school classes though. How many people do you know finished high school, yet had no place receiving a diploma? How many kids are just pushed through the education system, learn nothing and are thrown out into the world because the education system doesn’t want to deal with them anymore? If you even counted one, you counted too many.

With funds dwindling in the education system, this problem is only going to get worse. Classes of 40 or more kids (many of which with special needs and now will not have teachers-aides to make sure that education is doing something for them as well) crammed into a single room is not an effective way to educate and I am optimistic about the next generation because of the ease of information that they have growing up in the age where anything you need to know about anything can be pulled up on your phone in a matter of seconds, but I’m so afraid that they’ll never be able to understand all the information they have available to them.

It’s the old “give a man a fish/teach a man to fish” dichotomy. Yet the Alberta Government has difficulty in applying even the simplest lessons that we learned in our childhood.

But maybe that’s the whole point.

I’m not saying that the Alberta Government is purposefully trying to make people dumber because then they will work for Suncor and Shell without question and not be able to read the contracts that they sign and not be able to organize unions so they can get better working conditions and not try to innovate new industries in Alberta that could potentially compete with oil and not realize how much tearing up land and creating tailings ponds and making a bunch of guys from Texas really rich will actually hurt themselves and all of Alberta in the end.

I’m not saying this is happening on purpose; but, it’s a funny “correlation.”

Worse, is that we’re dealing with a seriously broken system and the fix won’t come easy. Teachers’ unions and the public haven’t always seen eye to eye. When the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) went on strike in 2006, parents of kids were mad at how long the schools were closed for. I guess its hard to appreciate what wanting better working conditions feels like when you’re raking in hundreds-of-thousands of dollars for manual labour. I guess it’s harder to understand that, chances are, the school being open or not really wouldn’t have made a difference for a lot of those kids. How many high school kids today are already writing off school, figuring they’re going to make a ton of money working on the rigs anyways so what’s the point?

I have a lot of friends who work on the rigs. But, they can articulate what they’re doing. They can read their contracts and understand what the stipulations of their employment are. They were lucky enough to have a really good high school education that taught them to read and think.

Education is so important. I can’t figure out why the Alberta Government doesn’t think so. I mean, they haven’t come out right and said it. But, Jasper Place High School is dwindling right now. It has some of the largest class sizes in Alberta, yet is receiving some of the lowest funding per capita. They borrowed money and cutting essential services to balance their books while keeping corporate tax rates the lowest in Canada. They keep chanting this bizarre hyperbolic-conservative mantra to “never raise taxes.” Most of the people I’ve talked to would be really ok with a Provincial Sales Tax (Alberta is the only province in Canada without one of those) if it meant that we would never have to sacrifice essential services.

My father always told me that any education is a good education. He’s been a union worker for more than thirty years, was able to raise a family on what he made and signed more contracts than a lawyer. I understand why he always said that now.

27: How the Fuck did I get here?

How the fuck am I almost 27?

My body’s screaming like I’m almost 40

But my brain wants to run like I’m 17

I’m sitting in a bar at one in the afternoon

Because I’ll be napping by three

If I want to stay up past eleven

I got to more weddings than parties

And everyone asks me when I’m getting hitched

As if it’s something I have planned out on a to-do list

I think I missed the part when someone explained

When what is supposed to happen when as an adult

In what most people call a normal life

As if anything I’ve ever done is normal

I guess I did everything ass-backwards

But I can say with confidence I don’t hold a single regret

It’s just a little awkward when people stare at me

With their heads tilted to the side

Wondering what’s wrong with me and

What the fuck am I doing

Especially because I still don’t quite know

This strange assumption that everyone has it all together

I doubt there isn’t a single person who

Doesn’t go home to stare into the mirror

And wonder what the fuck they are doing

My license says I’m almost 27

But I never felt any older than 19

How the fuck do I have a degree?

How the fuck did I get a regular day job?

That doesn’t require me to stock dusty shelves

Or ask if you want fries with that?

When the fuck did I become an adult?

Why does it feel like if I had a kid

I would be on the next season of Trashy Teen Parents on TLC?

And why does it make me sick to my stomach to think

That I’m not getting any younger

And people expect me to get married

Buy a house and have some kids

When all I want to do is run and scream and play

I might be almost 27

According to these standards

I’ll never grow up