Category Archives: News > National

Followup: Charlottesville

Quick update to Tuesday’s story …

It was widely observed by attendees and reported in the media that Neo-Nazis arrived armed and well-prepared at the rally in Charlottesville, then moved in later to attack counter-protestors with bats and other weapons as police took a hands-off approach to a good portion of the violence.

Given that authorities have historically been quick to respond with overwhelming shows of force in the instances of the DAPL Water Protectors protests and the Black Lives Matter protests, it came across as nothing short of infuriating when a major show of force was not taken during the Charlottesville riots in the midst of a far more dangerous situation.

In an article that ProPublica released over the weekend, reporter and witness A.C. Thompson noted, “State police and National Guardsmen watched passively for hours as self-proclaimed Nazis engaged in street battles with counter-protesters.” He then went on to name the main organizational and tactical failures at the event and describe them in nauseating detail.

I’m glad others pointed me to this article, as I’d missed it in the initial media shuffle that took place when the riots began, so thank you for that.

Now, it’s only been a few days since the riots, and it can take time to conduct a formal inquiry into the police response, but here’s a spoiler: when authorities apparently had situational awareness “for a long time” and went on to make errors such as failing to separate camps of protestors and going easy on Nazis who physically attacked officers, the optics of the overall situation don’t look good. As Thompson further notes, “Several times, a group of assault-rifle-toting militia members from New York […] played a more active role in breaking up fights,” after riot police failed to fully intervene.

I’m not sure how to respond to that, besides noting the same conclusion others have acknowledged many times: white privilege, it’s a thing.

Additionally, the fact police didn’t mount a stronger response to stop the fighting and the way they failed to arrest more of those involved in the fighting are things that work to the advantage of far-right instigators, who love the opportunity to be cast as victims of leftist violence.

In other words, letting Nazis slug it out with Antifa for a few days isn’t just a shitty idea, it’s actually a recruitment win for Nazis and their ilk.

I’m sure this isn’t what authorities wanted, but regardless of whether it arose through accidental blunder or planned non-intervention, that’s now the reality they’re going to have to deal with, as will many other cities who are currently facing spin-off rallies in the wake of the mess in Charlottesville.

It will be interesting to read the results of a formal inquiry, if one is ever conducted into these matters.

On Hate: Charlottesville And Beyond

During one more in a long line of racist clashes in the United States, one protester was murdered and at least nineteen others injured after a Neo-Nazi from Idaho attended the “Unite the Right” rally at Charlottesville, VA, and proceeded to drive his car into the crowd.

A running theme with white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, and other hate groups is they’ve tried repeatedly to avoid the name they’ve earned for themselves while still trying to perpetrate all of the moral and criminal wrongs historically associated with their movements. To varying degrees, they will advocate fervently in public spaces for the advancement of racism, social segregation, racist propaganda, hate speech, acts of violence, and even murder, but if recent news coverage is any indication, many seem unable to stomach the idea of getting caught or called out for their disgusting behaviour.

This, in and of itself, speaks volumes.

Remember — if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then racist apologists be damned, it’s a fuckin’ duck.

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The Ongoing US Trump/Russia Media Flap

Here’s a fairly level-headed explanation of the Trump/Russia coverage that’s paralyzed the news cycle for the past few months, courtesy of Michael Tracey from TYT:

It’s important to note that whether or not the Trump/Russia story has legs, we’ve long since passed the point where irrational narratives became ends and pursuits in themselves, and people have largely chosen to see what they want to see come out of this situation.

If there’s one thing 2016 taught us, it’s that the American political system and electorate are, largely, no longer rational actors. They’re in a bad place and they want to burn something down because they’re understandably pissed off at the status quo. The other side of the coin is most aren’t terribly concerned with how they go about doing it, or what corners they cut when giving it thought.

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Donald Trump’s First 100 Days

Until now, I haven’t been reporting on the political situation in the United States because news on the subject has been ubiquitous, and many talented individuals and media outlets have been calling the situation for what it is.

Today, this changes. I don’t feel it’s appropriate for a person to stand on the sidelines and wait for others to do one’s duty in the midst of a matter this important. I’ve written on Canadian politics on this site in the past, and arguably US politics can have just as significant an impact on anyone living north of the border due to widespread export of American culture, values, and geopolitical influence.

At the same time, lingering concerns remain on the political and financial affiliations of some media outlets, the impact of compromised journalism in an information driven society, and the pitfalls of the ratings-driven system holding sway on most TV-based media delivery platforms which tends to capitalize on drama and suffering while often failing to deliver context and historical perspective.

While there are many media groups who are doing high quality work and providing in-depth journalism, the mixed nature of technology and its use (or misuse at times) means it’s wise to ensure information is regularly fact-checked and further research is conducted to understand context and establish a broader perspective of current events.

The unfortunate thing about politics is that despite having great importance in daily life, it frequently tends to be treated as a spectator sport. Media companies run round-the-clock news cycles and make money from it, people talk to family and friends about what’s going on in the world, some offices run pools on what they think the next big change might be, but how many of us are actually willing to roll up our sleeves and get involved?

When was the last time you talked with a Congressperson, Member of Parliament, or MLA? Have you ever read legislative documentation to learn the issues? When was the last time you fact checked a political statement? Ever been part of a public commentary hearing? Heck, when was the last time you voted?

Here’s why political engagement matters:

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The Sea-Change at YouTube

It’s time we had a conversation about censorship.

Recently a mass exodus of major advertisers occurred at YouTube, which has since caused the ecosystem of that platform to fall into disarray. As noted by both YouTubers and mainstream media outlets alike, the precipitating event seems to have been a small number of government and corporate ads appearing alongside racist hate videos on a very small number of channels. The issue was brought to the attention of governments and corporations in a high profile manner, and from there, industry brass decided to pull all advertising off the YouTube platform, citing the desire to not be associated with harmful content.

As various media outlets have reported, it’s an odd narrative to follow given the fact this problem has existed for many, many years. Until the middle of 2016, it’s been an issue that’s rarely made the news. Furthermore, despite the historical efforts made by media companies (especially Google) to stamp out racist and other extremist content, the issue remains difficult to address owing to the sheer volume of data being uploaded at any given time.

In Youtube’s case, at least 300 hours of video is uploaded each minute (though some put that number as high as 400 hrs/min). If we go with the lowest estimate, that’s still 18,000 hours of video in an hour, 432,000 hours of video in a day, or 12.96 million hours in a 30-day month. These numbers are definitely not in Google’s favour, and despite valiant efforts to screen user-generated content, Internet media companies as a rule tend to be faced with a never-ending, uphill battle when it comes to managing these enormous volumes of user-generated content.

Similar to the ongoing situation at Facebook (and its implications for that network’s 1.2 billion daily users), the logistics are impossible when it comes to setting up a purely human intervention as a solution to harmful content. There’s no practical way for Google, or any ultra high volume media company for that matter, to retain sufficient human staffing in order to individually review each piece of user-generated content that comes in the door. As a result, industry standard practices include the use of software algorithms as gatekeepers and the automation of most issues related to policy enforcement and content management.

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On the Death of David Bowie

There’s “passing away with style,” and then there’s “I’m going for one more encore, and I’m not just going to love this, I’m gonna strike the boldest dot imaginable on the exclamation point that is my life.”

When I heard about David Bowie’s death, I partly expected to hear about him doing something notable or dramatic on the way out — ain’t that just like him.

The end is near, the odds are tangibly impossible, and even as the world comes crashing down around his ears, here he is on set casting a music video, singing with that same sweet, silvery passion that’s defined so many of his life’s other accomplishments.

Not florid prose nor mournful discourse nor simple wonder can properly describe the inspiration and beauty in such a gesture. Lyrics here. Links to the Canadian and American Cancer Societies as well, because why not contribute?

Now, if you haven’t clicked PLAY on the above video, you’d better turn off everything else around you right now, and load it up.

And don’t forget the encore …

May you be well remembered, and remembered well in all the ages to come.

With Liberty and Firearms for All

One of the issues that’s come up repeatedly in contemporary US politics is the idea that the 2nd Amendment conveys an individual’s right to obtain, possess, and openly carry firearms.

The realm of law and order is not unlike the fashion world in that over time, new trends emerge and fresh items of interest arise, while established trends can be played down or may fall out of favour entirely. Interpretation matters most, and that interpretation is generally subject to the linguistic evolution and societal attitudes of the period. In the case of the 2nd Amendment, the legislation has been furiously debated in a modern setting as to the merits of its grammatical structure and meaning, other historical precedents, and differences between the original and ratified versions.

The recent push for widespread ‘freedom’ enshrined in law as permitting individual gun ownership wasn’t always so. Up to the turn of the 21st century, it was widely accepted by many (even conservative Chief Justice Warren Berger) that an individual right to bear arms wasn’t a thing. Many conservatives at the time carried the same torch and stood in opposition to what they believed was a silly, if not fairly hazardous, idea.

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Anti-Intellectualism and Politics

During 2015, Canada took a conscious, introspective turn toward a more progressive journey as voters elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Since then, we’ve been making inroads on a significant departure from the attitudes of the prior administration and staying mostly true to this. While there remains a lot of heavy lifting to do in correcting the anti-progress legacy of Stephen Harper, we’re on the road to recovery. There remains a certain faith in government, such that we’ve significantly boosted voter turnout. That in itself speaks volumes.

The change of administration brought with it some very public moments, like the new equality cabinet, the rise of an aboriginal chief as Justice Minister, and the appointment of an internationally respected war hero as Defense Minister.

While these changes are in all respects welcome, and in most cases long past due, it’s the subtle stuff we don’t see going on behind the scenes day-to-day which contributes just as much if not more to the shaping of our character as a culture of many different cultures. The way our politicians behave toward one another, their interaction with the people, their willingness to champion progress and education, their attitudes toward strangers, and their compassion towards the ‘other’ — all of these are the measure of a politician whether that individual is within view of the press or not. One thing I found reassuring about this past election was the conscious rejection of divisive politics by the Canadian people. What we have right now is not perfect by any measure, but it’s a lot better than the alternative might have been.

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Keeping Our Perspective on War

When one takes a bird’s-eye view of battle and civilian casualties by the numbers, the results as shown above are shocking.

All of this helps one maintain a healthy sense of perspective, and reveals that not only do present-day news channels and distributors exaggerate the frequency and ferocity of conflicts on a regular basis by flooding the public space with over-reporting and embellishments, but we almost invariably are fed information to arrive at a mindset that makes us forget on a daily basis the major powers have not fought one another since World War 2, and today’s war deaths (military and civilian) are minuscule in comparison.

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Financial Corruption and Value Dilution in Higher Education

I’d been browsing through the news recently for a collection of articles to share on a rather broad topic: the influence of moneyed interests on the educational system. This is a longstanding interest of mine, having grown up during a time when a year in university cost about $1,200, and having watched tuition rates and living costs balloon exponentially ever since. But what shocked me into getting the links to this post up that much sooner is this emerging story from the US:

“The Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday said it brought fraud charges against ITT Educational Services Inc. and two of its top executives, alleging they misled investors about the looming financial impact of two badly-performing student-loan programs on the for-profit educator. […] ITT formed the student-loan programs to provide off-balance-sheet loans for ITT’s students in the wake of the financial crisis, when the market for private student loans dried up and for-profit schools created new ways to help students pay their tuition bills.”

source: Wall Street Journal

Let us further expand on the dialogue surrounding money in education for the benefit of those who haven’t been as immersed in the debate:

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