Sunday, September 30, 2012

Omar Khadr Repatriated

After ten years, Canada has finally repatriated child soldier Omar Khadr.

Ten years.

A decade.

Canada, known as a haven for compassion and human rights was the only country not to take its own citizen back from Guantanamo.

This isn't about whether or not Khadr is guilty of anything. Courts here are capable of deciding that and deciding what to do about it.

It's about allowing a citizen to remain in a prison that in and of itself is illegal. The use of torture against prisoners is illegal under the Geneva Convention. By allowing Khadr to remain there, Canada was complicit.

For shame.

Those who say that although he was only 15 at the time of his alleged crime (a child under the law) he was old enough to know right from wrong. That he already had a "terrorist" frame of mind because of his upbringing. What do you think ten years in a torture chamber likely did to his way of thinking?

The racist, mean-spirited comments that have been directed towards Khadr. For shame.

Ten years is a long time. The repercussions of this entire fiasco will last much longer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Big Trucks and the Downtown Arena

A friend of mine jokes every time he sees someone driving an oversized pickup truck. "Compensation issues," he says, while chuckling.

Daryl Katz has compensation issues, and the truck he is driving are the constant threats he makes of moving the Oilers out of Edmonton if he doesn't get his way with the City for the funding of his pet project: the downtown arena.

By now, most of you in Edmonton probably know that the Katzmeister dropped another wrench into negotiations, by insisting the City provide a $6 million annual subsidy for the operations of the arena. Let me clarify the indignity of this: the man is a billionaire, and he is asking for a subsidy? For his own project? That will be making him a profit?

I am one of the crowd who was against public funds for the arena in the first place. One of my concerns (shared by others) was that as plans moved along, Katz would keep finding reasons for needing more and more City money. Well, I hate to say "I told you so," but - I told you so. At least the City has not acquiesced yet. Yet.

This week's bombshell from Katz should be enough to prove to City Council that he cannot be trusted. Yes, he is going to go before Council to "explain himself" - but really, if anything was a warning sign, this is it. What is to stop him from, after ground is broken and construction begins, from finding some reason why more public funds are needed? Or from him pulling out altogether and leaving taxpayers to deal with the fall out?

The threat of Katz moving the Oilers - that big truck he is driving - seems real, and is a motivator. Even as someone who is not a sports person, I know losing the Oilers would hurt Edmonton. First of all, I don't think a team can be moved without the administration of the NHL approving the move. The market is saturated and there really are not a lot of places the Oilers could go.

The NHL is in the midst of a lock out. No hockey season at the moment. Are cities who actually have NHL teams that win games no longer "world class"? I think not. If Edmonton had no team, it would make us no less world class than we are now. Something else would rise to fill the void. The city is more than hockey.

In fact, an arena really makes no difference either to downtown revitalization or the city's standing as "world class" (which I put in quotation marks because, really - what does that mean? Who decides what "world class" actually is? And does it have to be the same for each city?). Over the next couple of months, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney respectively will be performing at the Rexall. In the world of musical entertainment, it doesn't get much bigger than those two. And Edmonton attracted them - without an arena. Who would have thought it?

City Council should call Katz's bluff. This isn't "Katzmonton." A billionnaire should not be trying to push City Council around, regardless of how big his truck is. because in the end, the truck is just a prop.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dis-Organizing Religion

When I first became involved with a church (in fact, one which I planted nearly a decade ago), I often would encounter Christians who were burned out on church. They still believed in God, still read their Bibles, but were frustrated with the organizational structure of houses of worship because of the focus on money

In most Protestant denominations (yes, I am Jewish, and the "church" in question was a fusion of both Jewish and Christian belief, but for the sake of illustration let's just stick with the Evangelical Protestant model) there is a pastor who is accountable to a board who is made up of congregational members. There is a set of bylaw, often referred to as a "Constitution" which is like a code of conduct for everyone involved, outlines the church's mission, and sets accountability. It is necessary to have such a document for the purposes of gaining charitable status with the Canadian government.

The pastor is paid from the tithes collected from the congregation - the proportion of the tithes set aside for staff salaries is usually outlined in the Constitution, with the rest of the money going for things like rent and other administrative costs.

Being a pastor is an incredibly stressful job physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To be in full-time ministry is not feasible in today's society unless you are getting paid. In addition, your life (as well as those of your family members) is constantly held up to scrutiny. The same holds true for many in church leadership like elders and deacons. I believe this is a reason why there is so much "moral failure" amongst church leaders - they simply cracked under the pressure, grabbed the secretary, and headed for the broom closet. I am over-simplifying, but I think you know what I am getting at.

I also know a number of people who fled churches and synagogues, becoming involved with home fellowships where they studied the Bible, sang, and shared. People felt more free to talk about issues that concerned them, they got to connect with the others more intimately (I never understood why people would want to attend "Megachurches" where the only people you get to know, if any, are in whatever small group you choose to take part in), and, best of all, no one's hands are in anyone's pockets.

Tithing is Scriptural (Leviticus 27:30; Malachi 3:9) in terms of the amount and also to give joyfully. Most churches harp on the amount and not the joyful part. Another aspect of tithing not spoken of as often is the fact that you give your 10% *after* you have paid your rent, groceries, and other essential bills. It's net, not gross.

But when an institution that is supposed to focus on spirituality becomes driven by money, other messages get lost also. While sermon after sermon harp on issues like homosexuality or abortion, other issues laid out by the Bible are rarely, if ever, touched upon. When was the last time you heard a sermon about business people who lie in order to score a deal? Or CEOs of corporations who profit from the labour of others? Or government leaders who are dishonest with their constituents and engage in foreign policy that leads to the murders of millions overseas? Probably not recently.

I'll tell you why not: because church leadership cannot afford to risk alienating the rich business people and Conservative government supporters who may be in the congregation. People who will pick up and take themselves (and their tithes) elsewhere. When a church is run as a business, business decisions have to be made that are in its best interests, and this filters down to the messages that are presented.

It should thus be no surprise that faith and politics are so intertwined. The US is heading towards an election, and all kinds of messages are coming from both Christian and Jewish leaders about the need to elect the "right" candidate (no pun intended). A government that supports corporations and big business and imperialistic foreign policy serves those who benefit from it the best (the rich), and the more rich people in a congregation, the richer the church will be.

Mega-churches (and whatever the Jewish synagogue equivalent is) are really corporations unto themselves operating under the guise of spirituality. Smaller churches also are affected by similar issues (rich congregants = more tithes) although at least there is some more accountability on the parts of everyone involved, since more people within the church itself are likely to know each other (which leads to another problem of everyone knowing everyone else's business, but I digress).

Because of all of these issues, I have found myself really wanting to connect spiritually in a house environment, or even just amongst two or three others, or even one on one, depending on the situation. Why does worship and study have to be in a set place and time? Where does it say in the Bible that we have to be in a structured church with a paid leader? No one paid Jesus. Instead, He paid in the end. And that should be the ultimate lesson to us all.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Feminism and Paradigm Shifts

I recently helped organize an event called Daughters Day, the purpose of which was to celebrate the lives and achievements of girls and young women, while raising awareness of human rights abuses against them.

One of the comments I met again and again was that, in order for a better quality of life and equality for all girls and young women to be achieved, there needs to be a paradigm shift in society. We can decry human rights abuses and lack of equality all we want, but unless there is systemic change, things will remain the same.

These comments seem vague. Digging deeper, here are the two major issues that need to be addressed by society as a whole to make things better for one half of it.

Attitudes of Men

Early on, a woman leader in the Aboriginal community emphasized the need for men to take a stand on issues pertaining to women's rights. In Edmonton, there are two major walks for missing and murdered Aboriginal women - both organized by women. Both featuring mostly women speakers. In fact, most protests and rallies dealing with women's issues feature a program of women.

This is why the organizers of Daughters Day specifically asked a male Aboriginal activist to be a speaker (Lewis Cardinal), about being a role model and the need for men to speak up.

We were very encouraged that so many men attended Daughters Day and brought their daughters - and sons - with them. A question I was personally asked frequently in interviews was if boys and young men would have anything to gain from Daughters Day. I said yes - part of the mission of Daughters Day is education and hopefully we are contributing towards raising a next generation of men who will be more enlightened and in a better position to stand up for their sisters, aunts, cousins, mothers - and, of course, their own daughters, eventually.

Popular Culture

Popular culture has always been a woman's worst enemy. From airbrushed photos to models who are painfully thin, girls internalize an impossible (and unrealistic) standard of beauty from a young age.

Exposure to media that glorifies feminine weakness and abuse is also a rampant problem. Look at what movie and book series is very popular with "tweens" right now: Twilight. At the centre of the story is a relationship between a female human and male vampire that is physically and emotionally abusive on a number of levels. I have to admit I have not read any of the books, but I have seen all of the movies thus far (don't judge me).

Why do so many young women think that this is okay? For some, it started when boys started teasing or hitting them. When they complained to an adult they were told that boys acted that way when they "like" a girl. I know - this was told to me numerous times. Later on, when a man is ignoring or stalking or yelling at or hitting a woman, it is just seen as an extension of that childish behaviour. Adults should never condone bullying in any way, especially when boys are picking on girls, because of how this can set the tone for the rest of life.

Just look at all of the women falling head over heels for the fictional character of Christian Grey in the best-selling novel 50 Shades of Grey. I am currently reading it (don't judge me - okay, judge me) and besides the atrocious writing and plot that is barely beyond pornography (and badly written porn, at that), is the character of a woman who abandons her morals, values, and seemingly her brain just because she meets someone who is "ridiculously" good looking (and well-endowed, as she learns later).

I'll tell you what is ridiculous - the fact that so many grown women are joining in the swooning. Swooning over a man with a broken character who takes advantage of a woman simply because he knows how to charm her - well, this is buying into the old stereotype that women care about looks and money (Christian's wealth is mentioned ad nauseum - which is a good description of how I often feel after reading the detailed sexual exploits described in the novel).

If this is the kind of literature (and I use that term loosely) we women glorify, we really have not come far at all. I challenge women who enjoy 50 Shades of Grey to read something - anything - that features strong girls and women. Books like Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and anything by Jane Austen should be required reading in schools. Personally, I'd love to see a novel featuring a hot, sexual relationship that is between two people who are equals - and which is not pornographic. Anyone have any suggestions?

In Conclusion

Women will move closer towards equality when society experiences paradigm shifts in terms of how men treat and stand up for us, as well as how popular culture portrays us. We have a role to play in helping to educate our brothers while not glorifying media that continues to expound bad stereotypes and glorify abuse as romance or eroticism.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Bicycle Commuting Vent

***Language Warning***

I am an avid bicycle commuter. I ride my bike to do everything from short errands around my neighbourhood, to attend events, to get to work-related activities. Sometimes I ride on quiet side streets; sometimes along service roads; and, occasionally I have to venture on to a major artery.

Like many serious cyclists in Edmonton, I cringed with horror when a young man was killed last week when riding on Whyte Avenue. The young man, 21 year old Isaak Kornelsen, bumped a truck's rear view mirror, lost his balance, and fell under a full cement truck. He died instantly. Whyte is one of those major arteries, like Stony Plain Road and Jasper Avenue, that I try to avoid.

But even when riding on a bike path or quieter street, accidents still happen. A few years ago, I was involved in an accident on 102 Avenue near 122 Street - ironically, a route often used by cyclists to avoid the traffic of the aforementioned Stony Plain Road or Jasper Avenue. A driver had opened her driver's side door without checking first, just as I was passing. My upper right arm made contact with the edge of the door. I lost my balance and fell onto the pavement, narrowly avoiding hitting my head (I was wearing a helmet). Had there been a car right behind me, my fate would likely have been the same as Kornelsen's. I was lucky.

Although I had to miss the Critical Mass bike ride held in Kornelsen's honour last Friday due to preparations for a major event with which I was involved last weekend, I have thought about him every time I have mounted my bike this past week. Especially this afternoon. I did one of my "monster commutes" between my home in the west end and Little Italy, where I work much of the time. This involves riding along 102 Avenue, including past Railtown on 109 Street, where things can get interesting. That part of 102 Avenue, stretching to past Churchill Square, is a major traffic and bus route. I try to get off of it as quickly as possible, taking detours along 96 Street and through the LRT pedestrian/bike path.

While I am the first to admit that many cyclists make mistakes when riding, either out of ignorance or audacity, so do pedestrians and motorists. I encountered plenty of both today, and decided to make note of it, right here, as a list of shame.

For Motorists
  • Park your vehicle no more than 50 cm from the curb. Please. You don't realize how far some of your equipment (like, for instance, a rear view mirror) juts out.
  • Do a shoulder check before opening your door. For the love of all things good and holy, it only takes an extra second or so.
  • When you open the driver's side door, don't keep it open perpetually. Close the fucking thing when you're the done whatever the fuck you're doing. Don't make me have to weave around you.
  • You have turning signals. Use them. How else am I supposed to anticipate your next move? Don't make me take that risk. You are surrounded by three tons of metal. I am not.
  • I got to the red light first. You will just have to wait until you take your fucking right turn. It is ILLEGAL to drive around me like you are entitled to take your turn right then and there, cutting me off when the light finally does turn green. Be patient and burn your fossil fuels when it's YOUR FUCKING TURN.
  • Don't even think of honking, yelling, or otherwise exhibit obnoxious behaviour when you are behind me. It's distracting, and besides - you're wrong. A bicycle is a vehicle and I have every right to be on the road, same as you. So shut the fuck up.

    For Pedestrians
  • When you are crossing an intersection whilst smoking, please don't blow your stinking crap in my face. Your shit fills my lungs and I can't fucking breath. Unlike you, I am trying to make healthy choices and I don't need your fucking second hand smoke.
  • You are not supposed to start crossing at an intersection when the hand is blinking. You know what is going to happen? The light is going to turn green, I am going to be stuck there waiting for you to get to the other side, and the vehicles behind me are going to get pissed off. This creates a very stressful situation. And it's all your fault.
  • When I am on a shared sidewalk/trail and you are ahead of me, I will do whatever I can to warn you of my impending presence. I will ring my little bell and shout that I am passing. I will keep doing this until I get your attention. Note: in order for me to get your attention, you have to be paying attention. Stop yammering to the person beside you for a second. Don't walk around with the music so loud in your headphones that you can't hear. And when you do hear me: MOVE! What the fuck do you think the bell means? I'm not a fucking ice cream truck.

    It is not often that I curse out loud, but this is a very emotional issue and a matter of life and death, so I decided not to self-censor. As we move towards a world where more and more people are choosing a sustainable lifestyle, there will be even more bicycles on the road (I hope). There is no room on the road for stupidity - from anyone.
  • Alberta Street News' New Website

    I used to always post about my new projects here, pretty much as soon as possible after the project was finished or went live. However, these past few months have been absolutely crushingly busy.

    One project I definitely want to mention briefly is that I designed a new website for Alberta Street News. I had worked on a very scaled-down site for its previous incarnation, Edmonton Street News, since 2009.

    However, when the paper expanded into Calgary last year, a change was in order. Hence, the birth of the new site. As well, I brought the paper further into the social media world with its own Facebook page. ASN has been on Twitter for some time now.

    I am a huge fan of street newspapers. They are a way for the marginalized to earn a living while giving them an outlet for their thoughts and creativity. I was involved for a while with the now-defunct Our Voice, and made the transition to Edmonton Street News shortly thereafter.

    Enjoy the new site, and be sure to buy a physical copy of Alberta Street News from a badged vendor.

    Daughters Day Celebrates and Makes History

    Daughters Day

    On September 1, history was made in Edmonton.

    The first ever Daughters Day took place in Churchill Square. Organized by a grassroots group of community members from different cultures and walks of life, Daughters Day was in the making for over a year. Its purpose is to celebrate the lives and achievements of girls and young women, while raising awareness of human rights abuses against them. The idea actually materialized amongst some older men in the Indo-Canadian community, and it was not hard to get support from other groups and organizations.

    Almost an entirely volunteer effort, we met regularly to plan the event, as well as two community engagement sessions leading up to it. The first took place on March 8 (International Women's Day) and had an Aboriginal theme. The Carrot Community Coffeehouse was packed to listen to Phyllis Sinclair sing, and then get advice about life from a session of "Ask Your Auntie."

    The second was closer to Mother's Day. "Rebuilding Lives" featured a panel of immigrant women discussing their experiences, moderated by Global's Lesley MacDonald, as well as a main talk from REACH Edmonton's Jan Fox. Held at NorQuest, it was also well-attended.

    However, September 1 was the main event. We got a lot of buzz from the media in the two weeks leading up to it. Two days before that Saturday, we got word that Premier Redford would be attending with her daughter Sarah. This shot the buzz to an entirely new level. Over 400 people attended the event, we got lots of media coverage, and lots of positive feedback.

    What happened? Well, greetings were brought from the different levels of government and organizations like the EPS and RCMP. Four women were awarded as "Daughters of the Year," including our keynote speaker, Karina Pillay-Kinnee, the mayor of Slave Lake. There were performances of dance, drama, and music. I had the privilege of performing the official Daughters Day theme song I wrote especially for the event.

    Daughters Day is important to anyone who is or has a daughter. All women, regardless of who we are or how old are are, are someone's daughter. We need to keep striving for equality and human rights, especially now in current events where women are being told by men how and why their bodies work - something very "akin" to ignorance. The organizing committee is currently reviewing the event and making decisions about where to go from here. To learn more about our future plans, join our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter or keep checking back at our website, which is going to be revamped in the near future.