Waiting for #Ghomeshi

It has become clear to me that I am far more concerned about the Ghomeshi trial than most of the people I know. I can partly explain that by admitting my (thwarted) childhood ambition was to be a lawyer. I have always been fascinated by rules and by how people follow, or don’t follow, those rules.

I have also always been a woman. Which leads me to consider what being a woman means.

The difference between the way my grandmother had to live her life, the way my mother coped, the way I am living, and the way that young women today conduct themselves is striking. Some things have progressed, but some still lag. The reason for the lag is that so many of us are behaving the way we were raised to behave in the past, yet we’re all living together in this same moment in time. How  my grandmother, my mother, myself, and my niece would react to a scenario like what is alleged to have taken place between Jian Ghomeshi and his accusers could be very different.

We say women have all the right to say yes or no to sex, to make their own sexual choices. On paper they do. Off paper much of the current understanding and attitudes that come with those rights were not the understandings and attitudes in place when many of us were growing up. They’re not the rights and attitudes that inform our behavior subconsciously. How a woman copes and how she tries to make sense of being assaulted varies widely depending on her generation and her subconscious understanding of her rights.

As a culture as we’ve raised successive generations of women in progressive environments. These women will have less internal conflict when it comes to sexual assault. They’ll be confident that it was assault because they will have always been raised that they are their own master. They will be less likely to try and smooth things over afterwards and quicker to go to the police. They will have been raised to know since the man committed the crime, that they don’t have to fix anything and the law has an obligation to address the crime.

A huge part of our progress lies with men. The world is changing for them so rapidly.

Never before in human history have men been held so accountable for their behavior. Never before have men been expected to be as aware and as fair about sex as they are now. Sex is no longer only for and about men. The sexual ground has shifted beneath men’s feet in two generations.

For many, many men this shift makes little to no difference because they never felt like sex was something they were entitled to. For other men, there are some bad lessons to be unlearned.

Our culture needs several things.

We need women who feel completely comfortable with their sexuality, with having sex or not, with saying no and saying yes. We need men who step up their game and are completely comfortable with not putting their personal sexual urges on a pedestal, with owning their desire and being completely willing and respectful of the needs of their partners.

We need to stop seeing sex as a transaction between agressive male and passive female. We need to stop thinking women will lie because sexual arousal is not their natural state, and men will be tricked because men are in a constant state of sexual arousal. When women aren’t emberassed (read: shamed) by the details of their sexual behaviors, there will no longer be any reason for them to obscure what happend and not only will that make real life relationships happier, it will make these sort of trials much easier to sort out.

We need to see sex in the moment, and not as one domino in a long line of behaviors. Nothing leads up to sex for certain, and the outcome of sex is not predetermined. We have to take ownership and responsibility for what we are doing as we do it. Men must, and women must be allowed to do so.

No matter the outcome of the Jian Ghomeshi trial, there is no going back. A conversation has been started. Our culture is shifting. Our laws are adapting. As horrifying as this whole trial has been, I believe this is a very good time and place to be a woman because we are progressing.

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#Ghomeshi week 1

#Ghomeshi week 1

the accused jodi fosterWhat I’ve found interesting in this past week of testimony at the Ghomeshi trial is his lawyer’s use of the ‘classic defence strategy’; eroding witness credibility, poking holes in testimony and making a witness contradict herself.

When I read that definition I see two things that are part of our ‘justice’ system that are unacceptable. Gaslighting and the rampant use of logical fallacies – which law students are taught to recognize – as part of cross-examination.

For those of you not familiar with the term gaslighting, it is emotional and mental abuse in which information is turned back on a person by making careful omissions or by presenting false information in a way that favours the abuser and makes a victim doubt her own sanity.

If we believe (and I certainly do) that the purpose of going to court is to find out some truth, then gaslighting does not compatible supporting that goal. We actually end up farther from the truth by allowing the ‘classic defense’ to distract us from evidence and facts.

Putting a person in a court room under cross-examination under enough stress that her higher functions begin to shut down does not mean she cannot function reliably in normal conditions situations. Drawing the conclusion that testimony is unreliable when we have allowed gaslighting to alter the witness’s ability to represent herself legitimizes the use of acknowledged logical fallacies. For instance:

Logical-Fallacies-loaded-question-620x384Loaded question: a question with a presumption built into it that can’t be answered without the appearance of guilt. Like the question: “I think you would agree with me that you weren’t doing particularly well, you weren’t making a lot of money?” Saying yes to that is like saying ‘guilty as charged’. Saying no sounds like a lie because the disparity in income levels automatically creates a ‘good’ income and a ‘not good’ income. Good and bad get attached to their relative incomes and success in life, and stick to the individual people as well.

beggingthequestionBegging the question: a circular argument that contains the conclusion in the premise. Like the question: “Are you prepared to admit you have lied under oath?”. The phrase ‘prepared to admit’ makes the lie a foregone conclusion. There is no way to answer without guilt. ‘No I am not prepared to admit’ is just as damning as ‘yes I am prepared to admit’ because the lie has been established in the question.

the fallacyThe fallacy fallacy: because a claim has been poorly articulated or an error made, the claim itself must be wrong. Like saying that because one part of a story was left out that then the rest of the story cannot be trusted. Women are conditioned to be coy and even to outright cover up their sexual histories. If she told the story but left out the part that she found the most difficult to articulate that doesn’t mean what she did manage to say was false.

geneticGenetic: the source of information determines whether the information is good or bad. If by using gaslighting we create the perception that the witness is emotional as opposed to rational, that taints how the information is perceieved. It shouldn’t. Facts do not become less factual when they are presented by someone who struggles to articulate a proof. When I say climate change is real it isn’t less true because I’m not a climate scientist. We should judge facts and information on their inherent value and not dismiss them based on our judgement of the messenger. ‘Good’ woman or ‘bad’ woman does not correlate to the fact of consent.

burdenBurden of proof: requiring disproof verus proof. This case rests completely on consent. The only person who actually knows whether there was consent is the person who would be giving that consent. A woman shouldn’t have to prove she didn’t consent beyond stating that as fact. Ghomeshi admits hitting women and defends himself by claiming that is was consentual ‘kink’. We cannot allow his defense to outweigh their right to be the expert witness on their own mind.

Some other common ‘classic defence’ techniques that are logically fallacious are:

Ambiguity: using double meaning to misrepresent.
Personal incredulity: because something is hard to believe it must be untrue.
Tu quoque: answer criticism with criticism.
Composition/division: assume that one part of something has to be applied to all parts of something; that the whole must apply to its parts.
Ad hominem: attack opponent’s character or traits in order to undermine their authority.
Slippery slope: if we let ‘A’ happen then ‘Z’ will happen, therefore ‘A’ should not happen. This the premise of the hideous expression “it is better for 100 guilty men to go free than 1 innocent man to be punished” I don’t feel one bit comforted that 100 guilty rapists walk the streets to allow one innocent man walk free, and I cannot see the connection between not convicting the guilty and convicting innocent. That isn’t an appeal to reasonable doubt, that’s letting technicalities substitute for good reasoning.
False cause: a real or presumed relationship between two things means one caused other. Because these women at one moment maybe did want to have sex with a man, that this was the reason he at another moment had sex with her – without taking into account whether the wish to have sex was current to that moment.
Straw man: exaggerating, misrepresenting an argument so it’s easier to frame your argument as rational.

I think we should work toward a court system that functions on higher levels on the hierarchy of argument. The ‘classic defence’ relies on ad hominem and responding to tone, the absolute lowest forms of argument. We can create structure to make the ‘classic defense’ history.

And finally, how about reconizing gaslighting that occurs even before we hit the court room? We constantly second guess and scrutinize the victim, but why not stop and recognize that they are being subjected to gaslighting?

Why keep in contact? Why reconnect? We need to admit how women are socialized and how it leaves them suseptible to gaslighting. Women are taught to doubt their own instincts. Witness stand gaslighting is simply reinforcing existing destructive cultural conditioning. It reinforces the subtle narrative that the woman did something or should have done something, and that women should look to themselves to find answers to what happens to them. Furthermore, while this is particularly strong in socialization for women, it is by no means unique to women. Even pop culture shows us victims who go back time and time again to abusive situations. Maintaining or reconnecting is an attempt to go back to the point where power was lost to change the dynamic going forward, and people do it because they have been convinced that they have the responsibility to make it right.

The letter written  by Lucy De Couture that said ‘You kicked my ass….’ and similar communications with Ghomeshi by the other victims demonstrate a desire to return to the scene of a crime and find meaning or a create a new narrative. It says ‘you took away my power and I want a do over with a chance to control what happened’. It says they are second guessing their right to have exercised their own will, but it doesn’t give us the right to second guess that right.

If the justice system makes testifying against a man who assaults her this stressful and this undermining to a woman’s self-esteem and faith in herself as a human being, then it is clearly not a justice system for women. This tells the victim that they are ultimately responsible for making what went wrong right, and that is exactly why women reconnect with abusers, and exactly why the bullied try appease their bully, and exactly why there is no justice.

We should not be questioning the choices of these women. We should be questioning the choices Jian Ghomeshi made, and the system that portrays his choices as a legitimate challenge these women’s right to be the last and only word on their own consent.

We can fix this.

#Ghomeshi day 1

canadian-gavelWhen the Ghomeshi firing and accusations hit the fan a little over a year ago I said this trial would be interesting, and could spur some positive changes in our society and our justice system.

I am going to be blogging about what I see as the issues confronting women (and men) and the court system are when it comes to dealing with sexual assault, and highlighting what I think are some good quick fixes and what are some thorny problems we need to put real effort into mitigating. In these blog posts I will use ‘he’ for the accused and ‘she’ for the accuser because it is true for this case. It does not mean that I don’t understand that is not always the case.

THORNY PROBLEM #1:

First of all, there is no way I would remember details if I was one of these women. I can barely remember what year I got my dog, and I don’t remember my son’s first words and both of those ought to be happy memories. Some people just don’t recall details, they remember in emotion and emotion is fuzzy. But the fact that I don’t remember how old my son was when he first said mama doesn’t change the fact that he did, and the fact that I can’t remember what month I got my dog in doesn’t mean that I am not right in saying that I rescued her in 2005.

So this is a thorny problem. People’s memories are spotty at the best of times. At the worst of times people can block out trauma, making it harder to remember sharp details. That is different from being completely unreliable. We need to stop calling women’s memories of sexual assault into question because they cannot remember 100%. We need to find balance between acknowledging that trauma and fear affect our recall, and the need to find out the truth.

THORNY PROBLEM #2:

The woman was left on the stand while the judge left the room today; alone, facing Ghomeshi and the people in the court room. Frankly, if I were this woman I would be scared to the point of near hysteria. I don’t deal well with being cross-examined at the best of times. Who does? We don’t need to make it worse than it already is.

We can find a way to accommodate the defendant’s right to face his accuser and the accuser’s right to not feel the gaze of the person who hurt her. We do it with children, we shelter them from the people they accuse because we acknowledge their fear is real.

Discussing this tonight, my brilliant hubby suggested that the woman be in a separate room to testify via video so that the defendant can see her, but she does not have to see him. I countered that the defendant be removed from the room during testimony, and be allowed to watch on a monitor. Either way, women deserve to be shielded from the glare of the person who has already terrorized her.

QUICK FIX #1:

Apparently the defence lawyer referred to the woman on the stand today as  the ‘cater waiter’. Now, while that is not an overt slur, the act of not referring to someone by their name decreases their stature. It reminds me of a story about a trial in which the defence lawyer repeatedly called a female police officer ‘honey’ when she was testifying. She eventually refused to answer his questions. Either way, he won. One way he diminished her authority by calling her honey and not Constable, the other way he got be exasperated in his dealings with an angry woman.

This is a quick fix. There should be no referring to any person involved in a trial by anything other than their official name or title. Ms Smith… Dr  Smith… Constable Smith… but never honey. This kind of chicanery is the reason the world thinks defence lawyers have no moral compass.

Let’s close the subtle insult loophole. To make this stick there need to be real sanctions against lawyers who use this tactic because once it is done, particularly in front of a jury, there is no taking it back or undoing the damage.

QUICK FIX #2:

Apparently the defense lawyer brought up that the woman accusing Ghomeshi was not making a lot of money. This fact is completely unrelated to the accusation of sexual assault. Income and consent to sex/sexual violence are not even in the same universe. Not only should leading or suggestive questions be more rigorously challenged by the crown and judges, not only should there be more enforcement of the rules outlining the proper lines of questioning. There need to be serious and immediate repercussions for defence lawyers who use this tactic to shift focus.

We can, and should, keep defence lawyers who resort to tricks and misinformation out of our court rooms.

 

That’s it for today. I am hopeful that we as a society learn from this high-profile case. We certainly have the right political climate and the right leadership to do better going forward. Where there is a will, let there be a way.

 

The politics of prophet and loss

alberta_pride_postcard-r56fb616fcdd7486dad694bc0884c30d6_vgbaq_8byvr_630Some of Alberta is having some difficulty seeing the writing on the wall. Some of Alberta uses the guise of religious tolerance to justify religious intolerance.

This feels like the Alberta version of Groundhog Day. I wake up every spring to see if the bigots cast a shadow and end up reliving the same tired old story.

I became active on twitter as a direct result of Bill 10. That was nearly a year ago, yet we are still struggling to make this province a safe and caring place for everyone. We are still struggling to let all of our children learn and grow with dignity and respect.

I think the NDP are making progress. The progress might seem slow, but it appears to me that they are using the time to methodically close all the loopholes the bigots can use to avoid being prevented from spreading their intolerance. This is constructuve, albeit not speedy. I am all for the government taking the time to make human decency the rule in the public sphere.

I don’t like catholic schools. I don’t think there should be two systems. I don’t think we should fund religious education. I respect private faith and a person’s private right to pass that faith on privately to their children. But when we include religion in the education system, the semantics of public and separate aside, it becomes public.

This is my issue:

Notice I didn’t say ‘when we fund the system it becomes public’. A lot of the call to arms right now centres on de-funding religious schools. I don’t support using finacial clout as a way to make groups conform with cultural norms of tolerance and inclusion. Using money and funding to achieve social conformity is what the right does, and it’s why Planned Parenthood is fighting right now.

Too often and in too many circumstances, money is used as a tool for political and social ends. De-funding the catholic school system would be the easiest way to enforce our political and social goals, but it is the wrong way to bring about a culture shift towards tolerance, compassion and inclusivity. Those must be taught and modelled, not enforced and bankrolled.

Money or no, we cannot allow intolerance to be included in our education system. No school, public or private, should be allowed to teach intolerance. I can’t do much to stop a parent at home from teaching poisonous ideas, but I can stop it from being disguised and presented as socially condoned curriculum material.

Bishop Henry is an old man with old ideas. He will die, and his hateful ideas will die with him because we will not let them spread, not because we refuse to finacially support them, but because we refuse to give them our passive support. We don’t need to take away their money, we need to take away their moral license.

pride-2007-castro-rainbow-flag-e1377800552209

A pedant’s place (musings on work and work spaces)

A friend of mine recently posted a retrospective of the ‘typical’ office desk as it has changed over the last 30 years. It got me thinking about how what I do and why I do it has changed over the last 30 years.

I graduated highschool in 1986, 30 years ago. In 1986 I was expected to get a job, find a husband, buy a house, have some kids and blend into a suburban life. Post-secondary education was not on the radar in my family sphere but I bucked that trend and went to university, albeit it took me 5 years to do so.

Smith_Corona_4000DS_Word_Processor_Electric_TypewriterLiving on my own, my first ‘home office’ was in the unfinished basement by the hot water heater, furnace and washing machine. Half the desk top was cluttered with my art supplies. I remember writing term papers on my electric typewriter. In my second year of university I got a computer and I was able to word process. Aside from finishing the last term paper and graduating university, this is how my life stayed for the longest time. All my best laid plans sat in a dark corner of the basement gathering dust.

For the past 20 years my life has been more concerned more with my pay cheque and benefits and less with my dreams and ambitions.

Things have finally changed. What I want and what I will accept from both work and my free time has changed. I care a whole heck of a lot less about my pay cheque than I do about meaningful work. To be fair, my husband makes a good living so my priority shift is being financed by his desire to see me happy. We both choose to prioritize happiness and meaning for both of us, he just got there before me.

When I quit my government job to go back to school full time I made a conscious break. I re-trained for something new. I hated the old box. Hated being a cog in the big wheel. Hated the corporate speak. Hated the long sentences short on meaning. Hated, hated, hated, HATED every minute of it.

I loved my second round of term papers, and was giddy about my plan to reemerge into a world of meaningful, fulfilling employment. I got a contract right away and at the end I had a chance at full time employment, but I let it go.

Rent-Office-Cubicles-CharlotteIt turns out it wasn’t just the type of work (although it absolutely was the way they did the work), it was the work environment as well. Seriously, who the hell can be happy in a drab cubicle with no access to natural light for 7 hours?

Since letting that opportunity go I have applied for a few jobs. The few interviews I have had haven’t gone well because I chafed during them. I bloody hate the interview. I think I am just refusing to say what I know they want to hear. Three times now on my way out my interviewer has said “Thanks for your candor”. I’m pretty certain that’s code for “you went off our script”. Off script is good. It doesn’t equate to out of control, it equates to exploring new possibilities and thinking on your feet. The person who eventually hires me will want a person who thinks, and thinks a lot.

I have found some odd work here and there, and have lent my skills to some not-for-profit organizations. Oddly enough I communicate better with them because I think I just respect them more because they live outside the box by their very nature.

Long story short, I’m not working right now.

I’m OK with that because tof what has changed. I will work. But I will  not work in a box. I will be creative. I will take risks. I will make a difference. I will have access to natural light.

So that’s it, 2016 and 47 years of chasing ideas from a dingy, dark, dusty second hand desk wedged in a corner next to a furnace to this:

where i sitI think it’s an improvement. Certainly the office politics have improved. I think 2016 bodes well for outside the box.

 

2015 was a very good year…

So, 2015 was a heck of a year, huh?

On the provincial front, somehow our tired (no, that’s not a typo) and true conservative ruling class managed to squander the plunder of yet another boom cycle, and had no plan for the inevitable bust cycle. Our first female premier took the fall for her entire party’s entitlement and corruption, soprentice hot collar we were assigned a new leader from the federal conservative realm (which in hindsight may have been a federal election omen). Our new leader from the east then proceeded to blame Albertans for his party’s squanderousness and the fiscal frailty of the treasury that Albertans had hired them to manage. notley hands upAlbertans looked in the mirror and repeated bloody tories, bloody tories, bloody tories – three times – and the image of a petite blonde woman mathishardappeared, revealing our future. Once the votes were duly and properly added up it was clear that the reign of the conservative dynasty, was over and Alberta began the era of the philosopher queen.

notley laugh 3x

harper angryIn national politics, the end of the Alberta conservative dynasty so enraged our federal conservative overlords that they called an election out of spite and vanity, just so they could hit the road and tell all Canadians that Albertans we were idiots. But for some reason the politics of ‘my way or the highway’ failed, and the conservatives soon needed help: please fearmongerStephen Harper needed a courage, Chris Alexander needed a heart, Jason Kenney needed a brain and Rona Ambrose tagged along as the token female. The cons set down the road of no return to seek out the help of the Wizard of Oz. Turns out the wizard’s act was a hate and headscarves disappearing act, and all that mattered on election day Canadians was that as fast as you can say dial-a-racist our old leader was ousted. Although everyone thought he heir2canadawas too young and handsome to be a serious contender, a young prince strode in and pulled the poll from the conservative party‘s ass and the log from Jason Kenney’s eye to prove he alone was rightful heir to Canadian democracy.

trudeauswearingin CROP

Yes, 2015 was a banner year; a very Canadian year of very Canadian revolution and Canadians progress. I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings.

Setting the Bar high

Last weekend, in the cold shadow of an anniversary of the dangers that exist because men scapegoat women, I did a quick google search for a story that hit the news in November. I was hoping for an update on what would become of Alberta provincial court judge Robin Camp, who asked a sexual assault victim why she didn’t keep her knees together.

Yes, even though it is 2015, some men still blame women for everything that happens to them.

Justice Robin Camp’s comments during the trial insinuated that proof of self-defense was necessary. His comments insinuated that proof of refusal (as opposed to consent) was the deciding factor. His comments make it clear that he doesn’t recognize neither the physical or psychological power imbalance between the victim and the assailant as factors. His comments make it clear he prefers to recognise a man’s right to claim he wasn’t adequately deterred, rather his responsibility to get consent. His comments perpetuate the outdated and dangerous narrative that it is a woman’s responsibility to justify her existence in a man’s world, and if things go wrong it is the woman’s fault. His comments reveal an attitude that is morally repugnant, and one that has been firmly disavowed by Canadian lawmakers.

Sexual assault hinges on one, and only one, thing. Consent. That’s it. Attempts to fight, actions taken to mitigate consequences, tactics used to deter potential assailants … all of these are utterly irrelevant and suggesting that they are is not only morally repugnant, they are legally inadmissible in a court of law. Why? Because the law recognises that the absence of any of those things is not a signal of consent, it is a signal of compliance. Compliance and consent are not synonyms, one does not infer the other. Consent must be given freely without fear, manipulation, coercion or threat.

Herein lies the problem with Justice Camp’s handling of a sexual assault trial. As a judge, he is the manifestation of Canadian law. It is his job to understand, interpret, and apply laws in keeping with the letter, the spirit and the intent of our social conscience. Judges must both demonstrate a thorough understanding of, and an unwavering willingness to correctly apply the law. A judge must embody justice.

Not only is it obvious that Justice Robin Camp’s world view is inconsistent with the Canadian social conscience, it is evident that in this case he erred in law. The defendant defends. The victim must only prove the crime happened, not that the crime could not have been prevented. Sex without consent is a crime. Sex without a struggle is not consent. These are not just vague ideas we bring up when bad things happen, they are concepts written into the law.

I understand this Justice Camp has been removed from all cases indefinitely and is expected to take gender sensitivity counselling. That sounds good.

But I think the ultimate outcome will have to be his permanent removal from the bench, because he has at best demonstrated an inability to understand the legal definition of consent, and at worst demonstrated a clear unwillingness to apply that legal definition. In Canada appeals are granted on errors of law. The fact that an appeal was granted indicates that the court of appeal also recognises that this judge erred in his interpretation and/or application of Canadian law. But that doesn’t go far enough. The system needs to recognise that he errs in attitude, and that his attitude makes him unable to embody the law. He can take remedial courses that could fill in knowledge gaps. At best it will teach him to avoid voicing his outdated and unacceptable views, but it won’t eliminate them.

I don’t know how the Canadian Judicial Council can overlook the magnitude of moral and legal error in this case when they are so directly conflict with proper application of Canadian law, and with the human dignity of half of Canada’s population.

Canada needs leaders to stand for the values we have written into our laws. We need leaders to spread and nurture the attitudes and ideas that underpin our laws or those attitudes have no hope of ever being universally adopted. We’ve made the legal progress, we lag behind in cultural progress. We need those at the forefront of our pursuit of justice and fairness to lead, not to lag. It is not enough for the court of appeal heard this case and do a better job of applying the law. We need to be sure we do right, right form the start. Removing Justice Camp from the bench is about setting the bar high for our justice and social leaders. If we can’t get justice in the courtroom, we will never get justice in the streets.

In light of the sheer magnitude of the progressive awakening in Canada this past year; the political tables upturned, the gender balance calibrated, the reconciliations untaken and the compassion renewed, what better way to keep the progress rolling than start the new year by making one more firm commitment to progressive Canadian values, and show Justice Camp and his outdated ideas to the door? If people ask us why we can say, because it’s 2016.

 

 

 

 

Alberta will progress

I never fail to wonder why, but for whatever reason people seek out my opinion, particularly with regard to politics. Before elections I’ll never fail to get messages from friends asking me to help them decide how to vote (FYI give my take on issues, but never tell them what they should do). I also get the same sort of messages any time something political hits the fan.

Just the other day I got a message asking my take on Bill 6. In case you missed it, Alberta is in the throws of bill 6 hysteria. We messaged back and forth briefly and had a constructive, productive conversation, but this is my take on the situation in full now that the bill has passed.

O.M.G. won’t somebody think about the farmers?

Let me start by saying , I support the bill. I think it is shameful that by exempting agricultural sector employers we have deprived farm workers of the basic legal protections other workers have had for so long. It is not adequate or fair to leave safety and labour standards up an individual employers in any industry. These exemptions come at the expense of labour, and transferring any part of the cost from the business owner to labour is unacceptable.

I don’t buy into the ‘farming isn’t a business, it’s a way of life’ thing. If you run a family grocery store, a family bakery, or have family partners in a real estate firm, you have to follow OH&S laws and pay into workers compensation for employees. Maybe you chose farming, maybe you want to follow in family footsteps, maybe you even feel it is a calling, but that’s not special. Lots of people carefully choose their careers, lots of people follow in the footsteps of a parent, many people feel their careers are a calling. Take our Premier, for example. She’s not a labour lawyer by accident, her father definitely passed a passion for her current profession on to her. You farm because you can make a living at it. If you are still farming and are not making a living then that’s a whole other problem and it has nothing to do with anything that our provincial government can control, for good or bad.

What do I think happened to cause the bill 6 furor?

First of all, this new NDP government is not the 44 year old comfortable conservatives. They are keeners; keeners denied power for a long time that finally find themselves with the influence to make their vision of the world a reality. They have been storing up this strongly held belief that we can do better for a very long time. They believe in this bill. So much. To NDP supporters the bill is obviously needed, and obviously the right thing to do. After all, it’s safety and protection for working people, right? What can possible be objectionable about that? No doubt that passion and conviction at least partly blinded the new government to how much they should have communicated with people outside their NDP bubble. No doubt that they could very easily have underestimated the virulence of opposition they would encounter. To me, it feels like they messed up on the environmental scan. I understand that weakness. Personally I still find myself aghast when I come across people whose views are in direct conflict with mine, because I too live in a bubble of like minded people and that bubble lulls me into the comfortable illusion that my views because are the norm. I think this happened. I hope that they learn from it.

Secondly, you have to realize that this communicating with the whole province is new to the NDP – I don’t mean the desire to communicate with the whole province or the knowledge that communication to the whole province is a good thing is new. I mean the mechanics of actually communicating with so many different demographics effectively.  I mean the nuts and bolts of knowing where the stakeholders are, who they are, how they access information, how they prefer to be communicated with, who they prefer to talk to and what they want to know. These mechanics are the responsibility of the bureaucracy. It is the bureaucracy that is supposed to communicate the government’s decisions, and it’s the bureaucracy that is supposed to advise the government on who their target audience is and how to best reach that target audience. This is why the GoA has a public affairs bureau, and this is why every ministry has a communications department. Now, possibly the NDP didn’t go to the bureaucrats soon enough, maybe the communication broke down there. I honestly don’t know that. However, it is absolutely the bureaucracy’s job to ensure that the people of Alberta understand the rules that the government makes, how the rules apply to them. There may well be dropped threads in the NDP caucus communications department (which is really small by the way) but there are most definitely also a couple dropped threads in the public service. There’s a good chance that the real communication breakdown occurred way before anything went public when something went awry in the bureaucratic machinery that is supposed to keep government working for Albertans. See my earlier comment about the environmental scan.

Thirdly, there is some unacceptable hyperbole and histrionics going on about this bill. Mostly because the WRP needs to grow the hell up. I think probably there are some larger agribusinesses fanning the flames too, letting the smaller farmer be their foot soldiers. True, the communication ball was dropped, and farmers aren’t sure what the parameters of the bill are, but the hysteria is out of proportion. It’s a bald faced lie to blame this whole fiasco on lack of consultation. This is not the first time Alberta has tried to pull it’s agricultural sector into the modern world of labour rights and safety standards. Why did the farmers freak out last time? I am willing to bet it’s the same reason they are freaking out this time. They don’t want change, they don’t want to have to follow rules, and man, oh man, it sure is beginning to look to me like they just don’t care about anyone but themselves. It sounds like they want Alberta to leave every other business owner in Alberta to follow the rules and protect their workers, and let the farm workers remain at the mercy of luck. It comes across as pretty heartless. The farmers are losing my empathy.

Lastly, this bill needed to pass. This bill is necessary. This bill is the right thing to do. Part of living in an organized society means we all have to agree to follow the same rules because consistent treatment of all people throughout society is a necessary ingredient to peaceful society. Bill 6 brings in minimum standards for farm workers. The current minimum is zero, and that is not acceptable. The WRP is stirring up the pot of people who don’t support the NDP to begin with so they are predisposed to dislike everything the NDP does. It’s also a group that felt mistreated at the hands of the governments past and have, as a result, a general distrust of government. It’s easy politic points for them. Don’t forget, there was an uproar when Stelmach tried to bring in similar legislation. This isn’t anti-NDP, it’s anti-government. The fact that they are protesting the NDP is just a boon to the WRP and their right wing supporters.

Am I empathetic toward the farmers right now? No, I’m really not. I am totally on board that they should be communicated with and consulted. However, they need to pull back and look at the bigger picture. They are not being persecuted, they are being brought in line with the reality in every other province in Canada. Wailing and crying about the death of the family farm and holding placards that use the word genocide to reference this bill is offensive. Basically, when I see media covering the bill 6 protests in my minds eye it equates to a bunch of French peasants attacking a downed hot air balloon with pitch forks. Rabid anger fueled by irrational fear, and not much else.

That’s what I think.

To summarize: The do-gooders tried to do good, but forgot to include the dubious, and the shit disturbers stepped in and disturbed some dubious shit.

Common enemies beg common allies

The pace of change and confrontation in politics is ramping up exponentially since I began this blog.

Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, climate change and missing and murdered aboriginal women fueled a lot of my writing, with the occasional lighter social comment mixed in. I actually had a blog that was a bit lighter written and scheduled, but after what happened in Paris I pulled it back.

We can now add terrorism and the issue of refugees to the list of required radical cultural shifts polarizing our societies and communities. I know that’s probably been a front burner issue for Europeans for some time, but it has been back burner here in Canada. I was aware, but it hadn’t yet disrupted my life so I kept on with my own causes.

I am so very glad that I am on firm political footing where I live. Alberta did well in our last election and our government is full steam ahead addressing many of the issues I mentioned in my second paragraph. Canada also turned away from the dark side in our last federal election, and so far the brand new government seems to be heading in the right, and righteous, direction on most of those issues as well. It looks like Canada is doing the right thing.

new appWhich is why maybe I am so heartily dismayed at some of the reaction I see on social media after Paris. I have seen extended family posting bigoted memes. Sadly I’ve have also heard that my husband and two of my son’s have this sort of hateful, ignorant rhetoric in their circles. I don’t and neither does the oldest boy, but I suppose that only attests to how narrowly we have selected for our social groups. I could continue to live in my comfy bubble of people that are rational and compassionate, but then who will work to oppose the hatred?

I can only think of one way to stem the tide of racism and hateful rhetoric. It is to look around you and really think. We are surrounded by reasons not to be so hate-filled. Just read the story below…

My husband stopped for a badly needed trim at a barber shop in Stony Plain (pretty sure it was there).

As my husband sat in the chair, the barber talked of nothing but Paris and how ISIS isn’t really Muslim and how he disagrees with them and how wrong violence is. The barber was Muslim.

Think about it.

Imagine being that barber right now. His ability to continue living in peace and harmony with his neighbours is being eroded by terrorists. Is he afraid his wife or children will be attacked – verbally or physically? Is he afraid he will be attacked? Is he afraid his business will suffer and he will lose his ability to support his family? Is he afraid that nothing he has done to this point matters, and all that counts now is what people who claim to be like him have done?

Does he lay awake at night wondering how he can protect himself from an enemy who claims to be his ally against an ally who claims he is the enemy?

Think of that. Then realise what you and this barber have in common is that both of you are victims of the extremist terrorists who are using Islam as a false shield for their evil.

Global game theory

It’s been an overwhelming few days. When I think I’ve finally got the pieces sorted out, I read the news and again find nothing makes sense. This has been hard to write. It has been hard to focus on one story line in light of the many irrational directions in which the game is playing out around me. Be sure, it is a game, and the way we play is being manipulated.

I don’t stand with Paris. I don’t stand with Beirut. I don’t stand with Bagdad. Asking me to state where I stand is a cruel game that I’ve no hope of winning. It’s a game that keeps us trapped in a cycle of destruction and keeps us prisioner to violent outcomes. How do I know? It’s the prisioner’s dilemma.

In 1950 Melvin Dresher and Merrill Flood conducted the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma experiment, a two person illustration of a game in which two seemingly rational people are unable/unwilling to cooperate for their own best interest – elaborated by A W Tucker. It is too complex to get into here, but an adequate summary is that player assumptions result in otherwise rational people not cooperating and losing the game for them both.

This game of choosing one side, taking a stand, leaves us prisoners to assumptions about the other player’s next move. Instead of acting we are always reacting, and never take advantage of the fullscope of possibilities.  We assume the other player will bargain in bad faith, so we bargain in bad faith. The other player assumes we will bargain in bad faith, so they bargain in bad faith. The first round of bad faith is not attributable to either player, it is attribuable to the universally adopted assumption of that our only option is to act to counter a move the other player has not yet made. Violence becomes the only game strategy we acknowledge. We don’t even consider acting for a result five moves from now, we are always trapped in our first move.

We will never win the game with violence. Think about it. We react to violence with violence because we assume the other player will react with violence. They react to our violence based on the assumption that we will act violently. It feeds on itself.

One of us has to change our actions before the assumptions we hold will be proven wrong.

We have to end the cycle unilaterally, and hold fast. We have to end the cycle unilaterally, and do what is right regardless of how we assume the other player will act. Then slowly, over time, the assumption will be that we are playing in good faith. Why do we want the other players to assume we will act towards them in good faith? Because terrorists recruit based on this cycle of violence. They recruit based on a safe assumption that since we will play in bad faith they can play in bad faith and call it justice. Which is exactly what we are doing. They count on that. They force our hand, and use it as a weapon against us.

We must play in good faith toward a strategic end game – peace.

We must not use one victim as an excuse to create victims on the other side. We must not stand with one victim against another victim. The only side that is in the right is the side that refuses to create more victims.

It is vital that Muslims align themselves as with peace, or violence will continue to hijack their religion. It is vital that the west align itself with peace, or violence will continue to hijack our international relationships.  All victims of violence must be stop being used as pawns to misguided ideologies.

And make no mistake, dangerous ideas exists within every ideology, dangerous people exist within every community. There is no validity to the claim that Islam is inherently violent. Our society’s ideology contains as much violence, and it is currently being twisted as much for violent ends. Playing in bad faith based on the claim that the other ideology leaves us no choice is simply fallacious. Our cultures have as much in common, and as many options avaiable to us that are constructive as there are destructive.

Most importantly, our common ground is that all of us suffer and none of us benefit from the violence that is hapening right now.

The only way to break out of this prisioner’s dilemma and reach the best outcome is to keep our  promises and commitments, and to (peacefully) hold other nations accountable for their commitments. If we do not condone violence we can not wage violence overtly, or passively, or by proxy. We need to non-violently remove all support for terroists. That means removing they support gain by using our actions as an excuse. That means removing the financial support they gain when we do business with those who do business with them. That means working to remove all camoflauge in our communities that shields their recruitment and misinformation from sight. We need to interupt their narrative.

This is all one game. We bargain in bad faith against ourselves. Revenge is never the answer, because it never leads to a cessation of the cycle of violence, which is the only answer. History, literature, and mythology are all full of tales that show us this.

No Muslim, no Christian, no athiest, no Jew, is responsible for the bad faith of yesterday, but we are all responsible for what we do today. Refusing help to refugees makes them twice victims, once victim of the terrorists, and second victim to us stupidly playing into the terrorist’s hands. We need to realise they suffer with us, and can be either brought in as allies or lost to the violence, potentially being recruited out of despair to act against us.

I understand the motivation to lower our flags, to light up the night sky with the French colours. But standing with France obscures the reality that there are victims everywhere we look, and we should stand with all of them. If we stand with all victims, the people who commit violence will be fractured and disenfranchised. If we all choose to bargain in good faith, bad faith will cease to be our primary motivation for continued violence.

This is what Gandhi and Martin Luther King got right.  We can never, never win by retaliation, we only become prisioners to our assumptions and a poorly played game. We don’t gain support that way. They understood the long game.

We won’t ever eliminate ISIS by bombing them, that will simply feed on that hatred and use it against us. But in ten years we could have starve ISIS by good diplomacy, and by cutting off the money and the narratives that sustains them.

We need to change the game.