Friday, January 25, 2019

Podcast Review: Canadaland's Thunder Bay

A few months ago I subscribed and began to listen to the newest podcast created by Canadaland, a Canadian-based media company. The podcast had been in development for at least two years as far as I can tell. The name is simple and instructive. Canadaland's audio documentary seeks to explore the culture, criminality, social tensions, politics, and racism in Thunder Bay.

The show is led by Ryan McMahon, an Anishinaabe comedian, writer, and activist. Given the sensitive material he takes a deft and careful hand at exploring the lives of indigenous Canadians living in Thunder Bay or their experiences with Thunder Bay. He spent months building relationships with the subjects and gaining background information to share the story.

It's possible to summarize Thunder Bay as a true crime podcast, but I think that quite misses the mark. True crime, generally, focuses on a single case or a single criminal. Thunder Bay is about systemic failures and crises. While time is spent to look at the corruption and cronyism that has pervaded local politics it is not simply about that. I feel the time spent looking at a mayor charged with extortion, or a police chief facing obstruction of justice is to demonstrate that radical failure is taking place in the community and it is going largely unchallenged.

The racism faced by indigenous people in Thunder Bay is not hidden or obscured. It is often visible right on the surface for all to see in public postings, statements, public leaders, and widely-held opinions. Many First Nations people have to come to Thunder Bay for schooling. Many of the smaller communities do not have high schools so the children are brought to Thunder Bay for their education. These generally leaves them poorly supervised, lonely, isolated, and in a high-risk area. There is a chilling and recurring fear stated by many that they will be "thrown in the river." Indigenous people in Thunder Bay seem to drown in icy rivers with startling regularity, and some indications exist that there are killers who stalk native people for just this purpose.

The tone of Thunder Bay is not what I would call emotional, but it is definitely sensitive. McMahon in his narration and interviews clearly is speaking in a revelatory manner, and also expresses deep regret and sympathy for victims. Another powerful element is simple disbelief, that there is a city in Canada that can flagrantly flaunt was many assume to be our norms and get away with it.

There is a question that McMahon and Thunder Bay leaves the audience with, one that is deeply chilling - what if Thunder Bay is working exactly as it is intended? Pointing to the litany of stories Canadaland has collected and calling them "isolated incidents" begs incredulity. If you don't believe me, give it a listen for yourself, but be prepared to see a darker side of our country that some are intimately familiar with and others have had the privilege to be shielded from.

To check out Thunder Bay you can use this link, or subscribe using your favourite podcast app.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Note About the Future of this Blog

Hello readers,

I'm sure a few of the regular readers have noticed the inconsistency in most posting lately. Through a combination of things I've been finding it a lot harder to post with the usual regularity I did even a few months ago. I'd like to talk a little bit about that and what it means going forward.

The news is depressing. It is frustrating to say the least to look at the litany of bad news and talk about it. The worst part about that is that it's often the same news in different flavours. While Trump manages to be racist, sexist, and damaging to democracy in many different ways, I only have so much will to talk about it. Likewise, the Doug Ford government could be given the same treatment. I've wanted to write about issues that came up in their convention, but it's all a bit draining. Ditto with Patrick Brown about to become mayor of my city.

Next, I'm tired. In the last few months I have gotten more hours at my part time job, but that also means that I get home later, I'm more tired when I do go home and often after finishing dinner and unwinding for a bit I just want to sleep. I'd rather write something well than write something fast and some post feel like I'm just going through the motions to meet my artificial schedule. I also suffer through periods of insomnia, which compounds these issues. I am currently in one of those periods.

Finally, this year I've tried to put more effort into fiction writing. I think I've had some real successes and I find it very satisfying. This is especially true when measured against the political pieces I write.

So, what does this mean for the future? First, I'm scrapping any notion of a schedule. I know it's death for blogs, but I'll be writing when and if I feel like it. I don't think that this will mean a permanent hiatus, but it's a possibility if nothing inspires me to write. I will say I invite feedback. This blog is a very solo project. If you enjoy it, or want my take on something in particular feel free to reach out. It would certainly encourage me to continue.

Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @SLee_OT, where I tweet about politics and retweet smarter people and interesting reads.

I hope you see something up here before too long.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Century After the War

Earlier this week marked the one hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War. I have a hard time imagining what event in the relatively recent past has shaped the world more than that single conflict. When I read the news, especially international news, or news that covers post-colonial nations I can still vividly see the scars there. Europe paid a devastating cost during the conflict, and so did the peoples within their empires. The transformative impact of the war can still be seen inside much of Europe domestically, not just internationally.

Over the last couple of years my interest in the First World War has grown considerably. I still have a stack of books that I intend to read that explains the time period. However, I've read and watched some content that may be of interest to others.

Recently I have been reading The War that Ended Peace by Margaret Macmillan. Macmillan, as the title suggests, is attempting to explain why a century of relative peace came to an end in 1914, rather than why did the war start. The context, personalities and history makes for a fantastic read. I have yet to finish the book and expect I'll write a review when I do. It reminds me a bit of the Guns of August but with a broader scope and a longer view.

Next, I've been watching a YouTube channel called The Great War. The Great War has been a project that lasted four years and released weekly videos describing the events of World War One week by week. I'm about mid-way through 1915 myself. Most of the videos are under 10 minutes long so it can be very easy to fall into a rabbit hole. Perhaps the best feature of the videos is that the examine the truly global nature of the war. There is a tendency to become fixated on the Western Front, but around the world tragic and incredible stories were playing out.

Finally, I already reviewed this on my blog, but Paris 1919 by Margaret Macmillan seems a valuable tool to expand one's understanding of the war. How World War I ended and the motivations behind the victors is an important. Most people know that the events and decisions of World War I set up the Second World War, but it also clearly determined the stage for all the following decades. Countries created from that time period persist. Mistakes made continue to cause problems. Historic arrangements continue to endure.

The First World War had many causes, but one of the big ones was that the Great Powers, concentrated in Europe, could not come to a peaceful understanding with one another. Ego, arrogance, hubris, and so on culminated to make leaders make disastrous decisions that resulted in the deaths of millions. It is difficult to truly comprehend the horror. However, Europe has, for the most part, overcome the divisions that led to the First World War. Germany and France united in shared grief to mark the anniversary this week, along with other countries that participated.

Leaders of Germany and France mark Armistice Day together.

We should never forget the lessons of World War One and be conscious of how it shapes us today. Never forgetting requires us to know first.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book Review: It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

It seems with great irony that I finished reading It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis on the day of the American midterm election. I've known about this novel for many years, and it popped back into my consciousness as it regained popularity in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election. I picked up a copy for myself when a friend of mine read it and posted particularly effective excerpts from the book that seemed to stab at the character of American politics, and perhaps Canadian politics as well, lest I be accused of deriding America and glorifying my own country's virtues.

It Can't Happen Here is remarkable in a few ways, but perhaps the most important one from my point of view is that it is a product of its time. Oftentimes that can hinder a work. Not in this case. Lewis was critiquing fascism and communism in real time when authoritarianism seemed to be on the rise around the world. As much as I love Nineteen Eighty-Four it is easy to look coldly at the tactics of the Soviet Communists and the Nazis and deride them. Lewis' scathing examination of fascism does not have the horrors of genocide or war to enforce his case.

The novel is set in a small Vermont town on the brink of the 1936 elections. As the Great Depression drags on American politics is increasing mired and dogged by extremists. The story opens at a society debate where speakers and supporters of a radical candidates couch their language in 'Americanism'. Senator Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip is a populist modeled in part on Huey Long. His folksy charm and extravagant promise to deliver $5000 to every American garners him a great deal of support.

The protagonist of the piece is Doremus Jessup, a newspaper editor in Fort Beulah, Vermont. Jessup, his friends and family provide the main lens from which we view the story. Doremus is a classic liberal and democrat. He cherishes the republic and the ideals which he believes it stands. He is also remarkably privileged. I think Sinclair is trying to comment on class and the rise of radical movements. The Jessup's hired man ends up a major leader within the fascist party.

Jessup witnesses with horror as people naively and enthusiastically embrace Windrip to become president. He replaces Roosevelt as the Democratic nominee and defeats an inoffensive Republican candidate - Walt Towbridge - to become president. Not long after Windrip is elected and his cronies get themselves into office does the hammer fall. Congress and the courts are repressed and bullied into submission. The Corporatist Party becomes the only legal party and the Minute Men become the paramilitary apparatus similar to the Stormtroopers or Black Shirts.

Something that makes the novel more effective in my opinion is that Lewis sets the story in a small town. It allows him to quickly sketch the power dynamics at the outset and show how the Corpos corrupt and deform relationships within the community. It is far more effective to see the liberal-minded teacher kicked out of his position and ostracized than have it be theoretical. Or the harassment the few Jewish residents must endure under the new anti-Semitic state. The Jessup family endures incredible hardship under the regime even though they occupy a privileged position. Members are murdered, imprisoned, and routinely threatened. It adds gravity to the horror of the situation. It gives faces and voices to the tragedy.  

As the afterward writes the novel is not a how-to guide in resisting fascism, but a simple case that America (and other democracies) are not immune to populist autocrats who will rob and abuse the citizens of a country for their own personal gain. Germany and Italy were democracies before they succumbed to fascism. No country is immune and requires vigilance. The story is rooted in enough real history and figures to be believable even if some of the details seem incorrect.

It's  a short read. Those interested in dystopian political visions, the 1930s, fascism, etc. will find something worthwhile in these pages. I think it's also valuable as a historical document. Check it out.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Worth Reading - October 25, 2018

The NDP face challenging by-elections before the next federal election. 

The Ontario government cancelled funding for three university campuses after millions of dollars were spent. 

Why does conservative nonsense dominate American politics

After the election, Toronto City Council has as many people named Michael as it does visible minorities

A 32-year-old woman defeated the incumbent mayor in Peterborough. 

Patrick Brown says that Doug Ford has to take Brampton seriously, or he'll face real issues. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Dear God Brampton, What the Hell Were You Thinking?

Last night about 35% of eligible voters in Brampton cast ballots and elected a new mayor, council and school board. Patrick Brown defeated incumbent mayor Linda Jeffrey by around four thousand votes. Patrick Brown, as thousands of Brampton voters seem to have forgotten, was a long-time resident of Barrie, served on its city council before becoming a Conservative MP. He then became leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario until credible allegations against him abusing his position of power to make advancements on young staffers became public known. He was unceremoniously kicked out as leader.

But fear not, Patrick Brown can continue to survive off the public purse because the citizens of Brampton, forty-six thousand of them had the bright idea to elect him as their mayor.


Nights like last night sometimes honestly make me feel like I should hang up the keyboard and quit. Too many defeats. Too many bad losses to awful candidates.

Trying to be positive, the victories of Paul Vicente, Martin Medeiros, Gurpreet Dhillon, Rowena Santos, Jeff Bowman, and Charmaine Williams are heartening.

However, the election of Doug Whillans, Pat Fortini, and Michael Palleschi does not fill me with hope.

I've left Harkirat Singh's name off either side because I don't know him well. I included Ms. Williams because she is the first black woman elected to city council, an important and growing community in this city that needs representation. It will be difficult to tell until some issues come up, but the council may be slightly more progressive than the last one. I thought some members were more progressive and then their voting record said otherwise.

Despite what some might say, I think it should be noted that by far not everyone forgives or forgets the allegations made against Patrick Brown. His election is not carte blanche forgiveness. Citizens in this city will be watching, and errors and mismanagement will be noted. Hopefully then the people will have the good sense to hold him accountable.

Now I'm going to try not think about this election for a while.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Worth Reading - October 18, 2018

Patrick Brown, who hopes to become mayor of Brampton next week, spent $300000 in two months on staffing in his final days as a MPP.  Respect for the public purse?

The Toronto Star endorses Linda Jeffrey for re-election as mayor of Brampton. 

New Brunswick's strange election outcome means that no party wants to volunteer a MLA to become speaker.
Now that Canada has legalized cannabis, the next move is to address harder drugs

This article looks at when public transit meets on-demand service

Francis Fukuyama sat down for an interview and shared some of his thoughts on the state of politics and the world. 

Here's a story on people who are moving to the Chernobyl radioactive zone

Strong Towns looks at how efficiency is not the same thing as strength

Why does John Tory want to be mayor? What is his vision for Toronto?