Saturday, October 19, 2019

On Voting

Only a few more days to go until Canadians go to the polls and cast their ballot for the candidate of their choice - the one of whichever party best reflects their own interests and will make decisions on their behalf for the next four years. I however will not be among them. There was a time when I did vote, and it was usually for whatever NDP candidate was in my riding. In fact, I even donated money to the federal NDP and once even actively helped out with one candidates election campaign. And I still think that of all the mainstream parties, they're the ones whose election platform most closely matches my own beliefs. But the federal NDP, if history is any indicator, is unlikely to ever obtain power at the national level. In Canada, it's always been the Liberals and (some incarnation of) the conservatives.

It's been said that you only get out of democracy what you put into it. This is true - to a certain extent.

But I think the people who most often say this and similar cliches think voting is the be-all-and-end-all of the democratic process.

A lot of people have become disillusioned with the political system and for good reason

Here in Canada, we've had abysmal voter turn out at both federal and provincial elections in recent years. I think voter turn out in the last federal election was around 60%. This kind of apathy is all too prevalent. But one of my biggest peeves have come from some people who do vote but harshly criticize others who express cynicism and don't see any point in voting at all. These voters often have a self-righteous, holier-than-thou-attitude towards the cynics and will typically say something like "you should be ashamed...soldiers gave their lives in two world wars to protect your right to vote and if everyone had your attitude, we'd be much worse of...blah...blah...blah...." The irony of it is that it's these self-righteous types are often every bit as responsible for the sad state of democracy. They've somehow got it into their heads that all they have to do is show up at a polling station every four years, put a little 'X' on a ballot and think they've done their democratic duty and their job is done...until next election.

First off, yes it is true that Canadian soldiers (as well as those of from American, Britain and Australia and other allies) gave their lives to protect freedom and democracy - and the various rights that go along with it. Voting is certainly among them. But there are other ones which I would argue are equally valuable. Like the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to not talk to nosey busy-body cops and not have to answer their asinine questions. The fact that cops can't come barging into my place any time they feel like it. Because we don't yet live in a police state. I think we're moving closer in that direction though, but that's neither here nor there.

Ghandi once famously said "be the change you want to see in the world". I agree. There are lots of other alternatives for changing the status quo than by going to the ballot box. For me it's grass roots organizations, particularly at the local level, attending rallies and demonstrations and of course using the written and spoken word to persuade others. These are my preferred methods for helping facilitate change.

I harbour no antipathy to those who do vote and think it's important to do so. I have only two things to say to these people - have no illusions and whoever wins on October 21st, I just hope it's not Andrew Scheer. We're totally fucked if it is.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ramp Up, Smarten Up

It's always nice to read some good news for a change; as I did when I opened today's Metro (one of Toronto's free dailies) and read of a campaign to increase the number of accessible ramps in buildings, not just in Toronto but across the province.

The Ramp Up 2016 campaign launching Thursday is a new collaboration between the StopGap Foundation and 24 local visual artists. Its main objective is to bring more accessibility to an additional 15 communities throughout the province.
“We continue to raise awareness about barriers in our communities that prevent so many of us from entering spaces we desire,” said the charity’s founder and accessibility advocate Luke Anderson.
The artists volunteered their time to paint different existing ramps, producing different works of art that will be auctioned off to help fund the campaign.
Through his foundation, Anderson has led efforts to create custom-designed ramps that are placed on single or multiple-step storefronts to increase accessibility in the city. These ramps are temporarily deployable, which gives users an option to remove them when they’re not needed.
Since the project launched about five years ago, over 800 ramps have been distributed all over the country – more than half of them in Toronto.
Anderson said the campaign isn’t just about handing out ramps to communities, but especially about educating business owners on the importance of having accessible spaces.
“We show them that without a ramp, they are missing out on a big customer base,” he said.The campaign also aims to show it’s not just people in wheelchairs who may have issues with steps, but also parents pushing strollers, people doing delivery and many others who may need accessible entryway, said Anderson.
“To not allow someone equal access to a space is actually an encroachment on our human rights,” he said.
The Ramp Up 2016 campaign kicks off Thursday at 100 Broadview, 7p.m. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Anit-Authoritarian as a Virtue

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become
so absolutely free that your very existence is an act
of rebellion.”

- Albert Camus

"You know what your problem is, Niall? You have a problem with authority; with someone telling you what to do."

I've been told that on more than one occasion, and by more than one person over the years. Which I guess is why I was mildly amused when I learned that something similar was once said to Albert Einstein by one  of his professors "You have but one fault; no one can tell you anything."

A lot of people have also made the observation that I'm very bright and intelligent. However I think it's fair to say that my IQ still falls short of Einstein's

But about being anti-authority, I admit it's true. But to them, I might make the following observation "You say anti-authority like it's a bad thing." And it IS a bad thing -- for a lot of people. But not
necessarily for the reasons they would have you believe. Our society stigmatizes and ascribes pathology to anti-authoritarians in many ways. A lot of the time this takes the form of labeling and good old fashioned shaming will do. I'm no stranger to this; after all I've experienced it firsthand.

So you can imagine, it was with great interest that I read some of the work of American psychologist, Bruce E. Levine, Ph.D and self-professed anti-authoritarian. He notes that over the course of his career, he has dealt with many people who had been diagnosed by other professionals as having ADHD, ODD, GAD as well as other psychiatric problems.

According to Levine:
"Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority"  1
On the subject of why anti-authoritarians seem so few in number, he proposes the follwing hypothesis:
"One reason could be that many natural anti-authoritarians are now psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities."
I remember reading the novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest for the first time during my senior year in high school. Randall Patrick McMurphy was the protagonist, though as far as Nurse Ratched and  most of the hospital staff were concerned, he was no hero. He was a threat to the establishment; a threat that needed to be dealt with. And those of you familiar with the story know what ultimately happened to him.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Falling On Deaf Ears, Slapping Them In The Face

By now you've heard about the bogus sign language interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial -- the one who just got up there and started signing in gibberesh. Naturally this raises a few questions such as How could this have happened? Who is responsible? Either whoever appointed this guy as interpreter either didn't check his background or said person(s) knew he wasn't qualified and decided it didn't matter one would really notice, right?

At least no one of importance would notice.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Braille Fail

Acknowledgement to fellow disability blogger Bad Cripple for source for today's entry; on how Conservative MPs screw up with fake braille

And one of the original articles, as reported in the Toronto Star.

I'll just give a quick executive summary. The Conservative party most recent initiative, which I presume was an attempt to court the vote of the differently abled and their allies, took the form of a mass mailout of a flyer stressing their commitment to ensuring equality of access and full participation in the workforce of Canadians with disabilities.  What the non-braille text of the flyer states:

“Our government has been determined to help remove barriers for those who are excluded from the workforce. Our long-term prosperity depends on an inclusive workforce that utilizes the skills of all citizens.”

Now maybe it's the jaded cynic in me, coupled with an inherent distrust of Harper and the Cons talking when I say that this strikes me as a more polite, tactful way of saying something like "All you  lazy, good-for-nothing fakers who only like to call yourselves disabled when we know you're not need to get of your lazy asses and to stop bilking the government and the taxpayer by feeding from the state trough"

Now some of you read this and say "Oh, Niall. That's very harsh and unfair. Why can't you just give them the benefit of the doubt and take what they say at face value instead of jumping to conclusions?"

I'll tell you why; Because this isn't just an honest mistake. It could easily have been avoided had they taken more care. The stupidity would be laughable if it weren't an insult to so many of us. Braille is supposed to be textured, so whatever is written can be understood by one who can read braille merely by running one's fingertips across it. Otherwise it's just dots on a page.

If there's ANY good side to this fiasco, I would think that at the very least, it should send a message loud and clear to the electorate. That they are all about keeping up appearances

Here's what their next initiative will probably be. They'll start launching a regular podcast to keep deaf and hard of hearing Canadians informed off all the great things they're doing for them. Just imagine the numbers of hearing impaired people will tune in and listen!

It just doesn't get more innovative than that, folks.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thoughts From a Spiteful, Callous Nitpicker.

This is something I did not particularly WANT to write. It's my criticism of an article about the heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, tragedy of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17 year old girl from Nova Scotia who was raped by four boys. This crime was photographed and distributed and Parsons endured an unimaginable onslaught of torment, slut-shaming and victim blaming; all of which drove her to take her own life. No human being with any semblance of a conscience could be anything but saddened and enraged by this whole sordid and devastating story.

It's awful enough as it is, which is why I was reticent to criticize an article over at written by Maya Shlayen , a self-identified feminist and journalism student at Ryerson University who was actually taking the time to point out something that often gets overlooked or glossed over in most reports pertaining to this case. That for all the talk about bullying and teen suicide, the horrible events inflicted on Parsons were very much a product of a pervasive misogyny and rape culture. In fact, she sums it up very well in this paragraph (and the last two sentences):
"Unfortunately, all of the discussions about the story so far have focused on "bullying," as if Rehtaeh's story is about playground squabbling; as if what happened to her could have happened to anyone. In reality, her story had a lot to do with being female in a patriarchal society. Rehtaeh was killed by misogyny.  "
But whoa...wait a minute. Let's backtrack for a second and have a look at this sentence again:
"[A]ll of the discussions about the story so far have focused on "bullying," as if Rehtaeh's story is about playground squabbling;"
"Playground squabbling" !?

Maybe my working definition of what this is differs from most people, but when I hear this phrase it makes me think of things like the following: an argument over who takes turns in a game, or whose turn it is to be 'it' in a game of tag, who said what to whom and why and why so-and-so is no longer friends with such person etc, why someone doesn't share their candy, or why they give more to one child than another etc. That's what playground squabbling is to me.

Bullying, on the other hand, refers acts of intimidation, domination - strong preying on the weak. This can vary in it's severity to being somewhat upsetting to acts that are deadly, criminal and can include murder; acts that can have lifelong repercussions. Playground squabbling is something most kids grow out of by junior high school. Bullying persists into high school and can be pretty fucking scary

There's an appreciable difference between the two and Shlayen does a huge disservice to the victims of bullying and its consquences by conflating these two thus minimizing the real and serious negative impacts bullying has.

But it doesn't stop there. She also demonstrates a very cavalier attitude towards male victims of rape and sexual assault. Nowhere is this more clear than when she points out:
"Even when men or boys are raped, they are usually raped by other men;"
For the moment, let's ignore the fact that what IS known about male victims of rape and sexual assault is limited, because rape is an under-reported crime. But let for the moment, let's just focus on Shlayen's assertion - that male rape victims are usually victimized at the hands of another man. My response to this is...SO FUCKING WHAT!?! Rape is a horrible, traumatic crime committed by one human being against another that can leave emotional and psychological scars for life. Does it REALLY make one iota of difference to the victim whether or not their assailant had the same genitalia or not?

She also says that male rape victims are more readily believed and the proof she offers for this assertion is the Roman Catholic Church's scandal in which sexual abuse of children
"Male victims of rape are also more likely to be believed; their injury is more likely to be perceived as a real violation of who they are and what they are worth. The ongoing sexual abuses in the Church, for example, have sparked outrage and brought many of us to act primarily because it is one of the few cases where most of the victims are boys. "
Now maybe I'm wrong about this. Maybe this is a matter of conjecture and opinion. But it was my understanding that the sex abuse scandals of the RCC sparked outrage because they had been covered up for so long, the higher ups in the church and Vatican knew it was going on and went to great lengths to cover it up. And the RCC was for the longest time a revered and trusted institution in many communities and for it to have gone on for so long and kept secret...I thought it was that which caused the outrage. Her argument here is questionable at best, offensive at worst.

I know I may very well catch some flak for writing this article. And I'm prepared to deal with that. Some may say that what happened to Parsons is so terrible and that Shlayen's article was only pointing out a too often ignored reality about the girl's story and countless others like it; and that my criticism of what Shlayen wrote is nitpicking; not to mention petty as well as spiteful and callous.I don't agree and that was not my intent. I wanted to make this crystal clear from the outset. By all means we should take violence against women and girls very seriously - and point out something that needs to be. But it's never OK to throw others under the bus and minimize the suffering of other victims to do so. And it's entirely unnecessary.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Autism and I.T - Some Good News

If you belong on the autism spectrum, or know someone who does, then you'll probably want to read this.

From the article: 
The job hunt is complicated enough for most high school and college graduates and even tougher for the growing number of young people on the autism spectrum. Despite the obstacles that people with autism face trying to find work, there's a natural landing place: the tech industry.
Also from the article:
Dr. Patricia Evans, a neurologist at Children's Medical Center in Dallas, says people on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum often have an amazing ability to hyper-focus on a task.
A feature of people on the Autism spectrum is that they don't always get along well with others and don't behave according neuro-typical standards of what's "appropriate" in work or social setting. But Dr.Evans says they can thrive in engineering or computer design tasks, since these jobs typical require only minimal contact with people.

However, here are also some unpleasant facts:
Although symptoms and their severity vary widely, the majority of young adults with autism spectrum disorder won't make it to college and won't get a job after they graduate. This year alone, 50,000 adolescents with autism will turn 18.

I don't expect these figures to change much anytime soon. This article is of course based on facts and figures from the U.S. But I'd imagine the stats on this in Canada, Australia, UK and other developed nations would be proportionate and not too different.

I'd be happy to be proven wrong, though.