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“I’m a citizen of a place that was laid right on top of another.” → 

March 26 2017 |

I first read this piece by Denise Balkisoon on what it means to be Canadian when it came out over a month ago, and I’ve come back to it multiple times.

There are many, many great parts of this, starting with a rumination on how countries are places, not just ideas:

“The closest I got to considering the physicality of countries was thinking about borders, which are ideas about how imaginary lines should be imposed onto a real space, followed by vigorous attempts to police them. It’s weird that invisible borders breed cultures, but they do, and one thing that I’ve always known is that Canada is not the only way a country can be.”

And this, on ‘Canada the good’:

“My Canada has always been a place where the idea of white Anglophone superiority is driven home with consistent ferocity. Though I have a Canadian passport accepted around the world, that doesn’t mean I am accepted as Canadian. I used to internalize that rejection, fuelling my travel with a desperate longing for a new home. That phase is over now. I know that I belong to this place, and I’ve become used to asserting that.

“Between my global views and my local wounds, I consider my citizenship a lucky penny with a tarnished side. Canada was, without a doubt, a good place to be born. I have had a safe and comfortable life here. But I refuse to be endlessly grateful to anyone other than my parents. The comfort I live in is no more than I deserve, since housing, health care and education are basic human rights, and hardly guaranteed to every person born in this country.”

And on the division between ‘mainstream’ Canada and the lived experience of many Indigenous people:

“A bit out from the road, in the middle of some tall grass, I noticed a sign featuring what I saw as “Indigenous art” and advertising a helpline for native women coping with violence. I had driven by at least five times before, but this was the first time I registered that sign. And I felt, physically, the intense individuality of my lived experience of space, and how the same small bit of Earth could be utterly different for different people. In the language of The City and The City, I had experienced a breach. And, as in Besźel and UI Qoma, unseeing is almost impossible. It’s not an idea, but a truth: I’m a citizen of a place that was laid right on top of another.”

Highly recommended.

The Manitoba Sound → 

March 26 2017 |

Melissa Martin investigates the Manitoban accent and its roots in Indigenous languages and waves of settlers:

“Manitobans don’t think about this much. Our accents aren’t famous or a point of civic pride. Unlike English speakers in New Yawk or Bawwston, we don’t often see our ways of speaking presented in pop culture media.

“So we don’t usually conceptualize ourselves as speaking like Manitobans — until someone else points it out.

“Yet language is tied to place, as surely as mountains and rivers. The words we use, the colours of our vowels, the way consonants find their way through our teeth: those belong to here, too — and they are changing.”

I love learning about these hidden, subtle things that create community and identity in almost imperceptible ways.

The New York Times looks into ‘Month 13’ of the 12-month private sponsorship of Syrian refugees in Canada → 

March 26 2017 |

An excellent piece of reporting by Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn in the New York Times following the experience of well-meaning Canadians and their Syrian sponsors as they move away from helping their charges through everything towards, hopefully, self-sufficiency. As expected, it’s complicated.

“She and the other sponsors asked themselves: How could this be happening, after they had grown so close to the family? And did they really have the right to know or question how Mr. Hajj used money?

“In reply to his question about welfare, Ms. Karas did not mince words. ‘We didn’t bring you here and give you all this help so that you could become a drain on our government system,’ Ms. Karas told him. She explained that social assistance was a stopgap measure for people in need. “We expected you to go out and get a job and support your family.

“Mr. Hajj agreed not to apply. “’’m a son to these sponsors, who have lived in this country their whole life,’ he said later. ‘They must know for sure what is right and what is wrong.'”

Honest, stark and, importantly, human, this is great work. And, not to take away from this, it should be asked why this is a front page story on the Times rather than a Canadian publication.

fake markets → 

March 23 2017 |

Anil Dash has a lengthy and very worthwhile post about new technologies and how they are using the illusion of free markets to create monopolies. For example:

“But unlike competitive sellers on eBay, Uber drivers can’t set their prices. In fact, prices can be (and regularly have been) changed unilaterally by Uber. And passengers can’t make informed choices about selecting a driver: The algorithm by which a passenger and driver are matched is opaque—to both the passenger and driver. In fact, as Data & Society’s research has shown, Uber has at times deliberately misrepresented the market of available cars by showing “ghost” cars to users in the Uber app.”

There’s a lot more ending with a key question:

“Look at the apps on your phone right now. Are you sure you are comfortable with what’s going to happen when everyone’s running the same apps that you are?”

I read this post a month ago and find myself thinking about it almost every day. → 

March 23 2017 |

For three years I was part of a site called “This Is My Jam.” The premise was pretty simple: you choose one song, and only one, you are truly passionate and set it on your profile, along with a few words about it.

The beauty of this versus, say, Spotify is that it was a lot simpler. On Spotify, people make big ol’ playlists of songs they like, which can be fun, but also overwhelming. TIMJ was the digital equivalent of that scene from Garden State where Natalie Portman puts the headphones on Zach Braff’s ears and tells him to listen – one track, not an algorithmically-generated playlist of 30 or more.

Anyway, This Is My Jam shut down, as did Rdio – another place where you could share individual tracks along with some comments. I knew I missed them but I didn’t realize how much until discovering Cymbal.

The premise of Cymbal is pretty similar to This Is My Jam – share a song, and some words, and then listen to other people’s songs and their words. While TIMJ felt like a place where you would want to leave a song up for a day or even a week, Cymbal is a little more immediate – I’m doing two or three a day – but it feels good.

The main thing I like is the conversation that’s happening, and the ability to discover people who have some similar likes as you but are also out there finding new things. Facebook and Twitter somehow just don’t do it for me on music sharing, and while I’ve adopted Spotify as my listening place, it is sorely lacking in the human aspect of things. Music should be social.

I’m steeling myself for the inevitable closure that seems to follow every music service I truly love, but maybe these guys can make it happen.

If you’re inclined, you can find me at my usual spot.

Is Prince George losing its family restaurants?

March 23 2017 |

With the news that Kelly O’Bryan’s is closing its doors in Prince George, an interesting point from James Doyle on Twitter:

There have been some high-profile new restaurants opening lately, but it hadn’t occurred to me they weren’t exactly family-oriented. Two – Kask and Cornerstone – are centered around beer and many others are a sort of high-end, pub-style environment. Kids aren’t excluded, per se, but I can see where they wouldn’t be the sort of place you’d want to bring a crew of under-ten-year-olds. On occasions where I’ve wanted to go out with a group that includes someone with a small child, there have been issues around this.

Which isn’t to say there’s no where for kids to eat. Lots of other people chimed in to talk about the good experiences they’ve had bringing their kids to “non-family” restaurants. Which may be a good thing – Adam McDowell has a good piece in the National Post about the problem with kid’s menus and how they are limiting both future eating habits and cultural horizons. Still, I sympathize with the busy adult who just wants a place they can afford to bring a family and have their kids enjoy it.

Here’s more of the conversation:

Filed under: Prince George

Good humans who do inhumane things → 

February 17 2017 |

Chris Edelson:

“The men and women who reportedly handcuffed small children and the elderly, separated a child from his mother and held others without food for 20 hours, are undoubtedly “ordinary” people. What I mean by that, is that these are, in normal circumstances, people who likely treat their neighbors and co-workers with kindness and do not intentionally seek to harm others. That is chilling, as it is a reminder that authoritarians have no trouble finding the people they need to carry out their acts of cruelty. They do not need special monsters; they can issue orders to otherwise unexceptional people who will carry them out dutifully.”


February 14 2017 |

Donut is the only pet I’ve had from birth to death.

She was born in China, one of four kittens in a cat we adopted who wasn’t supposed to have been able to be pregnant. She was named Donut beacause she had a marking on her side that looked sort of like an “O”, but her most distinctive feature was her black nose.

We didn’t plan to keep the kittens, but as a kitten Donut was so attached to our dog that we decided we would keep her. Even though she lived with her actual biological mom all her life, Donut was more attached to the dog than any other cat she encountered.

So she flew home with us, along with her mom and another kitten we couldn’t find a home for in Wuhan. The other kitten was adopted out in Canada, and Donut stayed with us- at my in-laws, then a rental, then another rental in Victoria, then my parents house before the house we live in now.

She took to living in Prince George just fine, but she did not like Victoria. We had to get her old cat tree shipped down to us before she became somewhat settled. She was particular like that.

She was also very vocal. A lot of cats are noisy, but Donut was one of the loudest and most persistent I’ve met. She would purr for a while if you’d pet her, but very quickly move on to another spot, just out of your reach. Though she would allow us to brush her out on the deck in the sun for long periods of time, purring and rolling around.

She had some other odd habits, particularly an obsession with eating plastic. We tried various psychological and physical remedies, but nothing seemed to reach, so we had to be careful not to have any plastic anywhere she could get it- no bread on the counter, no ribbons on the Christmas gifts, no packages ready to be mailed left on the ground.

Since we had her from kittenhood, I kind of figured that as long as we kept her away from plastic we’d have Donut into our forties. Most cats I’ve had live between 15 and 20 years and she was healthy.

Unfortunately, a growth in her stomach started slowing her down in December. We had her on fluids and medication in the hope that we could get her strength up enough that the vet would be able to get a better idea of what it was, although it was almost definitely inoperable. She perked up a little here and there, but over the last week deteriorated to the point that we were ready to let her go.

A vet was scheduled to arrive tomorrow, but that’s been cancelled. Donut died curled up in my wife’s lap, a few months shy of the ten year anniversary of her cutting her umbilical cord halfway around the world.

She will be missed.




January 30 2017 |

So you’ve probably seen posts saying “Don’t normalize this,” or “Don’t let this be normal”. I didn’t really think about them until today.

Earlier today i was going to write a Facebook post saying I’m happy to have Muslim neighbours. Then I stopped myself.

As a journalist i’m not supposed to take a position on controversial issues.

And i found myself thinking, “Is this a position on a controversial issue”?

This is not a question i would have asked myself a year or two ago.

My mind on diversity hasn’t changed, but the world has shifted in a way that what used to be boilerplate “Oh Canada” sentiments seem less so.

So even though my values haven’t changed on this front, in my mind they’ve shifted from fairly innocuous to potentially controversial.

But the sentiment is fairly simple: I’ve grown up with different races and religions and I like living somewhere where that can happen.

I can and will not allow what is going on in the world to make that a part of me that I feel the need to hide for the sake of “neutrality”.

You can’t allow extremists to shift the conversation so that what should be basic human decency becomes somehow partisan.

I believe in the basic humanity of people. I believe we should not allow race or religion or place of birth to divide us. I won’t hide that.

I found my basic values slipping today without me noticing. It scares me that it happened. I hope I catch it if it does again.

Do not allow it to become normal.

Filed under: Best Of, Canada

Reporting on polls

January 25 2017 |

Writing in iPolitics, Paul Adams criticizes not polls, but reporters who don’t understand polls. Part of it is reporters who ignore the margin of error, reporting on polls showing a “clear winner” rather than a possible winner, but maybe not, because there’s a margin of error:

“If you look at the final polling forecast from Real Clear Politics, it showed Hillary Clinton with a 3.3 percentage point lead in the popular vote over Donald Trump. Guess what? She won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes; that’s just more than 2 per cent.

“An error of just over a percentage point is an error, for sure. But it’s a perfectly unsurprising error. No reasonable observer would expect the national polls to be more reliably accurate than they were.”

I ran into this during the last federal election. A group with the express purpose of getting people to vote strategically to defeat the Conservatives released a poll indicating that the NDP was the favourites to win- unless you looked at the margin of error. As I wrote:

“The more accurate way to read the results is with NDP support somewhere between 32 and 40 percent, the Conservatives between 26 and 34, and Liberals between 25 and 33 (19 times out of 20). The NDP could drop 4 points and the Liberals could go up 4, resulting in a Liberal victory, and it would still be within the margin of error. Or the Conservatives could win. Basically, it’s too close to call.”

For this I had a couple of days of (a very few) people accusing me of being a Liberal or Conservative shill.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect I may have had less of this if there hadn’t been a bunch of headlines saying the NDP was the favourite to win.

In the end, the Conservative candidate won, followed by the Liberal and then the NDP.

If we must report on polls, let’s at least do it accurately.

Filed under: journalism


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