Just Another Happy Plant

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The circled portion of this plant has been waving at me and not doing any kind of mind control for the past half hour.

Okay so there’s this plant in my office. I don’t know what it’s called (maybe some kind of hoya “wax plant” or something), but it’s a thing that kind of vines and sends out runners and it’s awesome. We inherited it from the shady travel agency when it (the shady travel agency, not the plant) got raided by the police. This was shortly before the police raided the grow-op on the OTHER side of us. We’ve since moved.

Anyway, we have this plant. It’s in a very sunny window which it has been enjoying greatly, as I can tell by the happiness of its leaves. But it’s been sending out this runner. And today, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. The runner was waving around like it was employing the communications device known as “muppet arms”. I gleefully pointed this out to my co-worker who informed me that the plant does this on a regular basis.

As I watched, giggling gleefully because, let’s be clear, this is basically the most exciting thing to happen in my entire life, the runner stem flipped itself back overtop of the bookshelf where it normally hangs out. I had assumed the thing was moving because of air currents and whatnot, but now it’s completely clear that the plant has been waving at me. Now the stem is gently bouncing up and down hypnotically. I’m sure we can all agree this is perfectly safe and normal plant behaviour and is not in any way related to mind control.

So I’ve been sitting at my desk, clapping and laughing while the plant waves at me. This is basically the best day of my life.

Burn Blog Tour – Saying Goodbye

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I’ve been putting this off for as long as I can. I’m not…good…with goodbyes. I’m a ghoster; a master of what in my family was called “the Irish farewell”, which was to simply leave the room innocuously when nobody was looking, so as to leave without making a huge deal of leaving. It bothers the hell out of some folks, but there’s truth to the old Lincoln saw that you can’t please all the people all the time. If you’re the sort of person who loves intensely, feverishly, and deeply, you understand – you can’t just fall in love and wave your lover away. It’s better to just quietly leave rather than being forced to say goodbye. The thing about goodbye is that despite all the adages about ‘it’s only farewell, not goodbye’, you’re acknowledging that the thing you’ve been enjoying is coming to an end. It’s a great time for new things to begin, but as humans, we need a bit of time to mourn. A bit of time to understand how this new state is going to pan out (the state of not being with someone).

The worst thing about books is that they end. As you approach the end papers of a truly good book, it’s like you’re gearing yourself up to say goodbye. There’s no way to Irish Farewell your way out of a good book, unfortunately, because leaving it unread will drive you mad. I’m pretty sure God invented book series precisely to keep us from wandering around, moping in a funk every time we finish a good book. Whether or not you believe in God, moping in a funk doesn’t solve anything and just makes everyone around you miserable too.

BurnI’ve been anticipating Paula Weston’s Burn with a mixture of intense excitement and deep, deep despair. I know it’s the last book in the Rephaim series, and I’ve been steeling myself against the funky mopies as best I can. I thought I had until September, but when the book showed up in my post box recently, I actually ran around the house flapping my arms like Kermit the Frog and screaming like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert in the 1950s [editor’s note: 1960s].

There’s another thing.

I once read the blog tour entry I wrote for Shimmer to #TheTeen (yes, he even gets his own hashtag). He got noticeably jumpy and asked me if I’d read any of the others in the series, so I ended up reading him all the blog tour posts I’ve done for this YA series from Tundra Books. The more I read, the antsier he got until finally in his “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS DELAYED GRATIFICATION” voice, he asked, MOM MOM MOM DO YOU HAVE THOSE BOOKS OR IF NOT CAN WE JUST GO TO THE CITY TO BUY THEM RIGHT NOW PLEASE? You know the author’s on to something when a 16-year-old loses his mind over wanting to read some books.

I ended up lending him all three of the first books in this series about a couple of half-angel, half-human warriors, which he proceeded to consume like a starving man eats …well, pretty much anything, actually. So when he saw me running around the house like Kermit the Frog and screaming like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert circa 1955 [editor’s note: 1965] while brandishing a fresh-out-of-the-box copy of Burn, HE screamed like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert and started flapping his hands like a muppet. (We are cut from the same cloth, he and I.)

Yeah, we were excited. Probably more than regular people get at having a book in their house, but there was a bittersweetness to the joy, because we knew it meant the series was over. Whatever else Rafa and Jude and Gaby got up to after this would be their business, not ours. Yet on the other hand, the downfall of so many book series is that they seem to never end. Each subsequent title in the franchise gets watered down just a little until eventually, you’re on book 84 and you’ve forgotten why you started reading the series at all. Sometimes, it’s good when things end. Especially when they end the way they started: with passion, strength and a little bit of mystery.

Jude and I are looking at each other. Watching. Sunlight streams through the window, warms my back. I can hear the surf pounding the beach a block away. A magpie somewhere outside. My room smells of stale coffee and the half-melted vanilla-bean candle in a mason jar by my bed. My chest is a storm of emotion, thunderous and insistent. …I already know I can’t outrun the thing I’m trying to avoid. The truth.

ShadowsGaby and Jude, sibling Rephaim (the children of angelic fathers and human mothers), up until about ten days ago, each thought the other was dead – their memories had been altered, and they’d forgotten everything about their lives as anything other than humans. But then everything started to change. Burn starts with those lost memories coming flooding back, at a pretty inconvenient time (just before a war between heaven and hell), and right when Gaby and Jude were starting to feel like they were finding places for themselves among their half-angelic kin.

The betrayal of one of their own that runs so deep it falls strongly into the category of “conspiracy theory proven conspiracy fact” has burst open a schism that had only just begun to heal. One of the Rephaim themselves is involved in hunting others of their kind; there is a spy among them, a discovery which uncovers decades, even centuries of betrayal. Traversing the breadth of this betrayal takes time and resources the Rephaim just don’t have – a prophet has come to them and warned them of the coming war that has something – although nobody knows exactly what – to do with the factions that have emerged among the Rephaim themselves.

We gather around, no longer in formation…I’m shoulder-to-shoulder with Jude and Rafa. I think about the past – real and fabricated – all the moments that make me who I am. What it means to have lived as a half-angel warrior and a human. The value of my friends…

HazeSomething’s coming. Something big. If the Rephaim have any hope of surviving, they have to figure out the prophecies that have been suppressed and manipulated for ages. They have to figure out who altered Gaby and Jude’s memories and why. They have to figure out whether they can work together, or whether trying to do so will make everything worse. Running through the entire story is the question of whether Gaby can trust Rafa – whether she can trust herself. There is history there, and Rafa has always known what it is. Can Gaby live with her newly remembered knowledge of it?

Paula Weston  has crafted a series of novels that seamlessly weave together mystery, romance, and action, within a captivating supernatural setting. Without the heavy religious overtones that sometimes accompany stories of angels and demons, the Rephaim series is a damned fine adventure, propelled by a strong and inquisitive lead character (Gaby) and a supporting cast of gripping, believable characters you’ll recognise from your own group of friends (or your D&D party): The devilishly handsome ex who likes being in charge (Daniel); the action-oriented fighter who’s always scrappy (Taya); the true anarchist (Mya); the ridiculously smart person who would prefer to get all the information before they do anything (Magda); the person who always has time to listen but who doesn’t take any crap (Micah); the keeper of secrets (Jason); and that couple who complement each other so perfectly you suspect they’ve been together since before they could walk (Ez and Zak).

With a fairly large cast of characters, there’s always a fear that you’ll need a flow chart and a sherpa to muddle your way through each book (I’m looking at you, George R. R. Martin), but Weston is a true artist. Each of her characters is brilliantly individual (and here’s kudos also to Weston’s editor, making sure every cast member is in the right place at the right time); it’s rather like you’re at a party and you know everyone well enough to recognise each voice. Even with some of the new characters introduced in Burn (and I don’t want to give you any spoilers), you don’t lose your sense of who’s who.

ShimmerI desperately wanted to savour this book, and I tried. I mean, I *really* tried. But it’s pretty tough to savour a book when there’s an Australian beach full of demons descending on innocent people, and an ancient mystery to solve, and treason within the ranks and perfidy without. It’s pretty tough to just take it easy when the glass is flying and hearts are breaking and being healed and breaking again. You can’t just saunter your way through mystical binding rights and long-forgotten summoning rituals and a decade of repressed memories that answer the questions you had from book one.

Nobody speaks. Nobody moves. In the stillness, a wave breaks on the shore. Our world is being up-ended and shaken out but the tide keeps rolling in, oblivious.

If you have the option of reading the entire series (Shadows, Haze, Shimmer, and Burn) this summer, do it. The entire story actually only occupies about a two-week period. Work it so you read along with the actual timeframe of the narrative, you’ll have a good idea of just how intense the story truly is.  Like many serialised stories, a bit of wandering happens somewhere in the middle, and I’d say the first and last books (Shimmer and Burn) are the strongest and most tightly paced. Yet Weston has a way of tying her characters up in to pretzelly knots you’re going to want to watch untangle.

It’s been a great deal of fun reading the Rephaim series, and a huge thank you to Tundra Books for inviting me along on the blog tour for each of these four titles. Both #TheTeen and I have had a wonderful time talking about each of these books, and I know we’ll have more fun with them in the future – my current goal is to re-read the entire series in under two weeks, to get a closer glimpse of Gaby’s transformation. Keep your eyes peeled for Paula Weston’s next books. I have a sneaking suspicion you won’t be disappointed.

You can find these books at your local indie bookseller, or from Tundra Books.

Read the previous centre of the universe blog tour entries for Shadows, Haze, and Shimmer

Paula WestonPaula Weston lives in Brisbane with her husband, Murray and their pets, a retired greyhound and a moody cockatiel. She reads widely. Shadows, book one of the Rephaim series, was her first novel. Visit her website at paula-weston.com for more information.

Follow the Talking with Tundra site or any of these book tour blogs for more takes on Burn: 

MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2016
Lee at Rally the Readers
Michelle at Undeniably Book Nerdy
Juhina at Maji Bookshelf

TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2016
Lynne at Words of Mystery
Laura at If It Has Words
Leanne at Author Leanne Dyck
Crystal at Bookiemoji

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 2016
Lauren at Love is not a triangle
Joy at Joyousreads
Krystal at Krystal’s Stellar Book Blog

THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 2016
Jaime at Fiction Fare
Liz at Midnight Bloom Reads
Crystal at Winterhaven Books
Andrea at Cozy Up With A Good Read

FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2016
Jen at The Starry-Eyed Revue
Patty at Bookish Wanderlove

You can also follow @TundraBooks@PaulaWeston, and the wonderful bloggers on twitter!

Existential Threat

Saskatchewan Premier warns the oil industry is under existential threat by activists

 

I dunno about you, but existential threats have always been kind of fun once you get over the whining part. They’re truly the best for growth – most of us have some kind of existential threat when our first love crumbles or when we fail at something we’re truly passionate about. The point is, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, dry the tears from our cheeks, and we sally forth to become stronger, more amazing people.

In other words, the PURPOSE of a true existential threat is to make you question what your true nature is. To force you to question yourself, your goals, and to assess your needs versus your wants. Existential threats are POWERFUL agents of change. Given a healthy body and mind, you will come through your existential threats with flying colours and keen insights. They help to build us faster. Stronger. Better.
I truly do hope the oil industry is facing an existential threat. I don’t want the petroleum industry to disappear or to die out; I think it’s a silly notion that it will or that it’s become irrelevant. But it’s absolutely silly (not to mention irresponsible) to base the lions’ share of your economy on one or two resource-based industries. It’s also silly to insist that the petroleum industry is the ONLY industry that will generate the kinds of revenues you’re hoping to see.

Budgeting is no different from gambling, but there’s still a difference between blackjack and roulette. If my government is going to gamble with their plans for citizens’ money, I’d RATHER they do so with a strong understanding of (and acceptance of)things like non-partisan research and statistics. We’ve all heard how important it is to diversify your investments. It’s important for any organization, business or government, to diversify their revenue streams as well. And to BUDGET with that in mind.

Now, with the balanced budget legislation facing an existential threat at the hands of its parents, makes a person wonder what else the government could have done in their budget. Well, they could have raised taxes. Not necessarily income tax, although that’s always an option, but certainly sin tax (they didn’t want to do that, I’m sure, while introducing private liquor stores which people mysteriously think are going to offer cheaper product [news flash: they don’t]). Hospitality tax – heading in to the tourism season, they could have instituted a hospitality tax.

Ultimately, the only thing to fear about an existential threat is that it will pass and nothing will change. Oh wait. I’m thinking of existentialIST threats. Yeah, hey, existential threats are super bad and mean the end is nigh…I think Brad Wall has those two words mixed up too. The petroleum industry isn’t going anywhere. What’s happening now is that people are saying it’s time to ALSO invest in OTHER forms of energy. Activists aren’t about to eradicate the oil industry, for crap’s sake (although if they were, this would be the most powerful they’ve ever been. What, are hippies everywhere are joyfully chomping away on kale or whatever other kind of hideous food they eat, claiming victory over “Big Oil”?). Deciding not to build enormous pipelines because you have serious concerns over their safety BASED ON EMPIRICAL DATA has nothing to do with activism. It has to do with empirical data.

Yeah. Wow. Totally not the same thing. Just goes to show you that even a premier can get a word wrong now and then.

Ain’t nothing wrong with faith

IMG_4436After yesterday’s little rant about public funding going to “independent schools”, let me be clear about something: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with religion or with faith (I know some folks disagree, but that’s a discussion for another time). As someone who spent every summer in bible school, who helped run church youth groups, who was Baha’i for a number of years, I chose to be baptised in my late 20s, and while my current religious beliefs are really nobody’s business (I’ll talk about it if you ask), I think faith is lovely. I think prayer is lovely. If religious belief and/or adherence is something that enriches your life, practising your faith is one of the most profound things you can do, and I think that’s awesome.

Faith is not the problem. The problem is that we must develop and maintain a separation of church and state. With “independent schools” receiving public funding, we have a situation where private service institutions are funded, in part, by public tax revenue – your tax dollars may be used to support an institution in which your children may not be eligible to enrol.

(Aside: I also have a problem with schools that receive public funding calling themselves “independent schools”, and yes, I understand they mean “independent of the public school system”, but truly what they mean is “private schools” or “alternative schools”. So. There’s that bugbear.)

In other words, this isn’t an attack on religion. It’s not even a rail against religious schools or faith-based instruction or home schooling. It’s a rail against spending public funds on what are, ostensibly, private institutions. I’m pretty sure that if I wanted to send one of my kids to an “independent school”, I’d have to pay tuition. And that’s fine and I would expect to do so, but I sure as hell don’t think tuition for private schools should be subsidised by tax revenue. ESPECIALLY when we’re in a situation where our public school system is facing funding shortfalls, cutbacks, and even closures.

We should have all KINDS of educational institutions. Truly independent schools where if you want your children to have specialised or focussed education (arts, athletics, religion, gender-specific, elite academics), you should have to pay the full tuition (barring scholarships, bursaries, etc. from the private sector). Faith-based schools should receive their funding only from tuition, from the religious institution with which they’re associated, and from private sponsorship and patronage. There’s room here for governments to provide scholarships *for non faith-based education* to individual students, but not to subsidise the institutions themselves.

Faith was never the problem. The problem has always been the necessity to separate (and to KEEP separate) church and state. Public funding has no place in faith-based institutions, if we are to truly have an open and democratic society. (Also the rant about ending tax leniency/exemptions for faith-based institutions and private business will come at a later date.)

Should’ve Listened to Dante

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If all of the most brilliant minds in the world got together and came up with the most hateful, inefficient, inconvenient, labyrinthine, archaic system of getting people from one place to another, then added in the sort of evil that arises from the cardinal sins of lust and envy, you would come close to – CLOSE TO – the special hell that is the Calgary airport. It’s the sort of place where criminal masterminds and evil overlords send their underlings and minions to learn how to use design – however temporary – to befuddle, enrage, and irritate already short-tempered people. It is where bad Politicians learn to interact with the media. 

I’m a loser baby…

Can someone please tell me how paying $3M to a business startup is not “picking winners and/or losers”? Especially to a company that was ALSO paid over $5M startup funding in Manitoba?
 
How many other business startups in the past eight years have received $10K/employee in training/startup funding? [looks out at dearth of hands being raised] That’s what I thought.
 
Couldn’t this money have gone to post-secondary institutions for workforce training? Maybe to Aboriginal bands to be used for training and education? Maybe to laid-off industry (mining, oil) employees for training in a different industry/job?
 
I just don’t understand how anyone can claim this isn’t cherry-picking. It’s also *completely* weird. Just like SPUDCO was. If the provincial government IS in the business of providing $10k/employee for training in startups, how do other businesses go about applying for this funding? Who do we talk to? What are the rules and guidelines?
 

Wealth, Taxes, and Citizenship

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I saw this posted on effbook, from these folks.

LUCY PARSONS: “MORE DANGEROUS THAN A THOUSAND RIOTERS”: Eldine Gonzalez Parsons (born c. 1853 – March 7, 1942), described by the Chicago Police Department as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters,” was an American labor organizer and anarchist, born around 1853 in Texas, likely as a slave, to parents of Native American, Black American and Mexican ancestry. In 1871 she married former Confederate soldier Albert Parsons. Forced to flee from Texas by reactions to their interracial marriage, they settled in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1886 her husband, heavily involved in campaigning for the eight-hour day, was arrested, tried and executed on November 11, 1887, by the state of Illinois on charges that he had conspired in the HAYMARKET RIOT — an event which was seen as a political frame-up designed to cripple the 8-hour movement. In 1905 she helped start the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and began editing the Liberator, an anarchist newspaper that supported the IWW in Chicago. She organized the Chicago Hunger Demonstrations in Jan. 1915.

PREDICTING THE WAVE OF SIT-DOWN STRIKES that labor used in the 1930s, Parsons was quoted as saying: “My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production.”

Lucy Parsons is pretty clearly an important person. I love the vague (well, sometimes very not-vague) fear people have and have had about “anarchists”. Generally the people who are terrified of anarchy are the same people who espouse personal liberty, which is pretty much the epitome of irony; the line between libertarianism and anarchism is very thinly drawn – right-wing-nuts tend to be libertarians and left-wing-nuts tend to be anarchists (although there are very left-wing libertarian philosophies (social libertarianism) and there are very right-wing anarchists (those fruitcakes who claim they’ve seceded from whatever country they live in and don’t have to follow civil law)). There are differences between the two ideologies, of course, and I encourage you to study both schools of thought. ANYWAY, Lucy Parsons is clearly someone who made a difference.

What I want to talk about though is the sentiment in the quotation attributed to her here: “Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth”. I don’t doubt the veracity of that statement one whit. But here’s something I was talking about with #TheTeen, and something I’ve thought about ever since I first started thinking about what I would come to learn is called ‘socialism’ (I was *very* young, for the record).

This is something I struggle with, as a self-proclaimed socialist.Is the accumulation of wealth necessarily a bad thing? Is it right to *try* to vote away wealth? Put another way, is it right to elect a party whose platform is to “take away” their wealth?

One of the things I believe in very strongly is that those who have (whether it’s monetary wealth or other kinds of wealth) have a responsibility to help those who are less wealthy. At its very basic, this is indeed the concept of redistribution of wealth. It is the concept of “enough” – that is to say, if you have enough food to feed your family, you have a responsibility to help those who do not have enough food to feed their families (regardless of the reasons why they may not have enough). One of the problems I encounter when I talk about this is that people have this sense of what they *deserve*.

To “deserve” something is to earn it; to earn punishment or to earn reward (interestingly, the etymology of deserve is from the Latin for’ being entitled to something because of good service’, via Old French deservir). I have a problem with the idea of “deserving” something because of the sense of entitlement. Entitlement means you have a right to something; inherently privileged. When we talk about “deserving” wealth, MOST of us feel we are entitled to it because we’ve worked for it. There are, of course, people who have inherited wealth who may not have busted their rumps at a soul-crushing desk job or who may not have put literal blood, sweat, and tears into their land, their career, their job. Can you argue that people are “entitled” to – that they “deserve” – wealth they’ve been born into? Have they “earned” it?

It’s easy to argue that if you’ve earned your wealth through hard work, you ought to be able to keep it and choose what to do with it. There’s a proviso there, though, and that is the proviso of being a citizen. In order for you to even have the OPTION of being able to earn an income from your work, you are most likely a citizen of some kind (because there are very, very few places on the planet that are actually anarchist collectives or libertarian societies). The *benefit* of being a citizen is that you have the option of being able to keep some of your income, not that you are punished by having to give some of it to your government (taxes). The *benefit* of being enfranchised, in other words, is that you GET TO accumulate wealth. This hasn’t been the case for most of history (unless you come from a tribal culture that values collective wealth) for most of western (and western european-based) civilisation.

Remember that up until the French Revolution, most people didn’t have the option of keeping any of the money they made. There was no “middle class”. You either came from wealth or you were a peasant. You either owned land and had holdings, or you were indentured to those who did. You either owned a business or you lived in poverty. There really was no middle ground. The *benefit* of being an enfranchised citizen is that you *get to* keep some of the wealth you earn, not that you *have to* give some of your wealth up. Too many people think of this backwards.

Too many people think taxes are some kind of punishment. Some kind of punitive measurement instituted by the government to ensure that nobody gets too powerful, and to keep us all in our places (an argument I have heard from proponents of the anti-tax or minimal tax movements). Not only is this a stunning case of paranoia, it’s also ridiculous. You can argue that governments are corrupt (many are); you can argue that governments are not good stewards of public funds (some aren’t); you have the power to change the government. What is NOT a valid argument is that the government doesn’t have “the right” to tax you. Of COURSE the government has the right to tax you. The reason we HAVE an elected, democratic government instead of a monarchy or a dictatorship or any other kind of non-democratic governance model is BECAUSE it is the only way to ensure that the MAJORITY of citizens benefit from being citizens, including, but not limited to, being allowed to own property, being allowed to retain their earnings, being allowed to have basic rights, etc.. I could go on, but hopefully you see where I’m going with this.

Tax is not punishment. If anything, it’s a user fee. A subscription rate. An access fee. A membership payment. If you choose not to pay taxes (that are used to improve the lives of everyone in the country); if you don’t choose to use some of your wealth to make things better for people other than yourself, you don’t *deserve* to be able to drive on municipal, regional, provincial, or federal roads. You don’t *deserve* to have running water and sewage treatment. You don’t *deserve* to be tied in to any utility grids; you don’t *deserve* minimum wage; you don’t *deserve* subsidised oil and gas prices; you don’t *deserve* subsidised food prices; you don’t *deserve* subsidised health care; you don’t *deserve* to enrol your children in public school. If you believe you’re *entitled* to those things, including retained wealth, then you are also responsible to all other citizens of your country to make sure we all have access to those things, even people who, for whatever reason, don’t work as hard as you do.

But back to my original issue – nobody’s saying you can’t retain wealth. Nobody’s saying there’s a limit to how much you can own. You can own ALL OF THE THINGS if you want to. And if you’re a fan of conspicuous consumption and excess, go hard. However, you also have a responsibility, if you believe you are entitled to private ownership, to provide a portion of your earnings to ensure the betterment of all people. Even if you don’t like them. Even if you think they’re lazy. Even if you think they’re immoral. The strength of any community is in how the people who live in that community care for one another.

What gets me is that the some of the people who are most reticent of the idea of redistribution of wealth, at least in North America, are people who claim to be adherents of Judaeo-Christian-Muslim faith. This is mystifying. All three of those religions are ostensibly founded on the practice of charity (in Christian theology, the virtue charity has more to do with your relationship with God; this is separate from the *practice* of charity. Thanks for that little nugget of confusion, Aquinas). “Charity” means love and caring. The practice of charity is the act of giving to the needy. Not just money, either. You are expected to give your time, your expertise, your money, or other goods and services – this is considered to be one of the cornerstones on which a loving, faithful community is built (usually through the synagogue, church, or mosque, but not always). I’ve heard the most vicious, vitriolic rhetoric from people who claim to be faithful, about how they “give to charities” and “donate to the church” but still hold some kid of grudge against the people and groups the church and charities choose to help. I’m not going to go into here how important it is to have a separation of church and state, but there is an argument to be made that IN ADDITION TO donating to charities and your church (which do not, as much as you may want them to, form the government of the society in which you live, if you live in Canada or the US or most of the western world), you ALSO have to contribute to the well-being of all people in your society through your taxes (this also includes you).

So when it comes to ‘voting away someone’s wealth’, I think it’s too easy to dismiss as something a ‘crackpot anarchist’ would say. The problem is that the only reason we as citizens of the country in which we live HAVE wealth is BECAUSE we are enfranchised citizens (and at the time Lucy Parsons said that, she was not, in fact, enfranchised, which is actually, I think, one of the points she was trying to make) and that our DUTY as enfranchised citizens is to ensure the betterment of ALL citizens. So we’re not voting away your wealth; we’re voting in favour of continued enfranchisement, and in so doing we’re agreeing to contribute some of our wealth to the benefit of all citizens.

Elections, Campaigning, and Change

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If you’re rebuilding a political party, you have to listen. You have to WANT to listen. And you have to listen to a lot of people. One of the best things that ever happened to me was Preston Manning coming to my high school to talk about his newly formed federal party, the Alliance Party. There was no way in hell I’d ever have considered voting for that party, but it got me engaged in politics long before I could actually vote. Why? Because Preston Manning was able to tell me why I should care about federal politics (because like it or not, the federal government makes decisions that you’re going to have to live by, and uninformed choices – or worse, no choice – are what makes a country weak and vulnerable). Preston Manning, in his weird squeaky voice and his even weirder, slightly dorky Mr. Dressup sweater vest, gave enough of a shit about a bunch of high school students in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, that he took time out of his schedule to come and talk to us about politics. Sure, I bet most of the people in that room didn’t care, but we sure talked about what he’d said for a long time. And more importantly than what he said was what he DID – *he* asked *us* what *we* thought.

He didn’t argue with us. He didn’t tell us we were wrong or stupid or silly. He listened to us. (And, for the record, most of us WERE stupid AND silly.)

If I were going to try to rebuild a political party that’s suffered from disengagement, disillusionment, and, frankly, resounding defeat after resounding defeat, the very first thing I would do would be to tell the people who *already* support me that they have a job too. Their job is to find someone whose political opinion they disagree with and listen to them. Not to argue, not to debate, but just to listen. Ask non-directed questions. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind; your job is only to listen.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) has been fighting a downward battle in this province since probably the late 90s. There are all kinds of things that people smarter than I am cite for this, but ultimately I think it boils down to one thing and one thing only: engagement. Certainly in the last eight years, the NDP has utterly lost the ability to engage with citizens. It’s not about their platforms and promises and budgets. It’s not even about vision and mandate and goals. It’s about relevancy.

For at least eight years, the NDP has been selling itself really hard to its own supporters. It’s pretty easy to convince yourself that you’re engaging and relevant when all the people you’re talking to agree with you. The CHALLENGE is in understanding what your DETRACTORS need and want and figuring out how to address those things without ostracizing them. The challenge, the very first challenge of engagement, is in learning how to listen.

By no means do I think the NDP, and socialist parties in general, are irrelevant. I mean, they’re irrelevant to people who are afraid of socialism and the political left, but for every ideology there is an equal and opposite ideology (Newton’s First Law of Politicodynamics, don’t ‘cha know). Hell, nearly half the country decided the Conservative Party of Canada was irrelevant in the last election, so it’s clear how that pendulum swings.

So this isn’t about whether the NDP still has anything to offer – it has a lot to offer. But it won’t win any more votes and it won’t gain any more seats until it figures out how to engage with the people. What the NDP used to be so good at was knowing what people needed. What they wanted. It figured out how to accomplish those things, and that was how it won votes. What we saw in the most recent election in Saskatchewan was what looked like a scared, emaciated party campaigning on fear and negativity, and that was unfortunate. Nobody wins an election when they talk about all the truly shitty things that will happen to you if you don’t vote for them. You can’t *threaten* people into choosing your party. It didn’t work for Harper, and it didn’t work for the NDP (not in 2011 and not in 2016).

Here’s what I wanted the SaskParty to do in the most recent election: I wanted them to campaign on their strengths. I wanted them to talk about all the things that have gone exceedingly well in the past eight years (regardless of whether they can ACTUALLY take credit for them). Instead, what happened was this George Bush-esque “stay the course, stay on target” stuff that worked, not because it was particularly inspiring or engaging, but because there were no viable alternatives to form and lead the government in this election.

The NDP *could have* started campaigning for this election on November 8, 2011, but instead, they had to fire Drain Lingenfelcher and then panic for a couple of years. Look, I’m not trying to be mean, here. I desperately wish, as should everyone who’s currently been elected for the SaskParty, that the NDP could get their act together so they could actually provide a solid opposition. Democracy only works when there are checks and balances against any one party having too much control of the system. Without a strong opposition, the SaskParty runs the risk of becoming complacent, of losing touch with the electorate, and of abusing its power. Yes, my more astute reader, just like the NDP did after fourteen years of nearly uncontested governance.

Maybe somewhere in the province, the NDP *were* listening and engaging. I can think of a few candidates who’ve actually done incredible jobs of being opposition critics (I’m thinking of MLA Trent Wotherspoon, MLA Danielle Chartier, MLA Buckley Belanger, MLA Cathy Sproule, and MLA Warren McCall in particular), and I think they won their ridings fairly handily – this indicates to me that they have engagement with their constituents. I think a real danger to any political candidate is the tendency, and I’m sorry to say that while Cam Broten is a lovely man, he has this tendency, to talk at people. To talk TO them, rather than to engage with them.

So what exactly is engagement? It’s more than just being interested in something. It’s more than just listening to a speech or reading up on a platform. To engage is to become active or involved; to attract; to captivate. Engagement is what happens when you read a book and you see yourself in those pages. It’s when you get so lost in the story that you don’t want to stop reading. It’s when you go to a party and get talking to someone and then the sun’s coming up and the birds are singing and you’re, “oh eff, I have to work in an hour”. Engagement is a discussion, not a lecture. It’s Q & A, not talking points.

The SaskParty wasn’t particularly good at engagement this time around, but the NDP were *abysmal*. If anyone made gains on the engagement front, it was the Liberal Party, riding high on the wake of the world’s most engaging leader sweeping the federal election. Seriously, the Liberals made shocking gains over previous years.

We all know what leads to disillusionment and disengagement (not listening to the citizens, making decisions that cause the electorate to lose confidence, acting like you know more than the people you serve, assuming you’ll get the vote because you always have*). Yet we come back again to the question of how to rebuild a political party? Pundits are talking about how the NDP need to “go back and rebuild”, and frankly, I think that’s utter rubbish. The NDP need to get the eff out of their own heads, to get the eff away from their own supporters, and start to engage with the people of Saskatchewan. NDP candidates and supporters need to have those discussions with people they don’t agree with – but they have to learn how to do it respectfully and honestly. If you learn what’s actually going on with someone, you can begin to form a plan to address it.

No political party, no government, will ever be able to address all the wants and needs of the people – that’s why we have democracy, in which majority rules. The majority cannot rule *properly* (nor, I believe, efficiently) without proper opposition, and that’s the truly unfortunate result of the past two elections. And no party can represent the peoples’ needs and wants without proper engagement. The best they can do is guess. It seems to me the NDP has been guessing a lot lately.

If I were rebuilding the party, which I’m not, I would be spending every available hour I had at town hall meetings, on coffee row, in high schools, at events, listening to people. I’d go to events organised for the opposition, and there’s no way I’d use them as a platform whence to crow my own opinions; I’d be there listening. I’d go to every publicly funded event I could. I’d go to everything I was invited to. I’d invite myself to things. I’d spend my time meeting people, listening to people, and connecting with people. I’d use social media not to broadcast my message, but to have conversations. And sure there would be people who’d be abusive and who’d make fun of me and who’d call me names and try to bully me. There’d be people who’d call me an idiot and a pinko communist and worse, and I would do my very best not to make fun of them because that kind of stuff says more about the person who says it than it does about the actual pinko (that’d be me).

If I were rebuilding a party, I’d challenge every one of my MLAs to be diligent in their opposition duties. I would insist that they learn, inside and out, the portfolios they’re charged with being critics of. I would send them to the government Ministries to meet all the people who actually do the *work* of government. I would send them to the groups and associations who benefit from public funds, who benefit from public subsidies. I’d stress again and again how important it is to know peoples’ names, to listen more than they spoke, to ask questions, and to find joy in all they do. I’d tell every one of my MLAs to learn parliamentary procedure in and out. I’m sure most MLAs do this already.

If I were rebuilding a party, I’d go on the talk shows of people who hated my party, because I’d want people who didn’t believe in my politics to know that it’s okay for them not to believe in my politics, but we can still have respectful discussions about politics, even if we don’t agree. I’d ask journalists to ask me the hard questions, because those answers are the answers more important to the people – that’s why the questions are hard. I’d listen to my advisors and pollsters, but not *too* much, because they have degrees in things like political studies and communications and PR and spin and I don’t want to speak to stats. Stats are meaningless unless you can hear the voices behind them. I’d stop paying buckets of money to consultants and I’d go back to paying attention.

If I were rebuilding a party, I’d invite people to write to me, to phone me, to come to my office and to tell me what their concerns are. And I’d mean it. They wouldn’t be meetings where I’d listen for three minutes or tell people they had five questions and then answer everything with a speaking point from a platform that’s been consensused so much that it’s pandering to the lowest common denominator. I’d find out what people find exciting, and I’d find a way to make that part of my campaign, which I’d start today.

But like I said, I don’t know anything about politics, and I don’t know anything about rebuilding a political party.

*incidentally, anyone who *couldn’t* see the downfall of the NDP back in 2007, but even moreso in 2011, should really brush up on their Greek tragedy. Things were starting to slide in 2007, not because the NDP were necessarily doing anything *wrong*, but because the SaskParty under Brad Wall’s leadership did it *better*. Specifically, they engaged the people. The NDP’s massive loss in 2011 could be chalked up entirely to hubris. That is, of course, far too simplistic a summary for something that has as many moving parts as a provincial election, but hey. My blog, my rules.

Hold my beer and read this

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

I was supposed to be making Easter dinner.

I was supposed to be cleaning the house and preparing for houseguests and being a good host.

Then I picked up this book. I rescheduled pretty much everything, because there was, simply, no way in hell I was going to stop reading for something as silly as eating. Or bathing. Or feeding my family.

It’s the ultimate journey in meta. It’s a book about books about books. It has everything for the slightly nerdy connoisseur: cults, bookstores, cryptography, architecture, typography, mystery, roleplaying games, programming, and characters, even the ones who walk on for a small speaking role and then walk off again, who you want to chase after and have a sit-down with to talk about what they were just talking about. It’s a book about the mystery of a book. About the key to immortality.

I found myself wanting to dog-ear every second page because Robin Sloan‘s language is at once engaging and hilarious and absolutely poetic. He has a rhythm that you can’t help but be drawn into. But best of all, he is a master – a MASTER – storyteller.

Here’s the worst part of this book: my family is hungry, I haven’t showered in two days, and I’m starting the book all over again. I was going to give it to my teenager to read (we share most books), but I’ve changed my mind. I’ll just have to buy him his own copy, because nobody’s getting this one.

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Vote Saskatchewan 2016

VOTE

I’m sad.

I’m sad because usually, an election is an exciting time! Elections are basically the dating game for people who don’t want to have to dick around with online profiles, grocery shop introductions, and nightclub hookups. It’s like trying to find someone to spend the rest of your life with, if the rest of your life can be measured in four-year-stints. And trust me, sometimes a four-year-stint feels like the rest of your life.

It’s a weird dating game, though, because the way it’s *supposed* to work is that your parents/guardians get to see the list of potential dates, and they weed out the ones they deem undesirable – no snaggletoothed rednecks for my boy, Mother. Maybe it’s because even though EVERYBODY KNEW there would be an election this spring (that’s what happens when you mandate an election period), it’s like the New Democrats in Saskatchewan were all sitting around in the garage, making glitter glue posters and talking about how cool it would be when they were all in bigger offices, when they ought to have been screening their dates.

But that’s not the worst part (and believe you me, I ABSOLUTELY vote for whoever’s campaign poster has the most glitter). The worst part is that the Saskatchewan Party’s election platform, in its entirety, seems to be “OMGOMG YOU GUYS ARE SO DUMB! YOUR DATING OPTIONS ARE, LIKE, TOTAL FREAKS”.

Last week, the NDP dropped four candidates from its roster because of the stupid things they’d said on social media. Let us all take a moment to reflect on all of the stupid shit we’ve said, in our entire lives, ever, since the beginning of time. You there in the back, I happen to know FOR A FACT that you’ve said stupid shit, so you’d better be reflecting.

Right. All done? Now I want you to pretend you’re a teenager (if you are a teenager, this part should be easy) or a twenty-something (if you are a twenty-something, pretend you’re still a teenager; this part might be easier). I know the reason you use SnapChat is because you think those posts completely disappear after 24 hours. You’re wrong, but it’s cute you think that. If you’d read the Terms of Service, which I know you didn’t do, you’d see that you granted them license to use anything you post through their service for a number of things. That means your content has not disappeared. None of the content you post on the Internet disappears.

None of it. Not ever.

Someone, somewhere has a cache of everything ever posted on the net.

I have a growing sense of unease with the idea that if you ever even think you might want to run for public office, you have to start censoring yourself basically at birth because #Glob forbid you should say something insulting, stupid, or something that challenges social norms, manners, or taboos. Defend yourself at the VERY least. “Sure, I said something that sounded racist, but if you look at the actual context of what I said, you’ll see I was actually lampooning actual racists.”

So there are two problems with the Saskatchewan Party’s campaign plaform: 1) this whole “neener neener you’re running weirdos” isn’t actually telling me anything about what the Sask Party is going to do with my province for the next four years if they win; and 2) The Saskatchewan Party has spent the last EIGHT YEARS blaming the NDP for everything that’s gone wrong in the province with one exception.

Nipplegate.

That is the one exception where the Sask Party admitted that maybe they’d done something wrong (they hadn’t) when they legalized serving alcohol during strip routines. EVERYTHING ELSE that hasn’t gone swimmingly is the NDP’s fault. Why are seniors being abused in health care facilities? That’s the NDP’s fault. Why has there been no increase in educational funding for primary and secondary education (and in fact why is funding being cut)? Because NDP, that’s why.

I had so much more hope for the Sask Party. So much more. Although I’m a pretty hardcore socialist, I haven’t voted NDP since Drain Lingenfelcher roont the party (that right there is why I will never run for political office, my peeps). I don’t remember who I voted for in the last two elections; it might have been the Sask Party at one point. And while the Sask Party *has* made monumentally stupid decisions (axing the film tax credit which was actually a revenue generator for the province; rescinding legislation about drinking and stripping; selling off perfectly good crown properties to money-losing operations; putting all the budget eggs in the non-renewable resources basket…I could go on), I’ve liked some of what they’ve done. Granted, they had it pretty easy – they came in to power when people were starting to move back because oil and potash revenues were skyrocketing. Now that things are tougher, the BEST they can do to campaign is to point fingers at NDP candidates’ Twitter streams and Facebook pages?

The NDP isn’t blameless here; they should’ve screened their candidates, you know, at all. The NDP hasn’t done well to rebuild its party since ol’ Drain busted it up. In fact, I’d say they’ve monumentally failed. The NDP isn’t talking very loudly about instituting a living wage; about providing free housing for the homeless; about how they’re going to repair and enhance the primary and secondary education system given that their party centralized it and underfunded schools (less than the Sask Party has, but still, they did it) and hospitals. They haven’t talked about how they’re going to fix the rotten health care system that’s circling the drain in this province. They haven’t talked about how they’re going to husband our natural resources and increase taxes on them to generate more revenue for the province from corporations who SHOULD pay more. They haven’t talked about how they’re going to continue to support, and how they’ll increase support, for arts and culture. They haven’t really talked about much other than how they’re going to reinstate the film tax credit (which would be awesome) and then do some hand-wavey stuff with Creative Saskatchewan.

So as far as the dating game goes, BOTH of these parties are complete duds right now. The Sask Party *should* be campaigning on their strengths (“the province’s economy grew by X during the time we formed government” [had very little to do with the Sask Party and more to do with commodity prices, but so what? Campaigns aren’t for telling the truth, are they?]; “the province ITSELF grew by Y during the time we formed government” [again, population was increasing because of better and more jobs due to resource revenue but whatevs]; “we increased the personal income tax exemption” [you get where I’m going with this]). Talk about what you DID; don’t talk about what the other guy did EIGHT YEARS AGO, or, worse, what people who’ve never actually been elected before have said on social media. ESPECIALLY when there’s actual VIDEO of some stupid shit the leader of your party did in the 80s.

If I were the Lieutenant Governor, I’d shake my head and shrug and write a letter to whoever the LG writes letters to and ask for better parties. And no, I don’t think the Green party is a viable option; they won’t be until they have more seats (like, any). If people in the province can forgive the Liberal party for how badly they’ve screwed us in the past 100 years (we can’t), we might elect a Liberal in this election, but there isn’t a snowflake’s chance in hell that they’ll form government. And if anyone from the former Progressive Conservative party has managed to avoid prison time, I don’t see them running, so that’s not even a starter.

So we’re down to two truly awful choices: the NDP, whose party is limping along trying to steal votes away from the right (guys. You can’t do that. You are not a right wing party. Fundamentally, those people will NEVER vote for you. Just stop trying; it’s kind of sad. It’s like hoping that the captain of the football team is going to ask you to prom when he’s already asked the middle linebacker); or the Saskatchewan Party, who can’t seem to toot their own horn, which, frankly, is mystifying (this is the captain of the football team *unable* to get a date for prom because he keeps beaking off about how ugly everyone else is).

Sigh. Honestly. This election is like watching a train wreck. Except it’s one of those plastic kids’ wagons and it’s not so much wrecking as it is just kind of slowly tipping over, and all the people (who are much too big to be riding in it ANYWAY) just sort of flop out and crawl away through the mud.

[Go here to the Elections Saskatchewan page to find out where and when to cast your ballot. Just because there are no really good choices for leadership in the province doesn’t mean you shouldn’t voice your opinion.]

 

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