Saturday, April 11, 2009

Siblings and Hate Speech

My brother and I were born eighteen months apart. We haven’t lived in the same house since I was fourteen.

In between now and then there are various countries, provinces, occupations, times at home on my mother’s couch, boyfriends, girlfriends, fiancés, and mental breakdowns. Our paths have crossed maybe a dozen times. As siblings, we both fail - we are chronically out of sync, out of touch, on separate continents and life stages. But where shared genetics and experience make their mark, a sibling’s life becomes an exercise in self examination, and we remain eerily similar. He is me with a Y chromosome, and I am him, and if there were a third of us they’d study penguins in Antarctica and write ironic fiction books about romance, or lay on a beach in Panama, smoking weed all day, then be swallowed by a rip tide.

Today, he is a women’s study major in Ontario being charged for hate speech. I am in Vancouver, working at a women’s shelter, fantasizing about moving to Baffin Island and owning a chicken. I phone my mother and he answers, home for the weekend, about to watch the Ten Commandments (an Easter tradition). This is the most convoluted tradition my family has yet to produce; the ten commandments, in Biblical chronology, takes place just after Passover, a Jewish holiday, and Passover is celebrated around the same time as Easter, so there you go.

My brother is opinionated, as all Donegals should be, but while I let my causticity fester deep inside, he will share his with anyone who’ll listen. Underneath an opinionated-asshole exterior lies a thoughtful, liberal man, in sort of an opposite sugar-coating effect which has half of his professors in love with him, and one charging him with violating her civil liberties.

“I did no such thing. She asked for my opinion - I gave it.”

He is telling the truth - he criticized the actions of voting members of a union in an assigned essay, which is hardly an act of Hate Speech. She demanded a rewrite, my brother balked, the professor refused to mark the paper, neither party backed down, and now the whole thing has blown up into a stress ball of ridiculousness. I am having none of it.

“You are smart enough to know better, to know how your professor was going to react, and you chose to do it anyways.”

We discussed the predicament for a good hour - him preaching individualism and free speech, me speaking as a collectivist, as a diplomat, as a swallower of crap for the sake of the greater good. To make my point, I invoked the image of Andy Kaufman, of William Wallace, of my own brother as a twelve year old on Remembrance Day. He spoke of wars waged, of the principles of educated discourse, of personal liberties as the foundation for democratic society.

“But that’s the whole point. It’s a society - with other people. For societies to function, people have to get along, and you have to play nice. You’re not an island!”

“I am an island! Exactly. I am an island entire of itself, an island with rights.”

“Fine - you’re an island. But your island has no food. So, if you want food, you’ll have to play nice with all the other islands.”

…Conversations like this go nowhere fast.

It was good talking, though, and I wish him the best. His professor truly does sound like a douche. Until next time.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Me of the Day

Current Mood: Angsty. Angsty as a sign-language-speaking gorilla who's just been told that the universe is finite and her only friends are just scientists using her for their master's thesis, who don't even really like her that much anyways because she kind of smells and keeps talking about her kitten, which was cute at first but now just annoying. Like that.

Current Activity: Eating Cadbury creme eggs to celebrate my heritage as a Christian, just as the earliest Christians fed chocolate encrusted fondant to comfort Jesus as he died of asphyxia on the cross. Amen.

Also: I need caffeine. I do not have enough caffeine to motivate myself to get caffeine. I am stuck at my computer in a terrible Catch-22 of self loathing, and it is not fun.

My favourite time of year: Is right now. Cherry blossoms, non-cherry blossoms, and blossoms of all varieties are erupting on trees everywhere for a few weeks, signaling the start of spring, inspiring haiku writers to write haiku. You would think this would be enough to inspire me to get out of the house, or at least open a window, but no. (This therefore leads to more angst...the angst of "feeling angsty when you do not have to feel angsty, at all, and by all accounts should be why the hell are you angsty?!" Angst.)

This is a time of Great Angst. The seasonal change is coincidental - Easter, Cherry Blossoms, and the Great Angst of Exams have come together this year to create a trifecta of suffering.

Students are in school, studying, crying, wishing that they had been aborted so that they would not have to experience this wretched moment. Their friends are standing by awkwardly, unable to make things better, wanting to go play, but fearing that they will be beaten if they act in a manner which is anything but stoic. Ivy is at home, glad that she dropped out of school, sad that she dropped out of school, not wanting especially to start paying back her student loans, and missing the feeling of sleepy accomplishment that comes when the last exam is handed in and you collapse on your bed in mucousy joy.

Holy Week is a time for families. Families, however, come in multiple forms, and the three big religions left a few of us out. It's hard, for example, if you used to be a Christian but can't go to church because you don't believe in Jesus, and your only family in town are dogs, and therefore can't eat chocolate. They could hunt eggs, I suppose. But there's no big dinners or ceremonies or self flagellation, and no lambs will be sacrificed for the sanctity of our bellies. I am not a fan of organized religion, at all. But rituals, tradition, and community might just be the recipe for human happiness, and it's rare to encounter these things outside of a church, mosque, or synagogue.

Alone we are left, my puppies and I, to wallow.

Viva la Revolution de la Coke Diète

Every day, I drink a litre or more of Diet Coke.

The health effects…well…they aren’t good. Diet Coke is a favourite among anorexics - in fact, the link between anorexia and osteoporosis is almost fully accounted for by its aspartamey goodness, which provides a hit of caffeine and sweetness to keep your eating disordered teen going for another three days without more than two calories.

I am not anorexic, but I am underweight and have questionable eating habits, so the analogies are pretty fair here - I use the caffeine to boost my energy. I use the sweetness of aspartame, as well as the large injection of carbonated liquid, to make me feel like I’ve eaten when in fact all calories are negligible. And in the process, I soak my teeth in acid, which will inevitably lead to erosion (I’m hoping by then I’ll have a dental plan). The phosphorus content leaches calcium from my bones, putting me at risk of osteoporosis, and there’s also a fun link to depression which I should probably look into. And there’s a slight dehydration and diuretic effect, which occasionally rears its ugly head in the form of me passing out. None of which are great things.

I’ve vowed to quit a dozen or more times. I think it’s a bit trashy. It doesn’t even taste that good. But…no. I want it. I can’t wake up without it. It is my sickly sweet elixir of happiness, and if you take it away, I will be none too pleased.

Unfortunately, our days together may be numbered.

A legislator in New York state is pushing a Soda Tax - a penny per ounce charge which will make soft drinks prohibitively expensive, and your author very sad. The reason is, ironically, obesity, but don’t expect legislators to spare the diet cola varieties - as I’ve noted above, they aren’t great for you, either.

The rise in obesity rates have forced the hand of governments seeking to modify consumer behaviour through taxation (this method isn't super effective, but never mind). Fast food items, chocolate bars, and my beloved Diet Coke are items of frequent target. Today, when I buy a chocolate egg to celebrate the death of Christ, I will pay a government tax from which most other food items are exempt - because apparently junk food isn’t 'food,' and that extra penny or two will make me think hard about my choices. Not likely (and also, health mongers, why the hell aren't you taxing Cheese?) - but an expensive tax, like those on alcohol or cigarettes, might have me rethinking my choices in the soda department. I just can’t afford another dollar of taxes per 2 Litre bottle - I’m already paying a recycling deposit I never collect on, and some other extra special taxes I don’t understand, plus the GST…it’s all a bit too much.

The underweight population has more of a reason to dig their heals in - calories are calories. We don’t eat well, but that fast food meal, or chocolate egg, or Dr. Pepper - we need those to live. Being underweight is about twice as dangerous to your health compared to being overweight, so if anything, the government should subsidize my chocolate. But we’re only a small percentage of the population, us wee waifs, so we're easily ignored. And on the soft drink front, it doesn’t really matter, anyways. Where regular cola keeps the overweight overweight, Diet Coke keeps the underweight underweight, and the anorexics anorexic. So…I guess, from a health perspective, I should be in favor of this tax, right?

Hells No.

Caffeine is a drug. You can’t just take away someone’s drug without expecting a whole bunch of shit to go down. Sure, I could drink coffee, but it really hurts my stomach and dyes me teeth (plus it exploits third world workers in a way that aspartame never did). I could drink Red Bull, and probably would, but it would only be a matter of time before you took that one away, too. So, rather than take up snorting cocaine in a back alley, I have come to the following solution:

If you take away my Diet Coke, I will take up smoking.

I will smoke a pack a day - just to stick it to the man. I will die a painful death of emphysema, and my second hand smoke will make all the overweight children's diabetes worse, and I don’t care. If you make my Diet Coke as expensive as cigarettes, this is how it’s going to be. Expect every anorexic and underweight drinker in the world to follow suit - torches of freedom they are, and I will puff away at that filtered teat of resistance until my lung have long since turned to coal.

The only reason that Diet Coke drinkers aren’t smoking right now, for that stimulant rush of nicotine and the meal replacement qualities of deep breaths of toxic air, is the price different. If you take that away, we will smoke, and we will sacrifice our supple lung tissues with angsty, spiteful rage. I hope you’re prepared for this, government. I know I am.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Secret, Syrupy Love Affair

Starbucks was breaking cultural and corporate news about fifteen years ago, so it’s ridiculous to think that I can bring anything new to the topic: yes, they’re expensive; yes, they’re everywhere; yes, there’s one inside the Safeway and there’s one outside the Safeway and there’s one across the street; yes, they probably exploit third world workers and the fact that we now have the option of buying fare-trade coffee doesn’t change that; yes, they’re part of mass Americanization and the destruction of diversity and independence via identical brand name identities in every urban centre in the world; and yes, there coffee may not even actually be that good.

Despite all this hemming and hawing, Starbucks persists. It is a warm, aromatic beacon on a cold Vancouver day. We all complain and distain and then go inside anyways, where we secretly judge each other for being there from under our bangs and berets. We order our ridiculously complicated beverages with fake names, and we pay their extortionate prices. And somewhere between the friendly barista and a deep, self-conscious pride at proper ordering lexicon, capped off with a perfect delicious off-menu beverage and maybe a pumpkin-cream cheese muffin and….the love affair is born again, and by god, that muffin is good.

My fascination with the brand is largely fuelled by the fact that I fall into their key demographic: I am young, I am urban, I am image-conscious. I have money to spend and, when I don’t, I have a credit card and parents to fall back on. I like to think of myself as down-to-earth but, deep down inside my malnourished, fake-tanned body, I’m just as pretentious as everybody else. I like the idea of drinking coffee, but actually prefer my vanilla English Breakfast tea misto (extra hot). I like the idea of independent coffee shops, too, but I’m too lazy to walk five blocks to find one, and when I’m there I’m not quite sure how to order, or if I’m cool enough to sit next to that guy with the dreadlocks or the pretty girl with the headband who isn’t wearing any shoes. So instead I return to my corporate god and his mermaid logo: the one closest to my house is open later than most, and there isn’t a single piece of decoration inside of it I wouldn’t gladly mount of my own walls. It’s pretty and it’s comfortable and it plays good music. It’s clean and familiar and still ever-so-slightly-edgy-without-actually-being-edgy (because real edginess involves originality and deviation from the main stream, which is scary and might be rejected and…love me?). It’s the suburb for people who were raised in suburbs and would Never go live in the suburbs, to the tune of corporately produced Indy rock.

I could say that I only drink Starbucks when my family buys me their cards for Christmas and birthdays (plus my family’s in Ontario, so it’s not like they could give me a gift card to anything but a giant corporate brand). I could tell you I buy the fair trade stuff whenever I think about it, and that if there’s an independent coffee shop within a block radius I’ll go there instead and sip hot chocolate, and that actually I’m not from the suburbs – I grew up in the country with Christians and camping and guns. And most of those things I’d be telling you would be mostly true, but: wouldn’t that just be more perception management? Because I’m not pretentious or superior, actually, I’m much better than all those other pretentious and superior people…just like everybody else?

So the cool kids go to independent coffee shops, and the rest of us go to Starbucks. The real coffee lovers order their americanos and roll their eyes at what everyone else is drinking. And the rest of us have a party inside our head when we say all the made up words in the right order in order to get a delicious drink just for us that doesn’t resemble coffee but still tastes damn good. We’re all communists and hippies and Indy-rock posers, sipping at the teat of Corporate America and writing in our blogs about irony.

And dammit, venti, that's okay.

Everything you need to know about High Fructose Corn Syrup, explained with colourful vehemence

Opinionated Essence of the Day:

Everyone who eats anything in North America has an opinion on High-Fructose Corn Syrup. As an opinionated person with a blogging medium and invisible non-audience, I of course am no exception. I’m almost inspired by the discussion in the Slate’s Cultural Gabfest (a podcast of opinionated banter on culture), which I listen to while I pretend to clean my room and play fetch with my dog. They raise interesting points, but mine are better.

They mention the three following arguments against High Fructose corn syrup when compared to regular (cane) sugar, which are as follows: a) it is worse for your personal health and may be responsible for the rise in obesity, b) it is bad for the planet, as it is a monoculture and therefore more pesticide resistant, which causes bad things that make Al Gore cry himself to sleep, and in perhaps the most relevant point, c) it tastes icky and we don’t like it.

All of these points have some merit - though in discussion it’s suggested that the truth behind the taste factor may simply be the fact that High Fructose Corn Syrup is more refined and ‘pure’ in that it is simply sweet, while cane sugar (or other alternative, natural sugars) have more complex molecular ingredients, and taste like ‘cane sugar,’ as opposed to simply ‘sweet.’ I like the taste of cane sugar, but that’s probably an excellent point.

Points in regards to the environment are probably true, though, of course, anything said about the environment is best said with an air of panic, through a megaphone, and should involve complex imagery of the zombie uprising and the words ‘we’re all going to die!’ written in the blood of a uncaring populace who choose to ignore Greenpeace’s awkward zealotry. As such, I take environmental messages with a grain of salt, and will probably die a horrible death from rising flood waters or sunburn or whatever, and frankly I don’t care.

The only point I have any expertise on is in regards to health impacts, and by ‘expertise’ I mean ‘uncanny memory for random tales presented by interesting UBC professors.’ So, High Fructose Corn Syrup. Will you kill us all?

Yes, and no.

The short version:

Corn syrup isn't dangerous in and of itself, but it is cheaper than other sugars, which means we use more of it (and soft drink sizes, among other things, are much bigger than they were in the past). Supersized food equals supersized people with supersized plaques in their arteries, done.

The longer, original, ranty version:

Over the past fifty years, the population of the world has approximately doubled. The food supply, however, has tripled. So while there is a lot of merit to growing your own garden of food, or torturing your small child into finishing their plate full of eggplant, it has nothing to do with starvation in Africa. Policies and politics cause starvation, as does replacing localized food production with cash crops like cocaine, and coffee, and corn. Corn?

Yes, corn. As history tells us...

The reason that the food supply has tripled, is that we’ve learned to genetically select and modify crops. Genetic selection is a very old practice - as old as turning wolves into teacup Chihuahuas and wild grapes into Pinot Noir. However, we’ve gotten better at it the last century, and around the time of the 1950s, we figured out how to grow a lot more food in much smaller spaces, through bigger and taller and more compact plants.

Corn is the most notable example. It’s been getting sweeter every year for over a century now, as farmers use the seeds from their sweetest corn to propagate next year’s crop. Again, around the 1950s, this art became science, and corn farmers found themselves sitting atop a mountain of…corn. It was sweeter than ever and they could grow it at never-before-seen rates of plenty. Supply and demand kicked in, corn prices dropped, and suddenly the world met the cheapest form of sugar that ever was: High Fructose Corn Syrup, a sickly sweet, locally grown, easy-to-transport form of goodness which largely replaced cane sugar and found its way into the hearts and arteries of young people across the nation.

Actually, it’s not especially bad for you. It’s just sugar, good old glucose-fructose. The chemistry is virtually identical…yes, there is slightly more fructose in corn syrup compared to cane sugar (including refined cane sugar, the white table sugar we know and love). Each plant has very slightly different ratios, and sweetener manufacturers may refine their ingredients to make them whiter and more purely ‘sweet,’ but the end results, unfortunately, aren’t anything to write home about. They are sweet, they make our manufactured food sweet, they make our soft drinks sweet, and the only big differences come in the following forms:

1. High-fructose corn syrup may or may not elude our brain’s satiety centres, and therefore it doesn’t trigger a feeling of fullness in the same way that other calorie-laced foods do. This point is debatable (in my own experience, nothing that is overwhelmingly sweet makes you feel full so much as nauseous), and you may ignore it, because the real point is this:

2. High-fructose corn syrup is cheap.

Cheaper sugar meant cheaper soft drinks, and people who made value menus at fast food joints had a choice. They could reduce the cost of the food they were serving (which included a tiny Tim Horton's sized gulp of Coca Cola), or they could increase the size of their servings. Naturally, they went with the latter option, much to the detriment of North American’s waste-lines.

Supersizing was born. It started with the pop we drink, and ended up pretty much everywhere, from our butts to our boobs to our cankles. It’s not that we’re a gluttonous bunch…our bodies are programmed to eat during times of plenty to store fat for the droughts ahead. Unfortunately, droughts aren’t really a issue any more, and this feast-and-famine evolution has led to a world full of chunky monkeys. The most vulnerable populations are, ironically, some of the most hearty - the more tribesmen you lost to starvation in the desert, the more likely your body is to conserve every last calorie it can, and that means epidemic obesity in these times of record harvests and cheap corn.

In the final kick to our expanding guts, the cheapest foods aren’t especially packed with vitamins. It is cheaper than ever to get the calories you need, but it can be increasingly expensive to eat a diet full of diverse and varied plant sources - and so obesity has become a poverty issue as much as anything else.

And in a final side note, the American government of the Bush years wanted to invest in ethanol as an alternative fuel - this meant that they would pay good money for corn syrup, which was clearly already in abundance. However, as we are not a people of moderation, we planted even more corn, and replaced a great deal of food crops and jungle and whatnot in the process - this was mostly in the third world, of course, where land and human life come cheap.

And that is what slurpies and third world poverty have in common: corn, corn, corn.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pt. 5 - How to Save the Economy

Ivy Saves the World in Five Steps - a how-to series on the world's big, scary problems, and what I would do to fix them, if I had any power whatsoever and were a motivated individual

Pt. 5 - How to Save the Economy

There are no good solutions here, I’m sorry to say, but we’ve got to start somewhere, and these fucking things drive me nuts…Pennies. I hate them. I hate them so much. We need to get rid of them, and an economic downturn is as good a reason as any.

It costs three cents to make a penny, so every penny produced sinks our country further into debt. Every second you spend in the supermarket being handed pennies by a cashier (or waiting in line behind an Exact Change Lady counting out pennies with arthritic fingers), is a second lost forever, where you could have been working, or spending, or doing whatever it will take to solve the world’s economy. It is an amount of time which, added up over a lifetime, is entirely unacceptable, especially when you consider the fact that pennies are pretty much worthless. They do not work in parking meters, or pop machines, and I am relatively confident that nothing in the world costs less than a nickel, anyways. The only people who actually use them for their minuscule monetary value are the aforementioned Exact Change People (who will spend the afterlife on a special island in the depths of Hell), and large supermarket cashiers, who dole out copper instead of rounding, and leave the rest of us lugging around useless relics of a simpler time.

Some friends insist I should roll my pennies - it is money, after all. I had an unsightly pile of them stored up (wasting valuable space in a mug on my dresser), so I eventually ceded - I went to a local store on the bus, I bought coin rolls, and came home. The coin rolls cost two dollars for an assorted bag, and I spent the next half hour listening to music and straining my eyes while I counted my pennies into groupings of fifty - in the end I had five rolls worth, or two and a half dollars. Two and a half dollars. Enough money to buy a bottle of diet soda, or maybe a moderate sized zucchini. Fifty cents net profit for a half hour's work, not including bus fare. That is all.

When you factor in the transit, the coin rolls, and the emotional toil of it all, the numbers become all the more appalling. Minimum wage is eight dollars an hour, but rolling those pennies (or collecting my own money that I otherwise would not have had) paid a rate so tiny that I could sue myself for slave labor. If you factor in the amount of time that I spent in acquiring said pennies, putting them in my purse, placing them in my mug…I believe it’s very likely that I lost a great deal of money, and time, which I will never get back. I feel like I’ve been mugged.

Please, people, let us band together and stop cheating each other with this insidious copper beast. The penny costs far, far more than it is worth. Reject the penny. Do not collect them from cashiers…it is an awkward solution, but until our message is heard, it may be the only way.

In Australia, they round up or down to five cent increments. Their economy suffered no ill effects from the loss of the useless coin. No one carries around the ugly chunks of copper which weigh down the purses of the nation, literally and metaphorically, and they also party in the sun all day and surf and look like a happy bunch of people. I’m just saying.

The Globe and Mail agrees with me - check out their recent opinion piece. Of note: the ten million dollars the Canadian government spends a year on pennies that all promptly disappear from circulation. No more... The people demand justice!

Pt. 4 - How to Solve the Justice System

Ivy Saves the World in Five Steps - a how-to series on the world's big, scary problems, and what I would do to fix them, if I had any power whatsoever and were a motivated individual

Pt. 4 - How to Solve the Justice System

This issue is related to solving crime - in most ways, directly. Sending people to prison is meant to prevent crime, I think…or is it? It takes certain individuals out of communities, which may be good in some cases and bad in others, and it puts them in jail cells, and it costs a lot of money. That I know for sure.

Most of the people in the prison population are there for punitive reasons. They are expected to learn their lessons and then rejoin society, becoming upstanding citizens who contribute to their communities and make the world a better place. That doesn’t happen too often. Like policing, we’re basing our current system on tradition more than efficacy, and throwing a lot of money in without great results.

Which isn’t to say that prisons aren’t the best solution in many cases - maybe they are. Or maybe educational and capacity building programs are more effective in the long run, since they could teach career criminals social and empathetic skills they lack, and lead to profitable careers in understaffed professions. Maybe community-based halfway houses are more effective for some criminals. For individuals heavily involved in crime from an early age, maybe probation is better served in a new community, where they can be encouraged to make a fresh start (a strategy used by some drug treatment agencies in combating relapse). Or maybe increased funding in social services for marginalized population can curb the crime rate enough to close a few prisons - who knows? We certainly don’t, but it would be nice if we invested the effort to find out.

There is a second type of criminal in Canada’s justice system today - the type who are not meant to be rehabilitated. Because of danger to the public, some people are living out the rest of their years behind bars, which is our best current solution for dangerous offenders. It’s an ethical compromise between public safety and the death penalty and, while costly, the current system does keep some dangerous individuals off the street without compromising human rights too badly.

The rationale is that, when you commit certain crimes repeatedly, you forfeit your right to live within a society. Society’s exist when each member agrees to play nice - dangerous offenders cannot be trusted to do that. As such, we place them in the only other space we have - prisons - where we feed and clothe them and eventually they die.

Australia is no longer a viable solution, but I do wonder if there is a better place to put criminals who cannot be loosed upon the greater society and are otherwise functional adults. Canada is a big place.

Consider this: optional, intentional, isolated communities which are largely self sufficient (can produce food and supplies to feed all members), where certain types of dangerous offenders are free to live under minimal supervision, but are otherwise isolated from society. It sounds fairly vague and potentially wrought with human rights violations, so we’d have to be careful…the process would need to be optional, and closely supervised, and done in a way which ensured the protection of all human beings, societal members or no. But, theoretically, a group of fifty pedophiles could live in relative freedom on farmland in Northern Alberta, be active participants in town hall meetings, having some monitored communication with the outside world, be supervised remotely by satellite imagery or local cameras, and accessible only by helicopter. Members could always request a return to traditional prisons, but the option of living away from a certain vulnerable population (in this case, children), in a self regulated society of like-minded individuals, might be incredibly appealing to certain offenders, and a far less costly solution than fifty years in an institution. There could be several such micro communities, where individuals facing life sentences could go about their business and be directly responsible to only each other, where authorities could intervene in cases of emergency, and the greater world would be kept safe at minimal cost…to me, it sounds like an ideal solution, and a little like Shangri La, if instead of monks there were rapists, and…never mind.

In my final reform of the justice system, criminals need to be responsible for costs related to their own trials. This isn’t meant to punish spouses or other family members, who would have to be protected (through dividing shared assets, or other such measures). It’s simply a matter of accountability - big trials cost big money. That money should come from the convicted individual’s assets, when the fund exist, as part of the reparation for the crime itself. It just makes sense. Individuals working within a prison setting could earn funds which could alleviate court debts, or any debts, for that matter - parole might be conditional on working a thousand hours to pay off court related costs (and literal debt to society). This also provides added incentives to pleading guilty, which cuts both costs and court time significantly, and might lead to a more efficient legal system, who knows.

Certainly, it might have saved the City of Vancouver some time and money in convicting serial killer Robert Pickton, who murdered a great many women on his pig farm, confessed to police, and then pleaded not-guilty, despite a farm full of damning evidence and several witnesses. The trial was lengthy and costs were in the millions when he was finally sent to jail for life - after which his brother and sister complained to the press, noting that they hadn’t been allowed to use the pig farm (which they partially owned) while police had been digging around all the body parts. …What?? If you held Pickton even partially accountable for the cost of his conviction, the sister and brother would have been bought out years ago, and the Farm in Question/Mass Gravesite of Murdered Women would be owned by the crown and could be used for a memorial, or municipal dump, or anything other than a continued producer of domestic meat products…it’s as gross as it is distasteful on so many levels, and another good reason for me not to eat pork.

Pt. 3 - How to Solve Crime

Ivy Saves the World in Five Steps - a how-to series on the world's big, scary problems, and what I would do to fix them, if I had any power whatsoever and were a motivated individual

Pt. 3 - How to Solve Crime

The current police system is self regulated. It shouldn’t be. Absolute power corrupts absolutely - there are no exceptions, including (or maybe especially) people in authority roles. Police forces operate with a brotherhood mentality common to many high-stress jobs - think soldiers, or firemen (yes, ‘firemen,’ we’ll call them ‘firefighters’ when they let women join). Officers face a unique roll in the community which is not well understood by outsiders. They have each other’s backs, and rely on each other for their very day-to-day survival; it’s an intimate bond. As such, it’s unreasonable and against the interest of everyone involved to ask police forces to investigate their own, but that is the current practice.

Even when a neighboring police force is brought in to investigate (as may be the practice when public deaths occur, or cases of gross, public misconduct), there is still a conflict of interest, and a relationship that is far from objective - police forces often work together and must therefore cooperate, and police of any municipality are brethren, brothers, partners in the War on Crime, and the thin blue line between order and chaos. Cloistered internal investigation is a system which is set up to fail, and that isn’t anything groundbreaking or new - we’ve known for a very long time that transparency and accountability go hand in hand. Make it happen already (and no, it’s not something the police are going to come up with on their own, if we just let them do their thing).

Along not-so-similar lines, we need to evaluate our crime-fighting strategies from the perspective of gettin’ er done. Our current system isn’t especially effective or cost efficient. We know that investing in community policing and public dialogue, as well as capacity-building programs which allow people to lead better lives instead of turning to crime, are generally effective and end up saving a lot of money. However, such programs make up a small fraction of police spending, while the bulk goes towards traditional practices which may or may not work at all. For example, do speed limits really influence driving habits or road safety, or is the Autobahn a lot safer than my local freeway? I actually don’t know…but we should find out and act accordingly. (I know the posted speed limit for the 401 in Ontario is 30km/h less than it should be, by international standards, and the flow of traffic is typically right around 30km over the limit...surprise!)

If laws aren’t changing crime rates, then we need to reevaluate both the laws themselves and how we enforce them (including how police interact with various communities), and invest way more resources in changing public perception. We need to try innovative solutions, evaluate for efficacy, and fund the ones that work - fund them like crazy. It’s good for society and for the government’s pocket books - spending money now to figure out what works is a great way to save money in the future. And the whole thing doesn’t need to be especially difficult or ground breaking, because there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. There are hundreds of other countries out there, plus a million more cities, districts, and archipelagos, and they are tackling similar problems to our own. See which ones work. Canada rarely looks past its American neighbor for examples on policy, but there’s a whole world out there with lots of different places doing a lot of cool things to better society and cut crime rates.

Also, you probably should take away the police’s tasers. That seems like a good idea.

Pt. 2 - How to Solve Addiction (and gang wars, and lots of poverty, too)

Ivy Saves the World in Five Steps - a how-to series on the world's big, scary problems, and what I would do to fix them, if I had any power whatsoever and were a motivated individual

Pt. 2 - How to Solve Addiction

Addiction is defined by an inability to simply ‘stop.’ It is characterized by continued use, despite negative consequences and (failed) attempts to cut back on consumption. It is cyclical, and because of the havoc substance use wreaks on a person’s life, it often becomes all that a person has left - as such, expecting a homeless crack addict to give up the only thing in their life that gives them comfort (crack) is unrealistic, and ethically questionable. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s a terrible, harmful, coping mechanism, which eats away at a person’s life and self image until the idea of living without said coping mechanism is nearly impossible.

There aren’t any easy answers to addiction (or drugs - which include alcohol and vicodin and hallucinogenic toads, all of which are legal). But the first damn step is to stop pretending that addiction is a moral or criminal issue. It is not. Drug trafficking and recreational use may be - I’m not a scientist. But I do know that the kids downtown who shoot up and die in back alleys are not criminals, and that they deserve medical intervention before things reach that point.

The second (damn) step is to see what works, and what saves lives, and invest all our resources in it. Scrap the rest. If Safe Injections sites work (in Vancouver, they do!), then put up more of them. Make sure detox and rehab are available, instantly, to the people that need these services - and expand the capabilities of Mental Health Acts (or other laws regarding people who are ‘of danger to themselves') to keep people in treatment. Abstinence-only education didn’t stop your teenager from having sex, and it didn’t stop them from doing drugs, either - scrap it. Scrap methadone, too, if we can do better - getting people addicted to something new, just because it's legal, isn't much of a solution. Let doctors prescribe tapered doses of heroin and crack, if that works.

In fact, you can use the opiate fields of Afghanistan for LEGAL codeine, and vicodin, and other medicinal opiates (including heroin, if you want to go there), because that sounds like a much better solution to the drug problem AND international politics than allied forces burning the crops of impoverished third world farmers. But, again, what do I know, I just work here.

Pt. 1 - How to Solve Poverty

Ivy Saves the World in Five Steps - a how-to series on the world's big, scary problems, and what I would do to fix them, if I had any power whatsoever and were a motivated individual

Pt. 1 - How to Solve Poverty

Get together an assembly of citizens for a given area - whether it’s a municipality, a State, a Province, a country, or a whole democratic alliance. Then decide among those group members which things that people from said area should have, regardless of their circumstances. Such things might include clothes, and food, and maybe shelter and wifi and healthcare and aspirin. The details are debatable and up to each assembly. Then, based on a majority vote, you tax accordingly and make sure that everyone in said area has said things, regardless of income, age, or ability. This should be done through a governing body, like the Government. And then everyone has the stuff that everyone thinks that everyone needs to live. Done.

Not convinced? Well, then, I’ll continue. Proportional taxes do not punish the rich (in fact, losing 20% of your income sucks a lot more when your income is low), and socialism has never, ever encouraged poverty or ‘laziness’ - in fact, education and health care and the likes are known to increase people’s chances of participating in society. In Canada, we’ve said that everyone deserves health care, but we haven’t followed through - because apparently not everyone deserves nutritious meals, or housing, or dentists, or band-aids, or prescription pharmaceuticals. We assume people will have such things due to theirs jobs, or family, or localized non-profit societies, but that really isn’t enough. If you want health care, the government has to be directly responsible for it - all of it, including supported housing, seeing eye dogs, and Segways, if need be.

If we expect every single person to have a computer or telephone, for example, (and many of our government agencies do expect that), then the government needs to be responsible for making that happen. Otherwise, people will continue to slip through the cracks. Look at the current post-secondary education system - or the fate of anyone with a debilitating illness and no family to care for them - and suddenly our egalitarian society feels a bit more elderly-on-ice-floats-to-die. (On the note of post-secondary education - our government already foots most of the bill (60%?), so the elimination of tuition is actually not a huge percent increase in spending. However, keeping tuition ensures that some people will never have the option of getting a degree, and that others will drown in government-mandated cesspool of student debt.) I’m willing to foot my share of the bill for universal food, water, shelter, health care, education, basic cable, whatever….and if most other people are willing to do the same, then why isn’t it happening already?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

No Guatemala?

I do not like the rain, or the cold, or the way that Vancouver winters wear away at my soul. One day, I will go to a place that is warm, and tropical, where I can bask in the sun rays and die of malaria. That, you see, is my dream.

It should not surprise you then that, on a particularly cloudy day, I took to the internet and began searching for a tropical paradise to invade and call my own. Google led me, meandering through the history of French Guyana, to a web page describing a little spot in Central America that took my breath away: Guatemala. It had sea turtles and pyramids and lava flows and sacrificial chickens and rain forests and all the other ingredients which make up Paradise. (My paradise, that is, probably not yours.)

I curiously looked up flight costs for a two week trip, and realized that I could afford to go. Really, actually, I could. So I called up my sister and asked her if she wanted to come. She said yes. If she got a summer job (she is only 18 and still lives at home) she could afford to come, too. We planned for her spring break of the next year. She would miss a couple of days of class. I would fly out from Seattle, she would fly out from Detroit. We would meet in Guatemala City. It was all beaches and volcanoes and Mayan ruins from there.

And then, suddenly, just as quickly, my dream was crushed. My mother called me in a huff. Her answer, she said, was No.

Guatemala is too dangerous. Guatemala is not safe for single women. There is crime in Guatemala. I don't understand why you want to go there, anyways.

I was confused. Not want to go to Guatemala? But...did you not hear about the volcanoes and the sea turtles and the sacrificial chickens??

She remained unswayed by my impeccable logic, so my attacks became more personal. Her only travel experience was during the early 1980s. My sister and I had both lived abroad in Asia. I was staying in London for three months during their terrorist attacks and emerged unscathed. I work in Canada's worst neighborhood, and I ride the bus home, alone, in the dark, unchaperoned.

Plus, crime happens everywhere. It is dangerous to be a woman everywhere. The point is to be careful and observant, not fearful and indoors. And as adult women who don't live in a fundamentalist society, my sister and I are allowed to go outside, and to travel, unescorted, without our husband or mother or father's permission, thank you very much, wherever we damn well please.

My mother shut down the conversation with a begrudging 'we'll see.' I suspect that still means 'no.' I have not listened to her since my age reached the double digits, but my sister is a much more obedient daughter. This could be the end of the dream.

I...whatever. I suspect this one will get worse before it gets better.