Why I Don’t Give a Sh*t About the White House Egg Roll

Apparently, it is a long-standing yearly tradition for the sitting President of the United States to invite thousands of American children and their families to celebrate Easter with an “egg roll” on the White House lawns. I suspect the reason I didn’t know about this tradition until this year is because I am Canadian, most of my friends are Canadian, and it really doesn’t matter to us or to the global community at large HOW the current POTUS chooses to celebrate Easter. (As long as they aren’t, you know, dropping bombs and missiles on Middle Eastern countries with no clear sense of foreign policy or military strategy or baiting North Korea on Twitter or doing some other highly crazy thing that would spell disaster for us all).

But this year, I do know about the White House egg roll, and the reason I know about the White House egg roll is because progressive/left-leaning media articles shared by progressive/left-leaning friends on my social media feeds have gleefully devoted many words to describing the Trump White House’s failure to adequately prepare for the event. More than one outlet has quoted Melinda Bates (former egg roll planner for Bill Clinton’s administration) and her comments in the New York Times: “[The egg roll is] the single most high-profile event that takes place at the White House each year, and the White House and the first lady are judged on how well they put it on” (emphasis mine), or otherwise made a point of mentioning that the annual egg roll is a reflection on the current First Lady, and through her, on her husband’s administration.

Mmkay.

Now, there are plenty of very VERY good reasons to have a problem with the Trump administration, and, perhaps contrary to an earlier blog post of mine, there are also lots of reasons to specifically have a problem with First Lady Melania (her plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s speech at the Republican National Convention, her hypocritical support for her husband’s anti-immigrant and anti-woman policies, and her refusal to move into the White House [at a cost of millions of dollars to U.S. taxpayers, who must now pay extra to secure the Trump’s New York City penthouse], for example).

But there’s Real News, Fake News, and then there’s distracting bullshit that really shouldn’t be news at all, ESPECIALLY among so-called “progressive” media and critical media consumers. Apparently, we are having so much fun mocking the Trumps for their every misstep that we’re willing to reinforce what I had hoped was now merely an antiquated sexist notion—the idea that the success of a man’s enterprise depends on, and is reflected in, his wife’s ability to play hostess. Did we all end up in some 1960s edition of Ladies’ Home Journal without realizing it? Is it truly important that the spouse of a nation’s leader host a good Easter party? And is it really newsworthy if they don’t?

The Trumps are a family without shame, and whether their first egg roll was a disastrous f*ck up or the successful, more “traditional” affair their PR people say it was probably doesn’t really matter to them, and really shouldn’t matter to us. The best the rest of the world can hope for is to make it through the next four years without being blown to smithereens. In the meantime, there are plenty of good ways to voice our displeasure about the current state of U.S. politics without gossiping about Melania Trump’s failure to fulfill outdated stereotypes about a woman’s role in the political machine or devoting an entire New York Times article to her dress. (Okay, it was in NYT’s Style section, but still).

My newsfeeds, national public broadcasts, and issues of Maclean’s are constantly saturated with stories about Donald Trump—his policies, his people, his bloody Tweets. Whether we like it or not, President Trump is one of the most powerful people in the world right now, and what he does (or doesn’t do) is important.

But let’s not be petty, and let’s not stoop. Let’s not distract ourselves from our legitimate concerns about Trump and his family (and their various conflicts of interest, etc.) by pushing old-fashioned gender norms about party planning. In any other situation, we would be ashamed to measure a woman by such a yardstick simply because she’s somebody’s wife. If we aren’t ashamed, we should be, by both the sexism and the sheer frivolousness of this kind of criticism. In the past days, eggs have been rolling, and missiles have been flying—which do we think is more important?

An Easter Reminder: Bunnies Are Pets, Not Presents

Easter is nearly upon us. For devout Christians, Easter is the celebration of the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the rest of us who observe this holiday, Easter is a time for decorating/hiding/finding eggs, eating pastel-coloured candy, and toasting the arrival of spring.

Easter is also a time when some folks need reminders that rabbits are living creatures with unique needs. Unless you are committed to their long-term care, rabbits are NOT an appropriate “Easter present” for your children, and they are most certainly NOT disposable. Before bringing a bunny into your home, you need to determine whether you and your family are cut out for the unique responsibilities of rabbit ownership (unless you are planning to eat the rabbit, which is a whole different story, I guess).

A lot of people erroneously make one or more assumptions about owning a rabbit:

  • That rabbits are happy to hang out in a small cage 24/7
  • That the responsibilities involved in owning and feeding a rabbit are similar to those of owning a cat
  • That because rabbits look so fluffy and snuggly and cute, that they will be snuggly and cuddly with humans
  • That because rabbits can be seen “happily” hopping around in the wild, if it doesn’t work out, it’s fine to just dump your bunny in the park or by the side of the road (it is NOT fine—rabbits live only 1-2 years in the wild, as opposed to 7-10 years in a good home. Dumping your house rabbit into the wilderness condemns them to die of starvation, exposure, or by being mauled to death by coyotes or dogs. Not a very nice thing to do to a living creature just so you could have a cute Easter moment).

As a happy long-term bunny owner myself, I thought it might be prudent to share some information about these most special of household pets, to let prospective rabbit families know what they’re getting into:

Rabbits aren’t very happy in cages.

Rabbits have (comparatively) very large, very muscular hind legs. They are capable of running very fast over distance to escape predators, and also capable of leaping into the air and doing 180-degree turns when they’re happy (these leaping activities are sometimes called “binkying”, though we always called it “the electric bunny dance”) . Is an animal with this kind of locomotive power really meant to spend the entirety of its days enclosed in a tiny hutch? Heck no! Rabbits are smart and clean animals who can be litter-trained and are most content living a free-range lifestyle in your home. That said…

Rabbits can be very destructive.

Rabbits love to chew things. In fact, because rabbits’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime, rabbits need to chew in order to grind them down. Rabbits also have a lot of energy. If not provided with ample chewing opportunities and other recreational activities, rabbits will find ways to entertain themselves, usually at the expense of your home (our rabbit, for example, has eaten a small hole in our drywall). All electrical cords MUST be covered up, and items like books and wicker baskets will generally not survive at floor level. Our rabbit absolutely loves to tear strips from cardboard boxes and paper (and eat them), so we keep a few boxes and lids with scrap paper around the apartment, and haven’t had a problem with him gnawing on things he shouldn’t in a long while.

Our bunny helping us unpack the new stroller.

Also helping me sort through the tissue paper after my baby shower.

Rabbits are social (but only to a point).

While every rabbit is different, parents and children are often disappointed to discover that rabbits are generally not very cuddly pets (compared to a dog or a cat). While they do very well in bonded pairs, and enjoy spending time near their owners (on their own terms), rabbits don’t necessarily engage in interactive play, and they do NOT tend to like being picked up. While it’s true that some rabbits are in fact very cuddly (mine isn’t), attempts to force a rabbit to cuddle if they’re not interested will most likely result in ear-piercing shrieks, getting bludgeoned with those aforementioned strong back feet, and having your rabbit hide from you until they can trust you not to pull that shit again.

Rabbits can also have a heart attack and die if handled too roughly or if they become too frightened, so families with kids who don’t understand the concept of “gentle”, or who are easily bored with a pet that doesn’t seem to “do” anything should probably not get a bunny.

Basically, when it comes to your bunny’s sociability, are rabbits awesome and loving in their own ways? Absolutely! Are they going to put up with your bullshit? Heck no.

Rabbits need special care.

  1. Food

Though rabbits can be litter trained, they aren’t just cats with longer ears and shorter tails. For starters, their diet involves a lot more than just a dish of water and a bowl of pet food on the floor each morning. A truly healthy diet for a house rabbit requires unlimited timothy hay (NOT alfalfa), fresh water (changed daily!), and fresh (not rotten) greens (it’s important to check online first before giving vegetables to your bunny since not all veggies are good for them; some, like carrots, are only okay in small amounts, and some are more or less poison). Our rabbit also has some timothy hay pellets each morning (he loves them so much that when he gets them he makes a “mooing” sound) but these need to be limited to keep his digestive system top notch. Failure to properly attend to your rabbit’s diet (or allowing them to manipulate you with their cuteness into giving them sweet things that are bad for them) can result in diarrhea or gastrointestinal stasis, both of which can be very painful and very fatal for bunnies.

  1. Grooming

Did you know that bunnies shed their fur several times a year? Their fur is very soft, and very fine, and will pretty much get EVERYWHERE. We try to brush our bunny when we notice he’s having a shed, but we still find little white clouds of fur in every nook and cranny of our home. Diligent sweeping/vacuuming is required.

Also, did you know that just like our nails, rabbits’ nails will just keep growing and growing? This isn’t as big an issue in the wild where rabbits can grind their nails down by digging (and only have a fraction of the lifespan of a house rabbit anyways), but house rabbits need their nails trimmed every few weeks. Since bunnies tend to hate being picked up, this can be a Process for all involved.

  1. The Vet

Not all veterinarians are trained and experienced in rabbit care. The physiology of a rabbit is VERY different from a cat or a dog (for example, they cannot vomit so it’s really important their gut stays healthy), and a run-of-the-mill cat & dog vet will probably do your bunny more harm than good. If you’re going to own a rabbit, you’re going to need to find a veterinarian that specializes in rabbit care (we really like the vets at Arbutus West Animal Clinic in Vancouver). Obviously the hope is that your rabbit will be mostly healthy, but having a good vet to deal with any emergencies or infections that may arise is critical. It’s also important that you have your rabbit spayed/neutered—rabbits have evolved to be VERY fertile. Even if your rabbit lives solo, with so much cellular reproduction going on in their gonads, house bunnies are very susceptible to cancers of the reproductive organs. In fact, “fixing” your bunny can double their lifespan (and also prevent them from getting super territorial and peeing on all your stuff).

Find the bunny! (Note that we don’t keep any books on bottom shelves).

The uniqueness of rabbit-care aside, our bunny has actually been a rather easy-going pet (much easier in a lot of ways than a dog, and his litter is much less stinky than a cat’s). He’s provided TC with nearly ten years of amusement and companionship, and has an adorably curmudgeonly personality. Now that he is in the autumn of his years, our bunny does need a little more TLC (and trips to the vet) than he used to, but on the whole seems to continue to enjoy a very good quality of life with his human associates, a life that, while small, is very rewarding to us.

To sum up, rabbits are definitely not suitable as Easter décor, but with care and attention, these creatures can provide your household with 7-10 (or more!) years of entertainment and adorableness. For our part, our bunny is the underlying heartbeat of our home, always there on his little adventures, independent and much-loved, and is certainly no mere Easter-time prop.

For more information on taking care of your bunny, I find the Columbus House Rabbit Society and their Rabbit Care & Behaviour Booklet very helpful.

Not Working, Still Contributing?

When my old office reorganized and I lost my job last fall, I (perhaps naively) assumed I’d have little trouble finding a new position at my former institution or elsewhere. I’m smart, experienced, and professional, and I tend to leave a good impression wherever I have worked. However, five months and six (mostly very positive) interviews later, it has become clear to me that I will not be returning to work before giving birth to my first child (note: my previous employer did NOT know that I was pregnant when my position was eliminated; I suspect the plans for the departmental re-organization were likely in motion before I even conceived). This means that I have spent the past few months, and will be spending the next year or so, doing what is economically considered to be “nothing”.

At first, I really was doing more or less nothing, laid low by bouts of nausea, insomnia, and general resentment over the fact that all my best-laid plans for how to financially support my future child had been altered, and my career put on indefinite pause through no fault of my own. After a few weeks of this, however, the clouds lifted (both figuratively and literally; despite the snow, Vancouver also had some lovely sunny weather in early December—very cold, very Christmassy). I started to sleep better, eat better (once I could keep my usual staple foods down again) and just generally enjoy a slower, more relaxed pace of life (easy to do while still receiving severance pay). I would have liked to return to work before having a baby, but as this has not been in the cards, I have surprised myself by feeling actually optimistic about the whole thing. (Note: I am aware my “optimistic” situation [like receiving five months of severance] is somewhat privileged compared to many others for whom a termination could have threatened eviction, repossession of a vehicle, or other devastating financial consequences).

There have certainly been disappointments (like doing quite well in a job competition but just not managing to clinch it) and dark clouds in my sunny days. One of the hardest things for me to deal with has been the change in my economic status in the household. My husband is self-employed. When he started freelancing, I brought home more money than him. As his career took off and I decided to take a part-time position (70% of full-time, albeit on a better salary scale), the contributions we made to our shared family income began to even out, with TC making considerably more than me some months, depending on the jobs that came his way. Regardless of our comparative incomes, though, what I always felt I brought to the table was stability—I brought the guaranteed paycheque, the extended health and dental benefits, the MSP subsidy and the pension. As TC’s career advanced and the projects he worked on gained more professional recognition, I was content to hold steady in a job I loved doing that gave me career satisfaction, work-life balance, and perks that worked for us.

All that has, quite simply, changed. Now that my severance has run out, it is solely TC’s income (and hopefully 50 weeks or so of EI maternity/parental benefits) that our little family will rely on. This is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow for a person who has spent the better part of the past 12 years mostly taking care of herself (albeit not without some occasional much-appreciated assistance from parents and grandparents along the way). I’ve always depended on TC emotionally, but I haven’t always depended on him financially.

Of course, I do KNOW that carrying (and soon, caring for) an infant has value, even if I’m not pulling in a paycheque. I know that my efforts over the past few months to take care of our home and prepare for the baby so that TC can have more time to focus and meet his deadlines have been appreciated, even if there is no dollar sign attached to these activities (not that TC hasn’t been helping out around the apartment as well, it’s just that I have more time to). And I know that my husband loves and respects me, and doesn’t think me useless or unproductive just because I no longer have a job.

But I’m just not used to not having a professional identity and an economic value, even in my marriage. I guess I forgot that marrying someone isn’t just promising to take care of them, it’s agreeing to BE taken care of, and it’s really not that strange. When I think about it, many of the couples I know (both from my parents’ generation and mine) have spent significant portions of their relationships in economic situations where one partner doesn’t work or works less than the other. Life throws curve-balls (getting fired, a sick family member, a move to a new city where only one of the partners has secured a job) and different needs (for childcare or health or mental/emotional well-being) must be met. This is totally normal and I accept it in the abstract. I know that these kinds of arrangements don’t mean that the non-working partner isn’t contributing to their relationship. It’s just that these contributions aren’t measurable the way a bank balance is, and I’m not used to being so…intangible.

Since graduating from high school, the world at large has conditioned me to believe that my worth, in great part, relies on not being a financial burden to others, on independence, and on being able to “pay my own way”. Now that this is no longer possible for me (at least for now), I need a new paradigm for self-examination. Which isn’t, I suppose, a bad thing. Just a new one.

Sometimes I AM super useful around the house. Other times…not so much. 😛

It’s just common sense: trans* women must be welcome in women’s bathrooms

Republican lawmakers south of the border (at both the federal and state levels) have been unduly concerned about the safety of cis women like me lately. Are they worried that health outcomes for women will be negatively impacted by conservatives’ proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood? Distressed about the ways in which myriad anti-abortion laws across the nation infringe upon women’s rights and may force women into seeking out unsafe, illegal abortions? Are they worried about the gun violence that turns women with abusive partners into prisoners in their own homes, or about the sexual assaults committed on college campuses nation-wide?

Nope. Dear hearts, those sweet old goats in Republican Party have decided that the biggest threat to the safety of women and girls in their great nation is to be found in public restrooms. Public restrooms that, unless these righteous men legislate a means to stop them, will soon be absolutely RIDDLED with pervy dudes dressing up as ladies so they can spy on women using the toilet and listen to them pee. Pervy dudes, who, if they are allowed to use the same washroom as cis women and girls, will almost CERTAINLY assault them. (Note: if a man dressed in men’s clothing sexually assaults a woman in any other location, Republicans are not interested because she probably just has “buyer’s remorse” or shouldn’t have had so much to drink, but don’t worry, the moment that rapist dons a frilly blouse and tries to use the ladies’ room at the food court, the good men of the GOP will HAVE WOMEN’S BACKS).

Of course, in reality, Republicans aren’t legislating against male rapists donning skirts and sneaking into bathrooms. They’re legislating against trans* women, who ARE women (even if their birth certificates might not say so). Never mind that there is virtually ZERO evidence of any sexual assault ever being committed by a trans* person in a U.S. bathroom, or that trans* people are statistically much more likely to need protection from cis people than we are from them. Republicans aren’t trying to protect women. They are trying to keep a small group of women isolated from other women, and isolated from society at large (because if you can’t use a public restroom, activities like going to school, going shopping, attending a theatre or sporting event, or using a gym or swimming pool become just about impossible). It’s not about keeping women safe, it’s about forcing an already severely marginalized group of people back into hiding (many of these laws would also force trans* men to use women’s washrooms, a completely absurd outcome if your stated desire is to keep men OUT of there).

Infographic by Hannah Johnson.

Let’s be blunt: if a man wanted to attack a woman (or girl) in a public restroom, a new law about who can use which bathroom wouldn’t stop him. The little lady silhouette on the door wouldn’t stop him. He certainly wouldn’t bother dressing in women’s clothes to do it because it wouldn’t make his criminal actions any easier for him–sexual assault is already illegal no matter what you’re wearing. So no, this is not about safety. At all.

As for me, I don’t think I’ve EVER noticed when I’m sharing a public restroom with a trans* woman (unless I happen to run into someone I know personally who I know is trans* while I’m washing my hands or whatever). A major reason for this is probably the fact that even in Canada, where laws don’t specifically target trans* people (to the best of my knowledge), many trans* individuals are still not comfortable in and are not made to feel welcome in multi-stall public restrooms, so I probably haven’t had much opportunity. That said, I’m also pretty sure I wouldn’t notice/haven’t noticed because, like most women, I’m not really in the bathroom to check out other people. When I’m peeing or blowing my nose or having a quick cry on a bad day, what do I care what the lady two stalls down from me has between her legs? How could I possibly know she was trans*, and even if I did, how could that possibly affect me in any way? What does her birth certificate have to do with whatever she’s doing in the bathroom (most likely using the toilet or getting something out of her teeth or just taking a quiet moment for herself like the rest of us)?

How does a trans* woman being allowed to use the women’s restroom impact me whatsoever? The answer is that it doesn’t. And so I feel foolish for even saying, “trans women are welcome to use the same restroom as me” because I shouldn’t even have the power to give that permission in the first place. But since it seems so many socially conservative politicians are concerned about my wellbeing, I want to assure the world: this is okay and nothing bad is going to happen. Women’s restrooms are for women, and since trans* women are women, it’s their restroom too.

 

P.S. I wrote this post specifically about women and women’s bathrooms, since that seems to be the focus of most of the conservative pearl-clutching about toilets and trans* people. However, I am aware that some people are non-binary, meaning they do not identify as either male or female. For this reason, I’m happy to see that many public spaces in my community are renovating/have renovated to provide private, gender-neutral (and accessible) restrooms in addition to multi-stalled gendered facilities. That said, if a public location did not have one of these gender-neutral restrooms and a non-binary individual felt more comfortable in the ladies’ room than the mens’, I’d still like to think that would be fine with me, since, as I said, most people are in the bathroom to do bathroom stuff and I can’t see how this could possibly hurt me.

I don’t vote Conservative, but if I did, I’d vote for Michael Chong

With the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership race in full swing, a fairly crowded Rogues Gallery of potato-faced Bay Street-ers and lightweight racists have come out of the woodwork to diagnose our country’s ills and declare themselves the solution. Candidates range from the generally uninspiring (like Maxime Bernier, who actually has Cabinet experience but also left sensitive documents at his former girlfriend’s place, leading to his resignation in 2008), to the downright scary (Kellie Leitch, one of the faces of Harper’s disastrous “Barbaric Cultural Practices Tipline” , who finds positivity in Donald Trump’s presidency and wants to subject newcomers to Canada [read: Muslims] to some kind of “Canadian values test”,  as if the existing commitment by all immigrants and refugees to obey Canadian law isn’t enough; or Kevin O’Leary, the loud-mouthed, U.S.-dwelling reality star who hasn’t lived in Canada in years and,  as demonstrated by his offer to give Alberta’s oil industry $1 million in exchange for Rachel Notley’s resignation, has a frighteningly insufficient grasp of both fundamental democratic principles and of the problems facing our nation). Generally speaking, both hard-line right-wing conservatives and the CPC leadership candidates watched Trump’s ascendency to the U.S. Presidency, realized that his no-apologies, “alternative-facts”, bigoted and bullying strategies actually WORKED, and are wondering if those same tactics should, or could, be successfully employed here in Canada.

The answer, unfortunately, is yes. While some may say that Stephen Harper’s hard xenophobic turn in his last campaign as Prime Minister lost him the 2015 federal election, it’s important to remember that he’d been the Prime Minister for a LONG TIME (almost ten years, which tends to tire out an electorate that sometimes chooses change just for the sake of it) and even some conservatives had begun to chafe under his dictatorial leadership style and his general disdain for most Canadians. It’s also important to note that even with Harper’s misguided focus on identity politics (see his hissy-fits over niqabs and “barbaric cultural practices”), the strategic voting strategies researched and promoted by groups such as Leadnow to oust him, and his general “dangers at our shores” lack of charisma contrasted with Trudeau’s youthful “sunny ways” charm, the CPC still retained 99 seats in the House of Commons (making them the Official Opposition) and just under 32% of the popular vote. Which means that the Conservative Party of Canada, ham-fisted as its most recent campaign was, still has a lot of support. Otherwise forgettable leadership candidates like Leitch and Brad Trost know that the harder they push their bigoted rhetoric, the more media coverage they’ll get, and the more likely it is that they will be able to ride that media attention and hard-right sentiment to the top of the party and maybe, just maybe, to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Since Justin Trudeau is stupid and a liar and has abandoned his promise to reform Canada’s electoral system, the likelihood of a Trump-like CPC candidate securing a majority government in the next election is actually not that unthinkable. Canada’s alt-right movement (and there is one) has been galvanized by Trump’s election, Ezra Levant’s Breitbart-esque media outlet, Rebel Media, and by general and strongly-felt disgust with the failings (real or perceived) of the country’s “progressive” governments (like Trudeau’s federally or Kathleen Wynne’s in Ontario or Notley’s in Alberta). These voices are loud, and they get a lot of attention, and attention (whether positive or negative) can put someone in office (as we’ve seen clearly demonstrated in the U.S.). Meanwhile, left-wing voters who held their noses and cast their ballots for the Liberals in the last federal election (many people specifically FOR Trudeau’s platform on electoral reform) have been completely turned off by Trudeau’s myriad broken promises (to have a nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations communities, to secure social license before approving major resource projects like pipelines, to be more transparent, the aforementioned electoral reform, etc.). Many of these voters are not going to give Trudeau another chance. This could be a boon for the NDP and Green Party, who could potentially gain more seats in the House as opposition parties, but would ultimately split the “non-conservative” vote once again, possibly paving the way for another CPC government. Yay.

This is why all civic-minded Canadians, and not just conservative voters, need to be paying attention to the CPC leadership race. Whoever wins may very well become our next Prime Minister, shaping the nation and our lives within it. We need that person to be even-keeled, a respectable presence on the world stage. If we care at all about human rights or human dignity, we also need that person not to be a xenophobe.

Michael Chong: one of Maclean's Best Parliamentarians of the Year, 2011. Photo: Peter Bregg/Maclean's

Michael Chong: one of Maclean’s Best Parliamentarians of the Year, 2011. Photo: Peter Bregg/Maclean’s

One of the political voices I have appreciated the most in recent weeks has actually been that of Michael Chong, MP of Wellington-Halton Hills. As Canada (and the international community) reeled in the wake of the deadly Islamophobia-inspired terrorist shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, and Trump’s catastrophic “travel ban” saw thousands of innocent Muslim travelers detained or turned away from the U.S., CPC candidates like Leitch continued to peddle their Made-in-Canada brands of exclusion. Chong (himself a child of Dutch and Chinese immigrants), took the high road, issuing a statement reminding Canadians that our immigration screening system is already one of the most robust in the world, and condemning those of his opponents attempting to reap political benefits by “espousing hate”. He is also one of the few CPC leadership candidates to openly and unreservedly support motion M-103, which would commit the Canadian government to condemning Islamophobia. (Chong maintains that this motion would not single out Islam for special treatment, noting that the House has previously denounced hatred against other religious groups, including Jews and Egyptian Coptic Christians).

Admittedly, Chong’s environmental platform is a bit thin, but at least he has one. Promoting a revenue-neutral carbon tax at least assumes that Chong, unlike many conservatives, believes that climate change exists and that reducing emissions is something worth doing (baby steps). Unfortunately, his support for a carbon tax alongside his support for our current immigration system will likely hurt him in his leadership campaign. With many Canadian families hit hard by oil’s recent and ongoing downturn and Islamophobic fear-mongering splashing across the news on an almost daily basis in the past few years, few of the CPC’s increasingly hard-right voters are going to care about the nuances that differentiate Evil Rachel Notley’s Evil Carbon Tax from the revenue-neutral scheme Chong is proposing. Nor are they going to care about the difference between a law-abiding Canadian immigrant (or citizen) going about her business in a niqab and a fundamentalist jihadist bent on destruction (or about the fact that the recent jihad-based terror attacks/attempts in Canada were planned and perpetrated by home-grown Canadians, not immigrants or refugees).

Obviously, Michael Chong is not perfect and, as a life-long leftist, I could never support everything in his platform. Still, if I can’t have an NDP Prime Minister (and it seems I can’t, since there are still no viable NDP leadership candidates in sight), and if Trudeau is going to keep pissing people off on both sides of the political spectrum, and if the next Prime Minister of Canada is going to be a Conservative (which is highly possible), I’d rather it be Michael Chong than anybody else.

It may be scary, but we will have to trust Will Baker

greyhound3

On July 30, 2008, 41-year-old Vince Li sat down on a Greyhound bus beside Tim McLean, a young man of 22. What happened during that horrifying trip has since gone down in infamy: west of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Li (suffering from untreated schizophrenia) became convinced that McLean was a demon Li was commanded by God to kill. Li stabbed McLean multiple times with a hunting knife before dismembering him and eating parts of his body.

Li (who has since changed his name to Will Baker), was arrested, charged, and ultimately deemed Not Criminally Responsible for McLean’s murder due to the severity of his illness at the time and his inability to understand his actions. This means that legally, Will Baker did not commit a crime, though he did spend the following 8.5 years in psychiatric treatment, with increasing levels of freedoms and privileges as his condition improved and those in charge of his care became increasingly confident that Baker was able to manage his illness and no longer posed a threat to others. Since November, Baker has been living on his own in Winnipeg, but has been subject to several conditions, including monitoring to ensure he was taking his medication.

On February 10, Baker was granted an absolute discharge by the Criminal Code Review Board. According to the Board’s decision, “the weight of evidence does not substantiate that Mr. Baker poses a significant threat to the safety of the public.” This means that the last remaining limitations on Baker’s freedom (including the monitoring of his compliance with his medication schedule) have been removed and he is now as free as any other Canadian citizen.

Unsurprisingly, Tim McLean’s family does not support the Board’s decision. This is absolutely understandable. Whether legally culpable or not, the fact remains that if not for the actions of Vince Li in 2008, Tim McLean would most likely still be with them. In the nine years that have passed since that tragic summer, who knows what McLean (who would have been turning 31 this year) could have gone on to achieve, or what further joys and positive experiences he could have brought to the lives of his family and friends? A young man’s future has been stolen, not only from him but also from those who loved him. There is really no justice to be found for them, and no solace here. We cannot expect them to forgive.

That being said, I find myself being quite dismayed by some of the online reactions I have read regarding Baker’s full release into free society. Comments by the public range from the racist (“Why can’t he go have a mental illness in his own country?” [Baker is originally from China but was a Canadian citizen at the time of McLean’s murder]), to the ignorant (“Criminals always get a free pass in this country”, forgetting that technically, Baker is not guilty of a crime and has actually spent a not-insignificant period of time living in institutions or under restrictions since he was arrested), to the just plain extreme (“This is why we need the death penalty”). Those who oppose Baker’s release cite the feelings of McLean’s family, and/or their personal disbelief that Baker will continue to take his medication without being forced (“Sick people always think they’re getting better and then they stop taking their meds,” etc.).

With respect to concerns about McLean’s family, I’m pretty sure that 95% of those vocal internet folks probably spent an average of about zero minutes thinking about Tim McLean and his family between Baker/Li’s arrest in 2008 and news of his release last week. Their comments smack, not of real concern, but of a desire to see a “bad man” be punished.

I absolutely agree that the Canadian criminal justice system needs to be more responsive to victims of violent crime (or their families, if the victim is no longer living). But I’m not sure locking a man away for being sick and throwing away the key is the kind of response that will benefit anyone. As the Globe and Mail’s Patrick White pointed out in 2009, the Canadian mental healthcare system failed Li repeatedly before his illness spiraled into a homicidal psychosis. He had, in fact, escaped a treatment facility prior to McLean’s murder, and there was no follow-up to his disappearance despite the fact that he had been admitted specifically for being considered a danger. Had Canada had a more robust system in place to treat those with severe mental illness (including those whose illnesses prevent them from perceiving the serious reality of their own medical situation), had stigma surrounding mental illness not prevented Li from seeking help earlier, had he not been allowed to fall through several cracks prior to that fateful summer day, things could have been much different for him, and for Tim McLean. If we really cared about victims and their families, we would want to do our best to prevent these kinds of crimes from happening in the first place, and that means doing the hard work of changing our systems, rather than pinning all of the blame on a severely ill individual.

As for the argument that Baker cannot be trusted to stay on his meds, I admit this does make me uneasy. I do wish that the Criminal Code with regards to “Not Criminally Responsible” individuals (even those deemed low-risk, as Baker is considered to be) allowed for some additional nuance to address these kinds of concerns. That said, to not give a technically blameless man a second chance is hypocritical when second chances are extended to so many others who actually ARE culpable for their actions (impaired drivers, for example, who put others’ lives at risk every single time they are on the road, or rapists, whose defenders claim they shouldn’t be harshly punished for “one mistake”). Baker’s own mind had turned against him, and I cannot imagine how terrifying that would have been. He believed that if he did not kill Tim McLean as “God” commanded, he would die (remember, he did not choose to kill someone). According to his doctors, as soon as Baker gained the mental capacity to understand what he had done, he was horrified and remorseful. Baker understands that he needs to take his medication to prevent another psychotic episode and is committed to never being a danger to anyone ever again. It’s likely, given this commitment and his own infamy, that Baker will be a less dangerous member of society going forward than a lot of other totally free Canadians.

Can we 100% trust that Will Baker will never have another psychotic break? No. But can we ever 100% trust that no one else will ever do anything to harm us? Of course not. We exist in a country of free citizens, who can board buses and drive on roads and be in public places and walk down streets and own things that can be dangerous and choose whether to be a good person or a shitty person. Unless we are going to curtail EVERYONE’S freedoms, there is no way to guarantee that one of our fellow citizens won’t take advantage of these liberties and hurt someone. We hope this won’t happen, and usually our trust is rewarded—incidents like the murder on the Greyhound bus are already very very rare. Hopefully, Canada will use the concerns Baker’s release has raised to improve mental health care across the country, and the kind of gruesome tragedy that befell Tim McLean will be rarer still.

Fellow White Feminists: Don’t Get Defensive, Get Motivated!

Women’s March on Washington demonstrations were held worldwide on January 21, and in some ways they were very successful (there were more people in DC for the March than for Donald Trump’s inauguration as President the day before, for starters). The event was a rallying cry, a way of saying NO, we are not okay with a pussy-grabbing, reproductive rights-denying, healthcare-repealing, walking ad for rape culture running the show, we do NOT support him, and we will fight him and everything his administration stands for. It was, I believe, only the beginning of a series of demonstrations against the threats to democracy, human rights, and the planet that Trump’s administration represents, demonstrations that I hope will translate into the kinds of concrete actions that right-wing conservative grassroots movements have already shown to be effective: attending “town hall” meetings on important issues. Telephoning (not e-mailing) representatives and lawmakers frequently and continuously and making sure they know what we want. Voting in congressional, provincial, state, and municipal elections. Organizing. Getting shit done and making life difficult for those who do not protect the rights and interests of the people they represent/work for. Onward!

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As we do move forward, however, we, as feminists (and now I’m specifically talking to white, cis feminists) need to take into account the criticisms made by multiple groups of marginalized** women (including women of colour, Indigenous women, trans* women, women with disabilities, homeless women, and sex workers) who, in large or small ways, experienced exclusion and oppression at the Marches. Examples of this kind of exclusion/oppression include white women telling women of colour that they were being too “divisive” when they pointed out that 53% of white women in America voted for Donald Trump, or when white women did not recognize that Indigenous women drumming, dancing, or wearing traditional dress at the Marches were enacting important and sacred parts of a living culture, not a quaint museum piece, or when the organizers of the Vancouver March excluded representatives from Black Lives Matter Vancouver from participating on the organizing committee or speaking at the event (and then removing a thread discussing this exclusion from their Facebook page), or when a white woman on the way to the march in DC tried to block a black woman from entering a crowded train by physically putting her hands on her (and then loudly complaining about the black woman, who needed to go to work and managed to squeeze into the train that obviously DID have room for her after all, throughout the whole ride and making her cry [I read about this incident in a social media thread but am unable to locate the original thread so cannot give the woman credit for her story]).

My point is that white, cis-hetero feminists don’t have a great track record when it comes to the marginalized women whose support we have historically depended on. Though the feminist movements of yore have improved the lives of women in North America through the years, it has often made these gains at the expense of, or to the exclusion of, non-white women (for example, the suffragettes did not demand the vote for ALL women, just WHITE women). Conditions improved for white women long before they began to improve for our marginalized sisters, and the gaps that still exist between my privileges and their positions in society are actually downright embarrassing in a political culture that prides itself on equality.

It’s not really surprising to me that many women from traditionally marginalized communities have decided that enough is enough. They have declared their intent to participate only in feminist movements that are truly intersectional, that recognize the complex webs of privileges and oppressions that are experienced by different women in DIFFERENT ways, rather than support a white feminism that continues to pretend that the interests and experiences of white, cis-hetero women are the norm from which all other needs and experiences deviate. These women are angry, and rightfully so, and it seems we white women can’t take it.

I’ve heard it said that women of colour, for example, are being “divisive” by demanding their rights be addressed, when what we need right now is “unity”. Bullshit. If women of colour have to ignore their legitimate grievances, but white women don’t have to change anything about OUR behaviour or goals, that’s not “unity”, that’s erasure and oppression.

I’ve heard it said that we are facing an unprecedented evil, and that the movement to defeat sexist, fascist Trump-ism in the U.S. and abroad is too important to be derailed by infighting. Damn rights. That’s why white women need to suck it up, confront our issues, and stand in solidarity with our sisters. WE’RE the ones being the problem, not them. Our cause is vital. We cannot allow it to fail because our feelings were hurt when it was pointed out to us that we are not the perfect saviors we thought we were.

I’ve heard it said that the anger being expressed by some marginalized women will “scare away” people getting involved in activism for the first time. I don’t necessarily agree with first-timers being chastised for “not being there before”, because everyone has to start somewhere, but generally speaking, white women are just going to have to grow a thicker skin. Bottom line: if you can’t handle righteous anger, you are not ready for the revolution. Besides, if inequality doesn’t make YOU angry too, what the hell are you marching for?

I get it. The Women’s March on Washington felt good (I wasn’t able to go, but still, it felt good). It felt hopeful. It felt like we were on the right side of history. No one likes to feel uncomfortable or, *gasp!*, guilty about something that may not have been their actual, personal, individual fault (after all, YOU didn’t vote for Trump or harass an African American woman the train, right?). Why did these Other women need to come along and kill your buzz? It’s not fair!

Now, before you cry “Not all white women!”, remember that it doesn’t f*cking matter if not ALL white women. Any feminist movement that allows ANY white woman to treat a woman of colour as less-than, any movement that excludes non-white, non-cis women from its organizing committees and speakers lists, is not part of the solution, it’s just another part of the problem (a more subtle, insidious part).

If you don’t want to feel guilty about something YOU personally didn’t do, don’t. I don’t feel guilty and I don’t feel the need to be defensive. I do feel a bit sheepish about my ignorance, and I do feel a new sense of responsibility to see and listen to and, if necessary, speak up for my sisters. I do feel unsure about how to do this, and I’m worried that I will make mistakes, and I know for a fact there are going to be times when I will fail. But I’m not going to let that stop me from trying, and I’m not going to let that stop me from being hopeful that I have the capacity to make a difference. I want equality. I am being shown the way by women who have never had the privileges I enjoy. If anything, I feel humbled and motivated.

Equality begins at home. Equality begins inside the movement. Let’s do better.

Let’s do this.

 

** I use the term “marginalized” as a shorthand blanket term to refer to various groups of women because these women have traditionally been silenced and pushed to the margins of both feminist movements and society at large. I do NOT mean to infer that any of these women represent a “niche” issue or “special interest” (or that their concerns are in any way less “legitimate”), only that they have not enjoyed the visibility and amplification of white feminists.

Should Canada adopt an “opt-out” system for organ donation?

On January 1 of this year, France adopted a new “opt-out” organ donation policy, whereby all deceased French citizens are considered to have given “presumed consent” to the harvesting of their organs and tissues for organ donation unless they entered their names on an “opt-out” registry or have left specific instructions regarding their wishes with family members or next-of-kin. “Opt-out” organ donation policies (unlike “opt-in” policies, which, in countries like Canada, require potential organ donors to sign up on their provincial donor registries) are estimated by a World Health Organization study to raise the rate of organ donation by between 25-30%.

BC residents can opt-in to donate at transplant.bc.ca.

BC residents can opt-in to donate at transplant.bc.ca.

C’est magnifique, non? Why not adopt this system in Canada right now, and save thousands of lives? Isn’t this a no-brainer? Well, not necessarily.

I would like to state that I myself am an organ donor. I do not believe that any part of “me” will be left in my body once I am dead, and if any of my organs or tissues can be of use once I no longer need them, great. But (and this is, I believe, a very important “but”), I signed up for this. When I die, neither the provincial nor federal government will “presume” my consent for organ donation; they will actively search for it in their registries. In an “opt-out” system like the one France has instituted, my body (once deceased) would belong to the state medical system, unless I had made a concerted effort, during life, to declare otherwise.

I find conversations about “opt-out” organ donation policies troubling, for three reasons:

  1. The idea of “presumed consent” is highly problematic.

As a feminist, it should not be hard to understand why the very notion of “presumed consent” when it comes to bodily autonomy is alarming to me. When it is still so very hard to achieve a conviction for sexual assault in Canada, do we really want any branch of our Canadian or provincial governments enshrining the concept of “presumed consent” in law? Do we want promote the idea that, actually, there ARE times (such as after death) when a person’s body can be used in ways to which they did not SPECIFICALLY and FREELY consent, unless they have made some kind of pre-emptive statement to the contrary? When Canadian judges are still asking rape victims why they couldn’t just “keep their knees together”, I think we have a long way to go before any arm of the Canadian government can be trusted with our bodily autonomy.

  1. The needs of hopeful organ recipients (and the convenience of transplant surgeons and medical staff) are often already put ahead of the rights of donors (and their families).

While I cannot imagine the physical and emotional suffering experienced by Canadians waiting on the transplant list (or their loved ones), the fact of the matter is that no donor organ recipient or patient on the transplant list is “owed” an organ. The organs of deceased Canadians do not “belong” to the living, they belong, completely and only, to the deceased person whose body they are in. If that same deceased Canadian wishes to give another person a second chance at life through organ donation,that is a wonderful thing (and I do believe voluntary organ donation is something to be encouraged by all levels of government and by society at large). But this gift, of someone else’s flesh and bone, cannot, and should never be, assumed.

Even in opt-in systems like ours, there is already reason for concern that the needs of those on the transplant list are put before the rights of organ donors. In 2012, Dick Teresi (former editor of Science Digest) released a book entitled The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating-Heart Cadavers—How Medicine is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death. In an interview with Maclean’s Magazine’s Brian Bethune, Teresi expressed concerns about the troubling practices he observed around organ donation in the United States (practices which he considers to be identical in Canada), for example, that the criteria for pronouncing you dead may have more to do with ensuring your body remains in a good condition for organ harvesting than with whether or not your body is, in actual fact, 100% biologically “dead”. Here are a couple of disturbing excerpts from that interview:

Q: Some of what you report is disturbing, especially the way doctors rushed to embrace the concept of brain death, even ignoring the brain-wave evidence of EEGs when they proved inconvenient. Why was that?

A: It’s all about the organs. The brain-dead are legally, but not biologically, dead. Their brain stems aren’t working, but vital organs still function—you’ll pee, maintain your body temperature, and your wounds will continue to heal. You may—it’s not certain, but you might—feel pain during surgery. You’re in this weird undead zone. It’s during that time your organs are taken. Why not wait until you’re dead-dead? Because the transplant people want your heart to continue beating, to keep the organs supplied with oxygen and nutrients, to make the organs more usable for their customers.

[…]

Q: You don’t have to throw money into the equation to see the compelling drive for organs, which links tightly to what you call doctors’ secular religion. They don’t believe the brain-dead have “personhood,” that they are alive in any real sense, not in the way the dying patients who need the organs are alive.

A: Not so fast. One study showed that 35 per cent of the doctors and nurses who worked directly with donors in the hospital believed they were alive, but didn’t care, they thought the organs were more important. And they also believe and frequently state—you’ll see it in every pamphlet from an organ bank—that when you’re brain-dead you’re never coming back. Well, of course you’re not coming back, although in the past some have. Now, though, your liver’s off in Mickey Mantle and your kidneys are being flown to some Kuwaiti oil sheik. You’re not coming back.

[I want to note that Teresi’s comments are obviously very provocative and you will need to decide for yourself what to make of them. A cursory Google search does not bring up any loud opposition from the medical community denying the practices he has observed. Nevertheless, and despite my own unease, I have chosen to remain an organ donor.]

I also sense, in discussions about organ donation, a certain amount of moral judgment. We can see this at play in a recent Slate article, Self-Driving Cars Will Make Organ Shortages Even Worse, by Ian Adams and Anne Hobson, in which concern is expressed over the effect the predicted reduction of vehicular deaths (a significant contributor to the U.S. transplant system) caused by safer, driver-less roads will have on those waiting for donated organs. Because most vehicular deaths can be attributed in some way to human error, these vehicular deaths are labeled by the article’s authors as “preventable.”  This label isn’t necessarily erroneous, however, the appearance of a word like “preventable” in a discussion about organ donation sets up a false moral dichotomy: on one side, you have the victims of vehicular accidents, killed by “preventable” incidents (which may therefore conceivably be their own fault), and on the other, the “innocent” patients on transplant lists, who are desperately ill through no fault of their own. You have on the first side, a dead person, who has already “lived a good life”, and on the other, a person who is still alive and wants the chance to do the same. There is a sense, in these discussions, that the transplant hopefuls have a right to the organs (especially when people use language like “organ shortage”, as if “supply” could, or ever should be, controlled for), and that the deceased, because they were driving dangerously, or because THEY haven’t suffered the way ill patients have suffered, or simply because they are dead, have forfeited this right, even though the organs in question come from their bodies.

Generally speaking, I tend to believe that the rights of the living should trump the rights of the dead, however, in this case, we are talking about a person’s body, the only thing they have left behind that we can say truly belongs to them. As harsh, and unfeeling, and as horrible as it sounds, if one of your own organs is failing, you have no right to expect to receive someone else’s (especially without their explicit consent), and the medical system has no right to promise it to you.

To put it another way, I hope that if you need an organ, you will receive one. But I am not comfortable with a society that massages its laws to try to guarantee you one. Once dead, human beings do not become used cars to be stripped for parts. They are still deserving of human dignity, and whatever human rights remain to them.

  1. These conversations assume continued reliance on human organ donation without looking to the future.

Since the first successful kidney transplant in 1954, the field of medicine has come a long way, including in the area of synthetic organ development (relatively new techniques, like 3D printing, present huge amounts of promise). Arguably, once the science is worked out, manufactured organs will be much better than their donated counterparts (they can be custom-fit, won’t have been “used”, they will be genetically neutral and adapted to the recipient and therefore the risks of rejection will be much lower, and they do not depend on the deaths of others). Instead of crunching the numbers on “organ shortages” as if we are not actually talking about REAL PEOPLE who have to die so that ”supply” can meet demand, we should be looking into how we can support other fields related to organ transplant, and to a future where no one needs an organ “donation”, and anyone whose organs are failing can have reasonable expectations of synthetic transplant.

However, until that day, the fact remains that we do have far more Canadians waiting in need of organ donation than we have suitable donated organs available. Incredible anguish is endured and lives are lost in the waiting. So what to do?

My humble suggestion is that before either our provincial or federal governments take any steps to adopt “opt-out” organ donation policies, that they first undertake comprehensive consultation with the public to find out exactly WHY so few Canadians are opting-in to organ donation in the first place. The reasons may be as varied as simply not getting around to signing up (a problem that, yes, opt-out policies would solve), to a lack of transparency and information about organ donation** and the rights of the donor, to serious concerns like those voiced in Teresi’s book.

Once these consultations have taken place, I would suggest that governments take meaningful steps to address any concerns brought forth, including making signing up (and making changes to your registration) for organ donation simple and easy, nationalizing organ donation registration systems to allow organ donations from Canadians who happen to die while travelling in other provinces, and by introducing a bill of rights for organ donors that allows the donor (or their family), rather than the medical establishment, the right to choose their preferred biological criteria for pronouncement of death and subsequent organ harvesting. Unless and until the provincial and federal governments of Canada can satisfactorily tackle these difficult life-and-death questions, I see no reason to entrust them with any kind of “presumed consent” over any part of my body, alive or dead.

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**During a dental surgery a year ago, a part of my gums was grafted with “Alloderm”, a product made from the skin tissue of (presumably American) cadavers. Since skin is technically an organ, the tissue in my gums actually came from organ donors. I assume these donors thought their tissue would be going to burn victims (much of it does) as opposed to being commercially sold to dentists’ offices and cosmetic surgeons for people who get boob jobs or brush their teeth too hard. This is just one of the many areas of non-transparency that concern me and I must confess I am ethically uneasy whenever I remember that part of my gums actually once belonged to someone else who may not have understood that their tissue could be sold.

2016 was NOT ‘the Worst’

I know that with Trump’s election, a long list of beloved celebrity deaths, and with refugee crises and atrocities abroad weighing on our hearts, many of us are glad to see the end of 2016.

In many ways, I can’t blame you. 2016, like many years, wasn’t exactly a bucket of rainbows for me. Rainy weather ruined my plans for a skiing “stay-cation” this February. My creative writing has taken a major back seat. I saw a lot more of doctors’ offices and medical labs than I would have liked. Brexit happened. So did terrorist attacks. Trudeau lied about his commitment to the environment (approving the Kinder Morgan expansion with neither social license nor scientific support), and Trump lied and bullied his way into the U.S. presidency. Post-truth is now a thing. The gleeful rise of racism, bigotry, and violence echoes a horrifying past most of us don’t care to revisit. Climate change is altering our weather patterns right before our eyes and no one seems to care. The cherry on the top for me, personally, was when my department reorganized this fall and I lost a job that I was good at, and which I enjoyed and found both personally and professionally fulfilling.

For other people, 2016 was much, much, worse. People lost loved ones. People lost their homes, or their health. People have been hurt, violated, let down in the worst ways. People in conflict areas like Iraq, Syria, and Yemen have been unimaginably traumatized and of course they aren’t the only ones. Obviously, for many of the humans on this planet, 2016 was a terrible year.

But for many of us (and by “many of us” I mean the kind of privileged westerner whose complaints about 2016 might appear in my Twitter or Facebook feeds), 2016 was really not that bad. For one thing, every single year since humans have been keeping track has seen its share of bloodshed, loss, and horror. We have survived through dark times, and we will again. Secondly, 2016 also brought a lot of good.

My nephew was born this year(!!!). A graduate project I undertook this spring proved challenging in ways I didn’t expect but ultimately pushed me to confront parts of myself that were long-buried, and to create something powerful and affecting. My family and friends are, by and large, doing well. Being unemployed has allowed me to spend more time with my husband and to appreciate what an incredibly giving and hardworking person he is. I’ve had some beautiful personal triumphs and countless little joys—lazy mornings, sunny walks, good books, good food, good company (plus a downstairs neighbour who is a professional jazz pianist and unintentionally filling my home with good music as I type this). And I KNOW that a lot of people calling 2016 “the Worst” would have similar private blessings, if they really thought about it.

As for the world at large, Canada’s own Chris Hadfield (former commander of the International Space Station), took it upon himself this morning to tweet about some of the great things that have happened in 2016:

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[Obviously I have not verified each item of Hadfield’s list but I’m sure if you Google any one of these achievements you’ll find some information about them. I screen-captured a few of my favourites but if you want to see the full list you can check out Chris Hadfield’s Twitter feed at twitter.com/Cmdr_Hadfield].

I’m tired of hearing about how “people suck” or how “2016 was the worst” or about how “human beings are the worst”. 2016 was NOT a flaming trash heap and neither are the people on this planet. There is bad, and there is good. There are families grieving a death right now and there are families welcoming a new baby. There are racists and misogynists and neo-Nazis and terrorists, but there are also strong and proud minority communities, activists and allies, resisters, water protectors, and White Helmets. There are inconsiderate assholes almost everywhere you look but there are also volunteers in hospital auxiliaries and non-profits and shelters and old folks’ homes and libraries and community centres. There is ignorance but there is also education. There are people inventing weapons and the next piece of consumer garbage, destined for the landfill, but there are also people discovering cures for diseases and looking for new ways to help our planet. There is death and change but also life and growth, destruction but also creation.

2016 is just a year in the calendar, just one trip around the sun. We can’t change what has happened in it, but we can change our attitudes, and I for one prefer to greet 2017 with hope, and maybe a little humility.

P.S. Be the change.

It’s time to support the White Helmets (Syrian Civil Defense)

When the bombs rain down, the Syrian Civil Defence rushes in. In a place where public services no longer function these unarmed volunteers risk their lives to help anyone in need – regardless of their religion or politics. Known as the White Helmets these volunteer rescue workers operate in the most dangerous place on earth.

https://www.whitehelmets.org/en

Once again, in the spirit of giving (and in the spirit of trying to be a human being), I write about an organization that most definitely deserves our support. As the most recently negotiated ceasefire in Syria has failed, and the international community has failed, and we have failed utterly in our responsibility to our fellow human and have watched, from a distance, once again, as innocent people die in Aleppo, we are, I hope, ashamed. We are also, very likely, feeling impotent.

The time to have helped, of course, was years ago, as we watched Assad cross one line (using military force against civilians), then another (using chemical weapons against civilians), with hardly a peep from our western world leaders because, hey, we didn’t want to piss off Russia. Or perhaps long before that, before the West began its ceaseless meddling that seems only to pile up the bodies in the Middle East and leaves us tut-tutting and wondering why people in hot countries can’t seem to solve “their” problems.

But anyhow, here we are, in the undesirable present. And now people are sending their good-bye messages from Aleppo**. They asked for help, they didn’t get it, and for most of them, there is nothing we can do now except remember them and feel ashamed.

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But there are some people who aren’t “on the other side of the world” from it all. They don’t care about the politics, they don’t care about religion. They are willing to put their lives on the line to help human beings, any human beings. They walk with their eyes wide open into nightmares. They risk being killed, and sometimes are killed, or injured. They have saved over 73 500 lives. They are neutral; they are unarmed; they are volunteers. They are the Syrian Civil Defense (the “White Helmets”, http://www.whitehelmets.org/en), and they deserve everything.

Please give whatever you can, knowing there is no amount of money that should make us feel better for what we have been complicit in. But give anyway. Give generously, even if you can only spare a little. Help someone else be braver than we have been, and to do good where we did not.

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**I’m including one of these messages  (taken from a longer message by Abdulkafi Alhamdo and shared by Al Jazeera) because it moved me. There are many many more. [Please note this video has nothing to do with the White Helmets, who are politically neutral, but Mr. Alhamdo’s words helped me to see the urgency of the situation so I thought it may be important here.]