Mon pays

Ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver

World Cup VII and the vicious snitch cycle

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Vicious snitch cycle

Vicious snitch cycle

This weekend past was World Cup VII, and I’m glad to say that McGill Quidditch did us proud. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go myself this year. I’m still nursing a hand injury from the 2013 Canada Cup, so I had to settle for following the games on Twitter.

Of course, quidditch just wouldn’t be quidditch if there weren’t some ongoing controversy about the rules of the sport itself. The sport is only a few years old, after all, and part of the fun is playing a game that hasn’t fully “settled” yet. This time, the debate centres on the issue of whether off-field snitching / seeking should exist.

I have included a tl;dr at the end of this post. Scroll down if you don’t want to read most of this.

The off-field snitch catch

The way that snitching / seeking is currently set up, it is possible (although not very likely if you have a good snitch) for the game to end with an off-field snitch catch. This is an anticlimax, and no one likes it when it does happen, but it’s part of the game, or at least it has always been part of the game so far.

The reason that quidditch exists in the first place

Before we get too far into debating the merits and demerits of the existence of off-field snitching / seeking, I think it’s worth establishing why it is that quidditch exists qua quidditch.

The whole reason for quidditch to exist is because some of us want to play a game that is similar enough to the fantasy sport from Harry Potter that it can be given the same name.

Whenever there is a proposed change to the rules of quidditch, one of the things you have to ask yourself is whether or not the game would even still be quidditch if the change took place. For example, there are, and always have been, certain players of quidditch who have argued that the more fanciful elements of the sport should be eliminated, to make for gameplay that is more like other sports. It’s not unheard-of for some to call for the brooms to be eliminated, for example. The answer to those people is that if they want a game where they throw a ball through a hoop without being on a broom, they should play basketball. Or if they want to play a full-contact sport moving a ball from one side of the field to the other without a broom, they should play rugby.

They argue that good players are leaving quidditch to play other sports because the whimsical elements of the sport are turning them off. It is not a bad thing that those players are leaving. To be blunt, if you don’t want to play quidditch—with some of the quirky and absurd elements inherited from its Harry Potter origins—go play something else. There are lots of options.

(If you disagree with me about this part, please don’t get stuck here. This is not the main part of my argument. I have included it only to try to put the evolution of the sport in perspective a bit. I am NOT making a “we must stay true to the books”-style argument here.)

Snitching is one of the things that makes quidditch unique

Throwing balls into hoops, or scoring a goal in a similar manner can be found in all kinds of different sports. Throwing a ball at other players is not unique to quidditch either.

You know what is unique about quidditch? The combination of these two games, done on brooms, along with the seeker / snitch game (which is unique in itself, and iconic of the sport as a whole).

I defy you to name me another sport that has a component that could be described as “long-distance hide-and-go-seek wrestling.”

The combination of these elements makes the sport interesting to watch, but it’s the whimsical roll-of-the-dice that is the seeker / snitch game that sets it apart. The game is not supposed to be taken entirely seriously. The game is not supposed to be a method for sorting teams into order of ability with perfect reliability. The game is supposed to be competitive, but also ridiculous and fun.

I feel like the people who are calling for the elimination of off-pitch seeking have seriously lost sight of that, and risk destroying the sport’s entire raison d’être.

The vicious snitch cycle

I have attached an image to this post, which I called “The vicious snitch cycle.” Start at the bottom-right, and it goes around in a more-or-less clockwise manner. In this diagram, I describe what I see as the main problems facing snitching. The problem is multi-faceted and cyclical, but it comes down to two main things, which snitching needs for it to “work” within quidditch:

  1. Quidditch needs good snitches who can get back to the field and get caught in entertaining and non-controversial catches most of the time (without compromising their own or others’ safety)
  2. Quidditch needs the good humour and sportsmanship of the other players

The vicious snitch cycle as I have described it has been cycling ever since I started playing quidditch. I first noticed it happening with a bunch of unfortunate off-pitch catches at World Cup IV.

Up until that point, when off-pitch catches happened, the reaction of players was largely, “Yeah it sucks, but that’s how the game goes sometimes!” There was, for the most part, a feeling that snitching was a difficult task to take on, and just because of the nature of the game, the outcome was a bit of a roll of the dice, and that’s exactly what we wanted from snitching—a little bit of the whimsy and magic that we are playing quidditch for in the first place.

After World Cup IV, the sport took a vicious turn toward the de-valuing of snitching: Rather than trusting snitches to up their game, or admitting that the problem was more about the venue for World Cup IV than the snitches, they imposed the seeker floor—a rule that says that seekers must wait a certain number of minutes before even starting to look for the snitch.

Complaining about snitches was thus legitimised by the actions of the IQA. If a game didn’t go the way you liked, you could complain that the snitch was bad. It was a great way to save face, and I admit with shame that I’ve made such complaints myself. This happened in the background of an ongoing upward trend in the competitiveness of quidditch (not a bad thing), as well as a corresponding decline in the sportsmanship, perspective and good humour that was characteristic of the game up until that point (definitely a bad thing).

Unfortunately, sometimes snitches are actually legitimately bad. This might be the case partly because of the under-valuation of the snitch / seeker game. By World Cup V, I can tell you from personal experience that every tournament I went to was short-staffed as far as snitches go. This led to non-snitches being asked to snitch at the last minute, and snitches running out of steam partway through the day because they are pushed too far.

And you can guess what happens when people constantly de-value what snitches do, given that snitching is very difficult (to do properly)—they stop doing it, or they stop doing it well, or they just stop caring. And then, snitching gets worse, players complain, and the cycle starts all over again.

The temptation is to make snitching easier, but unless snitching is difficult, and unless it’s valued by the quidditch community for what it is, it’s just going to get worse. Making the job easier by eliminating off-field snitching will only drive away the snitches who are there because they want a challenge—i.e. the good ones. Not only that, but the diversity of styles of snitching will be adversely affected.

I have assembled a few suggestions on how to make snitching better.

How NOT to fix snitching in quidditch

  • Reduce the scope and difficulty of snitching to the point where it’s fool-proof. The more you do this, the less people will train for it, and the worse snitching will become. You think it’s bad now? Wait until there are no dedicated snitches, and a snitch catch is worth only 10 points. The lower the stakes, the less anyone will care.
  • Think of bad snitching as something that is primarily an injustice to you as a player, rather than something that you are contributing to through complaining and inaction. Complaining about bad snitches is the first step toward having even worse snitches. It doesn’t solve anything. If you have some constructive criticism, go talk to the snitch herself. If you think you can do it better, put some yellows on and prove it. But have the maturity and the perspective to see that sometimes games won’t end the way you want them to.

How to improve snitching in quidditch

  • Individual teams must train snitches along with every other position. They must train athletes who are dedicated snitches only—not “half-snitch, half-chaser,” just “snitch.” I’m not saying there’s no place for hybrid player-snitches, but these should be the exception, not the rule. No matter how you slice it, if you have an athlete training for snitching 100% compared to that same athlete training for snitching 50% of the time, he’ll probably be a better snitch if he’s working toward it 100% of the time, and we should be supporting and encouraging that.
  • Don’t badmouth a snitch, and especially don’t do it behind a snitch’s back. If you want to discuss a snitch’s performance, do it with the snitch, and make the criticism constructive only. This goes double for snitches themselves, and if you catch another player badmouthing a snitch, you give them an earful about how snitches work their butts off, and that it’s a volunteer position. Maybe we could have a player code of conduct or something and this could be in it?
  • Do not ever blame the snitch if you lose a game. Even if the snitch wasn’t 100% on her game at the time she was caught, you should have the maturity to accept that the snitching / seeking aspect of quidditch is in some ways more like a roll of the dice than a foot-race. There’s a stochasticity to it, and that’s a good thing. Within limits, we like the fact that the length of the game is randomised a little bit this way. It’s exciting that a first-time seeker might just get lucky and do something that even an experienced snitch doesn’t anticipate. That’s part of what makes quidditch quidditch.
  • Make the recruitment of snitches to tournaments a high priority. This may mean that tournaments might be cancelled where insufficient snitches are available. We have to be okay with that in the same way that getting a minimum number of refs is essential for a tournament—you can’t have awesome snitches if you treat them as a low priority. It doesn’t work that way. If teams are required to bring a certain number of snitches, there could also be a minimum number of required snitches per team who are snitches only (i.e. not also on an official roster).
  • Choose tournament venues with snitching in mind. Not every field is a good place for quidditch. If there are limited hiding spots, it’s going to be bad news for snitching. You should be able to think of 2-3 good hiding spots per game that you plan to host. There should be a minimum of 2 ways for a snitch to return to the pitch. You should be prepared to admit that your school just might not have the right kind of physical location necessary to host a tournament.
  • Raise the bar on snitching. I know for myself personally, I started snitching partly because I wanted the challenge of something difficult. Make it a challenge. Keep the off-pitch seeking. Only use the seeker floor if the snitch is inexperienced or in the case of a very unfavourable locale.

In the end, we have two choices. We can either trust the quidditch community to step up its game and have the maturity and good humour to have fun, not just in spite of the stochasticity of the snitch game but because of it, or we can pander to the poor sports who will surely cry “it’s not fair” no matter how fool-proof and uninteresting snitching will become under more restrictive rules.


TL;DR

There will always be poor sports who will cry “it wasn’t fair” when they lose, and it’s convenient for them to blame the snitch. The temptation is to make snitching “fool-proof” by decreasing its scope and difficulty. The better way to deal with this problem is to address poor sportsmanship head-on and make snitching a higher priority within the quidditch community (specific suggestions outlined above), because: 1) it’s awesome; 2) it’s unique; 3) it’s an iconic part of the game; 4) the poor sports will complain about snitches no matter how fool-proof and uninteresting snitching becomes.


[Edit 2014-04-09: Added parenthetic paragraph to end of the section entitled, "The reason that quidditch exists in the first place" for clarity, and added tl;dr at the end.]


Answering machine message

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On a lighter note, the following is an answering machine message left at my mom and my little sister’s place. They do not sell anything with nozzles, nor are they involved in any business that provides support for a product with nozzles.

We’re not sure who “John” is, but we’re glad that he got the business with the nozzles figured out.


The morally tone-deaf handling of the Gee-Gees scandal by CBC and The Ottawa Citizen

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The University of Ottawa hockey team was suspended recently as a result of being implicated in a sexual assault scandal while at an away-game in Thunder Bay on the weekend of Feb 1, 2014. Today, The Ottawa Citizen and CBC both published articles highlighting how terrible it is that this happened—for the hockey team. They couldn’t be bothered to even consider the actual rape victim in either of their articles or CBC’s video.

For clarity, I’m assuming that the guys in these articles are just as innocent of the sexual assault as they say they are. The hockey player in the CBC video wasn’t even in Thunder Bay. This is not the issue.

But even if they had nothing to do with the sexual assault and even if they were completely ignorant of the whole thing, these articles and the CBC video are absolutely inappropriate and morally tone-deaf to the situation.

Names “smeared”

Burns, who wrote an open letter to the president of his university, complains that his good name has been “smeared.” The players’ names have not been smeared. University-level hockey just isn’t that big a deal to anyone who’s outside of it. No one knows their names, and anyone who does will be close enough that they can defend themselves.

Somehow CBC wants us to simultaneously believe that the suspension has irreparably hurt the future of the young man in the video while we sympathise with the lack of closure that he must be facing, due to the fact that he’s going on to semi-pro hockey abroad in a couple weeks. (Wait, I thought his future was ruined?)

Anyway, it’s not like we’re living in a world where being the perpetrator of a sexual assault carries much stigma. (C.f. CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville rape case.)

Betrayed by the university

These hockey players say they feel betrayed by their university. The university did not betray them. The teammate who committed a sexual assault betrayed them. The university is taking an appropriate action by holding off on honouring a team that has been implicated in an accusation of sexual assault. Can you imagine being the victim of the assault and knowing that your school was throwing a party for the hockey team, or holding a special ceremony in their honour?

These athletes won’t get to go to a couple of parties, and they might have to settle for having their jerseys mailed to them rather than being presented at a big ceremony. These are emotional wounds that will heal in time, I’m sure.

Basically, these articles are about some star athlete who, in light of someone having been raped, decided to write a letter to the media, and rather than writing a single word about how terrible it is that someone was sexually assaulted, he complains about how unfair this all is to him. In four words, his letter can be summed up as: “But what about me?”

Even though he’s a big-man hockey player, this whole situation just isn’t mainly about him, and he should have the perspective to see that. No, it isn’t fair that he doesn’t get to go to these parties, and I can understand him feeling frustrated. But by writing a letter like this, he is turning the situation around to focus on the plight of the “poor star athlete who doesn’t get to go to a party,” when in the big scheme of things, that is nothing compared to a woman who has to go through life dealing with the fact that a member of his hockey team raped her.

Media ethics—or, how CBC and the Ottawa Citizen failed

If I was just meeting one of these hockey players and we were hanging out casually, and he was saying how he wished he could go to the athletic department party or have his jersey presented at a special ceremony, I think I would totally sympathise with him. That’s natural—he’s supposed to enjoy those things. That doesn’t make him a bad person.

The problem is that the guy is publicly demanding that he be given these honours, and that in the face of an ongoing rape investigation. And to make it worse, reading over Burns’ letter, it’s not clear that he understands or even cares that someone was raped. It’s not mentioned once. It’s not even an afterthought. The letter, and the articles by CBC and the Ottawa Citizen lack a certain perspective that should be present when considering the consequences of an investigation of a sexual assault.

Despite its handling by the Ottawa Citizen and by CBC, the Big Story here is not (or shouldn’t be) “rape complaint ruins party for innocent hockey players,” and the big moral concern isn’t that younger hockey players might be discouraged from playing. Trust me, kids will play hockey whether you throw fancy parties for them afterward or not.

The Big Thing that we should be worried about is whether or not this kind of story discourages victims of rape from reporting it, and what this says about how we view sexual assault. By taking the focus off the appropriateness of the university’s response and pointing toward the “terrible injustice” done to these hockey players, we are implicitly saying that one complaint of rape is less important than 26 guys being denied the chance to go to a couple of parties. I don’t think that is the message that CBC or the Ottawa Citizen wanted to send, and I don’t think that’s the kind of world I want to live in.


Open letter to Pierre Poilievre, MP: Use the Fair Elections Act to finally get rid of First-Past-the-Post

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Dear Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet MP and Pierre Poilievre MP,

I am writing to you in regard to bill C-23, called “The Fair Elections Act.” Reforming the very basis of Canadian democracy is a very difficult task, and one that I am sure you wouldn’t even attempt without a very broad base of support from Canadians of all political persuasions and the considered input from many concerned citizens such as myself. No one wants the legitimacy of the democracy of Canada threatened by hasty and unilateral partisan legislation.

Hence, I have addressed this to both the MP for my own riding, as well as Mr Poilievre, the Minister for Democratic Reform (whose portfolio makes him especially responsible to all Canadians, regardless of riding or political affiliation). I eagerly await a thoughtful reply from both of your offices.

The Fair Elections Act is deeply concerning to me. It has been roundly criticised by scores of academics and experts on democracy both at home and around the world, as I’m sure you are both aware. The possibility that legitimate voters might be disenfranchised, or that incumbent candidates might be given an inappropriate advantage is very troubling, not to mention the decrease in the power and scope of Elections Canada, as well as the implications for voter privacy.

I share these concerns and think that many of these proposed changes will harm our democracy, rather than help it. Rather than calling for the bill to be scrapped entirely, I will assume the good faith of the intentions behind bill C-23, and call for The Fair Elections Act to be taken in another direction entirely. Canadian democracy is not perfect, and this discussion around bill C-23 offers us a chance as a country to decide how to really make our federal elections better.

If the goal is to reform Canadian elections to be more “fair,” we should take this opportunity to abandon the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system in favour of something like “instant-runoff voting” (IRV), in which voters rank the candidates in order of preference rather than voting only for a single candidate. This would eliminate the need for Canadians to “vote strategically” for candidates, and it would ensure a healthier democracy, in which alternatives to the major parties could be developed, without fear of “splitting the vote” between two similar parties. Political parties who are in power would have to work harder to ensure that they are accurately reflecting the will of their electorate.

Has there been any consideration of switching from FPTP to IRV in the framing of bill C-23? What will you do to ensure that this opportunity to truly reform our elections and move past FPTP is given fair, democratic consideration before this bill becomes law?

Best,

Benjamin Carlisle, MA


Online bonus content: Educational video re: “the alternative vote” or “instant-runoff voting” (IRV)


Copyright laws in Canada; Narnia; Tatooine

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I have a conspiracy theory that there is a common reason why the most recent Superman, Star Trek and Muppets films are all mediocre offerings at best, and the reason is that there are problems with copyright law. Please watch the following educational Youtube video, and continue reading below.

Required viewing

The problem with copyright is that it only allows for “corporate fan-fiction”

We all like to see old stories re-told. That’s just part of the human experience—taking ideas, building on them, and combining them with other ones in interesting ways. A large proportion of our culture could be described in this way. There are very few truly novel ideas out there.

The reason that you see Superman, Star Trek and Muppets re-makes at the movies is because the ideas that they’re based on still have some mileage left in them. We, as a culture, still want fresh new stories with Kermit the Frog, James Kirk or Clark Kent, and the underlying premisses and characters are still engaging enough that people will pay good money to see them.

To put this in other terms, humans really like fan-fiction. I’m not using the term in a derogatory way. Fan-fiction can be pretty awesome. (There is, of course bad fan-fiction too.) I’m just saying that we should include the Star Trek reboot in what we count as fan-fiction, since it’s a re-hashed creative work based on another artist’s original work.

It’s well-funded fan-fiction. It’s licensed fan-fiction. But it’s fan-fiction, nonetheless.

My theory is that we have “corporate fan-fiction” that tends toward suckiness because of the unwillingness of large movie studios to take the risk of doing something interesting with their work, combined with the lack of creative competition that extremely long periods of copyright affords them. This is why we’ll probably never see a black actor play Superman on the big screen. (Well, that and systemic racism.) This is also why we just had a re-make of Star Trek II (complete with a white-washed Khan).

Only one company owns the rights to make Superman, so there’s no competing studio making a more creative Superman film. Hence they can get away with selling us another film with the same premiss and the same villain and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

On the other hand, Sherlock Holmes is a character from a series of books that are now squarely in the Public Domain and there’s a whole industry of Sherlock Holmes re-imaginings. There’s a chapter in This Is How You Die that is Sherlock Holmes fan-fiction. The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis is, tangentally, Sherlock Holmes fan-fiction. (Don’t believe me? Read paragraph 2 of chapter 1.)

Moving from the written word to the screen, you can see Iron Man play Sherlock Holmes, then you can turn on the BBC and watch white Khan play Sherlock Holmes, then you can see (an even whiter) Lt. Cdr. Data play Sherlock Holmes, and to finish it off, on CBS there’s a Sherlock Holmes with a gender-swapped Watson, which I haven’t seen but I’ve heard is pretty good.

Brent Spiner as Data as Sherlock is pretty awful, I have to admit. But the nice thing about Sherlock Holmes is that if you don’t care for one version, you can move on to another one, and there are enough Sherlock Holmeses out there that one of them will likely strike your fancy.

The point is, after a certain point, copyright law stops encouraging creativity and starts stifling it, and when a creative work enters the Public Domain, brand new opportunities open up around it—not just downloading the original from Project Gutenberg, but taking the source material, re-mixing it, and telling a new story based on an old theme.

So the question becomes, what is entering the Public Domain these days?

Copyright law in Canada

The above video gives a very US-centric view of copyright law, but copyright law varies from country to country. As the video states, in 1998, US copyright was extended from 50 to 70 years after the death of the artist. The same thing happened in the UK in 1995. This never happened in Canada. In Canada, a creative work falls into the Public Domain only 50 years after the artist dies.

I was talking to my colleagues at work about this today, and thought to myself, Can I think of any authors that died 50 years ago? And I answered myself: Yes, yes I can.

C. S. Lewis died in 1963, hence his books are now in the Public Domain in Canada

Do you know what this means? First of all, it means that if you’re in Canada, contact me and I will email you ebooks of the complete Chronicles of Narnia, AND IT WILL BE COMPLETELY LEGAL. Or actually, here’s a link to Project Gutenberg Canada. You can get it for yourself there. (This is very exciting for me. Anyone who knew me in high school will be able to attest to how much of a C. S. Lewis nerd I was. This guy is probably the reason why I ended up with two degrees in philosophy.)

It also means that if you are a producer at a Canadian TV network, and you are so inclined, you can produce your own Narnia-based fan-fiction show, and sell it in Canada. And it’s in the Public Domain, so you can go any direction with the source material that you like, without consulting Disney, the publisher or C. S. Lewis’ estate.

No one can stop you from writing a story about a queer Muslim girl who goes to Narnia. You could make it a murder mystery with a gender-swapped Anne of Green Gables (“man of Green Gables”) who murders Mister Darcy in the land of Calormen. Sherlock Holmes would solve the case of course.

There’s a million creative angles that will never be explored by Disney. Why do the Pevensies have to be white and British? Could Aslan be a villain? What happened with the magic rings at the end of The Last Battle? CBC TV producers—contact me. I have ideas!

Any Canadian can make a gritty reboot of those bloodless and uninteresting Narnia films that Disney made a few years ago. If you do it in Canada, you don’t need Disney’s permission. (Note that the Disney Narnia films are still under copyright—it’s their source material, the books, that are in the Public Domain, and only in Canada, so you’d have to hold off for 20 years before bringing it to the US or UK market.)

The fact that Canadian copyright laws are different gives us creative opportunities that Americans and British people don’t have, and I think that by even further loosening up copyright laws here, Canada could become a world leader in producing new creative work.

My proposed copyright reform

Right now, Canada has a 20-year head start on Public Domain content as compared to the US and the UK. This is awesome. This is why all my Canadian readers are downloading The Magician’s Nephew to your e-readers as we speak, I’m sure.

Unfortunately, anyone who’s reading this from the US or the UK is out of luck. For the next twenty years, you’ll have to pay for stuff we can download in Canada for free. I’m not saying this (just) out of a sense of smug superiority. I’m saying this out of a genuine fear of creeping copyright law. I would love to see a whole bunch of Americans get really upset about the fact that I can download The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for free and they can’t, because a popular backlash against copyright extensions in the States might remove a bit of pressure for Canadian law to conform to the American and British standard of life + 70 years.

But do you know what would be even better? Rolling back copyright law in Canada to something like the 1710 Statute of Anne would be even better.

Like the video says, Star Wars: A New Hope was made in 1977, so it would be in the Public Domain by now. We could have different studios making competing Star Wars films. Who knows? The impending let-down that will be the upcoming Disney Star Wars films could even be avoided by a Canadian market where creative works enter the Public Domain in a reasonable amount of time.


Cross-posted to: https://medium.com/moral-and-political-philosophy/6bd11a437296


Why the PQ and its Charter of Values is racist

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On a couple occasions, I have been challenged by people who are upset when I say that the Parti Québecois and its Charter of Values are racist. While I disagree, I can understand their objection. On the surface, the Charter of Values makes no reference to race, and there are even non-white members of the PQ, so it might be hard to see how I make the case for racism.

Before I directly address the problem of racism in the PQ and the Charter of Values, there are two fairly non-controversial general propositions about oppressive systems like racism that I will briefly outline. Understanding these positions will clarify why I say that the PQ and the Charter are racist.

1. You don’t need to have a negative disposition toward a group to be party to that group’s oppression

One of the most self-centred conceits of whites regarding racism is the idea that it primarily exists as a state of mind for the white person—as if the biggest problem about racism is that it’s a character flaw for white people. (Mutatis mutandis for men and sexism, straights and homophobia, cis people and transphobia, etc.)

I see a parallel to this all the time when I implicitly or explicitly call out a straight person for something homophobic, and suddenly the biggest problem is that the straight person is offended at being thought a homophobe, not that something genuinely hurtful and oppressive happened to a queer person.

A society can be substantially sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. in which its citizens have a generally positive attitude toward women, people of colour, gays, and trans people.

This is because racism, etc. are systemic and institutional ways in which a society is structured to make life worse for the oppressed group, while maintaining privilege for that group’s complement. Racism, etc. are not primarily a matter of personal dislike between two individuals, although that is unfortunately also part of it.

For emphasis, even if every single person in Canada had a personal epiphany, repented and swore to never have a negative thought about any other person on the basis of her race, that would not affect the problem of racism in Canada in the slightest until we dealt with the laws, power structures, social norms, institutions, and systems set in place to privilege whites and make life harder for everyone else. Same thing goes for any other system of oppression (sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.).

Thus, appealing to the character or the intentions of a person or group (E.g. “They’re not racist! They don’t hate brown people because …”) is not a good argument against someone being racist, since racism is not primarily a matter of the state of mind of the group that is doing the oppression.

2. Even if a proposed piece of legislation doesn’t mention an oppressed group at all, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t oppressive to that group

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine there’s a group of legislators who propose a law, ostensibly to prevent voter fraud. Here is the proposed law in our thought experiment:

Everyone who wants to vote in Canada must bring a current government-issued photo ID and their birth certificate, and the names on the two documents must match each other exactly.

It is not hard to see why a law like this is sexist. (“But how can it be sexist? It doesn’t even mention women!”) It’s sexist because (except in Québec) it is common for women to change their names when they get married. Hence, such a law would systematically disenfranchise women more than men.

The important thing about this argument is that the oppressiveness of the law doesn’t turn on whether women are explicitly mentioned or whether the legislators had any hateful emotions toward women. The oppressiveness of the law toward women isn’t a function of the state of mind of the legislators at all. The only question that is relevant with regard to whether the law is sexist is whether or not it systematically makes life worse for women and not for men.

If you concede that a law like the one above is fairly clearly sexist, then it’s not a big cognitive jump to see why “Stand Your Ground” laws in the United States, for example, or even the Charter of Values here in Québec are racist. These are laws that systematically single out particular racial groups and not others, to make life worse for them. “Stand Your Ground” is racist because whites in the United States are overwhelmingly using it to murder blacks. The Charter of Values is racist because whites are using it to make life worse for non-whites.

It’s true that race is not mentioned in the Charter, but it is conspicuously silent on the subject, just like how there was no mention of women in the law in our thought experiment that if enacted, would disenfranchise most women. Even the prohibition on wearing very large and ostentatious crucifixes comes across as a transparent attempt to preempt accusations of racism. I grew up among very conservative Christians, and never once met a person who wore a large cross. Ever. I’ve never even heard of that happening among the most devout. I’m sure that the only reason that large Christian symbols were even mentioned is so that the PQ can say, “See? We’re not racist. The law will even apply to whites!” It certainly wasn’t included because there’s a problem with Christians wearing too many big crosses, threatening the neutrality of the state.

The Charter would not change life at all for white religious people. They already wear clothing that conforms to the Charter’s requirements. On the other hand, the Charter will cause crises of faith for many non-white religious people, make them feel unwelcome in Québec, and remove any representation they would have otherwise had in positions of authority in the province. The fact that this prohibition is invoked under the banner of “neutrality” is laughable.

So even though there is no mention of race, the Charter is racist because it systematically targets non-whites to take away their freedom and make their lives worse.


Sexism and bitcoin

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I make it no secret that I have a bit of a crypto-anarchist streak. In a post-Snowden world, who doesn’t? Over the last little while I have taken to chatting off-and-on in a number of IRC channels, and the following exchange took place on an IRC channel for bitcoin.

I am “bgc” here. The text has been slightly edited for clarity (a bunch of “user x has logged on” and other unrelated conversations were removed).

[1:57pm] hinv:
crashoveride you guys act like the woman is the boss….have you no testicles?
[1:58pm] GenTarkin:
lol
[1:59pm] crashoveride:
hinv: are you single?
[1:59pm] hinv:
are you so weak or so desperate or dependent that you won’t send them packing if try to usurp?
[1:59pm] grnbrg:
o.O
[1:59pm] hinv:
no, I have a wife and several children
[1:59pm] bgc:
hinv: you are such a misogynist douchewad
[1:59pm] crashoveride:
^^ this
[2:00pm] grnbrg:
bgc++
[2:00pm] hinv:
I am head of the household and the whole family knows it.
[2:00pm] bgc:
hinv: you are a *douchewad* of a husband and the whole family knows it. there. fixed it for ya.
[2:00pm] bgc:
hinv: are you also racist and homophobic, or just sexist?
[2:01pm] hinv:
no, I am not a woman hater or racist or homophobic
[2:01pm] hinv:
define sexist
[2:02pm] hinv:
bgc let me guess, you are a female usurper of your man(or wimp that should be one)
[2:05pm] bgc:
hinv: what, you say that like you need to personally have a vagina to treat women like they’re people
[2:08pm] hinv:
bgc there are people who have vaginas.  Those are called female.  Then there are people who have penus’s who are called male. I would have thought you would have learned this many years ago.
[2:09pm] hinv:
It’s just that I don’t fear women or let them rule over me.
[2:10pm] bgc:
hinv: and i would have thought that you would have figured out years ago that dismissing what a person says on the basis of their sex is not just sexist, but so fucking sexist
[2:11pm] _ImI_:
lol “fear woman” lol
[2:11pm] hinv:
bgc I don’t dismiss what you say because you are female, but because what you say is wrong and irrational.
[2:11pm] Luke-Jr:
females don’t use IRC.
[2:11pm] vic0:
lol
[2:12pm] hinv:
I know several women that don’t speak such foolishness.
[2:12pm] grnbrg:
hinv, where’d you get the idea that bgc is female?
[2:12pm] hinv:
bgc you make such unwarranted assumptions and attach unfounded labels.
[2:13pm] grnbrg:
That you are a douchewad is no longer an unwarranted assumption….
[2:13pm] hinv:
grnbrg I don’t know.  I guessed, and didn’t get an answer.
[2:14pm] hinv:
grnbrg is bgc a female?
[2:15pm] grnbrg:
No idea.  I wouldn’t make such an assumption without evidence just because they disagreed with me.  I’m not a douchewad.
[2:16pm] hinv:
this was directed at me after I answered bgc ” dismissing what a person says on the basis of their sex is not just sexist, but so fucking sexist”
[2:21pm] hinv:
and considering the other content of the argument ie slander and irrational assumptions, I would guess that bgc is a female. doesn’t that seem reasonable to you?

Just in case you weren’t sure that sexism was still alive and well among crypto-anarchists.


A response to the hatred from the TDSB: Pride should be offensive

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Pride is a political protest, not just a big party

Whatever else Pride is, it’s a political protest highlighting the ongoing plight of sexual and gender minorities. Sure, it’s also a parade, a big party, a chance for gay guys to put on their most revealing clothes and hook up with other gay guys, but at its core, Pride is about the dignity and rights of sexual and gender minorities, which are still a hated and vulnerable group in Canada.

Events like Pride are important because Canada is a country where people who live outside the sexual / gender mainstream are regularly the object of abuse ranging from actual physical life-threatening violence to institutional and systemic discrimination and all the way down to daily micro-aggressions. Straight people often don’t realise that this still happens (“But we have gay marriage in Canada!”), or even worse, they sometimes try to paint themselves as the ones being oppressed. Being able to deny that this hatred exists is just one more privilege of being straight. Don’t forget: less than a month ago, the mayor of Toronto himself was doing his darnedest to keep the rainbow flag off city hall while the Olympics were being held in a country where non-straights are persecuted openly and explicitly.

This is why Pride is not just an exercise in frivolity and licentiousness. It is an important political movement. We haven’t “made it” yet.

The true meaning of Christmas Pride

Pride, figure 1

Pride, figure 1

The point of Pride is emphatically not that non-straight people are just like straight people, and therefore they deserve to have equal rights and be treated with equal dignity. That is the opposite of what Pride is for. If that were the goal, it would be called the “Gay Integration Festival” or something like that. Instead, it is called “Pride,” as in “I’m proud of the fact that I’m different from the sexual / gender mainstream, and I don’t need to deny who I am or assimilate to the mainstream in order to be valuable.”

The point of Pride is to emphasize the fact that there are sexual and gender minorities that are different in a lot of ways, and even though you may be offended by the fact that there are people who are different from you, non-straight people are still human beings with rights and you still have to treat them like human beings—with a certain amount of respect and dignity.

Thus, prominently featuring drag queens, sexual fetishes, strippers, and people in various states of undress is a political statement. The fact that it is offensive to the mainstream is a part of that statement.

This means that the (semi) nudity at Pride is not gratuitous in the slightest. If you want gratuitous (semi) nudity, watch the newest Star Trek film. (That’s right. I said it. The varying degrees of undress in most mainstream films is less defensible than the varying degrees of undress at Pride. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, conservatives.)

“The gays would get their message across better if they cleaned themselves up a bit”

CBC comments

CBC comments

You hear this from ostensibly well-meaning “allies” or even from gay people themselves—the argument that straight people would be more likely to accept non-straight people if they were less flamboyant, or if they were less in-your-face about it.

What’s scary about hearing this sort of thing from straight people is that they don’t even see how utterly dehumanising it is to make their acceptance of us as humans conditional on us “cleaning ourselves up.” As if our benevolent straight overlords get to choose who is treated with dignity and endowed with human rights and who isn’t on the basis of how they perceive us. And of course, if we don’t act the part, they get to revoke those privileges. That is exactly the opposite of what Pride is about, and suggesting that Pride be “cleaned up” and made “family friendly” totally misses the point of the whole political movement.

To ask for a Pride that’s had all the offensive, lewd and sexual parts removed would be like asking a labour union that’s on strike not to mention the terrible wages or the unsafe working conditions.

To ask for a Pride parade that’s just a bunch of cute monogamous gay and lesbians couples holding their adopted children is to even further marginalise all the other sexual and gender minorities. What could be more cruel than telling someone who’s a minority within a minority that the festival that’s supposed to be celebrating his/her differences is embarrassed by him/her?

It’s even more disheartening to hear the “Pride should be cleaned up” line from gay people.

Maybe you would be okay if it were a “gay integration festival” rather than Pride. Maybe you want to find your masc-for-masc gay guy (no fems!), get married, buy a house in the suburbs, wear sweater-vests, adopt a kid and enjoy all the straight privilege that you can. (“You’re gay, but you’re just like one of the guys, you know?”) If you want that, go and do that. I sincerely hope the life you choose is fulfilling and happy.

But don’t you dare try to co-opt a political movement for your own narrow ends when its goals are broader than just extending straight privilege to those who “clean up well.”

“Won’t someone please think of the children”

The bigots on the TDSB have framed their objection to Pride in terms of upholding the laws regarding nudity and protecting children. How pious of them. (Have you ever noticed that in debates touching on sexual morality, there’s always someone who cries out, “Won’t someone please think of the children!” By the way, the answer to that style of argument is almost always: “We are thinking of the children, and some of those children happen to grow up to be the people that you’re demonizing.”)

Their argument is that if a person were to be naked in public in any other context, she would be breaking the law regarding public nudity. This may of course be true, but the fact remains, we’re not talking about any other context. We’re talking about Pride. I would presume there’s also a law against driving a truck down the middle of a street at 5 km/h carrying an extra-wide load with dancers on it, but we make an exception in the case of the Pride parade, because we all agree that allowing this kind of political expression is more important than always slavishly enforcing this (otherwise valid) traffic law.

The reason for a law against public nudity is presumably to protect vulnerable people from aggressors who might use nudity to threaten them. Nobody wants to live in a place where some creeper can make you feel unsafe by following you around and then flashing you from underneath his trench-coat on the métro. I’m not suggesting that the public nudity law needs changing.

That said, we should realise that the reason for the law against public nudity is not to stifle valid political expression. (Sorry, TDSB!) The lewd and offensive nature of Pride is not gratuitous and incidental. It is an essential part of the core message, and frankly, anyone who comes to Pride should know beforehand to expect to see some skin.

The right of non-straights to protest ongoing hatred, discrimination, intimidation, bullying and violence against sexual and gender minorities is more important than the right of a few prudes not to get offended by seeing the human anatomy while attending the Pride parade.

And if by chance there’s a certain someone from the TDSB reading this, say a homophobic trustee who thinks that he can hide his hatred and bigotry under the holier-than-thou camouflage of respect for the law, I want you to know—from the bottom of my heart—that you can go suck a bag of dicks.


Don’t make life harder for sex workers—make it illegal to discriminate against them for employment and education

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The Supreme Court of Canada has recently struck down the laws regarding prostitution, saying that they were putting sex workers in danger. The reasoning behind the court’s judgement was to make life easier and safer for a group that is often hated and is definitely vulnerable. Rather than heeding the clear spirit of the decision, some have taken this as an opportunity to find other ways to be cruel, judgemental and to try to bring about harm or make sex workers unwelcome in their communities.

The most repugnant part of all this is that many of those who most vehemently argue for tougher restrictions—laws to make life even harder for sex workers—these people do it out of a misguided sense of moral superiority. As if it weren’t hard enough to do sex work. As if there were something admirable about stacking the deck against them.

Due to the judgement, the government has one year to pass new legislation on the subject. In an uncharacteristically democratic move on the part of the Harper government, Ottawa has asked for public input on the subject.

Some (terrible) options that have been proposed

The Ministry of Justice website lists a few options for new legislation (see Table 1), one of which is prohibition. The government may decide to pass a law banning sex work in Canada. This will make it illegal to buy sex and to sell it. Under such a law, sex workers would become criminals.

I would like to point out the obvious. A law like this cannot make prostitution go away. This will only push sex workers further out to the margins of our society and reinforce a cycle of violence and exploitation against them. If you advocate for a position like this, you are not advocating for the non-existence of prostitution. You are just advocating for the destruction of the lives of a hated and vulnerable group of people. If you care about the well-being of others at all, you can’t endorse such a position.

Another option is “abolition,” or the so-called “Nordic model.” This would make the purchasing of sex illegal, but keep the selling of sex legal. Under this kind of a law, anyone who buys sex would be a criminal, but it would be perfectly legal for the sex workers to provide it.

Again, let’s not kid ourselves. A law cannot make prostitution go away. While this option will mercifully keep sex workers out of jail, it’s not exactly a huge step toward making life easier and safer for them, and it will keep them and their work at the margins of our society, away from the benefits and privileges of the mainstream, which the rest of us enjoy. If you can’t see how this kind of law can only continue to marginalise and generally perpetuate violence against sex workers, I don’t think I can explain it to you.

Here’s a better idea

Let’s imagine for a moment that we, as a society, were actually serious about helping sex workers. This is clearly the spirit of the Supreme Court decision, at least. If we wanted to help sex workers, and not just in the paternalistic “I’m helping them by giving them a good incentive to stop being a whore” sense of the word, we could use this opportunity to refine the law in such a way that it gives them some options. For example, we could make it really easy for people to get out of sex work.

Here’s my idea: Pass a law making it illegal in the context of education or employment to discriminate against a person on the basis of a past work history that includes sex work, stripping, porn acting, etc.

I’m not so naïve to think that this will suddenly end all the subtle ways in which a history of sex work can make it difficult for someone to get or keep a job, or to enrol in school or stay in school. But at the very least, we can eliminate the obvious ones. It’s kind of like how we have laws to say that you can’t reject job applications from gays, women or blacks because they are gay, women or black. It doesn’t eliminate homophobia, sexism, or racism, but I wouldn’t want to live in a country that didn’t have such laws.

Most of the people reading my blog are pretty privileged, so you may not understand this, but not everyone can afford not to be a sex worker (or a stripper or a porn actor). Why on earth should anyone have to worry about being expelled from her school or not being able to get a job later in life for doing what she has to do to make ends meet?

Not only that, but some people choose to do sex work, and not out of dire financial need, and it’s not the place of the government of Canada to enforce Christian sexual values on everyone who lives here. So if your major hang-up regarding the endorsement of something that isn’t a total ban on prostitution is religiously motivated, that is not a reason to make it into a law for everyone else. It may be a fine motivation for your own decisions and actions, but the enforcement of your private religious beliefs would be an abuse of the power of the state.

In the end, it comes down to what we think this law is supposed to do. Is our highest priority that we use the machinery of the state to punish those who deviate from Christian sexual norms, or is our highest priority that every single person in Canada (whether they share the same sexual morality or not) is safe, and has a fair shot at a good life?

The obvious objection—”won’t somebody please think of the children”

I can hear the obvious objection coming from the conservatives out there—why should we want to make like easier for prostitutes? If being a prostitute or a stripper or a porn actor isn’t something that will follow my daughter around for the rest of her life, what can I tell her to dissuade her from becoming a sex worker?

I have two answers to that.

First, that line isn’t what’s keeping people from going into sex work.

Second, if it is your daughter who ends up in sex work, you will want the government to help her get out of it, and a law against discriminating against her on the basis of her sex work history will help.

If you want us to “think about the children,” then let’s also spare some time to think about the children who end up as prostitutes too.

Table 1: The options for new prostitution legislation, according to the Ministry of Justice

Selling sex legal Selling sex illegal
Buying sex legal What we had in Canada up until the Supreme Court decision* Even the Tories knew better than to suggest this
Buying sex illegal The “Nordic model” or “abolition” “Prohibition” or the “American model”

* With some restrictions. E.g. “living off the avails” of prostitution was illegal.


If I were the philosopher-king of the world

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  • All measurements would be metric, even in America. This would include recipes. (“T” is different from “t”? Why?)
  • The 12-hour clock would be abolished in favour of a 24-hour clock.
  • Time zones would be abolished. Every clock would be set to GMT, Beijing time, I don’t care, just make it consistent.
  • Dates would be written in compliance with ISO 8601.
  • Daylight savings time would be abolished.
  • The calendar would be reformed to something that makes sense.
  • Academic references and style guidelines would be standardised across all disciplines and publications once and for all. Academic citations would be hyperlinked in all electronic versions.
  • Usernames and passwords would be gone forever.
  • DRM would be illegal, and for that matter, copyright / patent law would be a very different thing.
  • There would be a universal maximum wage, indexed to a universal minimum wage, and a guaranteed basic income.
  • Copyright on a creative work would last 28 years only. No extensions. (Ahem, Disney.)
  • The laws regarding royal succession for Canada would be changed such that the queen of Canada is chosen by random lottery among Canadian citizens.

I have opinions.


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