Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Disaster relief as a right

So in watching the news from Haiti, I keep coming back to one thing: there are lists of who has given aid, and the lists are long and generous. It's nice to see. All the private efforts have been wonderful. Governments have also done much. Etc. etc. etc.

But I can't help imagining myself as a Haitian, watching news reports of governments patting each other on the back about the size of their donations. Wondering whether or not the nations of the world will come to their aid. Worried that it will make the world feel that Haiti 'owes them something'.

I'm saying nothing about private aid, but when it comes to the international community of nations, I'm starting to think disaster relief needs to be seen as a right, not a privilege or an act of charity. Charity it certainly is, but it's something that the people of Haiti need and something that the people of Haiti shouldn't have to wonder about. Organisations should be established that immediately dole out government aid when disasters strike. From each country according to its ability, to each country according to its need. No 'tied aid', no changes in aid associated with changes in government or bad economic times. No preferential treatment for neighbours or 'friendly countries'. Many countries already have organisations like this internally; the UN needs one.

Monday, January 11, 2010


So I have Sitemeter on all of my blogs. It allows me to compulsively track who uses my blogs. And believe me, compulsively do I track. I like stats at the best of times, and in this particular case the human element is amazing to me. Where people come from, how they get to my blogs... on the off chance that anyone links to one of my blogs, it'll show up.

The off chance. It hasn't really happened so far... I've seen one or two referrals from sites that appear to use some kind of trawling system to automatically link blogs. They don't show much evidence of human content, are good for two or three hits and then fade away. Every now and then I see a referral from Hotmail or Gmail or something - meaning someone has e-mailed another person a link to my site. That's gratifying, but I can't follow up on it or see what it is. The only real referral I've had so far was just a few days ago, when my blog, "Better as a Single" started getting hits from Twitter. It was gratifying, because I was feeling that that blog was particularly unloved and was thinking of retiring it. It was only good for 20 or so hits, but that was a huge number for that undernourished blog. And so, since I keep a Twitter account that I rarely used, I logged on to see what it was. Turns out it was the Sleeveface guy, someone who's published a book, a book I've seen for sale and flipped through in Indigo or wherever it was. So someone who I can scan as a 'celebrity', however minor, gave me a shout-out. And once on Twitter I asked Yoko Ono a question and she answered it... Ah, I'm all a-flutter with the flush of celebrity hobnobbing...

Anyway, it turns out that this referral business is quite a boost. Makes you feel that people out there actually are reading you. And, of course, Sleeveface guy beats the other shout-out referral currently ticking away my Sitemeter numbers... the fact that I titled an entry of this current blog 'Jailbait' has it showing up in an autotrawling site called, glory be, www.jailbaitgallerypics.com. Ah, may parents would be proud...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Uniting the Left

EKOS Research Associates has released a poll about Canadian voters' intentions after Harper's decision to prorogue parliament. Looking in detail at the poll, there's little that surprises me and, as i suspect, much that angers me.

What angers me is this: we currently have a government doing what it can to redraw the political map of Canada, destroying the goodwill and image Canada enjoys internationally, and doing so with, at the moment, the support of less than one in three Canadians. To call this scandalous is to say too little.

What really concerns me, though, is the fact that the increasingly conservative face of Canadian government is occurring at a time when Canadian society is not at all becoming more conservative. The media love to play up parliament as a tug-of-war between Conservatives and Liberals, and when the LPC was under Stephane Dion, some of us on the left even allowed ourselves to fantasise that the Liberals were a left-wing party, but the reality is that the LPC is determinedly dead-centre, and Canada can never be anything less than a three-strain society (without the elimination of the Liberal Party, I should say, à la the UK or, functionally, BC).

And that being the case, the left is kicking ass in Canada right now. It's just tough to see it. I believe that Canada has three progressive parties: the NDP is the benchmark by which Canadian progressivism is measured, the BQ (despite the English-Canadian media's obsession with painting it a one-issue party) is explicitly left-of-centre, and the Greens (despite Jim Harris's wrong-headed attempt to turn it into an economically and socially 'neutral' party in order to grab Sierra Club types) are eternally the natural allies of the left. These three parties have an overwhelmingly large common ideology and, between them, are currently polling 39.2% nationwide, significantly more than the CPC's 33.1% or the LPC's 27.8%. I think, to a certain extent, you can also look at the Liberals' 27.8% and acknowledge that it includes (a) people who might vote for a progressive party if they thought one existed that could reasonably form a government and (b) Dionist Liberals who, let's face it, have been usurped by their party's pragmatic wing and hung out to dry.

I love the NDP, have voted for it all my life, and consider Tommy Douglas and Ed Broadbent personal heroes. Which is precisely why... I'm starting to wonder if it's time to give up on the NDP. I think the left really needs to reorganise, and while it's the perpetual NDPer dream that the left reorganise under a New Democrat banner, I'm starting to think that's unrealistic. I know that the Greens get votes from people who see the NDP as 'just another traditional(ist) party', and the BQ get votes from people who could never stomach voting for such a staunchly federalist party (this also makes the NDP a dismal fourth in Alberta). I kind of think the left needs a reboot in some way, and we need to take some lessons from the governing party (a coalition of two very different right-of-centre parties) that, in a first-before-the-post system, the things that unite voters need to be stressed among the things that divide them.

EKOS says that the CPC's decline in fortunes in Québec has to do with Afghanistan, climate change and the gun registry. The tendency for us to insist that Québécois politics revolve solely around constitutional issues is frustrating, given that Québécois themselves regularly consider a whole panoply of issues when voting federally - issues that tend to be the natural playing ground of the left. All three of those issues ought to be things that a united progressive voice can keep in the public eye nation-wide. No united-left voice can exist in Canada without Québec (I think that the NDP's dismal historical performance in Québec is perhaps its single greatest handicap), so I think... and it might be a bitter pill to swallow... but I think that a united-left party would have to get rid of the NDP's staunch commitment to federalism. That might drive the federalist vote in Québec into Liberal hands, but it's kind of already there. The Left in Québec tends to be philosophically seperatist. The Left in the Rest-of-Canada needs to get over that. The only way the Conservatives have been able to take power in Canada in, well, my whole life has been by courting seperatists. I think that a United-Left party needs to affirm its commitment to a united Canada and to a Canada where certain fundamental rights are guaranteed to all citizens by the federal government, but otherwise one that respects the rights of each province toward self-determination. And above and beyond that, it needs to stay out of the Constitutional arena (or - my wet dream - turn Constitutional politics into discussion about the Senate and about the monarchy, as opposed to about Québec's role in Canada). When the media knee-jerks their response that the party is in bed with 'those who seek to destroy Canada', it would (instead of dragging its tail and hiding) turn this lie right back in the face of the media - it would make a deliberate point to play up its Québec connections and say that alienating the Québec vote does nothing for Canadian unity, and that inclusion is the only way to keep Canada strong. It would demand that the media stop dragging up old emnities and allow the left to move forward in Canadian politics.

A United Left party needs to be very strongly environmentalist. And - this is key - it needs to constantly keep the message that European Greens know, the message that green politics are indivisible from red politics; that environmental self-sufficiency is only possible in a context of greater fiscal and social equality. I fully respect the right of Green parties to exist, but I think the GPC needs to consider the extent to which it has constantly Ralph Nadered progressive interests here in Canada. The world ought to have Green Parties, but the world ought also to have proportional representation, and without the latter, I'm not sure how practical the former are. Especially one that recently has gotten way to deep into bed with the Liberal Party. I would actually dearly love a United-Left party to nominate David Suzuki for Prime Minister. How exciting would that be?

A United Left party would proudly be partners with organised labour. It would start by adressing the fundamental lunacy of unions in Québec voting for a different party than unions in the rest of the country. It would also, however, grant that its unflinching support of the Canadian worker means that the party's public agenda and public image ought to be driven by other factors: I love the union system dearly, but I think the NDP's emphasis on the Canadian worker gives it an outdated, behind-the-scenes image in the minds of many young Canadians, which is in no small part why the Greens are outpolling the NDP in under-25s by fully three percent.

Additionally, a United Left party would not be a party that preaches 'tolerance' of diversity, of immigration, of equality of gender and sexuality. A United Left party would say that 'tolerance' is for Liberals and Conservatives to argue about: a United Left party would actively embrace diversity. A United Left party would say that diversity is a defining part of Canada. Diversity is who we are, and the social progress that the Conservatives are dying to cut back is the very essence of Canadianism. A United Left party would actively seek to pull the immigrant vote away from the Liberals, something the NDP, for all their efforts, has not been able to do even as well as the Bloc. It would do this with real policy: with pro-immigration platforms and realistic efforts to adress the needs of New Canadians as much as old. It would put full, unequivocal equality of gender and sexuality directly in the preamble of its party constitution, and it would never in any way hide that or step back from it or see it as anything less than a point of strength. It would campaign even in rural Alberta with rainbow flags flying, if need be.

A united, ascendent, ambitious Party of the Left in Canada would pretty much immediately have the youth vote. It would, I think, be able to keep most of the traditionalist lefty vote too (not all, admittedly: the NDP has always had the support of certain social conservatives who might drift to the CPC as a 'grassroots' alternative). It could, I would hope, convince seperatists and environmentalists alike to give it a try (it could also, incidentally, make an immediate commitment to Proportional Representation, acknowledging the long-term value of a federal Green Party, under the right circumstances). It could quickly be a major force on the Canadian landscape, one that truly allows the Progressive Majority in this country the voice it deserves. Dogmatically, it's 95% possible, and the 5% of policy differences that might cause problems could, I hope, be deferred for later, once Canada's current Crisis of Democracy has passed.

It's so tantalising. It's so attractive. It's so obvious. Could it happen? Sigh. Well... I wouldn't even know where to start.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Bushfires pose a high risk to Eucalyptus plant...Image via Wikipedia
Just a memory that's been on my mind lately...

It's the summer of 1993. I'm working at a tree plantation, picking weeds. It's a horrible job, up at 4 to start work at 6 out in the boons, sunstroke every other day, dirt stains on your fingers that just never go away... the foreman was regularly stocked with that kind of speed that used to be legal at American truck stops, so we'd speed our way through the piecework, every now and then touching our heads to feel that tingling-handprint that cheap speed will leave on your scalp.

Anyway, I'm 19 and I'm working to save up a bit of money over the summer between high school and university. Most of the rest of the crew are men in their thirties and forties working their mandatory 90 days in order to go back on unemployment. A few weeks in, a girl starts. From the area where we were working (so small-town) and, as I recall, 15. Sweet at hell and quite pretty too. So she gets started, and she and I get along really well. You know, just share the same head-space, laugh at the same jokes, whatever. The other crew members, undersexed pervy old men, start talking about how she's 'jailbait'. They say it to each other, and they say it to me, in a watch-out-son kind of way.

So, properly spooked, I maintain that respectful distance and go all big-brothery on the girl. Spend the rest of the summer strictly hands-off and 'platonic' and whatever. I've been thinking about this because at the time it seemed so clearly the 'right thing to do' - 19 is an adult and 15 is a kid. In our rush to become 'adult', we go out of our way to draw lines between ourselves and people who are still 'kids'. Looking back on it now, though, I'm really not sure there's anything really all that untoward about a 19 year old guy and a 15 year old girl. Or is there? I'm not sure.

The one thing, though, that weirds me out is this: like it or not, I can come to terms with the fact that I'm 34 years old now. But to think that that girl is 30 now? That's just incomprehensible to me. It seems impossible.
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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Relying on Google Search

So far, with the limited time that I've had, I think it's fair to confess that I've spent more time developing my blogs than I have promoting them. Which is not to say I've done no promotion, but I think it's fair to describe my getting-the-word-out efforts so far as 'scattershot'. I still get a large percentage of my hits from random Google searches.

One of the things that's enjoyable about Google searches is that a lot of trackers, including Sitemeter, which I use, will show you what the person who accessed your site via Google was searching for. So while someone who, for example, has a website devoted to Michael Jackson would be unsurprised to find someone searching for "Michael Jackson" or "Michael Jackson death conspiracies" turning up on their site, it's fun to find someone searching for something random like "Was Michael Jackson Egyptian?" or "Michael Jackson's bathroom habits".

Actually, I do have a site devoted to Michael Jackson. And I'd be surprised to find someone accessing my site after searching for "Michael Jackson", because that search will generate millions of hits and bring up commercial sites way before mine, which is probably buried on page 55 of results. It's an odd mix of off-the-beaten-path and still-searchable that brings results. You can never predict it. I have a site devoted to songs I think are terrible, and it regularly gets hits by people searching for Joanie Sommers, a highly obscure singer from the sixties. I guess for whatever reason there's a tiny bubble in the supply-demand ratio for 'information on Joanie Sommers', and my blog in some way seems to fill that. Who knew...

I have a blog called "Things with Awesome Names", where I talk about things merely because their name intrigues me. Like all of my blogs, it was struggling, stumbling along with random hits until a month or two ago I noticed a consistent pick-up in hits: analysing them revealed: (1) People were coming from Google Image Search looking for an (admittedly pretty) actress named Emanuelle Chriqui. My picture, or rather my hotlink to Wikimedia Commons, for whatever reason ranked high in results for image searches for this girl. Why? I have no idea. (2) People who were asking Google how to pronounce 'apl.de.ap' (from the Black Eyed Peas) were getting referred to my site (where I didn't answer the question but merely wondered aloud myself how it was pronounced). There were dozens of topics that I'd written about that I got no, or almost no, Google-based hits from. But these? They were bringing in visitors lieft, right and centre.

And then just as randomly, it stopped. "Things With Awesome Names" went back to begging for visitors. Then, I wrote a blog making fun of a Filipino celebrity named Dingdong Dantes, illustrated it with the cheesiest picture I could find of the guy, and watched the blog sit unloved for, like, a month. Then, out of the blue, I'm getting constant hits again from Google Image Search, constantly for this guy. And Sitemeter is telling me my blog's audience is like 20% Filipino and that more people are going to the page about him than even to the blog's main site. Why? Where did it come from? I have no idea. I also don't know why my hotlink to that picture gets hits instead of the original source of the picture. I know that Google favours its own, and technically all Blogspot blogs are 'Google's own', so there's a bit of favoured nation status happening. But the randomness of it makes me giggle.
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