Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rights and Riots

Society is to blame!
All right, we'll arrest them.

Monty Python

As I write this, a 17-year-old elite athlete is grappling with the uncertainty of his career as he waits to confront the consequences of his actions. Charges have been laid, a trial probably awaits, he must begin the lifelong challenge of carrying his guilt for his actions and amid all of this there is probably a great deal of uncertainty about his athletic career as well.

And he gets to do this in the anonymity that is afforded him as a minority.

More recently, another 17-year-old athlete, has found himself weighing similar concerns about his future, but has not been able to do so in the anonymity that we normally grant youth under the laws of our country.

I do not wish to compare the crimes of these youths or suggest that one deserves his anonymity more or less or that one sets a precedence by which the other ought to be treated. The questions of intention, motivation and self-control all need to be carefully weighed in both instances, whether the consequence is one man's contribution to mayhem or the heedless destruction of another person's life. I would much rather ponder the need for reason to be central to the decisions that a society makes and that rights be equal to all, regardless of the emotions that are evoked.

In the case of the young water polo player who participated in the Vancouver riots on June 15, 2011, he became content for the amorphous central nervous system that is our wired world. Social media platforms immediately came into play in documenting the events of the evening and crystallized the rage of those who assert their claim over their Vancouver. Indignant, or in vigilante mode, the social media public saw the evidence of the young man's actions and seized the opportunity to name him and brand him for his crimes. Like it or not, his name is one of a very scant handful of the large numbers who committed crimes during that all-too-familiar routine in the streets.

In the hours and days in the aftermath of the Vancouver riots the police where flooded with tips and evidence implicating people and the Vancouver Police Department was boasting that 6 - yes, 6 - people had turned themselves in. Not exactly the resounding number of arrests that people had hoped for given the extent of the crimes and violence that gripped the streets of downtown Vancouver. In the end, we may only be left with questions about the balance of power between the mobs of the streets and the mobs of the twittersphere. Both groups, whether the rioting looting crowd or the recorders of the event, were motivated by anger or the desire to seize an opportunity to assert their view of what the society ought to be like, with little concern for the consequences.

Nathan Kotylak, the young athlete who is one of the few names to emerge in the aftermath of the riots, was a willing participant and perhaps his actions were premeditated. He waived his right to anonymity but that occurred only after his right was subverted by those who willingly gave his name. He knew he was in a very public place and very public occasion in a YouTube world where everything can be fodder for entertainment or surveillance. In light of this, it could be said that he shed his anonymity as soon as he joined in the mobs. The irony for Mr. Kotylak was that he probably acted the way he did with an anonymous abandon, completely oblivious of the thousands of witnesses and lenses that were within eyeshot of him.

But barely 45 days, earlier on a quiet back road outside of Calgary another man of Mr. Kotylak's generation had a similar lapse in responsibility and it resulted in the death of the young woman in an alcohol-related car crash. His tragedy will be very much a private one and he will be able to retain his right to the anonymity that our laws grant to youth, despite the consequences of his actions. Should he manage to maintain his anonymity, he will be able to, at some point, avoid much of the stigma that his actions would normally accrue.

Both these young men are burdened with profound early failures that make the task of growing into viable adults harder than it already is. They face potential punishment, varying but substantial guilt and uncertainty about who is going to be there for them in the years ahead. While the courts of the crown will be called upon to assess their actions in a rational, fair and evenhanded manner, the court of public opinion - the least reliable of arbiters as a quick visit to the trending topics on Twitter would attest - has been far more powerful and ultimately vindictive.

In his The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera states "living in truth... [is] possible only away from the public." Today, the public grants less and less anonymity everyday and for those who documented the riots in Vancouver, there is ample, solid ground to argue that such anonymity or privacy was rightfully seized and taken from those who were taking much worse from, at the very least, the resilient fabric of their community. There are times, however, when we need to acknowledge that our consciences are the best judges of our indiscretions, failures and crimes and leave it to the consciences and, when need be, the courts of the crown to be those judges.

NOTE: To further muddy the question about rights when actions are recorded in the public sphere is this video of a pre-teen who participated in the Vancouver riots. Fortunately for him, his face was obfuscated to preserve his anonymity.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reflections Post Election


I am surprised that I have enough zing and verve in my writing to come up with the cloying rhyme in my title. As cheap as the turn of phrase is I will take that grade 10 variety, "poet and didn't know it" title. I am so dispirited at the outcome of our federal election that the temptation to crawl under a rock is too tempting. There were moments throughout the 2011 election campaign where I felt that there were the makings of a dramatic turning of the tide against the Conservatives and that their approach to campaigning, policy making and stewardship would be enough to evoke a response but clearly the skeleton closet has been held closed just long enough.

I do not see a point in trying to be objective or take a more journalistic approach to organizing my thoughts here today. I do not anticipate going into full out shrill rant. There just is not much point in pouring that type of venom - regardless of how justified or accurate I believe it to be - into corner of public discourse that gets me 3-4 readers a week, month or year on this outskirt of cyberspace. I wake up with realizations about my professional and personal future that things will change in unwelcome ways and the uncertainty and discomfort to come will demand more of me than I can imagine at this time.

When I have had my little turn at the soapbox, usually in a small circle of friends or when my slightly more than apolitical wife lends me her ear I have said that the problem with the election now is that citizens have disappeared from this country and they have been replaced by a three-headed entity which consists of the drowsy voter, the angry taxpayer and the well-sated but still voracious consumer. It is at the feet of those creatures which I lay the blame for the past election and the consequent debacle which Prime Minister is cuing up momentarily.

The talk of tax credits, the cost of election and other matters either provoked this three-headed monster to vote Conservative or to tune out the complexities of the debate about this very complex country. An alternate to "voter apathy" that I would propose is "citizen disintegration." It does not role off the tongue as smoothly as the title to this post but it gives a broader fleshing out of the issue than the more commonly used term. Turnout in the 2011 election is reported to be around 58%, the type of numbers that Canadians once mocked their neighbours to the south for and we will only be mocked by being lead with a disdain for democracy and pluralism that reflects our collective indifference. (My recycling of the title there was completely coincidental.)

That three headed creature that gave the ballot box a pass on May 2 is only one concern. The parties and politicians fell into whatever content-free tendencies that Marshall McLuhan portended once upon a time and have been honed to perfection by other politicians on the hustings in Canada and abroad over time. Stephen Harper's control throughout the election, stage managed down to the very moment when he sipped his water and how carefully his rally attendees were vetted. The campaigns did their best to avoid exposing the party leaders to the realities of the issues at hand. The Liberals failed to deal unequivocally with the constitutional realities that made the issue of coalition less of the bogeyman that the Conservative insisted it was, the NDP continued to believe that it could form a government, even after the results were in and their status as official opposition a somewhat pyrrhic one. The "debates" that took place at the halfway pole of the election were not policy laden but position laden and as with the oft cited Nixon-Kennedy watershed were more about appearance than content.

The mass media proved itself to be either too cowed or too preoccupied with cheerleading to delve into the issues and clarify the issues that were at stake. The burgeoning train wreck that is Sun TV made no issue about unleashing its disdain for the opposition parties to assure viewers they were nothing more than the media arm of the Conservative Party. It is also worth nothing that there was little of the ballyhoo about finding the new network a spot on the dial from cable providers. I have not determined if it is a matter of people not wanting to watch or if the cable providers recognized a kindred spirit in the battles with the CRTC to come and gladly accommodated them. The CBC occasionally showed a capacity for investigation, and Terry Milewski locked horns with Stephen Harper on a regular basis but they were quick to retreat from the opportunity to be deep enough to address the issues in a manner that might risk portraying them as anti-Conservative.

While many people maybe quick to cite the 40% plurality turning into a Conservative majority and fault the system, but it is a system that we have all grown up with and we - as citizens should we choose to don that mantle again - ought to know this now in our country. Majorities have long been the case with this outcome. There might be a new clamour for proportional representation or another system to encourage voter involvement but the fact is that there needs to be a new tone to the dialogue. Politicians who favour being frank over tactical, who savour democracy over voter suppression and choose to address the issues of the day and actually take positions and give voters options in changes of direction would all be dearly welcome but the odds of these changes occurring are as likely as Stephen Harper listening to Jack Layton any better than a dog does to a human.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

North and North Alone

On April 8, 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that he intended to reduce the size of the federal government quickly and promptly if he were elected to a majority on May 2. In the same announcement he also indicated that the deficit would be reduced with remarkable speed as well, suggesting that he would succeed in this matter about two years ahead of schedule. There were some expressions of incredulity about the credibility of these claims, having discovered about $4 billion that were nowhere to be seen when the federal government delivered its budget a scant three weeks ago.

Throughout the 2011 election campaign, the Harper team has done its best to get Canadians to sleepwalk through the campaign with little more than its budget to promote thus far. There have been occasional announcements of tax credits, which provide a modicum of benefit but plenty to chew over. Once you get into the details of it, voters would fade into a soporific state with their last thoughts being, "Hmmm tax credit for N, good, no?" If you really want to assess the benefits of those credits take a look at where that credit for commuting appears on your tax form and how much money it actually saves you on your taxes. Another alternative is to determine if those commuter tax credits actually motivated you to use commuting more. A small minority of commuters were motivated by such tax credits. A similarly small minority will be motivated to get off the couch and get a snazzy gym membership either. That the tax credit will not come until after the deficit is slayed, is probably another detail that voters are overlooking.

Throughout the well-managed photo-op component of the Conservative campaign there has been said of the plans for prisons or fighter jets that are at the core of the Conservative spending plans for the coming years. The opposition parties have made points about this and well they ought to. They do so, much at the risk of sounding shrill or Polyanna-ish about the spending. The point that they may not have made clearly enough is that this is all a Conservative government really aspires to do. All Stephen Harper wants to do is render the federal Canadian government one that is nothing more than a minimalist, night watchman state. The term night watchman state is not something I just coined but a model of a government that is interested in nothing more than to serve and protect. If you are looking for a health care strategy, the Harper Conservatives are merely going to mumble something vague rather than make an unequivocal commitment. Our health care plan is facing an uncertain future and it is definitely in need of work as we face the challenge of starting to squeeze the baby boom generation through the system through in the next few years but the Conservatives have offered nothing more than a preemptive, "Us too," during the second week of the campaign. If they were serious about playing a substantial role in health policy they would not have handed what traditionally has been a major portfolio to a rookie MP, Leona Aglukkaq. The vision for the role of Health Minister has diminished under Harper and intermittently convenes the provincial ministers of health to review their requests for funding but does not review their spending. The Romanow Commission Report on Health Care has done little more than collect dust during the Harper era.

Despite or perhaps because of the value that Canadians have placed on medicare for the past 50 years, the Harper Government has seen fit to marginalize this need. Health care is one of several areas that the government fully intends to retreat from if given a majority government. It has made incremental steps toward the night watchman role while citizens have remained disengaged in the erosion of Canadian values and the opposition has struggled against apoplexy in the face of it. The retreat is not only a retreat from broader programming but also a moral retreat. Canada has long since abandoned its status as "Boy Scout of the World," with its regressions on human rights in Afghanistan, democracy with its two prorogations, and its indifference to environmental policy which was most embarrassingly demonstrated by Stephen Harper's hide-and-seek visit to the COP Conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

Throughout his term as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has played fast an loose with the truth and to put it quite simply employed a strategy of accusing is opponents of doing the very things that he himself has consistently done throughout his term in office. His announcement that he will quickly gut the federal government if he gets a majority is one of the most honest announcements he has made during this campaign. His intentions of reducing the government to a shell of its former self, however, will have broad repercussions for the future of the Canadian identity and the quality of life that we have come to enjoy. Apart from health care, social programs and policies that have been aimed at making this country with so much geography and so much uncertainty about itself and its future will have less reason to consider itself a united, admired nation of citizens who are equal from coast to coast to coast. We may at that time recite the lyrics "True north, strong and free," but Canada will bare little resemblance to it if the government is reduced to the extent he wishes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Mechanical PM

The consistent thread running through Stephen Harper's 2011 election campaign has been the strategic pitching of announcements to woo key constituencies. The support for the Churchill Falls project to woo voters in Newfoundland; the loans program to help immigrants - also known as "you people" to Harper - gain the qualifications required to work in Canada; promises to end the Long Gun Registry to try to defeat a local NDP candidate. Each of these announcements and others throughout the Harper campaign has put forward a patch work of policies. There is pattern of proposals that reiterate the key points that the Harper government wanted to put forward.

The components of the policy that Harper has put forward both in the 2011 campaign, throughout past campaigns and as Prime Minister do not present themselves as a cohesive whole. There are the musings about the hidden agenda that Harper has and there may be more than a modicum of reason for that, but despite that there has been adaptations to his policies that irritated hard core conservatives because, for example, the Keynesian response to the financial uncertainties of Fall-Winter 2008-09 there has been a pragmatic approach to accumulating power. He has been content to increase his plurality into a an eventually majority.

Harper's failure to carve a warm niche in the Canadian consciousness despite the cats, sweaters and burgeoning hockey book stems from his failure to present a coherent vision or for that matter a coherent, likeable character. If the intent is to keep that agenda hidden, Harper has presented himself as a more guarded presence on the political stage. The tactical approach to running the country with the policy tweak here and there to incrementally nudge Canada closer to the more conservative version than we have been accustomed to.

Throughout his time contributing to the national dialogue, his arguments and policies have been consistently oversimplistic. Proposing the construction of prisons not only overlooks the evidence that indicates crime rates are falling, but more importantly, the need for a policy to address the social environment that would further reduce crime rates and further buttress our human and social capital. Throughout Harper's tweaking of policies in the incoherent slap dash manner that he has, he has demonstrated a distinct lack of vision for Canada. Each policy is an imposition of a discrete response to something that has chooses to target.

The policies that the Conservative government has rolled out over the last five years have demonstrated unabashed shortsightedness. The decrease in the GST from 7 to 5% has been considered one of many steps toward the slippery slope toward deficit. Harper's scorched earth response to the threat of coalition in 2008 seemed to overlook Quebec's strategic significance in his pursuit of a majority. His response to accusations about the torture of Afghan detainees was to sweep the matter under the carpet as quickly as possible and discredit key credible witnesses in every way possible. The same efforts to discredit or deployed against anyone or any group who may have dissenting points of view, be them females, minorities, or any other cross section of the population that he can find a way to marginalize.

All of this pulled together just doesn't seem to have a response for the nuances and complexities of the digital age. Voters are becoming more attuned to authenticity Harper's dog and pony show is less likely to cut it. The problem is that there is a distinct lack of coherence when you take policy to the right-wing apogee that Harper strives for. The conservative position is that individual members of society are themselves responsible for their own well-being and success. The liberal position is that society bears this responsibility. Both positions are right but require a centrist balance.

The problem with a liberal position taken to its furthest extent is that may invite a certain parasitic abuse of the system by people who can do well enough on their own. The problem with a conservative position that trusts the invisible hand a bit too much or casts people adrift if they cannot support themselves or overcome their obstacles is that it grants more power to the powerful and creates a pocket of victims who are often ostracized for being failures before the harsh realities they have to deal with are narrated. A Conservative government that gives the oil industry tax breaks might say that it is giving job makers the freedom to pursue their work freely without the shackles of addressing the environment, but when the government announces the ecological benefits of a hydro project as far away from the oil sands as possible, there is something inconsistent there. When a government announces plans for prisons without proposing a social policy that supports and protects the vulnerable it is actually overlooking the society it is supposed to serve. It is not a great leap in logic that the government is indulging in corporate welfare at the expense of the citizens it purports to represent.

The safety and comfort of a society must not be the right of only those who can sequester themselves in gated communities. The efficiencies of exploiting the economies of scale in having a government large enough to provide essential services rather than force its citizens to contract out these services to for-profit providers is ultimate anathema to the fiscal responsibility that conservative governments boast of but ultimately fail at time and time again. Those rights must be made available to the entire society. If individuals are authors of their own fates, and those who take a criminal path do so because they are stupid, it is hard to deny that a society that imprisons a critical mass of its population, despite the long-term costs of imprisonment being more costly than social programming that mitigates the problems that lead to crime - is stupid as well.

The problem with the Stephen Harper campaign goes straight to the not-so-hidden aspects of his platform. If you take wither the man or his platform to the extremes that Harper wishes to, the arguments fall apart because they do not provide a coherent, consistent workable answer to the needs or wishes of Canadian society. If you want to see an example of the disintegration of those emerging flaws and inconsistencies, just consider what has happened surrounding the RCMP, Bruce Carson and Awish Aslam. None of these make sense to people looking in at the Conservative government or its campaign. The Conservatives can make sense of it because each of these things are examined in blindered isolation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Is Harper Really the PM for Uncertain Times?

Throughout and prior to the campaign, Stephen Harper has been insisting that the Conservative Party has the steady hand that Canada needs to guide it through the uncertain times we live in. The surprising take on the domino effect that is unfolding throughout the Middle East, the disasters in Japan, the still slightly wobbly recovery and more are all fodder for the dialogue for the Stephen Harper's argument for giving him and his colleagues another mandate. He's even used these events as a reason to argue against an election er democratic process.

The reality is that Stephen Harper has not demonstrated great chops when leading the country in the face of emergency situations. Recent examples include flying an empty plane in and out of Libya while our allies flew Canadian expatriates out, and being one of the slowest responders with aid to Japan or support to expatriates there. These are emergencies that are far away from our shores. What if a disaster of this nature occurred in Canada? Would responses of the nature he has taken so far indicate that he would provide a steady hand during a time of need? During the war between Lebanon and Israel, Harper managed to wiggle the phrase "Canadians by Convenience" into our lexicon and responded as slowly as he did to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and to the tensions in Libya and Egypt.

In many of these situations, Harper has taken his cues from other world leaders or waited until there was a sense that the populace felt a situation merited a response. Stephen Harper has never demonstrated the depth of thought or the ability to see beyond his ideological gopher hole to take a thoughtful, intentional or constructive response in the face of crisis. As opposition leader, Harper was riffing on Australian Prime Minister John Howard when arguing that Canada ought to send troops to Iraq. Now, during this campaign, the Conservatives are cribbing from the Tea Party to advertise themselves.

Our country requires depth and imagination to lead all of it. Not to simply just lead the English or the conservative or the majority or the central but all of Canada. There is little reason to believe that Stephen Harper has the intelligence or the creativity to deal effectively, rationally or promptly to a Black Swan (Nicholas Nassim Taleb's not Natalie Portman's) situation where foresight and vision are required to ensure that the Canada - again ALL of Canada - gets through it as successfully as possible. He might seize the opportunity to serve his interests and demonstrate a certain tactical brilliance that would send his Conservative minions into fits of glee, but there is little reason to believe Canada would thrive under his leadership in crisis.

The best sign of Harper's inability to deal with crises would be how he deals with his campaign. In the second week of the campaign Harper's efforts to control and stage manage the campaign are the main issue eroding his popularity and chances of reelection. The opposing parties have not done a lot to generate forward momentum but Harper's showing signs of weakness on the campaign trail. Such erosion of Harper's support is primarily of his own doing. It may be accelerated in part by social media but whether this is the case or not, the challenge for Harper is to respond to these Black Swan changes in the environment and show an ability to adapt to a fluid situation. He may find a way to hang on to power despite his fumbling through the campaign, but if he only manages to hang on to 24 Sussex by the skin of his teeth it will remain a clear demonstration of his inability to respond effectively in uncertainty.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Stephen Harper and Thermostats

Stephen Harper has made it clear that he has his foot firmly planted on the pulse of the nation. The tone deaf campaigning to date, ensconced in the friendly confines of carefully screened Conservative Party admirers has been an on-the-nose display of simplistic photo ops. The media has suggested Harper's campaign is a front-runner strategy but it is a more clear indication of Harper's indifference to progressive policies. His insistence on sticking to his convictions is admirable, but the wrong-headedness of those convictions and their implications for Canada's future makes Harper's obstinacy a subject of consternation.

The advantage of a minority government in Canadian democracy is that it ought to increase the possibility of creating sound policies that are of a moderate nature. There is less likelihood of the ideological hard swerve to a liberal or conservative (small l, small c, let me reiterate) tendencies and a progressive balance that ought to take in the interests of opposing points of view and meld them together into policy that would serve the broader interests of the entire population rather than merely the interests of a majority party and those who share vested interests. An effective minority government ought to be able to respond in a thermostatic manner to the interests of opposing parties to ensure that a policies are moderate and progressive.

Instead of listening to the opposing parties for the past 5 years, Stephen Harper has gone to the far right and cowed the opposition with the threat of encountering a disengaged electorate that may punish them for forcing "another" election. It was that bullying of the opposition that lead to prorogation in 2008. Harper simply does not want to hear a dissenting voice. Another factor that lead to prorogation in 2008 was the threat of scrutiny the government was facing over the torture of Afghan detainees. Again and again, Stephen Harper has seized opportunities to bully, fire, ostracize or ignore informed or reasoned voices on major policy issues.

The non-tendered and underestimated fight jet contract is a prime example of Stephen Harper ignoring all in favour of his own desires. Mounting evidence is consistent that Harper has the numbers wrong. Previous purchasers of the fighter jets, the opposition parties, Kevin Page of the Parliamentary Budget Office ALL indicate that Harper has the numbers wrong. Still, he will insist that his numbers are right. It is clear that Stephen Harper is acting like a spoiled child and is confident that if he says something often enough that everyone will believe him.

The problem that is becoming more apparent during the 2011 Election campaign is that Stephen Harper does not want to listen to anybody and does not want to be held to account for what he has done during his campaign. The stage management of his campaign stops, the limiting of the media to 4 questions a day in press conferences and the latest blemish on the campaign, the screening and ouster of a 19 year old voter from a Conservative campaign event all reek of a disdain for the democratic process. How weak are his policies that a 19 year old's questions are more scrutiny than Harper can handle? How naive are his sheep that their group think would be damaged by the presence of one dissenting opinion? The Conservative back benches include Rob Anders who worked as a hired heckler for the Republican Party, so it is not that the Conservatives have an issue with this.

It is not the dirty tricks that the Conservatives have disdain for it is dialogue and democracy. If it was a simple matter of being in an overheated room and asking Stephen Harper to turn the heat down, don't bother. He just wants to keep adding wood to the fire and pounce on you with ridicule as soon as you suggest opening a window or something.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In Alberta? Bother to Vote Anyway

Having lived in Alberta over the last 8 years, it is easy to document voter apathy. The province seems committed to send as many Conservative MPs as possible to Ottawa. Regardless of their limitations and their contributions the likes of Rob Anders have enjoyed the largesse of Albertans aversion to reds, liberals - whether capitalized or not - lefties and anything else remotely progressive. An oversimplification of the tendencies that even progressive voters in Alberta give into quite easily. Hence the apathy.

At this point in Alberta, politics seems to be fomenting a more significant response in an election than just resort to the same old same old. On the provincial level, the deck chairs are being shuffled about in preparation for the next election, which promises to deliver that overdue once in a generation change that Alberta does get around to when it has had enough. Not one but two populist parties are finding their legs and doing their best to present strong options to the old standbys who, whether the opposition or the governing Progressive Conservatives.

The progressive voice is finding its way and has aligned itself for achievements on the municipal level. The election of Naheed Nenshi as Mayor of Calgary in October 2010 is one balm to the oft-wounded psyche of progressive minded people in Calgary at least and the emergence of the Alberta Party, the newer and more progressive of the two upstart provincial political parties is giving those same people the opportunity to stretch out a bit more. It remains to be seen whether the machinery can be put in place to challenge the Conservative citadel here or whether the people who have teamed up so well at the municipal and provincial levels will only find themselves dispersed for the federal campaign.

At this point the candidates on the trail are finding that there are progressive-minded voters eager to see some change and reinforcing a shared sense of surprise that Alberta's political representation is so out of touch with their beliefs and values. Is there any reason to believe that this election would be the one to shed Alberta of of dynastic tendencies? Probably not. The discontent with the Harper Conservatives is as palpable as it is in other parts of the country, but motivating those progressive voters to engage in the sisyphian challenge is a daunting one.

At this point, voters in Alberta have to content themselves with putting a dent in the majorities that the Conservative candidates have so easily accumulated over the the years. While politics is not a game of moral victories, closing the margin of victory will signal to other voters, candidates, and the parties that Alberta is not a place for cakewalks. Debates will become more common, the politicians, whether on the hustings or the backbenches in Ottawa will start to become more accountable and active, which is what the voters deserve.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Simplicity is not a Canadian Quality

The 2011 Federal Election campaign is in its third day and it is hard to tell if people are tuning out, tuning in or finding ways to deafen themselves to the cacophony of platitudes and self-serving pedantry that has passed for campaigning and stumping over the last few days. To hear it from the parties leaders, one would assume that Canada's needs or "our leaders'" visions for addressing them are as discrete and far apart from one another as distant stars. There has been an insistence on a certitude and a simplification of the issues that, quite frankly is insult to the intelligence of Canadian voters and an egregious misrepresentation of our national character, history or reality. I should add, though that the media still is not able to accurately report these simplicities. Clearly the mainstream media and the politicians themselves are failing to play their role in the democratic process as forthrightly as they ought. Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary even goes so far as to suggest that the parties are content to drive down voter participation.

Little in our history or culture has been cut and dried, satisfying and reassuring about our country's fate or identity. We still struggle with the question of what a Canadian is and our quest for something more comprehensive and inclusive than hockey, timbits and winter is evidence of an unassailable self-awareness that is probably the most distinguishing difference between ourselves and the United States.

Our pride in our accomplishments has almost always been tempered by a rich detailed narrative and few Canadian heroes wear an untarnished crown or bask in the glow of outright victory. Terry Fox's story is steeped in a poignancy that deepens our love for him and renders us humbler but him all the more treasured and memorable. Our hockey victory in 1972 is not without the reminder that we had expected to rout the Soviets and the we had our chests well inflated after the first period of game one. With the exception of Vimy Ridge, few events in Canadian history that have afforded the country an unambiguous iron-clad victory or achievement that the entire country can share in. The victory in the 1995 referendum was so narrow that few felt that that chapter was closed. Even our sporting victories are cause for as much reflection as celebration. The repatriation of our Constitution in 1982 replete with the notwithstanding clause is another reminder that our country is a complex one that only fools would try to pin down in a sound bite. Sir Wilfred Laurier's oft-cited claim that the 20th century would be Canada's is one that would foster a rather healthy debate rather than a flat one-word answer either way.

The party leaders are campaigning in simplicities and sound bites rather than engaging in dialogue or clearly structure arguments. All of it seems to be cocktail napkin material dessicated by focus group trials. The electorate deserves more and the party leaders ought to acknowledge that with a bit of eloquence. Novelist and essayist Hugh MacLennan once said that Canada was a nation made up of losers - just the kind of thing that would get the man run out of town on a rail and give Canada's critics the opportunity to say, "Couldn't have said it better myself." As disturbing as that line might be, the case that MacLennan went on to make was that throughout our history, Canada has been the welcoming refuge for those who have sought new, safe beginnings, be it from persecution, slavery or wars near or far. It has been the consistent thread throughout our history and it continues today because of the empathy - one of the few simple things about our country - that has flourished in the face of the uncertainty we have always lived with. MacLennan's rhetorical risk paid off, at least during his lifetime, because Canadians are well-prepared for the complexities of living in a bicultural or multicultural nation that ought to inspire poetry amongst its leaders rather than the fictions they are fanning out to every corner of the country to pass off. We are not a country laden with archetypes. Efforts to portray Canadian archetypes of the hockey player, the Mountie, the lumberjack and others are cloying in their simplicity and we reject them.

This complexity is not being captured by the parties are their leaders as they portray their visions on the campaign trail. They are spending too much time preening and polishing their speaking points than they are in addressing the need for a comprehensive vision of the country. The Conservatives are going to insist that they have managed the economy well and that they provide certainty, the Liberals will ignore the bete noire of their past environmental policies and Jack Layton will insist that he is in good health and in striking distance of the Prime Minister's office. Collectively, their vision for the country is as narrow and disparate as three randomly chosen stars on a brilliant summer night and their ambition to lead us in a constructive dialogue is just as remote as those stars but even less likely to illuminate us. At this point, it is up to Canadians to make the incremental steps to steal democracy back from these men.

Let the dialogue begin.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Okay Voters er Citizens, Up Your Game!

I set out to write a piece on how to get that disengaged, "They're all the same" variety non-voter to get out and vote in the May 2 federal election. I also want to present this in a non-partisan manner and encourage people to lean on friends to get out and participate in the process - granted, with their nose firmly plugged - but voting nonetheless.

In my efforts to describe the toxic political environment that this election is taking place in, I felt a despair come over me that almost made me decide the opt out of this election too. The insistence on charged rhetoric, also known by the technical name bull shit, instead of straight talk that acknowledges the complexity of the challenges of leading Canada during the increasing uncertainty of the 21st century. Simple answers and certitude ought to ward voters off, but it does the opposite. Responses to the issues become emotional, whether it is voting on one party's stand on a single issue or the piqued indignance of those who decide to damn all politicians and opt out. We are still going to elect 308 MPs, whether the turn out is 63% or 80%, however, so thumbing our noses at the process is only giving the most incorrigible in Ottawa the positive reinforcement they need to keep acting like children.

One thing that ought to be clarified is that we are talking about citizen apathy, not voter apathy. The narrowly defined role as voter is one that allows us to neglect the greater vocation of citizen and allows us as voters to look out for the needs and interests of the consumers or taxpayers we happen to be. Citizenship is the highest calling and requires a comprehensive Being just voters imply engaging in the political feedback loop before marching to the polls and shaking ourselves out of a zombie haze long enough to hit one of the circles on the ballot with their X rather than putting it through a random vowel or some other innocuous spot on that scrap of paper.

Citizenship requires, among other things, a commitment to dialogue and a commitment to listening and being critically involved in the entire process. If you want to engage people in the issues relate to this election it is a time to acknowledge that the competing monologues in Ottawa have been shrill, even irrational for their refusal to acknowledge the facts central to the issues they are contending with. Fact: none of the parties in Ottawa is innocent of distorting the facts to appeal to their supporters. Equally true is that this oversimplification is an insult to our intelligence.

If you want to lean on someone who has decided to sit out the last few elections out because of the tenor of political discussion in Parliament, don't blame them. All of us need to become more engaged in the election. Non-voters need to become more familiar with the issues. Those who do vote need to start interacting more with the candidates and whoever we ultimately elect. We have to hold them accountable and force them to explain their positions and challenge them to start acknowledging the complexity of the issues. We have to demand more of them and make them conscious that the electorate - that's us - are engaged and concerned about getting good government for the good money we are paying these men and women.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Fabulation of Fears and the "Fading" Bloc

During the Canadian House of Commons' March Break, Stephen Harper took the opportunity to tell an audience in Quebec City that the Bloc Quebecois' days as a force on the federal scene were numbered. This is, in part, is nothing more than the posturing and sound biting best of the Conservative Leader while out on the unofficial campaign trail. The reality is that Harper's comments on the Bloc are accurate and more accurate than anything he said about the Bloc during the sequence of events in December 2008 that indelibly etched "proroguement" and "coalition" into the Canadian political argot.

One word that also ought to be etched into that argot ought to be "fabulation" which is the relation of untrue or invented stories and has been Stephen Harper's stock in trade on the hustings and in parliament. During the coalition drama in 2008 Harper accused the NDP and Liberal party leaders of recklessly getting into bed with the sovereigntist Bloc. When in opposition, however, Harper was willing to make a similar pact with the Bloc and NDP to replace the Liberal minority government lead by Paul Martin in 2004.

Chantal Hebert of the Toronto Star identified the trends that were effecting both the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois in a November 2007 speech and indicated that the declining significance of the sovereignty issue was significant trend that helped tilt power in favour of the Conservative Party.

The realities for the Bloc Quebecois - as stated by Hebert in 2007 and bookended by Harper's ploys in 2004 and his words in 2011 - are that they cannot presume their mandate in Ottawa is to represent nationalist aspirations. While they may still harbour a readiness to express this ambition when their constituency foments again for separation or some other constitutional arrangement that would favour them. Several leading figures of the Parti Quebecois and Bloc have indicated that sovereignty is mostly if not completely dead. Throughout his tenure as BQ leader, Gilles Duceppe earned recognition and respect for his integrity and the reasoned support he has offered on progressive issues.

Unlike members of the other parties in the House of Commons, Duceppe and his caucus have engaged in dialogue rather than grandstanding and have a degree of credibility that comes from aspiring to represent their constituency rather than aspiring to power.

In all likelihood coalition talk will heat up again in 2011 and when it does, it is necessary for voters to recognize that the Bloc is probably not in a position to hold a coalition hostage to their own nationalistic ambitions. Such a move would force a dissolution of a coalition and an election predicated on terms that would erode their base and perhaps even resurrect the Liberals from its all-but-forgotten status as Champion of Federalism. If Stephen Harper was willing to make that gamble, he either made a similar calculation or he is exceptionally reckless.

Regardless of how Harper wishes to portray the Bloc or other opposition parties in the coming weeks and months, his back and forth on the Bloc over the years ought to give voters more reason to follow the narrative of the coming election more closely rather than falling for the bluster of any of the party leaders as they are passed on by the mainstream media.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Volunteer Heart and Spine of Japan

For eight years, I had the privilege of living and working in Japan.  I was in and around Kyoto for the most part but the multiplying tragedies of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear debacle that are visiting Miyagi Prefecture, Sendai and Fukushima are no less heartrending.  Friends throughout the country have been affected by this.  As the hours tick by and Japan strives to create the best possible new normal for this region - in reality for the entire country - I can fondly recall the volunteer instinct that the Japanese people have demonstrated throughout the time I spent there.

The Japanese people volunteer just about everyday in the simplest of ways from the crack of dawn, when people sweep the street or the sidewalk in front of their homes.  Yes, the street.  Volunteering is a key component of schooling - something that very few people in the west hear to complement the apocrypha about 6 day school-weeks and the long days of extra study.

The most moving examples are - or were - the elderly women in Hiroshima tending to the Peace Park. While the artifacts and static memorials of the park assert their own power over the visitors, little compares with the realization that these custodians - apple-doll like in their attire and the etch of time on their faces - were of the generation who lost such a huge part of their childhood to the explosion, were lucky to survive and had the will and resilience to rebuild the city and tend this sacred place in the most unassuming of manners.  They are a quiet indication that Japan too had its own greatest generation that helped them rebuild out of the war.

Few events deter the Japanese people from pitching in or make them wait for the experts to respond on their behalf.  The first large-scale example of volunteerism in the face of crisis I witnessed was in 1997, when an oil spill in the Sea of Japan washed up on the shores of Fukui Prefecture. With little understanding of the technology required or the risk they may have been taking on, volunteers took on the task of the mop up, some of them equipped with no more than kitchen gloves, paper towel and an indomitable spirit.  Perhaps it was a bit quixotic, but it demonstrated a incomparable commitment to their nation and their community. They will do whatever it takes.

This sense of commitment is instilled at a very young age and it is - as we can attest from the news we see coming from the aftermath - a key component of the Japanese character that people neither outgrow nor need to mature to. When I was teaching junior high school there, each day ended with the entire student body and the teachers cleaning the school.  Each classroom is replete with the cloths, brooms, wash buckets and other equipment required for the kids to pitch in, chase away the day's dusty bunnies and tidy up the school before calling it a day. The school PA system blasts some good old work music to get the kids in the mood for the task as the swept and washed the floors. It was a great opportunity for them to burn off a bit of energy and the routine never varied for exams or any other part of the school schedule.

With a few hundred kids committed to the task, the whole school was scrubbed clean in about 15-20 minutes. Sure, a couple of custodians did not find any work, but that brief moment every day in just about every school across the country helped Japan build and maintain the human and social capital that in the days and weeks ahead will ensure that the sweat equity those kids have invested throughout their school days will accrue an untold wealth of commitment at this particular moment of need.  The task may be far greater than any the people have encountered before but they will make an effort that will restore the comfort and well-being that were so suddenly wrenched from them.  If the eyes of the world remain fixed on Miyagi, Sendai and the surrounding area, we will be left as surprised by the before and after as we have been over the last few days as the news reports try to report some sense of the scale of this tragedy.  If the rest of the world is too busy with their lives to watch the recovery, the Japanese will give a stoic nod and smile of pride and resume the task at hand.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Is Jason Kenney Leading or Unravelling CIC?

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, has come under fire as a consequence of a fundraising letter sent on his parliamentary letterhead to NDP MP Susan Duncan. The furor is about Mr. Kenney's use of his office's resources for partisan purposes. In short, he should not be using his parliamentary budget or his office staff to campaign on behalf of the government party. This, along with the Harper government's recent decree that the public service refer to the government as "the Harper Government" rather than the "Government of Canada," indicates that the sense of entitlement that the Conservative Party of Canada possesses at the moment surpasses that they accused the Liberal Party of Canada from holding during their tenure under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.

This scandal over the Kenney fundraising letter ought to raise a few red flags over the Minister's performance in his portfolio. Mr. Kenney has made a concerted effort to use his position as Minister of Immigration and Citizenship to break through the long-held Liberal stronghold on ethnic voters and represent the Conservative Party as a favorable option that was aware of immigrant needs and concerns.

Despite that aspect of his work there has been great efforts by the Conservative government and his ministry that gives reason to question the commitment to immigration and citizenship and the principles which have made Canada and appealing destination for immigrants.

The changes to eligibility requirements for entry into Canada are the most telling examples of how policies implemented by Minister Kenney actually undermine the country's long term agenda in this area. At a time when there has been a cited need for immigration to sustain the growth of the Canadian economy or ensure that we have the talent base required to compete internationally, the Ministry has recently made it more difficult or less appealing for these skilled immigrants to come to Canada by reducing access to family reunification visas and changing the requirements for skilled workers to come to Canada. The change of policy on family reunification makes it more difficult for people to have the built in family support that would help these working families trying to raise their families.

While Canada is reporting the highest levels of immigration in decades, the Ministry decided in December 2010 to cut funding to immigrant serving settlement agencies, which like the decisions regarding visa requirements may have played well with the Conservative Party's right wing base but does not ensure that these newcomers are effectively integrated into Canadian society. Without proper support for settlement and integration, it is quite possible that these newcomers remain marginalized rather than becoming parts of the Canadian community who feel that they have status here and contribute to the strength of the country as they have for past generations. Such cuts to settlement funding scale back a partnership with the non-profit sector that allows the government to play a significant role in defining the future shape of the Canadian community. Taken to its extreme this could lead to the integration of immigrants and the shaping of the Canadian community being outsourced to the private sector.

It has been under this government's rule that the phrases "Canadians of Convenience" has entered our argot, coined by the government to accuse people of securing a Canadian passport to exploit at a later time. It could be argued that these people have gained Canadian passports and have moved to other countries, partly because they have not successfully integrated into Canadian society. Such a debate about "Canadians of Convenience" needs a case by case examination to settle the argument one way or another but this government has long lunged at certitude and simplification rather than acknowledging and living with the subtleties of issues as complex as citizenship, integration and multiculturalism.

While racialized Canadians have faced inordinate difficulties dealing with consular problems while abroad, the government has more promptly come to the assistance of white Canadians.

Under Minister Kenney's stewardship it is unclear whether the portfolio of Citizenship and Immigration has actually been handled with the sensitivity and vision that Minister Kenney would like people to believe when he is making his weekend visits to interact with minority groups. Under a government which demonizes the victims of human smuggling rather than the criminals who promised them passage here, there seems to be little desire for this government or this minister to address the breadth of complexity to provide a comprehensive, constructive policy. Instead, Minister Kenney portrays his party as one favorable to the needs and interests of immigrants while his government implements policies that curry favour with groups that want to close the door or deny them services.

Minister Kenney's use of his office's resources for campaigning on behalf of the Conservative Party ought to examined in tandem with the way that he has used his Ministry and determine whether he has strengthened or undermined the Government of Canada's command of a coherent policy on this issue.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"The Harper Government?" and Tedium of Simplistics

The chattering classes worked themselves into a frenzy this week over the announcement this week that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office has put forward a requirement that the government be regarded as the Harper Government.

At first blush it does not seem like a big deal to make this request. The media use the terminology freely enough and historians will have their turn with the phrases as well. At the end of the day, it is probably something that the Tim Horton's crowd would cock a puzzled eyebrow at and chalk up to the hypersensitivity of the opposition parties or those same elites the Stephen Harper has thumbed his nose at throughout his term. It is an achievement for the cynical tactician.

While demanding public servants to say they work for the Harper Government rather than the Government of Canada might only merit a shrug, the fact is that it is just another part of a program of bullying the civil service rather than cooperating with them. The power that the Harper government has accumulated throughout its tenure should be a concern of voters. The fact that it is occurring as gradually as it has should not give people reason to discount it.

The Harper team's routine here seems to be to make policy decisions that are difficult to argue against because individually each of these decisions are so difficult to rally against. When the government altered immigration requirements to make it more difficult for people to reunite their families here, the anti-immigration contingents of the country would feel a bit more affinity for the Harper agenda. Those opposed to that and other changes to policy by the Harper government, would be hard-pressed to make their case in a fashion that would win support for their cause. Would a group of demonstrators be able or even justified in taking to the streets to rally in support of family-reunification? It is just the type of issue that Harper has taken the wrong side on, but is able to get away with because our collective attention span cannot get past the simplifications that this government operates under.

The fact that this government has had its way with the political agenda despite a minority government is due in part to the indifference of voters on the depth of the issues involved. As with the government name change, too many voters are responding to the issues on the mere surface rather than addressing them in depth.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What's Next in Alberta Politics?

In the space of barely a week, the political landscape in Alberta went through a once in a generation domino effect, if not an earthquake. Upon the surprise election of Ed Stelmach as Progressive Conservative party leader in December 2006 and the surprising subsequent general election it seemed that whatever might have been fomenting in the PC ranks as the Klein era came to a close had cast a pall of indifference over the electorate. The failure of the opposition parties to put a dent in the Tory bastion seemed to suggest that a stalemate born of indifference, satisfaction or apathy. Voter turnouts were low in 2008 and the right wing movement of the moment petered out rather quickly as well.

Since the emergence of the Wildrose Alliance as a powerful suitor for the PC's conservative faithful the pressures have been building for all of the established parties and another upstart, the Alberta Party has been faring well in the twittersphere and got a bit of momentum when Liberal-cum-Independent MLA Dave Taylor joined the party and became its first MLA.

With the resignation of Liberal Leader David Swann on January 31 and Ted Morton's moves to position himself for a right wing flank move in the yet-to-be announced PC leadership race the stage is being set for a significant casting call for parties leaders throughout Alberta. With the Liberal, PC and Alberta Party leaderships to be filled, probably by Autumn 2011, the rumours will run rampant and the strategizing will likely outpace it.

The key thing that each party needs to keep itself open to is a transformation campaigner who has the passion and charisma to rally the party faithful and expand the party tent. The PCs have the greatest challenge with its leadership race. The resistance to recasting the party with a new strategy, vision and face will be most difficult because the commitment to tried and true is deepest and the temptation to fight off the Wildrose Alliance will be ignored.

There is every chance that the party makes the same tried and true moves that the federal Liberals made in 1984 when they chose apparent faired-hair dauphin John Turner over the passion of Jean Chretien. The federal Tories did the same when choosing Kim Campbell over Jean Charest, again despite the passion and momentum that the underdog mustered throughout his campaign. A PC leadership campaign that ends with the ascension of a front-bench good soldier who has paid his or her dues and deserves it will be the death knell of the PC party, no matter how hard the party may try to burnish an establishment candidate as experienced. They, more than the Liberals or Alberta Party, have a small margin of error on their leadership choice.

The Liberals, who have reflected more existentially over their party and have pondered shedding the heavy red yoke of the national brand, my just disperse once and for all at this point and the leadership race - if they can afford it - may be a step in that direction. The Alberta Party, regardless of who emerges as its leader, will also have the task of proving that it can field a slate of candidates that will give it the rally point that moderates in Alberta will feel comfortable getting behind. If, out of that field, the Alberta Party can find the charisma and competence to win over voters provincially that will be a bonus, one that will make them a force to contend with in the 18 months ahead and beyond.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The End of Truth: Odd Musings from the CRTC

The title is not meant to be a cry of panic. With all of the events that have kicked off 2011, there are enough cries and shouts echoing in the streets of Tunis, Budapest and Tuscon for a bit of calm reflection to be duly welcome.

If the navel-gazing in the United States in the aftermath of the shootings in Arizona is an indication of anything, it is that there ought to be truth and balance in broadcast journalism. While Truth is too intangible at times to be contained in the certitudes that people cling to in the face of uncertainties like the ones facing the world today. The pursuit and discovery of truth will come from the willingness to move away from those certitudes and accept the challenge of sober scrutiny of what people say they believe.

Canada's Accurate News and Information Act is being revised by the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which is openly musing about easing the ban on broadcasting false or misleading news. While the amendment is meant to further ensure freedom of speech and only proposes the ban of "any news that the licensee knows is false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public," the amendment creates enough wiggle room for broadcasters to play in if they choose to indulge in the troublesome indifference to reason and sound argument that has had such free rein in the United States and which the mischief Kory Teneycke and his colleagues at Sun TV seem to be promising with their right-wing perspective of events.

The failure to engage in dialogue and to critically assess our beliefs and our foundations for those beliefs is a significant contribution to the tensions that exist in the United States. It is becoming evident that the US has bifurcated itself into separate communities of beliefs. Suburbanization, the internet and other tools that allow people to pick and choose the environments they live, work and interact in and the mindsets of the people one associates with fosters an environment where competing falsehoods are given life and are sustained by reflexive sycophancy surrounding untested certitudes about immigrants, creationism and sexual orientation to name just a few subjects people polarize themselves around.

The freedom of speech is a right that ought not be questioned, but as with all freedoms there is a responsibility to strive for truth and to participate in a civil dialogue with people holding opposing viewpoints. Letting broadcasters - which are far different corporate entities than the ones who were originally restrained by the Fairness Doctrine and the Accurate News and Information Act - operate with more latitude to interpret what is true, accurate, misleading or even safe is a further devolution of governance over the civic dialogue to organizations who stand to benefit from it while they are showing less willingness and capability for exercising the sense of responsibility to go with it.

Canadians need only look south to ponder the potential consequences. The end of truth ought to be the establishment of civic spaces where diversity of opinion and lifestyle can coexist in one place rather and the borders that people establish to divide one another melt under a harsh critical light.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

21st Century Bowdlerizing and Huck Finn

I kicked off the New Year, 2011, by revisiting Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness for the first time in 25 years. It was bracing to sit down with that hefty novella and re-examine those pages through fresh eyes. Among other things it was interesting to find myself examining the story in light of current practices and thoughts about social sustainability. To see the contradiction between the colonials' claims and practices provided a refreshing take on the story. In the end, I affirmed my belief that regardless of the historicist lens literature is examined through, certain principles that remain and others whither under the weight of their own hypocrisy.

Four days into this New Year, however, I'm left scratching my head at revisions that are being done to a new edition of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. The most controversial is the elimination of the N-word, which, ironically enough I saw throughout Heart of Darkness. The hue and cry against the change is easy enough to document and it is well justified to defend the retention of the N-word in the book. In the end the current revision of the book will merely serve as an alternate and the original will stand as an artifact and a document of the era it portrayed and comes from. This is not the first time that literature has met the ignominious gobs of liquid paper and henscratch of those who critique and kowtow rather than create. That is how the word bowdlerize gained its entree into the English language some 200 years ago and I would happily propose that Alan Gribben who has bent to somebody's will to grace readers with this new version.

I side with those offended by the revision of the book. To take the comparison of Conrad and Twain for a moment I would add that Twain, despite his pith, humour and survival of obituaries, was a passionate, engaged writer aware of the flaws of the country and society he grew up and lived in. Twain's work, regardless of his repute, ought to be treated as serious work. He did not use the N-word anymore recklessly than Conrad did. The presence of the word in Huckleberry Finn not only documents the era more accurately than the Gribbenized text but it spares readers the cheap certitude that a "clean" version of the book tries to foist on readers.

The desire to revise Huck Finn to eliminate the troubling questions that the N-word raises, and few contexts would better frame the discussion of the word and a few of the myriad issues associated with it. Given the opportunity, more and more people give into the impulse to pull their horizons in a little and limit the opportunity to engage in discourse. Those most actively religious are more prone to fundamentalist impulses than a progressive thoughtful practice the heeds the call to love neighbours and treat one another as one wishes to be treated. Instead of such informed pluralism there are sordid spectacles of malformed righteousness - each occurrence a consequence of the failure to dialogue and unstop our ears to any threat to our illusions.

The Gribbenized version of Huck will be an artifact of this era and evidence of our failure to dialogue. Given that it is among the first milestones of mature readership, the unwillingness to address questions the N-word might pose makes it an artifact of a time when we choose not to prepare the young with the grasp of the world to deal with the uncertainties that are our reality.