Some thoughts on Bell’s Let’s Talk Campaign

Tags

Okay, I have some complicated and severely provisionary thoughts on capitalism, mental health, corporate “charity” (and charity in general), public healthcare, the privatization of the emotional commons, and a host of other things, and if I finish my other writing I might actually write a post on it, but for now here are two quick and dirty initial thoughts on Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign that don’t quite fit onto twitter:

1) Let’s assume that Bell choose to donate (the language of “raising” money seems to be misleading here) $3 million as a result of today’s PR campaign.

Given the advertising benefits for Bell this is a sweat deal for them on first blush given their total domination of twitter and facebook and their widespread media coverage this week, today and in the coming days, but if you look at it more closely it is an unbelievably good deal.

When you account for the the 29% reduction in taxable income (not a credit for corporate tax purposes) it actually costs them about $2 130, 000 in donations. (The math of corporate income tax is stupid complicated, so my number here are going to likely be slightly off in practice, but the point remains the same)

In addition, since Bell will get 29% back in the form of not paying taxes it means it will contribute less in taxes to the Canadian and provincial governments. Money that would have been spent on public services, including public Health Care and research. So realistically you need to deduct that 29% in reduced taxes from the amount being spent on “mental health.” So the effective fiscal contribution of Bell’s PR campaign is itself only $2,130,000 since that lost tax revenue is not recovered by the state. (i.e. taxes that Bell does not pay is money not available to be spent on social programs)

That works out to roughly 3.55 cents per tweet that they are effectively contributing.

So let’s say people take 30 seconds to write a tweet, (and think about it and let it load, etc.) that means that in an hour’s worth of tweeting Bell’s hashtag slogan people are collectively “donating” an effective amount of $4.26 per hour of labour to “mental health” as a cause. (and tweeting out your personal stories about your battles with mental illness and attaching a corporate brand name to it is inarguably affective labour in the sense that Hardy and Negri use it) That is roughly 42% of Nova Scotia’s minimum wage.

And in reality one of the things that is actually happening is that for $4.26 per hour Bell are paying you to act as a PR representative for their brand – part of that branding is the image of a “responsible corporate citizen.”

Bell could just pay the same corporate income tax in 2013 that corporations paid in 1960 (or really any point since then) and contribute vastly more to the treatment of mental health in Canada than the money they are contributing as part of a corporate PR campaign. Bell Canada’s 2011 net profits were $2,160,000,000 and its total revenue was 19,500,000,000 – so whatever they end up donating for mental health treatment/awareness could be replaced with stable, annual funding by increasing corporate income tax by less than a sliver of a fraction of a percentage point.

Keep in mind as well that in 2006 Bell Canada attempted to convert to an Income Trust, a corporate model that would have allowed it to avoid paying almost any corporate income tax at all, a move that would have cost the Canadian state about $800m per year in tax revenue. It was only prevented from doing so by a last minute legislative change by the Tories. They sure as hell didn’t care much about funding for mental health in 2006 when they tried to decimate available funding for health and social programs.

In 2007 they also eliminated health benefits for retirees in order to save money (despite net earning of $4,057,000,000 that year), For retirees this of course meant reduced access to psychologists and other professionals and reduced availability of prescription drugs.

So twitter users are effectively being paid less than half of minimum wage to work as a PR professional for a multi-billion dollar telecommunications corporation and then donating that wage to a cause that ought to be properly funded by the tax dollars that multi-billion dollar corporations have lobbied hard to avoid paying.

The hourly wage argument is of course secondary to the larger ethical problem of corporations leveraging emotional, highly personal stories using social media to promote a product in exchange for a tax deductible donation after years of lost healthcare funding due to corporate tax cuts. There’s no other way to describe it than the commodification of our experience of mental illness.

(and yes, I get that there is an “awareness” side to it as well, but that is another complicated argument. I would simply say that awareness is not enough and needs to be coupled with a well resourced, properly funded, universal public healthcare system which is provided with stable funding through a graduated income tax system and that you can tweet about mental health without attaching a corporate slogan to it)

2) I am not sure your tweet actually even “raises” 3.55 cents for mental health. Bell is contributing this money as part of its proposal to get regulatory approval from the CRTC for its proposed merger with Astral Media.  In order to seek approval for the $3,380,000,000.00 a merger with Astral (a deal which competitors claims is bad for competitiveness in the telecommunications market) Bell pledged to spend $3.5m on the Let’s Talk campaign. (There’s also other money in there for other “tangible benefits” such as new infrastructure in the north and french language broadcasting)

So the question is (and it is a real question) is whether or not your tweet actually increases Bell’s total spending. If Bell has pledged to spend $3.5m (minus tax incentives) on this campaign and has budgeted for it (and assuming the Astral merger goes through) then that money will be spent whether you tweet or not. I am not really convinced that the total sum Bell will spend out of a budget that no doubt was set months ago will actually increase regardless of how many tweets well meaning internet users make with a specific hashtag. (Though the exact allocation of that money is likely flexible. Further, one has to ask what it would say about a company if they have an amount budgeted to donate to mental health but chose not to donate the full amount if people didn’t tweet their slogan often enough)

In addition, the $3.5m on the campaign is not just being spent on mental health “awareness” but also on PR and on the cost of the acquisition of new corporate assets (i.e. Astral Media).

All of this is not to say you shouldn’t bother tweeting their slogan, but I think its worth trying to understand exactly what the impact of your tweet actually is.

p.s. hello to the PR interns who are currently reading this post and trying to brainstorm how to respond.  I am sure many of you would love to be paid $4.26 an hour rather than working on an unpaid internship.


Edit:
Accounts of the exact number of tweets and texts vary, but estimates for the end of day total seem to be clustering around $4 million-ish. Assuming that is the correct number Bell would donate about $2.8m in total funding to mental health tratment after you deduct the lost tax revenue. (note that earlier in the day I also ditched a re-posted tweet from someone else when I realized that the estimate was waaaaaaaaay off after looking at previous years)

Edit 2: ooooooooooofffffffff I made some errors there with the corporate tax code. Significant numerical adjustments that maintain the spirit of my argument but make it slightly less extreme. I also added some stuff about Bell’s attempt to convert to an income trust. Carry on.

Edit 3: (the final edit) Also keep in mind that in the case of phone calls and texts that came from Bell accounts and which counted for the campaign the customer was actually paying Bell to place that call and send that text (as well as costs of data and broadband internet from Bell internet and smartphone users). Calculating the boost in income from the increased service usage is well outside my limited mathematical talents. It’s also worth noting the awkward ethical position of news reporters from various BCE companies are put in as they plan to gush over this campaign in the coming weeks.

HRM Elections I: All I want is a protest candidate

Elections are always awkward times for me. I am not so naive as to believe that real structural change comes through the ballot box, but I also recognize that for many people (particularly the poor) even small policy changes can make life more livable. I also spent much of my naive youth following and being involved in electoral politics and I still follow it with the same sick fascination that causes me to follow professional sports I don’t even like. The end result is that I don’t think it makes a huge difference, but I always end up voting and almost always spend way too much time talking about the strategic elements of electoral politics.

Municipal elections in Nova Scotia are creeping up and I’ve mostly sat this one out in terms of putting any real energy into backing a candidate, but as per usual I will vote.

For councilor I will vote for Waye Mason in District 7. I have known Waye for years and he’s a friend. We disagree on a lot of things, particularly when it comes to political economy, but he is good on some urban planning issues, transit, anti-corruption and racism. While I don’t think he’ll be great (though not “bad” compared to other municipal politicians) around anti-poverty or labour issues he is miles and miles ahead of his main rival Sue Uteck. Uteck inherited her seat from her football hero husband and is awful, self righteous, anti-worker and divisive as a councilor and any opportunity to unseat her is an opportunity not to be wasted. (I am also in an awkward situation since the dividing line between District 7 and District 8 is literally the middle of my street – an really telling example of how politics are reflected in the political geography of Halifax. My side of the street is mostly fixed up semi-detached homes and the row of new-construction yuppie townhouses I live in, across the street crust-punk houses, a methadone clinic and subdivided houses occupied by elderly long-time residents. The blocks just to the south of me include several new condo developments. The middle of my street is the line that divides the gentrified from the soon to be gentrified.)

I will also vote for school board, though I am not sure who I will vote for. Some names have been eliminated in my mind, but there still isn’t an obvious candidate.

The mayoral race is where I am most discouraged. Mike Savage will win by a landslide – likely by a wider margin then he is currently polling at since he’s the only candidate with a viable ground game to pull the vote on election day. I know Savage from my days with the Canadian Federation of Students when he was the Liberal MP for Dartmouth and he’s a competent professional politician, but he’s someone I fundamentally disagree with on my issues. I also don’t like the message sent by the landslide victory of a candidate without any firm policy positions. As a result I am looking to park my vote elsewhere, more as an act of empty protest than as a real act of political will.

None of the other five (FIVE!) candidates emerge out of the city’s social movements: none with background in labour, feminist organizing, anti-poverty activism or community organizing.

The second place candidate at the moment Tom Martin, who is delusional enough to think he still has a shot. He reached out to the professional engagement and social media type 20-somethings early in his campaign and as a result has surrounded himself with a wealth of folks who have never run campaigns, have no connection to real social movements in the city and think that positive tweets and the empty rhetoric of liberal urbanism constitute significant change. I also could not ever imagine voting for a current of former police officer for any political office, let alone mayor. On substantive issues his positions seem confused and often laughable. My favourite suggestion by Martin is that developers need an ombudsperson to represent their interests to the city, laughably asserting that wealthy developers currently hold an inadequate amount of power in the city.

Fred Connors is running an ego driven campaign that is all about FRED (both the brand and the person, though I am unsure if you can separate the two at this point). He occasionally stumbles onto some things I agree with like forcing suburban developers to pay 100% of the infrastructure costs of new development, but he’s also a classic example of a wealthy urban dweller who is ready to dismiss everyone from bicyclists to Occupy activists. He has also, like everyone else, been short on concrete policy suggestions.

The other three candidates are the most puzzling. All were last minute additions and all have had a zero percent chance of winning, or even taking more than 10% of the vote since the day they filed their papers. Normally if someone enters a race they can’t win they are doing so for one of three reasons. Either they are getting their name out there for future political gain (doesn’t seem to be the case with any of these three), promoting themselves and their business ventures (again, outside of a stand up comedian running a “serious” campaign that doesn’t seem to be the case) or they are championing a very specific cause that they think other candidates are avoiding.

What I find so confusing is that none of the three outsiders are pursuing the last option. Mackie has talked a bit about poverty, but he has not been vocal enough nor has he developed either a clear ideological or policy position on poverty in the HRM. Eisses originally billed himself as an environmental candidate, but his positions around sustainable development are not radically different from Fred Connors or even the the vague lip-service paid by the two leading candidates. Indeed, Eisses seemed like the most viable protest candidate at first until he came out publicly in support of the bone-headed, help-the-rich “tax reform” package that would include a charge at cost of delivery instead of pegging municipal taxes to assesed value. A system which would lead to mansion owning millionaires on Young Avenue paying less in taxes than bungalow owning working class families in the semi-rural and rural parts of the city.

So where does that leave those of us who don’t want to cast a vote in the coronation of King Savage II? The two leading options for protest candidates (Connors and Eisses) have boneheaded positions on important issues (and one would marry himself if legally allowed) and none of the unwinnables are willing to take controversial stands on economic or social issues. None of pushed single issues and forced Savage or the media to take serious the lack of social housing, issues of race and racism, police brutality and corruption or the decline of affordable recreation. None of them have even earned my protest vote.

And its a sad state of affairs in municipal politics when I can’t even decide who to waste my vote on as an act of Quixotic protest.

If Richard Aoki Didn’t Exist it Would be Necessary to Invent Him (or Some Thoughts on Being Young, Left and Yellow)

Like many people I read shocking news today: Richard Aoki is alleged to have been an FBI informant. For many people who heard this news it was likely the first time they’d ever heard of Aoki and the story resonates more as yet another example of the degree to which counter insurgency, repression and every day surveillance was a normalized part of law enforcements reaction to the social movement of the 1960s and ’70s. (As many have pointed out, there are good reasons to doubt the accusations at this time)

But for me the news was different. It cut deep. I never met Aoki before his passing and I am far too young, too Canadian and too far east to have been active in the same circles as him. But Richard Aoki, along with Yuri Kochiyama, redefined the last three years of my life.

I research and write about Third World Marxism, the Asian American Movement and about the Asian American wing of the New Communist movement as the basis of my academic work. I’ve spent the last few years staring at microfilm of movement newspapers that featured interviews with Aoki. I’ve seen the film about his life. I’ve read the biography of him. I’ve lived among stacks of photocopies of pamphlets and journals that told the tale of kids with Mao’s writing in their hands and revolution on their minds. And these kids looked like me.

More so than any of my academic interest in people like Richard Aoki the fact that he looked like me is what mattered. Discovering Aoki, Kochiyama and Fred Ho and I Wor Kuen, the Red Guard, Wei Min She and Getting Together and Gidra changed my life. Not because it’s helped me spend three years not finishing a graduate degree but because it let me imagine myself and the collective history I share with people who look like me.

I needed Richard Aoki.

You see, I was left before I was yellow. I identified with the left (first as a naive social democrat and now with more realistic, more revolutionary politics) before I ever thought about my own position as the grandson of poor immigrants from a small village in mainland China. I thought about race and racial injustice, but I never really conceived of how my slanted eyes and my family history were at all connected with the radical tradition that I admired and so very much wanted to be a part of.

White folks have their Lenins and Trotskys and Luxemburgs, their Savios and Joe Hills and their thousands of kids tabling punk shows and university hallways. African Americans and Canadians had Fredrick Douglas, Du Bois, the Panthers and Malcolm X and the obscured history of Martin Luther King’s turn to socialism and anti-war politics. But to be 20, Asian and on the left meant to see no one who looked like me or who shared my experiences. Certainly no one in Halifax where I went to a high school with three other Asian kids and attended a university where there were two other Asian-Canadian kids in my 350 person freshman class.

Richard Aoki, I Wor Kuen and Yuri Kochiyama changed that for me. Aoki was an Asian American bad ass. He had guns. He wore sunglasses in every photo. He talked about revolution and street fights and he stood shoulder to shoulder with the Panthers. He dedicated his life to a set of causes that mean the world to me. All of this meant that I looked at Aoki – a man who made his name 40 years and thousands of kilometers distant from me – as a source of inspiration and imagination. For the first time I saw a politics that really struggled (and though ultimately failed) to reconcile questions of class with questions of race, but more importantly I saw someone who looked like me staring down cops and trying to help run survival programs in inner city slums.

The politics were important but so too were the aesthetics. The pictures I saw of Aoki and his comrades were some of the first pictures I had ever seen of really cool looking Asian-American young adults. No bowl cuts, no gangly awkwardness, no shirts with anime characters on them, no calculators. Sunglasses, horn-rimmed glasses, leather jackets, picket signs and hard as fuck facial expressions.

Up until then I had internalized the myth of the model minority – that Japanese, Korean and Chinese kids were compliant, striving for assimilation, passive, a-political at best and just looking to put our heads down to try to grind out a better future without making waves. I think I imagined that being a radical and being Chinese-Canadian were mutually exclusive. Discovering the radical elements of the Asian American movements destroyed that myth and that dualism for me. (The allegations that the bad-ass Asian American street fighter might have actually been a snitch is what makes this all so emotionally difficult: the most extreme version of the allegations portray Aoki as compliant with the state and willing to betrayed African American radicals. It’s a nightmare.)

Finally I could imagine myself as part of a rich history of the left in North America and that’s why I needed Richard Aoki and why I still do. I never felt welcome in the history of radicalism until I found him and his comrades.

Now that I know that his involvement in these movements is far more complicated than I (or anyone else) had initially thought I find myself trying to figure out what it means. Not what it means for the history of the movement (although it means I may have to revise the thesis that won’t die) or of the left, but what it means for me. Aoki has occupied such a central place in my imagination in recent years that even without knowing any details of what happened in the 1960s I want to simultaneously defend and disown Aoki.

And therein lies the interesting problem for me: I feel like I own his history and I feel like I need to defend him. But at least I feel like I have a history worth defending and worth owning. So regardless of whether or not Richard Aoki was working for the FBI he at least gave me a sense of ownership over a tiny sliver of the history of radicalism on this continent and he created ways in which I could imagine myself as being Asian American (or Canadian) within future struggles.

I still don’t know what to think about today’s news, but I know this: if the FBI hired Richard Aoki as part of their larger plan to make sure that the insurgency of the 1960s didn’t survive beyond that decade then we can at least rest assured that their plan blew up in their faces. If the allegations are true then they hired a man who inspired generations of activists to see the struggle of Asian Americans as linked to the struggle of their Black, Latino, Puerto Rican and poor white brothers and sisters. That inspiration and the inspiring history of a movement that Aoki was just one small part of live on, regardless of whether or not he ever worked for the FBI.

EDIT: While my thoughts are mostly personal, Scott Kushige breaks down the lack of real content in the allegations here. You need to read it.

Who is left in Halifax?

It’s always a challenge to find like-minded folks in a city, particularly one like Halifax where so much information is spread informally through word of mouth and by friends of friends. So in a modest effort to help folks find like-minded organizations and individuals I’ve begun compiling a list of broadly “left” organizations in the city.

A problem with compiling a list like this is that it involves an inherent process of selecting who does and does not qualify as left. I am explicitly attempting to be as inclusive and non-sectarian as possible with this list and I am defining (or not defining) left as broadly as possible. My goal is not to provide opinions or analysis on the politics or actions of any of these groups, but simply to help folks find groups they might be interested in supporting or working with.

Different groups operate under different structures – some are membership based, some are political parties and others are collectives. Some are non-profits and some are informal clusters of friends or comrades. Some do no have clear structures at all. When possible I try to identify the basic structures of the groups below.

This list is a work in progress and is not meant to be exhaustive. It is limited to groups I know about. If you know of a group that you think should included (or if I misrepresented a group) please post in the comments section or contact me on twitter @cultureofdefeat

Explicitly Marxist, Anarchist, or broadly Anti-Capitalist Organizations

Solidarity Halifax (SolHal) – Non-sectarian, pluralist anti-capitalist organization. Membership based with a dues structure and several dozen current members. Campaigns work includes Power to the People (campaign to public ownership of NS Power) and labour solidarity work. (Disclosure: I am a member of SolHal)

STAND – Libertarian communist organization. Membership based with a dues structure. Describe themselves as “a Halifax-based organization aimed at transforming our social order through mutual aid and direct action, building towards worker and community control of all aspects of our lives.” Have a detailed manifesto and political program.

Platypus Affiliated Society – Dalhousie – Campus based affiliate of the Platypus Society. A Marxist intellectual project based around reading groups, discussions, lectures and publishing. Goal is to spur on debate on the left but not itself action oriented.

Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) (CP-ML) – Maoist/Hoxhaist political party. Last Halifax remnants of the New Communist Movement. Very small Halifax membership. Primary activity is participation federal elections and organizing the Halifax May Day celebrations (in past years the “Halifax May Day Organizing Committee” was a CP-ML committee).

Resources

Nova Scotia Public Interest Group at Dalhousie (NSPIRG) – Campus and community based organization which provides support for research and action projects through a working group structure. Though its mandate is not explicitly left, the working groups it supports have tended to lean leftwards. Current working groups include Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and READ (Reclaim Education and Democracy).

Robert’s Street Social Centre – plays host to a variety of DIY and anarchist cultural projects including access to screen printing, a zine library and event space.

Labour and Worker’s Rights

Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council – A representative organization made up of all the union locals active in the HRM. Not itself radical as an organization its actions and rhetoric (including adopting the slogan “Capitalism isn’t working for workers”) put them as far left as any district labour council in the country. Individual locals and unions also have political action committees which may lean to the left.

Stepping Stone – sex worker’s advocacy organization. While not explicitly left, they provide support for a marginalized group of workers and include the decriminalization of sex worker as among their goals. Seems rad to me!

Race and Immigration

No One is Illegal Halifax – radical immigration rights work and anti-border activism. Operate as a collective. Part of a wider national network of collectives.

Ujamaa – Not leftist per se, but some experienced left organizers are involved and they are providing a space for left discourse on issues affecting the African Nova Scotian communisty in Halifax. A project of the Greater Halifax Partnership (I know, I know).

Radical sexual and gender politics

Hot Times Collective – collective organizing safe space for the expression of queer sexuality.

Halifax Dyke and Trans March Organizing Committee – currently organize once a year. A committee that organizes a march during Pride Week which is separate from official events and aims to provide a non-corporate, politicized and radical alternative to mainstream events.

Queer and Rebel Collective – A collective organizing a radical alternative to mainstream gay and lesbian politics.

Prison Justice/Prison Abolition

Books Beyond Bars – an almost decade old organization which provides reading material and writing programs for prisoners.

Previously active organizations which are currently dormant

Feminist League for Agitation Propaganda (FLAP) – Exactly as the name suggest. Active within the last few years, but no recent activity. A network of like-minded individuals.

Halifax Peace Coalition – Long running coalition of peace activists in the city. One of the city’s most prominent activist organizations during the early 2000s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently defunct.

Other

Occupy NS – Nova Scotia version of the North America wide tactic that rose to prominance in the fall of 2011. Evicted by the city in November 2011. No current physical occupation. Small number of activists remaining involved. Open, consensus based decision making structure.

Reduce Tuition Fees Halifax – Group allied with the Canadian Federation of Students (social democratic national students organization) but open to non-CFS members. Organizing around education issues.

Halifax Media Co-Op – Again, not explicitly left in name, but pretty left in practice. Cooperative, member funded website and monthly newspaper. Publish extensively on poverty, racism and social movements.

Various temporary groups spring up on occasion surrounding specific issues, particularly government funding cuts or international summits. Those defunct groups are too numerous to name and unlikely to re-appear under their previous names.

The Quebec Student Strike and Halifax’s Left

Courtesy of CKDU (I think) here is the audio from the talk I co-presented a few months ago with Kaley Kennedy. It was an early attempt by Solidarity Halifax to try to present some analysis and foment some debate around strategy and tactics on the left. We had about 65 people out for it.

The talk provides a fair bit of detail about the nuts and bolts of the organizing efforts in Quebec as well as some thoughts on the nature of the struggle, the question of reformism and revolution and some thoughts on what the task for those of us in Halifax is at this time. An

On the meanings of Raymond Taavel’s death

Today Gottingen street is awash in rainbow flags and teary eyed residents. Two days ago Raymond Taavel, a well known activist who was particularly involved in the gay community was brutally murdered.

I won’t rehash details of the crime as there is plenty of information available online but I do want to try to add some thoughts to what this means for my neighbourhood specifically and the city more generally. Taavel’s murder hit me hard even though I had only met Raymond a few times over the years and likely would never have been able to pick him out of a line up. I’ve cried a dozen times – in part because I am emotional wreck in general these days, but also because this happened almost on my door step. 100 metres from my house is where he died and his killer was found in an alleyway directly across the street from me.

These are more questions than statements, but its important in times like these to think about what these events mean, even if those thoughts are fractured and incomplete.

1) Was it a hate crime and does it matter?

When the story first broke that Taavel was the victim of a brutal assault outside of a gay bar and that homophobic slurs were heard during the attack the automatic and reasonable assumption was that this was a hate crime. Now it has come to light that the assailant was a severely violent, psychotic patient from a mental health hospital who had not returned from an hour long pass and the once simple narrative is now very complicated.

But here’s the thing that straight folks like me need to keep in mind: Whether or not the real intent behind the murder had anything to do with sexuality the fear that members of Halifax’s queer community felt is real. I think it’s deeply important to remember that any time a member of the queer community is attacked there is a very real chance that they were targeted purely because of their sexuality. For heterosexuals there is an almost nonexistent chance that we will ever be assaulted because of sexuality. Who we love does not put us in danger, and that is a luxury not afforded to our gay brothers and lesbian sisters.

So whether or not this specific instance was one of gay bashing, the fear that the possibility of it being a homophobic assault is imbued with its own power. And this is how homophobia (and racism and sexism and class oppression and much more) actually work and gain their power: It’s not through a specific instance of violence that it gains its power, but rather through the omnipresent possibility of violence which hangs over every night out and every trip to the corner store for queer people.

The initial assumption that Taavel’s murder was a hate crime is a reflection of this reality of possible, always deferred but always present violence and to dismiss it as an overreaction is to apologize for the thousands of acts of homophobic violence that have occurred in this city over the years. The fear that this act of violence instilled in the community is the intended consequence of all of those acts of violence.

It’s also worth remembering that the fact that Taavel’s murder may have been psychotic at the time does not remove some serious political questions from the equation. It’s still possible that the person Taavel stepped in to save was being targeted due to his or her perceived sexuality (a real possibility given the fact that they were standing outside a gay bar and were surely not the first person the assailant had encountered that night), but we also need to reflect on the role that the forced obscurity of queer social life played in this event: Menz bar is not downtown – had it been on Argyle street there likely would have been cops around it during closing time and there’s a chance the assault never would have happened. Likewise, had the Salvation Army’s homophobia and the bizarre entitlement of condo owners not won out Reflections may have been a couple blocks away putting dozens more people on the street and making it less possible for violent acts to happen under the cover of darkness.

2) Is Gottingen Safe?

This is a start reminder that we still live in a dangerous neighbourhood. It’s dangerous because of poverty and drug use, yes. But it’s also dangerous for geographic reasons: long stretches of poorly lit, uninhabited lots (a problem which will only be made worse by the gentrification-led building boom). I always say that I feel less safe in Halifax at night than I did when I lived in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn because of the lack of eyes on the street here. But beyond geography and questions of lighting and built environment, there are larger questions: Why was the attacker drawn to Gottingen in the first place? Was he looking for drugs (he has a history of use of “street drugs”) was he heading to the police station? To the Salvation Army shelter? Turning Point shelter down the hill? Our bohemian dreams of a safe gentrified central North End need to be shaken up by this. What role did jamming together middle class dwellings and extreme poverty play in this tragedy?

3) What is “Our Community?”

I am not a member of the queer community so someone more appropriate can tackle that, but I am certainly a member of the Gottingen community. I, and so many others, have praised the speed with which we put up rainbow flags and the hugs strangers gave to each other on the street, but we also need to face a hard fact about last night’s vigil: almost no members of the indigenous black community which makes up a larger part of our neighbourhood was there. I think that’s a reflection of the divide between people like me – well meaning, middle class non-black folks who go see indie rock bands and foreign films and go to the farmer’s market and our neighbours who see us as invaders at worst and aloof outsiders at best. The public library is a dividing point between two Gottingen streets and when we speak of “Our Community” or “Our Neighbourhood” we need to recognize the spatial, economic, racial and political meanings that infuse that language. We also need to ask ourselves: next time a kid from the square ends up dead will 1,000 of us be out there with candles singing hymns?

4) The complexity of this murder reflects the complexity of the structures of violence

We know that Andre Noel Denny, the murderer of Raymond Taavel, has a history of violent and severe mental illness. We know he has a history of violence against people and animals. We know he has a history of substance abuse problems. We suspect he might be a homophobe. We know that the mental health system clearly failed to offer him the supports and supervision needed to prevent him from re-offending. We know he’s spent time in corrections facilities and mental health institutions. Based on the places he’s listed as living, his last name and his appearance I am willing to guess he is aboriginal.

So ultimately what we know is that we have a victim who may be dead because he was queer, and we have a perpetrator who may be a violent 32 year old because we have prison and mental health systems which overwhelmingly fail to rehabilitate. This all happened in front of a backdrop of gentrification, institutional failure, systemic racism, omnipresent cultural homophobia and economic injustice. It happened in a neighborhood with conflicting identities and split communities.

Ultimately Raymond Taavel’s death is a brutal one and the singularity of his life and his passing shouldn’t be abstracted away, but his death is also like so many other acts of violence and tells a wider story about this neighbourhood, this province and the world we live in.

So I don’t know what Taavel’s death really means, but I know that searching for meanings, and not in some sort of spiritual sense per-se, in it can help us reduce the chances of more people breathing their last breathes on the sidewalks of our neighbourhoods.

Why Halifax can still win the NBL Canada championship

Tags

Look – I’ve been as critical of a sports fan you will ever find. I’ve heckled my home team’s coach and begged him to call a time out (oh Rick Lewis) for 3 minutes straight while the other team was running a layup line against an exhausted Rainmen squad. I spent years writing a blog that lamented the constant roster moves. I’ve mentioned on twitter that I think some of the Rainmen’s municipal funding has been sketchy. And I’ve drawn the ire of team ownership for it – at one point even inexplicably being publicly accused of not being a “real fan” despite being one of the few people to never use a comped ticket in my five years of attending games.

And here’s the thing, I’ve spent all this time being critical because I strangely care about this team and because there is no better two and a half hours of sports to be seen in Atlantic Canada than a Rainmen game. I also did it because the constant roster moves and the blown close games and numerous suspensions for personal reasons have all been infuriating and frustrating as a sports fan. To see guys like Tommy Mitchell get cut from the Rainmen just for the sake of making a change only to see him get an NBA camp invite 10 months later was confusing yet predictable.

But none of that matters right now because the Rainmen are in the finals and despite being down two games to one against a team who have lost just three times on the season (including last night’s loss at the Metro Centre) I think Halifax can win the first NBLC championship.

It won’t be easy or likely, of course. Halifax face one of the best ever minor league coaches in Michael Ray Richardson. The face a veteran team of tough, physical players who play hard for each other. They also face incredible unpredictability – Halifax have key players like Chris Hagen who are battling injuries, the reffing in playoffs has been horrendous and inconsistent at times and the Rainmen have had a hard time following up emotional, gutsy wins.

Despite all that Halifax have pushed London hard. Even in the two losses they never let London clear out the bench (you know the game is over when London finally let their Canadians get on the floor). The fact that even in the losses they pushed the Lightning to the brink is what gives the home team a shot at winning tonight and maybe even stealing one in the industrial park wasteland that is London. London have nine professional basketball players on their team and MRR favours an incredibly short bench. He won’t go past eight deep if the game is still being contested. He’s ridden guys like Ellis, Freeman and Bowden hard all season. He’s also always preferred minor league veterans and there are very few young legs on this London team.

In contrast, Halifax play their top ten guys more or less equally and even 11th man, Christian Upshaw, has provided a legit contribution in this series. If Hagen or Brown go down hurt I won’t panic if Upshaw gets more minutes. If Bowden goes down for London it just means the other two guards MRR trusts will play the whole game.

Halifax are also on the whole much younger. If things swing back to London then those five games were played over eight days with two significant travel days in the mix. That means one day off. Younger bodies recover faster than old ones, particularly if the old bodies are playing a lot more minutes. This hasn’t been a soft series either. Both teams are physical and intense without being dirty, there’s a physical toll that those hard fouls and floor level scrambles for loose balls take and there’s an emotional toll that late game collapse collect.

Halifax’s deeper roster also means Pep has more flexibility than his counterpart. There are simply more offensive and defensive combinations on the Halifax roster and the Rainmen’s Spanish coach has tweaked around the edges all season. He’s not afraid of playing three (or even four) guards at once or sending out three point guards. He can throw a stupid amount of length out on the floor with Huggee, Crookshank, Wright, Haywood and a point guard in order to create chaos on the full court press. They can put out five shooters. London play eight (incredibly talented players) and play one (very effective) way.

This is also a Halifax team that love each other. Forget all the rhetoric of playing for the fans and the city – these are 11 guys who are playing for each other. Watching Halifax battle and play hard has been the best part of this season. Occasionally the intensity is too much and it leads to rash decision making, bad fouls or lapses in concentration, but give me hard fouls and energy over cold, methodical calculation any day.

Ultimately the key for the Rainmen will be to walk that fine line of energy and concentration and to balance intensity with execution. Can they play intense, energetic defense and still maintain the right rotations on defense? Can they avoid giving up cheap fouls and still generate turnovers? They will also need some luck and some heroic performances. They’ll need a mental lapse or two from London and they’ll need a crew of refs who can do their jobs properly.

So a lot needs to happen for Halifax to win this, but for the first time in five years I feel like there’s a chance the Rainmen will walk away with some hardware.

So here’s my challenge to the Rainmen: make me look like a petulant shit head with a Macbook and too many opinions. Make my five years of complaints about roster moves, coaching choices and public funding look stupid and petty. I want to be proven wrong, this city needs a championship, and most importantly, those 11 guys who play for each other and put their bodies on the line deserve that trophy.

The problems with Brenden Sommerhalder’s “reporting”

The internet blew up today with links to a piece about scheduling and metro Transit written by self proclaimed city booster Brenden Sommerhelder on news website openfile.ca. It’s caught on largely for two reasons: first, it taps into widespread discontent with the ATU and its membership for withholding their labour during contact negotiations with their employer. Second, it fills a void left by incompetent communications work by the city and the ATU and a lack of any long-form reporting by the daily papers in the city.

It’s a breezey read and compiles a lot of information widely available online but it’s highly problematic for a few reasons:

1) It’s not reporting, it’s opinion.

It’s an opinion piece, not an act of neutral journalism. Sommerhalder is not a reporter (nor does he himself claim to be) and his reliance on anonymous sources is worrisome as a result. When Tim B., Bethany Horne, Alex Boutiler or Dan Arsenault quote an anonymous source I am skeptical of it, but they have credentials, reputations and experience which to some degree persuade me to have some faith in their judgement to use that particular source and to decide not to attribute anything to them by name. When a blogger does it I have no such reason to place my faith in that person’s decision making process, nor do I know their relationship to their editor.  If a person simply posts that on a self-hosted blog then it’s obvious to me

Of course one of the hallmarks of online journalism/journalism 2.0/webwriting/news blogging/whateverthebuzzwordis is that anyone can become a journalist, and I have some sympathy for that position, but one thing that traditional journalism has gotten right that online publications have largely struggled with is the separation between editorial/opinion content and news reporting. This is where my problem with the portrayal of this article comes in: it is an opinion piece written by a good opinions writer which is being portrayed as a news piece. No where is it flagged as an opinions piece and it is described as being “Reported on by Brenden Sommerhalder.” That editorial lack of separation between opinions writing and news reporting is problematic.

Sommerhalder doesn’t simply report facts, but also shares fairly heavy handed opinions on the topic. That’s not his fault but it’s a problem if it is being portrayed by the publication as a neutral piece of news reporting.

2) Sommerhalder’s opinions are only half right.

Sommerhalder essentially has two main conclusions in his piece. First, he argues that the a move from run-pick to block-pick scheduling would reduce some of the cost overruns associated with overtime. Second, he claims that “something as important and integral to an organization as how it schedules its employees’ work should happen collaboratively, not unilaterally, and not at the contract bargaining table.”

Sommerhalder’s first point is correct, but ultimately not all that helpful. Block-picking will help curtail some of the overtime problems, but there are numerous other ways to curtail overtime costs without throwing out a centuries old scheduling system which is overwhelmingly favoured by employees. What Sommerhalder does not do is compare the relative savings from block-picking to other potential solutions that could be introduced alongside a modified run-pick system. Of course, this isn’t Sommerhalder’s fault: the executive of ATU 508 have done an awful job communicating with the public and have not been forthcoming with creative solutions. “Block-picking could save some money” moves the conversation ahead a few inches but still leaves us without a comparative framework to work in.

While there I do partially agree with Sommerhalder’s first point I think his second argument is fundamentally wrong. The only mechanism to negotiate scheduling procedures in a work place is by writing it the fuck down. You don’t just sort of casually talk about how 700 employees might have their schedule made: you write it down as a contract. And if you’re negotiating contracts between workers and the employer then that bargaining is done collectively with the democratically elected union officials acting as the representative of the employees. These sorts of scheduling issues are exactly the sorts of items that collective bargaining is meant to deal with and are in fact the only reasonable way to do it under our current system of industrial legality. The only time that employees can legally withhold their labour is after the contract has expired, therefor negotiating a scheduling during the life of a CBA means that employees have no recourse what-so-ever if the employer decides to unilaterally institute a form of scheduling they disagree with. Under the current system we are saddled with, if you want negotiation, not employers dictating work place schedule then you need to bargain it after the previous CBA has expired.

What else?

The way openfile.ca has portrayed Sommerhalder’s piece as news is fundamentally problematic, not in what it says about the author or the issue of the ATU 508/Metro Transit labour dispute but because its a reflection of the wider problem of online publications not establishing a division between opinion and reporting.

The article itself is a reflection of a problem specific to the labour MT/ATU 508 labour dispute: The union leadership has done an awful job communicating through both traditional means and lame social media options, and the general population of Halifax is annoyed and looking for a solution that appears to be the quickest way to save money and get the buses back on the road. The braindead decision by ATU 508 picket captains to set up pickets to delay plowing this morning just put a finer point on anti-union sentiment on the same day that this piece hit the internet.  With the current climate of public opinion on the strike and the constant union PR miscues even generally neutral opinion pieces and reporting like Sommerhalder’s becomes fodder for internet rageaholics who want to fire all the bus drivers and send them back to Russia.

Edit: OpenFile editor Bethany Horne tells me that she verified Sommerhalder’s anonymous sources.