Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Sexism Strikes Again?

Or does it? Only the Liberals know for sure

This just in! Apparently, Belinda Stronach is a woman.

Go figure, I hadn’t noticed either.

But apparently, she is indeed a woman, and as such the Federal Liberal Women’s Caucus has stepped forward to declare that much of criticism of Stronach is sexist.
Wow. I never saw that coming. Not in a million years. Nope, no sir…

Anyway, following the reaction to Belinda Stronach crossing the floor to sit with the perennially crooked Federal Liberals, the Liberal Women’s Caucus has stepped forward to decry and bemoan the sexism allegedly being directed at the embattled MP.
Ontario Conservative Bob Runciman called Stronach (a woman considered by some to be among the most attractive Members of Parliament) “a dipstick – an attractive one – but a dipstick.”

Alberta Conservative MLA Tony Abbot declared that Stronach had “whored herself for power.” Unlike the CBC, CTV allowed Abbot to elaborate by also printing, “ Some people prostitute themselves for different costs or different prices. She sold out for a cabinet position."

Liberal MP Judy Sgro weighed in, saying, “"I think it's important that we try to raise the level of discourse and debate and they shouldn't be reduced to the kinds of throw-away comments that people are clearly using last night and this morning. So I would call on Mr. Harper to apologize to Ms. Stronach and to women of Canada, and ask his colleagues to very much do the same so that we can try and restore some level of respect and discussion here in Ottawa."

Because Stephen Harper is obviously responsible for the comments made by Alberta and Ontario MLAs. And the Liberal Women’s Caucus isn’t licking their lips at the concept of Harper tucking tail on their behalf. No, not at all.

Linda Trimble, professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta stepped into the debate, saying, "When she's being called a whore and a dipstick – well, that's intensely personal, and it goes to her integrity. Those are not the kinds of comments made when male politicians cross the floor."

So what of Stronach’s integrity? She was elected by her constituency as a Conservative, but there have been plenty of MPs cross the floor to sit with other parties, right?

Then again, when Liberal MP David Kilgour crossed the floor, he didn’t do so to sit as a critic, or even as a member of the Conservative party – he did so to sit as an independent. When Conservative MP Chuck Cadman crossed, he did likewise.
When John Bryden crossed to sit as an Independent, he would eventually sit as a Conservative… but not for eight days afterward.

Even the venerable Joe Clark crossed the floor once, to sit as an… independent. Does anyone else see a pattern here? Maybe one that Belinda Stronach doesn’t fit?
Even Deborah Gray (I would like to note, also a woman) once crossed the floor, to sit as an… independent. She, however, would eventually rejoin the Canadian Alliance. Likewise with Valerie Meredith.

Here in the Nexus, if there’s anything I do, it’s call a spade a spade. Frankly, it’s fairly obvious what these individuals are trying to do. They’re following one of the cardinal rules of politics: make it hurt to take you on.

By ideologizing the issue of Belinda Stronach’s betrayal, these individuals are out to make it impossible to criticize Stronach without being branded as sexist. This is similar to attempts made by the proponents of same-sex marriage to make it impossible to criticize moves to legalize same-sex marriage without being branded as homophobic, or make it impossible to not support affirmative action programs without being accused of racism. The list goes on and on, and it’s actually a fairly effective mudslinging tactic.

Because it’s becoming fairly obvious that it’s one thing for a woman to have “great shoes,” (words of Anne McLellan) but it’s entirely an obvious to question the integrity of an MP who has just stabbed her constituents in the back.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Blonde Ambition Strikes Again!

Belinda Stronach Makes Blonde Jokes Fashionable Again

Politics is a game that is not unlike poker. For many, the goal is ultimately to deceive your fellow players while jockeying for the best hand you possibly can.

On May 17, 2005, Belinda Stronach played a winning hand – at least on paper – by crossing the floor to sit with the Liberal party. Her ultimate reward? A cabinet position as the minister of Human Resources and Skills Development.

Never mind the little detail that Stronach’s Newmarket-Aurora constituents elected her as a member of the Conservative party – a party for which she placed second in the 2004 leadership convention.

“ I cannot exaggerate how hard this is for me,” Stronach said at a press conference.

“ The country must come first.”

The country. Right.

“ I’ve been uncomfortable for some time with the direction the Conservative party was taking,” Stronach explained. “I regret to say that I do not believe the party leader is truly sensitive to the needs of each part of the country and just how big and complex Canada really is."

While she may have a very arguable point regarding the party’s stance on same-sex marriage, the runner-up to the party leadership crosses the floor and immediately begins criticizing Stephen Harper? Wow. Never saw that coming.

Harper had his own thoughts. “ There’s no grand principle involved in this decision, just ambition,” Harper said.

Ambition is something that Stronach is no stranger to. Considering she dropped out of the York University school of business in 1985, it might be considered curious that she would become a board member at Magna international, an automotive parts company. Then again, maybe not -- her father started the company.

In 1990 she married Magna executive Donald Walker. After five years and two children, she divorced him in 1995. Shortly after, she became a vice-president of the company. In 1999 she would replace Walker as executive vice-president of the company.

So, with a history like this, it’s supposed to be hard to believe she would actually hesitate to stab Stephen Harper in the back for the sake of advancing her career?

From Paul Martin’s end, this couldn’t have worked out any better. He makes Stronach responsible for implementing the recommendations of the Gomery inquiry and makes it look as if his party is actually prepared to act on the scandal. This was very much the PR gambit that the Liberal party desperately needs.

Furthermore, Stronach’s defection brings Martin to 133 seats in parliament. When combined with the NDP’s 19 seats, Martin has the capacity to control 152 seats – dead even with the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois, increasing the importance of Parliament’s three independent sitters.

For Stronach, however, the future should not be so rosy. In crossing the floor to sit with the Liberals, Stronach has betrayed her constituents, her party and her country – all to benefit her own career by keeping a corrupt government in power.
Thankfully, sometimes actions speak louder than words, and Stronach’s actions have spoken pretty loud.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Threatening Freedom

Freedom of Speech is Under Attack, and Battles Have Already Been Won and Lost

“Some people ask if I feel like rappers have a responsibility to their listeners, and I have to say… no. Your only responsible is to make it as hot as it can be,” says Kanye West in the documentary Russel Simmons Presents: Hip Hop Justice.

Responsibility has been a very touchy subject in regards to music for decades. Perhaps the most high-profile argument in history regarding this subject has to be the Judas Priest subliminal suicide trial of 1985. In this case, it was argued that Judas Priest was legally responsible for the suicides of Raymond Belknap and James Vance (who, it should be mentioned would not die for an additional two years – but from the affects of the attempt).

It was argued that the song “Stained Glass” featured subliminal messages that urged the listener to “do it” without actually suggesting what. Regardless, it was determined that the sound was the result of two coincidentally occurring noises on the record – charges were dismissed against the band.

Ever since, however, this has been the battle over musical lyrics: those who claim that musicians have a responsibility to their listeners, and are to blame for the actions of those who imitate them, and those that claim the responsibility belongs not to the musicians, but to the listeners.

The debate certainly hasn’t ended with Judas Priest. If anything, it has expanded into additional forums. Violence has been joined by sexuality and family values as part of this debate. Some of the most inflammatory artists of the past ten years include Marilyn Manson, Eminem and Christina Aguilera. Historically, they join artists such as Judas Priest, the Dead Kennedys, Public Enemy and Body Count. Even country music trio the Dixie Chicks have felt the repercussions of their statements of political dissent – more notably, those not made through music.

The public has developed two main strategies for acting on their outrage regarding music: protest and legal action.

Eminem is no stranger to protest. Following the release of his 1999 album “The Marshall Mathers LP”, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) launched an ambitious campaign of protest against the rapper. “ The Marshal Mathers LP contains the most blatantly offensive, homophobic lyrics GLAAD has ever seen," said GLAAD Executive Director Joan M. Garry. GLAAD would follow Eminem from the MTV Music Video Awards to the Grammys, where Eminem would refute his critics by performing his hit song “Stan” with homosexual music legend Elton John.

Often, these protests are accompanied by well-orchestrated boycotts, as was also the case with Eminem. Perhaps the most famous boycott of all time was that of the Beatles after John Lennon’s assertation that the Beatles had become “bigger than Jesus”.

While there is something fundamentally democratic about protest campaigns, sometimes, the law steps into the fray and attempts to hold musicians responsible for their lyrics. Perhaps the most glaring example is the tale of Corey Miller, aka C-Murder.

The tale of C-Murder ultimately begins on January, 12, 2002, a night that will forever live in infamy within hip hop circles. On this evening, Miller attended a Louisiana Nightclub. Perhaps coincidentally, it was this same night that Steve Thomas, a 16 year-old who had snuck into the club, was shot dead.

Unfortunately for Miller, when a rapper goes out in public, they go out as their stage persona – whether they want to or not. Doubly unfortunate was the fact that this means they stand out.

With this (and, perhaps, his stage name) in mind, it may not be surprising that police would charge Miller with the murder, alleging that it stemmed from an argument that he allegedly had with the deceased. Miller was arrested, and held on $1 million bail. Perhaps even more damning for Miller was that he was at the time free on a $250,000 bond issued for an attempted murder charge. Miller also had a weapons-related offense on his record.

Upon going to trial, however, the persona of Miller virtually disappeared in the prosecution’s eyes, as they focused their efforts around Miller’s C-Murder persona. C-Murder would even appear on court documentation as an alias, and many of his violent lyrics would be entered in court as evidence.

While this practice alone is legally questionable, concerns would repeatedly be raised about the treatment of Miller’s rights – first and foremost his right to be considered guilty until proven innocent. In the years subsequent to his conviction, many dirty details about the case would be revealed, including police rejection of contradictory evidence: a witness that not only claimed that Miller had not been seen with a gun, but that another individual had been – and individual the witness was even able to identify.

In March, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that Miller’s constitutional rights had not been violated, and upheld his conviction.
Among the more bizarre recent developments in Miller’s case is that his lawyer, Ron Rakosky, has been restricted from bringing pens to his meetings with his client – prison officials note that hollow pens could be used to smuggle song lyrics, which in this case are obviously being declared to be contraband.

Whatever the truth behind Miller’s case may ultimately be, the stance of law enforcement toward violence within the hip hop community is a little more ambiguous. In the case of the November 26, 2003 murder of New Orleans-based rapper Soulja Slim, for example, charges against prime suspect Garelle Smith (who, it is suspected accepted a $10,000 fee for Slim’s assassination) were suddenly dropped, citing insufficient evidence.

Third District Detective James Scott, however, had one further comment: “live hard, die hard, I guess.”

Ironically, Soulja Slim had collaborated with C-Murder, but this aside, one also remembers two other higher-profile cases with no arrests – the cases of 2Pac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. This may be a statement on the complicated nature of hip hop violence, or it may also be a statement on the treatment of these incidents by police officials. Either way, the argument is wrought with rhetoric and hearsay. Little solid evidence exists.

Regardless, an issue regarding freedom and responsibility continues to pervade the music industry.

Perhaps it is important to remember that speech is a powerful thing. Furthermore, as the great Stan Lee asserts, with great power comes great responsibility. There is no question that musicians have tremendous power. Many of our society’s greatest political minds have, indeed, been musicians, and some (such as the incomparable Bob Marley) have become so powerful that governments have taken the matters into their own hands.

It could be considered that Kanye West is wrong. With the power of speech (and the ideas that an individual can convey through them) must come great responsibility. It is only the nature of that responsibility that is up for debate.

Are musicians responsible for the actions of those who act on their ideas? Ultimately, the answer must be no. But it could be argued that musicians should accept responsibility for the ideas themselves. Regardless, when song lyrics can actually be considered evidence in a court of law, the United States has taken yet another step toward becoming a Police state – it is a direct assault upon freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech in its various forms must be defended. The very principles of democracy cannot exist without it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Spyware Jihad

Why? Why not?

There used to be a time when the internet was actually useful.

Yes, believe it or not, my friends, there was once a time when you could use the internet to exchange messages with friends and accomplices (which they call, if you will, “e-mail”) and swap specialized information (which they call, if you will, “pornography”) all over a phone line hooked up between a bunch of computers.
And for a while, it was good. People even figured out how to use the internet to bitch about movies and slander each other anonymously. Then it all went horribly, horribly wrong.

Now, ever since a bunch of idiots got together and decided they could make a buck of this newfangled internet, it’s a jungle out there. It seems like you can’t even log on these days without having to fend off about a billion attempts to infect your computer with viral programs either specifically designed to steal information, or specifically designed to sell you shit. And that’s pretty much the long and short of it.

A recent scan of my dad’s computer, recently, turned up 40 FRICKIN’ INFECTIONS! 40 files, either accepted by the computer as cookies or forcibly inserted into the machine, which have proceeded to hide themselves and become a severe pain in the ass.
There are a few things that the purveyors of adware and spyware like to do. They range from the sinister (stealing personal information, passwords, and making long distance calls over the internet) to the annoying (like BroadcastPC, a program which routinely uploads ads to your Media Player that automatically play – a program that comes compete with an uninstall program that doesn’t work) to the extremely uncalled for (such as homepage hijackers).

But maybe the best way to make money of spyware is to create a program to deal with it. Furthermore, the people who have gotten into this racket have found some unique ways to market their product.

Take, for example, the about:blank buddy, software which they advertise as freeware (open source software), and then, as soon as you’ve scanned your machine, they attempt to sell you the software to eliminate the homepage hijacker file for a convenient $39.95 (which is actually fraud). Now, maybe I’m being a little paranoid, but doesn’t it seem like these people are profiting an awful lot from this one little bug? Hmmmm… I wonder if maybe they have something to do with it…
It seems like there’s a lot of money to be made off of spyware and adware. Type “spyware” into a google search and you will find literally thousands of these programs, most of which you can have at a price.

It seems to me that as long as there are people unscrupulous enough to create adware and spyware, there will be people unscrupulous enough to create adware and spyware just so they can sell you the program to debug it. It’s called “creating the problem”, and it’s a marketing practice that dates back to the ‘20s. This is actually a fairly novel approach to this age-old technique.

I’ve actually come up with a solution of my own to the spyware phenomenon. Someone – wink, wink – with the necessary expertise ought to design a program that, when connected to your web browser as a plug-in, responds to any attempts to install spyware or adware on your machine by transmitting a short-life virus to the source. One that is has such a short life and is so devastating that it will completely thrash the bastard’s computer.

Imagine the glee these people will experience when they restart their systems, go to all the trouble of fixing all the damage the virus has caused, only to be nailed with another – because, of course, they attempted another spyware upload! Poetic justice, if you ask me.

Or maybe, something really bad – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – should be done to the people responsible for these programs. Personally, I’d be satisfied with that.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

So, You're Too Punk For Me?

Good For You. Now Fuck Off.

So, what is punk? Nobody seems to have a clear answer.

Punk, musically, according to a web search is defined as “a rock form characterized by aggressive volume, short, angry vocals and often bitter political or hopeless emotional content.”

Recently, with the popularity of bands like Not By Choice, and (everyone’s favorite whipping boy) Good Charlotte, the great debate over what is and is not punk has intensified. Despite playing music that sounds an awful lot like punk, so-called punks scream to high heaven that this music is not punk, essentially because only they should be allowed to define what is and is not punk.

They claim this music is not punk because it’s corporate, and it’s not political enough for their tastes. Behind all of this lies the very nature of the punk subculture itself.

So, then, in a cultural sense, what is punk? According to various sources, punk is: anti-establishment, activist, satirical and “underground’. If you aren’t all of these things enough to satisfy the political/social vanity of a punk, then you aren’t punk enough. Many of these people decry education as a tool of the establishment, or as a conspiracy to keep those who are either already downtrodden (or merely consider themselves downtrodden) down.

The message is crystal clear. Apparently, your elitism is better than my elitism. Which makes it all the more amusing that many of these people decry elitism as a symbol of hegemony, even as they seek to create their own hegemonies within their own little movements.

Take, for example, an anarchist friend of mine. Recently, he rather proudly told me a story about how he and a friend of his attended a local punk concert, only, to their chagrin find that it wasn’t punk enough for them.

To his partial credit, he may have an arguable case. He went to this show, held at the local Elk’s Hall, to find that it was full of junior high school kids and soccer moms selling sodas and nickel candies while pop-punk bands played preppy music and the entire show was a huge love-in.

How did he react to this? Well, how does on react to this?

He could have decided that this wasn’t for him, and left like a reasonably intelligent person would. But he didn’t do this. Instead, he (a man in his 20s) did everything that he could to spoil the fun that a bunch of junior high school kids were having. They smoked (which, apparently was against the rules at this particular show), they screamed obsenities (even after being politely asked not to) generally acted like jerks.

But it doesn’t end there.

He proudly tells me that a number of the kids from this show see him in the local shopping mall, and approach him. He tells them to fuck off. After seeing them outside the local fair the following summer, he reciprocates an attempt at friendly conversation by spitting in a guy’s face.

That’s a class act.

One of the alleged tenets of collective anarchism (to which my friend subscribes) is that it’s a society-wide transformation in which everyone unites in order to assure everyone can have a better quality of life. But if you’re telling someone to fuck off because his mom drives an SUV and he listens to Metallica and Good Charlotte, while all the while proclaiming that everyone needs to get along and be friends, than you just happen to a hypocrite. You also just happen to be an asshole.
Of course, not all anarchists are hopeless assholes. Take, for example, Otto Nomus who, in his essay “Race, Anarchy and Punk Rock”, writes: “ As a person of color and an anarchist with roots in punk rock, I have become deeply concerned with the lack of diversity within the anarchist movement. As long as we fail to attract significantly diverse participation, thus remaining isolated and politically weakened, and fail to link-up with and support anti-racist struggles, we shouldn’t keep our hopes up for any radical social transformation.”

Judging from the title of his essay, one may think that Nomus is primarily concerned about issues of racial diversity within the anarchist movement. However, he also wisely connects this with issues of social diversity.

My anarchist friend tells me “ we need to be able to exclude people,” and rationalizes this by explaining how, whenever anarchists have trusted Marx/Leninists, they are fatally betrayed afterward. However, I would ask: if Anarchy is supposed to be a broad-scale transformation of society, how do you expect to exclude anyone and still create a cohesive society? Here, however, is what we should ask:

Exactly how is this not fascism?

George W. Bush, I’d like to note, is a popular target of some of these individuals. He is said to be a fascist, a new Hitler. And while many of them (and many of us) can name many of the horrible things that Bush has done, many of them can name not one single argument in favor of the embattled cocksocker (oops, I mean president). There’s a very good reason for this: many of these people criticize others for never having read anything arguing in favor of anarchism, but they themselves have never read anything that argues against it, or disagrees with their viewpoints.

The result is a horde of cookie-cutter activists, bawling as loudly as they possibly can about how evil corporations are, but can’t actually explain to you what a corporation is. They’re fashionista activists, screaming that the sky is falling because it seems like it’s the ‘in’ thing to do.

As a result, they continually isolate and work against themselves to the point where they are entirely ineffectual. Normus recognizes this, writing, “ No matter how well-intentioned, the anarchist scene has been for the most part so deeply entrenched in the lifestyle of the know-it-all, punker-than-thou, vegan/straight edge-fascist, fashion victims or young, transient, train-hopping, dreadlocked, dumpster-diving eco-warriors that not only do most people find it hard to relate to them but they themselves are at a loss when they actually try to reach out to other communities.”
Of course, the punk and anarchist movement has a lot to offer. Social consciousness (when legitimate, and not just derived from listening to hours of Jell-O Biafra droning on and on while pretending he has a shred of credibility) is always a good thing.

But nobody likes to listen to an asshole, and there are more than a few anarchist punks out there who shouldn’t be so surprised when they’re told to fuck off.