February 13, 2009

Give me a break

This article is a textbook case in completely missing the point.

Shorter Pinker: Gender discrimination? What gender discrimination? Women choose to marry high-achieving men and then choose to "opt out", so clearly there's no problem. It's all about love, right?

Yes, women and men of similar socio-economic backgrounds often end up together. Yes, the women then often end up staying home with the kids or taking less-demanding jobs. That's not the explanation for wage disparities -- that's the _problem_. Why is it always women who stay home? Having a high-earning spouse doesn't explain it -- if it did, surely we'd see lots of men opting out because of their high-earning spouses, and we don't. Why is a woman giving up her job as soon as she "can" seen as a given?

This is an issue that's been hashed out extensively by feminists in the past. Women stay home because of institutional sexism that means men continue to have a higher earning potential, and because of societal pressures that say women should be the ones caring for home and children.

You know, I think Michelle Obama is pretty awesome, too. I just don't see her decision to give up her career and become the poster girl of the "opt-out revolution" to be one of the more awesome things about her. It's great that the Obamas obviously love each other. But love isn't the same thing as subsuming yourself to your husband's career.

And I've really had enough of the "women just really want to stay home" meme. It's been old for a while now.

February 4, 2009

Basic Civility

Ottawa's transit strike has finally ended.

Of course, it'll be two months before service returns to anything approaching normal.

And I fully expect to see a surge in bike commuting and walking to work as soon as the snow melts. Not to mention the huge number of people who are just going to stick to their cars, thereby setting back the cause of public transit in Ottawa by at least a decade.

This has been a frustrating couple of months for the residents of Ottawa. It's cost us thousands of dollars apiece and countless hours of our time (one of the reasons this blog pretty much went dark for the duration is that I was spending most of my blogging time sitting in traffic or running around the city to get friends and family where they needed to be). I know I'm one of the lucky ones -- I had the resources to get myself to work (however inconvenient and expensive it was), and an employer who was understanding when the traffic meant I arrived an hour later than usual. A lot of people were not so fortunate. The pain inflicted on the people of this city by the combined forces of the union and city council is real, and severe, and both sides should be ashamed.

But you know who else should be ashamed? The hostile, vindictive commentators who've been advocating nastiness directed at the returning bus drivers.

Here's a sample of the comments to this article about the end of the strike:

I encourage you all to give the bus drivers attitude when you hop on the bus! Give them a piece of your mind!!

The greedy fools will probably expect a basket of fresh baked cookies. They've got something else coming!!!!!!!

I was hoping this would go longer and the union would go bust.
Yeah i will make cookies for them, with ex lax in them.
And i hope some people cause them lts of grief and show no respect.
back to work you bums.

Remember your anger and your outrage, bus-riding citizens of Ottawa, when regular service resumes. Remember the lack of sympathy and the cocky smirks from this grotesque mockery of a union

Remember, this strike was supposedly about "respect". They have shown us NONE, and that is precisely what they should receive in return! Pay your fare in pennies if you have to!

They deserve everything that will inevitably come their way.
Classy, no?

And there are plenty more where that came from. People making veiled threats about how drivers will have their backs turned to angry commuters... or suggesting that commuters vent their feeling upon the first driver they encounter.

That's not even to mention the folks who, demonstraing a complete lack of understanding of labour laws, have been screaming "fire the bums" from day one of the strike, and are still screaming it to anyone who will listen.

I have to wonder if anyone ever taught these folks basic manners or how to control their anger. Acceptable outlets for transit-related frustration include writing letters to Larry O'Brien, city council, André Cormellier, and anyone else you can think of. You can even make a sign and picket whatever public location you like. But taking your frustration out on the drivers just isn't okay. They're just trying to do their job. They're going to get you to your destination safely. The least you owe them is some common courtesy.

January 2, 2009

Some Canadian political wishes for 2009

So it's the New Year, time of fresh starts, soon-to-be-broken resolutions, and other symptoms of the rollover of the odometer.

In the New Year, I'd really like to see:

  • A parliament that works like a minority parliament is supposed to. That means compromise, Stevie, and not waving the "obey-me-or-we'll-have-an-election" club too often.
  • An opposition with a spine, to force the above-mentionned compromise.
  • Some evidence of Michael Ignatieff's supposed superior leadership.
  • If we do have an election, women running in winnable ridings. For all parties.
  • The absence of any bills conferring legal status on a fetus, directly or indirectly.
I'd also like peace in Gaza, but that's kind of like asking Santa for a pony, isn't it?

What are your wishes for 2009?

December 23, 2008

The Senate

I'm not going to argue that Stephen Harper didn't have the legal right to appoint his eighteen senators. He pretty clearly does have that right.

But what he doesn't have is a moral right to make the appointments. He's still prime minister only because he suddenly prorogued parliament in order to avoid a no-confidence vote (only a few weeks after an election result that he claimed would bring about a kinder, gentler, more cooperative government -- we all saw how well that worked out, didn't we?). He doesn't have the confidence of the house, and, since he holds power only as long as he has the house's confidence, his continued use of that power is morally suspect at best (no, Canadian voters, you did not vote for Stephen Harper directly. You only get to vote for an MP. That's parliamentary democracy for you.).

This is also the guy who has long argued that senate positions should be elected and "accountable". It's nice to see that he stands by his principles when push comes to shove -- as soon as it starts to look like he might lose power, he packs the Senate.

Now, again, he's well within his legal rights to pack the Senate. And he's not the first prime minister to do so when anticipating a loss of power (though that would usually mean an electoral defeat). But it's just morally skeevy for him to do so. And you'll notice he's doing it a few days before Christmas, hoping no one will notice. Or at least that we'll forget in January, when we're too busy paying our credit card bills to remember what our Right Honourable Prime Minister was up to over the holidays.

And while I'm at it, can I just point out that out of eighteen people, he was only able to come up with five women? What percentage of the population are we again?

December 6, 2008

A moment of silence

On December 6, 1989, 14 women were killed at the École Polytechnique in Montréal. They were killed for being women; the gunman singled out women, and claimed he "hated feminists".

It's been almost twenty years. Are women still being killed for being women?

Take a moment to remember these 14 women. Then take a moment to do something to stop this from happening again, to any woman.

Geneviè Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

November 30, 2008

Interesting Times

When rumours of a possible coalition government started circulating, I didn't think it would ever actually happen. This is Canada, after all, and although we like to talk big, we don't generally take such dramatic steps.

But it's becoming increasingly clear to me that Harper has misread the whole situation, and has pushed the opposition into a corner so that they have no choice but to fight back.

As soon as the Conservatives decided to eliminate funding for politicial parties, the opposition was going to have to do something. The move would have completely crippled them, particularly as there was no corresponding move to increase the individual donation limit so that they could actually do some meaningful fundraising from their supporters. (Just in case anyone out there is worried about "subsidising" political parties, let me remind you that the $1.95 per vote was to make up for the fact that parties could no longer take more than $5000 from each supporter. Harper's already lowered that limit to $1000 from each supporter. I'm sure you can see how that makes it hard to fundraise.)

But the economic update contained a lot of other objectionable elements. No hint of any kind of stimulus package, for example, which is what the opposition parties have chosen to hang their hats on. Now, I'm no economist, but it seems to me that, in a financial crisis like this one, being seen to be doing something is pretty important. If the global markets see that Canada isn't responding (and doing nasty things to the public service* doesn't actually count as responding), they're hardly going to have increased confidence in Canada. A stimulus package works because it shows that we're doing something, so investors gain confidence simply because we're doing something.

Now Harper's withdrawn the whole issue of the funding to political parties. They're going to get to keep their $1.95 a vote. But even though he may have backed down on this one, the opposition can't very well say "oh, okay then. You can continue to govern."

And here's why: if they back down now, it becomes obvious that they were just doing it because of their own self-interest. They'll look selfish. So they can't back down, even if that is the straw that broke the camel's back and set them off in the first place.

If Harper really wants them to back down, he's going to have to come up with some kind of economic package. And if he does that, he's letting them dictate the agenda, and this minority parliament will be very different from the last one.

Harper's really created a situation where it's impossible for the opposition to back down.

It's going to be a very interesting week here in Ottawa.

It's worth remembering that "may you live in interesting times" is a curse, not a blessing.

* And I think I need to comment that taking away public servants' right to strike is pretty nasty. And mean-spirited. And unecessary.

October 31, 2008

Place your bets

Since the candidates are starting to declare themselves, it's time to make some predictions about the Liberal leadership race.

The Liberals were very proud to have the largest percentage of women of any of the parties among their candidates in this last election.

How many women do you think will run for the leadership? How many will actually be on the ballot when the convention rolls around? How many will make it past the first ballot?

And, while we're at it, how many non-white people will run? How many will actually be on the ballot?

Any guesses?

October 22, 2008

Why I shouldn't read the National Post

I'm trying to decide what's most wrong with this National Post column.

Is it the complete failure to understand the Canadian political system? The Tories may have "increased their majority" last week, but they did so with only 38% of the popular vote, which kind of undermines the argument here.

Or is it the utterly unexamined assumption that Canadian Conservatives, Nicholas Sarkozy, and the American Republicans all occupy a similar place on the political spectrum? (For the record, Canada's "right wing" is nowhere near as far right as the American Republican party, no matter how much we like to call Harper "Bush lite".)

Or might it be the rather peculiar claim that people (not pundits, mind you -- people asked in opinion polls) base their opinions on foreign politicians entirely on those politicians' foreign policy?

We snark; you decide.

October 21, 2008

On heroism and feminism

I'm not completely sure what Dave Brown's point is in this recent column. I'm not sure he knows, either, except that the world's gone to hell in a handbasket and it's somehow all those awful feminists' fault. His profile proudly describes him as a 'contrarian,' which, at least in this case, can be defined as "curmudgeon who thinks the world really was exactly like Leave it to Beaver".

At the top of their list of things a man must do was the protection issue. It used to be an obligation of the strong to protect the weak.
This is the basic argument of the article. In "the good old days", men were strong and women were weak, and men were praised and rewarded and given "backpats" for protecting those weak and helpless women from other men.

Now, Mr. Brown is astonished to learn, the authorities encourage people to, er, call the authorities when they see something untoward happen. And to intervene only if they have the appropriate training to do so safely.

I'm having a hard time understanding why this is a bad idea. Does Mr. Brown really think that the world would be a better place if we all -- or rather, all men -- tried to be untrained vigilantes? How many more people would be hurt or killed than if we just let the experts handle the situation?

Now, what Israel Grant Carver did was a very courageous thing: he tried to help another person. I'm sure this is an entirely inadequate "backpat," but I wish more people -- both men and women -- had the courage to intervene when they see someone being attacked...even if their intervention is nothing more than a call to 911. I'd much rather see an assaulter put in prison or otherwise removed from his victim than beaten up -- so that he has one more reason to take out his anger on the victim.

In Mr. Brown's view, this attitude is just a pernicious outgrowth of feminism. "The fishes have come home to roost," he crows -- women, apparently, should just expect to be beaten up now that we're no longer encouraging white knights to rescue us. Or something. The women in the Carver case went on to marry her attacker, so clearly she didn't deserve to be the beneficiary of manly heroism.

And then it turns out that this isn't really about Israel Grant Carver and his lack of recognition at all:
Without fear of being branded cowards, they don't have to face bullies, hijackers or nutbars on buses.
That's what this was really all about. The Greyhound bus incident. Those wimpy, embarrassing men who kept the attacker inside the bus and prevented him from harming anyone else rather than launching heroic charges to try to save a man who was already dead.

October 9, 2008

Strategic voting, vote swapping, and who elected that guy anyway?

Strategic voting is a factor in any election, and it's certainly been part of the Canadian election discourse for as long as I can remember. But it seems to much more front and centre this election than ever before. Partly, I suspect, that's due to our having had a couple of minority governments in a row -- with an election that feels perilously close, people are much more worried about ensuring the success of their preferred party or preventing a hated party from getting a majority than they are when the outcome seems inevitable. Partly, too, I suspect it's a spillover from the proportional representation debate. It's become clear that we're not getting prop rep anytime soon, so people are more concerned than ever about how to maximize their vote.

Is strategic voting a good idea? As with almost anything else electoral, the answer depends on a slew of factors: how strongly you feel about your preferred party, especially as compared with the party you'd vote strategically for; the race in your particular riding; how strongly you are opposed to another party; how you feel about the local candidates.

There are certainly arguments against voting strategically. Not least, there's the fact that each vote is worth a few dollars in funding for your electoral party of choice. So if you're a small-party supporter considering making a strategic vote, you might want to consider making a small donation to your preferred small party to try and offset the financial damage associated with losing your vote. But it's not just financial damage; small parties that don't get enough votes don't ever become big enough parties to have an influence on the country as a whole. And if you give your vote to a larger party that doesn't quite represent your views, then you're certainly not encouraging the large parties to change or to take into consideration the issues that matter to you.

But let's not forget that voting is not only about expressing your true essential beliefs -- it's also about choosing your representatives, the people who will govern the country. And you should be realistic about what effect your vote will actually have. Will it help elect a reasonably good MP belonging to a reasonably good party that isn't 100% in synch with you, or will it be just one more vote against the guy who gets in because no one opponent was able to muster enough votes? Unfortunately, there's no way to know the outcome before you go and vote, so we all have to make our decisions based on incomplete information.

What's clear to me, though, is that there's something not quite right about our electoral system that's prompting these ongoing discussions about how to best vote. I don't know if prop rep is _the_ solution, but it seems that some variation on that theme should be at least part of the solution. We shouldn't be stuck chosing between voting our conscience/throwing our vote away and holding our nose/voting for the least bad alternative.