Angry Rants

Carrots Won’t Change the World

Photo via swong95765 on flickr

Naomi Klein spoke today at the Toronto Reference Library about her new book, “This Changes Everything.” It’s about climate change, and environmental change, and the terrible place we’ve got our world in right now (and how we should probably start getting ourselves out of it).

I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book yet, but the talk got me thinking not only about the environment, but about the role of Government in our lives and about how we, as a people, change.

This is my conclusion: humans don’t respond to carrots, humans respond to sticks.

At our core, we’re self-interested, and lazy people. Even the best of us. Because there is a survival benefit to forming groups and keeping the group strong, we’ve developed moral codes that train some of that selfishness out of us. But, in the end, taking care of society is still about self-preservation (or preserving the people we love) — either directly or indirectly. So Naomi Klein says that the carrot in this situation is “we don’t all die at the end,” which, frankly, seems like it should be a pretty good incentive to stop wrecking everything.

And yet, it doesn’t seem to be enough to make any bold changes in our lives or our world to stop the damage to the environment. Even as I write this, I’m eating take-out sushi from plastic containers. I ordered dinner right after her talk  because I can’t seem to figure out how to have a job, have a tiny bit of a social life, and still cook regular, healthy meals. So I made a bad decision for the environment to suit my immediate needs. I’d feel less bad about it if it were only occasional, or if I didn’t also have two take-out coffees today.

It’s not that I don’t think about the environment, because I do. I try to reduce chemicals, I don’t drive a car, I have silly reusable produce bags that add extra weight to my produce because I can’t stand single-use produce bags that serve no other purpose. And it’s not because I don’t fear the “we’re all going to die at the end.” I fear constantly. I fear that all the chemicals from cars and airplanes and cleaning products and make-up and food additives that go into my body daily are causing unknown destruction to my cells. I fear that my children, or my children’s children, will have their lives cut short by cancer or a freak storm or something I can’t even imagine right now because we really have no idea what we’re breaking yet. I care, and I’m afraid. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that I’m afraid of about 500 other big, massive, and kind of abstract things that are going wrong or could go wrong in the world — people are starving, women can’t control their own bodies, we regularly hurt and murder each other, it’s not safe to walk alone at night, we’re socializing each other wrong to put the burden of walking safely at night on the wrong people, we’re running out of water, the world is still awful and racist and sexist and ageist — that I just can’t mentally metabolize it all. I can’t always be thinking about all the things that are wrong in the world or could go wrong because I still have to figure out how to keep my job and pay my bills and maintain my marriage and keep my sanity that I’m frankly just all out of energy.

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There are so many problems and there are so many things to fear that it’s completely overwhelming and I don’t know what to do about most of them. So I do almost nothing.

I’m clearly not the only one, and I don’t even think that I should feel all that bad about it. (A little bad, for sure). Because humans are hugely flawed and we’re not always very good at doing the right thing unless it hits us in the face.

I make decisions based on doing the best I can, trying to be better, but knowing that if I’m given a choice between something that is easier and solves and immediate need, and something that is a bit harder but solves a way bigger, more important need — except that need is a little hard to comprehend and anything bad that will come out of making the hard choice won’t happen for a very long time and I can’t really think about that right now anyway — I’m going to make the easy choice. Because I’m human. We’re wired this way.

But, if you re-frame the choices and instead of giving me a really easy-to-make bad choice and a hard-to-make good choice, you give me two entirely new choices that both lead to a better outcome, I do better. Sure, I’ll still choose the one that causes me the least trouble, but it will actually be less shitty for everyone. Because the thing about the carrot is that it only works to change behaviour in people who a) are really love carrots and were probably going to eat them anyway, or b) the carrot is so great that its benefits outweigh the benefits of the bad behaviour you’re hoping to change.

For example, when grocery stores offered 25 cent discounts for bringing your own bags, some people did it. But they were probably the people who were going to bring their own bags anyway and just liked the perk. But when the City of Toronto introduced a by-law that required all retailers to charge at least 5 cents for plastic shopping bags, behaviours changed. This very small negative consequence irritated people, and made them think about their choice to use bags. People I know who I would never have thought in a million years would carry a shopping bag, started carrying adorable, compact bags in their purses.

But when they overturned the ban? Plastic bags for everyone!

People don’t like being told what to do, and people don’t like being inconvenienced, and people don’t like change. So we do nothing. And we continue to do nothing. And then everything goes to shit.

Which brings me to my next point…

We need leaders who will actually lead, and we need leaders who know when the carrot is not enough and we need to start using the stick.

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I have mixed feelings about Government as it currently exists. Maybe because I have the worst luck of any human on the blanket in dealing with government agencies, but government as a whole doesn’t seem to be working all that well. We have a public sector, which I happen to think is an important thing, that is massive and therefore not nimble and responsive, that is trying to solve All the Problems. And our public service exists within a political climate that devalues its work and is hugely divided on a social direction, all the while competing with a private market that can do things more cheaply. There are valid things to criticize about government and the public sector, but I also really believe that if we don’t have anyone working with the sole purpose of serving the public good (rather than also trying to make a profit, scale growth, impress all the ladies) then we’re going to be in trouble. Because, humans are lazy and humans are always looking to serve the immediate need and humans want to take the easy way out.

People don’t like governments acting like parents, but we all just keep acting like children. Clearly we need someone to say “You broke the world with your garbage and plastic and fossil fuels and over-consumption and factory farming. Now you have to be inconvenienced for the next 20 years while we pick up the pieces.”

So as flawed as government is, I truly believe we need it; but we need it to be better. We need politicians and leaders that make decisions based on the public good not on popularity. We need mayors and premiers and prime ministers who make tough decisions that will piss people off so that we can actually make some progress. (And then we have to stop trying to overturn every damn decision every four years because we’re whiney babies). Most importantly, we need leaders who will make the tough decisions that piss everybody off and somehow manage to convince us all it was a great idea anyway.

This is over-simplified, of course. Because in addition to making it harder to drive, we also need to make it easier to ride bikes. And in addition to making it harder to buy all our food in plastic containers, we need to make it easier for people to access healthy, fresh food and give them better transit so they can get to their affordable home that is not unreasonably far from work in time to cook their meals. And in addition to ending a constant flow of oil, we need to spend money on alternatives. We need to do a lot of things that require the expertise of all sorts of people who are smarter than me to plan and execute on big ideas. But most of all, we need leaders who will bring those people to together and make something happen.

We just finished a provincial election, and Toronto is headed into another mayoral election. I’m not particularly inspired by anyone. The best thing a politician could do to get my vote is tell me how much harder they are going to make my life and how much better the world will be because of my sacrifice.

 

 

Carrot photo courtesy of swong95765 on Flickr. 

Cat photo courtesy of Massimo Reganati on Flickr.

Leadership photo courtesy of Jessica Lucia on Flickr.

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Immigrant
Feminism, Movies

Joaquin Phoenix Is Not Your Friend (Or, why it sucks to be a woman in The Immigrant)

Joaquin Phoenix is not your friend. He’s a celebrity. But he’s probably an ok guy. This is actually about a character he plays (sorry, Joaquin) in The Immigrant. Spoilers abound!

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There’s lots to love about the immigrant. It tells stories of life experiences I know nothing of, it’s beautifully shot and brilliantly acted, and it’s beautiful to look at. Also, Mario Cotillard’s face.

It’s a story about how insanely hard life is for women, particularly poor women and immigrant women, and Lord knows we need more of those. But somehow that is overshadowed by the story of a man. A man who isn’t the best of men but tries hard, who loves a woman and sacrifices to give her the happiness she deserves. To which I would like to call absolute bullshit!

Bruno is actually a terrible man, who profits off the abuse and exploitation of women. He lies, he cheats, he steals, he manipulates, and he kills. Sure, if you put him next to someone awful (since this is the Internet, let’s say Hitler), he seems pretty ok. But just being slightly less awful that the awful people around you does not make you good. It says a lot that the only redeemable thing about Bruno is that he didn’t directly beat and rape Ewa. That’s a really fucking low bar for redemption.

But the worst part is that we’re so used to seeing these stories of men who aren’t as bad as they could be, that he really doesn’t seem that bad. Not great, sure, but nobody’s perfect, right? As viewers, I think we want to find redeeming things in characters. We want to forgive. But, I would argue the stories we read and watch are actually constructed, probably mostly unintentionally, to reinforce the idea that male characters who aren’t 100% evil (who don’t spend the whole time cheating and beating women) can be redeemed. And it’s up to us to forgive them. (It’s worth noting that bad women are rarely seen as completely redeemable, and for far smaller transgressions.) That reflects our culture, and that’s a problem.

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Just in case you think I’m being too harsh on poor Bruno, here’s a list of moments that make Bruno seem like not The Worst guy:

  1. Bruno gives Ewa a home, and takes her to his theatre to get a job as a seamstress. That’s nice. Ewa needed a job and she could earn the money she’d need to free her sister for quarantine. Except there really wasn’t ever a job as a seamstress. That is just a ruse to get her in the theatre. When Ewa “agrees” to join the dancing show (after a violent outburst and blackmail moment), we know Bruno cares about her because he a) didn’t rape her (when he was clear he totally could have) and b) doesn’t immediately force her to go topless in the show. And then, when Bruno sends Ewa home, black-out drunk, it’s because he’s sold her to a rich man’s son — but he felt really bad about it, guys, and the son was going to be gentle!
  2. With a gun to his head, Bruno stabs his cousin Emile to death to protect Ewa. She doesn’t know what Emile is capable of! And yet, Bruno can’t tell Ewa she is free to leave, even when he thinks he’s going to die, because in his mind he owns her. And in that moment when he stabs Emile to death, your instinct might be that it was self-defense. BUT HE ALREADY TRIED TO STAB EMILE WITH THAT KNIFE ONCE BEFORE. He killed Emile not out of self-defense or defense of Ewa, but out of jealousy and pride. He thought Emile would steal Ewa away, and since he owned Ewa (and because he’d lost a woman to Emile before), he couldn’t let that happen.
  3. After Bruno murders Emile, one of the other prostitutes tells the police it was Ewa (out of jealousy? fear? self-preservation?). Bruno heroically helps Ewa escape the corrupt police and even takes a beating for her. It’s true, he didn’t have to do that. He could have turned her in. EXCEPT HE WAS THE MURDERER. HE KILLED EMILE. By not turning Ewa into the police for a crime she didn’t commit, Bruno proves that he is not actually the devil. Could someone throw the man a parade, already?!
  4. In the end, Bruno frees Ewa’s sister Magda from Ellis Island by bribing a guard (with Ewa’s uncle’s money that she had to beg for), and he confesses all his sins and “lets” Ewa go. Aww, shucks. At this point, we already know that Bruno has been withholding money from Ewa to keep her from leaving him. But remember when he reported Ewa to the authorities and her uncle because he heard about her “low moral standing” on the boat, lied to the guards or had the guards lie about her New York family being nonexistent, and had her sent to the deportation centre only to handpick her in a fake white-knight act so she’d feel (and, in reality, be) indebted to him for safety?Sure, I guess by bribing the guard to free Magda Bruno did an ok thing. But only if your standard of “ok thing” is not doing the absolute worst thing you could do, and instead doing the sort of decent thing to help someone out of a situation that you 99% caused!

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My beef isn’t that Bruno isn’t a great guy. Lots of stories are about bad people, and I was even grateful that I didn’t have to watch any women being raped and tortured (which feels rare these days). My issue is with a movie that veils a character’s evil with moments of pseudo-compassion, and the only person who gets mad at Bruno is himself. Ewa may have been trying to forgive and let her anger go, but wasn’t she entitled to be just a little bit more pissed off?

If you’re going to tell a story about the shit life a woman has to live to survive, and the shit man who played a significant part in making her life hell, let’s not pretend we’re telling a story of compassion (or, from the trailor below, love). Let’s just tell it like it is.

 

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Holidays

What is GivingTuesday, and why should you pay attention to it?

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Though Black Friday didn’t used to mean much to Canadians – what with not having Thanksgiving in November and all – it has crept over the border in recent years. Big Canadian brands like HBC advertise Black Friday sales, and the American giants like Best Buy and Amazon do their fair share as well. With the advent of Cyber Monday, a day to enjoy the shopping frenzy of the season without having to put on pants, it’s clear that this is not something that is going away. Since the US often leads the world in so many aspects of pop culture, it will likely only grow. But another thing we’ve borrowed from the US is GivingTuesday.

Founded in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y, GivingTuesday is a day to give back. It can mean giving money, volunteering time, or being charitable in other ways. In their first year, GivingTuesday in the US had more than 2500 partners (from individuals, celebrities, charities, and businesses), online giving increased 50%, and Paypal mobile donations soared by 487%!

Joey Larence Whoa!

What I really like about GivingTuesday is that it is a reminder. It’s so easy to get caught up in shopping and presents (and I do love presents), and so easy to forget about the world around us. It’s a very community-minded movement.

I’ve reflected a lot on how, and how much, I give lately, and I’ve realized that not only do I not have a particularly good plan, but I am not giving as much as I could be. So I picked two charities to give to on a monthly basis for now, and as I learn more about all the amazing options out there, I may change it up.

Even if you do lots already, it’s still a great movement to get involved in. It’s simple: On December 3rd, do something good for your community. Donate money, send a charity gift card, or volunteer your time. I have a plan, but you’ll have to wait a few more weeks to find out what it is! And be sure to let other people know what you’re doing and encourage them to get involved too. #GivingTuesdayCA. You can also get some tips on the GivingTuesday.ca website.

Here are some organizations I’m supporting this year:

Disclaimer: This post contains my personal thoughts and feelings only. I am not representing my employer.

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Uncategorized

Bowling for HALCO – 2013!

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It’s that time of year again when I am asking you for money. But hear me out. There are very few things I ask you for money for (You know I’m not very athletic, so there’s probably not a marathon in my future). I’d really like you to sponsor me for HALCO‘s 5th Annual Bowl-a-thon.

How can you sponsor me?

Click the button!  You can donate by credit card, interac online banking, or paypal! It’s a super easy process (much easier than last year) and you’ll get an automatic tax receipt by email. (The more you give, the more you can deduct from your tax bill!) Way wait? You can donate right now by clicking the button.
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Why should you sponsor me?

  1. I like to brag, so I need something to brag about. Raising the most money for a great cause is a great topic! (Also, I may be a tiny bit competitive and I may have made a bet that I could raise the most for this totally amazing cause)
  2. I have a minimum to raise if I want to bowl. And I really want to bowl. I need to raise at least $160. That’s just $5 from 20 of you! Or $10 from 16 of you!  $20 from 8 of you! $40 from 4 of you! You get the idea.
  3. And finally, the most important reason: HALCO is awesome. They provide front-line legal services for people living with HIV & AIDS in Ontario. There’s still a lot of stigma associated with HIV & AIDS and people living with the virus can face discrimination in ways that others don’t.  It’s also a disease that disproportionately affects marginalized people. The fastest growing population infected with HIV? Women.  It is the only service of its kind in Canada and since 2006, the demand for their legal services has increased 90%.

Also, I made a very pretty Facebook Page for the event. Why not give it a like? I bet your friends would really like it too! https://www.facebook.com/HalcoBowlathon

Some details about HALCO:

The HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO) is a charitable, not-for-profit community-based legal clinic that provides free legal services to people living with HIV & AIDS in Ontario.  It is the only service of its kind in Canada and since 2006, the demand for our legal services has increased 90%.

For more information about the event, check us out at www.halco.org or call Rhonda Major, Fundraising & Volunteer Management Assistant 416-340-7790 x32 or by e-mail at majorr@lao.on.ca

To learn more about HALCO, read this super-informative pamphlet.

 

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Feelings

1825 Days Later

Today is the fifth anniversary of our first date, which was also the day we met. You’re apparently not supposed to count that after you’re married but I can’t do that. I can’t erase the significance of 5 years. So I guess I say “together for 5 years, married for 48 days”. That makes things easier, right?

I like this marriage thing. I liked making the choice to continue, rather than just continuing on. I like saying husband a lot.

We snuck into St Lawrence Market

We snuck into St Lawrence Market

LizzWedsRyan-1Our wedding was everything I (and I think, we) wanted it to be. It was kind of weird, had good music, good food (I didn’t get any, but I assume it was delicious), free-flowing drinks, and really amazing doughnuts. All the important people were there. If anything went wrong, I didn’t notice.

I got through my vows without puking, we mostly got through photos without rain. I danced like no one was watching. All the stress I was feeling leading up to it just melted away. 19 of my favourite children were the life of the party. All my worlds collided, people who really don’t belong in the same room were there anyway and it just made sense.

We held on to a few traditional elements. It was really important to my dad to walk me down the aisle, and I made Ryan stand at the front waiting for my grand entrance. I had bridesmaids (in an amazing rainbow of dresses) and flower girls.

But there was tons of non-traditional stuff too. Our “wedding march” was this lovely cover of an INXS song.

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I got Ryan a ring with a giant dinosaur on it

We started the dance party portion of the evening with Monster Mash. People didn’t really seem to get what to do with it, but that kind of made it better.LizzWedsRyan-436

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We invited T-Rex to party. X2

 

My bridesmaid/cousin/pal Hejira made every single flower decoration in the room. They were amazing.

My bridesmaid/cousin/pal Hejira made every single flower decoration in the room. They were amazing.

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My cousin/pal/most talented person ever, Heather, made the single greatest guestbook poster in the history of the universe. We're on a dinosaur's back, guys!

My cousin/pal/most talented person ever, Heather, made the single greatest guest book poster in the history of the universe. We’re on a dinosaur’s back, guys!

Bouquets by my lovely Shawnte, at http://shawntedesigns.com/

Bouquets by my lovely Shawnte, at http://shawntedesigns.com/

When Mother-in-Law searching, find one who brings nanaimo bars

When Mother-in-Law searching, find one who brings Nanaimo bars. I got some pretty great in-laws in general.

Fruit Platters saved the day (and by that I mean saved me from passing out when I realized I forgot to eat). Thanks, Ben and Anna!

Fruit Platters saved the day (and by that I mean saved me from passing out when I realized I forgot to eat). Thanks, Ben and Anna!

I made these cool Kudusama paper flowers. I gave up after 6.

I made these cool Kudusama paper flowers. I gave up after 6.

Guests travelled from Whitehorse, Sao Paolo, Kingston, Maine, Muskoka, Barrie, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, The Beaches. I feel very lucky.

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My city wedding bliss.

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Uncategorized

The Futility of Talking to the TTC

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Andy Byford says the TTC is focusing on customer service. I’m not sure I buy it.

On the Spadina streetcar yesterday, a man got on the back doors with a day pass. I didn’t see whether he showed it to the driver through the mirror, but the driver knew that he had gotten on the back and that he had a pass, so he must have done something. In any case, the driver announced that he needed to see the pass from the man who got on the back door. He made several more announcements to the effect of “We’re not moving until you show me your pass” and “I can wait all day.”

As a passenger on that streetcar – one who paid a fare, and was relying on that streetcar to get me to work in a timely manner – what was I to do?
The driver did not get up to speak to Fare Evader Man, which I’m not necessarily criticizing him for since I can understand that it might feel unsafe to do so, he just waited. You can tell me that the ultimate responsibility is that of the person who didn’t pay, but that argument relies on the assumption that the fare evader a) gives a damn, and b) is rational. What it means in practice is that it is up to other passengers (who also might feel unsafe) rather than the service provider to enforce fare evasion. That doesn’t make much sense to me.
Situations like this make passengers angry (and sometimes the situation escalates into a much bigger fight involving multiple people), makes them feel uncared for, and makes people not want to ride the TTC.

I’ve seen this happen many times before. Sometimes the person gets off, sometimes another passenger pays the fare (which once a driver refused to accept on principle), and sometimes the person actually pays. In this case, another passenger went up to Fare Evader Man and told him to show his pass. Fare Evader Man, who appeared that he was likely homeless and agitated, shouted loudly at the asking passenger, but did get up and show his pass.
So I asked the TTC on Twitter what the policy was in these situations. The answer I got was “Operators are permitted not to move the vehicle until everyone has paid the appropriate fare if this should occur.” Great.

I know the TTC has limited resources, I know our streetcars are old, and I know that drivers are expected to follow rules, which include collecting fares. I get all that. And yet, I still get screwed as a passenger when a streetcar is held up due to fare evasion.

I used Twitter to send my feedback because I have never once received a response from the TTC when I’ve written an email with a complaint (which, occasionally, has been major). I tried as best as I could to be respectful. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight – I really just wanted to express my concerns and feel like I was being listened to. But the response I got was not even a little bit helpful. It doesn’t actually take my concerns as valid, which I think they are, and I was essentially told, “Tough luck. People should just pay their fares.”
The solution to fare evasion is not that people should pay their fares. Because, as demonstrated, some people don’t pay their fares, and there will always be people who don’t pay their fares if they can do so. Does it really make sense that everyone on board is punished like a group of children? Does it make sense that I should either wait for an indeterminate amount of time, pay someone else’s fare, or take it upon myself to approach a stranger and demand they follow the rules?

There must be some other solution beyond “wait it out.” I’m not a transit expert and I won’t even try to pretend like I know the answer to this problem. But at the same time, I don’t accept that there is no solution to it. Maybe they need turnstiles at back doors that could be unlocked at times an employee is supervising rear boarding? Maybe the TTC needs enforcement officers that make spot checks so that policing fare evasion isn’t the responsibility of the driver? Maybe the drivers are given the discretion to sometimes just let things go in the interest of keeping things moving?

I wasn’t expecting the TTC Tweeter to come up with a solution today, though I would like if the TTC would explore alternative solutions to this problem. But mostly I would like the TTC, as an organization, to actually listen to customer complaints, and not act like I’m an idiot for bringing concerns forward. The TTC is apparently unveiling a passengers’ bill of rights today – a document I haven’t yet seen – but I’m not feeling especially hopeful that it will make a difference. What’s the point of a passenger bill of rights when the organization, as a whole, doesn’t seem to care about its passengers?

There must be some “better way.”

*A sidenote: The back door policy on the TTC is totally unclear. As I understand it, it is always ok on the Queen car but not on other routes – except the signs about a proof of fare route are at the back door on every streetcar. Sometimes drivers let people on the back when it is busy under the honour system (assuming they will be honest and are using a pass or transfer) and sometimes there is a supervisor checking fares. I bet people get confused and get on the back, thinking they are following the rules, only to have the streetcar driver call-them out.

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