A weekly conversation between friends.

  • Trans Mountain: Finding Common Ground Between Progressives in Alberta and British Columbia.
  • "Existential Insecurity" — Anti-Democratic Youth from Russia to the US.
  • Making Sense of Turmoil: Letters from the Philippines, Turkey, and Venezuela.
  • Learning the Words: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Race and Identity.
  • Canada's Fentanyl Epidemic: How the State's Inability to Address the Crisis Has Propelled Grassroots Organizers and Communities into Action.
  • Trump and the Threat to American Democracy.
  • The Music of Moonlight.
  • Granta Explores Religious Identity Among Mennonites and Indians.
  • Why They Tried to Kill Disco and How it Survived.
  • Virginia Woolf Revisited After Trump.
  • And more.

Trans Mountain: Finding Common Ground Between Progressives in Alberta and BC

Life has me between Edmonton and Vancouver these days, and the disconnect I have noticed between progressive circles in both cities over pipelines is a bit jarring.
The split isn’t as simple as pro / anti. It’s whether pipelines are necessary to secure a progressive climate change policy in Canada for the long-term.
The issue flared up again over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval of Trans Mountain and Line 3 (and rejection of Northern Gateway) last week.
From my perspective, the differences stem from the political realities and stakes in each province.

Read full post.

"Existential Insecurity" — Anti-Democratic Youth from Russia to the US

A recent article in National Geographic about young people in Russia who support (or at least are unwilling to openly oppose) Putin has been making the rounds. The author suggests that instability in the 90s and the failing Russian economy generally has led young people to obsess over obtaining the basic tenants of a stable life: job, house, and partner. They don’t see democracy as a way to get any of these things, but rather a source of anxiety and unhappiness. The National Geographic piece is in contrast to this one from The Economist from a few months ago, which seemed to suggest that a "boom in ‘enlightenment’ projects" among young Russians would eventually lead to political change. 

The Russian reportage is relevant because in Canada and the US, we’re more familiar/comfortable with the conception of young people as socially liberal and pro-democracy, but new research is suggesting this is wrong: “existential insecurity” is also taking a toll on our democratic values. A recent post on Kottke* alerted me to some new articles on liberal democracy, leading back to my old undergraduate standby, the Journal of Democracy. The Mounk/Foa study makes for dispiriting reading, especially because it suggests that unlike the Russian situation, where illiberal thinking is more prevalent in youth cohorts with limited options, poverty, and instability in the US and other Western democracies, it's the young and wealthy who are particularly likely to agree with illiberal sentiments (although the authors suggest this may be a return to the historical norm for elites). Generally, the study suggests young people in North American and Western Europe are more like to express support for political radicalism, less likely to support freedom of speech, and less likely to directly engage in political and civic activity, than previous cohorts. 

*One of my favorite sites on the web since… I joined the internet?

Making Sense of Turmoil: Letters from the Philippines, Turkey, and Venezuela

A friend recently gifted me a 12-month subscription to The New Yorker — it’s perhaps the best gift I’ve received. Not only is the content consistently top-notch, but there’s something uniquely satisfying about rolling up the thin digest and stuffing it into your back pocket, in case you catch a few minutes to read it on the subway or during lunch, aware that you still have a few articles to get through before next week’s volume arrives.

Anyways, that The New Yorker is a good magazine isn’t news to anyone, I don’t think. But I’d like to quickly flag for online readers three articles that have stuck out over the past few months.

In Turkey’s Thirty-Year Coup, Dexter Filkins charts the gradual rise of the Gülenist movement in Turkey — a somewhat covert movement guided by an enigmatic spiritualist leader whose loyal followers have managed to infiltrate each and every corner of the Turkish state. It’s a must read for anyone who wants to make sense of the recent (failed) coup attempt in Turkey.

In Venezuela, A Failing State William Finnegan paints a dire picture of a country pitched into chaos by the death of Hugo Chávez, and the sudden unraveling of the precarious experiment he had for so long overseen.

Finally, in The Tough Guy, Adrian Chen studies the impact of Filipino President (and boisterous demagogue) Rodrigo Duterte’s first few months in office, and the country’s quiet acquiescence to his brutal campaign of extrajudicial killings and vigilantism.

Too often, we consume major international news stories without the context to properly understand them or to judge their impact. We know that there was a coup in Turkey, that there have been food riots in Venezuela, and that the Philippines have also elected a dangerous populist with a big mouth. But we don’t know why, nor do we always have the means to figure it out in any sort of efficient manner.

Anyways, I highly recommend that you bookmark these articles, and make your way through them. You won't regret it.

Learning the Words: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Race and Identity

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's book Americanah changed how I saw the coloured identity in North America. As far as I’m concerned, it’s reading 101 for the nuanced race conversations we are continuously having in Canada.

Sorry to revisit the wounds of the election but here she is reflecting on the election on BBC Newsnight

She also authored a rallying call to reexamine American values and have tough conversations about social inequity.

Canada's Fentanyl Epidemic

Fentanyl is the most serious public health crisis to hit Canada in decades. The number of fentanyl deaths is alarming, but the state's inability to address the crisis is the more important story. There appears to be no proactive plan to address fentanyl's growing use, let alone strategies to protect the health and safety of fentanyl addicts and users.

Death or disease should not be an inevitability for drug addicts and users. They deserve the same sort of compassion and consideration as anyone else facing significant health challenges.

This is the premise of harm reduction strategies around drug use. That instead of ignoring the realities of drug addicts and users, there is an obligation on the state to minimize the negative impacts of drug use to save and enhance lives. The moral argument is often coupled with economic, public health, and other arguments, but for me, it remains the most significant. The lives of drug addicts and users matter.

Vancouver, particularly the Downtown Eastside (DTES), has become one of the epicentre of the crisis (as well as Edmonton,  where
carfentanil — a much more powerful opioid that is used as an elephant tranquilizer — has been linked to 7 deaths over the past few months). Grassroots activists in the DTES, including users, have responded by creating illegal pop-up safe injection sites to ensure that users and addicts have a safe space to use. The volunteer-run project, which was crowdfunded, provides supervision and assistance to users and addicts, ensuring that medical support is available in the case of an overdose. So far, dozens of lives have been saved, and the courage of all those involved is inspiring. Risking criminal charges and potential jail time to address the crisis is nothing short of heroic.

I also admire the reporting of Travis Lupick of the Georgia Straight. Through his reporting, Lupick has demonstrated the extent of the crisis and the meaningful work of grassroots efforts like those in the DTES. How Lupick employs social media, particularly Instagram and Twitter, is particularly compelling, as it provides both a personal and broader contextual account of the crisis. Some examples:
Travis Lupick: "... During the first six months of 2016, 371 people died of drug overdoses in British Columbia. That compares to 494 during the entire year of 2015. It puts B.C. on track for 742 drug-overdose deaths by the end of this year.
The government can’t ignore a number that is so far beyond historical precedent. (Before 2015, the all-time high for drug-overdose deaths in B.C. was set all the way back in 1998, when there were 400.)" Read full post.
Travis Lupick: "... Continued from previous post. Spent last couple hours hanging out at the #DowntownEastside's unsanctioned supervised injection tent in the alley behind 62 East Hastings... #fentanyl #dtes (Copied from Twitter. Please forgive abbreviations and grammatical errors.) Current chatter in the tent: intentional introduction of #fentanyl. "Like smallpox & the Indians but to kill poor ppl down here." #dtes Ambulance arrives for that OD and he bolts down the alley. One problem w/ #naloxone: it wears off & you can OD all over again. #fentanyl Two stories everybody here seems to have: Time they had #naloxone & saved someone. And time they didn't & lost someone." Read full post.
Travis Lupick: "... Sue, a volunteer at one of the Downtown Eastside's unsanctioned supervised-injection tents. She begins to cry as she tells the story of Corey Fry, 31, who was killed by fentanyl earlier this month. "In all my years working with people, that probably affected me the strongest," she told us. "Our whole building just shut down. It was an emotional shut down for everyone. Because he was the heart of our building. For several days, people were trying not to use. But they were getting too sick. For me, that was when it became really apparent that we have a huge problem....Everybody that volunteers here has lost somebody. Everybody....If you're not impacted by it, you're not human." Read full post.
Travis Lupick: "A man who volunteers at an unsanctioned supervised-injection tent in the Downtown Eastside was found unconscious in a portapotty there. He was out for quite a while but finally came back after 3 naloxone shots. Lately the tent is seeing about half a dozen overdoses every day. So far, nobody has died there, thanks to volunteers equipped with naloxone." Read full post.

Trump and the Threat to American Democracy

Is Trump a genuine threat to democracy? Is the United States already a failed state, as Paul Krugman so boldly suggested after the election?

Or is Trump simply an astonishingly incompetent politician who capitalized on the frustrations of a bloc of voters who at least implicitly believe in the ability of democratic institutions to check the power and absorb the blows of even the most tempestuous president; a man-child that made his way to the presidency by taking the path of least resistance — a dangerous, unpredictable path from which he is unlikely to stray.

Don't expect tanks in the streets. The bigger threat, argues David Runciman, in  an excell
ent article in the London Review of Booksis a Trump presidency that distracts, dismantles, and divides, one that exacerbates the ongoing  atrophy of the country's foundation. In his words: "Fake disruption followed by institutional paralysis, and all the while the real dangers continue to mount. Ultimately, that is how democracy ends." 

The Music of Moonlight

If you haven't seen the film Moonlight, yet, cancel your plans and go this evening. Go right now. It's the best film of the year (I say this with complete confidence, even though it's 1 of maybe 3 movies I've seen in 2016).

Moonlight tells the story of a young boy coming of age in Liberty City, Miami during the height of the 'War on Drugs', as he struggles with essential questions of identity, sexuality, and masculinity. It's perfectly acted, perfectly directed, and deeply affecting.

Viewers are also struck film's captivating soundtrack, which features a mix of Southern hip hop and orchestral music, 'chopped and screwed' to unique effect. In a fascinating interview with Pitchfork, Moonlight's director Barry Jenkins discusses the inspiration behind the soundtrack and original score, and reflects on the film's powerful and timely themes.
Moonlight | Music of Moonlight | Official Featurette HD | A24
Boris Gardiner- Every Nigger is a Star
(Moonlight Film) Jidenna - Classic Man ft. Roman GianArthur (Screwed)

Exploring Religious Identity: Mennonites and India

Granta 137 tackles the subject of religious identity and spirituality.  Miriam Toews pens a powerful memoir on her life growing up in a conservative Mennonite community in Manitoba that captures the complexities around reconciling one's personal values with those of their religious community. Malcolm Gladwell explores the same themes in the Mennonite community from a starkly different perspective in his Revisionist History podcast, with Episode 9 - Generous Orthodoxy. 
Toews' piece resonates with those of us who have grown up in a particular religious community, but are disconnected with the values and doctrines of the faith. The cultural and communitarian aspects of faith are harder to shed, as they are often deeply embedded in one's identity.
Also of note is the essay by Aatish Taseer (son of Salmaan Taseer, a Pakistani politician assassinated after coming to the aid of a Christian woman in the country charged under its blasphemy laws, and Tavleen Singh, a respected Indian journalist of Sikh origin). The Interpreters (paywall) attempts to chart the old and new in India, by exploring the people and sites of Benares or Varanasi (the City of the Dead in Hinduism), but leaves the reader with much broader insight — how self-realization and spirituality are intricately tied in South Asian religions ("the personal self was a site to discover the supreme self; spirituality and self-discovery were inextricably linked"), and how the path towards modernity (new India) may exclude certain segments  of society (old India) from its fruits. The quote that follows is written about India, but could very well be used to explain circumstances in another country:
...old India has not found a way to pass on the germ of its genius. And as long as old cultures fail to find a path to renewal, no one -- least of all Europe -- will be spared the rage of people who knew they were once something, and whose confidence has been broken.

Why They Tried to Kill Disco and How it Survived

I love Disco. Let's be honest, you do too. How can you not love that funky bass and electronic feel.

I grew up on Disco compilation CDs, and Bollywood movies that embraced the genre and took it to the next level.

I never understood the hate for disco. I thought it was just one of those cultural things that I couldn't understand
like camping.

Then I read The Politics of Disco, on Film, a preview of a series playing at a theatre in New York that delves into the politics of the genre. Richard Brody suggests that the campaign against Disco had less to do with music, and more to do with "the cultural advances of black people, homosexuals, women, and urban élites which challenged the mainstream presumptions of middle-class white men." Disco emerged from segments of American society that were marginalized and excluded, and the reactionary response reflected an attempt to continue to marginalize and exclude these communities.

Undone, a new podcast by Gimlet, provides a similar perspective, by delving deeper into the 1979 Chicago riot that is said to have killed Disco. But as becomes clear by the end of the episode, Disco did not die that night. It continues to exist and shape the world we live in.


Something is in the air we breathe. Both the NY Times and the Globe and Mail have covered the benefits of controlled breathing recently. I learned of this technique years ago but continue to ignore it in my own life. Borrowed from the practice of pranayama in yoga (which the Globe article forgot to acknowledge), it can be a powerful tool to get control of the running thoughts in your head and energize.

There's been a renewed buzz around meditative practice. It could be the fact that people are dealing with increased stress heading into the holiday season, the post election fever, or an attempt to tune out from the constant distractions around. Check it out if you haven't.

Virginia Woolf Re-visited After Trump

I re-read Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own (published 1928), which implores women to put their writing out into the world. I couldn’t have been more delighted by how gently she calls out several centuries worth of mansplaining. So sensitive and yet so firm in her conviction for what women need in order to write and write well. I got to the end though and I couldn’t help but think of Marie Henein’s brilliant op-ed in the Globe regarding the visibility of women needed to ensure we one day get a female Prime Minister or President. Eerily, they end the same way. Virginia writes:

“As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born…she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would be impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.”

Marie writes: “This is what I would like you to tell your daughters today: engagement on every front is the only answer. It means that young women must participate. I do not care where. I do not care what view you take. I do not care what your political stripes are. I do not care whether I agree with you or not. What I care about is that you are seen. In every boardroom. In every school. In every C-suite. In every political party. Engineer. Artist. Judge. Politician. Doctor. Until you cannot be overlooked. Until seeing you in the highest office anywhere is as normal as breathing. The sky is not falling. It just feels a little darker right now. She is out there. I know it in my core. In some school. On some playground. In some boardroom. She may not even know it yet. And our collective job is to light the path so everyone else can find her.”

90 years and the fight remains. 

For another piece which seems relevant in these Post-Trump times, check out Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern with Futher Materials Toward a Theory of the Man-Child from 2013. It discusses casual misogyny in liberal circles, both through language and action, but is also a well-written, cathartic read. 

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