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A weekly conversation between friends.

Featuring: 
  • "Political Correctness": Democracy's Newest Specter.
  • Administrative Segregation is Inhumane, and Must End in Canadian Prisons
  • "Success" in Canada's Lonely Multiculturalism Experiment.
  • How a Recovering Heroin Addict Transformed a Haitian Weekly into VICE.
  • You Can't Please All: Bhupen Khakhar at Tate Modern.
  • Bringing the Internet under Charter Protections for Freedom of Expression.
  • 12 Days of Christmas: A Tale of Avian Misery.
  • The Year in Music.
  • Guest Post: Top 5 Albums of 2016.
  • The Old Kanye.
  • B.C. Breaks Federal Law to Address Opioid Crisis.
  • And more.

Heyy

"Political Correctness": Democracy's Newest Specter

 
Over the past half decade or so, the term “political correctness” seems to have burrowed itself firmly into our political lexicon. This, despite the fact that it’s not a particularly coherent concept.
 
“The term is what Ancient Greek rhetoricians would have called an ‘exonym’: a term for another group, which signals that the speaker does not belong to it. Nobody ever describes themselves as ‘politically correct’,” explains Moira Weigel, in an excellent article on the topic in The Guardian. “The phrase is only ever an accusation.”
 
‘Political correctness’ is a pseudo-concept, “a phantom enemy” that was more or less invented, decades ago, by elite thinkers on the right to advance a fundamentally conservative understanding of liberal democracy. In response, the left was challenged to better articulate their vision of a diverse and inclusive society, and to defend the language it had developed to express it.
 
And to be frank, it was an interesting battle, one that brought to light a number of interesting political and philosophical questions about language, egalitarianism, and truth. That is, until Trump & Co. came along.
 
Weigel expertly traces how Trump and the alt-right co-opted, elevated, and twisted the anti-PC movement, turning it into something far more odious than a push back against the (often real) excesses of identity politics and the language of the left.
 
“As Trump prepares to enter the White House, many pundits have concluded that “political correctness” fuelled the populist backlash sweeping Europe and the US… But the truth is the opposite: those leaders understood the power that anti-political-correctness has to rally a class of voters, largely white, who are disaffected with the status quo and resentful of shifting cultural and social norms. They were not reacting to the tyranny of political correctness, nor were they returning America to a previous phase of its history. They were not taking anything back. They were wielding anti-political-correctness as a weapon, using it to forge a new political landscape and a frightening future.”

Administrative Segregation is Inhumane, and Must End in Canadian Prisons 


"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." — Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The House of the Dead (1862)

When I began practicing law, a senior lawyer whom I admired had this Dostoyevsky quote as part of his email signature. At the time, I thought I understood its meaning. Then I started acting for inmates in segregation (also known as solitary confinement) at the local maximum security penitentiary and realized I had no comprehension of its significance.

Inmates in Canada are routinely subject to all sorts of horrors in prison. Some are inflicted by other inmates, but perhaps the most egregious violations are those committed by the state through its use of administrative segregation.

Segregation is "the practice of confining a prisoner to a cell and depriving him or her of meaningful human contact for up to 23 hours a day." Segregation causes psychosis, self-harm, suicidal behaviour, and other terrible things. It is widely considered to be a form of torture.

Segregation in Canada is not solely a disciplinary measure for inmates. Rather, the correctional service can place an individual in segregation for their own "safety" and "security." This form of segregation has been termed administrative segregation, and does not require a hearing to determine if an inmate's segregation is justified or desirable — it is at the discretion of the prison. An inmate can also be segregated for an indefinite period of time. In some cases, for years.

The discretionary nature of administrative segregation has inevitably led to its abuse. Personally, I have seen inmates placed in administrative segregation for being paraplegic (and thus, according to the prison, unable to be accommodated for in the general inmate population), for being disliked by particular guards, and as a form of retribution when inmates make complaints regarding treatment.

Segregation has been under the spotlight in the United States for many years due to its indiscriminate use and dangerous impact on inmates. I highly recommend this remarkable piece by the New York Review of Books that provides a glimpse into the practice and effects ("America's Invisible Inferno").

The experiences described are disturbing. Segregation crushes an individual's spirit, and often, will to live. But they are similar in substance to the experience of inmates in segregation in Canadian jails. While I am sure you have heard of Ashley Smith, Bobbi Lee Worm, and Adam Capay, there are countless others who have experienced the same, or far worse (listen here to the experience of one inmate unlawfully placed in segregation, who is now suing the federal government for its conduct).

Fortunately, things are changing. Public awareness of administrative segregation is growing and leading to real reforms. Public watchdogs and civil rights organizations are also raising the alarm. And inmates themselves are pushing back against administrative segregation and are often finding a receptive audience within the judiciary.

However, more work needs to be done. In January, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and John Howard Society will be in court arguing that the current form of administrative segregation in Canada is unconstitutional. As with any lawsuit involving the government, it will be hard-fought and expensive. You can support their cause by donating to their legal efforts here.

"Success" in Canada's Lonely Multiculturalism Experiment

 
Jonathan Kay, the editor-in-chief of The Walrus, recently wrote about the rags to riches story of Roy Ratnavel, a Bay Street investment manager. Billed as a “lesson in success and diversity,” it focuses on the benefits of faking it till you make it into a white mainstream notion of Canadiana. While Ratnavel himself “has never encountered what he regards as unambiguous racism,” the Walrus article suggests that what we learn from his story is that immigrants should let go of their baggage in order to be successful. 

In response, Murrad Hemmadi, senior editor at Canadian Business, wrote a series of Tweets calling out the reductionist tone of the piece. Hemmadi argued that although it was an important narrative, it ignores the barriers immigrants face in many workplace settings, especially as they relate to media or leadership positions. Using illustrative quotes from the article he demonstrates how it implicitly supports "the anti-anti-racism approach to diversity," and "puts the onus for success firmly on the immigrant, person of colour, or otherwise disenfranchised individual."

 

I struggle myself at times with this perspective and it has left me with a lot of questions. There’s a report that came out in August that 67% of white people in the US didn’t want to talk about race on social media. It was too uncomfortable to do so. What do we get across by pointing out systemic issues related to social inequity - whether that relates to race, gender, or class? Should migrants reminisce about their loss of culture? Does the discussion only highlight differences rather than similarities?
 
The experience of otherness is reinforced by the microaggressions that take place every day. It may depend on the headspace you are in as to whether you are aware of them or how you receive them. The last 20 minutes (start at 39:10) of this Invisibilia podcast are worth having a listen to. It compares two frames of references Hassan Minaj of the 'The Daily Show' lives with. One perspective comes from his dad’s struggle living as a Muslim in India and the respite he found in America. The other is the racism and challenges Minaj faced growing up as a Muslim kid in the post-911 world.
 
The pressure to integrate is felt in other ways: the Globe and Mail recently explored how it contributes to the loss of heritage languages by third generation immigrants or even earlier. A familiar story in many immigrant households is “parents who speak in their native language to children who respond mostly in English.” There is a rush to fit in for the first and second generation communities, but narratives of your family give way to an often superficial relationship with grandparents or aunties living abroad.  
 
Some young Muslims are challenging their loss of heritage; the Montreal-based company Mode-ste is determined to “reconcile modernity with modesty” by designing “affordable maxi dresses, long-sleeved tunics, relaxed-fit trousers and ankle-length pencil skirts,” which conform to Islamic modesty laws. “The company is poised to cross the million-dollar mark in 2017, thanks in part to a November appearance on CBC’s 'Dragons’ Den,' as well as a collaboration with modest-fashion maven Saufeeya Goodson, whose @HijabFashion Instagram page has 2.6 million followers.” It’s a good reminder that whatever happens, things will move forward, and as Zadie Smith says below, not to despair. Culture will evolve and people will come up with ways to reinvent and keep a part of themselves.
 
Taking place just days after the election of Donald Trump, Smith’s speech (on the occasion of winning the 2016 Welt Literature Prize) is well worth a read. It is a powerful, and at times personal, exploration of multiculturalism and progress in an unsettled, unpredictable time. One thing that struck me was how insufficient labels are in capturing our messy human experience. Smith says “individual citizens are internally plural: they have within them the full range of behavioral possibilities.” Immigrants who must be, indeed are demanded to be, many things at once, understand this all too well.

How a Recovering Heroin Addict Transformed a Haitian Weekly into VICE


I draw inspiration from seedy hustlers from Montreal who make it in careers and industries that the world told them they had no business being in. After listening to this episode of How I Built This on NPR, I am adding Suroosh Alvi to that list. 

Alvi is the founder of Vice. Listen to him explain how, as a recovering heroin addict, he took a Haitian English weekly in Montreal to become the $4 Billion media empire that is now VICE. 

You Can't Please All: Bhupen Khakhar at Tate Modern

 

This past fall, I attended Tate Modern’s retrospective on the life and work of Bhupen Khakhar, a highly influential contemporary Indian artist who died in 2003. The retrospective, entitled You Can’t Please All, was framed around Khakar’s exploration of the Aesop fable involving the miller, his son, and the donkey.
 

Khakhar, an openly gay Indian man, who explored sexual acts between men and the male body in his work, held a deep understanding of the moral virtue of being true to one’s self, rather than desperately trying to please others. Khakar lived in a country that criminalized homosexuality, and his career spanned a period of time where overt explorations of this form of sexuality in art could be challenging.

The Caravan — India’s premier arts, culture, and politics magazine — provides an excellent profile of Khakhar and his work in response to You Can’t Please All that I am sure will be illuminating on both Khakhar and the contemporary art scene in India:
 
You Can’t Please All, the fine new retrospective of Bhupen Khakhar’s art at the Tate Modern in London, which comes with a superb hardback catalogue featuring reproductions of his paintings along with photographs from his life and some excellent critical essays, gets its name from his take on [Aesop’s fable on the miller, his son, and the donkey]...  
 
The Tate’s exhibition features a short film from 1983 where Khakhar talks about his life and art. “In life,” he says, “we all the time make social adjustments to please people around us. We forget our duty towards ourselves. What we should do in art and life is do exactly what one likes.” This can sound on first reading like a merely selfish remark, but every single thing we know about Khakhar tells against this reading.
 
To “do exactly what one likes” can mean any number of things; it depends, obviously enough, on what one likes, and finding out what one likes can be the business of a lifetime’s reflection. “We forget our duty towards ourselves,” Khakhar says, choosing his words carefully. Duty, as he sees it, isn’t imposed on one from the outside—by society or the gods. Duty, in Khakhar’s idiolect, is a word for what one most fundamentally needs, an imperative that comes from the deepest self. It is not an ought, but a must. It can be destructive—as, indeed, can morality—but it needn’t be. Nor need it be selfish or callous to acknowledge the proper claims of the self. There is a place between selfishness and martyrdom, and much of human life is lived in it. All of Khakhar’s art—perhaps most good art—depicts that place. 

Bringing the Internet under Charter Protections for Freedom of Expression

 
The internet has grown to encompass virtually every aspect of our lives, and is fundamental to how many of us communicate with, and understand the world. Given its central role in our society, it is almost absurd that it has not been considered a protected “medium of communication,” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
 
The result of this oversight is the case of Google v. Equustek, where a BC Supreme Court judge issued an order eliminating a series of websites from google listings, not just nationally, but internationally, because it was a “convenient” way to prevent theft of Equustek’s intellectual property. This order not only reflects an ignorance of how the internet works, but also a failure to imagine the implications of this type of decision on other websites across the web.
 
Let’s do that now: imagine if this order was issued in relation to a defamation case during a political campaign, or maybe as part of a copyright claim against a Youtube video created by a protest group. Now hopefully, the judges in each case would consider freedom of expression issues, but under current Canadian law, they don’t have to. In the lower court decisions in Google v. Equustek, the judges certainly didn’t find the issues important to their decision making.
 
If this type of order was directed at a national newspaper, the court would be forced to undergo a balancing test that asks judges to weigh the necessity and proportionality of the restriction in light of the values and principles that inform the right to free expression in the Charter. But when it comes to websites, no such test is required, and decisions can be made merely on convenience.
 
Obviously, the ramifications of this for any of us who put content on the internet or who rely on open access to it, are huge. If this order is upheld, we will have lost a critical opportunity to stop internet restrictions in Canada and to discourage them abroad.

We've written more extensively about this case and why we believe the Court should bring the internet under Charter protection in
plain English and Legalese. 

12 Days of Christmas: A Tale of Avian Misery

The Year in Music

 
2016 was a terrible year. Very few will dispute this sentiment.
 
It was, however, an exceptional year for music — arguably the best of the past decade.
 
Back in February, Kanye West released The Life of Pablo, a manic, perpetually unfinished masterpiece that blew up the internet for months. The besieged king of hip hop’s latest offering is a rowdy torrent of exuberance, punctuated by sharp intervals of darkness that now seem glaringly portentous. A few months later, Kanye’s protege (and foil) Chance the Rapper released Coloring Book — a future classic that radiates with that joyous, life-affirming optimism that defines the ‘New Millennials.’ 
Chance the Rapper: Blessings (Reprise)

 

2016 also produced a trio of profound and subversive musical statements on race and identity. On Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound, Dev Hynes and an impressive group of female vocalists join forces to grapple with questions of migration, faith, and black masculinity. Several months after Beyonce released Lemonade — a revolutionary visual album and deeply personal feminist manifesto — her sister Solange upped the ante with A Seat at the Table, a stunning album that manages to both capture and transcend the sense of weariness that has so saturated the past 12 months. 
 

 

2016 also produced a trio of outstanding albums from three of popular music’s all-time titans, each a profound meditation on death. Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker collects the musings of a poet-philosopher that is ready to die, while Blackstar pulls back the curtain on David Bowie’s 18-month battle with cancer. On Skeleton Tree, a shockingly vulnerable Nick Cave struggles to cope with the unexpected death of his 15-year old son.
 
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - 'I Need You' (Official Video)

 

2016 will also be remembered as the year that A Tribe Called Quest dropped their brilliant final album (and their first in 18 years). We got it from here...Thank You 4 Your service is a satisfying victory lap that provides ample evidence in favor of Q-Tip’s theory that “the best art comes not from the exuberance of youth, but the mastery of form.”
 
Nor did Frank Ocean disappoint with his much-anticipated follow up to channel ORANGE (things had reached a fever pitch). Blonde is a completely original album, one that transcends both genre and form, and expands the possibilities of pop music (his mini-visual album, Endless, is pretty damn good, too). Neither albums are eligible for next year’s Grammy’s, which means that Frank can quietly slip back into the shadows, his mystery intact.
 

 

Rock and alternative music (indie?) had a relatively quiet year — aside from Radiohead’s solid, but, let’s admit it, underwhelming new album, A Moon Shaped Pool, there really weren’t any major releases much worth talking about. Perhaps it’s telling that for the first time in many years, no ‘rock’ albums were nominated for the Grammy for Album of the Year.
 
Or maybe the genre is simply changing. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, once the patron-saint of indie-folk, traded in his acoustic guitars for home-made synthesizers on 22, A Million, and — inspired by recent collaborations with Kanye West — processed his signature falsetto through home-made synthesizers, to unique and powerful effect.
 
Similarly, Anohni (formerly Antony Hegarty) — the inimitable singer-songwriter known for her dramatic chamber pop and quaint duets with the likes of Boy George and Yoko Ono (she’s also the first trans person to be nominated for an Oscar) — has undergone a wholesale transformation. Co-produced by ‘trap’ producer Hudson Mohawke and experimental electronic artist Oneohtrix Point Never, HOPELESSNESS is an intrepid, and challenging album, one which deftly layers Anohni’s voice on top of aggressive electronic rhythms; one which not only juxtaposes, but balances gorgeous pop melodies with violent bursts of noise. It’s also a protest album — against drone warfare, environmental destructions, and the failures of the Obama administration (admittedly, the latter is harder to swallow in the era of Trump).
 
Drone Bomb Me - by ANOHNI

 

There were, of course, a few treats for fans of indie music that were willing to dig a bit deeper than usual. Hamilton Leithauser teamed up with Rostam Batmanglij to create I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, a neat little album that sounds exactly what you’d expect to hear if a member of the Walkmen teamed up with a member of Vampire Weekend. With Puberty 2 and My Woman, Mitski and Angel Olsen provided further evidence that women are the current guardians of guitar-based rock music. There was also a mini-soft rock revival thanks to folky throwback curios from the likes of Weyes Blood (Front Row Seat to Earth), Kevin Morby (Singing Saw), and Whitney (Light Upon the Lake).
 

 

But the year ultimately belonged to hip hop, a genre that has fully eclipsed rock music and secured its place at the center of mainstream music. In addition to the heavy hitters described above, 2016 also produced solid contributions from the suddenly prolific Anderson. Paak (Malibu, Yes Lawd!) and the suddenly gender-bending Young Thug (No, My Name Is JEFFERY), plus a fiery collaboration between 21 Savage and Metro Boomin (Savage Mode), yet another wild album from Danny Brown (Atrocity Exhibition), and finally, a couple of g-funk highlights from YG (My Krazy Life) and Kamaiyah (A Goodnight in the Ghetto). 
 

 

Finally, 2016 also featured a trio of excellent debut albums from Jamila Woods (Heaven), dvsn (Sept. 5th), and Kaytranada, whose seamlessly genre-bending album, 99.9%, earned him this year’s Polaris Prize. Oh, and also new, surprisingly accessible music from Aphex Twin (Cheetah EP), if you’re into that kind of stuff
 
All that being said, here is my list of the top 5 albums of 2016:
 
  1. Frank Ocean, Blonde
  2. Kanye West, The Life of Pablo
  3. Anohni, HOPELESSNESS
  4. Blood Orange, Freetown Sound
  5. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book

Guest Post: Top 5 Albums of 2016

 
Before I go any further, I have to point out that “theread” is already taken by Kid Fury and Crissle with their fantastic podcast “The Read”. Great podcast by the way, which I recommend to anyone who wants to add another podcast to their listening schedule. Thought I’d get that out the way now —and no, pronouncing it “thread” and having a .ca domain doesn’t abscond you from what you’ve done. And “you” know who you are.
 
I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that 2016 was a year in which we lost a number of artists who truly embody the phrase “G.O.A.T”.... but you’re here for the list:
 
5. PartyNextDoor, PartyNextDoor 3

PartyNextDoor’s (aka PND, Party, P, Jahron Brathwaite, and Do-rag Jesus) selection in the top 5 isn’t solely for his PartyNextDoor 3 project. PND can easily be considered the most stabilizing R&B factor when it comes to the OVO Sound™. Since Nothing Was The Same, PND has been responsible for the most notable R&B tracks on various subsequent projects. On his own accord, PND’s numbered iterations carry a particular rhythm and vibe that goes further than any mainstream Drake project. While it might be odd to mention Drake here, it kind of goes along the line of “give credit where credit is due.” It’s a cruel world where the man who wrote “Work” needs the help of MuchFACT to fund his own videos. Now you tell me who is “Not Nice”?
 
4. Frank Ocean, Blond(e)

Frank has ducked the masses for the greater part of the 4 years between Channel Orange and Blond, and social media quickly tired of the constant hoax release dates for his second album. But where any other artist would’ve been slandered through and through for it, not Frank. It felt like once everyone heard “Nikes” all was forgiven. On top of that, another appearance from Andre 3000 affirms, once again, Frank Ocean’s place in musical hierarchy.

3. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book

The first time I heard “Ultralight Beam” in early February, my first inclination was that this could be Chance’s year. While Kanye allowed Chance to have a platform on a masterpiece of a song. Chance made a masterpiece of an album. He changed the Grammys’ rules to allow for a more inclusive approach to which albums can be considered for one of the most highly coveted awards in music. The album is filled with an addictive mix of uplifting gospel and hip-hop — you can’t help but imagine the sun rays and the breeze flowing through the car with “No Problem” blasting on all the speakers.
 
2. A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from here….Thank you 4 your service

18 years later and a Chappelle-hosted SNL gave us a new ATCQ album. After the week that was in early November, getting a new dose of ATCQ felt nostalgic. This is a quintessential ATCQ album, which, coming 18 years after their last release, is no small feat. The idea of Phife Dawg spitting bars with bite and Q-Tip commenting on the current state of affairs, rapidly trading verses on top of classic east coast/jazzy beats, is exactly what we needed in 2016.
 
1. Solange, A Seat at the Table

Last year, I chose Kendrick Lamar’s How to Pimp a Butterfly as my album of the year. The racial injustices against black men ignited a fire among those who are oppressed. Several of Kendrick’s tracks were used as a rallying cry for the black experience and how truly beautiful and powerful it is. This year, Solange’s A Seat at the Table provides a similar, but more subdued take on matters. But don’t take ‘subdued’ to mean anything less than powerful. The soulfulness found throughout this album is calming, but packed with a sense of urgency. Narration by Master P helps set the table for this album of the year. 

Old Kanye*


I Miss the Old Kanye
The Socially Woke Kanye


 
Kanye West - Jesus Walks (Version 2)
Called Bush a Joke Kanye
 
Not This 'I'd Vote for Trump' Kanye 
*Originally from @stan_swin, with minor alteration, and inspired by "I Love Kanye" off of Kanye's The Life of Pablo..

B.C. Breaks Federal Law to Address Opioid Crisis

 
Canada's unprecedented opioid crisis has forced the British Columbia government to ignore federal law concerning safe injection facilities and open 5 new facilities in the lower mainland. These facilities are illegal, but reflect the dire situation many communities are facing. In the words of Terry Lake, Minister of Health for British Columbia:
 
“We can’t wait for federal changes in order to save people’s lives. We know people are using in alleys, they are using in their rooms, and they are not where the people who can help them are. And so in the face of this crisis, we really just wanted to do more.”
 
BC's move seems to have pushed the federal government to take additional action to address the public health crisis by proposing legislation that will make it easier for these facilities to open. The legislation will be introduced on Monday and make changes to drug laws in Canada around supervised use of drugs. 

Links from the Week's Thread

 
  • David Shulman describes the desperate struggle for survival by the 15,000 Bedouin shepherds in the West Bank: “[W]e are now witnessing in the Jordan Valley an accelerated process of what must, I fear, be called ethnic cleansing. It’s not a term I use lightly”
  • Pankaj Mishra on the age of anger: “Today, the society of entrepreneurial individuals competing in the rational market reveals unplumbed depths of misery and despair; it spawns a nihilistic rebellion against order itself.”
  • Stephanie Nolen looks at both sides of the Brazilian government’s implementation of race tribunals, used to eliminate fraudulent applications to affirmative-action programs: “Some tribunals work purely from physical appearance; some panelists apparently see race as more than that and ask candidates about their experience of discrimination, or their families.The end result, frequently, is confusion.”
  • John Herrman defines the word “platform” in the post-election context: “Somewhere between media and social media — between familiar ideas about politics and the news and the ones that underpin the world we live in today — platforms changed from responsibilities into abdications of responsibility. Claiming to provide a platform, in Silicon Valley, doesn’t demand defense. It is the defense. Platforms don’t cause problems; people do.”
  • The formula behind Michael Lewis’ books, as elucidated in a review of The Undoing ProjectThe scientific narrative nonfiction formula, as Lewis and Gladwell use it, consists of depicting a character or small cadre of characters who embody a counterintuitive claim .... The scientific narrative nonfiction author then moves the reader from his or her original perception of the status quo to the counterintuitive truism through a winding road of anecdotes and eccentricities provided by the character or characters, all the while shearing and honing these stories for salience and readability. “You think that ‘experts’ have a solid grasp on something? Actually, here are some relatively unknown people who can prove otherwise.” This is the crux of the formula. Importantly, the reader must be somewhat educated (and thus interested in the subject at hand), but not too knowledgeable in the specific field being discussed.” 
  • Kate Black has three remarkable pieces in the fall issue of Glass Buffalo: The Dying Game, Security Settings, and Claireview. Black explores themes such as trauma, mortality, and patriarchy in an incisive manner full of rich detail and humour. 
Copyright © 2016 Newsletter, All rights reserved.


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