Saturday, July 31, 2010

Our Prime Minister


I was having a conversation with my uncle Russell, brother of my father and my brother, your grand-uncle, Kareem. Kareem had just started this basketball camp for youth and was remarking about how important it was to demonstrate leadership skills -- to take initiative in directing people and coordinating individual actions toward group success that benefits everyone. He was marveling at how this simple idea of a basketball camp had all sorts of people just showing up to volunteer their time, offer funding support and sponsorship, bringing people together. It seemed like the first time that the importance of the idea, that entrepreneurial spark, the inspired notion, became real to him and the endless possibilities of moving large groups of people filled his eye. He immediately started to talk of one day entering politics.

My uncle stopped short at the suggestion. Politics is where the ideas go to die, he said. It's where the inspiration stops at words and never turns to deed. Flowery phrases and paying taxes. Kareem protested. He said that the people who get into politics aren't natural leaders, naturals at uniting and directing people. Politics is considered in such low regard because of the good people who refuse to go into politics, leaving this important role to those who see politics not as a means to improve the world, but as an end onto itself, namely, a job that pays well.

That brings me to our Prime Minister here in Canada, a man by the name of Stephen Harper. He's philosophically and politically conservative in a country that largely is not. And it's obvious that he dislikes a great deal about Canada and would like to change it.

Think for a moment of the most innocuous thing that the government does for its people, the thing that the most people would have the least problem with. That certainly wouldn't be maintaining the military. Militaries could be used against the citizens. It couldn't be central banking - some people feel the market should control all. It damn sure isn't social programs - giving a dollar to one person means that you're not giving it to another - which I would say is reasonably contentious. And above all, I think its safe to say that taxation in all its form, regardless of the justification, would be one of the prime targets of public angst against government control typical of the Conservative worldview.

But so pervasive is Stephen Harper's dissatisfaction with Canada that he can't even reserve his need to change his country to the big ticket items. He and his government -- my government -- feel it necessary to take aim at one of the most innocuous and universally accepted responsibilities of the government...

Counting the amount of people in the country. Quantifying their habits. Getting a statistical picture of the population and comparing it to years past.

The census.

I'm shaking my head even as I write this. It seems so nonsensical to me that I can't even...

The census.

I want to sit down and meet the person who has a problem with the census. I want to talk to them and discover the source of their resentment to a task that they are asked to do once every 5 years, that expends no physical effort, costs them no money, that provides answers to questions that they're probably one day going to ask, and actually gives some rational basis for the things that government do. I'd want to ask them what they think of voting. How can someone be against the census, but okay with voting? That would be like saying that it's okay for the people to make to leaders but not okay for the leaders to know who they're leading. If one is essential for the state, how could the other not be?

The census, the quantification of the people of the country, is the most essential function of the federal government after keeping other people from invading us or killing us. And the Prime Minister's apparent mission to destroy it is to my mind a chilling example of the hypocrisy of Stephen Harper and the Conservative mindset in general. If he hates government so much, how can he be so comfortable using government to destroy the government? If he thinks its wrong for government to intrude in the life of Canadians by asking about their lives, why is it okay for his government to intrude in my life by robbing my country of the means to measure itself?

I have in general an enlightened perspective on politics. The country is about homeostasis. Homeostasis is not about everything staying the same. It's about having mechanisms to bring an unbalanced system back to balance. A Liberal government goes too far with some scheme or idea, an election puts the other guys in power. The Conservatives pass a law that undermines the Charter, the courts strike the law down. But the Census. The census tells us what's working and what doesn't. It tells us who's here and who's not. If someone tries to strike down elections, they'd be done for. If someone tried to destroy the courts, there'd be war. But the census. It only comes about once every 4 years. Gut the census and no one would notice. But the effects would be obvious.

Make the census voluntary and those who don't understand what the census is for - the least educated in our society - won't fill it out, causing them to be underrepresented. Make the census voluntary and the educated and well-to-do members of society will become overrepresented and get an even larger voice in the political spectrum than they already have. A voluntary census is worse than no census at all. No census would be simple ignorance, a voluntary census is a lie: a simple and unvarnished lie, a distortion of what the country really is.

It takes a special kind of ideologue to take aim at the census. You'd have to have a special distaste for government to try and blind it to any mechanism for rational policy-making. Oh, that Stephen Harper could just be any old, average politician, concerned only with getting re-elected. But he isn't. He's a leader, he wants to use political power to change the country. He's also a meglomaniac, a hypocrit, and leading my country where it doesn't want to go. Barack Obama is taking his country where it doesn't want to go, but he's building healthcare, fighting oil spills and keeping banks and auto companies from failing. Stephen Harper's trying to gut the census. He changes things that no one complains about, when there are real tangible problems out there that need solving. And that's why I am firmly convinced that I will never vote for his party.

Travers telling it like it is.

Siddiqui: and I guess my question is - when did "dumb" start being a partisan issue? If Chretian had tried to gut the census and wanted to build prisons when the crime rate was falling and while the country was running a $5 B deficit, would I be throwing a party?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

D-Wade+Oh-my-Bosh+'Bron = ?

That's the question, isn't it? And I genuinely feel that the answer is only among themselves. They have all the power. Not owners, or fans. If they have LeBron bringing the ball in the front court for the 1st and 3rd quarter, and Wade bringing it in the 2nd and 4th. If they have weak side presence with a Bosh-Wade, Bosh-James or James-Wade connection and isolate those possessions. If they rebound the ball and commit to good defense. If they pass out of the double team and if LeBron averages 10 assists a game. If Wade and LeBron develop a better jumper and stretch the defense. If they limit their minutes and stay healthy by not having to have them all on the court at the same time. If they get a legitimate 7 footer to do the dirty work. And, of course, the big IF: if ego doesn't get in the way and they really commit to winning every game no matter what they have to do or what it takes, the way that MJ and Scottie did back in the day...if any or most of those things or just that last thing happens, watch out.

The immediate threat is obviously the Lakers, especially if Bynum can find some knees to play on. The long term threat is in Oklahoma, because Stern wants Durant to be the next one and he will see to it. Dude shot 43-123 from the field and Oklahoma still nearly took the Lakers to Seven. What would have happened if he'd scored more than 1/3 of his shots?

But while I understand how the backlash has unfolded and why, I have a couple of misgivings about the whole event that I wanted to note.

LeBron. I remember watching him talk to George Stromboulopoulos on The Hour and I marveled at how clear-sighted and well-spoken he was. Especially for a ghetto kid from a single mom from Akron. He knew exactly what was going on: how people were using him, what he wanted, what he didn't want. And with the exception of never having won anything in his first seven years in the league (much like MJ in his first seven years in the league), he is the real deal, clearly the best player in the world without a ring. But for someone as media savvy and sharp as him, he's done two things that were clearly in his control that tarnish the LeBron Brand.

One is the way that series with Boston ended with no fight in sight. How you end a ball game and a series is important for how you'll face them next time. That fight even when the game is decided, you aren't doing it for the fans, or because you should. You do it for yourself - so the next time you see those bastards they'll know you didn't fold. You fought for every inch. That matters, and LeBron and the Cavs just said Uncle. I don't know if it was that jackass Mike Brown who told them to pack it in, and to be perfectly honest, I never thought that team could beat Boston, but still LeBron can't accept that kind of surrender for himself. He's too good to be broken like that.

The second is obviously that hour-long special devoted to his decision. That doesn't need explaining. All the justification in the world, all the proceeds going to charity could never change the fact that it was a shameless marketing spectacle. The IOC can get away with that shit when they're announcing who'll host the Olympics. But one person announcing to the world where he's going to work next before even telling his previous employer that he quit. That's tasteless (unless your previous employer was such a shithound that they didn't warrant the courtesy of advanced notice). That isn't different from a player being told he's been traded by a reporter. It's a business. Be professional.

That being said, there's the other more troubling side to the reaction. The reaction of Dan Gilbert, the irrational outburst of anger that smacks of...something. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on. But I think I know what it is now. I think its indignation. I think some people think that LeBron has been given everything he has, and this nigger should feel beholden to this organization and this city. Who does this nigger think he is? I mean, he was handed out his body by the people and handed his shitty neighbourhood by the city and handed his abilities in basketball by the Cavs and handed a number 1 draft selection by the NBA and handed the MVPs by the Cleveland faithful. And now he jumps ship? The owners should decide where he plays, not him. It should come down to what the league wants, not what he wants. What Gilbert calls "loyalty" is actually a very simple thing called control. He wants to control what LeBron does with his life and then call that control a virtue. What he calls "cowardice" is something Gilbert does every day called business. And everyone who's simply jealous or envious or just don't like James, entitled as they are to those feelings, he's the heel for not sticking with a team when he's done nothing but lose with them. He can't handle the pressure of winning a championship on his own. He's a pussy and whiner and blah, blah, blah.

Except. Except Cleveland won a draft lottery, they didn't have any right to him in the first place. Except Cleveland fans supported LeBron and he put up 2 MVP seasons in return. Except he's breaking his ass in the gym. Except this town didn't help him one bit until they realized he could put a ball through a hoop. Except Gilbert has already made millions off of him. Except if LeBron didn't perform, Gilbert wouldn't have thought twice about dealing his ass, like any old commodity. Except MJ would have never won a ring without Scottie by his side. Except LBJ decided that the chance to win is more important to him than who can cut him the biggest check. He doesn't owe shit-all to anyone but his mama who broke her ass with multiple jobs raising him alone. Except for all that, these are the reasons that people hate LeBron. Because he has to live his life, and he did.

Obviously, the public perception of power has been shifted. No one believes that Wade, Bosh and LeBron should be able to get together on one team like this, and the question is, why do we think that? Well its because we see these players as commodities for the real NBA, the owners. Owners are supposed to determine players fates. Really? Do you go to the game to see Gilbert or Cuban? This league is built of athletes. The owners are riding their coat-tails. If they all ditched their contracts and went to play basketball at the local YMCA, people wouldn't pay thousands of dollars to go to the American Airlines Arena, and Quicken Arena, and the United Center, and the Air Canada Centre. They'd would go to the Y, because we want to see good basketball. If a true basketball player heard that DWade, Bosh and LeBron were playing pick up down the street against all comers, their face would light up and they'd grab their gym bag and their camera. But for some reason, these great players playing together - this everyday all-star team - is a reality and besides the fans in Miami, the response has largely been derision. Why would I want that team to lose? Why would I want a team with three guys that I'm pretty sure work harder than anyone else in the league to lose? Why would I want a team full of guys who are willing to sacrifice money for victory to lose? Something is wrong with that. If you really love basketball, something's wrong with that reaction.

I mean LeBron made a decision that wasn't based on money and he's being killed for it. He's being killed for not staying on a bad team. He's being killed because MJ didn't get a chance to play for his hometown team and then sign with the Lakers. Because if he had, nah, MJ wouldn't have gone to the biggest media market in the country with a tradition of winning and great players by his side. What kind of decision is that? I could see that Cleveland team never winning a championship for two reasons 1) they were never going to be bad enough with LeBron there to get a good draft pick and 2) who the hell wants to play in Cleveland? The only reason we even talk about Cleveland being cool is because LeBron was there. But it used to be known as the team of ugly jerseys and the team that wasn't going anywhere and the team that MJ buried alive every chance he got. The Cavs were a joke. And now, they're a joke again, because they still don't have management, they ran their team with a high school basketball coach, their owner is an ass and they let an act of God slip through their fingers. But, alas, fuck's his fault because he's no MJ. Okie dokie.

I'm not ashamed to say, I'll be looking forward to them making it work. I want some of these bum teams out there to be taken to town by guys who are trying to win the championship not in June but from October. I want to see a team that doesn't take nights off. I want a team that has something to prove. So many people complain about players being pampered and dogging it and not playing to win. This team can't afford to do that and, as a real basketball fan, I hope that they won't.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Stuff on my mind...


Just wanted to get some stuff off of my head...

1) World Cup 2010 quarterfinals - Uruguay v. Ghana. Dying moments of extra time in a 1-1 draw. Ghana pressing in the Uruguay box. Dominic Adiyiah's header is sure to find the mark and send Ghana through to the semis. Luis Suarez, an act of last-ditch desperation, blocks the ball from scoring by using his hands. Only problem is, Suarez is a striker, not a goalie. He's sent off with a straight red and Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan steps to the line to bury the game-winning penalty kick. Except he misses and Ghana goes on to lose on penalty kicks.

Then the most confusing thing that I've ever seen in sports happens. People start saying that Suarez cheated (Cathal Kelly). That Ghana deserved to win and should have won and Uruguay shouldn't be rewarded for breaking the rules. But how were they rewarded by breaking the rules? They were penalized for breaking the rules, by losing a player, arguably their best player. Ghana rewarded them for breaking the rules by not scoring penalty kicks. If Ghana deserved to win, wouldn't they have won? Why would anyone think they deserve to win after missing 3 penalty kicks out of 5? When did we start saying professional athletes are supposed to let game-winning shots fly into the net when they have a chance to stop them? I just keep going back to the basketball analogy. If Dwight Howard is about to dunk the basketball in Game 7 of NBA finals and you have a choice to let him dunk the ball to win it all, or foul him and send him to the line, is that even a choice? Of course you foul him and watch him miss two free throws. Who would call that cheating? That's the game. The object is to stop people from scoring. No one in the world would think twice about sending Howard to the line. He'd miss two chances to win it for his team and you'd go to overtime. And if you ended up winning the championship in overtime, they'd say that was the smartest foul in the history of basketball. You committed a foul, a violation, you were penalized, you robbed someone of certain points and now the guy has to win the game at the line. But Suarez is there at the goal line and he can decide to definitely lose the game now or possibly lose the game five minutes from now. And these people are arguing, "Nah, let it go in." If someone could explain to me how these two scenarios are different, my phone number is 647-705-5347 and I'm waiting for your call.

2) Went sailing with Sarah. We were out on a catamaran - I even did the whole trapeze thing, hanging out over the edge, floating above the water as it raced beneath me. The wind was pushing the damn thing pretty fast, and it occurred to me, it was crazy how much sailing was about feeling: feeling the resistance of the water against the boat, feeling the resistance of the wind against the sail, feeling the center of gravity of the hull. I only get that complete sensation of thoughtlessness, of concentrated feeling, when I practice Karate, where you have to listen to the world through your body, but the experience is utterly the same. Sarah somehow knew when a gust was coming - I think she said something about watching the surface of the water, the change in ripples perhaps - and when the wind would take us, I could hear her say "Woo-hoo" like this was as new and exciting for her as it was for me. And I think it was.

3) I think Kareem is going to propose to Kristi any day now. I saw the ring. Such a strange ride they've been on, for so long. I wonder if they had known when the first got together that they'd still be tangling after all this time whether they would have gone through with it. In this, his relationship with her, I must confess I really don't know what is going through his head. It's a side of him that I know nothing about, that I can't even imagine penetrating - and I see now what some of my friends must feel when they look at there's this side of me that is very politely, but very concretely, off-limits. With respect to Kristi, Kareem seems to have both a great deal of love and a great deal of disdain for her, and to be perfectly honest, its easier to see the disdain than the love. I could tell you all sorts of things that he's said about her that he doesn't like, but if you gave me five minutes to talk about what he adores about her, I don't think I could fill the time. I can only figure that what he loves about her are the moments they share alone - and she's always seemed pleasant enough to be around. But they have a way about them. Something I can't quite put my finger on but I'd be lying if I said that I thought they were a pair to go the distance. I don't like being cynical like that, but I just don't believe that love and history are enough. You have to have more than that to grow old with someone.

4) NBA finals. Game 7 was one of the most unpleasant games of basketball I've ever seen. From Kobe's worst-playoff game of all time, to Ray Allen's horrible shooting - I honestly would have preferred watching a pair of bums like Nate Robinson and Big Baby Davis winning Game 4 all over again. I actually remember the 'Showtime' Lakers and the 'Larry the Ultimate Evil' Celtics and I swear, Magic and Bird, by themselves, could have scored 100 on either of those teams. They called the game some kind of defensive marvel - that's what people who don't know basketball and aren't used to seeing NBA teams putting up 120 on 50% shooting from pure jumpers say when it occurs to them players today don't know how to shoot a basketball. What does defense have to do with shooting 3s? Or making free throws? Or conquering Game 7 jitters? I really wanted the Lakers to win because I feel that good defense comes from moving your feet and being athletic and the Celtics aren't young enough to do either of those things. But by the end of it I just wanted the season to be over and for the shopping of 'Bron, D-Wade, and Bosh to begin.

5) I'm taking so many courses to get my GPA up my counselor said I might as well add a major in physiology to my degree. So now I have 2 majors and a minor.

6) Got a new phone. Nokia N900. It does so much stuff and the difference between it and the E61 I had a few years back is mind-boggling. But the battery life is distressingly bad. I suppose its because I'm doing so much stuff at the same time: emailing, IM, SMS, calls, surfing, listening to music and watching martial arts videos. Just being able to go on the internet at any time, to have any question answered at a moment's notice - it's like crack cocaine. It's like magic to me and I imagine it's just old hat to you. My grandkids have probably been doing that since they were crawling. And Wind Mobile's service - I have no complaints. Maybe I just don't know enough to complain, but I have no complaints.

7) The G20. Where to begin? I was having a discussion with Prasanna about my misgivings about popular uprisings as they have been conceived in contemporary times. I see images of all those people on the lawn at Queen's Park, all throughout my time at UofT and it seems so obvious to me that out of 100 causes that get people together on that lawn, only 10 of them will be addressed by the people inside the building and only 1 will be dealt with as the crowd wanted. Political change doesn't happen because of popular sentiment. It happens through the combination of 1) popular sentiment and 2) political action i.e. actions of politicians. And my skepticism about the folks on the lawn is that they don't really believe that this second part is necessary. They seem to think that if they get enough cameras out there and give enough speeches and sing enough slogans that tomorrow will be a brighter day. This is a delusion. The civil rights' movement, the suffragettes, the abolitionist movement, Ganhdi - these all worked not just because they had feet on the ground. They also had a sympathetic ear among the powers that be. That ear might be your husband lying in bed next to you, or it might be colonial leaders tired of governing muslims and hindus or it might be the 16th or 35th President of the United States. But change happens when there is a meeting of interests between those on the inside and those on the outside.

So how then do the pointless confrontations between protesters and police officers bring about change? I have no idea. I'd be very interested in what percentage of protesters i) vote, ii) know by heart the voting record of their MPs and their party and iii) could tell you what bills are working their way through Parliament and why. It's a low percentage. They want to change a system and they don't even really know how it works. That isn't to say that it isn't broken. The system definitely could use some improvement. But would you try and replace the engine in your car because you had the feeling a lawn mower engine could do better? Or would you open up a book and figure out how the damn thing works and whether you could improve upon it?

I've come to the conclusion that "social activism" is more popular than running for public office because...wait for's a lot easier to become an activist than a politician. It's not that the activist doesn't want change. It's just that the first I can do from behind a computer and on a lawn, and the second I have to put my name out there, raise money, talk to people that I disagree with, understand every side to an issue, be familiar with most of the issues, pick a side, make friends, make enemies, try not to lose my soul, and try to keep my job four years from now. But it's clear that the main problem with the system is that people with the activist's fervor - with the common touch - almost never become politicians. Rich people who like power and influence become politicians. So more often than not, there are no sympathetic ears inside the building for all those people out on the lawn. They'll ignore you and take their chances four years from now.

The only time popular uprising can bring about change alone is when the people on the lawn are so numerous that they surround the building. When they are so many that the politicians see a sea of votes in front of them. But how often is it that greater than a tenth of the franchised population of a community can agree on anything? 4,000 people on a lawn, or marching against police? A group of Sri Lankans walking onto the Gardiner...out of 2 million Torontonians, to say nothing of Ontario, and all of Canada? Not even a blip on the radar.

My second feeling about the G20 is harder to describe but I'll give it a go. Sacrifices were made to create North America. Sacrifices in blood and sweat and tears. Black people sacrificing their lives on plantations. Chinese people sacrificing their lives building railways. Natives sacrificing their lives fighting against invaders, a people obliterated. European colonists sacrificing their souls by doing some pretty heinous stuff in the name of progress. People sacrificed for what they believed in - be it independence from Britain, or to live in one place over another, or to preserve their way of life. People sacrificed their lives in war against what I would describe as true evil. Fighting Hitler wasn't fighting against 'bad' or 'wrong'. It was fighting against Evil with a capital 'E', the force that would destroy everything, even itself eventually. People who make sacrifices can talk about the biggest words that our minds can conceive. Words like: freedom, justice, liberty, equality, right. Whether they wanted to or not, they walked the walk. They earned it.

But people today don't make sacrifices. We just talk the talk. We don't sacrifice our time to vote. It's more fashionable to be anti-politics. We don't sacrifice our time to be informed. It's more fashionable to be blase. We don't sacrifice our time to serve. Here in the Western World we make a lot of good things but we largely live resting on the laurels of other people who had to make the hard decisions. Other people had to make decisions on driving natives off of land, on going to war to actually protect us, of creating universal healthcare. And because other people did that, I can have a hot shower anytime I want and I've never wondered if my water was safe to drink, or whether a police officer was going to shoot me in the head and roll my body down a ditch - luxuries...LUXURIES that 99% of humanity haven't had in the past, don't have now and won't have for the foreseeable future.

So when I hear about people who sacrifice nothing complaining about 'police state', and having their rights 'trampled on', people who stand idly by while good ol' fashion thugs break store windows like this is 1930's Germany, I shake my head. It just seems, again as in the popular uprising example, it seems like people who don't know anything about fighting for something going through the motions. Police in riot gear therefore Dalton McGuinty is Stalin. Security perimeter goes up therefore we are in East Berlin.

Hardly. We who live lives of such awesome tranquility and luxury have precious little right to compare our experience over these few days to those who lived it for their whole lives. It's just such an ignorant and indulgent comparison. And worse of all, those who feel comfortable making that comparison are so deluded that they probably won't recognize the true threats to their freedoms when they do come. They'll always be looking for the wrong things. We're inconvenienced for 3 whole days and, watch out for the secret police and the late night round ups and the prisoners that disappear from lock-up. If Harper was passing a law right now that outlawed the right of accused to counsel, everyone in Canada should ask themselves whether they'd even know about it?

For all intents and purposes, with the leaders of the 20 most powerful countries on our planet all in the same place, Toronto was the biggest bulls-eye on Earth. If you were a (violent) protester and you figured the best way to bring about change was to kill the people in the building, Toronto was that building. That is an exceptional circumstance, but people acted like in exceptional circumstances their shouldn't be any exceptions. That's pretty childish. Would a shitload of ominous looking security measures make it more or less likely that someone would try to smuggle a nuke into the downtown core? Crisis of imagination. It's the reason planes flew into buildings.

But we don't see that. We have no experience in fighting for liberty or earning liberty or protecting liberty, so we don't know what we should be looking for. I could, as always, be wrong - and all those people who saw the G20 as a failure of politicians to protect our rights rather than a success in protecting our bodies - they could all be spot on and the G20 could turn out to be the stepping stone to the death of freedom and liberty in Canada. But we aren't shooting one another yet and to me that's something.

- Kamil