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J.J. McCullough

Failing to acknowledge bigotry’s spectrum

    J.J. McCullough is a Vancouver-based political commentator. He writes a weekly column for Loonie Politics, and previously contributed to the Huffington Post and the Sun News Network. Please visit www.jjmccullough.com. President Obama’s second inaugural was the first to mention the gay rights movement as a chapter of the American story. That “most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal,” he said, “is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” The reference was to the Stonewall Inn riots, a multi-day spectacle of street violence that followed a 1969 police raid of a Manhattan gay bar. The conventional retelling describes police brutality so vile New York’s long-suffering gays could not help but respond in kind, and in doing so initiate a fresh era in the struggle for sexual equality. But as is often the case with sanctified anecdotes, reality was more ambiguous. Stonewall was certainly notorious, but as much for its mafia ties and role in the city’s sex trade as its homosexual clientele. Nuances like these provide consistent headaches to anyone attempting to retell Stonewall’s story — consider the contentious reception that greeted  Roland Emmerich’s recent effort to commemorate it in film. What happened in Orlando, in contrast, was entirely bereft of nuance. As the bloodiest instance of anti-gay violence in American history, Orlando does not simply overshadow Stonewall, it makes pathetic mockery of it and all previous conceptions of what homophobia is.   While American gays seek acknowledgment and approval, gays in the Muslim world fight a war for survival. In territory controlled by the Islamic State, gay men are thrown from the tops of buildings and have their skulls smashed with stones, as prescribed by the Hadith.   Like Stonewall, the… Read More

Needing to solve arbitrary rules is a good problem to have

To live in a democracy is to be ruled by a philosophy — and not a particularly clear one. On Monday, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling intended to bring closure to one of the philosophy’s long-running ambiguities, namely: who counts as a person. America is supposed to be a democratic republic, and a republic, as defined from the ancients onward, is a state in which political power is delegated to elected representatives of the people (as contrasted with a pure, or “direct” democracy, where the people rule without politicians). But even in Plato’s time, this tidy equation was complicated by enough acrimony over who should comprise “the people” to necessitate the idea of “citizenship” to designate the particular slice of humanity deemed worthy of participating in the political process. In contrast to the ancients, who seemed happy enough to make citizenship the permanent domain of property-owning men, one of the themes of modern democracy has been the steady expansion of the citizenship pool, animated by the guilt and shame of denying rights to one’s fellow man. It’s an expansion that has, over the last 200 years, absorbed non-landowners, ethnic minorities, women, and, most recently, 18-year-olds. The American constitution allows citizens to elect legislators to represent them, and govern on their behalf. But do they also govern on behalf of non-citizens? This was the question brought before the Court in the case of Evenwel v. Abbott, in which a group of properly-qualified Texas voters claimed their power was being diluted because their state legislature mandates that politicians represent districts of roughly equal size — as determined by total population, not merely the population of citizen-voters. If Texan A lives in a district disproportionately full of, say, illegal immigrants and children, and Texan B lives in one with little… Read More

Election theft, or just betrayal?

Only a few criticisms seem to genuinely get under Donald Trump skin, and they’re easy to identify since they’re the ones he tends to bring up unprovoked in debates and speeches. One is his allegedly small fingers, an insult about which he has an inexplicable psychological hang-up; another is the more factually-grounded observation that he has yet to win 50% in any Republican primary contest to date. Democracy may be a better system for picking leaders then all the others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not rife with philosophical contradiction and paradox, the most persistently unsolvable being who should win in a circumstance in which there are more than three choices, and none of them can secure a majority of votes. This is the dilemma the modern “electoral reform” movement attempts to resolve, and at the moment it is the struggle consuming the Republican primary election, and the Trump campaign in particular. That Trump is doing much better than anyone ever anticipated conceals the fact that he is doing considerably worse than most other Republican front-runners at comparable times. By March of 2012 Mitt Romney had won majority victories in several states and surpassed his closest opponent more than 2-to-1 in the delegate count. By March of 2008 things were even more one-sided, with John McCain winning states with 60% and up, having already intimidated all serious competitors out of the race. By contrast, Trump’s strongest rival, Ted Cruz, does not appear to be slowing down, and no matter what happened on Super Tuesday Part II this was unlikely to change. If Trump had won both Ohio and Florida he would’ve knocked out both John Kasich and Marco Rubio causing the anti-Trump majority to firmly coalesce around Cruz. Any other outcome, such as the one that actually happened, ensured the continuance of… Read More

Who cares that Kevin O’Leary can’t speak French?

Alec Ross, one of America’s leading minds in the world of tech policy, recently published a exciting essay in the Wall Street Journal on the sci-fi future of translation technology, a realm progressing at a much faster clip than many realize. “In 10 years, a small earpiece will whisper what is being said to you in your native language nearly simultaneously as a foreign language is being spoken,” he wrote, citing revolutionary advancements in voice biometrics originating from the US and Israeli military. “You could host a dinner party with eight people at the table speaking eight different languages, and the voice in your ear will always be whispering the one language you want to hear.” This sort of thing is already creeping into homes.  Just last month Skype completed its roll out of real-time translation — which generates instantaneous subtitles for friends speaking difference languages to one another — to all Windows users of their video call service. Such headlines infuse a great deal of wisdom into a recent comment by would-be Tory leader Kevin O’Leary when asked about the presumption that all Canadian party leaders be fluent in French and English. “Perhaps it was necessary in the past.  It isn’t now.” The steady march of technology is but the latest force to make mockery of Canada’s preposterous bilingualism standards, which serve little function beyond excluding the 80% of Canadians who cannot speak the constitution’s “two official languages” from their country’s top jobs. Nevertheless, outrage at O’Leary’s unapologetic rejection of this sacred Laurentien shibboleth has come predictably swift from predictable corners.  “Kevin O’Leary’s French kiss-off makes him unfit for leadership run” huffed columnist Basem Boshra in the Montreal Gazette. Any politician “who seriously wants to lead this country, an officially bilingual one in which Quebec remains an integral player,… Read More

Canada could not produce a Trump. And that’s a bad thing

The fact that the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump exists, and is, to a limited and qualified extent, popular, has predictably put some Canadians in their default state of sanctimonious condescension towards American politics, smugly confident that such a terror could never arise in their perfectly progressive nation. They’re right, to a point, but the reason is rooted in Canadian deficiencies, not virtues. Canada is a much less democratic country than the United States in the most literal sense of the term. A democracy is said to be a society in which “the people rule,” and by any measurable standard the American people rule their country to a far greater extent than the Canadian people rule theirs. This allows nontraditional politicians that offend the elite — be they from the right, left, or elsewhere — to rise higher and faster in the United States than they ever could here. An American joins a political party simply by self-identifying as a member. Americans, in fact, rarely even use the term “member” to describe someone who belongs to a party, as that implies a level of formality that simply doesn’t exist. An American who wishes to be a Republican or a Democrat simply “registers” as one at the DMW by checking a box on a form, and from that point their party identity can never be revoked. Self-identification is all it takes to run for a party leadership position or elect someone to one. Donald Trump is a Republican candidate for president despite the fact that the vast majority of Republican office-holders oppose his participation in the race. Some have suggested he might be a Democratic plant bent on sabotage. But his inclusion is not their decision to make. Trump self-identifies as a Republican and has declared himself a candidate. Millions of… Read More
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