Thursday, April 20, 2017

What's the right way to make fun of my friends?

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 3:55 AM

Ask Hole asks local experts to answer Halifax’s most pressing social dilemmas. This week, comedian, musician and overworked student Cheryl Hann explores how to tease without torturing our friends. - JESSICA HARTJES
  • Ask Hole asks local experts to answer Halifax’s most pressing social dilemmas. This week, comedian, musician and overworked student Cheryl Hann explores how to tease without torturing our friends.
  • JESSICA HARTJES

Dear Ask Hole,
I’ve always thought that a little gentle ribbing was endearing. But, recently one of my jokes didn’t go over so well. My friend “Julie” is a textile artist, and when she asked if I’d be at her opening, I joked that “If I wanted to see some old afghans, I’d go to my grandmother’s nursing home.” I thought I was being funny, but “Julie” was pretty PO’d. I know artists are sensitive about their craft, but can’t she take a joke? What’s the right way to make fun of someone? How can I razz my friends without seeming mean? 
—Jerk, Or So Hilarious? I Need Guidance!

Dear JOSHING,
It’s true that jokes are a delicate business. I once told a “Why did the chicken cross the road” joke to a group of children, and one of them cried for 20 minutes because her grampy had just gone “to the other side.” Tough crowd. Still, if I could offer some general rules for “ribbing,” as you call it, I would start with this: Before you make fun of someone else, you have to be able to laugh at yourself. There are a lot of jokers out there who can dish it out, but can’t take it. So, before you lampoon someone else, take a long, hard look in the mirror and find out what it is that makes you the stupid little baby you are. Huh, JOSHING? What is it? Perhaps it is your tiny baby hands, or the fact that your eyes look less like the windows to the soul and more like the windows of a for-lease Chuck-E-Cheese. One gets the sense that there should be magic in them, but there is only dusty vacancy.

Just joking!

See what I did there? This is another classic means of letting people know that you’re not a jerk, you’re just a fun joker! If you had added “just joking” to the end of your comment, Julie would have known that you weren’t trying to dismiss her life’s work. She would have seen that you were just being a Silly Willy!
Tone can also help with this. Smile as you suggest you think treating art as a profession is inane within a capitalist society. Open up your body as you casually imply your friend should enter a workforce that will consume her very soul.

You could also try an improv class to encourage positivity in your comedy. The “yes, and” mantra of improvisation could really help you here. If Julie says, “You’re a jerk,” you will be well equipped to respond:

Yes, and I am also full of self-loathing. Just joking!”

In short, JOSHING, if you’re worried that you’re being an ass, you probably are. Perhaps the problem is not with your friend’s ability to “take a joke,” but with your ability to tell one. Jokes are great. They can bring people together; they can open up dialogues about important issues. But they can also hurt people. And, if a friend is hurt by one of your jokes, apologize and back off. Getting defensive will leave you both upset. As a general rule, a good friendship is more important than a good joke. 🙂

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author. Send your 
awkward social questions to 
askhole@thecoast.ca and we might answer it in a future column.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

The perfect silence in Syria

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 3:16 AM

The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations on Syrian targets while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. - FORD WILLIAMS, VIA U.S. NAVY
  • The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations on Syrian targets while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017.
  • FORD WILLIAMS, VIA U.S. NAVY

I was in Grade Five when the teacher asked me, “What do you want to learn as a second language, English or French?” In some parts of Syria, kids had the chance to choose between the two.

That was the first important decision I had to make. I felt joy at the idea of having options. Over time, options became part of my life. I used to consider it a skill to provide several options for myself, and most importantly to know how to choose between them.

Comparing between my first time dealing with choices and the latest one, I’ve learned that some decisions need supernatural skills to make. It is not always a joy to decide.

Last week, the second chemical attack happened in a small town north of Syria called khan Sheikhoun. In total, 87 people suffocated from sarin gas dropped by Bashar al-Assad’s “air sticks.”

Three days later, the American president Donald Trump took action by bombing the Syrian military airport where the sarin airstrikes had taken off.

Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.
  • Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.
After Trump’s response, social media sites were filled with Syrian people’s posts—some of them supportive of the American attack, because it tells the Syrian regime that the world is watching and could take action. They started to ask the “Great Trump” for more.

The others saw it as an illegal intervention by America in Syria, and reminded supporters of Trump’s personality. How could we believe this racist man, who doesn’t respect immigrants, women or Muslims?

Syrians started to argue, asking each other about the American actions. “Are you with or against it?” Judging each other, depending on the answer.

We’ve gotten lost between Al-Assad’s crimes and the jihadists who make him look fine compared to their barbaric behaviours; Trump’s attack and Obama’s red lines about Syria; we kept arguing about those details until we almost forgot how to cry or pray for the dead victims.

Now, should I give a logical opinion about it, or choose which path is the right? I could try, but I simply don’t want to.

I don’t believe in weapons, even if they are the only way to end any war. How will the main tool which caused all this death bring the solution?

I don’t want to use my skills as a journalist to analyse the situation in Syria. The most basic version is: the dictator is still there using chemical weapons against civilians, and the extremists have found a perfect focus to be closer to their god. The first world’s leaders are still selling weapons to dictators, and then showing sympathy with victims.

The first-world nations don’t want more refugees, and those refugees don’t enjoy their status. Finding one’s way around a new foreign world can be very painful.
 Refugees arrive here and sometimes are shocked at the first world’s indifference to the massacres, and genocides, hunger that are happening “away.”

As a refugee, I just want to have the luxury to make a simple wish: that the war will stop. Just like any mother, student or child who lives in Syria now and who knows there is no victor in this war; who doesn’t want to die, because there are still little things in life they want to make simple decisions about.

Myself, I still have options, and I choose silence when I am not 100 percent sure about my judgment, especially when the case is life or death, when my words will fog the matter.

Talking about war crimes, or any crimes, is as easy as posting a photo of my cat. A simple activity on social media gives the feeling that we’ve taken real action. Then we feel satisfied. But in real life, the suffering is still there. Our choice didn’t do anything to solve the problem.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Nova Centre is just the latest in long line of big, bold failures

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 4:00 AM

The Nova Centre in downtown Halifax is the same kind of bold mistake the province has been making for years. - VIA HRM
  • The Nova Centre in downtown Halifax is the same kind of bold mistake the province has been making for years.
  • via HRM

By virtually any measure the Nova Centre in downtown Halifax has already been a bad deal for the public. You can debate how bad it’s been, and you can wonder how we ended up in this mess, but we can all agree that it’s been bad. It’s also the latest in a long line of similar disasters, each more grand and modern than the last. Nova Scotia’s ruling class has often touted big, splashy mega projects as the fix for our province’s economic woes.

This week the Halifax Municipal Archives released photos of the Jacob Street area of Halifax that was bulldozed in the 1950s and 1960s to make way for the construction of the Cogswell Interchange and Scotia Square Mall. The slum clearance project razed thousands of buildings and displaced working class families and small business to make way for the big fixes of the 1950s: a shopping mall and Escheresque overpass system meant to link exis
Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic. - JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic.
  • JALANI MORGAN
ting roads with Harbour Drive—a waterfront speedway that was never actually built.

City councillors celebrated the brave new future as a consumer’s paradise that Halifax’s dying downtown would become with the addition of a modern shopping mall and web of roads. Private developers built and owned the mall. The city expropriated and cleared the needed land and the city-scape was re-built to facilitate these new shoppers. The government would spend money, the private sector would build something huge and we’d all be rich. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out.

In the late 1960s, Claritone was going to make Pictou County rich by building and exporting colour TVs. Colour TVs were going to be the big thing in the 1970s and this time we could get in ahead of the curve. Peter Monk, now a mining baron, secured $8 million public funding to open the massive Stellarton factory which shut down within five years and ended up costing Nova Scotia $25 million. Once again it didn’t quite work out.

Nova Scotia’s history is littered with these bold quick fixes that turn into money pits. They provide hope and a vision to sell to voters. They promise rapid modernization in a region that has often been wrongly portrayed as a backwater. The Nova Centre is the latest big, modern structure that isn’t quite working out. It’s years behind schedule, is putting downtown businesses at risk and has now dragged all three levels of government into a lawsuit.

The truly bold and innovative thing about the Nova Centre is that it combines the failed mega-project model with the failed private financing model that is often called P3, or Public Private Partnership, financing. When the building is completed, it will be owned by the private, for-profit builder and leased to Trade Centre Limited Events East, a provincial crown corporation, for 25 years. Despite our federal, municipal and provincial governments contributing a total $163 million towards the construction of the building, the will public never own it.

Private financing and management deals are supposed to be better able to deliver public projects efficiently and on time, but they don’t. The Nova Centre is proof of just how off schedule these project can go, particularly when the original contract includes no penalties for the builder missing deadlines. They’re also supposed to save the government money, even though we have overwhelming evidence from across the globe that on average private financing schemes cost governments more and deliver less. This financing model was used by Nova Scotia to build schools in the 1990s—guess what? That didn’t exactly go well.

So how did we end up in this mess? When you combine a funding model that is designed to generate private profit with Nova Scotian politicians’ desperate need for big, splashy fixes you end up with a disaster.

The question we need to start asking is when will our elected officials stop making the same mistakes?

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Evidence out-of-control: a provincial inquiry is needed into HRP's drug exhibit audit

Posted By on Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 5:00 AM

Police chief Jean-Michel Blais (right) and deputy chief Bill Moore address the board of police commissioners last month. - THE COAST
  • Police chief Jean-Michel Blais (right) and deputy chief Bill Moore address the board of police commissioners last month.
  • THE COAST

Last summer The Coast revealed that an internal audit conducted by the Halifax Regional Police had found widespread problems with the security and record keeping inside the HRP’s Drug Vault—the storage area that holds evidence seized in drug crimes—including missing drugs and cash. Now it turns out the problems have existed for much longer and the department knew about it since at least 2007. The audit had been completed in November 2015 but the Police Board of Commissioners were only told about it on June 22, 2016—the day before the story became public.

No politicians seem to want to publicly say it, but the obvious concern is that one or more police officers have simply walked out the door with drugs or cash. In fact, last January, months before the audit was made public, Halifax constable Gary Basso was charged with doing almost exactly that. (Those charges have since been stayed.)

Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic. - JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic.
  • JALANI MORGAN
The case against Basso is alarming enough, but what is truly shocking is that after a cop was charged with stealing chemicals from the drug lockup, the department didn’t think it was relevant to reveal to the public that they had an audit showing that missing evidence and improper record keeping were a widespread problem. Since the allegations against Basso were what triggered the report, one would assume that the department would have wanted to signal to the public that they were taking security of evidence seriously.

Chief Blais has said there’s no evidence of any wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise, by police officers. The problem for the HRP is that due to their actions there are still roughly 3,000 instances where there’s no evidence of anything at all because the exhibits are still being tracked down.

The problem is not simply that some small number of officers may have borrowed cash, drugs or chemicals from the vault. The shockingly sloppy evidence control procedures also create uncomfortable questions about the trustworthiness of our criminal justice system. How many people, guilty and innocent alike, took plea bargains because they assumed that missing evidence was still sitting in lockup? How many trials hinged on evidence where, unbeknownst to lawyers, jurors and judges, the chain of custody had been broken? How many days and hours of court time have been wasted by trial delays caused by the scramble to find evidence needed for disclosure?

The city needs to request that the province launch a broad public inquiry into the exact impact that these evidence problems have had on criminal justice in Nova Scotia to try to answer these questions. It’s barbaric enough that we put people in prisons at all, but if we decide as a society that we’re going to cage people up, then we sure as hell have a responsibility to ensure that speedy trials and reliable evidence are the norm.

We place an unreasonable amount of trust and responsibility on police officers as individuals and on the police as a public institution. If we insist on giving the police the kind of powers that they currently have, then as a public we have a responsibility to demand accountability and transparency. It’s possible that nothing malicious has actually happened, and it’s almost a certainty that the vast majority of these cases are unintentional errors. But it is also almost a certainty that people’s lives have been ruined by the way our police department has handled evidence. That’s a problem and we need to own up to it.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Screaming into the void, to no one in particular.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 6:46 PM

Jane Kansas uses a lot of potty mouth in the north end of Halifax. - PIERRE TABBINER
  • Jane Kansas uses a lot of potty mouth in the north end of Halifax.
  • Pierre Tabbiner

Most presiding judges are intelligent and humane and fair. Almost all judges, probably. Which is why the tiny minority of judges who are mother-wanking toss-baskets stand out so egregiously. It shocks the sensibility of every decent, thinking citizen when these neanderthal arse-waggers render a decision plumbed from the depths of some hideous stinking cesspool of maggot vomit.

In such instances, there are formal routes and methods of complaint. Letters outlining complaints can be sent to the various authorities asking for investigation. Ensuing wheels of bureaucracy can then grind slowly towards a letter of reply and much, much later, if the planets are in conjunction and pigs actually fucking fly, to some action of remediation.

Protests can be held: those aggrieved can gather in a public place, listen to speeches, engage in chanting and then march (perhaps on a freezing fucking frigid afternoon of an early March cold snap) to some edifice related to the injustice.

Some citizens will be left with a deep sadness and feeling of helplessness. Some will be left wanting to stab themselves in the leg. Some, perhaps saddled with a paucity of vocabulary, will pace back and forth in their shitty hovels, gnashing their teeth while muttering insensible strings of “fuck fuck fuck; fuck this fucking one-pump town; no fucking wonder this place is called the Alabama of Canada; fuck that fucking prick and the fucking horse he rode in on.” And so forth.

Some citizens will report, fairly and circumspectly, the facts of these dickweed matters, noting without emotion or editorial comment any disarranged clothing, presence of DNA, state of surroundings, alcohol levels and such. These reports may spark mental clusterfucks just by stating the facts. Online forums will be filled with outrage, disbelief, fired up emoji and swears. Many of these will be abbreviated: WTF; WTAF; FTW. And so on.

It will be rare that some citizen will feel free to spew forth, in print, without censorship or concern for vulgarity, a reaction to these shit bags, expressing a hope that there may be eternal cock punching in hell for such fuck-brained trash heaps.

Such decisions destroy spirit and life. Such decisions discourage others, who are assaulted by no fucking fault of their own, to not ever come forward. To not ever seek justice. To suck it up and leave it to fester inside for a lifetime.

Section 271(a) of the Criminal Code says, “Everyone who commits a sexual assault is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years or, if the complainant is under the age of 16 years, to imprisonment for a term of not more than 14 years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of one year.”

Except, not always.

The law, as Charles Dickens wrote in 1838, is an ass. But 179 years later, in our own tiny dimwitted way, it can also be a total fucking asswipe.

———


Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published in these opinion pieces are those of the author.

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