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Alex von Thorn
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Hon. Stephane Dion, PC, MP, Minister of Global Affairs Canada

Dear Stephan DIon,

At the G20 meeting in Antakya next week, one thing you can accomplish that could help bring peace and stability to the region is to strongly suggest to the government of Turkey that they find better ways to cooperate with the Kurds fighting Daesh in eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

The example of Canada's history as a diverse multicultural nation, dating back to the historic compact between John A. MacDonald and Jacques Cartier in 1867, shows that a nation can draw strength from its diversity. Turkey has been concerned about Kurds in southern Turkey, but the greatest threat to Turkey doesn't come from people wanting to speak their own language in school, it comes from Daesh and Assad massacring civilians. The madness of others in the region have forced the Kurds to organize and take up arms, and they've become a somewhat effective force. The "coalition" of states fighting ISIS can only be effective if they are unified by common principles, not just geopolitics and gaining favor from the US or Saudi Arabia. Syria is a mess with Russians bombing democratic rebels and Turks wanting Assad gone but not helping one of hte most effective groups in the region. The most basic objective of military action and international assistance has to be to save lives.

Turkey has a problem with its human rights record. They have seen Kurds as a threat, and their solution has been collective punishment and cultural isolation. That doesn't work. My ancestors were Irish you remember the FLQ, every nationalist movement has extremist malcontents. But the great majority of Turkish Kurds, like people everywhere, are moderates in favor of democracy and human rights. Turkey's human rights issues are a problem in its relations and future with the European Union. If Turkey were to adopt democractic multicultural pluralism, allowing Kurds to listen to radio or attend school in their own langague, it would stabilize their internal situation, help bring peace to their southern border, and improve relations with European democracieis, especially critical as nations work together to help refugees streaming out of Syria. The Turks have very little to lose and much to gain in following Canada's example of tolerance and diversity.

A lot will be going on at the G20 summit and you'll only have a short time to speak with your Turkish counterparts. Use that time to make a difference.

Congratulations on being named Minister of Global Affairs. Thank you for your attention.

Alex von Thorn,

It occurs to me that I've been posting a few political things lately. And it I realize that other people's politics often annoy me. Not the issues they talk about; I have very few idiots remaining on my f-list. I think it's how some people talk about things that annoys me. Specifically I do not seem very interested when people say things that are very angry, depressing, or worse, boring, or even worse than that, entitled or special. A few of you act like nobody had ever realized something like, say, racism was ever a problem until you discovered it and you are especially qualified to reveal this to the masses, and that this act of telling people what you think somehow makes you unique and important. 

Lengthier rant below *

So I'll have a little more to say, because saying something can make more of a difference. The Canadian government can do more good now. In the US, I see the prospect of an end to Republican control of Congress, so policies can change, or at least happen at all. 
So there's more worth talking about. 

Not saying I won't be critical. I'll just try to be optimistic about it, that things that should be changed, can be changed. I'll try to keep my rants amusing, or at least not whiny. I think 2016 will be a great year for Canada, and a window of change for the United States. Let's see. I"ll try to have fun with it.

* -- lengthier rant:

Short version is in my culture, we've always cared about politics, or, really policy, for which politics is a messy means to an end. I remember the civil rights movement on the news when I was little. My mom studied physics at a time when it wasn't easy for girls to learn science, and she became a physics professor when I was in 1970. Over the years I have hired people who were black, east and south Asian, people from various parts of the Middle East and eastern Europe, and worked with many more of these, and the best boss I ever had is black. I have several family members who are gay or lesbian. So I have had some visibility to issues of sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination, even though the experience is second-hand. And this was pretty normal where and when I grew up. Wasn't anything special to care about these issues; we all pledged "liberty and justice for all" every morning in school. And I've seen tremendous progress over the years, opportunities opening and accomplishments achieved by many people in ways that would not have been possible for them in previous decades. 

What bugs be are the people who don't acknowledge any history prior to their getting on the Internet, like they are the first to discover or care about injustice. People will call themselves an "ally" or "social justice warrior" as if this is somehow special or unusual, as if the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, equal protection of the laws, liberty and equality are ideas new to the 21st century, for attitudes and behavior that I would simply describe as citizenship, being a member of the community, being a Christian. I don't understand people's need to be micro-celebrities, to take the issues of the day and make it all about them. And it's not the egotism and narcicissm that some people bring to their politics that really bugs me, it's the way people get so angry about it, the way they attack people who would mostly agree with them because others fail to immediately comply word-for-word with their manifestos and neologisms. What I have learned over time is to not argue with these people, to not engage, to ignore them, not to pass on whatever they are going on about. 

Not saying I never get angry or critical myself, but I try to reserve my ire for politicians and others in authority who are doing or speaking evil, about doing harm to others. Not saying I wouldn't confront someone I think is wrong, but I'll try to stick to facts and/or humor and even then I would hope to be respectful, to try to get to a real conversation in which truth is examined and the greatest good for all  is the outcome to be recommended. 

Really what I hope to do most of the time is to celebrate success and encourage accomplishment when people are trying to do the right thing. If I am critical, I would try to do so as questions, to get some understanding of the problem and consequences and try to find a way to resolve things. At a minimum I will try to be original, to say something new (or at least new to me). Some people just bang on over and over on the same topic.

That's all I got for now.

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The UN is calling for a cease-fire between Syria and the opposition groups in the civil war. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shared a podium on this subject. Which means one of the following:

* Kerry is agreeing to a useless talkfest while millions of refugees flee in terror, for no visibly good reason*, or

* US is writing off Syria, giving up on the rebels, handing everything to Assad and the Russians, or

* Russians are ready to write off Assad as long as they get to keep their naval base at Tartus. The whole Russian intervention is just a face-saving gesture for the purpose of domestic Russian political propaganda.

*-- Possibly Kerry is going along with a useless talkfest for the purpose of European political propaganda; the Europeans desperaely need a solution but don't have political will to actually accomplish anything. 

Anyway there's a chunk of this story missing. I wonder what's actually going on.

Dear Chrystia Freeland, MP:

Repeal C-24.

Conservative changes to citizenship law have greatly devalued citizenship by making this fundamental right retroactively conditional. This must be corrected, and it must be stated as a priority in the first government program (the throne speech).

The real-world impact of this change, among my immediate friends an acquaintances was:

* An NDP-leaning friend of mine said to his Conservative-leaning sibling, "You know that we have to vote Liberal this time. Under the new law the government can take away our citizenship." Both born in Canada, but their parents are from a European country that allows children of citizens to become citizens of that country. Never would have occurred to either of these people that they were anything but Canadian, but the government changed the law, and in case anyone didn't get the point, Stephen Harper referred to "old stock Canadians" as having more entitlement to the benefits of citizenship than those of us born elsewhere or with recent ancestors from elsewhere.

* Another friend of mine, a long-time permanent resident, said "Why should I bother paying $500 for citizenship if they can just take it away?" 

* Under the Law of Return in Israel, any Jewish person is entitled to citizenship in Israel. Also, anyone with Jewish ancestry through their maternal line can claim to be Jewish. So some of my Jewish friends started to note, "Wait, they can take away our rights because we're Jewish, or because our grandmother was Jewish?" I even heard that from Americans; this damanged Canada's reputation as a nation that values human rights.

None of these friends are Muslim or politically extreme. (Needless to say, my Muslim acquaintances were also not in favor of this change.) They all saw this as a threat to them and their families. Not to mention the one-in-five of us who were born elsewhere who did swear the oath to bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, who now discover this oath isn't really a two-way declaration of loyalty. This is already the case of Saad Gaya, born in Montreal, stripped of his citizenship under the new law.

Conservatives claim that citizenship can only be revoked for instances of "terrorism". But we don't really trust the government. In June 2010 in Toronto, we saw police under federal government control who attacked and detained innocent citizens. The justification was "security" during the G20 summit. Problem was that the police forgot about due process, equated vandalism with terrorism, and treated every protester as a vandal, in other words, as a terrorist. Now we all agree that mass murder is horrible and the state needs to protect society, but democracy can't function when dissent and peaceful assembly are treated as crimes. 

Our system of law is based on the concept that citizens have rights. If citizenship itself is subject to control by the government, then nobody has rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms means nothing. The Conservative rationale that we take citizenship away from war criminals is spurious and inapplicable. We don't take citizenship away from them for being war criminals, we simply acknowledge that their application for citizenship was fraudulent and therefore void; if the application for citizenship doesn't describe the applicant, then the application is invalid. After one becomes a citizen, the administration of justice should really not depend on the race or ancestry of the accused.

This was a Liberal campaign promise, of course. I hope that you can get Prime Minister-designate Trudeau to repeat this promise in the Throne Speech, and I hope the new government can correct this injustice within a year. This is a key part of the mandate for which the new government has been elected. This is not just a matter of rare criminal cases, this is today affecting the decisions of ordinary Canadians and the worldwide reputation of Canada as a free nation.


Alexander von Thorn

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One Rule
Chevron has sent subpoenas to three ISPs to get names associated with over 50 email addresses of environmental activists. Electronic Frontier Founndation and EarthRights International has filed motions against these subpoenas. ERI says "The courts have long recognized that forcing activists to reveal their names and political associations will chill First Amendment rights and can only be done in the most extreme situations." 

And I'm reminded of the controversy regarding Michael Brutsch and his "RapeBait" forum on Reddit. Many people on Reddit are upset that Adrien Chen posted the identity of "ViolentAcrez". Mr. Brutsch lost his job when his employer found out about his online activities.

So what's the difference?

Two things. One is that individuals can take reasonable steps to protect their own anonymity. But private journalists and corporations don't have access to the power of law enforcement.

So Mr. Brutsch didn't take a lot of care to protect his identity. He printed his online avatar on t-shirts to give to his friends. Mr. Chen acted as an investigative journalist, tracked down leads that were available, and found out who "ViolentAcrez" was.

The envirornmental activists have been more careful and apparently haven't been found through investigative resources. Now Chevron wants their identities as part of a civil lawsuit.

So, two, where the environmentalists have taken reasonable steps to protect their anonymity, Chevron wants to use the power of the state to reveal them.
If the activists had committed a crime, the subpoenas would be court orders requested by state prosecutors and approved by judges. But the power of the state should not be used to serve one side in a private dispute. 

So yes, anonymity can be an important aspect of free speech, but it also can rely on intermediaries. If you do want to speak anonymously, the reason is that you don't want people to link what you say to who you are in other contexts, and that means not everyone is going to be on board with respecting your anonymity. Maintaining your privacy belongs to you and to the intermediaries you deal with. The law does provide some protection, but the right of free speech also protects those who would reveal your identity. Free speech demands the protection of unpopular speech, but we are also free to judge and interpret what we hear according to our own morals and preferences. That means that any private transmission of speech is under the control of private parties, who may or may not support one's agenda.

So someone is whining on the Internet about how they didn't get called on during a panel at Renovation, and that they felt disconnected because they stood in a corridor and nobody talked to them. Not to say that Worldcons are perfect, but there are things people can do to have a better experience:

* Bring a friend. Sharing the new experiences with someone you already share context with makes it a lot more enjoyable. Not just during the con, but you can talk about things afterwards when you get home. It is much easier to start a conversation with your friend and then include other people than it is to break into someone else's talk.

* Volunteer. This is a must for me. Knowing what's going on brings a pattern to the whole experience, making it easier to understand and appreciate everything. You are much closer to what's going on and you are in much closer contact with interesting people, authors and other convention organizers, if you are behind some of the scenes.

* Bring something to the table. Give people a reason to talk to you. Be a writer, a fan writer, a costumer, a blogger, a filker, a maker, a gamer, whatever. If you are a fan, be a fan of something, and do something about your fandom. Show off your fandom with a t-shirt, a button, a hat; give people a clue that you can talk about something they are interested in.

* If you want to do something social, go to social events. Parties are social. Book launches, con suite, "stroll with the stars", workshops, kaffeeklatsches, and so on. Note the difference between social events and things that are more informational and structured. A panel is usually about the speakers; levels of formality vary, but if there are a bunch of famous authors at the front of the room, that's who people in the room want to hear. Maybe you can ask a question, but you are not the point of the panel.

* If you are interested in something in particular, do a bit of research and preparation. If you want to see an author, find out when they are doing a kaffeeklatsch or reading. Many authors have gatherings of their fans, which you find out about not through the Worldcon but through that author's blog or Facebook page or mailing list. Be a recognizable name on that blog or mailing list, so that when you meet the author in person, they'll already have a reason to talk to you. Don't just focus on the biggest names; people who only have a couple of Hugo nominations can be fascinating people but will be more accessible and more appreciative of meeting a fan.

This may not be a complete list but it's a good start. If you are doing this stuff, you will have a good time and you will be talking to people. Find one person to talk to, and build from there. Heck, find me, and I'll give you something to do. Once you are making fandom more interesting for everyone else, everyone else will start paying that back to you.
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