The democratization of the media

A few months ago, I was asked to speak in a sociology class at the University of Lethbridge. The topic was taking back the community and the media. At one point, the discussion turned to the democratization of the media.

At the time, the Alberta Legislature had recently banned what it had considered non-journalistic sources. The most noteworthy was the right-wing media outlet The Rebel, but other outlets, such as Daveberta, were also restricted from attending government press events.

Historically, media referred to large media outlets (such as TV and radio stations and newspapers). These media outlets were gatekeepers of the information and news we consumed: they decided what information to present and how to present it. Because such media outlets required large amounts of startup capital, they were controlled by a small number of people.

The media outlets grew used to the idea that they were an exclusive club, with exclusive access to exclusive events (such as media scrums and press conferences). That’s changing.

In July 2010, I (along with 6 other volunteers) launched a citizen journalism site called Lethbridge News. It’s defunct now, and I had stepped down (for personal reasons) as editor in chief about six months before it folded. Most of the traditional media outlets were unwelcoming to us; some were hostile even. We were constantly labelled as unaccredited, uncertified, and illegitimate. If you have an extra 20 minutes, you can watch the following presentation I gave toward the end of my tenure on this particular issue:

The problem with labelling citizen journalism as unaccredited, uncertified, and illegitimate is that it implies that a mechanism exists with which to accredit, certify, and legitimize media outlets. This is the stance the Government of Alberta took in February of this year. In reality, such a mechanism does not exist. There is no certifying body for media outlets. Anyone can create one.

And we had. A successful one at that. We had the largest social media following of any local media outlet at the time, and we garnered far more engagement on the stories we published than other outlets. I boldly assert that we changed how local news outlets used social media.

When the government says they are banning a group of journalists from a media event because they aren’t from a legitimate media outlet, they are using an arbitrary measure to do so. It is code for restricting access to information to an elite group of people.

The future of media is in the democratization of it. Putting information in the hands of the people is something any democratically elected government should value. By limiting who receives information and thus who disseminates it and how they disseminate it, we infringe on two basic freedoms: freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

I am far from being one of The Rebel’s target market, but the slant they take in their news stories is irrelevant to me. What is relevant to me on this issue is that any government shouldn’t be silencing the press, whatever form that press should take.

Christian Communism symbol of yellow sickle and cross on red background

How I finally admitted to being a communist

It may come as a surprise to many that I’m a communist. Actually, given my left leanings as of recent, some people may not be that surprised.

I know it’s already too late, but before you start prejudging me, you may want to realize that you probably misunderstand what communism is, and subsequently, you probably misunderstand what it means when I say that I’m a communist.

It all started about 4 years ago.

A close friend of mine perpetrated a violent act—an explicitly violent act—that resulted in the death of four people. I was numb. So were a lot of others I knew who were close to him. I had known him for about a decade and was shocked that he had done something like this. Every word I heard him say and every act I saw him do was antithetical to what he did this time.

As a result, in the period immediately following this event, I became repulsed by the portrayal of violence in the media—the news, television shows, film, video games, and so on. I grew sick inside every time I saw someone killing someone else on the screen.

In addition to fostering a sense of abhorrence toward violence within me, it convinced me that we, the public, are too quick to judge a person based on a single act of theirs.

If the news reports someone having committed theft, we label him a thief. If the news reports someone having lied, we label him a liar. If the news reports someone having killed, we label him a killer.

Pigeonholing people allows us to forget a person’s history, goals, family, personality, talents, accomplishments, and a host of other aspects that go into what makes a person. Reducing someone to a superficial representation makes it easier to judge the person and makes it easier to distance ourselves from the reality of how close we are to being able to commit wrongful acts.

Those two ideas—our culture’s obsession with violence and its tendency to judge others—began to influence my worldview over the next four years.

About a year later, I became a seminary teacher, a position I filled for two school years. A year after I finished teaching seminary, I became a Sunday school teacher. These two positions presented me with great opportunities, as part of the curriculum I was to teach, to study the life and teachings of Jesus.

What became clear to me is that Jesus clearly taught us to abhor violence and to not judge others. He admonished us to love everyone, no matter who they were or what they had done.

Take Matthew 5—the opening of the Sermon on the Mount—for example:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment . . . Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. . . . Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (vv. 21–22, 38–39, 43–44)

Or his response to the Pharisees when asked what the greatest commandment was:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matt 22:37–39)

Or the new commandment he gave to his apostles during the last supper to love one another as he has loved us (see John 13:34).

These teaching experiences underscored the feelings I had been experiencing, and I found myself drawn toward pacifism. I grew more disgusted with war, racism, and sexism. I had become convinced that as a Christian, I was duty bound to embrace love and equality and reject anything in opposition to that.

As an extension of this conversion to pacifism, I underwent another moral change. Sometime early last year, I noticed an emerging emotion. I began feeling guilt—and ultimately remorse—every time I ate meat, particularly meat that more closely resembled the animal from which it came (roasted poultry, baked whole fish, etc). As the months wore on, the feelings of guilt and remorse intensified, and ultimately culminated in my becoming vegetarian last October, primarily as a result of my opposition to the intentional killing of other people coming to include animals.

Now onto politics.

My feelings toward the importance of increasing our love toward others and decreasing our hatred toward others had continued to grow. As it did, I became disenchanted with the partisanship of the political parties in this year’s provincial and federal elections.

I have long considered myself a non-partisan voter, not finding a party I could closely identify with. As candidates became more partisan this election  and bitterness and rhetoric intensified, I began distancing myself even more from the main parties. So I began researching some of the lesser known parties.

One party I came across—and I don’t recall the circumstances that inspired me to investigate it specifically—was the Communist Party of Canada. As I reviewed their platform, I was surprised at how much of it resonated with me, far more than the platforms of any other party ever had.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some things that stood out to me:

  • Guarantee decent benefits for all, including part-time, home-based and contract workers.
  • Establish a publicly financed and administered system of universal, quality, affordable childcare with Canada-wide standards.
  • Adopt an independent Canadian foreign policy of peace and disarmament, and for environmental sustainability.
  • Immediately end Canadian participation in the war in Iraq and Syria, and the internal conflict in Ukraine, and oppose any new military aggression.
  • Adopt a People’s Energy Plan, including public ownership and democratic control of all energy and natural resource extraction, production and distribution.
  • Reverse the privatization and contracting-out of public programs, services and energy utilities.
  • Halt attempts to privatize Canada Post – restore home mail delivery services.
  • Reverse the privatization of Air Canada, PetroCanada and CN Rail.
  • Expand employment in industry by nationalizing the steel and auto industries, building a Canadian car, and expanding rapid transit production.
  • Use tariff, currency exchange and other trade controls, plus plant closure legislation with teeth (including fines or public takeover), to protect jobs.
  • Expand the public Medicare system to include universal pharmacare, dental and eye care, and long-term care, home and continuing care.
  • Enact progressive tax reform based on ability to pay
  • Eliminate taxes on incomes under $35,000/year
  • Substantially expand urban mass transit, and eliminate bus and transit fares.
  • Oppose all forms of racism and discrimination.
  • Ban all discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression
  • Rollback and eliminate tuition fees for post-secondary education
  • Shift from loans to grants for student assistance

And so on.

This experience prompted me to read The Communist Manifesto. This foundational document wasn’t new to me. I had studied it cursorily for an undergraduate paper I wrote on the effect communism had on Russian theatre. Prior to that, I was only superficially familiar with communism. This second time through the document, so much stuck out to me. Given Marx’s insistence on revolution to bring power to the proletariat, I didn’t see myself as a Marxist (although some historians, such as Reza Aslan, make compelling arguments that Jesus was a revolutionary). Even so, several of his points resonated with me:

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.

. . .

In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed—a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piece-meal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.

But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of the machinery, etc.

. . .

The lower strata of the middle class—the small tradespeople, shopkeepers, retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants—all these sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern Industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialized skill is rendered worthless by the new methods of production. Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population.

. . .

But does wage-labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bit. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation. Property, in its present form, is based on the antagonism of capital and wage-labour.

. . .

Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriation.

. . .

Bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those of its members who work, acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything, do not work.

In short, as Marx said in Critique of the Gotha Program: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

As I mulled over what I came across on the party website and in the Communist Manifesto, I started to realize how my recent paradigm shift aligned with general communist principles.

At this point, I must highlight that what the typical person thinks is communism isn’t. China isn’t communist. Cuba isn’t communist. North Korea isn’t communist. Soviet Russia wasn’t communist. East Germany wasn’t communist.

In fact, technically speaking, “communist government” is an oxymoron. In a communist society, there is no government. Everyone has everything in common, and there’s no need for the government to equalize anything.

As Nikolai Bukharin wrote in The ABC of Communism:

In a communist society there will be no classes. But if there will be no classes, this implies that in communist society there will likewise be no State.

What most people think of as communism is actually totalitarian regimes. Stalinism isn’t communism; Maoism isn’t communism; Trotskyism isn’t communism; and so on. While they may theorize that state control is a necessary component of moving toward communism, such control isn’t actually communism.

I knew that coming out as a communist would be met with eye rolling, misunderstanding, and even derision, so I put it off for a few weeks. I used that time to reconcile my political and religious beliefs.

As I compared principles of Mormonism and principles of communism, I noticed some similarities.

For example, think of the people described in 4 Nephi 1: a casteless society in which no one was poor or rich and no one was bond or free (v. 3); in which they lived in peace (v. 4); in which, despite there being no hierarchy, they still managed to produce, such as through building cities (v. 7); in which there was no contention (v. 13); and in which love dwelled in the hearts of everyone (v. 15). In fact, it wasn’t until this people no longer had common substance (v. 25) and had reintroduced castes (v. 26) that this communal society began to fall apart.

This communal Nephite society had parallels in early Christianity, as seen as Acts 2:44–45:

And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

and Acts 4:32–35

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that bought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. . . . Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Or how about King Benjamin’s counsel in Mosiah 4:26:

I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.

At their core, I think the lifestyle Jesus envisioned and the society idealized in 4 Nephi (and to some extent the societies of the early Mormon church, such as the United Order) parallel communism in its strictest sense. After weeks of introspection, I concluded that it isn’t incongruous to be Mormon and communist. In fact, I think being communist is more in line with Mormonism than capitalism or conservatism is.

Even with my explanation of what I actually believe and my dismissal of the myths of communism, I am confident that people will still misinterpret what I mean when I say that I’m communist. People will still think I idolize Che Guevara, favour totalitarian regimes, and embrace atheism. People will still think that one cannot be a Christian (or a Mormon) and a communist. Unfortunately, people will cling to their misunderstandings and refuse to educate themselves.

But there it is. For whatever it’s worth. I’m communist, and this was the journey I took to get there.

8 vegetarian foods that aren’t actually vegetarian

Last October, I decided to be a vegetarian. My reasons for doing so are different from most vegetarians in that I chose it because of my opposition to killing animals.

Over the last 7 months, something I’ve learned is that foods traditionally thought of to be vegetarian friendly, aren’t actually. Especially for someone like me, who avoids foods requiring the killing of animals.

In case, there’s anyone out there like me, I decided to put together a list of vegetarian foods that aren’t actually vegetarian. Let me know in the comments if you know of any others.

1. White sugar

The production process for white sugar often requires filtration through pure carbon to whiten the sugar. This carbon is typically a result of charring cow bones. Luckily, at least in Canada, Rogers/Lantic offers sugar that is bone char free:

Bone char is not used at Taber’s sugar beet factory or at Montreal’s cane refinery. Bone char is only used at the Vancouver cane refinery. All products under the Lantic trademark are free of bone char. For the products under the Rogers trademark, all Taber sugar beet products are also free of bone char. In order to differentiate the Rogers Taber beet products from the Vancouver cane products, you can verify the inked-jet code printed on the product. Products with the code starting with the number “22” are from Taber, Alberta, while products with the code starting with the number “10” are from Vancouver, British Columbia.

2. Refried beans

While beans themselves are a popular vegetarian food rich in protein, iron, and B vitamins, commercial refried beans are often made using lard, which is made from pig fat.

3. Bananas

Commercially-produced bananas are often sprayed with chitosan, a pesticide derived from crustacean shells.

4. Caesar salad

While most vegetarians recognize that the bacon in Caesar salad isn’t vegetarian, many are surprised to find out the dressing isn’t either. Caesar dressing traditionally contains anchovy paste.

5. Bagels

Commercial bagels are often manufactured with L-cytesine, an amino acid produced from pig hair or bird feathers. Actually, most L-cytesine is produced using human hair because it’s a more efficient raw product.

This one is a tricky one because, technically, you don’t need to kill pigs or birds to use their hair or feathers, but it would be convenient to use it from dead animals rather than throwing them away. And, again, L-cytesine is most often produced using human hair.

Use your judgement on this one.

6. Candy

Or more specifically, soft candy made with gelatin, which is derived from animal by-products. Same goes for marshmallows.

Also, some red candies (specifically any with ingredients listed as carmine, cochineal extract, or natural red 4) use food colouring derived from insects.

Finally, candy made with confectioner’s glaze is often insect derived. While the shellac used in making confectioner’s glaze doesn’t technically require the death of the Kerria lacca, it’s practically impossible to avoid in commercial production.

7. Worcestershire sauce

This is made using anchovies.

8. Vegetable soup

Commercial canned vegetable soup is often made with animal-based broths.

Any other foods you can think of? Let me know in the comments below.

Maybe it’s time to rally women instead of divide them

Have you ever noticed that our society loves to pit women against each other (especially mothers)? It seems to focus on creating binary realities in which women take one side and judge the women on the other side.

For example, consider these examples:

breastfeeding bottlefeeding
assisted birth natural birth
stay-at-home mum working mum
pro-vaccination anti-vaccination
co-sleeping separate sleeping
disposable diapers cloth diapers
fat thin
public school homeschool

The lists go on.

I have to wonder why society is like this. Maybe if we keep women fighting against each other they won’t band together and fight against systems that oppress women as a whole.

Maybe it’s time to change that.

How to make a matchbox of paper hearts

How to make a matchbox full of paper hearts

I’ve been trying to find ways this year to weekly do something extra to show appreciation and love to Mary. I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day or Mothers Day, and I always use the excuse that I show her appreciation and love all year round. I wanted to make sure it was actually true this year.

Anyhow, I came across an empty matchbox the other day, and before I through it away, I wondered if there was something I could repurpose it for.

Right away, I thought I could do something for my weekly lovefest. I knew we had a scrapbooking punch that could make heart shaped holes (and conversely, tiny paper hearts). I figured I could make a matchbox of paper hearts.

How to make a matchbox of paper hearts

The first thing I did was cover the outside with red construction paper. I didn’t cover the drawer because I ran out of time, but you could easily do that. Just be careful of making it too snug.


Next, I cut a bunch of squares from the leftover paper.


I folded each square in half.


Finally, I cut out a heart from each folded square.


Then I put it all together.

How to make a matchbox of paper hearts

Naturally, Mary loved it. 🙂

Failing at love towards all

I belong to a religion that teaches us to love everyone. Unfortunately, I’m failing at that.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to love everyone. I think the world could use more love. I think I could benefit from giving out more love. But I struggle with loving everyone.

I’m tempted each day with desires for revenge, or being right, or wishing misfortune on others, or judging others. These struggles interfere with my goal of loving others.

I’m not sure why I’ve been considering this lately. Maybe it’s the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians (or should I say “conflict between humans and humans”?). There’s just so much hate and selfishness in the world. People are so focused on themselves.

Even when I complain about bad drivers being oblivious to others around them and thinking only of themselves, I, in turn, am thinking of only myself: judging those drivers, expressing hatred toward them.

I know this post seems to just ramble on, but I have emotions churning in my stomach and buzzing in my head that I’m having a difficult time expressing.

I think this will be something I will be pondering for a while.

Stronglifts 5×5: 250 lb squats

I hit another weightlifting milestone today: I squatted 250 lbs. Here’s the video:

I did this set 5 times.

That was the only good thing about today’s workout. I failed on both my 120 lb overhead press and the 270 lb deadlift. I managed to do only 3 reps of the overhead, and I couldn’t even budge the deadlift weight.

We’ll see what next Wednesday holds.