Short thought’s on Phife Dawg’s passing from a white guy form Toronto’s suburbs

I grew up in central Etobicoke, basically the whitest place in Toronto (for those not familiar, I basically grew up in the heart of Ford Nation, before it was Ford Nation). I had grown up through middle school resistant to hip hop, not because I disliked it but rather what it stood for to me. Growing up in predominantly white suburbia surrounded by upper-middle and upper class peers who, all to rebel against their white conservative parents, listened to hip hop put me in a weird position as a kid more interesting in rebelling against my own peers. I was bullied a lot and the white kids at school wearing do-rags (I kid you not) listening to top 40 gangster rap were exactly what I wanted to avoid. So I did what any other nerdy skateboard kids do, and listened to punk and metal almost exclusively.

This changed for me when I listened to A Tribe Called Quest for the first time. It was early internet and I don’t even remember how I first listened to them, it wasn’t a kid at school, Tribe was too “fruity” for these guys who just wanted to listen to music that glorified wealth (yet never acknowledging the origins of this glorification was from a starting point of poverty…something my peers will never experience because of who their parents are). It was quite possibly Limewire or Kazzaa or something like that, all I know is that the first time I heard Phife Dawg come in on Check the Rhime, I realized I was wrong about an entire genre.

There was something so mind blowing about Phife coming in right away with “me the five footer, I kicks the mad style so step off the frankfurter”, it wasn’t the self-deprecation but rather the acknowledgement of who he is. Phife Dawg was the Funky Diabetic, the Five Foot Assassin, and as young kid who felt like I couldn’t do anything without being made fun of this was a revelation. I wasn’t a happy kid really, but damn if Phife didn’t make me optimistic for the future. Seeing and hearing Phife take ownership of who he is, and then use that as just a building block for his incredible skills as a MC was inspiring and I know I’m not alone.

I think I would have fallen in love with hip hop no matter what, eventually. But that fateful day at my computer and hearing Phife’s voice for the first time locked in years of enjoyment for me, and opened my eyes.

Thoughts from a 23 year old campaign manager on the Toronto election

After a day of reflection (while taking down dozens of election signs) I have some thoughts to share about election we just had in Toronto. I’d like to start with linking to Morgan Baskin’s recent blog post “So What’s Next?” which I read last night after getting home from the election night party that my candidate of choice, Raymond Desilets had thrown for his supporters and volunteers. I was exhausted, and much of what I have read and done in the past week (especially after this past weekend of non-stop canvassing) has barely registered in my memory, yet I cannot stop thinking about Baskin’s post.

For those who don’t know, in a nutshell Baskin ran for mayor and gained some recognition (first in the mainstream media seemingly as a novelty, then in the view of a lot of people as a totally impressive and fantastic candidate). Morgan Baskin is awesome. I wish I had the courage when I was 18 (or 19) to do what she has done. I barely had the courage to do what I did this election. I have a LOT of feelings about this election, and to be quite honest I’m struggling to write this post so it’s both coherent and concise, so I’m going to try to focus in on my thoughts about it on the main theme I kept thinking of during. That is, my age.

I’m 23. In relation to Baskin my age seems (or just feels) to be so much older. I’ve been through university, where I grew up tremendously (I attribute this however more to the specific moment in time I went to a specific university however, not by virtue of going to university in general) and thinking about what is different for me now than when I was 18 is staggering. However, I’m just four years older than Baskin, which I know is nothing. I relate to her quite a bit, I was always the baby of the group wherever I went when I was her age, albeit I was working at Greenpeace not running for mayor. While I feel that my 18 self and 23 self are totally different, I know that four years isn’t really that big of a deal, which is evidenced by my friendships with workers and individuals in some cases decades older than me. Yet no matter how different I feel about myself in this four year period, I know that one thing hasn’t changed.

I’m still a young person. When I met with Ray Desilets I told him I would run and organize his canvass operations (I have a LOT of canvassing experience) and simply due to the fact I am unemployed I poured my free time into his campaign, and ended up taking on the title of “Campaign Manager”. This transition felt totally natural for Ray and I, it was just a title to reflect what I was doing. What that title also means is a new line for my CV now too, which is a constant obsession for me to gain credibility as an employable person. This past year I worked as a canvasser/pollcat for two other political campaigns (Jonah Schein’s re-election campaign in Davenport and Joe Cressy’s by-election campaign in Trinity-Spadina). To be perfectly blunt, I did it because I was unemployed and despite not ever wanting to knock on doors again (lots of experience as a fundraiser), I realized that if I both wanted work and wanted to create positive change, this was my immediate destiny. As I return now to hopefully short time of being both unemployed and mostly unoccupied I relate heavily to Baskin when she felt the need to point out she needs to get a job, something too many older folk keep forgetting our generation is finding to be extremely hard.

It was during my time at the Joe Cressy campaign I became incredibly disappointed that no good candidates have emerged in my ward, Ward 5, to run for council. We had no incumbent and with the provincial NDP doubling their vote share in the recent election I thought someone like me (a progressive) could win. On my last evening volunteering for the Cressy campaign multiple NDP workers who I look up to told me I need to continue doing political work, I was ecstatic. However despite this, I ultimately chickened out and hoped that a “real candidate” (read: someone who was a “real” adult) would emerge. This turned out to be Ray Desilets, and quite frankly his platform is far better than anything I would have come up with, I was excited that there was a serious local campaign I could focus my time and energy on. I have the utmost respect for Ray and I know he does for me as well, it was a fantastic working relationship.

During my time working for Ray I was assumed to be his son a few dozen times (despite the fact I would often mention “Ray has a son a year or two younger than me” when talking about him) or it was assumed I was a family friend. I was, and still am OK with these assumptions. It was a local campaign, and Ray’s son was out canvassing with us after all. What I’m not OK with is how sheepishly I would introduce myself as Ray’s campaign manager in turn. I was never afraid to send emails, using the veil of internet anonymity, with my title attached however. When I would tell people my title, the most common response was to gush about my age and to ask me a wave of personal questions (what I went to school for, what I want to do with my life, do I live with my parents still, etc). I was frustrated with and still am is that my age instantly became a novelty. The number of baby boomers who felt the need to tell me they’re so happy to “finally see a young person getting involved” was infuriating, especially when this was coming from someone much older than me who wasn’t even sure if we voted for city councillors before I knocked on their door. Yet, because of how I perceive myself as a young person I would be shy and anxious about this instead of feeling pride.

Last night however, after feeling pretty bummed not just at the results of the mayoral election and the council election in Ward 5, but at the results of all the other races I had invested so much hope into (namely Idil Burale in Ward 1, Andray Domise in Ward 2, Russ Ford in Ward 6 and Alejandra Bravo in Ward 17) I read Morgan Baskin’s blog post. It was at this point for the first time I think I truly felt pride all election, not just in myself, but for Baskin and all the other young people I know who worked their asses off in some way or another over these past ten months. It’s awesome, and we need to keep it up.

Toronto’s ward 5 council race gets tense

[I was on the fence about writing this up and posting it, however to the best of my knowledge no press were at the event last night. Twitter simply does not give me enough space to properly explain in detail what I was tweeting about last night, and I want to clarify some of my tweets about the meet the candidates event that happened last night in Etobicoke. I’ll try to keep this brief.]

Last night the Islington Ratepayers and Residents’ Association (IRRA) hosted a “meet the candidates” event at the Islington United Church for wards 3, 4, and 5. I was there to support my candidate of choice, Raymond Desilets, who is running in my ward, ward 5. Full disclosure: I’m working on his campaign (unpaid).

The event was certainly a unique set up, the three wards were brought together as the three make up the area the IRRA is based in. Also there certainly weren’t enough attendees from each individual ward to warrant a single event per ward (although ward 5 residents perhaps took up nearly half the audience). The candidates sat at tables in front of the audience and, with the guidance of the IRRA representative each candidate had roughly 2 minutes to introduce themselves to the crowd. Many candidates were cut off (I believe) prematurely, but I don’t think anyone was given preference over the others from any of the wards, I think it was just overwhelming to see 18 candidates from 3 different wards try to all say (except in the case of Ray Desilets and maybe 1 or 2 others form other wards) the same thing about keeping taxes low and finding efficiencies.

Prior to the event starting Ray had me look over his speech, it starts with a slight jab at the other candidates and he wanted to make sure it wasn’t too hostile. I told him it was fine, and the worst he’s saying is that some of the candidates don’t have any platform info on their websites, which is true.

Now, I need to point out that the dominating force for this race is Justin DiCiano, a local real estate executive. DiCiano ran last election as the Ford endorsed candidate against Peter Milczyn and lost by 109 votes. Rumors are abound in the ward about shady strategies from both the campaigns. This time around DiCiano is distancing himself from Ford by endorsing Tory (and getting his picture taken with him). DiCiano, unsurprisingly, is also trying to distance himself from him being a real estate executive, particularly his relation to Dunpar Developments who his brother is the owner of. (scroll down to see Julian Di Ciano listed as owner here) On the table designated for ward 5 candidate materials, DiCiano took up half the table with his five different pamphlets, which upon inspection were just glossy print outs of his websites “Issues” pages.

It was when Kinga Surma, the former assistant to Milczyn who was then fired for helping Doug Holyday beat Milczyn the first time in the provincial by-election, came to the end of her 2 minute introduction she took a jab directly at DiCiano and asked “And to my opponent Justin, how is it your so knowledgeable when it comes to development?” To be completely honest, this was a great jab. During the Rogers TV debate for our ward Ray had made a similar jab at DiCiano and quite frankly, we should have kept it up. As Surma returned to her seat the crowd went “Oooooo!” and the IRRA rep reminded everyone the event was not a debate.

The next stage of the event was the candidates had to answer a randomly assigned question, many of the candidates answered the same question and quite a few candidates used the opportunity to not answer the question but continue talking about their platform/hatred of taxes. To his credit, when DiCiano was asked what his thoughts on the Six Points road way was, he gave a sentence of relevance…but then went on to talk about his charity work.

It was after this questions from the audience would be taken. The IRRA rep made it clear the questions had to be directed at all the candidates from a ward and they would all be given equal time to answer. This is where things got gross. The first question was for ward 5 and was being posed by a woman I identified as a DiCiano supporter. She proceeded to state “This is a question for Kinga Surma, since you are so knowledgeable and good with numbers I was wondering if you could tell us what the city’s debt is including liabilities?” By the woman’s tone the question was obviously loaded, Surma calmly responded “Well, I don’t have the number in front of me-” and then was interrupted by the woman again, repeating the question over and over and frankly, getting quite nasty. (it was at this point I tweeted about the nasty question) The IRRA rep spoke over her mic insisting that all questions be directed to all the candidates and people in the crowd were starting to lose their patience with the woman who was now saying “Kinga, how can you not know the debt? If you spent so much time in city hall how do you not know the debt?”.

Finally the woman’s mic was removed and Surma responded with a typical conservative response about fiscal responsibility, she however handled the hostility quite well. The other candidates were then given a chance to comment on the city debt and none of them knew the specific number, they all also seemed a bit put off by how quickly this now 2 hour event turned hostile.

When DiCiano had his chance to answer the question he stood up and proudly said “The debt is 3.7 billion dollars including liabilities!” the crowd then laughed at this answer, as people in the front half of the audience had seen he’d been on his phone the entire time before it was his turn was was obviously checking Wikipedia. To those in the back (I was one of them) we couldn’t see him on his phone so our first assumption was that the entire exchange was rehearsed. (it was after the crowd had settled was when I tweeted my thoughts about DiCiano and his supporters behavior at this event)

After this the other two groups of candidates from wards 3 and 4 answered some tame questions and it was ward 5’s turn to be asked another question, this time a Surma campaign worker came to the mic and said “In my hand here I have the audit of Justin DiCiano from the last election…” it was at this point DiCiano made the perhaps the most fake and nervous laugh I have ever heard in my life. The Surma supporter kept his piece brief, and followed up talking about the audit by saying something along the lines of “As a candidate, how important is integrity to you?” Each of the candidates made a generic response, admittedly I wish I could have gotten to Ray and reminded him of the Integrity Commissioners increased work load recently (and even perhaps that DiCiano’s website front page used to feature a picture of him and Mammoliti). To be completely honest, DiCiano’s answer was so reflective and generic I don’t even remember what he said, but I do remember what one of the other candidates, Tony D’Aversa said.

D’Aversa took this opportunity to say he wasn’t concerned with DiCiano’s audit, and that you can be audited for anything including missing a few wooden stakes for your lawn signs. It was at this point me and one of the other attendees remarked to each other “Is D’Aversa trying to get him or DiCiano elected?” as surely D’Aversa is aware that DiCiano was investigated for things like paying for a campaign event with his charity’s money, not some missing pieces of wood.

After the other two wards answered questions the event ended and people either left or mingled. I had gone to the IRRA rep and thanked her for the event, and also mentioned that she did a great job handling the tension that came out of my ward. She then said that she was convinced the city debt question was a plant, and the others around us all agreed as well. As I was mingling and encouraging people to talk to Ray, I was asked if I knew what Surma’s jab was (and a few brought up that Ray had made a similar jab during the Rogers debate) I then brought up Dunpar and people responded with what I can only describe as unsurprised shock.

To be honest much of my original outrage has diminished, and part of me expected something like last night’s nastiness to happen. It was just so off-putting to see after such a pleasant and tame event had gone on for over an hour before that question was posed at Surma. Either way, I think if it was a plan by the DiCiano campaign the whole time it backfired, as many in the audience were unimpressed with the whole ordeal.

 

[much info about DiCiano’s audit, and his ties to Dunpar are hard to come by, however it would appear most people who are aware of them have seen the comment by “Roger B” on DiCiano’s Torontoist interview (where he talks about firing city staff)]

I Told Facebook I Hate Everything for 4 Years

At the beginning of the first year of my undergraduate I saw an ad on my Facebook homepage for Walmart. It was at this moment that I noticed for the first time that there was a small “X” in the top right of the small ad, which I clicked and was given the option of hiding the ad (and funnily enough, all ads from Walmart!). The only thing Facebook wanted in return for the service of never showing me a dirty Walmart ad ever again was that I give them the reason why I wanted to never see the ad again. I told them it was offensive. It’s also important to note that at this time I had also changed my Facebook gender to female (which it still is) which was done partly to see how it would change the ads I saw on Facebook, as well as the fact that Facebook only operates within a gender binary.

For the next four years I proceeded to tell Facebook that every ad they presented to me was to be hidden, primarily for being offensive or sexually explicit. I don’t entirely know why I did this, but I did it for every single ad I saw. Sometimes I would go weeks at a time without seeing any ads, but eventually they would pop up again and I would notify Facebook that I hate them. Sometimes I would have fun deliberating why I hated them; a local framing store was repetitive, the Teen Choice Awards were misleading, and of course a Michael Buble concert was sexually explicit.

This had an interesting consequence for me. I have absolutely no idea how Facebook works, let alone the ad feedback system, so for all I know everyone is seeing the same ads as me. I don’t think this is the case however, as instead of the “personalized” ads that everyone has become accustomed to on the internet, I am now getting ads for the most abstract shit ever.

To begin with, a few months ago I was shown an ad for an eco-tourism company. This made sense to me as I often post about environmental issues and I have my job history on Facebook (which includes working for two well known environmental non-profits), I told Facebook that the ad was against my views. The next day I was presented with a similar ad, but only instead of eco-tourism it was an ad to visit Washington DC (sexually explicit) and then later Cuba (against my views). I no longer get any travel related ads.

The next wave of ads were decidedly cosmetic product related (which were all offensive). Then were followed by a wave of retail store ads (Sears was sexually explicit, The Bay against my views and Target is simply uninteresting) which were then replaced by promotion for artists and record labels which I had already “Liked” on Facebook (all of them were repetitive).

Now Facebook’s ad system appears to be grasping at anything, anything I like. Brazilian waxes for 19 dollars, guitar amps, screwdrivers and the list goes on. It’s gotten to the point where I sometimes forget to tell Facebook I hate their ads because now they’re showing me ads for products I didn’t even know existed. Who’s interested in ice resurfacer rentals? Facebook thinks I am.

Everyone gets worried about “smart ads” on the internet and filter bubbles, but there’s an important thing we’re all forgetting. The internet is stupid. Remember when you were young and were prompted to give a birthday? The same principle applies. All internet use should be equal parts practical amusement, equal parts self disinformation. At the very least it nullifies ads on your Facebook news feed.

EDIT: Immediately after posting this I went onto Facebook. I had 4 ads up, all for gastric bypass surgery.