Links that made us think: Ocean plastic, aging taxpayers, prison rape

From Matt: Eight million tons of plastic dumped in ocean every year (Laura Parker, National Geographic): A new landmark study has estimated how much plastic we are dumping in the ocean each year, and it’s a lot. Most of it is coming from east and southeast Asia, but what’s interesting is that it’s not all coming from where you’d necessarily expect. For example, relatively tiny Sri Lanka is the world’s 5th largest source of ocean plastic. India is 12th; the United States 20th. So what happens to all this plastic? Well, eventually it breaks down into tiny ‘microplastic’ particles, but these microplastics degrade extremely slowly. Recent studies have been finding microplastic in all kinds of different waterways and sentiments, but we don’t really have a clue what they do. It would seem reasonable to suspect they might be harmful, which would be really bad given the quantity we’re dumping; but we don’t yet know if, how, or how much they harm us and the ecosystems. Getting to the bottom of this is one of the most important open areas in marine environmental science.

On big resource projects, when does ‘no’ mean ‘no’? (John Gehman & Michael Lounsbury, The Globe and Mail): Gehman and Lounsbury point out that knowing when to cut your losses and being able to pivot quickly is one of the most important attributes of successful business management. They draw an analogy to Keystone XL and other big energy infrastructure projects in Canada, wondering aloud whether it’s time for backers of these projects (including the federal government) to cut their losses and pivot. I think the authors’ analogy to governing can probably be taken much further.

From Ian: Online campaign nets $20 000 for Quebec woman told to remove hijab in court (Morgan Lowrie, The Globe and Mail): On Feb. 24, a Quebec judge told a woman in her Montreal courtroom that she would not hear her case until she removed her hijab. Rania El-Alloul was in court to apply to get her car back after it was seized when police stopped El-Alloul’s son for driving with a suspended licence. As soon as her story was picked up by the media, Ms. El-Alloul received an outpouring of support from Canadians of all backgrounds, including from all three major party leaders: Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau. Two residents from Toronto and Vancouver, strangers to Ms. El-Alloul, set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to buy her an new car and support her legal costs, which reached its $20,000 goal in under 24h and has now received over $37,000 from donors from across the country. This story demonstrates that, while Canada is not immune to intercultural tensions, there is a broad belief amongst the majority of Canadians that tolerance is a fundamental Canadian value and multiculturalism is one of our biggest points of pride.

What happens when you run out of taxpayers? (Doug Saunders, The Globe and Mail) When politicians and pundits talk about balancing the budget, the impacts of spending priorities (e.g. entitlements, investments in education, healthcare, R&D, etc.) and taxes are usually the focus, but the impact of demographics are less often discussed. This article highlights the profound impact that changing demographics associated with low birth rates and an aging population is having on the fiscal picture in many Western countries, and what some countries have tried to do about it, ranging from incentives aimed at increasing the birth rate and getting more seniors and women to in the workforce to countries rethinking their immigration policy to allow more working age immigrants to fill the void.


From Niya: Feminism’s online renaissance (Antonia Zerbisias, Elle Canada): As one of the co-creators of the #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag, Zerbisias provides her insights into the impact that social media has had on feminists and organizers in the recent past. She addresses the shift in organizing principles of groups of feminists around the same issue from a leader/follower approach to a more collaborative model, one that includes diverse voices due to the more level space instead of a personality driven approach where a group supported a single strong voice. Other notes of interest include her perspective on”networked feminism” that includes men’s voices and the mention of the generational and digital divides within the current feminist sphere. She hints at the impact these have. It would be great to see follow up pieces from both sides of the divide.

Prison Rape (Maurice Chammah, the Atlantic): Chammah’s in depth piece about male prison rape puts a human face on a deeply concerning issue. While my piece on consent in our discussion about moving towards gender equity focused on women, I remain mindful of the fact that when prison rape statistics are included the data from the United States indicates that more men than women are sexually assaulted. I found it interesting that Chammah makes it clear to the reader that prison rape is about power and status more than it is about sex – a position that is rarely taken so obviously when writers write about heterosexual rape, even though it is just as true. Another point of interest was the one about racial dynamics that addresses the perception that prison rape is an act of revenge and of turning the tables on the racial power dynamics in the world. In a quasi-military system where strength confers power those who are vulnerable are at greater risk of sexual violence, regardless of race.

3 thoughts on “Links that made us think: Ocean plastic, aging taxpayers, prison rape

  1. Great post Matt on a really diverse group of subjects. Plastic in our oceans has been a big concern for me and my family – especially after re-visiting a Northwest Coast community we lived in 30 (!) years ago. I remember only very few large plastic containers occasionally washing up on shore = now there are large and small and very tiny shards of plastic everywhere. One note re: prison rape. Stats are much lower in Canada – there’s many reasons for this but the main one is we don’t lock people up for as long as they do in the US and for now our prisons are more humane with more checks and more security. I say “for now” because that’s not what Harper has in mind for the future especially in regard to male offenders. Also, you said “prison rape is about power and status more than it is about sex – a position that is rarely taken so obviously when writers write about heterosexual rape, even though it is just as true”. Not sure why you would think otherwise. Any credible source writing about or commenting on heterosexual rape in the last 40 years understands that it has far less to do about sex than it has to do about power. Only those seeking to discredit rape reporters say otherwise i.e. “she shouldn’t have been wearing that – it was too provocative”. Rape(and any sexual assault) is always about dominance, power, violence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for that very thoughtful comment. Western Canada has been a significant destination for plastic coming from Asia unfortunately, because of the ocean currents. Sorry to hear how it’s been affecting your former community. I also completely agree with your comments about the rape issues (both prison and heterosexual), though I can’t take any credit for raising them: Ian and Niya write the summaries and choose the links in the ‘From Ian’ and ‘From Niya’ sections of these posts. Thanks again for your great comment!


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