15 Thoughts Commuters Have on a Daily Basis

In no particular order of frequency…

Do mind readers walk among us? What if there is one on this train with me right now? I shouldn’t feel embarrassed. They’re probably like gynaecologists: they’ve seen it all, so nothing shocks them. But maybe if I think of something really weird in, like, caps lock or word art or something, one of them will flinch and break their cover. Okay. One, two, three…GOAT PORN.

Oh my gosh. Did I just fart? I can’t tell if that was the kind that only makes a noise in your body or in the world. I’ve got to stop listening to my music so loud, or else I’ll never be able to tell.

I’m gonna be so late.

Dammit. That’s the third person I’ve seen with an umbrella. It’s definitely going to rain today. I’ve really got to start checking my weather app before I leave the house.

My reflection always looks so beautiful in the train windows. It’s like an Instagram filter or something. Why can’t I look this way in real life?

These TTC operators love each other so much. Like they stop and chat with each other as they’re switching crews, and even on the buses the drivers wave to each other as they pass by. When do they even get a chance to get to know each other? I wonder if they’ve been to each other’s houses. It’s like a movie. I bet they’ve even shared a loss or something, and they all went to the guy’s funeral and pointed at his coffin as they walked by. Like in that movie Remember the Titans. Minus the football. And the racism.

My metropass is like my car keys.

“Thank you for riding the Rocket”? What rocket?! I’ve met nonagenarians who move faster.

I could conceive a baby, carry it to term, give birth to it, and then name it in the time it takes to get from Eglinton to Lawrence Station.

YES! This driver has a sleeve. Drivers with sleeve tattoos drive with purpose. These guys turn a regular bus into an express bus. I might actually get to work on time.

Delay? Where? What did he say? Can lessons on how to properly talk into a speaker be incorporated into the TTC training manual?

I’ll begin reviewing these notes starting from the next stop.

We should replace racism, sexism – all of the negative “isms” – with pure, unadulterated hatred towards people who chew with their mouths open.

I hope this couple knows I’m just staring at them because I love them. #SwirlNation #SwirlNation #SwirlNation

Is my music too loud?

Staying in on Sunday with a Denzel double feature

Sundays are a toss-up. For some it’s the day of rest. For others it’s a day to get things done. And then there is that fickle group of people who fluctuate between the two. Whether you deliberately planned to relax today, or all your friends flopped on brunch plans at the last minute, we’ve got you covered with a Denzel double feature to keep you comfortably occupied until you decide to face the world.

One of my greatest regrets as a millennial is that I wasn’t an adult when Denzel Washington was in his prime. Though the Academy Award winner is by no means in decline, he is certainly taking filmmaking pretty easy these days having firmly established himself as one of the most formidable and versatile actors of the last few decades. For this Sunday’s Denzel double feature, we have two great movies from different points in the actor’s career – fifteen years to be exact – which just goes to show how consistently awesome Denzel has been.

Malcolm X (1992)

One of the most conflicting and inspiring individuals of the American Civil Rights movement, Malcolm X’s life story is still a source of fascination and debate for Americans and the world. Born Malcolm Little in the 1920s, he was placed into foster care as a child after his father was killed and his mother was institutionalized. His life is undoubtedly famous for his activism and his involvement with the Nation of Islam. But what makes his story compelling is the number of dramatic changes his direction took and the transformation of his world views, most notably his reassessment of the role whites played in the advancement of black people.

Washington does a spectacular job portraying this divisive figure in the film based on the book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Many believe his work in Malcolm X should have won him the 1992 Oscar for Best Actor – he was simply nominated. In any case, it is lauded as one of his best performances and definitely worth a watch (or re-watch!)

NOTABLE MOMENT: The hospital scene. After a police chief witnesses Malcolm’s influence dispersing an angry crowd, he remarks, “That’s too much power for one man to have.”

American Gangster (2007)

American Gangster is based on a true story, detailing the parallel lives of two very different people: Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), a drug kingpin, and Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), the detective determined to take down his operation. Both characters, contrary to their respective roles, are seeming anomalies in their environments. Lucas is a drug kingpin who refuses to use any substances and insists on owning his own business by not being beholden to any other gang. Roberts is a detective determined to stay honest in a cop culture where corruption runs rampant and the number one rule is don’t be a rat. It’s a terrific film that lets us into the minds and lives of two interesting and complex characters played brilliantly by both Washington and Crowe.

While it’s difficult to dislike any character played by the charismatic Washington, it is hard for the audience to decide what to make of Lucas. He cares about and looks after his family and community, but the drug that makes him a multi-millionaire, Blue Magic, is effectively ruining the lives of many. He is both protector and destroyer of his community and this has been the case with many famous drug lords (see: Pablo Escobar).

NOTABLE MOMENT: When a fight breaks out during a party at Lucas’ house and his alpaca rug gets stained with blood. “Don’t rub on that. You blot that,” he angrily instructs the person cleaning the rug. “You understand? That’s alpaca. That’s $25,000 alpaca. You blot that shit. You don’t rub on it. Put the club soda on there.”


Toronto kicks off Christmas in the city with annual Cavalcade of Lights

It isn’t the holiday season in Toronto until the Christmas tree in Nathan Phillips Square has been lit. Not a city to pass up an opportunity for a party, the annual Cavalcade of Lights will feature music, entertainment, and fireworks.

This year marks the 49th Annual Cavalcade of Lights, and tonight’s show is guaranteed to be thrilling. Far from limiting itself to musical performances, tonight’s show will include fire juggling and eating brought to the audience by FireGuy, a fire and light artist from right here in the Big Smoke. In keeping with the theatrics, FireGuy’s spectacle will be followed by gravity defying aerial acts by Zero Gravity Circus.

Last year’s Christmas tree stood over 60 feet tall, decorated with ornaments and lights that reportedly took weeks to put on. Bedecked and brightened, the tree traditionally stands in Nathan Phillip’s Square for the entire holiday season as a shared symbol of merriment for downtown dwellers and visitors to City Hall alike. This year’s tree, set to be lit at the end of tonight’s celebrations, is sure to be as festive.

Naturally, the beginning of the Christmas season in Canada is inescapably accompanied by the cold, and for some, standing in a crowd in subzero temperatures is not their idea of fun. For others, the entertainment and sense of city camaraderie makes the brisk weather worth it.

Kendal Alexander has gone for the past three years, and believes it’s a good time. “It’s a nice outing for the family to just hang out and watch the show,” he said. “Although it does get cold, you don’t really notice it because of all the fun you’re having.”

Wind chill aside, some observers have pointed out that the grand spectacle seems to disregard other holidays that could have been recognized alongside Christmas during the Cavalcade of Lights, especially in a city as multicultural as Toronto. “It’s funny because both Diwali and Chanukah are festivals of light, but the only literal festival of light for Toronto is for introducing Christmas” said Jamie Basian, an International Studies student.

The event certainly does get quite a bit of attention – the kind of attention that results in road closures. Those driving around downtown today will have to ensure their trip doesn’t involve using any roadway from Dundas to Queen on Bay Street between the hours of 4pm and 11:30pm.

The Cavalcade of Lights kicks off at 6pm tonight in Nathan Phillips Square.

Featured Image from City of Toronto website

Canadians unimpressed with country’s Black Friday Lite

“There is no Black Friday here,” declared Toronto resident, Brianna Legall. For many Canadians, our sorry imitation of the sales bonanza south of the border is like Black Friday Lite: a lot healthier, but not quite capable of satisfying our appetites. A few years ago, the event was virtually non-existent in Canada, but now many Canadian retailers are boasting half-off sales and door crashers for Black Friday.

This move doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The Canadian economy loses billions of dollars a year to cross-border shopping, particularly during the American Thanksgiving weekend. American Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November, and the sales bonanza takes place the next day with many states giving their employees that day off as well. In an effort to convince Canadians to spend their dollars at home, Canuck retailers opted to keep all the gratitude to our usual Thanksgiving in October, but transplant that profitable little American tradition, if you will, up north.

Scepticism about the worthiness of Canadian sales on Black Friday is fair. In the past, our malls have displayed weak promotions that would make the half off signs in New York, Iowa, and Alabama blush with second-hand embarrassment. Sophie Angoh, shop consultant at shop.com, was quite underwhelmed by Black Friday advertisements here in Canada. “As I was walking around the mall today, I only saw two stores that were advertising Black Friday deals,” she said on Thursday. She also observed a number of store signs promoting deals, but not explicitly in relation to Black Friday, leading her to conclude that they were “recycled deals” meant to serve as “a gimmick for Canadian stores to get rid of fall clothing and make way for their winter stock.”

Stores have attempted to up their game in recent years by boasting noteworthy discounts and promising gifts and free giveaways. Malls have also stepped up by offering services to make the shopping experience more comfortable for patrons. Yorkdale Mall, for instance, offers a delivery service to shoppers that will allow them to use public transportation without worrying about lugging their purchases with them on the bus ride home, while at the same time limiting the number of drivers looking for parking spaces.

Online shopping is an attractive alternative to waiting in long line-ups and sharing space with pushy shoppers.

Still, there is an alternative to the physical discomforts of waiting in line, carrying bags, and occasionally, fighting with others: online shopping. Cyber Monday is the popular term for the e-commerce world’s answer to Black Friday, although online deals can be found just as easily on Black Friday itself. Angoh pointed out that Black Friday is still a great time to take advantage of the slashed prices and get Christmas shopping done, and suggested the option of using sites like shop.com. Shop.com users benefit from an additional discount in the form of cashback. “You can create a free cashback account, and whenever you buy online through our partner stores, for example The Bay which has 50% off certain items, you can receive an additional six percent cashback simply from buying online,” she explained. “[You can] skip the lines, save the gas, and spend more time doing other things you love doing.”

While our ability to imitate the United States when it comes to putting on a good sale may be questionable, we certainly haven’t reached the point where the craziness of our Black Friday rivals theirs. Our national reputation has yet to be sullied by viral videos of brawls over flat screen TVs. Nobody does consumerism like Americans who have no problem decking a rival shopper or camping out in order to get first pick. And as much as we may poke fun at them, imitate them, and at times, envy them, they appear to be charmingly unaware of our affairs. The following real-life conversation over text demonstrates this:

Canadian to American friend: Happy American Thanksgiving

American: Back at ya lol

Canadian: Our Thanksgiving was in October lol

American: What’s it called?

Canadian: Thanksgiving.

American: Oh lol.

God Bless America.

Tomorrow’s Drake Night at Raptors game expression of rapper’s Torontoᵀᴹ

One thing’s for sure: Drake either has a wicked understanding of marketing, or he’s hired one stellar team. Love him or hate him, he has effectively moulded the city in his image. Branding is about crafting associations, and there is no mistaking his fingerprints are all over what it means to be from Toronto.

Tomorrow’s Raptors game against the Cleveland Cavaliers will be another expression of Drake’s TorontoTM. It will be the Raptors’ third annual Drake Night, established after the rapper and singer-songwriter was named the team’s global ambassador in 2013. Initially intended as a way to entice a larger crowd with the promise of free merchandise and the city’s star in the stands, this year’s Drake Night is taking place during a game already expected to draw a huge turnout. Fans at tomorrow night’s game can most likely expect to receive free OVO merchandise following the recent release of the joint Toronto Raptors Mitchell & Ness OVO clothing line.

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 8.42.22 PM
Toronto Raptors Mitchell & Ness OVO attire now on sale at Real Sports

At least the release of this line has run considerably smoother than the premiere of the Raptors’ new logo last December. A version of the new logo was put up then taken down, and observers criticized it as being a tad unoriginal due to its similarity to the Brooklyn Nets logo. Drake was noticeably unhappy with the choice. He distanced himself by responding to criticism from social media users, tweeting that he had nothing to do with the redesign.

The Raptors managed to win their games during the last two Drake Nights. Here’s hoping that pattern continues tomorrow evening.

Scarborough haters: Do you even live here?

In a variation on the Lion King meme, Mufasa says to his son, “Look Simba. Everything the light touches is Toronto.”

“Wow,” says Simba. “But what about that shadowy place?”

“That is Scarborough,” Mufasa says. “You must never go there.”

Scarborough: the misunderstood district to the east. With nicknames like Scarberia and Scarlem denouncing the distance and supposed crime rate of the place, it’s no wonder such a negative reputation of the area has been perpetuated. If the stereotypes are to be believed, the east end is a roiling mass of women with bad attitudes, young men roaming the streets looking for trouble, and bitter residents who dream of the day they can live west of Victoria Park Avenue. But is this reputation really fair?

In 2007, city councillors Norm Kelly and Michael Thompson requested that the media not mention “Scarborough” in crime reports. Instead they proposed a protocol for reporters to only reference the intersection where the crime was committed. The tendency among media outlets was to headline the crime as happening “in Scarborough” even though Scarborough is quite a large place. “If there is a shooting at Jane and Finch, it is at Jane and Finch,” Kelly said. “If there is a shooting at Neilson and Finch, it is in Scarborough”. The proposal didn’t go through, but Kelly and Thompson brought up a good point: there is a particular interest in portraying Scarborough as more dangerous than it is.

Interestingly enough, the loudest people on the supposed dangers of Scarborough are very often people who don’t live in Scarborough. Granted, Scarborough residents enjoy expounding on the supposedly shady reputation of the area for giggles. For instance:

“Have you heard about the recent thefts in the area?” says Person 1. “I used to be able to leave my things unattended but now . . .”

“Oh ha ha,” says Person 2. “I’m from Scarborough so I’m used to it. I always take my things with me. It’s ingrained.”

End scene.

As with any area, there are things to complain about, like the tricky buses or the funky smell at Midland station. Yet if you’ve never lived here, worked here, or had any experience with the area outside of an experimental trip to Scarborough Town Centre, why are you talking?

To put it best, allow me to shamelessly modify author Kathryn Stockett’s words about Mississippi:

“Scarborough is like my mother. I am allowed to complain about her all I want, but God help the person who raises an ill word about her around me, unless she is their mother too.”

Originally published in Pro Tem, March 4, 2015

Subjects become revolutionaries in The Hunger Games finale

In recent years, production companies have opted to divide the final instalment of blockbuster franchises into two parts. To hit extra plot points from the source material, sure, but most likely to get additional bang for their buck. The benefits of this is the ability to hit the ground running in the second half, and this was certainly a good choice for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. After the spoiled hunger games of the last few movies, the increased oppression and fear tactics from the Capitol, and the regular acts of defiance from the people of Panem, revolution is definitely in the air. For Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and the long thought dead members of District 13 led by Julianne Moore’s President Alma Coin, it is simply a matter of harnessing that energy into a rebellion that can overtake the Capitol.

In the midst of all this action is the love triangle that refuses to go away. Katniss is stuck between two loves: the kind forged by knowing someone your entire life, and the kind that only develops after surviving repeated episodes of extreme danger in another’s company. It doesn’t take a genius to notice that while Katniss feels guilty for her interrupted relationship with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) – something that would have certainly blossomed into a future together had it not been for her participation in the Hunger Games – she is in love with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). His imprisonment and torture in the Capitol over the course of Mockingjay Part 1 was torment for Katniss who was willing to jeopardize opportunities to overthrow President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his tyrannical government in exchange for saving Peeta’s life. By the end of the last film, Peeta is rescued, but he is sadly the victim of specialized torture techniques that have reduced him to a ghost of his former self, programmed to feel mortally threatened by one person: Katniss.

Katniss & Gale
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) with love interest Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Source: YouTube courtesy of Lionsgate

By the beginning of Part 2, Peeta has started to show progress due to the rehabilitative efforts of the doctors in District 13. But he retains the false memories planted in his mind by the Capitol and poses a continuous threat to Katniss’ safety. While he is unquestionably terrified of the tricks his mind is playing on him, he still manages to recall his genuine feelings for Katniss. It is hard to condemn Peeta for his neediness particularly when he is in such a vulnerable mental state, but is difficult not to be reminded of how annoying he is in his interactions with Katniss, interactions that carry a whiff of artificial self-sacrifice. In the background is Gale, much too proud to wheedle his way into Katniss’ heart, but plainly hurting. Trying to figure out which boy Katniss really loves and ultimately chooses turns into a tiresome subplot. To be fair, it is only natural to explore feelings about life and love in the face of possible death – not to mention the marketing value of the Team Peeta/Team Gale rivalry for the franchise – but the love triangle comes across as trivial in comparison to everything else that’s going on. As an audience, you can’t help but think: let’s get to the action. Viva la revolución!

Then again, if we were going to spend any time on relationships, it would have been nice to see more of Primrose and Katniss together. Theirs is one of the more moving storylines in the series. Primrose Everdeen’s development as a character over the course of the movies is lovely to watch and would have been even lovelier to explore if only there’d been more of it. No one needs reminding that it was Katniss’ love for Primose that set in motion the events leading to this revolution, and it is clear that they have both benefited the other by bringing out their best qualities and nurturing their hidden ones. Closed and distant Katniss is capable of displaying warmth towards the sister she is fiercely protective of, and Primrose grows up into a strong, capable, and independent woman thanks to her role model Katniss who bravely took her place as tribute in the first film. Their interactions in this final film are reduced to hugs and a quick dance during Finnick and Annie’s touching wedding scene. In previous movies, we only saw her when she was providing quick words of advice or encouragement for Katniss. Not having read the books, I can’t speak to whether this relationship was better written in the series, but the adaptation’s portrayal was left wanting.

Mentor and past Games victor Haymitch Abernathy played by Woody Harrelson. Source: YouTube courtesy of Lionsgate

As far as finales go, we largely got what we expected. There was much bloodshed and some difficult losses as we said goodbye to a few Hunger Games darlings that will send fans reeling back into the dark place they retreated to after the deaths of Rue and Cinna. As expected, Jennifer Lawrence carried the film tremendously with her performance as Katniss Everdeen, but it was also the performances of the actors in key supporting roles that ensured the film didn’t become a two hour hopscotch from one fight scene to the next. Jena Malone was intriguing to watch as Johanna Mason who manages to retain her spark even after all her suffering in the Capitol. Sam Claflin’s Finnick Odair is also a treat to watch. And of course, who can forget Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch? From the start, he has been the worn down but good at heart mentor to Katniss. He manages to make both Katniss and the audience feel safe in his company.

Mockingjay 2 is also notable for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s unfinished portrayal of Plutarch Heavensbee, Head Gamemaker and revolutionary. Hoffman died in February 2014 before he could finish filming his scenes. In lieu of using CGI to complete his part – the method employed by the makers of Furious 7 after the death of one of its stars, Paul Walker – one of his important scenes with Katniss was replaced by a conversation with Haymitch who reads a letter sent by Plutarch. Jennifer Lawrence described this as a fitting alternative saying that “to try to fake a Philip Seymour Hoffman performance would have been catastrophic” and that “this was the best way to get around such a horrible thing.”

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 took in over 46 million dollars at the box office on its opening day.

Present day crimes reveal ancient sins in Crimson Shore

“Two lobster rolls, please,” said Pendergast as they stepped up to the shack.

The food quickly arrived: massive chunks of lobster in a creamy sauce, overstuffed into a buttered, split-top hot dog roll and spilling out into their cardboard trays.

“How does one eat it?” Constance said, eyeing hers.

“I am at a loss.”

This subtly hilarious excerpt gives us our two main characters trying to figure out how to eat a lobster roll, a decidedly unfavourable choice compared to their usually sophisticated fare. Crimson Shore is the fifteenth instalment in the Pendergast series written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Fortunately for those of us who have followed the series, the authors don’t seem to be showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. The books detail the cases of Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, an FBI agent and renaissance man from a wealthy New Orleans family, whose job investigating homicides finds himself examining the darker side of humanity.

Confusion about lobster roll consumption aside, Pendergast is a highly intelligent and accomplished man, a decorated soldier, and a formidable agent. Over the course of the series, we have seen him solve numerous cases, save countless lives (arguably millions, if you count his work in The Book of the Dead), and face off against his twisted and brilliant brother, Diogenes. This story sees him taking off to unravel a new mystery with his mysterious ward, Constance Greene.

Recent books have witnessed Pendergast and Constance grow closer. Constance is a woman with an extraordinary history. Her consumption of an elixir decades ago gave her the distinct privilege (or curse) of delaying her aging. By Crimson Shore, Constance is close to 150 years old; she still looks 21. The Gentlemen, a nickname the fandom have bestowed upon the author masterminds, have never been ones to shy away from the supernatural. Their bestselling novel, Relic, published in 1995, which saw the debut of our Agent Pendergast, was all about the New York Museum of Natural History being terrorized by a genetically-modified monster. The only thing that prevents the series from being thrown into the genre of fantasy is the formidable ability of the Gents to find a plausible – if not, bizarre – scientific explanation for the strange occurrences by the end of every novel. Their work is a testament to both their imagination and to their encyclopedic knowledge, no doubt acquired from their collective experience in both editing and in museums. Child worked as an editor for many years at St. Martin’s Press while Preston worked as a writer and editor for a number of publications and notably, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York – the inspiration for the setting of many of their novels.

Preston & Child
The Gents, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, show few signs of slowing down anytime soon. Crimson Shore is the fifteenth Pendergast novel. Photo: Neya Abdi/Toronto Discursive

This latest adventure sends our hero and his ward-cum-assistant to the windy New England town of Exmouth where the residents engage in the regular small-town pastimes of gossip and petty neighbourly squabbles. With the promise of a rare bottle of wine as payment, Pendergast agrees to launch a private investigation into the theft of a valuable wine collection that has left its owner, a famous sculptor, devastated. The ransacked cellar quickly reveals a much more sinister and ancient crime in the form of an old cell where a man was evidently shackled and tortured. Retrieving the skeleton is likely the main motivation for the wine theft that is clearly a cover. Its discovery threatens to reveal an old, small town secret about greed and murder shared by select residents of Exmouth.

For those who simply happen to stumble across the book, it is an intriguing mystery on its own with the forensics, history lessons, and good-natured mocking of authority figures that make all the Preston and Child books a treat. Yet it is also an extra special novel for those who have been following the series from the beginning. What starts off as a seemingly isolated tale like old favourites Still Life With Crows and The Wheel of Darkness, it suddenly becomes a much more complex and revealing novel that not only explores deeper, admittedly awkward elements of Pendergast and Constance’s relationship, but also continues storylines from previous novels. Fans will be left throwing their copies at the wall after reading the frustrating but exciting cliffhanger at the end of the novel.

Old readers will also notice an increasingly laid-back, good-humoured attitude from Agent Pendergast necessitated in part by the dark turn the character took during the Helen trilogy. Over the course of the series, he has become less enigmatic as we’ve witnessed him face off against demons both within and without. For some, this presents an unwanted window into the soul of a man whose main intrigue comes from his unpredictability, privacy, and inscrutability. In any case, it is a privilege to learn more, and all parties will certainly be excited to see what the Gentlemen have in store for us when the next book is released in November 2016.

Paris attacks: one week later

Last Friday’s horrific events in Paris left the world shocked and angry. But beyond those feelings of horror, there was a sense of overwhelming helplessness not only in terms of how to act, but how to think. ISIL’s attacks stepped up debates new and old on the issues of refugees, religious extremism, Western hegemony, and more.

In the week since, news outlets have been in a frenzy to explain the events to its viewers with continuous coverage and a seemingly endless stream of expert panellists who range from vaguely informative to shamefully alarmist. Below is a breakdown of the main facts, as well as summaries of articles that provides thoughtful commentary on a few of the key, ongoing debates.


On November 13, individuals acting on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacked a number of spots on a busy Friday night in Paris, France. They used explosives and assault rifles, killing 129 people and wounding hundreds.

The previous day, on November 12, 43 people were killed and hundreds wounded in Lebanon after suicide bombers detonated their devices in a Beirut suburb. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack. 

France 24 coverage of the suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon. Source: YouTube


A day after the attacks, ISIL released a statement claiming responsibility and promising France and its supporters that “they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign.”

What’s in a name? IS vs ISIS vs ISIL.

An overview of the history of the Islamic State, its organization and methods, as well as an account of its rise over the past couple of years. In a testament to its brutality, ISIL was renounced by al-Qaeda in 2014.

So far, there is some information about the names and nationalities of some of the suspected terrorists and co-conspirators. The suspected leader of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed in a police raid on November 18.

Suspected Attackers
French authorities conducted raids in search of suspected attackers and co-conspirators. Source: YouTube


ISIL has cited French intervention in Syria and Iraq as their reason for attacking the country. In the wake of Friday’s events, many commentators, writers, and academics have reiterated the complex historical and political factors that have contributed to the rise of ISIL. Others, while acknowledging this history, are underwhelmed by arguments that say the West is dealing with a problem of its own making.

A look at the role U.S. involvement in the Middle East has played, as well as its present-day implications. This article draws poignant examples of this relationship, particularly by pointing out how Islamic extremism and jihadism were encouraged by the United States as a strategy towards mobilizing the Muslim world against the “godless” USSR’s socialist influence in the Middle East.

Explanations of jihadism that stop at condemnations of Western involvement are lazy, according to The Guardian political columnist Rafael Behr. This discussion is in connection to recent comments by Labour party MP Jeremy Corbyn, but it is relevant to how leaders should act. Behr writes, “The hardest part of leadership is judging how far to stray from what is ideal for the sake of what is necessary.” 


First, is how ISIL managed to carry out these attacks and evade intelligence agencies. Those details will be made more available to us in the coming weeks and months.

Second, is how governments and individuals should respond to these attacks. There will certainly be increased military action. French President François Hollande has declared the attacks an “act of war”. Debates range from whether states should respond militarily, how events in some parts of the world are prioritized over others, and whether or not borders should be kept open for refugees seeking protection.

CNN reports on the international effort to apprehend a suspect who crossed into Brussels following the attack. Source: YouTube

In a lecture in March 2015 at Simon Fraser University, Gwynne Dyer, military historian and journalist, explained that military response to the, relatively speaking, minor issue of terrorism is exactly the kind of overreaction ISIL wants.

Anti-immigration sentiment has been strong in recent years. It comes as no surprise since groups are especially resistant to outsiders when the economy is struggling, and there is a perceived threat. The images of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi galvanized global support for refugee protection. The terror in Paris has returned ammunition to politicians opposed to welcoming migrants, and provided an out for EU members meant to share the load of settling refugees.

The links about refugees are primarily in regards to the United States. Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has remained committed to admitting 25,000 refugees into Canada, despite growing criticism.

Historically, the national security threat to the U.S. posed by refugees has been non-existent with experts maintaing that the risk is minimal. Admittedly, there are features of the Syrian refugee crisis, such as the large number of migrants, that prove more complicated than past influxes. This has led to concern over whether a U.S. Syrian refugee program could be infiltrated by terrorists who are not properly screened.

A Jewish writer’s perspective on negative public opinion about admitting refugees. He cites telling polls from the 1930s on public sentiment towards Jewish refugees. 

In addition, the issue of white lives versus brown lives was a prevalent topic. The coverage of the Beirut bombings by the same group just the day before did not garner the same amount of attention and public displays of support. This post is arguably complicit in that tendency.

Pray for the World
Poem that made the rounds on social media after the attacks in Paris and Beirut. Photo via Facebook.

In the hours after the panic and terror in Paris, Facebook enabled its Safety Check feature to allow those in the danger zone to check in, effectively alerting their friends and family to their status. Up until that point, it was only activated for natural disasters. This was not done for the bombing in Lebanon. Facebook’s Vice President of Growth, Alex Schultz, explained the reasons for this in a post on the social media site.

Facebook users were also given the option of applying an overlay of the French Tricolour. There was no option for the Lebanese flag. Emma Teitel wrote a pointed piece calling out critics of the Facebook filter and the news coverage, remarking that many of them did not discuss the Beirut bombings until after the French attacks occurred.

It’s common knowledge that Facebook uses algorithms to display content based on what we typically read, share, and like. Moreover, prominent newspapers do publish stories about what’s happening in the rest of the world – they certainly did after the suicide bombing in Beirut. The responsibility may ultimately be up to us to seek out information about the rest of the world, especially with a tool like the Internet at our disposal. 






TTC Tales

Bitching about the TTC is a bonding ritual among Toronto commuters. Nothing joins two strangers at a bus stop quite like a snarky comment about the system. The TTC is the third-largest transit system in North America (after New York City and Mexico City) so clearly enough people are using it. But whether those people are entirely satisfied is another matter altogether.

Amil rapped, “How we gonna get around on your bus pass?” Good question. With over 150 bus and streetcar routes and a subway system comprising of 69 stops that get you from one end of the city to the other for three bucks some would say quite well, thank you very much. Yes, yes, the rest would impatiently reply, breadth is all well and good but how about speed?

According to an investigation undertaken by Global News, there were an average seven hours lost per week due to subway delays in 2013. Of course, the individual delays themselves are only a few minutes or so, but when you have someplace to be, that can feel like ages. If anything, it is plenty of time for your rage to build as it did with a passenger I shared the train with a while back back who shouted “Yeah, I bet you are!” to the speaker after it apologized yet again for the inconvenience.

The top ten reasons for delays included false passenger assistance alarms, an unauthorized person at track level, door problems, and disorderly passengers. The number one reason: illness or injury, leaving commuters with conflicting emotions of both sympathy and frustration. And it isn’t only longer than normal travel times that have commuters asking “to ride or not to ride”. For instance, residents in certain underserviced areas like Scarborough have given up with the TTC altogether and opted to start driving instead. And with all the political back-and-forth when it comes to transit, people are losing patience.

Nothing like bumper to bumper traffic to make you wish you’d kept hitting snooze. Photo: Neya Abdi/Toronto Discursive

Still, it’s not all rainy days and out of service buses. Third- and fourth-year Glendon students may have noticed that more 124 Sunnybrook buses have been added to busy weekday mornings. Much better than a couple years ago when two buses were expected to service a route containing a university and a hospital during rush hour. It’s a small step, but it’s movement, and it’s a little proof that if you curse loud enough (or write an email, most likely) an administrator somewhere will feel badly for all the nurses and liberal arts students forced to bump and grind at 9AM.

And then there are the glorious moments you could never get in a car. The other day a woman interrupted her conversation with herself to lean in and pick a piece of lint off my pants. And I will never forget the exhausted man with plaster all over his hands who leaned in and told me, “You smell good. You got that classy scent.” He has my heart.

Originally published in Pro Tem, October 2014