How to not kill your plants

A short guide for amateur plant enthusiasts

It’s always the same scenario: you wake up with an abnormal determination to reconnect with nature, or perhaps you’ve built up some motivation after hearing your friends getting excited by their new leafy friends — whatever it is, you decide that it’s finally time to bring home a few plants to take care of.

You read up countless mom blogs telling you how to care for your plants, scroll through “Top 20” lists telling you what fertilizer brands to get and avoid and the different types of soils you must get. After a trip to the store, where you get a couple of cute, small succulents, you set them up on your windowsill… Only to see them grow browner and sadder every week.

Having a collection of plants has become a really popular hobby recently. This isn’t so surprising, considering the many benefits of adding greenery to your home or work space, on top of the desire to bring the outdoors inside while we wait for this pandemic to allow us to leave our houses again.

But for those who have not been blessed with a green thumb, buying a new plant is more complicated than just going to the store, finding a nice looking one, and reading off the small care tag stuck in the soil. As a recovering serial plant killer myself, I thought I’d share some tips to help you one day build your own indoor forest.

Start small. Get one plant that you’ll be focusing your attention on for a little while until you’re certain you have the time and energy to dedicate to your plant friends. Remember, plants are alive, and although you can always go back to the store to buy more, you can save yourself the heartbreak, trouble, money, and negative environmental impact by testing out your ability to care for them before going all out.

Dracaenas and snake plants are pretty safe bets if you don’t have much time to care for or water your plants. They’re both also quite versatile when it comes to the amount of light they can tolerate.

Be realistic. Just like we have to accept that we need to donate that shirt that hasn’t been worn in months but could be useful “at some point,” we can’t pick our plants based on the level of devotion we think we could give it. In other words, don’t pick your leafy friend if it means you’ll have to adapt to its lifestyle and care needs, or at least not while you’re just beginning. Take it from me, someone who has killed more than one cactus thinking less water meant less maintenance, and then went on to forget to water them altogether.

If you’re the opposite and you tend to give your plants a little too much love, try going for a Chinese evergreen or a Boston fern — they won’t turn yellow when overwatered.

Assess your space. Be wary of where you place your pots. Don’t place a low-water plant in the bathroom, where it will be at the mercy of an overly humid and steamy environment. And if you’re not sure where to put that plant that needs “medium light,” you can do a shade test: wait until noon, when the sun is brightest, and stand around in your house. The more well-defined your shadow, the brighter the light in that area.

With time, you’ll find yourself looking into more advanced (and daunting) aspects of plant-owning, like soil drainage and water acidity. You’ll get there eventually, but just focus on keeping them alive for now.


Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab

The road to happiness is paved with… self-help books?

Is the solution to mental wellness finally here, or is it just another fad?

In the 1980s, a psychological theory became all the rage in North America and started to be implemented in institutions across Canada and the United States. You might be familiar with it; it’s now known as the self-esteem movement.

It was based on The Psychology of Self-Esteem, a book originally published in 1969 by Nathaniel Branden, which essentially explains that the key to happiness and success is to work on building a positive self-image for everyone. As the literature on this topic grew, it caught the attention of Californian legislator John Vasconcellos, who loved the idea so much he started funding initiatives to make it a greater part of his state’s policies.

All of a sudden, schools were giving out participation medals by the handfuls and finding ways to compliment children no matter what. Educators found all sorts of ways of minimizing the concepts of “winner” and “loser” in the activities they organized.

And this went on into the 90s. Today, we know that that was complete nonsense; you can’t tell a kid they’re special and coddle them and expect them to continue breaking down barriers and outdoing themselves in everything they undertake. One day they will step into reality and realize that if everyone is unique, then that means no one is.

This is exactly what has happened as a result of this movement. We now have a generation of people who are struggling with mental health issues and broken expectations because they’ve been conditioned to life in a bubble and now have to live in a world that won’t be telling them they’re amazing and great all the time.

In turn, this has caused a societal fear of making mistakes and a culture that favours dishonesty over the possibility of hurting someone’s feelings.

But, at the time, this clearly seemed like a great idea. Everyone agreed: low self-esteem causes people to take less risks, to isolate themselves, to turn in subpar quality work because they don’t believe they can do better, and in general just kind of sucks.

On the other hand, high self-esteem gives many people a drive to become better, to chase their dreams;… the bottom line is, people who view themselves highly invite others to do the same.

The thing they forgot to mention in this movement, however, is that people need a reason to esteem themselves highly. Phenomenal self-perception paired with a terrible personality and a lack of competence is narcissism at best, and will set anyone up for failure.

The more we learn about psychology, the more we realize how little we know about the human brain. In 1973, psychologist David Rosenhan conducted a study where he sent fake patients to 12 psychiatric hospitals in the United States and told the admitting doctors they heard voices in their heads saying the words “empty,” “hollow,” and “thud” — but apart from that, they told the truth about everything else, including that none of them had a history of mental illness.

They were all admitted to psychiatric hospitals for up to almost eight weeks and all prescribed various medications.

Full disclosure, journalist Susannah Cahalan somewhat debunked this study in 2019. She found many inconsistencies in the story and suspects some of the pseudopatients were made up by Rosenhan.

But nonetheless, the moral of this study remains and has been retested many times thereafter: even highly trained doctors have trouble telling the difference between people who are mentally ill and those who aren’t.

Psychology gets inserted into popular culture all the time. In the 2010s, self-esteem was replaced by its distant cousins, self-care and self-help; by 2017, the global wellness industry was worth US$4.2 trillion.

And now, these ideas of ‘change your life by changing your mindset,’ ‘98 per cent of what you do is caused by your habits,’ and ‘you can do anything you set your mind to’ are seeing a huge surge. The new psychology trend is telling you to take control over your own life because no one’s going to do it for you.

So far, implementing these rules into my life has brought me nothing but positive results and psychological progress. But frankly, I don’t know if this could work for everyone. I don’t know if it’s realistic to tell people that they are responsible for their own success and failure, especially when we start factoring in things like systemic discrimination and wealth inequality around the world.

Could this be the next self-esteem movement? We don’t want to teach people that they can’t do anything and that they won’t be able to achieve their big dreams? Then again, there could be consequences to getting carried away by yet another idealistic method of fixing all of our problems and finally finding happiness.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab

”Not a hate crime”? Or anti-Asian racism denial?

Anti-Asian violence is more than just a few isolated cases

It’s very rare for me to tear up when reading the news — as a journalism student, I have headlines for breakfast and newscasts for snacks. But just last week, I came across a CTV News article that mentioned a man who killed two Asian individuals in September after plowing through them with his car.

This happened in broad daylight. The police asserted that these crimes weren’t racially motivated, that the victims had been hit “at random.” But what really affected me was that these murders occurred blocks away from my mom’s house; a street my sister and I biked on every summer growing up was the site of 50-year-old cyclist Gérard Chong Soon Yuen’s death.

The same day I read this story, I had my mom on the phone. I told her to be careful and not to leave the house unless she absolutely needed to. She told me the same, thinking I was worried about COVID. I wasn’t.

I’ve spoken before about the model minority myth and how its toxicity breeds a culture of indifference towards anti-Asian violence. For decades now, the contrast between the treatment of white and East Asian people hasn’t been stark enough for our society to acknowledge the correlation between crimes against people of our race and the discrimination they face.

This leads to international media outlets shamelessly publishing articles headlined with variations of “Why is anti-Asian racism on the rise in the U.S.?”

But even worse, it causes the police to dismiss acts of violence as isolated incidents instead of facing what they truly are: manifestations of our society’s disbelief in racism, and particularly anti-Asian racism.

What really breaks my heart is this: what do you tell your community after the cops close an investigation into a series of assaults where the victims were all Asian and choose to deliberately ignore the fact that race was the one common tie between all these cases?

South Korean journalist SuChin Pak recently published a detailed account of the time a colleague of hers at MTV said, while watching her present the news in a room full of people, that Pak looked like a “‘me sucky sucky love you long time’ whore.”

For months, she fought to have this man removed, a scary and anxiety-inducing endeavour for a young journalist who wasn’t used to having to stand up to workplace discrimination. She stopped showing up to work and hired a lawyer, yet still faced pushback from the network’s administration, who tried to negotiate and get her to back down.

She didn’t. And after months, she was handed a letter from the man asking her one last time to reconsider.

“One last attempt was made,” she said, “to ask me to swallow my dignity, my identity, my rage to make a white man feel like he was still [okay], loved and respected … I was reminded once again, by the white male executive, that someone’s livelihood was on the line, that I was somehow responsible for that.”

I’m still dumbfounded by the lengths organizations go to protect the egos of people who clearly perpetuate toxic racism in the workplace. And every time, the very individuals who have been made to feel small and alienated are the ones who have to prove they are worthy of basic decency.

What I found especially relatable about Pak’s story is her mention that this experience didn’t make her feel strong or empowered or courageous. The whole time, she was filled with self-doubt and fear; the only thing that kept her going was the feeling that she needed to.

It’s scary to speak up. It’s scary to defend your honour. It’s scary to actively protest racist treatment in a society that gaslights Asian people into thinking they aren’t discriminated against and have no right to call out their oppression.

And it’s not an immediate process. It takes months, years for us to even see a glimmer of change. The Montgomery Bus Boycotts initiated by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give her seat up to a white person lasted 381 days. It took decades until the suffragette movement’s protests bore fruit and granted them the permission to vote, a struggle which dragged on even longer for women of colour.

These are issues that today are seen as blatant violations of human rights. So how long will we have to endure degrading treatment that is invisible to a majority of people? How long until anti-Asian hate crimes are finally considered legitimate enough for police to even consider as motives for violence? How many more Asian people are going to be assaulted and killed at the hands of the “model minority” label and the denial of Asian discrimination?

Changing a whole society’s mindset about race requires constant efforts by those who are negatively impacted by it. It’s tiring, time-consuming, and more importantly a huge privilege to have the education and resources to spend on being an activist — Pak even recognizes how lucky she was to have the leverage and the funds to hire a lawyer and see this battle through.

The white-passing appearance my mixed race heritage has “endowed” upon me hasn’t sheltered me from anti-Asian racism. But the reason I write, speak out, and protest against anti-Asian racism so fervently isn’t because of my personal encounters with it; it’s because I can’t stand knowing that my mom is unsafe in a country she came to with the hope of a better life.


Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab


Off with their heads…? It’s not that simple

Why abolishing the Canadian monarchy is easier said than done

If you haven’t heard from the landslide of articles, memes, and just general chatter on the streets, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry had a long interview with Oprah Winfrey on March 7, where they revealed all the juiciest gossip about the royal family.

Possibly one of the biggest bombshells that was dropped by Markle was the shocking revelation that her husband’s family is… racist.

You would think a family whose entire history is based on marriage with other rich, white royals and whose mandate for centuries was to conquer the lands of non-white people would be accepting and open to other cultures, right?

The other huge revelation was Markle admitting to having had suicidal thoughts because of the anxiety and pressures of royal life. No royal title had been discussed for her when she joined the royal family, her personal belongings were taken away, and her aides were forcing her to stay indoors at all costs — it’s no wonder she and Harry broke away from the family in early 2020.

This interview contributed to a massive decline in the Canadian public’s trust and loyalty to the British Crown. According to an online poll conducted right after the interview aired, 53 per cent of Canadians don’t think the royal family belongs in the makeup of Canadian politics.

That being said, a third of respondents said they think the monarchy should retain its symbolic place, and 26 per cent of Canadians sided with the Crown after hearing about the interview.

Over time, the British monarchy has become more a source of entertainment than a figure of authority in Canada, even though their place in our federal government is still very imposing. Although they’re only really there symbolically, the Governor General and Lieutenant Governors still constitutionally have the power to decide who our next Prime Minister or Premier is going to be, since they represent the Queen, our head of state.

But let’s talk numbers: our contributions to the royal family itself are minimal — it costs about $1.68 per Canadian annually to sustain the monarchy. However, the Privy Council Office, whose councillors are appointed by the Governor General, has a budget of over $140 million. Though its members advise the Prime Minister and help him make decisions, they aren’t democratically elected, and they are meant to represent the Queen in Canada.

The royal family is useless. It takes up a good chunk of our taxes that could go towards other severely underfunded federal activities, like Indigenous affairs or education; it represents an antiquated, classist system; and it doesn’t really have much political power except for its ceremonial roles.

But… the royal family is a whole industry of its own. It’s entertainment, and it generates a lot of revenue: in 2017 alone, it contributed over 1.8 billion pounds to the British economy.

Despite the increasing resentment towards the position the monarchy holds in our government, the truth is that it would be extremely difficult and costly for us to get rid of them. Almost everything in our constitution is tied to the monarchy, and abolishing it would require the Senate, House of Commons, and the governments of each province to vote unanimously on this decision.

Not to mention, it would require us to change our entire government system: instead of a constitutional monarchy, Canada would most likely transition to a republic like in the U.S.

I don’t know about you, but one of the few things I consider less compatible with modern Canadian culture than the monarchy is the implementation of an American political system.

We shouldn’t be constrained to keeping an antiquated and out-of-touch institution like the British monarchy simply because the politics of it would be too difficult. But we also need to be realistic about what can be passed and implemented successfully in a democratic way.

Abolishing the monarchy seems like a dream to many, but it’s a goal that stands so far away from us, even in 2021, that the most we can really wish for is to minimize its presence in our country.



Graphic by Taylor Reddam.

Student Life

It’s a sign of the times: how Canadian universities struggle to adapt to changing times

Universities aren’t keeping up with evolving technologies and calls for diversity

Following my graduation from high school, I was very vocal about how the education I received was too workplace-driven, with a small proportion of material geared towards self-improvement and general culture. I felt that the growing societal awareness of our lack of diversity had fallen on my school administration’s deaf ears.

But in the few months preceding my graduation from Concordia, I’m noticing quite the opposite effect. I find that a divide has been growing between the university’s disconnected attempts at promoting diversity and better inclusion, and its ability to properly prepare us for post-graduation life in a rapidly evolving world.

A friend of mine who studies Design at Concordia recently told me about her frustration with the disconnect between the program’s advocacy for a more diverse design industry and its lack of professors of colour. In many of her classes, she also felt the expectations for her work weren’t on par with the demands of the design market, and that it would be difficult to compete in the arts scene with the portfolio she was building through class assignments.

It seems to be a pattern, from hearing other people’s experiences in the arts programs at this school, that the training it provides focuses on a dissociated idea of the knowledge we will need once we enter the job market.

In my three years studying Journalism, some of the most important topics — how to find work as a freelancer, or writing an invoice, for example — have been presented to us under the form of optional extracurricular talks to leave space for mandatory courses about the basics of photography and writing local crime stories. Furthermore, despite being promised a course on Indigenous reporting since our first semester in Journalism, it still hasn’t been offered three years later.

Throughout the past year, many of my peers have anecdotally told me about their struggles with keeping up with the department’s expectations because we’ve never learned to produce quality content without using expensive softwares and equipment or $2,000 iMacs. In fact, using an iPhone camera was grounds for docking marks in pretty much every photography class we had to take; our professors preferring we borrowed the 2008 DSLRs provided by the school.

Don’t get me wrong, I cherish a lot of the information I took away from my time in both programs I’m enrolled in. But the truth is, Concordia, just like many other Canadian universities, falls short when it comes to adapting fast enough to rapidly changing times.

In 2015, McGill’s School of Medicine was put on probation for, in part, failing to provide their students with proper instruction on women’s health and domestic violence issues. This was despite the fact that there were calls to bring the curriculum up to date with the status of social issues in Canada for years prior to the decision. Yet, even after the faculty went off probation in 2017, many reported an ongoing lack of diversity within the program.

Last semester, Concordia Film Production students wrote a statement demanding their department to address the lack of diversity, and to be held accountable for their responsibility to raise the voices of underrepresented groups.

And just this week, the students at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism issued a public letter calling out its failure to “represent and support its students who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC) and LGBTQ2IA+,” a letter which led to the resignations of the chair and associate chair of the program, Janice Neil and Lisa Taylor.

It’s not a coincidence, it’s a pattern. Canadian universities aren’t equipped to adapt their teaching to the needs of the modern world, just like they aren’t prepared to make the structural changes required by society’s increased sensibility to diversity and social issues.

It’s unbecoming of our schools, which we so often brag about being among the best in the country, to forget about currency and adaptability as part of their commitment to high quality education. Being unable to compete in a technology-reliant, socially aware society isn’t what we thought we were paying tuition for.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab

O Canada… Whose home and native land?

Canada is finally breaking the silence around anti-Asian racism

Ever since I’ve been old enough to recognize patterns of race and gender-based discrimination in society, my mother has denied being a victim of either of those things.

My Taiwanese mother immigrated here over 20 years ago. Single-handedly, after only a few years of living here, she had bought a house and started taking French classes offered by the Quebec government’s immigrant integration services — the fourth language she would be learning after Hokkien, Mandarin, and English.

I’ve witnessed her being talked down to by bureaucrats at government offices and had countless store employees turn to face me to answer a question she had asked, sometimes with a look on their face that was asking me to relate to their deliberate misunderstanding of her Chinese accent. As a teenager, I remember looking at my sister as we drove past someone who had just yelled out a racial slur and commented on our mom’s driving. I’ve never rolled up my window so fast. To this day, I’m still glad she didn’t hear it.

And yet, despite all this, my mom is probably the person I know who is the most optimistic about the social climate of Canada; she’s never let her optimism and gratitude towards the country be clouded by microaggressions and negativity.

I was on exchange in Singapore when COVID first hit, when the western world was busy making coronavirus memes instead of planning ahead for an inevitable pandemic. And one day, on a WhatsApp call with my mom, as I was telling her I was okay and was monitoring my temperature every day, she told me she didn’t want to go out too much because there were increasing reports of anti-Chinese violence in Chinatown. She told me there was a lot of racism around Montreal those days.

To say the least, that made me terrified.

East Asians are often dubbed the “model minority”: they have the benefit of a skin tone fairer than other ethnicities’. Some have even said they don’t fall into the “people of colour” category.

And the stereotypes associated with being East Asian, including academic excellence, obedience, bring really good at martial arts, and eating dogs are frankly not as harmful as being associated with inherent violence, terrorism, and drug addiction.

They also experience discrimination to a lesser degree than other visible minorities; Chinese people in Canada only earn 91 cents for every dollar a white person makes, which is far higher than for, say, Black people, for whom this number is 73 cents.

Yet, the model minority attribution becomes especially toxic when it comes as an excuse to dismiss anti-Asian racism on the belief that Asian people don’t stand up for themselves or fight back. It takes advantage of Asian stereotypes being associated with silence and endurance to double down on bullying, microaggressions, theft, and violence.

In my view, this is why we never heard about anti-Asian hate crimes until the numbers shot up by over 700 per cent in the past year, like the Vancouver Police Department has reported. In Canada alone, community-based groups have reported over 600 cases of racial aggression against Asian people since the start of the spread of COVID-19. In the first four months of 2020, 95 per cent of reported incidents happened in March and April, as the country entered lockdown.

Our generation is pretty good at recognizing and calling out discrimination when we see it, and especially taking a stand against it. But the state of anti-Asian racism in Canada has gotten so bad that even my mother, who has always had so much faith in this country, has noticed and become apprehensive because of it. For a second-generation immigrant, it’s almost worse than seeing your mom cry.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


The kids are not alright: why we need existential crises

How spirituality and mental health intertwine

We’ve heard Premier François Legault say it enough times: implementing secularism in our province’s legal framework was an “important moment” that “doesn’t go against the freedom of religion.”

Whether a state’s democracy rests on its relationship with religion is a debate as old as time. Throughout history, people have gone to war because of the power of religion over the state and over other religions.

This is a contentious issue that no one has an answer to, but one of the expected consequences of secularizing a state is that of having a society that doesn’t think of religion as having an integral role to play in the way our country is run.

Our secular society tells us that it’s unbecoming to talk and think of religion as anything other than a private, individual matter, and that other social aspects of politics should take precedence over it. Legault wasn’t wrong in saying his Bill 21, which banned religious symbols for public workers and mandated that one’s face must not be covered in order to receive some public services, was an “important moment” in Quebec.

Instead of making it a norm to see people practice their religions, we’re pushing people to foster their own religious beliefs within their own homes, on their own, away from their community, which is the complete opposite perspective to how most religions have been structured.

Young people are raised not to think about questions central to religion with as much seriousness as past generations. For some time now, the percentage of the population who are religiously committed has been declining, while the proportion of Canadians who are “spiritually uncertain” or who simply reject spirituality have been escalating. Even those who have faith in religion don’t practice it nearly as much anymore.

On the other hand, our country is going through a mental health crisis, and one which disproportionately affects young people.

We can’t dismiss the downward trend in adherence to faith as being completely disconnected from the rise in mental health issues in the country. The cosmogonic theories and ideologies that religion is so good at starting conversations about, and that science so often leaves open-ended, are quintessential to the human experience.

It’s not a coincidence that every single civilization that has existed has created a system of beliefs to explain where things come from and what the universe is. Since we’ve become sentient and self-aware beings, it’s been a natural instinct of ours to look for answers and to rationalize the world we live in beyond sensory perception.

It’s also no coincidence that all religions have traditions and habits that centre around bringing people together: we know that community is a basic human need. Living beings don’t do well with loneliness; it’s instinctual to want to build relationships with those around us.

It’s not surprising to see the attempts by a government to reduce religions down to something we can leave at home ends up making its population more depressed and less grounded. Our leaders have such a key role to play on culture, and they’re now building one where fraternity and existentialism are considered peripheral to self-reliance and science.

Maybe what we need isn’t a more secularized state but a more spiritual and inclusive one. Human beings weren’t made to let go of their desire to understand the unknowns of the universe.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab


Yes, we need to celebrate Black History Month

It’s not just about slavery and hardships

n February 1926, a week commemorating “Negro History” was launched by American historian Carter G. Woodson, who in his mission to incorporate Black history in school curricula, was also looking to honour the legacies of president Abraham Lincoln and human rights leader Frederick Douglass, both of whom were born in February. Its successor, Black History Month, would be institutionalized across the United States half a century later.

First celebrated in Canada in 1988, Black History Month was then officially recognized nationwide in 1995. In 2007, the Quebec government also adopted this event in the province.

Black History Month isn’t just an important event; it’s a necessary commemoration.

Every year, I log onto Twitter — where else? — and find, within a sea of tweets highlighting the work of Black pioneers, some users’ hot takes about why it’s an unnecessary event. Their argument goes that singling out the Black community in recalling and calling attention to their history contributes to keeping them in the past and holding their identities tied to a past of enslavement.

Many also have had qualms with Black History Month because it’s a celebration of a certain group of people. You’ve probably heard someone at some point say, “But what about white history month? Or Asian history month?”

Yes, what about them?

Celebrating a specific group of people, and especially providing them with tools to overcome and make up for the institutional problems that have caused many to fall behind compared to their white counterparts, is one of the main purposes of Black History Month.

These arguments have some merit, and I’m saying this so as not to completely discredit the opinion of those who see things such as affirmative action and “preferential treatment” as another dividing factor between the multiple ethnicities in our societies.

But shining a spotlight on an issue doesn’t mean we’re putting all other ones in the dark.

It’s true that in an idyllic world, diversity hires and ethnicity quotas in schools and workplaces wouldn’t be necessary, and that making use of these methods of race-based professional considerations would contravene the meritocratic process.

Still, racism is a very real social issue in our societies, and it’s no secret that Black and Indigenous people are bearing the brunt of it.

Of course the goal of Black History Month isn’t to further the association of Black people with slavery. But by associating Black History Month as being solely about slavery and a past paved with subjugation is also reducing the richness of Black culture to their role in Western history.

For the record, Africa was a continent long before the slave trade began, and we’re getting closer to the two century mark since its abolition. Ignoring the achievements made by Black people and the Black community in North America throughout the 20th and 21st centuries is more distracting to the movement for racial equality than preaching silence.

Highlighting certain parts of history and pointing out their flaws also doesn’t mean we’re trying to remain in that place, on the contrary. How are we supposed to learn from our mistakes if we keep trying to distance ourselves from them?

And as we’ve seen throughout Canadian history and into the past year as the Black Lives Matter movement was reignited, our country is far from the point where we can say affirmative action is causing an unfair advantage for people of colour.

If you don’t want to learn about Black history or about anti-Black racism, consider examining why. But know what mindset you’re feeding into and how it’s helping the causes you support — and beyond everything, if you don’t have anything nice to say … don’t say anything.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

GameStock: the digital revolt of the Third Estate

What are we investing in next?

Scrap New Year’s resolutions, I’m starting a new February resolution: getting financial advice from r/WallStreetBets.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard the havoc that Redditors have wreaked on the fortune of some hedge fund owners over the past week. The David and Goliath metaphor has been frequently used to describe small investors’ move to purchase GameStop (GME) stocks in hopes of taking down companies like Melvin Capital, who has lost $4.5 billion since the beginning of the month.

There has been pushback on both sides, with some saying this is just more evidence that short selling should be considered illegal, while others think rallying hordes of people to pump up the price of a stock should be considered ‘market manipulation’, which is already illegal.

What stands out to me the most in this whole fiasco is the sheer magnitude of what a group of people were able to accomplish with just their phones and a good Wi-Fi connection. 

We’re at a point in the digital era where internet users are understanding the power of public forums. Instead of being used for just individual support, these platforms are now able to reach and rally enough people to topple billion dollar hedge funds.

The internet is still in its stage of infancy; it’s still new to the world and has only recently become understood as a powerful voice for the common people. The Arab Spring in the early 2010s showed how social media could be used to carry and spread a political message more effectively than ever before.

And beyond being used as a way to round up support for a political cause, more and more people are making various types of media primary didactic tools. Recently, platforms like TikTok and Reddit have increasingly shifted into a go-to place for expert advice about anything, from legal counseling to, well, stock market investment advice.

We’ve first used the internet as a way to fast-track globalization, in connecting people from all over the world. Now that this concept is firmly anchored into our lives, online spaces are transforming into democratizing tools. 

We’re seeing a growing focus on bringing people’s strengths together to overcome others’ weaknesses and empower the ‘small guys’. The phrase “Twitter/TikTok, do your thing” to bring attention to an issue or a cause has become common on both platforms.

The soaring stock prices brought along by Redditors is more evidence of an internet revolution. Individuals mobilizing to take down Goliath-like organizations is nothing new, but it’s never been so easy to find advocates for a cause, let alone to incite action on it.

GameStop investors have begun chasing after other stocks targeted by short sellers, now attempting to short squeeze the silver trade. 

This has never happened before. Economists are uncertain what happens after a takeover like this, all possible outcomes for hedge funds and shareholders are hypothetical. But inspired by the principle behind what we’ve seen with GME, I predict more such gatherings are going to take place throughout 2021.

In the meantime, you can catch me scrolling through my newly downloaded Reddit app seeking stock symbols to invest in next.



Graphic by Taylor Reddam.


Decrypting crypto art: The new art movement on the block(chain)

How lucrative the rare pepe-making market is becoming

In November 2017, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi was sold at Christie’s, the biggest auction house in the world, for US$450.3 million. In October 2020, Satoshi Nakamoto’s Block 21 was sold at Christie’s for $131,250.

The former is the most expensive piece of art in the world. The second is the first piece of crypto art to ever be sold at a major auction house.

Cryptocurrencies have been having their moment for a while, with the 2018 Bitcoin mania (which, by the way, was created by the person under the alias of  Satoshi Nakamoto) and the recent rumours that it could replace paper money once central banks inevitably crash due to the pandemic. And because, of course, it wouldn’t be the internet without the idiosyncratic evolution of an underground subculture, there’s now also an increasing presence of crypto art in the crypto community.

I hear you asking: “What the hell is crypto art?”

Crypto art is a new movement that allows people to create digital art while guaranteeing official ownership of the piece with what crypto fiends call an NFT.

NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token, which means something that is certified unique; it’s irreplaceable, which gives it a certain amount of intrinsic value. Since most online art can be replicated à volonté by just about anyone, making a piece of digital art an NFT, where the copyrights and ownership details would be stored on a cryptocurrency’s blockchain, would give it the same amount of rarity as a physical piece of art like da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi.

The art can still be replicated, but only the person who has the token — the artist’s cyber signature on the piece, essentially — really owns it.

NFTs can have many forms. They can be specific pieces of artwork just like they can be collectible characters and games, like CryptoPunks — a bunch of punk characters that you can buy using Ether, a cryptocurrency— and CryptoKitties, which is kind of like Nintendogs, but with a digital cat that has a unique NFT genetic code and that you can breed with other cats to make another unique kitty.

Another use for crypto art is what is called cold storage: some crypto art pieces are available as physical prints that feature a QR code, which Bitcoin users can then use to store their Bitcoin outside their crypto wallet. Since they’re transferring funds onto a physical, two-dimensional object — which therefore can’t be hacked into — the art print then acts like a safety deposit box at a bank.

For the most part, crypto artworks can run anywhere from $50 to $500,000. But it’s difficult to follow the value of these pieces because the value of cryptocurrencies changes so much, and there are so many sources claiming different values for the most expensive pieces of crypto art.

So far, a crypto photo of a rose, sold for $1 million, is said to be the most expensive piece of crypto art out there. As a fast-paced business, it’s estimated the crypto art market is worth well over $128 million, and it expanded by $8.2 million in December 2020 alone.

Some are seeing this as a counterculture movement against the traditional art world, which has come to embody elitism and luxury. Where museums, art buyers, and the like are deciding which types of art and which artists will be put under the spotlight, the internet is able to democratize the industry and give small artists the support and recognition they deserve. The web is also home to a wealth of different styles and themes of art.

Now crypto art is all fun and games, but this is the internet we’re talking about, and on the internet people just have to make things weird. Enter the Rare Pepe Directory.

The Directory is a panel of “experts” who work to verify and approve user-submitted Rare Pepe artworks (which act and look similar to trading cards). They have a list of specific criteria to consider any submission, like dimension specifications and how many shares it must have had, to confirm the Pepe before their eyes is indeed rare. If approved, the new Pepe can then be bought and traded as an NFT.

As far as I know, there aren’t really any practical uses to crypto art. But the concept has been questioned by many as just another way for internet users to launder money more effectively. After all, the world of fine art is already used as a way to clean dirty money and tax evade through under-the-table payments and over appraisals; creating an art industry based on decentralized, anonymous payments seems like an obvious next step for the elite of the blockchain.

The rise in popularity and value of intangible art starts an important conversation about the reasons why we care about art in the first place. Salvator Mundi’s exorbitant price denotes the scarcity of original Leonardo da Vinci pieces, but what difference does it make when it’s possible to scrutinize the piece and enjoy it just as much as a JPEG file? Are we about to see higher and higher price records from digital pieces?

Most importantly, crypto art, as a prediction of what the future of art looks like, is an indicator that the barriers of entry to the art world have reached a tipping point. Just as we’re seeing in the rest of the digital world, the 99 per cent is taking art back from those who have capitalized on its captivity.


Photo collage by Kit Mergaert

The costly ticket to Gold Mountain

Yet another racist chapter in Canada’s history

Do you ever get carried away in random rabbit holes and spend hours looking things up online? Me too. Here’s my latest one (and the one that has made me frown the most in weeks): the Chinese Head Tax and Chinese Immigration Act.

It all started when I watched In the Shadow of Gold Mountain, a documentary created in 2004 by filmmaker Karen Cho for the National Film Board. It follows the director’s journey across the country to interview survivors of the Chinese Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act and their descendants, while unpacking the historical context behind both of these policies.

The 19th century was a chaotic one in China. The Qing dynasty was faltering under Western military pressure and internal turmoil: circumstances like the start of the Opium Wars in 1839 and the eruption of the 14-year-long Taiping Rebellion in 1850 triggered an exodus from the region, a movement which was compounded by the buzz surrounding the discovery of gold in North America.

Hopeful travelers flocked to British Columbia in 1858, determined to find a better life in ‘Gold Mountain,’ a nickname for Canada that, for decades, became synonymous with opportunity.

The Chinese Head Tax was implemented in 1885, when the Canadian Pacific Railway had been completed and Canada no longer needed Chinese labour. Starting at $50, or just over $2,200 in today’s currency, the price for a ticket to Gold Mountain got steeper and steeper as the government tried to preclude Chinese migration into the country. By 1903, the tax had been brought up to $500, equivalent to over $11,000 today, and accounted for two years of a labourer’s salary.

This exorbitant sum still didn’t grant Chinese migrants citizenship, and between 1910 and 1953, travelers were issued a CI 9 certificate, a document that proved they had paid their entry fee into the country. Authorities could ask to verify this certificate at any moment, requiring migrants to carry it on them at all times.

From collecting the head tax of around 82,000 Chinese migrants, the federal government amassed around $23 million, or just over half a billion dollars when adjusted for inflation today.

On Canada Day, 1923, when the tax failed to keep Chinese people out of Canada, the Chinese Immigration Act was passed, officially barring them from entering the country. The bill was officially repealed in 1947, a victory accredited by some to the enrollment of about 1,000 Chinese migrants into the Canadian military during both World Wars.

Anti-Chinese discrimination was rife throughout the country, which prompted the diaspora to gather into ghettos known as ‘Chinatowns’. Even after 1947, family reunification was the main motive for allowing Chinese travelers to Canada.

When In the Shadow of Gold Mountain was made, the Chinese community was still seeking reparations from the government for those who paid the head tax and their families. In 2006, Stephen Harper’s newly elected government extended a formal apology to the community and compensation for the 20 remaining survivors of the head tax.

The discriminatory policies that peppered Canada’s justice system throughout the 20th century — and that, arguably, continue to this day — were always somewhat skimmed through in our school curricula growing up. The racist reactions surrounding COVID-19 and the memes made out of them while the virus was still regional to east and southeast Asia — and it wasn’t the world’s problem yet — probably won’t make it into the history books. I’ll concede that high school classes are too short to learn about every important piece of Canadian history; and that’s what rabbit holes are for.


Photo collage by Kit Mergaert


100 seconds to midnight

What does the Capitol Hill siege mean for us?

It’s 100 seconds to midnight. Last year, the symbolic Doomsday Clock assessed that we are closer to a global man-made catastrophe than ever since the clock’s creation in 1947. The decision was made on account of the climate emergency, rising nuclear tensions, growing distrust in governments all around the world, weaponization of technology… and all this before the whirlwind that was 2020.

The evening of Jan. 6 saw “As a Canadian” trending on Twitter, as so many of us bemocked America’s fate, yet again turning a blind eye to our own run-ins with white supremacy in favour of our ‘it’s not as bad here’ façade. All of a sudden, we forgot that the founder of the Proud Boys is a Canadian man, or that there was a group of Montrealers who organized to participate in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

So let’s get this straight: the civil unrest in the US is especially concerning to us as Canadians.

Civil wars are started when a population loses trust in its government, and feels strongly enough that their issues can’t be solved by other means than organizing and taking arms. Statistically, poorer countries are more at risk of entering wars because of their inability to improve the economy, and financial and political inequality also often spark conflict.

Far-right groups have invented all kinds of conspiracies to discredit the media, Democrats, and basically anyone who doesn’t worship Donald Trump. They believe he’s the only one who can properly handle the American economy and save them from the looming threat that is socialism. They have expressed their anger at the dilution of (white) American culture through the apparent invasion of immigrants.

From what we’ve witnessed through their behaviour in recent years, which culminated with the attack on the Capitol, these far-right groups have shown that they aren’t scared — and are in fact proud — to take arms and uphold their views through violence.

On the left, the increasingly vocal contenders for the Black Lives Matter movement have shown their persistence to take to the streets and protest — rain or shine, through tear gas and pandemic. Left-wing groups have also demanded universal healthcare, erasure of student debt, more money towards climate action, and defunding the police and the army in the last few months.

Though I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist, this seems to me a clear recipe for civil war.

Our economy, national security, military strength, foreign relations, everything down to the results of our elections depend on how the United States is feeling. There’s a reason people say “When America sneezes, Canada catches cold.” Nine days after Trump was sworn in as president, six Quebecers were killed in a Sainte-Foy mosque, a clear message that we haven’t been able to escape Trump’s anti-Islam rhetoric.

Many have also wondered how Justin Trudeau will be expected to handle this. Will officially recognizing the Proud Boys as a terrorist group give the federal government reason to increase our military budget? As political unrest becomes inevitably more violent in the US, will it allow our federal government to take preventive, but invasive measures like increased surveillance and armed law enforcement?

For the past two years, I’ve been saying that I predict a civil war in the United States by 2025, and that I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen in the next three years. I think this is the most sinister ‘I told you so’ moment I’ll ever have.


Feature graphic by James Fay @jamesfaydraws

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