9.29.2014

keith olbermann: derek jeter is not god. (a must-see!)

Dog, I am a glad this baseball season is over. And not only because the Red Sox finished in last place.


9.28.2014

we like lists: list # 20: top ten reasons we love our favourite cult show or movie (updated with less cult!)

For those who want the question with no context: Do you love a cult show or movie? What movie and why? List at least 10 reasons.

Update! Judging by comments, this list will be more fun if we omit one word and get a bit more specific. So here it is again.

Do you love a TV show or movie that is not (or was not) a huge mainstream hit? Which one and why?

(Better now?)

* * * *

Further to my longstanding tradition of watching TV shows and movies years - or even decades - after they first run, I have just completed Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (What can I say? TV was not important to me in the 1990s!) One of my TV gurus, the famous NFC, is a big Buffy fan, and after hearing the show mentioned several times, it was time for me to check it out.

I enjoyed S1 enough to continue watching, with the understanding that a first season often just lays the groundwork. In other words, I liked it, but I'm hoping and assuming that the show will develop into something more than what I've seen so far.

Watching Buffy TVS has made me think about another show, perhaps my very favourite television show: Xena the Warrior Princess.

When we were preparing to leave New York and move to Canada, I used to catch random episodes of Xena re-runs on a minor cable channel. After spending the day writing, it was the perfect mix - fun, absorbing, but not overly challenging. Before I knew it, I was hooked. But I had never seen the whole show, in order...

...until Allan surprised with me with one his amazing birthday presents: first a bootlegged copy of the series on DVD, then an upgrade to this beautiful 10th anniversary special edition boxed set. It even included a miniature dagger, the kind Gabrielle used to whip around.

Now, of course, the series is available on Netflix, but in those days there was no Netflix in Canada, and the opportunity to watch the entire series in order was pure heaven.

Buffy predates Xena by two years, and so far at least, the two shows have a very similar vibe: strongest female lead character, female sidekick, goofy male third wheel, goofy humour, cheesy special effects. (I've also discovered that two of my FB friends also love Xena. Don't you love when that happens?)

So watching Buffy S1 has made me think about why Xena is so special for me. And hey, it's a list!

Do you love a cult show? Or if you're into a lot of cult shows, what's your favourite? Why do you love it? List at least 10 reasons.

Top ten reasons I love "Xena: the Warrior Princess" (not in order) !

1. Mythology. The series moves through the myths and legends of all different cultures: ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese, Hindu, Christian, Norse, and so on. I love mythology, and I love how the myths are adapted and presented in the show.

2. Scenery. Since Xena and Gabrielle are always traveling, the show often has an epic sweep, set in many different terrains. Filmed in New Zealand, the show is sometimes gorgeously cinematic.

3. Cheesy special effects. What can I say? I'm the girl who prefers the Gorn to any more modern sci-fi.


4. Philosophy. What is the nature of good and evil? Can benevolent acts in the present compensate for past abuses of power, or have humans invented that idea for our own comfort? Can good ends justify violent means, or does violence always lead to more violence? Can a commitment to nonviolence bring about change, on its own? What is love? What is mortality? All this and more!

5. Bisexuality. Xena and Gabrielle are life partners, bound in body, spirit, and soul. They have both also loved men, and have recurring relationships with men in their lives. Not a problem.

6. Polyamory. Xena and Gabrielle love each other, and they love other people. Also not a problem. It's not about competition. People are complex, and different relationships satisfy different needs and desires.
I always thought Argo made a better
third than Joxer.

7. The fighting! How will Xena battle these 50 heavily armed but intellectually and morally inferior men? The mandatory group fight scenes in every episode are more choreography than violence.

8. Humour. Cheesy special effects and cheesy humour. They go together like... Xena and Gabrielle.

9. Xena. Lucy Lawless' character is just so freakin' awesome. I want to be her. Isn't that what fantasy - to some extent - is all about?

The obligatory bath scene
10. Gabrielle. I said this list wasn't in order, but hmm, is that true? I have always had a mad crush on Gabrielle. Having discovered the series in random re-runs, I first saw her like this, and was smitten. I didn't know she originally looked like this! When I watched the show in order for the first time (on DVD), I was waiting for The Haircut.

Your turn!

9.27.2014

do canadians support a war against isis? not so much.

When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, Canadians protested in huge numbers, adding their voices to the unprecedented global outcry against the "pre-emptive" war. It was that massive public support - almost statistical unanimity - that allowed Jean Chretien to keep Canadian Forces out of the war. Even Stephen Harper, who as Opposition Leader was as gung-ho as any Connecticut Cowboy, has since admitted that the war was "absolutely an error". What's more, even most USians now agree that other countries, such as Canada, were right to not support the invasion.

Now, we're told, it's different. ISIS, we're told, is an evil so great that only a war can stop it. It's déjà vu all over again. The mainstream media would have us think that every right-thinking Canadian is behind this war. Are they?

A recent Angus Reid poll showed that "two-thirds of Canadians support some involvement in American-led action against ISIS," but digging deeper reveals Canadians are less than keen. First, there is a distinction between “military advisors” (38% support) and “military intervention” (28%). An Abacus Data poll turned up 54% in support of "sending Canadian special forces to serve as military advisors to Kurdish forces who are fighting in Iraq to stop ISIS”, but only 16% responded that they "strongly support" sending advisors.

In a Forum Research Poll, those who think Canada has strategic interests in Iraq, and those who also think “these strategic or national interests” are “worth sustaining Canadian casualties” amount to an underwhelming 17%.

In the Abacus Data poll, 52% support "the hypothetical situation of Canada sending jet fighters to Iraq to help American efforts there", while 34% are opposed. Yet only 45% agree with “what prime minster Stephen Harper is saying or doing with respect to the role of Canadian military forces in combating Islamic terrorism"; 32% disagree, and 24% have no opinion. I don't read this as overwhelming approval. I read it as ambivalence, at most. And that's with the current scaremongering hard sell.

It's reasonable to imagine that the longer Canada's military involvement in Iraq continues, the less palatable Canadians will find it. Once again, I bring you former prime minister Jean Chretien to read the situation for us. When he said Canada was "all in" in Iraq, he wasn't praising Harper.
"They are part of it. It is a done deal. They said yes to the coalition and they sent soldiers," Chrétien told Evan Solomon on CBC Radio's The House, referring to the Harper government's decision. . . . "I hope they did not make a mistake. They are part of it. You know, I find it a bit unusual that they are part of it and then they say we're not quite part of it," he said.

"The other side knows we are part of it. Of course if they refuse to act, the partners will say you are not keeping your word," Chrétien said. "You cannot be a little bit in it. You're in it or out."

"You have only to [look at] the way the Americans got involved in Vietnam. They started with a few advisers," he said.

9.23.2014

"bogus" refugees and queue-jumping: stephen harper's campaign against a compassionate canada

Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946
Unpacking how this happens, and in how many ways, is our life's work. It's a topic that must be repeatedly trotted out against as a bulwark against the powerful forces that shape our world.

Right now the War Resisters Support Campaign is facing a huge crisis. A spate of war resisters have received notices that decisions are imminent in their cases. At least one person has received a date for removal. In most cases, these people have heard nothing in their cases for years. Then suddenly, everyone gets notices at the same time. Remember, refugee claims are supposed to be examined individually by an independent, non-partisan body.

Could it be that, as Harper prepares to lead Canada down the slippery slope into the newest war in Iraq, the truths told by these war resisters are just a bit too inconvenient? Does Harper need to squelch the voices that can warn the country back to its senses?

As I think about my war resister friends - people of conscience who refused complicity in destruction, torture, and murder - I think about the many ways the Harper Government, often in the person of Jason Kenney, twisted the truth about them into lies, using language as their weapon.

These linguistic sleights of hand apply not only to the US Iraq War resisters, but to all refugee claimants. Most Canadians want to believe their country is compassionate and fair. If the government flatly said, "We don't want refugees here, go back where you came from," it wouldn't play too well. Instead, the road to creating a less compassionate country is paved with lies that discredit the people who need to stay.

Three phrases spring to mind.

"Bogus refugees". Time and again, Jason Kenney characterized US war resisters as "bogus refugees". He used this terminology to sell huge changes to the Canada's refugee policies: among other things, the fast-track system that automatically rejects claimaints from certain countries that the government deems safe. In addition to US war resisters, Roma people and people from Mexico have repeatedly been characterized as "bogus" refugee claimants.

According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition, bogus means "counterfeit, sham, fake".

In other words, according to Jason Kenney, refugee claimants whose claims are rejected are liars. They are fabricating and exaggerating in order to claim refugee status.

The Immigration and Refugee Board can reject refugee claims for a wide variety of reasons, but a rejected claim does not imply untruths or exaggerations. I have read and transcribed several war resister refugee cases. The refugee board and the courts have upheld every one of them as credible witnesses. Not one of them was ever challenged on the basis of fact. Many of their cases document high praise from the Court or IRB Member for the honesty and integrity of their testimony.

"Clogging up the courts," and "the courts are indulging claimants in reviews and hearings."

In a democracy, this is called due process. We want to live in a country where people cannot be turfed from their homes, lose their health care, sent to prison, or sent to persecution without due process. Due process means having the facts of your case, from your point of view, heard by a court or tribunal with the power to mitigate the outcome.

We know that due process, in reality, often depends on how much money or political connections one has. We know that due process is not equal for all people. But we don't want to live in a country without due process. And we don't want due process to be characterized as an indulgence or a drain on the system. Due process is why the system exists!

"Jumping the queue." There is no queue for refugees. Refugees, by definition, flee their countries of origin under difficult, often life-threatening circumstances. For a while we were told there was a huge backlog of refugee cases awaiting review. This was a direct result of an IRB starved for resources and appointments. In other words, Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney created the backlog, then used the backlog as an excuse to turf refugees.

*  *  *  *

Canadians seldom hear about it, but thousands of refugee claimants have been deported, often without due process. They simply disappear. Sometimes we hear that they have been killed. Sometimes we hear they have been unjustly imprisoned. But mostly we never heard about them in the first place.

In fact, the compassionate Canada that most Canadians dream of, "has been a pioneer in repelling refugee claimants from its shores".
The xenophobic rhetoric of Europe’s far-right parties seems to have seeped into refugee policies worldwide as countries struggle with the uncertainties of a growing international refugee crisis.

“The introduction of harsh anti-asylum measures frequently triggers similar actions in other states and ‘a race to the bottom’ that threatens to strip all refugees of their hope for safety,” says Peter Showler, a former chairman of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board.

“Asylum policies seem to migrate across borders with notably greater ease than asylum seekers themselves,” quips Audrey Macklin, a human rights and refugee law expert at the University of Toronto.

Canada has been a pioneer in repelling refugee claimants from its shores. Since 1989, the immigration ministry has had a special “liaison officer program” that now deploys 63 officials in 49 locations worldwide to intercept suspicious travellers, monitor human smuggling rings and train foreign airlines and shipping companies to look for improperly documented passengers.

Like many other countries, Canada restricts access to its borders by imposing visa restrictions on “refugee-producing countries,” intercepting boats on the high seas such as the Ocean Lady and imposing stiff penalties on marine and air carriers that transport improperly documented migrants.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Canada has also moved to integrate its security institutions with those of the United States, conducting joint threat assessments, pooling immigration intelligence, improving and expanding joint border patrols and developing a joint entry and exit verification system to track foreign travellers throughout North America.

The overall impact has been to make it harder for refugees and asylum seekers to come to Canada. That, in turn, may actually encourage human smuggling by raising the demand for and profits of smugglers.
For more on how the Harper Government has dismantled Canada's refugee system, may I recommend re-reading a post of mine from 2011: stephen harper dismantles canada's refugee system; jason kenney attacks canadian democracy. I was going to quote from it, but I'd end up quoting almost the whole thing. Instead, please go and read it.

*  *  *  *

I will post this link again, but if you want to help keep US war resisters in Canada, you can donate here. All amounts, no matter how modest, are very welcome.

9.21.2014

will canada become a country continually at war? or, stephen harper gets his wish in iraq

I had been living in Canada but a few short months when Stephen Harper, as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, formed his first minority government. At the time, this blog hosted an active and lively ongoing discussion about Canadian culture and politics, and my personal acculturation. I did not like Harper or his Conservatives, but I balked at what I saw as hyperbole from certain progressive people: Harper will turn Canada into the United States. I felt the two countries were different enough to make that particular magic trick impossible.

Now, almost ten years later, at least a portion of my friends' dire prophesy seems at the verge of coming true: Canada is becoming a country continually at war.

It's safe to say that during my lifetime, the United States has been continually at war.* North of the border, the view is different in scale, but is it different in kind?

As Prime Minister Harper prepares to send Canadian Forces into Iraq, we should look at Canada's recent history. Canada's "mission" in Afghanistan - never a war, merely a mission, implying a distinct purpose and goal, and a clear end-date - was slated to end in 2007. Harper extended Canada's military presence in Afghanistan three times, for a total of seven years, each time after claiming there would be no extension.

Now Harper claims that Canadian troops will be in Iraq only 30 days, and that the "mission" won’t expand. We have no reason to trust him, and so many reasons to not.

The Liberal Party of Canada, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, has tossed aside the legacy of Jean Chrétien, who listened to the mass protests across Canada and around the world, and said no to Canada's military involvement in Iraq. Now, the former prime minister warns:
"The other side knows we are part of it. Of course if they refuse to act, the partners will say you are not keeping your word," Chrétien said. "You cannot be a little bit in it. You're in it or out."

Chrétien, while saying he didn't want to comment on the prime minister's decision, drew a comparison to the American war in Vietnam, which also started by sending in military advisers.

"You have only to [look at] the way the Americans got involved in Vietnam. They started with a few advisers," he said.
It seems that the Liberals, while styling themselves as progressive on reproductive rights and marijuana, doesn't have the courage to take a stand against military action and risk the inevitable taunts. (Remember "Taliban Jack"? People caught on... too late.)

The NDP is the only party of the major three who opposes Canada's military involvement in the latest US war. It's a wise, shrewd move for them, and a relief to progressive people, like myself, who have been having a difficult time supporting the party under Mulcair.

Canada is on the brink of a long, costly, deadly foreign war, and neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals feel the matter is even worth debating. As Mulcair said, referring to Harper, “This is the same person who, in 2003, wanted Canada to be involved in Iraq. He is finally getting his wish.”

Canadians, don't be fooled by rhetoric about protecting people from ISIS. Canada is marching in lockstep with the US military. And they're not bringing humanitarian aid.

Tell Stephen Harper you don't want Canada's military in Iraq: sign this petition and contact your MP.


* The US has been at war, continuously, for my entire life. Whether the military involvements were officially declared wars by Congress makes little difference: the Korean War and the Vietnam War were not official wars. In 1961, the year I was born, the US was already at war in Vietnam, though few Americans knew it. Since then, the US has had major military actions in: Laos, Cambodia, Congo, Panama, Grenada, El Salvador, Libya, Lebanon, Honduras, Chad, Bolivia, Colombia, Iran, Kuwait, Zaire, Sierra Leone, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, Haiti, Yemen, Afghanistan, Philippines, Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Mali, Uganda, Syria, and Iraq. This is a partial list, and many of these countries can be counted multiple times.

9.19.2014

sexism, magic, and pre-famous cameos: watching "bewitched" on netflix

The best use of TV, for me, is as a sleep aid. But I never thought I'd revisit comedies from my early childhood.


I've watched a bit of comedy in bed, while ready for sleep, for my entire adult life, and quite a few years before that. Tuning in to something funny has always helped me tune out the pressures of the day. Like many people who have struggled with insomnia, I have strict rules about what I can and can't read, see, or talk about before sleep. TV comedy is the perfect sleep prep.

But only certain comedies work, and there are so many that I don't like. Depending on what re-runs are available or what cable package we had, I sometimes had to schedule my bedtime around TV schedules! Kind of crazy.

Streaming Netflix via Roku has been the perfect solution. I'm guaranteed something funny to watch every night, whenever I want, and in order: insomnia meets OCD. Plus I can watch 10 minutes and conk out - taking three nights to finish one episode - or watch three episodes if that's what it takes. I've burned through so many comedies on Netflix - I'll fill in the history below - that I had to get creative about what might qualify. When I saw Bewitched was available, I gave it a try.

It's funnier than I remembered, and not as offensively sexist as I expected. Sure, Samantha is referred to as "just a housewife" - not a homemaker or a stay-at-home mom, but a woman married to a house - and she spends all her time cooking, cleaning, or shopping. And sure, her only desires are to love and please her man, and to support him in all his manly endeavours.

But she's not the only woman in the show. There are the secretaries, of course, respectfully referred to as Miss So-and-so. And there are female executives, too, and they're not always played for laughs. Gladys Kravitz is a harebrained gossip, but her husband isn't much better. And of course, there's Endora.

Agnes Moorehead's most famous role, as the foil to Darrin Stephens, turns out to be funnier - and more complex - than I remembered it, too. Endora loves to flaunt her power, and only her love for Samantha keeps her in check (and Darrin in human form). There's sexism in the stereotype of the meddling mother-in-law, but more often than not, Darrin is getting his comeuppance for his weaknesses: for not trusting Sam, for jumping to conclusions, or for his own hubris, in thinking he might be stronger than Endora. In a feminist reading of Bewitched, Endora is a woman at the height of her power, and although she has to exist outside the normal sphere, she is free and nearly unstoppable.

Samantha herself, try as she might, cannot shoehorn herself into the housewife role. This is not portrayed as her own failing, but as the silliness of a husband who is too uptight or insecure or conservative to enjoy his mate's talents. I expected Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha to be another version of Barbara Eden's Jeannie: a powerful woman trapped in a gilded cage, always trying to please her Master. I was wrong. Samantha Stephens is intelligent, confident, dignified, and playful. She might have promised Darrin not to use her witchly powers, but when she gives in, she's right, and he looks ridiculous.

Perhaps the most fun thing about watching Bewitched is a parade of guest appearances by people who would later become famous. Paul Lynde was famously Uncle Albert, but I didn't know that he appeared first as a nervous driving instructor, so flamboyantly Lynde that he was actually toned down by half as the uncle. So far, in addition to Lynde, I've seen Maureen McCormick, who would later be Marcia Brady, Eve Arden, Raquel Welch, Vic Tayback, Arte Johnson, June Lockhart, James Doohan, and the biggest future star so far, Richard Dreyfuss, who didn't even rate special guest billing. Scrolling through Bewitched's IMDb entry, I see several to come, including an uncredited turn by my favourite voice, June Foray as baby Darrin.

* * * *

I am always looking for more comedy. So if you've got a hidden gem to recommend, please do! Just don't be offended if I try it and don't like it. Comedy is funny that way.

Past pre-sleep-comedy has included The Simpsons (completely random and out of order), Futurama, Family Guy, American Dad (first two seasons only), and King of the Hill. Eons before that were Seinfeld, Mad About You (shout-out to Murray, my favourite TV dog), The Honeymooners (one of the funniest comedies of all time, and I've seen every episode a dozen times or more), The Dick van Dyke Show (Nick at Night), and the occasional Frasier.

So far on Netflix I've burned through The Office (US), Malcolm in the Middle (greatest sitcom ever), Community (Netflix ends in the middle of a season!), Parks & Recreation (until it stopped being funny for me), and Brooklyn 9-9. I'm loving Shameless (UK only) but it's not pure comedy, and often not right for bedtime. Allan and I watched Episodes together, and are now watching BoJack Horseman. So those don't count.

I am waiting and hoping for Netflix to get: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the original Bob Newhart Show, M*A*S*H, and Barney Miller.

9.11.2014

it's september and u.s. war resisters in canada are at risk for deportation

Two years ago, almost to the day, US war resister Kimberly Rivera and her family were forced out of Canada by the Harper Government. Kim - peace activist, artist, mother, dreamer - crossed the border and was immediately taken away in handcuffs. She served more than a year in prison, separated from her husband and children. Her crime: refusing to kill innocent civilians in Iraq, and refusing to risk being killed and leaving her own children without a mother. When news of her removal from Canada was announced in Canada's House of Commons, the Conservative MPs applauded.

Now it is September again, and again US war resisters in Canada are at risk for deportation. People who have lived in Canada a long time, made a life here, people with jobs and families and roots, may be thrown out of the country.

The Harper Government wants to do the bidding of the United States. Stephen Harper may finally get his wish - what he was denied in 2003 - and get to send Canadian troops into Iraq. And he doesn't want these truth-tellers around to testify to the harsh reality: that the US's 2003 invasion, destruction, and occupation of Iraq caused the horrors that are going on there now. Because the truth is, if the US and Canada wanted to help the people under siege in Iraq, they wouldn't be doing it with bombs.

Here we go again? Apparently the majority of Americans now believe there are ISIS sleeper cells in the US and overwhelmingly support military action. Glenn Greenwald asks:
How long will we have to wait for the poll finding that most Americans “regret” having supported this new war in Iraq and Syria and view it as a “mistake”, as they prepare, in a frenzy of manufactured fear, to support the next proposed war?
Meanwhile, my friends - who refused to make war, who have risked so much for peace - may be forced to leave Canada. If that happens, they will be jailed in the United States. They will have criminal records that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Because they refused to participate in an illegal war against a cilivian population.

If you can help, please donate here. If there's more you can do, I will let you know!