The Blue Jays sure have been hurting the Red Sox in this series. We were psyched for last night's game, with Josh Beckett on the mound, but he didn't have his stuff, and the Jays took batting practice off him. But the Skydome roof was open, it was a warm, breezy night, the Jays fans were a little livelier than usual, and we had a good time.

With the Sox losing in the 7th inning, unable to hit Jays closer BJ Ryan, we actually left early - unheard of for us - to make our GO train. We had been up very late the night before - and sick with hangovers in the morning - and the thought of just missing a train and spending an hour in Union Station was ghastly. A good decision. An hour later, when we were about to go to sleep, the game was just ending, Blue Jays 8, Red Sox 5.

Blue Jays fans must have gotten sick of Red Sox fans turning Skydome into Fenway North whenever the Sox are in Toronto. Jays fans were present and accounted for yesterday, and many abandoned their reputations for being polite and boring. Manny Ramirez was especially well received, one time drawing the simple chant: "You Suck, You Suck, You Suck"! Good for them - and how very un-Toronto!

Rumours of a big food-court upgrade in Skydome are unwarranted. The concourses have been renovated, and they look nice, but there's still only traditional ballpark food. Jays ownership should get with the program and go for the variety found in so many parks now. Allan and I still talk about the grilled wild salmon on baguettes with garlic fries that we ate in Seattle's Safeco Field.

* * * *

I took the day off yesterday, for a playdate with Redsock and RFV. I wasn't at the computer all day - an incredibly rare treat. Ray left early this morning, and we have a few days of normal life before my mother arrives next week.

There were a ton of comments yesterday, so I think instead of posting anything new, I'll catch up on your conversations.


attention us bloggers: sign here

That's "US Bloggers" not the grammatically incorrect "us bloggers".

I just tried to sign a petition, but the website won't let me because of my Canadian address.

Are you all aware that a battle is being fought that may well determine the shape of the web for years to come?

Adam Cohen, a lawyer who writes about technology issues, and a member of the New York Times editorial board, directs us to this important website, that doesn't like my address.
Why the Democratic Ethic of the World Wide Web May Be About to End
By Adam Cohen

The World Wide Web is the most democratic mass medium there has ever been. Freedom of the press, as the saying goes, belongs only to those who own one. Radio and television are controlled by those rich enough to buy a broadcast license. But anyone with an Internet-connected computer can reach out to a potential audience of billions.

This democratic Web did not just happen. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who invented the Web in 1989, envisioned a platform on which everyone in the world could communicate on an equal basis. But his vision is being threatened by telecommunications and cable companies, and other Internet service providers, that want to impose a new system of fees that could create a hierarchy of Web sites. Major corporate sites would be able to pay the new fees, while little-guy sites could be shut out.

Sir Tim, who keeps a low profile, has begun speaking out in favor of "net neutrality," rules requiring that all Web sites remain equal on the Web. Corporations that stand to make billions if they can push tiered pricing through have put together a slick lobbying and marketing campaign. But Sir Tim and other supporters of net neutrality are inspiring growing support from Internet users across the political spectrum who are demanding that Congress preserve the Web in its current form.

The Web, which Sir Tim invented as a scientist at CERN, the European nuclear physics institute, is often confused with the Internet. But like e-mail, the Web runs over the system of interconnected computer networks known as the Internet. Sir Tim created the Web in a decentralized way that allowed anyone with a computer to connect to it and begin receiving and sending information.

That open architecture is what has allowed for the extraordinary growth of Internet commerce and communication. Pierre Omidyar, a small-time programmer working out of his home office, was able to set up an online auction site that anyone in the world could reach — which became eBay. The blogging phenomenon is possible because individuals can create Web sites with the World Wide Web prefix, www, that can be seen by anyone with Internet access.

Last year, the chief executive of what is now AT&T sent shock waves through cyberspace when he asked why Web sites should be able to "use my pipes free." Internet service providers would like to be able to charge Web sites for access to their customers. Web sites that could not pay the new fees would be accessible at a slower speed, or perhaps not be accessible at all.

A tiered Internet poses a threat at many levels. Service providers could, for example, shut out Web sites whose politics they dislike. Even if they did not discriminate on the basis of content, access fees would automatically marginalize smaller, poorer Web sites.

Consider online video, which depends on the availability of higher-speed connections. Internet users can now watch channels, like BBC World, that are not available on their own cable systems, and they have access to video blogs and Web sites like YouTube.com, where people upload videos of their own creation. Under tiered pricing, Internet users might be able to get videos only from major corporate channels.

Sir Tim expects that there are great Internet innovations yet to come, many involving video. He believes people at the scene of an accident — or a political protest — will one day be able to take pictures with their cellphones that could be pieced together to create a three-dimensional image of what happened. That sort of innovation could be blocked by fees for the high-speed connections required to relay video images.

The companies fighting net neutrality have been waging a misleading campaign, with the slogan "hands off the Internet," that tries to look like a grass-roots effort to protect the Internet in its current form. What they actually favor is stopping the government from protecting the Internet, so they can get their own hands on it.

But the other side of the debate has some large corporate backers, too, like Google and Microsoft, which could be hit by access fees since they depend on the Internet service providers to put their sites on the Web. It also has support from political groups of all persuasions. The president of the Christian Coalition, which is allied with Moveon.org on this issue, recently asked, "What if a cable company with a pro-choice board of directors decides that it doesn't like a pro-life organization using its high-speed network to encourage pro-life activities?"

Forces favoring a no-fee Web have been gaining strength. One group, SaveTheInternet.com, says it has collected more than 700,000 signatures on a petition. Last week, a bipartisan bill favoring net neutrality, sponsored by James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, and John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, won a surprisingly lopsided vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

Sir Tim argues that service providers may be hurting themselves by pushing for tiered pricing. The Internet's extraordinary growth has been fueled by the limitless vistas the Web offers surfers, bloggers and downloaders. Customers who are used to the robust, democratic Web may not pay for one that is restricted to wealthy corporate content providers.

"That's not what we call Internet at all," says Sir Tim. "That's what we call cable TV."
If you have a US Congressperson and Senator, sign here.


get out

Canada out of Afghanistan now.

Canada is not wanted there. The US is not wanted there. No one wants foreign powers occupying their country. Why is that so difficult to understand?

This thought brought to you by the most recent round of rioting.


Barry Bonds has passed Babe Ruth on baseball's career home run list, and I'm really excited about it. Bonds is one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and this is hugely important to baseball history.

I'm an unapologetic fan of Barry's. Don't even talk to me about steroids. Many stand accused, but no one has accomplished what Barry has. Which is more than home runs, by the way - he's not at all a one-dimensional player.

I'm glad he was able to do this at home, among friends. People booing him on the road are too stupid to appreciate what they're witnessing.

border crossings

Here's something I missed. On May 17, the day we got home from Peru, the US Senate voted to delay plans to require passports or other special travel documents at the Canada-US border. The new regulations were to take effect on January 1, 2008, but the new bill would delay that until June 1, 2009. (The bill hasn't passed in the House yet.)

Regardless of either of these dates, many border guards are acting like the new regulations are already in effect, and are asking for passports.

According to a recent survey, many Canadians say they wouldn't travel to the US anymore.
One-half of Canadians would either travel less to the United States or never go again if the Americans made it mandatory to show a passport or other identification at the border, a new poll suggests.

The Leger Marketing survey indicated 33 per cent of Canadians would go south less often, while 17 per cent would no longer go at all and 39 per cent would go just as often.

The poll of 1,500 Canadians was conducted May 16-21 and distributed to The Canadian Press. It is considered accurate within 2.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Of course, sometimes these things don't turn out to be as dire as people first think. When cities pass smoking bans, bar owners claim it will put them out of business, and smokers claim they'll be socializing at home... but very little changes, except the life expectancy of the wait staff. My co-workers who love to travel to New York City will probably still do so. But I can also see how, if someone didn't have a valid passport, they wouldn't bother renewing it just to have the option of impromptu US travel.

Either way, it's silly. A valid driver's license or other government-issued ID should be enough.

office talk

Two work-related thoughts.

It's weird to work at a place where people don't talk about baseball - and stranger still, a place where people don't associate me with talking about baseball. In all my former workplaces, whether I was teaching, word-processing or proofreading, co-workers would always ask me about the Yankees. At my last workplace - where I worked by myself all weekend, listening to the game if there was one - people would always stop in to check on the score, ask about players, who was coming off the DL and whatnot.

People do follow baseball in Toronto, but not as much, and I imagine not during Stanley Cup playoffs. On one of my first days temping here, I overheard some guys talking about the World Baseball Classic, but they were too far away for me to join in.

* * * *

Co-workers here always ask me where I worked last, meaning what law firm. When I tell them this is my first job in Toronto, that I previously worked in New York City, they always express surprise.

Most of them have visited New York on holiday, some have been several times, and they all - universally, it seems - have loved it. (I love that!) Also universally, they marvel at why I would have left there for here. Most of them say something like, "Why would you move from New York to... boredom?" Or "to this sleepy little town"?

I usually say that I also love New York, and if I could have found a way to have taken it with me, I would have. But alas, New York is still part of the United States, so I had to leave it behind - because I wanted to live in Canada. They like that as much as I like hearing how they loved New York.

more later

I'm hoping for down-time at work today, because I have lots of things to blog about.

When I come home tonight, Ray from Vermont will be here. I've known Ray about 90 seconds longer than I've known Allan. Tomorrow night we're all going to see the Red Sox beat up on the Blue Jays. (We hope.)

More soon.



Stephen Harper plans to introduce a bill that would establish fixed federal election dates every four years. He's not suggesting a fixed-date system a la the US: the House of Commons could still defeat the government. An exception would also be made for "cases where the government is prevented from governing," although Harper hasn't defined that yet.

Harper claims that fixed election dates, which some provinces already have for their own elections, will level the playing field by preventing governments from calling elections for short-term political advantage.

According to this CBC article, Canada's current system is in the minority. But that doesn't necessarily mean its broken and needs fixing. One expert claims fixed election dates would increase voter turnout, but that's subject to debate.
Henry Milner, an eminent student of Canada's electoral system, points out that of the 40 comparable democracies in the world, Canada is one of only 12 that does not have fixed election dates. That is statistically interesting, but significant only if the 12 are prone to murder, mayhem and other consistently anti-democratic behaviour.

Milner argues that fixed election dates would reverse the trend to increasingly lower turnout in Canadian elections. Unhappily, turnout seems to have a life of its own, unaffected by winter, summer or voter contentment; and the consistent trend is downwards.

Canadians curious about the effect of fixed election dates could consider the U.S., where elections have long been carved in stone. American voter turnout is so consistently low that the U.S. now ranks 139th in the world in voter participation - although Canada at 77 is hardly in a position to boast.
If a government could be defeated in Parliament anyway, I don't see how fixed-date elections are either a drastic change or a huge improvement. But as I'm new to the parliamentary system, I may well be missing subtle - or not-so-subtle - issues.

Your thoughts? I know many of you don't read on the weekends, so I'll look for your replies on Monday.


If you haven't RSVP'd yet, or if you haven't given me your email address but would like to receive an invitation, please do!

The party is June 17. Many of you have someplace else to go or something else to do, and some Very Important People in my life aren't able to make it. Please say you'll come and make me happy.

Seriously, no guilt. But it will be more fun if you're there.


sign here

Speaking of tests of national character, Democracy Rising asks Americans to take a pledge and sign a petition:
"I will not vote for or support any candidate for Congress or President who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq, and preventing any future war of aggression, a public position in his or her campaign."
Articles, organizing tools and inspiration at Voters For Peace.


Paul Krugman believes that the American people's response to global warming may be a test of the country's national character.
A Test of Our Character
By Paul Krugman

In his new movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore suggests that there are three reasons it's hard to get action on global warming. The first is boiled-frog syndrome: because the effects of greenhouse gases build up gradually, at any given moment it's easier to do nothing. The second is the perception, nurtured by a careful disinformation campaign, that there's still a lot of uncertainty about whether man-made global warming is a serious problem. The third is the belief, again fostered by disinformation, that trying to curb global warming would have devastating economic effects.

I'd add a fourth reason, which I'll talk about in a minute. But first, let's notice that Mr. Gore couldn't have asked for a better illustration of disinformation campaigns than the reaction of energy-industry lobbyists and right-wing media organizations to his film.

The cover story in the current issue of National Review is titled "Scare of the Century." As evidence that global warming isn't really happening, it offers the fact that some Antarctic ice sheets are getting thicker — a point also emphasized in a TV ad by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is partly financed by large oil companies, whose interests it reliably represents.

Curt Davis, a scientist whose work is cited both by the institute and by National Review, has already protested. "These television ads," he declared in a press release, "are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate." He points out that an initial increase in the thickness of Antarctica's interior ice sheets is a predicted consequence of a warming planet, so that his results actually support global warming rather than refuting it.

Even as the usual suspects describe well-founded concerns about global warming as hysteria, they issue hysterical warnings about the economic consequences of environmentalism. "Al Gore's global warming movie: could it destroy the economy?" Fox News asked.

Well, no, it couldn't. There's some dispute among economists over how forcefully we should act to curb greenhouse gases, but there's broad consensus that even a very strong program to reduce emissions would have only modest effects on economic growth. At worst, G.D.P. growth might be, say, one-tenth or two-tenths of a percentage point lower over the next 20 years. And while some industries would lose jobs, others would gain.

Actually, the right's panicky response to Mr. Gore's film is probably a good thing, because it reveals for all to see the dishonesty and fear-mongering on which the opposition to doing something about climate change rests.

But "An Inconvenient Truth" isn't just about global warming, of course. It's also about Mr. Gore. And it is, implicitly, a cautionary tale about what's been wrong with our politics.

Why, after all, was Mr. Gore's popular-vote margin in the 2000 election narrow enough that he could be denied the White House? Any account that neglects the determination of some journalists to make him a figure of ridicule misses a key part of the story. Why were those journalists so determined to jeer Mr. Gore? Because of the very qualities that allowed him to realize the importance of global warming, many years before any other major political figure: his earnestness, and his genuine interest in facts, numbers and serious analysis.

And so the 2000 campaign ended up being about the candidates' clothing, their mannerisms, anything but the issues, on which Mr. Gore had a clear advantage (and about which his opponent was clearly both ill informed and dishonest).

I won't join the sudden surge of speculation about whether "An Inconvenient Truth" will make Mr. Gore a presidential contender. But the film does make a powerful case that Mr. Gore is the sort of person who ought to be running the country.

Since 2000, we've seen what happens when people who aren't interested in the facts, who believe what they want to believe, sit in the White House. Osama bin Laden is still at large, Iraq is a mess, New Orleans is a wreck. And, of course, we've done nothing about global warming.

But can the sort of person who would act on global warming get elected? Are we — by which I mean both the public and the press — ready for political leaders who don't pander, who are willing to talk about complicated issues and call for responsible policies? That's a test of national character. I wonder whether we'll pass.
I'll add a fifth reason to Krugman's fourth. If the campaign and election system aren't overhauled, it won't matter whether American voters pass this moral test or not. The way things stand now, the only people who can get elected answer only to industry and corporate interests. Those interests will not curb global warming - or stop the endless war.


nyah nyah, part two

Thanks for your good wishes. This job is going to work out well, I can see that. Having worked at corporate law firms for 16 years, I know how to read them. This is definitely a good firm. I really lucked out.

* * * *

Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson agrees with us about Harper and the supposed liberal media bias. He surveys the media landscape, and the PM comes up looking "brittle and imperious".
Conservative leaders, some of whom become prime ministers, share one belief: that the national media, especially in Ottawa, are hostile to them personally and their party.

Joe Clark always believed that Ottawa journalists had it in for him, in contrast to how they flipped over Pierre Trudeau.

Brian Mulroney was fixated by the media, and how he felt Ottawa journalists unfairly trashed his government. Check out the Peter Newman tapes. They are full of Mr. Mulroney's grousing about journalists.

Now comes Stephen Harper, manifesting the same reflexes. "Unfortunately, the press gallery has taken the view they are going to be the opposition to the government," Mr. Harper said this week, adding: "I have trouble believing that, frankly, a Liberal prime minister would have this problem."

He should ask Paul Martin or John Turner. Or Jean Chrétien, whose government was rocked by endless media coverage of scandals, real or imagined. Did not Mr. Harper's party in opposition feast on that same media coverage month after month? Was it not The Globe and Mail that broke and pursued the sponsorship affair long before the Auditor-General sank her fangs into it?

Rational argument, however, will not change Conservative minds.

In the 1980 election, only two newspapers in Canada -- the ever-faithful Liberal organ, the Toronto Star, and the Windsor Star -- supported the Liberals. Yet the Liberals won the election. Still, the Conservatives believed that the press had nailed them.

Conservatives are no different than other media consumers: They read into the media what they want. They remember only a fraction of what they read or see. They tend to remember those bits that confirm existing beliefs -- in the Conservatives' case, that the media is hostile.

Ask a Conservative for confirming evidence. Out will come references to this or that story, this television news item or that radio report, a particular column or editorial. It's the tyranny of the anecdote.

What have we actually got across Canada?

AM radio is overwhelmingly right wing; listen to the open-line hosts. CBC Radio leans left, or rather gives voice to the aggrieved. Put the entire radio world together, and the balance tilts conservative.

Television? CBC tilts left, private TV right. Again, given the larger audience for private TV, the television world tilts conservative.

Newspapers? The Toronto Star is proudly Liberal, and it's the largest paper in the country. Most of the CanWest papers are editorially conservative and, in the case of the National Post, extremely conservative.

The Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives in the last election, and tries to be down the middle in news; it has a group of hard-right columnists, some centrists and a couple on the left. The Sun papers are hard right. Maclean's magazine, under Kenneth Whyte's direction, is using the National Post formula of hard-right politics.

The French-language press, by and large, has been extremely respectful thus far of the Conservatives.

So, yes, there are media outlets that do not tend to favour Conservatives, but there are more that do. Some overtly tub-thump for conservative causes and the Conservative Party. The vast majority of newspapers in the last election endorsed the Conservatives.

Much of the media coverage of the Harper campaign was positive, even enthusiastic, because the party ran a good campaign -- and electoral journalism, alas, is mostly about horse-race reporting so that the party doing well gets positive coverage confirming why it is winning.

But, as we said, facts don't count. Even though the government is doing extremely well in public opinion surveys, it sees enemies everywhere, including the press and especially the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

The Prime Minister believes that the media has it in for Conservatives, and he isn't going to take it.

In fact, he's going to behave in such a way that it's his way or the doorway, believing that the general public, or at least the portion of the public that prefers Conservatives, shares his reflexes about the media.

The Prime Minister will control information to the extent that he can. He's going to decide who can ask him questions. He's going to run a not-so-friendly dictatorship in relations with the press because, as he sees things, this is war.

He's going to outflank the Parliamentary Press Gallery by taking his presence to the local media, where the questions will be more respectful and often less informed. He thinks the public couldn't care less about relations with the press.

Maybe he's right, except that it shows a brittleness and imperiousness that eventually will haunt him.

first day

I start my new job today. Weird to start a job on Friday, eh? But my work week will be Friday, Sunday and Monday. I'll be working at the same law firm where I was temping, but with better hours (longer hours, but fewer days per week) and better pay.

I'm a little nervous, although I know everything will be fine. I may or may not have time to blog later in the day. We shall see.


nyah nyah

And you don't like me anyway, so you can all just go away!
PM to shun Ottawa journalists

Stephen Harper says journalists on Parliament Hill are biased against his government so he'll be avoiding them.

The Prime Minister says the parliamentary press gallery seems to have decided to become the opposition to his Conservative government.

He told A-Channel in London, Ont., yesterday that he is having problems with reporters that a Liberal leader would never face.

So he says he will take his message out on the road to less hostile local media.

"Unfortunately, the press gallery has taken the view they are going to be the opposition to the government," Harper told the TV station. "They don't ask questions at my press conferences now."

On Tuesday, two dozen Ottawa reporters walked out on a Harper event when he refused to take their questions.

Harper does not want to hold press conferences unless his staff choose which journalists ask questions from a list they compile. The Ottawa press gallery won't accept those rules.
So it is possible for journalists to do their jobs! Wow. Can the Ottawa press corps give lessons to their counterparts in the White House?

As for the anti-Conservative bias, I wonder if Mr Harper remembers a little thing called the Sponsorship Scandal, that the supposedly liberal media used to usher him into power?


What is wrong with this man? Where does he come off?
Alberta would pull out of the federal equalization program rather than see the other provinces benefit from its oil and natural gas resources, Premier Ralph Klein said.

Klein said on Wednesday he's ready to fight with the eastern provinces to keep Alberta's resource revenues out of the equalization program, which sends federal money to poorer provinces so they can provide services such as health care.

At a meeting next month, other premiers are expected to suggest that Alberta's oil revenues can be included in the calculations that determine how much cash each province gets from Ottawa.

"This is political showdown," Klein said. "This is also a constitutional issue. Alberta has control and authorization and authority over its resources."
Now, according to this CBC story, Klein actually can't do this and has no control over Alberta's equalization payments in the first place.
But University of Alberta political scientist Steve Patten suggests Klein can't really do that, and his bluster won't go far among the premiers, even if it works to whip up long-standing anti-eastern sentiment among Albertans.

Equalization payments come from federal government revenues, such as federal income tax, not from Alberta's bank accounts, Patten said. Pulling out, he said, would have no effect on the program.

"When we in Alberta talk as if Alberta — perhaps the premier — sitting down and writing a cheque a couple of times a year to the poorer provinces, we're really misrepresenting what the formula is all about. That's not the way it works," he said.
So the stance is bluster - but the sentiment beneath it speaks volumes. Alberta's oil? That's Canada's oil, Ralph.

This kind of talk just fosters divisiveness, feeding the view of some Albertans that their provinces' wealth is actually their personal wealth, and they have no obligation to share it with the rest of the country.

Hey, let's all move to Alberta and become instant oil barons. And since Alberta's not part of Canada, we won't have to pay taxes or give anything back! What's that you say? Alberta is part of...?

Since Klein doesn't really have control over the transfer payments, encouraging regional divisions must be his real goal. That and looking tough, I suppose.

Not exactly incisive political commentary, I know - I'm just venting. I'll leave it to you all to fill in the blanks.


what i'm reading: art spiegelman and kevin baker in the harper's

A few days ago, I recommended the June issue of Harper's magazine. Now I'm urging you to get to your favourite bookstore or library and read it as soon as you can.

I've just finished Kevin Baker's lengthy piece "Stabbed In The Back: The Past and Future of A Right-Wing Myth," as brilliant and fascinating a US history lesson, and as stinging an indictment of current policies, as I've read anywhere. It's truly a tour de force.

Baker has written a trilogy of historical novels about New York City. I haven't read the last one, Paradise Alley. Its subject is the same as that of my favourite New York City novel, Peter Quinn's Banished Children of Eve: the 1863 New York City draft riots. (On Baker's website, he recommends a visit to the Lower East Side tenement museum, which is where I first heard of Banished Children. Not a coincidence.) I'll read Paradise Alley eventually. Baker is also a baseball fan, a Yankees fan, a fan of New York City, and still, I think, a believer in the US, or at least in its potential, now twisted and derailed.

There are lots of good things to read in this issue of Harper's, but Kevin Baker and Art Spiegelman steal the show.

trouble in paradise

Today I have a topic of great urgency and global importance, the kind guaranteed to draw a wide cross-section of passionate opinions.

Iced coffee.

When we landed in Canada on August 30, 2005, little did I know that a smooth, cold, delicious iced coffee, ice cubes rattling in a plastic cup, my summer safety valve, my five-month-a-year addiction, would become an elusive quest.

Where is iced coffee?? Not frozen cappuccinos, not "Coolattas" or "Icespressos" or Mochafrappuyaddayaddaccinos. Iced Coffee.

For those not familiar with the species, here is The Recipe.

1. Brew coffee extra-strong to withstand melting ice.
2. Put coffee in refrigerator.
3. When needed, scoop generous amounts of ice into cup.
4. Pour cold coffee over ice.
5. Add milk and/or sugar if needed. (For me, a little milk, no sugar.)
6. Add straw.
7. Slurp down with great happiness.

Last year I was shocked to find that this simple recipe was unobtainable from my local Second Cup. Tim Hortons was no better. But we were very busy - painting, unpacking, filling out forms, buying everything in Ontario - and I ignored the warning signs of growing dread.

Here we are eight months later, warm weather on the way, and not an iced coffee in sight.

The closest I can find is Starbucks' Iced Americano. This is bad on so many levels. First, must I order something called an Americano? Next, must I go to Starbucks? And lastly, must I go to Starbucks and order an Americano??

During baseball games, I'm seeing ads for a new iced coffee line at McDonald's, but I'd just as soon give up my habit than be forced into McDonald's. Even addicts have a bottom line.

I know I can make iced coffee at home, and I do, keeping a big batch of the decaf version in my fridge all summer. But what good does that do me when I'm out, having a caffeine craving, wanting to hang out in a cafe, or to wander around Toronto with a cold drink and a straw in my mouth?

What is wrong with this country? And why didn't any of you tell me about this before I moved??



This is disturbing.
Canada's poor face 'emergency': UN

Welfare benefits in most provinces have dropped in value in the past 10 years and often amount to less than half of basic living costs, a UN watchdog group charged yesterday.

The employment insurance program needs to be more accessible, minimum wages don't meet basic needs, and homelessness and inadequate housing amount to a "national emergency," says the UN body's report from Geneva.

The watchdog committee is formally called the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It last examined Canada's performance in 1998, and sat for three weeks this month taking submissions on five countries including Monaco, Liechtenstein, Morocco and Mexico.

Its sharp criticism of Canada on poverty issues echoes that voiced last week by a special Toronto task force of experts ranging from bankers to community advocates, particularly on questions of employment insurance and help for the working poor.

On employment insurance, the UN body reported: "In 2001, only 39 per cent of unemployed Canadians were eligible for benefits ... (and in) Ontario eligibility rates were even lower."

In Toronto, the local task force said the eligibility figure stands at 22 per cent.

"Minimum wages in all provinces," the UN report said, "are insufficient to enable workers and their families to enjoy a decent standard of living." About 51 per cent of people using food banks, it also said, are receiving inadequate social insurance benefits.

In the same vein, the Toronto task force said hundreds of thousands of working-age Ontarians are living in poverty and it would take $4.6 billion a year in overhauled government programs to lift them out of it.

"Having been present at the review, I can tell you that the committee was dismayed to find that social assistance rates in Canada bear no resemblance to the actual cost of living," said Emily Paradis of the Feminist Organization for Women's Advancement of Rights, or Forward, a group concerned with homelessness.

The UN body had much to say about aboriginal rights, singling out the Lubicon Lake Cree of northern Alberta for special mention.

Using the uncommonly forceful diplomatic term "strongly recommends," the committee called on Canada to reopen land-rights talks and consult the Lubicon "prior to the grant of licences for economic purposes on disputed land."
Everything is relative, of course, and it's much worse in many places (as my recent travels can attest), but that's little comfort to Canadians who live in poverty. Canada has a lot of work to do.

On the positive side, the UN committee acknowledged progress in Canada in certain areas. Fewer people live below the federal goverment's poverty line, maternity and partental benefits have been extended, foreign aid has increased slightly, and disparities between aboriginal people and the rest of the population narrowed in two important areas, infant mortality and high school enrolment.

Toronto Star story here.

what i'm reading: harper's and the walrus

Post-Peru, I first caught up on three weeks' worth of Pepys' Diary. I'm addicted, and determined to read this 17th Century blog from start to finish.

Now I'm working my way through very good issues of Harper's and The Walrus, which is a kind of Canadian Harper's. I highly recommend the June issues of both these mags.

In Harper's:

- Kevin Baker, an excellent writer and historian, and my sometime email friend, explains the historical underpinnings of the right-wing's re-emergence in the US, post-FDR. It's fascinating reading: "Stabbed In The Back: The Past and Future of Right-Wing Myth"

- Art Spiegelman responds to the Danish "cartoon war" with words and pictures. Enlightening, and sometimes stunning, as Spiegelman is. His "final solution" cartoon alone is worth the newsstand price.

- David Samuels reports from Detroit: "The Blind Man and the Elephant - Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, and thousands of overweight teenagers party in the ruins of Detroit for Super Bowl XL". It's not David Foster Wallace at the state fair, but it's very good.

The Walrus reports on three "national dreams" for Canada: (from the cover) "That Canada be united by a vigorous Ottawa; that we build great cities; that we recognize America for the rough beast that it is." The stories:

- "A House Half Built" - Canada's great promise lies in reaffirming our shared destiny - by Roy Romanow

- "Brighter Lights, Bigger Cities" - Our metropolises crave more money, power and control - by Alan Broadbent

- "The American Gigantic" - On life, liberty, and the pursuit of upward mobility - by Mark Kingwell.

After this, I think I'm about to go on a nonfiction tear. Jared Diamond's Collapse is waiting for me, and I'm not sure if I can wait for the paperback of At Canaan's Edge, the final installment of Taylor Branch's Martin Luther King, Jr. trilogy.


two items and a question

I found these two items at 360 Magazine, an excellent source for disability news.

Item One: Mark Inglis, a 47-year-old New Zealand man, reached the summit of Mount Everest earlier this month. Inglis is missing both his legs below the knee; they were amputated after he suffered severe frostbite while trapped by storms climbing the highest peak in his native country.

Item Two: I will copy directly from the source.
What Would You Say to President Bush?

Before a speech in South Florida encouraging Medicare recipients to sign up for the new prescription drug benefit, President Bush added another entry to his list of verbal miscues.

According to the Associated Press, during the usual hit-and-run of handshakes and hugs, President Bush greeted a man in a wheelchair with, "You look mighty comfortable."

After the groans subsided here at 360, we began asking each other how the wheeler should have responded. Keep in mind, you have probably no more than a couple of seconds of his attention, so how do you react? What do you say to the most powerful man in the world after such a comment?

Send your ideas to editor@360mag.com. We will print a selection of comments in a future issue of the weekly news.
And the question: What would you say? Whether or not you want to email potential comebacks to 360, do please post them here.


Jane Schwartz, a very talented writer and our very dear friend, has a moving piece in today's New York Times about Barbaro, the horse who broke down at this weekend's Preakness Stakes.

Jane is the author of Ruffian: Burning From The Start, a riveting, heartbreaking, beautifully written book. (It was published, I may add, long before the general public ever heard of Seabiscuit.) Ruffian is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the world of horse racing, and about as moving a story as you can imagine.

From today's story:
At the medical center where Barbaro was being treated, people left signs for the colt, expressing their love for him.

Perhaps the real miracle — the one that matters to all of us, whether we know it or not — is that so many of us are still capable of caring so much.
Read it here. (And read Jane's book!)

"they build and build and something changes"

Long-time readers will forgive me for yet another Howard Zinn -related post. This is the man who saved my sorry self from despair after the 2004 election. This is the man who teaches us to see America for what it really is. The person who reminds me where duty lies, and how to find hope.

Shelly R. Fredman interviewed Zinn for Tikkun, the progressive Jewish magazine. An excerpt:
[Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael] Lerner also claims that the parts of our cultural heritage that embody elements of hope are dismissed as naïve, with little to teach us. You must have had your own bouts with critics who see your vision as naïve. How do you address them?

HZ: It's true that any talk of hope is dismissed as naive, but that's because we tend to look at the surface of things at any given time. And the surface almost always looks grim. The charge of naïvete also comes from a loss of historical perspective. History shows that what is considered naïve in one decade becomes reality in another.

How much hope was there for black people in the South in the fifties? At the start of the Vietnam War, anyone who thought the monster war machine could be stopped seemed naive. When I was in South Africa in 1982, and apartheid was fully entrenched, it seemed naive to think that it would be dissolved and even more naive to think that Mandela would become president. But in all those cases, anyone looking under the surface would have seen currents of potential change bubbling and growing.

Has the Left responded adequately to the kind of fascism we see coming from Bush's people? Street protests seem to be ineffective; it’s sometimes disheartening.

HZ: The responses are never adequate, until they build and build and something changes. People very often think that there must be some magical tactic, beyond the traditional ones — protests, demonstrations, vigils, civil disobedience — but there is no magical panacea, only persistence in continuing and escalating the usual tactics of protest and resistance. The end of the Vietnam War did not come because the Left suddenly did something new and dramatic, but because all of the actions built up over time.

If you listen to the media, you get no sense of what's happening. I speak to groups of people in different parts of the country. I was in Austin, Texas recently and a thousand people showed up. I believe people are basically decent, they just lack information.
Hey, one of wmtc's faithful readers was at that conference in Austin! (Hi Dean!)

If you're interested in sampling Howard Zinn, but are intimidated by A People's History of the United States, I heartily recommend his brief and inspiring memoir, You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train. I wrote about it here, and quoted from it prodigiously in the days prior to that post.

[While searching for that old post, I noticed this one, written after receiving a fundraising solicitation from the Democrats immediately following the election. I was angry.]

Anyway, read Fredman's interview with Zinn at Tikkun or AlterNet. Thanks to Redsock for sending it to me.


may two-four

This holiday tomorrow, is it the kind of holiday where everything is closed, and everyone is having barbecues, drinking, and partying? Or is it the kind of holiday where all the stores are running sales and everyone is out shopping? Or something else entirely? Will my local LCBO be open?

Non-Canadian readers, tomorrow is Victoria Day, known as May Two-Four. I was supposed to start my new job that day, but since it's a national holiday, I'll start on Friday, and take the holiday off. Unpaid, of course. I'm glad for it, though, as I have to begin work on several stories.

On a related note, the expression "national holiday" seems to be US; Canadians use "statutory holiday". Same thing?

trying again

Last year, I asked for your help in placing an essay I wrote. It's a personal essay with political overtones, pegged to the anniversary of September 11th. I've tried and missed with all the biggest essay forums, and it's not a good fit for any of the alternative forums that I know about.

Shortly before we moved, an editor at Macleans expressed interest (yay!), but she had already committed to a 9/11-related piece (boo!).

I planned to try her again this year, for the 5th anniversary of September 11th. But in the intervening time, Macleans has had a big shake-up. The interested editor is no longer on the masthead, and the essay venue, "Over To You," no longer exists. (Very boo!) Story of my life. Story of freelancing.

A friend of mine whose guilty pleasure is junky women's magazines suggested I try Oprah's magazine and the other big women's mags. She reads them regularly and says my essay would fit right in - and I'd love to get the wide readership - so I'm going for it.

As always, your ideas are most welcome.


Every year the New York Times publishes wrap-ups of various university commencement addresses around the country. There are always interesting choices, sometimes notable for their eloquence and ideas, sometimes for their blandness.

The best commencement address I've heard personally was Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury, who spoke when my brother graduated from dental school.

I don't even remember the speaker at my own university graduation. I thought it was Vernon Jordan, but it turns out that was the previous year. I guess Sol Linowitz didn't make much of an impact on me. It was 24 years ago this week, by the way.

This weekend, students at New York City's New School weren't very pleased with their university president's choice of speaker, and they protested loud and long. That same speaker, John McCain, positioning himself for another run at the White House, also spoke at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, where he defended the war in Iraq.

In a Times Op-Ed (access required, but if you're really hot to read it, ask me), Falwell lamely explained that inviting McCain to speak was not an endorsement of his candidacy.
Part of our tradition is to expose students to outstanding leaders from all walks of life, including some who may not completely agree with Liberty's philosophy.

Our commencement exercises present an opportunity to do this. Past speakers like George H. W. Bush, Clarence Thomas, Billy Graham and Ed Meese have all shared their wisdom with our students. What these speakers have in common, despite their differences, is the belief that America is made better through a life dedicated to public service. Mr. McCain fits squarely within this tradition.
Now there's a diverse group of speakers, eh? Is this man so self-absorbed, so blind to the larger world outside his Fundamentalist nest, that he thinks those four names represent "leaders from all walks of life"?? The mind boggles.

While McCain was defending W's policies at Liberty, he spared a moment to attack his detractors. From ThinkProgress:
In 2000, John McCain called Rev. Jerry Falwell an "agent of intolerance." Yesterday, in a naked attempt to broaden his political base, McCain delivered the commencement speech at Falwell's Liberty University.

McCain's hypocrisy was noted on many blogs. He returned the favor in his speech at Liberty by attacking the blogosphere:
When I was a young man, I was quite infatuated with self-expression, and rightly so because, if memory conveniently serves, I was so much more eloquent, well-informed, and wiser than anyone else I knew. It seemed I understood the world and the purpose of life so much more profoundly than most people. I believed that to be especially true with many of my elders, people whose only accomplishment, as far as I could tell, was that they had been born before me, and, consequently, had suffered some number of years deprived of my insights. . . . It's a pity that there wasn't a blogosphere then. I would have felt very much at home in the medium.
Oh, so McCain is always right - the problem is that we're bloggers, so we're too impressed with ourselves to understand. If you are reading this, you are part of the blogosphere too, so you won't understand McCain's genius either.
So next time you criticize someone because you oppose the killing and maiming of human beings, remember: you are just infatuated with self-expression.

* * * *

The Nation on McCain's New School appearance:
"I haven't heard anyone aroused about me speaking at the New School," John McCain said in April, defending his decision to address Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

Nobody at all, except for virtually the entire crowd at the New School's Madison Square Garden graduation ceremony in New York City. At the beginning of the event, New School President, and former Senator, Bob Kerrey predicted a raucous affair. "Our founding purpose is proudly liberal," he said. "We began as an act of protest."

The school's tradition of dissent carried on today. Scores of New School students held orange signs, and a few banners, reading "McCain Does Not Speak For Me," and "Our Commencement Is Not Your Platform." What began as mild rumblings of disapproval before McCain's speech soon exploded into boos, catcalls and turned backs.

The spark was provided by undergraduate keynote speaker Jean Sara Rohe, a composed, seemingly innocuous jazz musician and singer. After beginning with a short folk song (true to classic graduation speech form) Rohe quickly tossed aside her prepared remarks to directly address McCain.

"This ceremony has become something other than the celebratory gathering it should be," Rohe said. "The Senator does not reflect the ideals on which this school was founded. This was a top-down decision in which the students played no part." The crowd erupted.
Read more here.


many thoughts

I just received email from my blog-friend Dr. Marco, a Peruvian doctor who's been in the US for several years, doing his specialist residency. (I believe that's what it's called.) A month from now, he graduates as a nephrologist, after an unbelievably long road of study.

Marco helped us figure out our route in Peru (we love the internet!), and apparently followed our travels through wmtc. My only Peruvian reader that I know of, he gave me a tremendous compliment: "Reading about your trip was like going back to my country for a little while and experiencing it, something I do not do for almost 2 years."

When Marco says he loves downtown Lima, I feel a real kinship with him, in my love for big cities. The guidebooks tell you downtown Lima is unsafe, overcrowded, chaotic, and dirty. It may be all those things, but it is also vibrant and alive, filled with unexpected treasures and flashes of beauty. When we went to Mexico, people told us not to bother with Mexico City, but we loved it there, wouldn't have missed it. People say New York is all of those things, too. Ditto Toronto.

Marco, a fellow atheist like me, has some interesting things to say in his blog, Multae Sententiae, about religion and sex, mass extinction, and the Peruvian election.


Impeachment news round-up:

Buy A T-Shirt and drink to impeachment.

Buy a book and give a gift. Buy a copy of The Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush, by the Center for Constitutional Rights, for your US Congressperson and Melville House will pay the postage.

In case you missed it, in the April issue of Rolling Stone magazine, historian Sean Wilentz wondered if Moron is The Worst President in History?. Author Andrew Bard Schmookler says the question has been answered.

On the "why Moron may be unimpeachable" front, Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive reminds us that leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi is against it! With an opposition party [cough, cough] like this, who needs Republicans?

And, just for fun, we have:
Veterans For Peace Case For Impeachment
Law Professor Francis Boyle's Case For Impeachment
Attorney, former Congressperson, and excellent feminist Elizabeth Holtzman's Case For Impeachment
The ImpeachBush Online Petition
Another Impeachment Petition
ImpeachBush.tv (Hey, let's impeach him on TV!)
AfterDowningStreet's impeachment news and action page
Parting Gifts for The Worst President Ever

Posts like this inevitably draw cynical do-nothings out of lurkdom. In answer to your predictable questions: No, I do not think impeaching President Moron will solve all the US's problems. But hot damn, wouldn't it be awesome???

Don't know what the title of this post means? Go here.

polar bears in the streets

Everyone who gives me blogging tips is named Al[l]an. OK, I exaggerate. But Allan/Redsock and Alan With One L are often my sources for interesting topics.

This from With One L: Self-proclaimed ADHD brings you
Questions you should never ask about Canada

Go. Read. It's funny.


what i'm watching: stephen colbert

Everyone has been telling me to watch a clip from Stephen Colbert. I thought it would be from his show, not realizing we had missed the Correspondents Dinner. Thanks to everyone who sent the link or mentioned it.

If you haven't seen it yet, set aside 24 minutes and watch it here.


Killing time while Allan was sick in Arequipa, I made a list of the countries and US states I've been in. (If I recall correctly, David Cho once did this on his blog. He had a map you could click on to colour in the states...?)

I haven't been in many countries, although I've been in a few more than once: 11. No, 12. I forgot Bermuda.

The states was a tough one, because my family did a lot of US travel (mostly by car) when I was a kid, and I had to remember all the trips and all the routes. Total: 35.

Then I could only remember 47 states! That may sound funny, but try to list all 50 off the top of your head, without looking at a map. It's not so easy! Finally there were 49 on the list... I could see the shape of that last one in my head, but just couldn't remember what it was. Poor Oklahoma. And I grew up hearing Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, too!

* * * *

Using the link David supplied, here are my visited US states and visited countries.


From long-time friend of wmtc Crabbi:

Steve Almond, a former professor at Boston College, quit his job after learning that Condoleezza Rice was invited to speak at graduation. In an open letter to the president of the college, Almond said: "I cannot, in good conscience, exhort my students to pursue truth and knowledge, then collect a paycheck from an institution that displays such flagrant disregard for both."

Here's Almond's letter in the Boston Globe.

I hope some Boston College students exercise their precious First Amendment rights at their graduation ceremony. Standing up with their backs to the speaker, giant banners, or over-ripe tomatoes would all be useful protest tools.


We filled out our first Canadian census last night! Even though the official deadline was May 16, it appears that ours will be accepted and we'll be counted. Canada takes a census every five years, twice as frequently as the US.

It was the simplest of questionnaires. I was a little disappointed that it didn't ask about our country of origin. I suppose immigration statistics can come directly from the CIC.

This is also the first Canadian census to ask specifically about same-sex relationships. Here's an interesting note from Statistics Canada about Question Six.
The 2006 Census is the first Canadian census where same-sex married couples can indicate their relationship. The census thus continues to keep in step with societal and legal realities. Results of the 2006 Census will be used to provide Canadian citizens and institutions with accurate data needed for decision making.

Statistics Canada 's goal is to provide the most accurate count possible of opposite-sex and same-sex married couples. Testing by Statistics Canada prior to the 2006 Census determined that the most accurate information on same-sex married couples is obtained when they directly report their relationship by using the write-in space provided. While same-sex married couples can also indicate their relationship by checking the "husband or wife" box, testing to date has shown the results have data quality problems. In this case, the gender variable must be used to distinguish between opposite-sex and same-sex married couples. Because the number of same-sex married couples is relatively small compared to all married couples, a very small level of misreporting of gender leads to an overestimation many times over of the number of same-sex married couples.

This variable like all other census variables will be subject to a rigorous data quality assessment. The release of information on married couples will include a quality assessment of the data for same-sex married couples obtained from the write-in space and the "husband or wife" box.

Statistics Canada also tested a number of options including using the expression "same-sex spouse" or "opposite-sex spouse". The expression "spouse" was confusing for many respondents. Statistics Canada also found that "husband or wife" was not used by all gay and lesbian married couples to describe their relationship. It is, therefore, because of its desire to produce the most accurate statistics possible that Statistics Canada encourages same-sex married couples to report their relationship by using the write-in space provided.

As we prepare for the 2011 Census, consultation will be held with the Gay and Lesbian community on this matter as well as further testing with same-sex married couples to review wording and options for this question.

Could it be that the difference between Canada and the US is that Canada "continues to keep in step" with reality?

still not worried

Canadians love to deride Americans' lack of knowledge of the world outside their borders, and much of that ridicule is duly earned. Many Canadians, however, know less about the US than they think they do. Maybe it's impossible to really know a place you haven't lived in. Maybe news sources, including blogs, are so biased that real knowledge is all but impossible. I don't know.

Many progressive Canadians are worried about Stephen Harper emulating W, about Canada "becoming the United States". According to this strain of thought, same-sex marriage will soon be abandoned, a vote on abortion rights is imminent, and the health care system is teetering on the brink of a complete, two-tier makeover. Stephen Harper is supposedly going to return with a powerful majority, and after that, Canada is the 51st state.

Fear of being swallowed up by the US, and a parallel desire to become more like it, are dual strains of Canadian thought and history. I'm sure some of what I'm encountering is down to that.

Vigilance is important. It's essential to maintaining a healthy democracy. And there's always more work to be done. I pay close attention to political situation here, whether or not I blog about it. And I still think much of the fear about this government is unwarranted.

Some people on the far right of Canada's political spectrum oppose abortion rights? Sure, and they're allowed to. That's a far cry from actual anti-abortion legislation being passed - or even discussed. The same-sex marriage free vote? A bone to Harper's right-wing supporters, not an actual threat. I've heard Canadian lefties slam Harper for "being religious". That, I think, is bigotry. We shouldn't care if Stephen Harper is religious any more than we care that he didn't hug his son for the photo op. Harper's personal life is irrelevant. As long as he keeps his religious views out of his government, it's no concern of mine.

Fears of privatization of the health care system are justified. I understand that. We'd have to watch for that under a Liberal government, too. We have to watch for it provincially. I also believe we have to examine all the choices and options, and not just reject changes off-hand by labeling them "American".

It's that label that led to this post. Many people I've spoken with, both in person and online, don't seem to realize how very far from the US Canada is, despite the current Conservative minority government. They don't seem to fully grasp what's happening in the US. Like I said, maybe that's impossible. (Or maybe not.) Two fraudulent presidential elections, an incredibly corrupt campaign and election system, mainstream media controlled by the government, the government spying on ordinary citizens, health care out of reach for tens of millions of citizens, fundmentalists controlling courts and legislatures all over the country... should I go on? And, as Basil Fawlty would say, Whatever you do, don't mention the war. The country is snowballing into collapse.

I never thought Canada was perfect. I never imagined it was utopia. But how this minority government is going to turn it into the United States defies my imagination.

If that's merely the limits of my poor imagination, you're all invited to say I told you so. I know how to fight the good fight and I'll get right to it.

* * * *

I was disappointed, though not surprised, at the results of last night's vote to extend Canada's presence in Afghanistan. Note that it took 30 Liberal MPs to squeak by.

more mummies

Alan With One L emailed me this story about a mummy recently found in Peru. (My mom also cut out a hard copy. She reads this blog, but still hasn't gotten that emailing-an-article thing down.)
A mummy of mystery has come to light in Peru.

She was a woman who died some 1,600 years ago in the heyday of the Moche culture, well before the rise of the Incas. Her imposing tomb suggests someone of high status. Her desiccated remains are covered with red pigment and bear tattoos of patterns and mythological figures.

But the most striking aspect of the discovery, archaeologists said yesterday, is not the offerings of gold and semiprecious stones, or the elaborate wrapping of her body in fine textiles, but the other grave goods.

She was surrounded by weaving materials and needles, befitting a woman, and 2 ceremonial war clubs and 28 spear throwers - sticks that propel spears with far greater force - items never found before in the burial of a woman of the Moche (pronounced MOH-chay).

Was she a warrior princess, or perhaps a ruler? Possibly.

"She is elite, but somewhat of an enigma," said John Verano, a physical anthropologist at Tulane University, who worked with the Peruvian archaeologists who made the discovery last year.

Christopher B. Donnan of the University of California, Los Angeles, was not a member of the research team but inspected the mummy and the tomb soon after the find.

"It's among the richest female Moche burials ever found," said Dr. Donnan, an archaeologist of Peruvian culture. "The tomb combines things usually found either exclusively in male or female burials - a real mystery."

The National Geographic Society announced the discovery and is publishing details in its magazine's June issue. The excavations, more than 400 miles northwest of Lima, were supported by the Augusto N. Wiese Foundation of Peru.
But where?? Where were the excavations? "400 miles northwest of Lima" is not a location.

Two more Peru notes.

Several people have asked me about things we didn't do in Peru. Trujillo, for example, is a centre of certain traditional (Spanish-derived) dancing, as well as famous pacing horses. There are colonial mansions in Lima and Arequipa, and many private art collections. On the less sedentary side of life, Peru is a magnet for trekking, surfing, sandboarding, and whitewater rafting.

You'd need a lot more time to do and see everything in Peru, as you would in any country. But even if we had been traveling for more than three weeks, we wouldn't have done these things. We would have covered more ground - maybe gone to Bolivia, or explored islands on Lake Titicaca. Our trip was formed around our own interests. My travel journal is a reflection of that, not a definitive guidebook.

Also, in your internet travels, if you come across stories on the upcoming election in Peru, or about the current political situation in South America in general, I'd be very interested. Feel free to links them by email or to post them in comments.



Wanna here something incredibly cool? Friend of wmtc Granny just welcomed her tenth grandchild into the world. She also has three great-grandchildren. That's a lot of life.*

Welcome to the planet, Jonathan Steven Anthony Clark!

* This post should not be construed as valuing Granny based on her procreative output. That's only a portion of what she has given to the world.

the exodus continues

Every day I hear from more Americans who are making the move northwards. Moving to Vancouver is the story of West End Bound and drf, currently in Florida. (Guys, link to me, eh?!)

Jo Davenport put her immigration experience into a book - something I'm also planning to do. You can see it here. In a few weeks, Jo will be a dual citizen!

And I'm not sure I ever mentioned Diamond Jim, who moves to Toronto (from New York!) just in time for our party!


Ahhh, how wonderful to come home to Canada. I love it every time.

The trip home was fine, just exhausting, especially for me, since I was up all night on the flight from Lima. Apparently everyone but me can sleep sitting up. I don't know how they do it (except for those lucky ducks lying down in business class), but everyone was snoring away except me.

Clearing immigration and customs in JFK, we missed our flight to Buffalo, but JetBlue got us on the next one, only 90 minutes later. That gave us time for breakfast and some badly-needed freshening up.

When the US immigration official at JFK welcomed us back to the US, Allan and I smiled knowingly at each other, since we were planning to be there only for a few hours, and we weren't quite home yet.

Port Credit looks so beautiful. Everything is green and blooming, the birds are singing in full throat, and our backyard is full of wildflowers. Some people call them weeds, but weeds, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder, and I declare these flowers beautiful.

The seeding and fertilizing that was done while we were gone made a big improvement on the lawn. It's not a lush, green carpet, but it's not a dirt patch anymore, either. Right now it's raining, so large puddles have formed, as usual. I haven't seen rain in 3 weeks and I can't say I missed it.

Ellen the Incredible Dogsitter had cleaned the house and put some food in the fridge. She and Cody had a great three weeks. Cody was very happy to see us, but not insane with joy, as we expected. She's lucky she goes through life on such an even keel.

I'm about to overwhelmed: several stories for Kids On Wheels and New Mobility, my new work hours (beginning a week from tomorrow), plans for a wedding we're attending in early June, and plans for our own party. I'll be making lists and trying not to freak out.

How are you all? What's new, personally and in Canada? Anything new on the emigration front with the moving-to-Canada crew? Feel free to direct me to any and all relevant websites.

I have some Canada-vs-US-related thoughts to come. I'm planning to get back to the usual mix of personal and political, and end the "what I did today" portion of this blog.


last post from peru

We´re back in the hotel for one hour before leaving for the airport. I´ll try to bang out a post about our last day.

We spent the morning in El Museo de la Nacion, a natural history museum that gives an overview of the ancient Peruvian cultures, from the first civilizations through the Incas. There´s an emphasis on ceramics (since much of our knowledge of these peoples comes through their pottery), along with some good reproductions of their buildings and temples. There was a school group there, eager 4th graders, and their teacher´s talk was just about on my level of comprehension.

It was a nice place, well designed and thought out, but the real treat was unrelated to the museum, and unexpected. In an alcove to the side of one of the exhibits, a young man sat in a room full of a kind of handicraft we have not seen anywhere else. He gave us a beautiful description (in Spanish, dumbed down for me, I believe) of how they are made and what they mean.

They are gourds, meticulously engraved in the most painstaking detail, then rubbed with the black ash of a certain plant, then cleaned with another solution (all from plants found in the rainforest), so the inky colour stays only in the engravings. The drawings are playful and light, depicting festivals, music, work, family life, and other aspects of rural life in Peru.

I cannot begin to describe the intricacy of the drawings. We were positively flabbergasted. Some of the engravings were huge, on giant horn-shaped gourds. Others were small, about the size of a pear, or even smaller, the size of a small egg. The workshop of artists who make them are entirely the young man´s family.

Off to the ATM we went! We simply could not resist buying these unique figures from the artist themselves. After much decision-making - they were all so beautiful - we bought one medium pear-sized gourd, and a very small egg-shaped one. (They were priced according to how long they took to make.) When I asked the boy for his photo in front of his work, he gave me his email address and asked if I would send him the photo. Great!

I don´t know if there´s anything about this work online. He called it Mates Burilados. (I asked him to write it down with his email address.) Mates are the gourds; the etching instruments are burillas.

After the museum, we went to Barranco, the supposedly funky suburb just south of Miraflores. Either we didn´t see the funky part, or this neighbourhood went upscale long ago. It was beautiful, and very ritzy, full of huge colonial homes and gardens.

We were very hungry, and on a guidebook recommendation, Allan found us a terrific place for what turned out to be our last meal in Peru. It was a neighbourhood joint, a big open place with 25-foot ceilings, from which hung all manner of soccer memorabilia. It´s only open for lunch and the big tables kept filling up with all manners of groups. (Except tourists!)

We each had a ceviche appetizer that alone would have been a meal. Mine was the deluxe mixed edition, full of squid, octopus, shrimp, langostinos, mussels, clams, a few kinds of fish, and a shellfish I had never seen before, which I found out was concha negra - black conch. After this the waiter brought me a small cast-iron crock of chufe, thick, creamy chowder filled with shrimp and langostinos. (For my own record, Allan had calamari ceviche and chiccharrones mixto, mixed fried seafood.) We were both full for the rest of the day.

We walked around Barranco, finding little pedestrian-only lanes among the colonial houses and sea views everywhere. Tired and too full, we sat in the town park, then found a little place for a cup of tea. The owner was a local man who spoke excellent English, who said he thinks his English is "like Tarzan", pronouncing Tarzan with the accent on the second syllable. I must use that line about my Spanish! He had a beautiful, tiny cafe, which he said he designed himself, and, being unemployed and broke at the time, constructed entirely out of materials recycled from trash. (I´m going to come back to this post to add the name of his cafe.) [Name and address of cafe: Paz Soldan, Av. Grau 508, Barranco. Proprietor: Jose Antonio Paz Soldan Vargas.]

After this, we hopped yet another cab to Larcomar, the trendy outdoor mall, to have one last drink overlooking the Pacific. It was dark by now, but the mist that hangs over the coast obscures all stars. All you can see in the darkness are the whitecaps of the waves rolling in, and the roar of the surf echoes on the cliffs.

Peru has been like a dream, like an odyssey - so different, often wonderful, sometimes difficult, but always fascinating. I feel sad to leave and so incredibly fortunate to have been here.

Thanks for coming along on our journey! Tomorrow we resume normal we move to canada programming. I can´t remember what that was, but Allan assures me I´ll come up with something.

A few photos from our last day in Peru.

Allan took several close-ups of the amazing mates burilados, but, engrossed as I was in trying to communicate with the artist, I forgot to tell him about the close-up setting on the digital camera. So unfortunately, most of those are too blurry to post, and I'm still kicking myself over it. However, you can see the artist himself, Cristian Alfaro, and a few of his family's creations.



Here´s something I forgot to note about Arturo, our Sipan guide. He repeatedly referred to the Moche people as his ancestors, and to his pride in their accomplishments. I thought this was really cool. I remember a guide at Newgrange, a Neolithic passage tomb site in Ireland, speaking with obvious pride that her ancestors had built it. That´s a little more of a stretch, for various reasons, but I still love the idea.

Arturo told us some people have criticized him for not speaking Quechua, since he is Mestizo, and Quecha acknowledges and honours Indian heritage. But, he says, my people are from the north, they didn´t speak Quechua. The Incans spoke Quechua, but the Moche, older than the Incas, did not.

* * * *

We were both tired last night, and after discovering that our room had cable TV, we set off in search of a bottle of wine and snacks. Down the street, for the first time on this trip, we found a North American- style supermarket. The only food stores we´ve seen are little tiendas - basically a person in a tiny compartment, open to the street, and you ask for what you want - or market stalls. There must be supermarkets in middle-class neighbourhoods of Arequipa, for example, but we didn´t see them. This one, in Chiclayo, was big and modern, with refrigerated meat and fish (!) and even a pet food section.

We found wine, a cheap corkscrew - ours having been confiscated at the Lima airport en route to Cuzco, chips, cookies and yogurt shakes. We watched Los Simpsons with dubbed Spanish and Twins vs White Sox, the ESPN Sunday Night game, broadcast live in Spanish throughout Latin America.

It may not surprise you to learn that Allan is following the Red Sox online, and has been blogging from Peru. A couple of rainouts made him happy, because that means he misses fewer games.

* * * *

This morning we flew back to Lima, very easily and uneventfully, and are staying at the same hotel as our first go-round in Lima. We took a taxi into Miraflores, which I thought was a Lima neighbourhood but is actually a suburb. It´s ocean-side, and the centre of hotels, restaurants and nightlife for tourists and Limeños alike.

We went to a famously trendy mall (of all places) called Larcomar, built on the edge of high cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Most of it is outdoors or at least open-air, and the setting is so beautiful, it feels much nicer than a typical mall. We had lunch and drinks with a beautiful view, then wandered around the shops.

This was the only place in Peru that we´ve seen chains like Radio Shack and Athlete´s Foot, and the only Starbucks. There were a lot of souvenirs that we´ve seen sold in situ, marked up at least 500%.

We took a long walk through Miraflores, by far the most upscale or middle-class area we´ve seen in the entire country. Accordingly, it looks most like home. Even in the nice residential area of our hotel, the sidewalks are very narrow, there are tiny tiendas, and a very Sudamericano market. Miraflores looks to me like an upscale or middle-class neighbourhood anywhere. After not seeing a supermarket for three weeks, we saw one that I´d drool over in Port Credit.

More walking, and then dinner, and a glimpse of the famed nightlife of the area. We were winding down, but it was clearly just revving up (typical of us these days!). In a beautiful plaza park, vendors were set up with desk lamps, obviously expecting a busy nighttime trade.

Back at our hotel, there is cable TV in our room, and I suggested we check out ESPN. Guess what? The Red Sox were in the process of clobbering the Orioles, 11-1, bottom of the 9th. We saw the last half-inning.

Tomorrow we´re taking in a museum in the morning, then checking out the artsy suburb of Barranco. We´ll probably hang out here at the hotel in the evening before going to the airport, since our flight doesn´t leave until nearly midnight.

I´m beginning to get a little anxious about all that awaits me when we get home, but that´s typical for me. So far it´s under control.


chiclayo, day two

Oops, almost forgot!

temperature: 23 C / 73 F
elevation: 34 m / 112 ft

Also, my apologies to Chiclayanos for yesterday´s misinformation. Chiclayo is not a colonial city, it is a Republican city, meaning it was founded when Peru was already an independent country. Peru´s independence from Spain dates to 1821; Chiclayo's Plaza de Armas was built in 1916.

* * * *

Lucky us, at the very end of the trip and still seeing fascinating things.

Today we took a tour of El Museo Tumbas Reales Sipan, the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan. The royal Moche burial sites of Sipan were discovered only in 1987, after previously unknown pre-Columbian artefacts started turning up on the underground market. There´s a modern-day wild-west story that follows huaqeros (grave robbers) from Peru to Miami to Philadelphia, involving the FBI, some unusually honest Peruvian police, at least one murder, and tales of intrigue that landed on two National Geographic magazine covers.

Fortunately for us, huaqeros are greedier than they are smart, and they never recognized what was in front of their eyes. A confession led archeologist Dr Walter Alva to the site, where the thieves had destroyed and looted one grave, but left 13 others intact, including the Señor of Sipan, or the Lord of Sipan. They were only a few metres away from the Señor's grave, but when they found a huge mess of pottery, they gave up. The quantity and placement of the pottery told the archeologists that a very important person was buried very nearby.

Intact graves bear incredibly rich fruit, laden with information about the civilization that built them. These graves were rich in every sense: they were full of gold, silver, and copper ornaments, and perfectly intact pottery and jewelry. And because their discovery was so recent, the restoration could be done right - Peruanos were involved in every process, and the treasures stayed where they were found. In fact, Peruvian students went to Spain and Germany for training in metal restoration, and now northern Peru is an internationally reknowned centre for that science.

The museum itself is the best in Peru, and said to be one of the top archeological museums of the world. The presentation is state-of-the-art. Even the building itself is designed to evoke a Moche pyramid.

It´s located in Lambayeque, outside of Chiclayo. Although Chiclayo is not on the standard tour circuit (luckily for us, but unhappily for the people of this region), I highly recommend a visit if you go to Peru. All the signage is in Spanish, but even if you read Spanish, a guide or a detailed book is very helpful, to put the whole presentation into context.

In the museum, we saw Moche pottery that illustrates all the animals and symbols of their culture, incredibly expressive and distinctive designs that were mass produced from molds. (Google Moche pottery to see these designs. They are easily recognizable by their distinctive spouted handles.)

There´s an incredible wealth of jewelry and ornamentation, all perfectly cleaned and restored to their original state, with no added reproductions. There were mountains of gold, but gold wasn´t particularly valuable, as it was plentiful in the Amazon River. Copper was more valuable, as it had to be mined, and most valuable of all were certain kinds of sea shells, since the Moche venerated the ocean. All the work was amazingly detailed and intricate, with certain repeating motifs that tell stories about the culture.

The Lord of Sipan was buried with his wife, two concubines, his young son, two soldiers, two llamas (no longer found in this area), a dog, and a soldier to guard them all, along with an unbelievable amount of riches. The artefacts in the tomb, their placement, the manner of burial, and all such details yielded so much information about the Moche.

The museum houses everything contained in three graves - that of the Señor, the Priest, and El Viejo Señor, the old Lord, which DNA testing has shown to be the Señor's great-grandfather - including the skeletons themselves. Cool factoid: the Señor had bone disease and his feet atrophied because he never walked - he was carried all his life. His teeth were strong from his high-calcium fish diet, but his feet and leg bones had deteriorated from lack of use.

Museo Tumbas Reales also shows how the graves were excavated (imagine digging 3 metres deep with tweezers!), and large colour photos of the sites in various stages of excavation.

Truly remarkable. We bought a beautiful book by Dr Alva about the site and the museum.

After a few hours at the Museum, we drove down rough roads, through ramshackle towns and tiny, poor pueblos, to the Sipan archeological site. The grave sites are there, with reproductions of what was found inside, so you can see the placement. (I also recommend visiting in this order, museum before site, as it provides wonderful context.)

The graves are beside what appears to be a mountain, but is really the remains of an adobe pyramid. We climbed up a short ways, and our guide pointed out the remains of many other pyramids in the area. They all look like small mountains or large hills. People are living on some of them. Unlike the Incas and the Mayans, who built with stone, the Moche built with adobe, and adobe could not withstand the forces of periodic El Niño phenomena.

Our guide, Arturo, was really a delight. His accent was a little difficult, but he slipped political comments into his narrative, including some wonderful digs at the US. How lucky to say we're from Canada, as I doubt he´d be so bold with Norteamericanos. (That´s what folks from the US are known as, by the way, Norteamericanos, which apparently does not include Canadians or Mexicans.)

After the tour, we asked the driver to leave us near a popular restaurant where Chiclayanos were chowing down for Mother´s Day. (Will this Mother´s Day never end? It´s a three-day celebration here!) We had delicious polla a la brasa (rotisserie chicken) and potatoes, then joined a crowd waiting for ice cream. The people in Chiclayo look comparatively well-off, decidedly middle class. Not so on the outskirts and certainly not in the little adobe pueblos, but there is obviously education and comfort within the northern cities themselves.

Tomorrow morning (Monday) we fly to Lima, and our flight to NYC is not until late Tuesday night. When we planned the trip, I didn´t realize that you don´t really need that much time in Lima. We considered moving our return up a day, which would still give us a full 12 hours more in Lima, and also would give Allan an extra recuperation day before returning to work, but it was prohibitively expensive. So we'll spend time in the seaside neighbourhoods of Miraflores and Barranco, and not go into the downtown area at all. Miraflores is where all the restaurants, upscale shopping and nightlife is; Barranco is supposed to be a relaxed, funky, artist's and writer's enclave.

A few pictures from Sipan here. Unfortunately, the best part is in el museo and not photographable. But you can see the outside of the Museum, and a bit of the actual grave sites.



Adios, Huanchaco. You´ll live forever in my heart.

After posting yesterday, we ran into Marco, strumming his guitar on the sea wall. How nice to see a familiar face!

A restaurant on a side street had set up a big grill in front - right on the street. A very friendly waiter was showing off fresh fish and seafood to customers. We took a plastic table on the sidewalk, and watched our squid and langostinos sizzle before our eyes. Add a few papas fritas on the side, a carafe of cold wine, and that´s as good a dinner as I could ask for.

Nick, our dog-away-from-dog, was waiting for us at the hotel. We had some socks drying on our patio, and he ran off with one. What a sweet little devil this dog is. He makes me want a young German Shepherd again.

This morning after breakfast, we tipped all the wonderful Huanchaco staff and said our goodbyes, then took a taxi into Trujillo, and got our bus north to Chiclayo. (More loud movies on the bus, of course, competing with loud salsa from the driver.) The trip was longer than we anticipated - transportation always is here - and left us little time to do any sightseeing today.

Instead, we arranged a tour for tomorrow. Because we stayed an extra day in Huanchaco, we have only one full day to see Sipan and the related museums, and we want to maximize our time. If we do our own transportation, it will never work. We booked a tour (just us, no group) that includes transportation, an English-speaking guide, and admission to the sites and museums, for about US $35 each.

Chiclayo is another colonial-style town, not on the standard tour circuit. I have a feeling tomorrow is going to be terrific.


huanchaco, day three

After breakfast this morning, we caught a colectivo van into Trujillo, to buy our bus tickets for tomorrow´s trip to Chiclayo. This is not as easy as it might be, and proof of why using travel agents in the more heavily touristed cities is such a convenience.

There are seven or eight different bus companies, and each operates from a different station. The guidebook was a big help, but even still, it was a process. A passenger on the van gave us directions when we got out, then I asked a newsstand vendor, who told me "tres cuadros" (three blocks). We walked three blocks, asked at another newsstand, were told another 3 blocks, asked again... and in that manner, three blocks at a time, found our station. We purchased tickets (the ticket agent had to send a runner searching for change for a 10 soles bill!), but we also had to get the address of the bus´s departure, a different location than the bus station. Crazy.

Then a cab to the Plaza de Armas, for a bank and an errand. Trujillo is a huge, crowded city and we´re thrilled that we opted for Huanchaco. But Trujillo also seems nicer than most of the other cities we´ve seen, because it´s not heavily touristed. Tour groups don´t yet come to the north coast; there are only scattered independent travelers. On the main plaza, there are no restaurant hawkers, no incessant peddling and begging, no shlocky souvenir stands.

We stopped for a bite to eat at a little cafe. Here´s fast food, Peruano style. For chicken or turkey sandwichs, freshly roasted birds are being carved; for fruit juices, people are slicing pineapples and throwing them in blenders. (The popular juices in Peru are papaya, pineapple, orange, or combinations thereof.) I had another stuffed potato, this one filled with ground beef, scallions, hard boiled egg, black olives and raisins. Man, these are delicious.

We hopped a cab to the corner where vans leave for the Huaca del Sol y Huaca de la Luna, the nearby Moche sites. As soon as we got out of the cab, an elderly man says, "Huacas? Aqui," and pointed the way. There were vans everywhere, the guys who work them all yelling, very chaotic. We boarded a rattle-trap vehicle, and the kid was determined to fill every available space, whether or not it could actually fit a person.

Every time we think it can´t get any fuller, he stops for someone else. At one point, the van completely full, he stopped in front of a school and picked up 4 or 5 uniformed kids, some eating ice pops! Allan counted 19 people at one point, in a van meant to hold 9 or 10. Nine or ten small people, that is. Every trip is an adventure in bruised heads and knees. But it´s fun, and it´s cheap, and we see a lot on the way.

This van left the paved road and bumped through a tiny pueblo. It´s crazy that there´s no public transit, but at least these colectivos are cheap and they pick people up right in front of their houses or workplaces, stopping whenever anyone waves them down.

Finally we unfold ourselves at the so-called Huaca de la Luna, in the middle of the desert, at the foot of a mountain you can see from Huanchaco or Trujillo. This was a sacred site of the Moche people, an empire that controlled what is now almost the entire coast of Peru from about 250 BC to about 800 AD. They were conquered by the Chimu, but as the Chimu culture was much smaller and more localized, it´s not (yet) known why the Moche completely disappeared.

The name of the site is a misnomer. Huaca is a Quechua word, and the Moche didn´t speak Quechua. The Moche also didn´t worship the sun or the moon, but the Spanish thought all the "primitives" did. Hence, a nonsense name.

This was a great site. The Moche built one temple on top of another, every 100 years. With each successive level, they would cover the previous level with adobe bricks, and build upwards. Because of this, and because of desert conditions, there was very little erosion - everything is intact, seven levels deep. The only damage was done by 17th Century grave robbers. Three guesses where they came from.

The most amazing thing about the Huaca is that much of the original brightly coloured paint is still intact, because it was buried in adobe and sand for hundreds of years. In most remnants of the ancient world, the colours have long since faded and eroded, and you have to remember that ancient peoples didn´t live in a brown and gray world. Perhaps Pompeii is the one exception we´ve seen, before today. Here, there were dozens of murals in bright reds, blues and yellows. In many places, three or four levels are visible at once, so you can see how Moche art and representation changed over time, becoming more complex and fluid.

The Moche also made distinctive pottery, with an instantly recognizable round handle and spout. (If you like pottery, Google it, they´re fun.) Since pottery isn´t gold, the huaqueros (grave robbers) didn´t want it, and there are hundreds of original pieces around.

The site outside Trujillo was excavated only in 1991 and is still being uncovered. Everywhere you walk, there are men digging, sifting, brushing, watering. Only the "Luna" temple is open now, and from the top of that, you look down on a huge excavation site, where archeology students are working. Most are Peruano.

This is also the only site we´ve seen in Peru that has interpretative signage, and for which an educated, paid guide is included in your admission price. This is because the north coast sites receive funding from a private foundation, the Backus Fund. Backus is the foundation arm of Trujillo Pilsen, the major beer company of the north, whose ads cover every square inch of space, everywhere.

Because of the Backus Fund´s special patronage, the Moche Route - a circuit of archeological sites in the north - are all being restored and readied for visitors. If you had a special interest in Moche culture, you could easily make a good two-week vacation out of La Ruta Moche, and take in some nice beaches on the way.

None of these sites receive government funding. I asked our excellent guide whether, in her opinion, that was because the government couldn´t afford to help, or if they didn´t want to. She said the politics are very complicated, but she believes they just don´t want to. Why, she said, does Machu Picchu receive funding and not the north coast? (I have no answer to that.) She mentioned the upcoming election, but said she doubts either choice will change this situation. (We have a good joke about the election, because the leading candidate´s name is Alan Garcia [a former president of Peru] and his signage only says "Alan". Our Allan promised he would give lots of funds to the north coast.)

This site was fantastic - the intact murals, the bright colours, the descending levels of excavation, the ongoing work.

As I mentioned, the temples are in the middle of a desert. (The Moche were masters of irrigation and transformed desert to garden.) The wind was whipping wildly, punishing our eyes and faces with sand. By the time we left, we had sand in our ears and in our teeth, and my hair was a rat´s nest.

Another crazy colectivo ride back into Trujillo, then asking for directions every three blocks, until we found the meeting point for vans to Huanchaco. The sidewalks of late afternoon Trujillo were crowded with food vendors, selling dried corn and beans (for crunchy salty snacks), melons, papayas, sweet rolls, sugar cane and coconut juice, and tiny huevitos, little boiled eggs with brown speckled shells. We passed an international calling place, so I ducked in to wish my mother a happy Mother´s Day.

Yet another squozed van ride, but as soon as we hit Huanchaco, it is quiet, the surf is rolling in, and we can breathe more freely. Hot showers, and into town for the internet. The trip is winding down, but we still have an important thing to see, the day after tomorrow: the tombs of Sipan.

More information about the Huacas, the restoration process, and Moche culture, here.

Some of our photos of Huaca de la Luna here.