1.31.2006

a little less of me

I'm going to be a little less present in comments for a while. I need to spend more time working, and I want to swim more, and something's got to give. I'll still pop in to play Gracious Host and will chime in a discussion here and there, but I need to hang out less and focus more.
However, I'll still be reading - and appreciating - all your comments. Please don't interpret my absence as, well, absence. You guys make this blog. Keep it up.

Speaking of comments, don't miss the latest on this fucking post. You might want to backtrack for the full effect.

we go out

Last night James and Lori introduced us to another of Toronto's many sushi restaurants. This one had a unique touch: a floating sushi bar. While we were eating, little sushi-bearing Japanese boats bobbed past us, to the pleasant trickling sounds of a nearby waterfall. Nice! The sushi was excellent, and reminded me that I haven't been eating it often enough.

Continuing our "weekend", tonight is the first play in our Soulpepper subscription, which I bought half on a whim shortly after moving here. The season opened last month with Our Town, which we chose to skip (the subscription is 7 out of 8 plays). Tonight we're seeing The Government Inspector, which can be really funny.

Soulpepper has a new home in Toronto's Distillery District, which we haven't seen yet, and are looking forward to. As the name implies, this area was the site of a huge distillery, now remade into an cultural district. (Some info and history here.)

I'm very interested in this, as it sounds like Toronto has managed to avoid a staple of many US cities, the historic district turned glorified shopping mall.

When Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia remade their unsafe, decaying waterfronts into thriving tourist and entertainment districts, it was hailed as a creative new start for American cities. And it was, to an extent - development is better than decay. Now any US city that can manage it has a "historic district". Without good manufacturing jobs, tourism and retail is all there is. But with few exceptions, those so-called historic districts are purely retail. They attract a lot of tourist dollars, but they don't do much for the city at large.

In many of these areas, commercial rents are well beyond the reach of local merchants, and the scene is dominated by big national chains. In Baltimore, for example, the Inner Harbor is a huge attraction, with the beautiful retro ballpark that Baltimore taxpayers involuntarily bought (and continue to pay for). Just a few blocks away, the sad, shabby reality of Baltimore carries on, no different than it was before the harbour was re-invented. Most people who take in an Orioles game - who go to a restaurant, buy some useless crap, and maybe visit the famous aquarium and the Babe Ruth Museum - will never see it. (But while they're at the Babe Ruth Museum, will they please buy a copy of Allan's book?)

So I have more than a passing interest in the Distillery District, as it sounds like a bona fide arts and cultural center: galleries, studios, workshops, live music and theatre, mixed in with the restaurants, bars and shops. And who knows, I might even find some great funky earrings.

passing

Wendy Wasserstein, a wonderful writer, a great wit, and an all-around cool person, died yesterday. She was only 55 years old. Wasserstein was a playwright, a screenwriter, a theatre developer (she began a dynamic program to get smart, low-income city kids involved in theatre), a New Yorker, a single mom, an engaged citizen. She was also a fixture in New York, sought after for opinions and commentary, sometimes as the token woman in a roundtable.

An obituary is here, and a funny, poignant remembrance of Wasserstein by a friend, the journalist Gail Collins, is here.

The lights on Broadway will be dimmed tonight in her honour.

1.30.2006

immortality

Harper Lee, author of one truly great novel, momentarily put aside her penchant for privacy and spoke briefly with a reporter.

To Kill A Mockingbird remains the only book Lee has ever written. I wonder if I wrote a book as perfect as that, if I'd be satisfied to never write another word.

Among the many reasons I love Mockingbird is its great accessibility. As a writer and appreciator of young-adult fiction, I've always thought the best young-adult books were not specifically written for young people. They are just great books that are also straightforward and engaging enough for a young reader. I can name dozens of books that fit the bill, but Mockingbird would be my first example.

To Kill A Mockingbird is also one of my favourite movies. To my mind it's one of a very few films to do a great novel justice. Horton Foote, who wrote the screenplay, is also an excellent writer, and as prolific as Lee is reclusive.

A six-degrees-of-separation note: Horton Foote's son, Horton Jr., owns one of my favourite spots in New York, Tavern on Jane. You can usually find him behind the bar, serving drinks, chatting with the regulars, and welcoming all.

Here's Harper Lee at the annual essay contest that pays tribute to her work.

puritans

What would we do without Katha Pollitt? By "we", I mean the progressive world at large, but especially feminists. Few people outside the US may realize how far the war against women has gone there. In her recent column, "Prochoice Puritans", Pollitt holds the radical line.
Do you think abortion is tragic and terrible and wrong, that Roe v. Wade went too far and that the prochoice movement is elitist, unfeeling, overbearing, overreaching and quite possibly dead? In the current debate over abortion, that makes you a prochoicer. As the nation passes the thirty-third anniversary of Roe, it is hard to find anyone who will say a good word in public for abortion rights, let alone for abortion itself. Abortion has become a bit like flag-burning--something that offends all right-thinking people but needs to be legal for reasons of abstract principle ("choice"). Unwanted pregnancy has become like, I don't know, smoking crack: the mark of a weak, undisciplined person of the lower orders.

On the New York Times op-ed page, William Saletan argues that prochoicers should concede that "abortion is bad, and the ideal number of abortions is zero," and calls for "an explicit pro-choice war on the abortion rate." Sounding a "clear anti-abortion message," prochoicers should promote a basket of "solutions" to unintended pregnancy: the Prevention First Act, which calls for federal funding for family planning programs; expanded access to health insurance and emergency contraception; comprehensive sex education. "Some pro-choice activists" are even "pushing for more contraceptive diligence in the abortion counseling process, especially on the part of those women who come back for a second abortion." Give those sluts the lecture they deserve.

Saletan is a very shrewd analyst of political framing. Indeed, plenty of Democrats have already picked up the "I hate abortion" mantra. I seem always to be reading calls from prochoicers to antichoicers to work together on contraception. Calling their bluff sounds so clever. Why isn't it working?

The problem is, although of course many abortion opponents support birth control, the organized antichoice movement hates it. To the movement, the most effective birth control methods--the Pill, emergency contraception, the IUD--are "abortifacients" and "mini-abortions," and even barrier methods like the condom promote a "contraceptive mentality": a selfish, licentious attitude that leads straight to abortion hell. Wherever antichoicers have political power, they've slashed funds for family-planning clinics, passed laws enabling pharmacists to deny women EC and the Pill and promoted abstinence-only sex ed that tells kids condoms don't work. In 2003 the Republican-controlled Missouri state legislature handed over the entire state family-planning budget for poor women to "abortion alternatives" centers. Among antichoicers, the political will to mount a significant public-health campaign for contraception, safe sex and accurate information simply does not exist. Democrats for Life of America is pushing "95-10," a plan they claim would reduce abortions by 95 percent in ten years. It doesn't even mention birth control. And that's the liberals!

And there's another problem, too. Inevitably, attacking abortion as a great evil means attacking providers and patients. If abortion is so bad, why not stigmatize the doctors who perform them? Deny the clinic a permit in your town? Make women feel guilty and ashamed for choosing it and make them sweat so they won't screw up again? Ironically, improvements in contraception have made unwanted pregnancy look more like a personal failing. "Why was I so careful? Because I never wanted to have an abortion," wrote 32-year-old Laurie Gigliotti in response to Saletan's op-ed, describing her super-vigilant approach to safe sex. You can just see how unwanted pregnancy will join obesity and smoking as unacceptable behavior in polite society. But how is all this censoriousness supposed to help women control their fertility? If half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it doesn't make sense to treat them as individual sins.

Fact is, there will never be zero abortions. Half the women who abort are using birth control already--there are no perfect methods or perfect people, except maybe Laurie Gigliotti. Even in small, tidy, prosperous Sweden and the Netherlands, there are abortions. So how can there be zero abortions in America, with our ramshackle healthcare system, our millions of poor people, our high school graduates who can't even read a prescription information sheet?
There's more here.

Pro-choice activists have a saying: most people in America are against abortion, with three exceptions - rape, incest, and me. All this moralizing makes me sick.

1.29.2006

contrasts

Yesterday afternoon I took Cody on an extra-long walk on the lakefront. It was gorgeous out - 11 degrees (I am totally down with my Celsius now!) and sunny. Lots of people were out enjoying the day with their dogs and their kids. Cody likes to say hello to all the dogs, and all the adults, but kids - no, thank you! She's afraid of little ones and makes herself unavailable to their waving arms.

The lake was a deep, rich blue, and perfectly still. Geese, swans and ducks were gliding along the shore.

This morning it's overcast and raining. The lake is battleship gray, roiling with white caps. No birds in sight.

* * * *

Happy New Year to wmtc readers who are celebrating today. It's 4703, the year of the dog.

I hear that Toronto celebrates the Chinese New Year in grand style. Mississauga celebrates, too, big time. At the Y, I'm often one of the few non-Chinese women in the locker room, which is kind of cool.

I wish it were the global year of the dog. I'm reminded of a documentary I saw on dogs all over the world, from pampered family members, to the legions of street dogs, to those killed for food, still a practice in parts of the world. There were images in the film I'll never forget, although I wish I could.

The dog - domesticated, and so, utterly dependent on humans - enjoys the best of humanity, and suffers the worst. Allan and I have often marveled at a dog's boundless trust and optimism. Even the most abused and ravaged dogs will quickly trust and love with an open heart. Our Buster was testimony to that. It took time for him to trust someone new, but the wonder is he trusted anyone at all.

This Bangkok street dog has his own blog. You can read about his life and some of his friends.

1.28.2006

lone gunman

In our "how scared should we be of a Harper government" discussion, I asked how much Harper can do on his own, without approval from the House of Commons.

I was surprised at the level of alarm from some leftist bloggers, given that it's a minority government. Wrye noted:
It's usually with the assumption that Harper cares more about implementing radical change than his own (or his party's) longevity. Some changes (like, say, certain tax cuts or devolving tax powers to the provinces) would be very difficult to reverse. If changing the federation is that important to him, he may do it regardless of the consequences.

Ian Welsh drew a parallel with Dave Barrett. [For more explanation, follow the link.]
Sharonapple said that Harper can appoint Conservative judges and senators. How do Supreme Court appointments work in Canada? Does there have to be an opening, when a Justice dies or retires, as in the US? Or can the Prime Minister actually change the makeup of the Court at will? (This has happened in the US, too, but it's not the Constitutional, and it's not the norm.)

I know the Senate is also appointed. (I read the Wikipedia entry, no need to post that.) But I'm under the impression that the Prime Minister can't just disband the Senate and appoint new Senators. And if he did change the makeup of the Senate, what effect would that have?

The discussion began in this thread; let's pick it up here.

view from the southleft

John Nichols is an American writer who has been covering Canadian politics for more than 20 years. In his blog in The Nation, Nichols reassures progressive US readers who fear Canada is now joined at the neocon hip with the US. His conclusion: "Don't Cry For Canada".
After the 2004 presidential election in the United States, a lot of liberal Americans looked longingly to the north. Canada, the theory went, was a social democracy with a sane foreign policy and humane values that offered a genuine alternative to the right-wing hegemony that the U.S. was about to experience.

But, this week, U.S. television networks and newspapers declared: "Canadians Tilts Right" and "Conservatives Capture Canada."

As shorthand for the election results that saw Canada's Conservative party outpoll the governing Liberal Party for the first time since Ronald Reagan served in the White House, those headlines may be useful.

But the claim that Canada has lurched far to the right is anything but accurate.

Of course, that has not stopped conservative spin doctors in Washington, and their echo chamber in the U.S. media, from announcing that last Monday's election results from Canada represent a seismic shift to the right for the North American continent. David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush, was peddling the line that Canadians had rejected "anti-Americanism" -- fostering the lie that the Liberals, who had worked closely with the U.S. government on issues ranging from the occupation of Afghanistan, in which Canada is a major player, to free trade, which the Liberals support, was somehow at war with the U.S. Equally disingenuous was Bob Morrison of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based group that opposes reproductive freedom and gay rights, who announced that: "We are glad to see that Canadians have values-voters too. We can be optimistic about the end of the social engineering as driven by the (Liberal) government."

U.S. conservatives, who can point to little in the way of positive political news from around the world these days, are entitled to their fantasies. But no thinking American should buy into them.

As is the case with most right-wing "analysis" coming out of Washington these days, the truth is a lot more complex than the right-wing spin doctors would have Americans believe.

In fact, the Canadian results ought to be read as a warning signal for U.S. Republicans.

Here's why:

* The Canadian election was held early because the Liberal Party government of Prime Minister Paul Martin had been rocked by a major corruption scandal, which involved the misuse of public funds to promote the government's position on issues involving the relationship between the province of Quebec and rest of the country. All of Canada's major opposition parties ran anti-corruption campaigns, and the first promise of the Conservatives was not a rightward shift in public policies, but rather the restoration of honest and accountable government. In the United States, where corruption scandals have shaken the Republican leadership in Congress -- forcing indicted House Minority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, to surrender his position of power -- Canada's vote-the-bums-out response to government wrongdoing ought to be heartening to progressives who would like to see a similar response in November to the corrupt practices of this country's governing party. The results from Canada indicate the power of a reform message. According to a poll conducted for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., 54 percent of Canadians who voted Conservative did so because they thought it was time for a change, while only 41 percent said they favored Conservative policies.

* In order to achieve viability in a country that has repeatedly rejected social-conservative policies, Conservative leader Stephen Harper radically restructured the message and the manifesto of his party. He deemphasized issues such as abortion and gay right, and promised to protect and improve popular social-welfare programs, including Canada's national health care system. As Arthur Cockfield, a well-regarded commentator of legal and political issues who teaches law at Queen's University, noted, "Stephen Harper has moved closer to the center of the political spectrum to broaden support for his party. With plans to help working families, promote access to day care, and bolster the public health-care system... Harper no longer proposes any truly radical changes, but has signalled that he plans to tackle a number of policy priorities that could benefit lower- and middle-income Canadians." In the days following the election, Harper moved quickly to assure Canadians that his Cabinet would include leading moderates, and that his policy agenda would reflect the promises he made during the campaign to govern from the middle rather than the right.

* Harper and the Conservatives kept U.S. conservatives at arms length. Harper repeatedly emphasized his independence from the Bush administration, and his differences with the American right, during the course of the campaign. And, according to reports published in a number of Canadian newspapers, Conservative activists asked U.S. conservative leaders not to cheer their campaign on. A headline in the Calgary Sun read: "SSH! U.S. conservatives asked to keep mum." A pre-election email circulated to conservative activists in the U.S. by right-wing firebrand Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation warned that, "Canadian voters have been led to believe that American conservatives are scary and if the Conservative party can be linked with us, they perhaps can diminish a Conservative victory."

* Even with their move to the center, the Conservatives did not win anything akin to a majority of the popular vote. Infact, the Conservatives won only 36 percent support. Almost two-thirds of Canadians cast their ballots for more left-wing alternatives. In democracies with proportional representation voting systems, which better represent the sentiments of the voters, the Conservatives would not be in a position to form a government. Because Canada, like the U.S., maintrains a single-district, "first-past-the-post" voting system, the Conservatives prevailed over a divided opposition. But Canada has a multi-party political system at the federal level; the U.S. does not. If only 36 percent of American voters back conservative Republicans this fall, Democrats will dominate Congress more thoroughly than they have at any time since the Watergate era and perhaps since New Deal Days.

* The Conservatives did not win a governing majority. Of the 308 seats in the Canadian Parliament, the Conservatives will hold only 124. The remainder will be held by Liberals, with 103; the social democratic Bloc Québécois, which is the dominant party in the province of Quebec, with 51; and the social democratic New Democrats (NDP), with 29. An independent from Quebec holds the final seat. Thus, a Conservative government will have to rely on parties of the left to get anything done. A Toronto Star analysis provides the honest assessment that, "This precarious situation raises real questions about which of the Conservative policy priorities... could realistically get through the Commons... That leads to the bigger question too of how long this government could last and when another election could be unleashed on the country."

* Two parties made sighificant gains in Monday's voting: the Conservatives and the New Democrats. While the Conservatives increased the size of their parliamentary delegation by around 25 percent, the New Democrats increased the size of their delegation by more than 33 percent. In fact, for the first time in years, the New Democrats won more seats in the western province of British Columbia than the Liberals, and the NDP made significant inroads in urban centers such as Toronto. Even though they were operating in a political system that tends to drive voters toward the larger parties, the New Democrats dramatically improved their position by running as an explicitly anti-war, anti-corporate free trade and anti-corruption party. NDP leader Jack Layton explained after the election, in which his party achieved its best showing in decades, that: "While Canadians asked Stephen Harper to form a minority government, they also asked the NDP to balance that government."

The bottom line is this: Canadians have chosen to remove a scandal-plagued government that went by the name of "Liberal." But they only did so because the "Conservatives" promised not to be too conservative. And they voted in a team of left-wing watchdogs to assure that those promises are kept. If that gives U.S. conservatives some small measure of comfort, so be it. But U.S. progressives need not be traumatized by these results. Indeed, they can look forward to the day when voters in their country might choose to throw out a scandal-plagued government that goes by the name "conservative."

1.27.2006

'allo 'allo

The phone call.

Thanks to wtmc friend and ally Wrye, who found it at Tilting At Windmills, who found it at Optimus Crime.

hypocrisy

More on Harper's ethics hypocrisy from some letter-writers to the Globe And Mail.
As a rule, public servants should avoid interfering in the electoral process. It's a good rule, but one that was violated twice in the last month.

First, in December, the RCMP announced an investigation into whether Ministry of Finance staff leaked information on an income trust ruling. The Mounties offered no smoking gun; neither did they justify publicizing an unsubstantiated accusation at so critical a time.

In a much different example, Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro waited until the election was over to announce that, for four months ending in November last year, Stephen Harper dodged an ethics investigation. Even as Mr. Harper campaigned on ethics and accountability, Mr. Shapiro kept secret Mr. Harper's own refusal to stand to account.

In the first instance, the RCMP shared speculation without cause. In the second, Mr. Shapiro withheld factual, and relevant, information. In so doing, both parties failed to protect the impartiality of their positions and the interests of an informed electorate.

Richard Littlemore
Nanaimo

*

So, the Ethics Commissioner delayed releasing his report on Mr. Harper's failure to show for interviews regarding the Gurmant Grewal affair. If only the RCMP had been so circumspect.

Jack Troughton
Kingston

*

The RCMP and the Ethics Commissioner: Do they sing from the same Book of Ethics?

Frank Felkai
Toronto
This really burns me up. I haven't checked in (yet) with many other Canadian bloggers. Does anyone share my outrage?

off the leash

In New York, almost every city park has a dog run - a fenced-off area where dogs can play off-leash. They're small, but they're very welcome, since for most urban dogs, it's the only opportunity for an unconstrained romp.

In the Toronto area, rather than dog runs within parks, whole parks are designated as leash-free zones. We just learned there's one in our area, and yesterday we took Cody there.

Going to the park is not quite the momentous occasion it used to be, since now Cody has her very own backyard, and can romp daily. (Yay!) On the other hand, she doesn't have a buddy to play with anymore, and it's great for her to socialize with other dogs.

The nearby leash-free park is huge, at least by our city dog-run standards. Dozens of dogs and their people can congregate in different areas and it would never seem crowded. It's securely fenced, with three separate parking areas. We were impressed.

In a park, Cody is shy, and easily intimidated by other dogs. She'll play a little, but mostly she watches the other dogs play, and toodles around on her own. Yet she seems to love it in her own way.

The only dog Cody ever played with with complete joy and abandon was Buster. And Buster, who couldn't come within 50 feet of any other dog, because he would have ripped them to shreds (and I'm not exaggerating), was always so sweet and gentle with Cody. She'd bark in Buster's face, bat at him with her paw, bite his ankles - anything to get him to play with her. And he indulged Cody as if she were a puppy, letting her do whatever she wanted, until he finally gave in and chased her around.

I hope Cody misses B less than I do.

* * * *

A writer's life is full of rejection, and that's something living in Canada can't change. A while back, I mentioned that Allan had submitted a book proposal, hoping to write a book in a music series. Allan doesn't often get interested and motivated enough to write a formal proposal. This was something he really, really wanted.

Yesterday he got the bad news. To make it that much more painful, the publisher is doing a book on the subject - but they chose another writer to do it. Bah.

1.26.2006

guest post from redsock: thoughts on harper

This post brought to you by Redsock, a/k/a my partner, Allan.

* * * *

One of my favorite bloggers - NDP supporter Jeff Wells at Rigorous Intuition - has posted his thoughts on the election results. He's usually not much of an alarmist, so I was wondering what others here thought. Here are some snips (whole comment here):
The Conservatives have formed a "safe" government on a short leash, that in the long term may prove the most disastrous outcome. Their weak minority will force them, if they're smart (and they are, now) to moderate their agenda; actually bringing it more into line with the centrist cooing Stephen Harper was making during the campaign. Breathing space for everyone, but it just means we're in a pot that's being brought to a boil. Some won't notice until they smell the garlic butter.

Canadian minority governments typically survive about 18 months. This provides a perfect window for our increasingly aggressive corporatist media to burnish Harper's image, and for voters to feel the slight benefit of tax cuts without yet feeling the pain of cuts to social services. (And of course this is how Canadian social services will be gutted. The Conservatives must say the right thing - that they will defend public healthcare, employment insurance and the rest - all the while doing the wrong thing by emptying the Treasury. Then, well, their hands will be tied: just the way they like it.) ...

Something else to expect during the minority tenure is Harper's drawing a target on Canada's back and then claiming it is only the Conservatives who are "strong on security." This could be precipitated by a world event (say, the forthcoming and potentially unconventional attack on Iran), Harper's hellbent march into the endless "war on terror," followed closely by a Bali bombing-like, this time it's personal attack on a soft Canadian target. If it sounds like something out of John Howard's playbook, it is. Howard's national campaign director, Brian Loughnane, is also advising the Canadian Conservatives. ...
Another blogger I check in with every so often is xymphora, who I believe (no one is sure) also lives in Canada. His view is even darker than RI's, to wit:
I can say, without fear of any reasonable contradiction, that Harper is the single worst human being to ever be Prime Minister of Canada.


* * * *

L-girl here again. I felt that these views were unduly alarmist, pessimistic and paranoid. I would never say "That won't happen," because none of us know the future, and it is often stranger than our imaginations. But based on what we do know - which is all any of us can go on - these don't feel right to me.

What do you think?

Allan and I will be gone for a few hours - hanging shelves, then taking Cody to a nearby off-leash dog park we just learned about - so please play nice.

reek

This really disturbs me. Emphasis mine.
Harper failed to meet ethics czar on Grewal

Stephen Harper failed to meet federal Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro despite repeated attempts over four months to interview him for an inquiry into the Gurmant Grewal affair, Mr. Shapiro noted in a report released yesterday.

Despite a code of conduct that says it is an MP's duty to co-operate with an inquiry by the commissioner, Mr. Harper's office told Mr. Shapiro he could not find time in his schedule to answer his questions between August and November of last year. Instead, Mr. Shapiro spoke to an aide.

The report was ready last Friday but delayed to prevent accusations of political favouritism in the last days of an election campaign. In the report, Mr. Shapiro wrote that he wanted to ask Mr. Harper when he knew about the surreptitious recordings of conversations that Mr. Grewal, then a Conservative MP, had with senior Liberals about switching sides for a crucial no-confidence vote.
So this report was suppressed, but in the middle of the same campaign, the RCMP went public with an investigation of a Liberal cabinet member, for which they admitted there was no evidence?

The Conservatives based 90% of their campaign on the Liberals' supposed corruption and their own squeaky-clean image, harping on government accountability as if no Conservative would ever dream of doing anything but the upstanding straight and narrow. Lo and behold, mere days after the election, we learn that Mr Harper wasn't quite as accountable as he likes Liberals to be.

And this was known during the campaign and suppressed?

This stinks.

dogs get bit

Minor-league hockey was great. As we assumed, there were reasonably priced tickets, good seats in a small arena, a friendly crowd, and a lively game. There were also lots of silly minor-league promotions, including a shootout from someone in the crowd - and they did play "Raise A Little Hell". (Thanks Wrye and Trevor!)

Because we work on the weekends, I don't know how many games we'll ever see, but I would do it again before baseball season starts.

A friendly man sitting next to me coached us on some strategy. He coaches his daughter's team: she's 7, and this is her fourth year of hockey. Wow.

I wish I had brought my camera, if only to get a picture of the Mississauga Ice Dogs' mascot, Blue. (Scroll down for Baby Blue.) It seems so appropriate that our local team has a canine name. Their community hockey team is the Ice Puppies. Love it.

Oh yeah, the Ice Dogs lost, 4-2.

* * * *

When Allan wakes up, he's going to guest-post. He read some commentary on the results of the election, asked me my opinion, and I suggested we throw it out to you all.

He's sleeping in before his long work weekend (39 hours in 3 days), so check back later.

1.25.2006

portrait of an artist

Last night we watched Part I of "No Direction Home," Martin Scorsese's tribute to Bob Dylan. It originally aired as part of the excellent PBS "American Masters" series, and is now out on DVD. (If I recall correctly, wmtc friend G The Library Bitch blogged about it when it was on TV.)

"No Direction Home" isn't a standard biography, as it profiles Dylan's life and career only up to 1966. I'm not sure that people who don't already get Dylan - his influence, his importance, his outsized creativity - would appreciate this movie, although I'd like to know. (I'd love to hear an impression of the film from someone who didn't already love Dylan.)

For me, this movie was extremely intense, a treasure trove of artistic and political heroes. I've always understood Dylan as an heir to Woody Guthrie and Allen Ginsberg. To hear Allen Ginsberg say that when he first heard "Hard Rain", he wept, because he realized the torch had been passed to a new generation - that just gives me chills. Woody Guthrie is a lifelong hero of mine, it's fair to say I grew up idolizing him. Allen Ginsberg was one of the greatest American artists, not to mention a New York City legend and a freedom fighter in the truest sense. This film celebrates the connections between Dylan and the traditions of both Guthrie and Ginsberg.

I've also always marveled at Dylan's ability to absorb so many disparate musical influences and make them his own. The film is full of early footage of those influences - Odetta, Muddy Waters (Muddy at Newport! I must see more!!), Josh White.

"No Direction Home" traces Dylan's early life in Minnesota, where he felt he had been born in the wrong place and time, to his world-changing pilgrimage to find Woody Guthrie, which brought him to the thriving folk music scene in New York City's Greenwich Village. There, he invented a new past for himself, and re-invented his music. The movie gives a really potent portrait of that legendary music scene, and how Dylan changed it.

Interspersed throughout the movie is footage from the famous concert in England, known (incorrectly) as the Royal Albert Hall show, May 17, 1966. There, in the expression of the time, "Dylan goes electric", to a chorus of boos and jeers, where his audience was sure he had "sold out" and "gone pop". His backing band, of course, is The Band. (You can catch little glimpses of the young and beautiful (and Canadian) Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko.)

This is why I'm not sure that someone unfamiliar with Dylan would appreciate this movie. If you don't know what that concert is and what happened there, would these scenes make any sense? Would it maybe give the movie some interesting mystery?

Dylan's artistic energy was so gigantic in those days, that by the time an album would come out, he was way past it. His fans wanted to hear the Dylan on the album they had bought, but he was busy exploring something new. That would be the story of his creative life for decades to come.

And that's one remarkable thing about this movie. It's a very deep, rich portrait of an artist, but it ends at 1966. You hear all these other important artists - Ginsberg, Liam Clancy, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez - extolling Dylan's genius, and it's only 1963. His best work is still far ahead of him.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about "No Direction Home" is seeing Bob Dylan, the man, speak. He's spent decades focusing only on the music, never on himself, thwarting the cultural desire to confuse the person and the music. And here he is, talking, about himself.

It's obvious we're listening to today's Bob Dylan give his version of events then, that we're hearing about those events through the filter of time - but that's fine. It's real because it's his filter, and his memories. We've got Scorsese for historical accuracy, but Dylan can give us his own subjective truth.

policy

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3. Please do not correct other commenters' grammar, usage or spelling.

The following types of comments will always be deleted:

1. Insults or verbal attacks.

2. Sexist, homophobic, racist or other offensive comments.

3. Religious proselytizing of any sort.

4. Comments with the primary purpose of driving traffic to another website.

5. Opinions that are deeply offensive to me, such as anti-abortion rights or pro-death penalty. There are numerous places online to debate the morality of abortion. Wmtc is not one of them.

No second chances. If your introductory post is an insult, all your comments will always be deleted, no matter what their tone or content. If you are so desperate to comment on wmtc that you want to try under an alternative name, go right ahead. You're not gaming me, as long as your comments fall within these guidelines.

This is not censorship. I am not the government. Wmtc is a personal site, and it's my right to run it in any manner I choose. This policy evolved naturally over time. It's been working well - promoting discussion among a friendly community, and helping me to stay sane - for more than two years, and I'm sticking with it.

For a more verbose explanation of this policy, see here, and here.

hnim

It's Hockey Night In Mississauga!

I've been curious about the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). I like seeing names of towns and cities that I actually recognize as nearby (in terms of Canada). Allan looked into it, and found out that Mississauga has a team.

Naturally most games are on the weekend, when we're working, but there's a rare weekday evening game tonight. So we're going to see the Mississauga Ice Dogs take on the Kitchener Rangers. Mississauga is dead-last in their division. They need us.

It's our first hockey game since coming to Canada, and the first either of us has been to in I-don't-know-how-many years. I've seen a few NHL games, but eons ago. Allan used to cover high-school hockey, when he was a young sportswriter in Burlington, Vermont (where he grew up), and I believe he saw good college hockey there, too.

Anything I should know before I go to my first Canadian hockey game? Will they ask me questions about Rick Mercer and demand I love The Tragically Hip?

1.24.2006

vote again

Do you think wmtc deserves wider recognition? At least one of you does, as someone has nominated this blog for a Koufax Award.

The award with the coolest name is for lefty bloggers. We move to canada has been nominated in the "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition" category.

These internet awards can't be taken too seriously. But if you appreciate this blog, then you're part of what makes it worthwhile, so why not vote. Right now, as far as I can tell, voting is only open in the "Best New Blog" category. I'll let you know when you can vote for wmtc.

slim minority

So. Here we are.

Whether it be what we feared or what we hoped for, the outcome is mostly what we expected. The Conservatives have a minority government, and Stephen Harper is the new Prime Minister of Canada. For Americans (or other non-Canadians) who may not have seen it, here are the totals:
Party - Seats - Popular Vote
Conservatives - 124 - 36.25%
Liberals - 103 - 30.22%
Bloc Quebecois - 51 - 10.48%
New Democrats - 29 - 17.49%
Independent - 1 - .52%
When we first moved here, Stephen Harper was an embarrassment. It seemed clear the Conservatives wouldn't form a government as long as he was the party leader - which shows the limits of appearance and punditry. Now it remains to be seen if the old, scary Harper will crawl out of the remade, centrist, big-tent Harper. I imagine the Conservatives are thinking long-term, and will take it slow.

Considering the Liberals ran a terrible campaign, always on the defensive and in damage-control mode, and considering the giant suitcase labeled SCANDAL they were lugging around, they won an awful lot of seats. In my view, this speaks of both the rejection of the Conservative Party by a substantial number of Canadians, and a general satisfaction with the status quo. Because, scandals aside, the Liberals didn't leave much to complain about.

The forward movement of the NDP is exciting. They increased their seats from 19 to 29, and I'm eager to see how they do in the Harper Parliament.

My own riding of Mississauga South returned its Liberal MP to Ottawa, as did the rest of Mississauga - and indeed, most of the GTA. I'll remember this next time I hear snarky comments about "the 905s". The suburban 905s are more conservative than the urban 416s, to be sure, but give me a break, it's not Alberta.

One thing I noticed last night was that the urban vs. rural divide that runs so deep in the US (contrary to red state vs blue state cliche, this is the real divide) is very much present in Canada, too. British Columbia is a perfect example of that, voting like a conservative western state in most ridings, and voting like a progressive urban enclave in Vancouver. All the Conservative gains in Quebec were in rural Quebec, not in Montreal. Indeed, the Conservative seat-count in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver combined comes to a grand total of zero.

I really enjoyed the CBC coverage last night. Trying to conform (wink, wink), we watched Rick Mercer first. I'll probably never understand why this guy is so popular for saying what we all already know. (In between Rick Mercer and election coverage we switched over to CTV for "Corner Gas," and finally caught the Ukrainian Dancing episode!)

Anyway, I really appreciated the CBC coverage, and if you've ever watched election returns on a US network, you know why. CBC was serious without being somber, entertaining without being ridiculous, offered good commentary, and always, always: context. Personally, I could do without the George Stroumboulopoulos reach-younger-viewers segment, but at least it's not filmed sideways with jump-cuts like a wannabe music video.

One more observation, and one question.

Before I began researching moving to Canada, I thought the Canadian Parliament had proportional representation. I'm not referring to representation by population, as in the US House of Representatives, where states with higher populations have more representatives. (When I asked about proportional representation, this is what people generally thought I meant.) I'm referring to the system used by several European parliaments, where seats are distributed according to the actual percentage of popular vote, as opposed to the first-past-the-post riding-by-riding system.

Under a proportional system, if the NDP won, say, 33% of the overall popular vote, they would hold 33% of the seats. This encourages the building of smaller parties, and the existence of more parties, thus more voices, in the system. I'd like to see that here.

[Late addition: Proportional representation also encourages greater participation in the system, and discourages strategic voting. Now, if you are the minority in your riding or district, your vote will almost never "count" - it will always disappear into the majority. But if you knew your vote would join together with others like yours all over the country, you would be more likely to vote, and vote your conscience.]

My question is a simple one, but one that confounded Allan and I last night. What does it mean to say a party "holds the balance of power"? There was much discussion last night over whether or not the New Democrats do indeed have that. But we couldn't quite figure out what it means.

Last night, I was thinking of wmtc's great friend Wrye, who worked a long day running a polling station in Vancouver. Days like that are exhausting and exhilarating. It's exciting to see democracy up-close and personal. The people have spoken. At least here in Canada, we know what they said. (Paper ballots rock.)

1.23.2006

vote vote vote

I trust that every Canadian reading this blog will vote today.

The excellent Gazetteer has some thoughts on how to make the most of your vote if you live in British Columbia. I've read that's where this election may be decided.

conformity

We've had many discussions here about personal freedom, the relative amounts of it in the US and Canada, the melting pot vs the mosaic - or the salad bowl, an image one Canadian reader gave me. There is a lot of personal freedom in the US, more than in many places on the planet, but there is also a lot of pressure to outwardly conform. In most (though not all) places in the States, the melting pot is still the norm.

Shortly before we moved here, Allan and I met a female couple from Virginia. They are raising two daughters in a small, Southern, Christian, white-bread town. They're active in church, in their daughters' schools, in community activities. They told us they've never encountered bigotry, that everyone has been open and accepting to them and their family. This runs counter to what many people outside the US think might happen in a small Virginia town.

On the other hand, I believe their acceptance hinged on looking and acting like everyone else. They live in a conventional nuclear family, neither of them "look like dykes", they go to church, they blend right in. In this case, that's truly who these women are. They aren't remaking themselves in order to conform. What about those who don't fit in so neatly?

I read an excellent magazine article on this topic in the New York Times Magazine: "The Pressure to Cover", by Kenji Yoshino. It's a long article that you might want to print and read when you time. It's adapted from a book Yoshino just published, called Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights.

The author uses the term "covering" to describe behaviour that will be familiar to anyone who identifies as part of a minority. (He credits the sociologist Erving Goffman with coining the word.) A famous example of covering is FDR never being seen in his wheelchair. Everyone knew he used a wheelchair, but he couldn't afford to be perceived as disabled. From the article:
As is often the case when you learn a new idea, I began to perceive covering everywhere. Leafing through a magazine, I read that Helen Keller replaced her natural eyes (one of which protruded) with brilliant blue glass ones. On the radio, I heard that Margaret Thatcher went to a voice coach to lower the pitch of her voice. Friends began to send me e-mail. Did I know that Martin Sheen was Ramon Estevez on his birth certificate, that Ben Kingsley was Krishna Bhanji, that Kirk Douglas was Issur Danielovitch Demsky and that Jon Stewart was Jonathan Leibowitz?

. . .

It was only when I looked for instances of covering in the law that I saw how lucky I had been. Civil rights case law is peopled with plaintiffs who were severely punished for daring to be openly different. Workers were fired for lapsing into Spanish in English-only workplaces, women were fired for behaving in stereotypically "feminine" ways and gay parents lost custody of their children for engaging in displays of same-sex affection. These cases revealed that far from being a parlor game, covering was the civil rights issue of our time.
Yoshino goes on to list a few examples (the law records are full of them) of people who were punished for refusing to cover: a Jewish man threatened with court martial from the Air Force for wearing his yarmulke, an African American airline employee who was fired for wearing cornrows.

In each instance, the court sided against the individual, drawing a distinction between "immutable conditions" and ones that are chosen. The airline employee was not fired for being black. That's illegal discrimination based on a condition she cannot change. But, according to the court, her employer had the right to dictate what hairstyle is considered professional. She couldn't "look too black".

Yoshino shows how the US legal system is biased towards assimilation - that famous melting pot again. He feels changing this bias is today's most important civil rights issue, and one that should be framed in terms of individual freedoms.
If the Supreme Court protects individuals against covering demands in the future, I believe it will do so by invoking the universal rights of people. I predict that if the court ever recognizes the right to speak a native language, it will protect that right as a liberty to which we are all entitled, rather than as a remedial concession granted to a particular national-origin group. If the court recognizes rights to grooming, like the right to wear cornrows, I believe it will do so under something akin to the German Constitution's right to personality rather than as a right attached to racial minorities. And I hope that if the court protects the right of gays to marry, it will do so by framing it as the right we all have to marry the person we love, rather than defending "gay marriage" as if it were a separate institution.
I was a little surprised at that last statement, since advocates of same-sex marriage certainly do frame the issue in those terms. It's the anti crowd who twists it into a special-interest issue.

I think Yoshino's view nicely sums up where American culture falls in the spectrum of personal freedom. The article is here, a review of his book is here.

1.22.2006

choice in canada

I know abortion rights are not on the Conservative Party platform. And I know that Paul Martin is accused of fear-mongering when he says abortion rights will be threatened under a Stephen Harper Conservative government.

I know these things. But when Dr Henry Morgentaler, the Canadian abortion-rights pioneer, speaks, I tune in.
Henry Morgentaler, the father of Canada's pro-choice movement, says Stephen Harper's Conservatives can't be trusted on the abortion issue because the party is "chock full" of top-ranking members with virulent anti-abortion views.

Dr. Morgentaler, who has stood at the forefront of the battle for abortion rights for four decades, urged Canadians to be skeptical of Mr. Harper's promise to stay clear of legislation on the contentious issue. Dr. Morgentaler called the pledge a "tactical manoeuvre" and predicted the Conservative Leader would face intense pressure from his party to reopen the abortion debate.

"I don't trust the Conservative Party and I don't think women in Canada and people who love women in this country should trust the Conservative Party as far as abortion rights are concerned," he told reporters yesterday.

Dr. Morgentaler was in Montreal for the start of a $15-million class-action suit against the Quebec government on behalf of women forced to pay abortion fees in private clinics. He had no hesitation shifting from the court case to the election campaign, and called on all parties to commit to protecting women's access to abortion.

But with a Conservative victory looming, he singled out the views of Tory MPs such as Stockwell Day, who was promoted as a speaker at an anti-abortion conference in Montreal in November. While Mr. Day has been open about his beliefs, Dr. Morgentaler maintained that 90 per cent of the party's "upper echelons" hold similar ideological views, and a private member's bill would eventually make its way to the House of Commons.

"The front rank of the Conservative Party is chock full of people who are violently opposed to the rights of abortion, like Stockwell Day and similar guys, who will put pressure on Mr. Harper to reopen the issue," he said.

ground rules

Wmtc has lots of new readers these days, thanks in large part to all the interesting discussions going on in comments. I think it's time for a restatement of some ground rules, with apologies to long-time readers who already know this.

With all the political discussion that goes on here, you might not realize that wmtc isn't a completely open forum, an "anything goes" kind of blog.

While I was still in the US, I was periodically verbally attacked by wingnuts who were incensed at the idea that anyone would choose to leave TGNOTFOTE*. Wmtc still gets the occasional nasty comment, although now that I've left, they've mostly given up. (Why did they care in the first place? That's the eternal question.) Usually I deleted the attacks - unless I was feeling playful, then I hung the comment like a piñata and we all had a good time.

In addition, I also don't want this blog used for fierce debates on controversial issues. Like many of you, I have very strong opinions and am passionately devoted to some beliefs that can be divisive. While I very much enjoy the exchange of information and ideas, I do not enjoy debating with people from diametrically opposed points of view.

What's more, I see no reason why my own blog should lend time and space to opinions I find morally offensive. For this, I have been accused of censorship, which just shows that someone needs a dictionary.

Many people are amazed that I simply don't want to debate. Commenters regularly try to goad me into arguments, resorting to the silliest schoolyard tactics ("You're just afraid you'll be shown up as wrong!" or "Whassamatter, the truth hurts?"). In turn, I closely monitor my email, deleting comments as fast as they show up. The commenter goes a little mad with frustration, then gives up and goes away.

From an old post on this topic:
This blog is my private space, my little oasis. That would seem contradictory, since it exists on the internet and anyone can read it. But it's a private space that I choose to share. I don't blog about my most personal feelings; you'll never read about my relationships, or family issues, or details about close friends. Those exist in an even more personal realm. But this blog is my soapbox: a place to tell my story, a place for my voice. . . .

There are a multitude of places I can read opposing viewpoints. I don't live with my head in the sand. I know what's out there. But if I were to allow this blog to be a forum for debate, I would spoil my little oasis. Blogging would become combative, stressful, annoying - hardly the point of something I do for enjoyment.

Everyone has a right to his or her opinion. Everyone has a right to make that opinion known. But I'm under no obligation to rent them a billboard in my own backyard.

Ask me a question, I'll try to answer. Post your opinion, if it's not morally offensive to me, I won't delete it. But try to engage me in debate on this blog, and you'll end up frustrated.
When I wrote that, there were about 25 people reading wmtc. My little manifesto seems kind of quaint, given what this blog has evolved into. But since I'm expecting a Roe-related attack, it's worth repeating.





* "the greatest nation on the face of the earth"

roe day

Today is the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Here's my Roe essay that ran on Common Dreams last year at this time, which was originally a post on this blog.

I can't imagine there are many of these anniversaries left. The reproductive rights community is fully prepared for a post-Roe country. That will surely be a dark day: a victory for religious interests over personal freedom, a mighty leap backwards for women's equality, a deepening of the overall backwards movement of the country.

But in a very real sense, it won't be a leap at all, but a continuation of a steady regression. Women with resources will be able to obtain abortions. Women without will find a way around it, or they won't. In other words, it will be just like it is right now, only more so.

My opponent on that annoying BBC interview dismissed my statement that reproductive freedom has been curtailed in the United States. He said he had lived in the US for five years, so he ought to know. I can only shake my head in sadness. Most Americans, who've never lived anywhere but the US, don't even know the extent to which reproductive freedom has been successfully attacked.

I say it all the time, but it's worth repeating: for millions of American women, Roe is already history.

From last year's post:
For more information, and how you can help:

To make a donation that is only used to help a low-income woman obtain an abortion, and to read about the financial obstacles, visit National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF).

To learn more about the political side of this issue, or to make a donation to help organizing efforts, try these excellent organizations:
NARAL Pro-Choice America
the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project
Planned Parenthood Federation of America

To learn more about reproductive rights, which includes access to sex education, family planning and contraception, you can't do better than the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

And to read about one grassroots effort to help women exercise their human, civil and legal right to control their bodies, check out these stories about the Haven Coalition of New York City (she says proudly):

"Shelter From The Storm", by Lynn Harris, from Salon (Salon.com free day pass needed)

"Emergency Landing", by Jennifer Block, from the Village Voice
"East Village Mameles Marching For Choice" by Marjorie Ingall, originally published in The Forward
Please note: this blog is not intended as a forum to discuss the morality of abortion. Please respect that.

1.21.2006

backwater

Our backyard is a lake. Or, in light of the real Lake down the street, perhaps the backyard is better described as a pond. Poor drainage does not begin to describe what is going on back there.

In other, drier news, yesterday I got to play tour guide for a change, showing off our little stretch of Waterfront Trail and Port Credit village to Marnie.

On our way, we met a woman walking a whole pack of nice dogs, and I think I've found a dogwalker! Since I'm working from home, we don't need dogwalking on a daily basis. But we don't believe in leaving a dog alone for extended periods of time; even if they can technically handle it, more than 4 or 5 hours without a walk or some company doesn't seem right to me. So if (for example) we're in the city for the day, and want to stay out for dinner, we can't really, unless we have someone to come in and take care of Cody. That was one bit of settling-in business I hadn't taken care of - and I think it might have taken care of itself yesterday.

the vote

The current election made me wonder about the history of voting in Canada, and when Canada achieved universal suffrage.

In the US, African American men won the right to vote in 1870 (15th Amendment: "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged ... on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude"), and all women finally achieved suffrage in 1920 (19th Amendment: "...on account of sex.").

Canada lurched to universal suffrage in fits and starts, first granting voting rights only to property owners, then extending it to all women (1917), and only later, to Asian Canadians (1947 and 1948), Native Peoples (1960), the mentally disabled (1988) and incarcerated people (2002). On the provincial level, women in Quebec were the last to achieve suffrage, fighting until a mind-boggling 1940 to achieve that milestone. Here's a good CBC mini-lesson on the history of voting rights in Canada.

Since it's a special interest of mine, here's a global timeline of women's suffrage, including when women were able to run for elected office.

Not every progressive person believes voting is important. The great feminist and activist Emma Goldman felt fighting for women's suffrage was a waste of time.
Needless to say, I am not opposed to woman suffrage on the conventional ground that she is not equal to it. I see neither physical, psychological, nor mental reasons why woman should not have the equal right to vote with man. But that can not possibly blind me to the absurd notion that woman will accomplish that wherein man has failed.

. . .

But, say our suffrage devotees, look at the countries and States where female suffrage exists. See what woman has accomplished--in Australia, New Zealand, Finland, the Scandinavian countries, and in our own four States, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Distance lends enchantment--or, to quote a Polish formula--"it is well where we are not." Thus one would assume that those countries and States are unlike other countries or States, that they have greater freedom, greater social and economic equality, a finer appreciation of human life, deeper understanding of the great social struggle, with all the vital questions it involves for the human race.

The women of Australia and New Zealand can vote, and help make the laws. Are the labor conditions better there than they are in England, where the suffragettes are making such a heroic struggle? Does there exist a greater motherhood, happier and freer children than in England? Is woman there no longer considered a mere sex commodity? Has she emancipated herself from the Puritanical double standard of morality for men and women? Certainly none but the ordinary female stump politician will dare answer these questions in the affirmative. If that be so, it seems ridiculous to point to Australia and New Zealand as the Mecca of equal suffrage accomplishments.

On the other hand, it is a fact to those who know the real political conditions in Australia, that politics have gagged labor by enacting the most stringent labor laws, making strikes without the sanction of an arbitration committee a crime equal to treason.

Not for a moment do I mean to imply that woman suffrage is responsible for this state of affairs. I do mean, however, that there is no reason to point to Australia as a wonder-worker of woman's accomplishment, since her influence has been unable to free labor from the thraldom of political bossism.

Finland has given woman equal suffrage; nay, even the right to sit in Parliament. Has that helped to develop a greater heroism, an intenser zeal than that of the women of Russia? Finland, like Russia, smarts under the terrible whip of the bloody Tsar. Where are the Finnish Perovskaias, Spiridonovas, Figners, Breshkovskaias? Where are the countless numbers of Finnish young girls who cheerfully go to Siberia for their cause? Finland is sadly in need of heroic liberators. Why has the ballot not created them? The only Finnish avenger of his people was a man, not a woman, and he used a more effective weapon than the ballot.

As to our own States where women vote, and which are constantly being pointed out as examples of marvels, what has been accomplished there through the ballot that women do not to a large extent enjoy in other States; or that they could not achieve through energetic efforts without the ballot?

True, in the suffrage States women are guaranteed equal rights to property; but of what avail is that right to the mass of women without property, the thousands of wage workers, who live from hand to mouth?
The entire text of this famous speech is here.

Goldman didn't oppose women's right to vote as much as she thought the voting system useless and ineffective. Last night on The National, there was an interview with Canadian activist Jaggi Singh, who refuses to vote, and a civil liberties activist attorney taking the more accepted view. I'm hoping there'll be a video or a transcript of the conversation available, because it was excellent.

Singh views voting as participation in an unjust system, a soporific, placating people into the illusion of democracy, while never accomplishing real change (a general a tenet of anarchist thought).

The activist attorney noted that just because something is not sufficient, doesn't mean it's not effective. He said (to paraphrase), that voting alone is not enough to bring about social change, but it's one tool in the toolbox, and we should use all the tools we have. [Unfortunately I didn't catch this person's name. If you saw it and know who he is, let me know and I'll edit this post.]

It should come as no surprise that I believe strongly in voting. I've never missed an opportunity to vote, and the right to vote will likely be my greatest incentive for wanting Canadian citizenship. We get so little say in the world - I never want to miss an opportunity for input. Yet it's true that for too many people, dutifully trudging to the ballot box once every however many years is where participation in society begins and ends. (That, and paying taxes, of course - which some Americans strenuously object to and imagine as a form of slavery!)

I agree with Singh and others who note that real change begins on the grassroots level, and the voting system does little to nurture that. But every grassroots movement seeks to grow, to cover society as a whole. And when it does, the populace has to vote to help make it a reality.

I don't mock or automatically reject the anarchists' position. Goodness knows there's enough of that in the mainstream without progressives joining in the ridicule. When I read that Emma Goldman, whose life and work I admire tremendously, didn't care about women's suffrage, I sought to understand her reasoning. I've found it very useful to try to understand other progressive points of view, if only to help clarify my own. (Unlike extreme positions on the right, which elicit my automatic, visceral rejection as morally wrong.)

Getting back to the very admirable Jaggi Singh, here's an essay about how Singh was treated after anti-globalization protests in Quebec in 2001, and something Singh wrote about the 2004 anti-RNC protests, countering the media's portrayal of him with a dose of reality.

1.20.2006

open thread

It's spring-like outside, and the headlines are as lovely as the weather: "Harper's Lead Takes A Hit: With Tory Leader straying from script, poll shows support for his party waning". I am hopeful that the fever is passing, and Canada is coming to its collective senses.

We went into Toronto last night, had dinner with friends at the Bloor Street Diner. The food was very good, the company was excellent. These are people who I originally met online, then who'd see on our visits to the GTA, during our application process. They're very busy urbanites, much like I once was. They love Toronto and are fairly contemptuous of the suburbs.

Catching their drift, I can take the measure of how much my life has changed. There was probably a time when I sounded like that, too. These days I find myself not just loving Port Credit, but really appreciating Mississauga, too.

I grew up in the suburbs, bored and rebellious, anxious to spring my trap and leave suburban life for the tumble and din of the city. Which I did, with great gusto, for more than 20 years.

And now here I am. Never thought I'd see the day, but I've turned suburban. I'm glad Toronto is right down the highway, but I don't find myself wishing I lived there. Life is funny.

Well, not much to say today. Comments are open and waiting. Feel free to take this thread in any direction, off-topic apologies not needed.

1.19.2006

site

Longtime friend-of-wmtc ALPF alerted me to a terrific political site I wouldn't have known about: DemocraticSpace.com. He works in the news business, and said:
I just want to pass on that I have been pretty hard at work preparing graphics and boards for our broadcast election night. What I have been building is making me sick... CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY THIS, CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY THAT. If I have to cut out another photo of that beeny eyed weiner and place it on a board that says "Canada's New Prime Minister" I'm going to be nauseous. I actually felt a little better yesterday afternoon when our producer handed me the predictions for every riding and it only had 131 seats going Conservative. That's around 20-25 short of a majority.

The site is democraticspace.com that we have been using.., It's pretty cool. Here is the riding prediction page...

Those number have been going the right way in the past few days thankfully... They once had it at 145-150 Conservative.

It also has the breakdown of strategic ridings where an NDP votes should swing Liberal and vice-versa. My riding is one that Liberal supporters should swing NDP for this election to stop the Tory. I going to do my part and vote NDP.
Wrye also posted some interesting notes from the Democratic Space blog.
Important:

DemocraticSPACE does not endorse strategic voting (i.e. where voters cast their ballot for their second choice party to prevent a less favourable party from winning). We believe that Canada should explore options of adding an element of proportionality into our electoral system to ensure fair and accurate representation in parliament. See "Making Every Vote Count: Towards Fair Representation in the Canadian Parliament". However, strategic voting happens in Canada. DemocraticSPACE.com believes that it is better to make informed choices than misinformed choices. Therefore, this guide is meant to help voters who are thinking of voting strategically.

Are you in a position where your first choice party/candidate cannot win your riding? Are you thinking of voting for your second choice party/candidate? This guide is meant to inform you of whether voting strategically in your riding or not can make a difference.

In order for a riding to qualify for strategic voting, we feel 3 conditions must be met:

1. It must be a close 2-way race (i.e. the two other parties must be within 5%)

2. The chances of your party winning riding are remote (i.e. support < 25%)

3. Small number of votes will make a difference (i.e. < 1 in 3 voters).

Guides then follow for all three parties.
Thanks, guys.

Watching predictions - and, on Monday, returns - is so different here, with four parties to consider, and seats by ridings, instead of the (insane) winner-take-all state by state system in the US. Allan and I will be glued to the TV on Monday night.

I'm feeling more hopeful every day that Canadians will come to their senses and that ALPF will not have to be nauseous for long. Of course that may be an illusion. Either way, we'll soon know.

sighting

Long before we moved here, we knew that movies are made in Toronto as a stand-in for New York or other US cities. I know that Trontonians like to play "spot Toronto," similar to how I enjoy trying to identify the exact locations of New York movie scenes. The difference, of course, is that the New York locating spots are supposed to be in New York.

Well, last night, for the first time, I recognized Canada in a movie that wasn't supposed to be there. I was all kinds of proud of myself.

We watched "The Ballad of Jack and Rose," which is supposed to take place on an island off the east coast of the US. I took that to mean the Outer Banks off the Carolinas, or maybe the Georgia Sea Isles, some barrier island like that.

Towards the end of the movie, the main characters are driving down a street, and for a split-second, a Canadian Tire sign is visible. We paused and reversed, just to be certain, and there it was, the unmistakable red triangle.

Sure enough, there it was in the credits: filmed entirely on location in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

I just looked up "Jack and Rose" on the Internet Movie Database, and they've got the mistake listed, too.

The movie, by the way, ranged from bad to passable. It was written and directed by Rebecca Miller, the daughter of the late great American playwright Arthur Miller, and who is married to Daniel Day-Lewis, who stars in this movie. There were some interesting moments, but I felt it tried to do too much, and ended up very muddled. Plus, I take major points off for an intrusive and unnecessary soundtrack. I also had the distinct feeling that a feel-good, Hollywood ending was tacked onto what was supposed to be a very dark conclusion. Not awful, but definitely not a must-see - although I'm glad we saw it, because of that sign.

1.18.2006

hypocrisy du jour

Redsock just sent me something hilarious and terrific.

Down in that surreal world known as the US media, wingnuts are screaming for Hillary Clinton's head. (What's new, right?) Apparently, while addressing an African American organization on Martin Luther King Day, Clinton committed an unforgivable sin. She used the word "plantation" to describe Republican-controlled Washington, DC. The wingnuts are calling for an apology or - holy smokes, boy wonder! - her resignation!

Yes folks, it's Bizarro World, where up is down and black is white. A criminal sits in the White House, but a Senator should resign because she used a word that... what? Reminds people there was once slavery in the United States?

Now, you must know I'm not a fan of Hillary Clinton, not by a long shot. She's exactly the kind of Democrat that drove me first to Ralph Nader, then to Canada. But come on, folks! The many levels of irony at work here have set my head aspinning.

Rather than try to organize the flood of sarcasm that's trying to leap from my keyboard, I'll share this with you: the Reverend Al Sharpton's response. Nothing I could write could even aspire to this level. Watch, listen and enjoy. Thanks Allan!

on the record

I'm not convinced the Conservatives will win this election. If they do, I think it will be with a minority government.

This is not based on any one particular thing, but the sum total of what I'm seeing and reading, and what does and doesn't ring true.

I'm not predicting the Liberals will win, but I won't surprised if they do. I think much of the talk of "punishing them" and "needing a change" is just talk. And I'm hoping, push come to shove, Canadians will not punish themselves, and will instead ask "Change to what?"

I realize this may be wishful thinking, or my greatly skewed impressions from reading too many progressive Canadians' thoughts. But still.

In comments, Wrye posted a prediction round-up. Feel free to keep that coming.

wrap-up

A last word on Laura's BBC Fiasco. Readers tell me it's archived, at least for 24 hours, which would be until around 1:00 Eastern Time today. If you'd like to hear it, by all means, do listen.

Keep in mind I was specifically told it was not a debate format, and I never expected that the "discussion" would include a right-wing talk-show host. As you listen, you'll hear where he sideswiped me and the show (for me) went off the rails. After he shouts, "That's a blatant lie! If that were true, George Bush never would have..." they cut off my mike. I had collected myself and was prepared to give a quick retort, but they never let me in.

I admit I was a bit thrown by this yesterday. Hey, I get an email from BBC World Service telling me they'd like me on a radio show - exciting! I did a good interview with the producer, she said they'd love to include my point of view - fun! Then I end up feeling trapped and set-up - and infuriated. We never should have been debating the status of abortion rights in the US (what does that have to do with the election in Canada?), but baby, that is a topic I know up, down and backwards. I was angry that an ignorant lie was allowed to stand as the last word.

So the whole thing rankled. But after a few cups of tea and some venting, and a good night's sleep, I can move on. As always, I thank you so much for your support.

Periodically I am asked to do interviews or even appearances on certain topics, and I always say yes if at all possible. It's good experience, and you never know who you'll reach. I'll continue to say yes, but perhaps be a little more wary.

1.17.2006

oh bloody hell

Damn. After the BBC producer interviewed me, she explained the format of the show and who would be on. I told her I didn't want to be involved in a debate format, an American-style shouting match.

She assured me that wouldn't be the case. She said it was gentle discussion, each person given their say, all points of views represented - not a debate.

Then they don't even call me til the show is half over, and there's a conservative talk-show host spouting inanities about Michael Moore and the "Northeast media". The next thing I know I'm debating US abortion rights with someone whose position is "That's a blatant lie!". The man lived in the US for five years, he should know, right? Well, I'm a 25-year veteran of the reproductive rights movement, and my claims are facts. What's more, most American women don't even know how tenuous the right to abortion is right now - why would a conservative Canadian man know?!

Damn. I'm annoyed. I hate debating with those types and never would have wanted to do it on the air.

I sat down to email my dissatisfaction to the producer, but she had already emailed me to apologize. She wrote some very nice things, and I'm sure, as she says, it was out of her control.

I know this is what happens when you deal with the media - you can't control how your message is used, or even if it's heard. But it's hard to resist a chance to try.

Well, if you were listening, I hope I didn't sound like a complete git. If you weren't listening, I'm relieved!

redsock: "laura on bbc world service"

Hi! Redsock here with an announcement:
Laura is going to be interviewed on BBC World Service in about an hour (between 1:15 and 1:30 est pm). It's an interactive radio program on BBC World Service ("World Have Your Say") discussing the upcoming election (guests will be two Canadians (Conservative and NDP), a Candadian living in Boston, and Laura).
Go here to select your city and find a radio station or listen via the internets. I think if you go to that page, click on "Open BBC Real Player" (top right) and then click on "Now Playing Live", that'll do it.

undecideds

I read two good columns in today's Globe And Mail, both against Harper and the Conservatives. I realize I am mostly speaking to the converted and convinced, but you may know some undecided voters - and perhaps they'd like to read these, too. Paid subscription is required, so I'm copying them here.

The first, from Jeffrey Simpson:
"Ah, nothing like a little Conservative overkill"

Accountability is the Conservative Party's trump card.

Everywhere he travels, Stephen Harper promises more accountability in Ottawa. Accountability is literally Chapter 1 of the Conservatives' "Stand up for Canada" platform.

More accountability sounds so good. Who can be against it? Certainly, the sponsorship program and the resulting Gomery inquiry pointed to mega-problems with accountability in Ottawa. And it's the perception of inadequate accountability and widespread corruption that propels the Conservatives' fortunes more than anything else.

Did the sponsorship program and the Gomery inquiry really point to systemic flaws? On the surface, yes; in practice, no. As Auditor-General Sheila Fraser said, and as Mr. Justice John Gomery explained, the problem with the sponsorship program was not the lack of rules, regulations and procedures, but that this program was deliberately placed outside them. That politically driven decision, more than anything else, explained why it misfired, not the lack of systems of accountability.

Logically, the answer to the problems that the sponsorship scandal revealed is not to bring in new rules but to ensure that all government programs follow the existing rules. But that logic would run afoul of the Conservatives' political imperative, so that, in the interests of greater accountability, the Conservatives are about to make the federal government even more administratively cumbersome.

Put another way, the federal government is already consumed -- some would say overwhelmed -- by processes and procedures. It is a vast, unwieldy bureaucracy that spends a lot of its time on co-ordination and accountability.

The volume of paper is staggering. The federal government has just been put through the wringer of changes by the Martin administration, everything from creating Service Canada (the granddaddy of all bureaucracies) to appointing 300 new auditors. But these changes pale by comparison to what the Conservatives have in mind. And if anyone who ever dealt with the government before and found it cautious, inefficient and process-driven, just wait until the Conservatives finish with it.

The Conservative overkill, in the name of accountability, envisages new institutions to watch over the other ones. There will be a director of public prosecutions, a post that even deputy leader Peter MacKay, a former prosecutor himself, wondered about.

There will also be a new procurement auditor, a public appointment commission, two new public inquiries and the possibility of a third (into polling contracts), and a new parliamentary budget office.

The Conservatives won't stop there. The following institutions will have their budgets and powers enlarged: the Auditor-General, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Comptroller-General, the Information Commission, the Ethics Commissioner, the Public Service Integrity Commissioner, and the Registrar of Lobbyists.

Parliament will be reviewing prospective appointments to the Supreme Court. It will be voting in secret ballot for the Ethics Commissioner, the Auditor-General, the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner and the Registrar of Lobbyists.

If the secret-ballot election for the Speaker of the House of Commons is any guide, candidates for these posts can be expected to campaign privately before the vote. Is that really what we want for the Auditor-General of Canada?

Anyone who comes to work in Ottawa won't be able, after his or her career, to "lobby" the government for five years, instead of one, as now. Since lobbying can be loosely defined, that's going to be quite a deterrent to anyone who once held a prominent position in government from even dealing with the government later.

Retrospection will be the order of the day, since the Chief Electoral Officer and the Registrar of Lobbyists will be able to investigate possible violations going back a decade. Whistle-blowing will be encouraged.

There will be new Criminal Code provisions for public-sector fraud. The Information Commissioner will be able to look into the files of anyone or any groups that "spend taxpayers' money."

The Harper Conservatives view the government as a corrupt, venal, wasteful place riddled with shady deals, political favouritism, rampant conflicts of interest and posterior-protecting bureaucrats -- a view that mirrors that of the Canadian people.

That Conservative antidotes to what actually ails Ottawa will be worse than the cure is beside the political point.

It's too bad that Mr. Harper has pledged a Federal Accountability Act as his first piece of legislation. It would be much better to wait for a year, learn how government works, and then produce sensible reforms instead of gross overkill.
The second, a strong condemnation by Margaret Wente:
"Still deep blue on the inside"

No doubt you've noticed that Stephen Harper has undergone a dramatic product improvement. In version 2.0, the angry white guy has been upgraded to a mellow hockey dad. This upgrade is much more user-friendly -- so much so that Mr. Harper now handles press scrums (which he loathes) as if he's ingested high doses of Valium.

These days, he's doing a not-bad imitation of Bill Davis -- the genial, Central Canadian Red Tory who maintained his grip on power in Ontario by appearing to be both soporific and safe. "How red?" asked the Toronto Star on the weekend, preposterously suggesting that Mr. Harper might be morphing into Brampton Billy.

You can be excused for being confused. Yesterday, Harper 2.0 was schmoozing in Atlantic Canada, pretending he hasn't spent the past two decades plotting to kill off "sacred trusts" such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. ACOA, after all, stands for everything he hates -- federal subsidies directed by bureaucrats to dubious make-work projects, a disproportionate number of which wind up in the ridings of federal cabinet ministers. But now he has promised to keep ACOA -- even though ACOA is part of what he had in mind a while back when he made that gaffe about the local "culture of defeatism." Usually a gaffe is what you really think, and Mr. Harper has been apologizing for it ever since. "I said things that were wrongly interpreted and that's my fault," he said again yesterday.

So, what else does Mr. Harper really think? That it's good policy to hand out a sack of goodies to every girl and boy, especially if they live in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Nfld., or other places that might cough up a seat or three? That the GST is something other than a nakedly populist appeal for votes that would have made the obsolete Stephen Harper cringe?

I don't think so.

Mr. Harper says he has evolved, but he also says he hasn't changed his fundamental beliefs. Both of these things are true. He has evolved in his understanding of what it takes to unite the right, appeal to a broad spectrum of Canadians, and get elected. But the Red Tory gloss is nothing but political necessity.

Deep down, Mr. Harper believes what he believed when he helped found Reform in 1987. At its founding convention, he declared that "centralized handout economics" is part of the rot that's eating away at Confederation. "It is critical to understand how such centralized handout economics works," he said. "On the one hand, its inevitable drain during boom times continually hampers any attempts to put resources into the kind of productive investment which could diversify the western economy. On the other hand, the trickle-down of bureaucratic enterprise aids a peripheral region only when, like Atlantic Canada, Confederation has reduced it to a state of permanent dependency."

Make no mistake. Beneath that newly genial demeanour beats the heart of a deep-blue conservative, whose dream is to shrink the central government, dramatically reduce its role in public life, privatize as much as he can get away with, and hack away at the incomprehensible system of income transfers that sucks money from the haves to the have-nots. As for regional development programs such as ACOA -- to the guillotine! Mr. Harper is posing as an incrementalist, which, in many ways, he is. But if he has his way, his incrementalism will eventually reshape Canada as profoundly as did the creation of the welfare state.

If you think that legacy of entitlements, subsidies and big government is indeed a sacred trust, you should not vote for Mr. Harper. If you believe high taxes are fundamental to a caring society, you should not vote for him. If you don't want a reversal of aboriginal policy, don't vote for him. If you don't want 10 provinces and three territories experimenting with health care, don't vote for him.

Because Paul Martin is right. Mr. Harper could be the most radical leader in a generation. He would, so long as he can persuade the public, change the face of Canada as we know it. But whether that is good or bad is up to you.

new misery

There are many ways to assess a society. Here's something I saw recently in a book review:
One nonprofit organization, Redefining Progress, proposes tossing out growth as the first economic yardstick and substituting a "Genuine Progress Indicator" that, among other things, weighs volunteer work as well as the output of goods and services. By this group's measure, American society peaked in 1976 and has been declining ever since.
The sentence jumped out at me because it validated something Allan and I had been talking about. It is frequently said that the US has changed for the worse, that it is no longer a beacon of democracy and freedom, that it no longer sets an example for the world, that it has become an empire. To which we always say, Become?

So we were trying to think of when the US actually was said beacon of democracy. Failing that, we tried to define when the country was at its most democratic - exactly when.

Whole swathes of US history are ineligible. It has to be after slavery was abolished, and after women won the right to vote. It has to be after the reforms of the New Deal: social security, unemployment insurance, minimum wage, workers' right to organize, basic health and safety laws. It has to be after Jim Crow.

The modern women's movement and the civil rights movement should be in full swing, and other people's movements, such as gay rights, should at least exist.

But it would also have to be pre-Reagan, when the US took a sharp turn away from social reform, away from a healthier environment, away from individual rights and freedoms, towards a greater share of wealth concentrated in fewer hands, towards unchecked corporate power, towards empire.

Our answer: "somewhere between 1975 and 1978".

Now, I don't think most experts would agree America's golden age was in the late 1970s. But we think that's probably as good as the country ever got, and that it's been declining ever since.

* * * *

There are many ways to assess a society's health and progress. My dear friend Alan With One L (not to be confused with Allan who is Redsock) sent me this article from The Economist. Emphasis his - and mine.
Les Miserables
Jan 12th 2006

The misery index celebrates its 30th birthday. Time for a revamp?

Is the economy in a better or worse state than ten years ago? The "misery index" (the sum of unemployment and inflation rates) is a back-of-the-envelope gauge of economic health. The higher the score, the greater the economic misery. It was invented by Arthur Okun, an American economist, just after the first oil crisis of the 1970s caused a sharp rise in both unemployment and inflation. Jimmy Carter popularised the misery index during his successful presidential campaign in 1976.

The classic misery index makes America's economy look pretty good, compared both with the past few decades and with much of Europe, burdened by higher jobless rates. But like many people when they hit 30, the index may be due for a spruce-up.

Merrill Lynch's economists have come up with a broader, international index. In addition to unemployment and inflation, it also adds interest rates and the budget and current-account balances, but then subtracts GDP growth (a good thing). In other words, the index not only reflects how cheery an economy feels today, but, by including budget and external balances, it also captures the ability of a country to sustain its merriment. For example, a large budget deficit probably implies higher taxes in future.

This new index could wipe the smile off the faces of exuberant Americans. The United States has the highest score (see chart), ie, it has the most wretched economy among the big G7 countries, thanks to its huge deficits. In the 1990s, by contrast, before its imbalances exploded, its index was one of the lowest. The United States is the only country to have seen a large increase in its misery index over the past decade. Virtually all the other G7 countries--including Europe--have seen sizeable improvements.

Japan, after a decade of woe, is now back to where it was in 1994. However, Japan's misery index is somewhat misleading, since, in effect, it treats deflation as good, not bad.

The superstar that deserves to smile is Canada. Over the past decade it has seen the biggest reduction in its misery index of any G7 economy. It is the only country running both current-account and budget surpluses--in happy contrast to its southern neighbour.
Let's hope the result of next week's election doesn't wipe that smile off Canada's face!