2.28.2006

historic first

The first woman has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Effa Manley became the first woman elected to the baseball Hall of Fame when the former Newark Eagles co-owner was among 17 people from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues chosen Monday by a special committee.

"This is a historic day at the Hall of Fame," shrine president Dale Petroskey said. "I hoped that someday there would be a woman in the Hall. It's a pretty proud moment."

. . .

Manley co-owned the New Jersey-based Eagles with her husband, Abe, and ran the business end of the team for more than a decade. The Eagles won the Negro Leagues World Series in 1946 — one year before Jackie Robinson broke the major league color barrier.

"She was very knowledgeable, a very handsome woman," said Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who played for the Eagles while the Manleys owned the team, as did Don Newcombe and Larry Doby.

"She did a lot for the Newark community. She was just a well-rounded influential person," Irvin said. "She tried to organize the owners to build their own parks and have a balanced schedule and to really improve the lot of the Negro League players."

Manley was white, but married a black man and passed as a black woman, said Larry Lester, a baseball author and member of the voting committee.

"She campaigned to get as much money as possible for these ballplayers, and rightfully so," Lester said.

Manley used baseball to advance civil rights causes with events such as an Anti-Lynching Day at the ballpark. She died in 1981 at age 84.

"She was a pioneer in so many ways, in terms of integrating the team with the community," said Leslie Heaphy, a Kent State professor on the committee. "She's also one of the owners who pushed very hard to get recognition for Major League Baseball when they started to sign some of their players."
I had never heard of Effa Manley, but she sounds like a vibrant woman who led a fascinating life.

A white woman, married to an African American man in an era that did not accept interracial marriages, passing as black - an interesting concept. I read a memoir all about the idea of "passing" - when it started, why American culture demanded it, who did it, and the prices they paid.

Regarding a woman finally being elected to the baseball Hall Of Fame, I have three words: about fucking time.

Thanks to Redsock for the tip. If you haven't seen his political blog lately, it's been very good.

six months in

We have been here six months today!

Six months, a bit of a milestone. It seems so long ago - all the goodbye dinners, the planning and the packing, driving The World's Fullest Minivan - all four of us (sigh).

Although I have a lot to learn about Canada, I know it's where I belong. I know it's my home.

* * * *

From the sublime to the mundane. I seem to have survived my first day of temping in T.O. It would have been nice if the agency had given me the correct address, so I could have been on time my first day (!!), but hey. I got through the orientation without falling asleep, Allan and Cody picked me up at the GO station, we had dinner at our local pub (well, Cody didn't), and got home in time for "Corner Gas". I'm loving these new episodes!

Tomorrow, as the song says, we get up and do it again. I'm tired, and it's boring, but I can do it for 8 weeks, then Peru awaits.

2.26.2006

ending

The Closing Ceremonies were great! Surprising, creative and fun. I tuned in just to see Sam Sullivan, but ended up watching the whole thing, and enjoying it. (Except for the unbelievably frequent commercials. Maybe that's more at night, during the prime time re-broadcast.)

Sam was great, too. His international moment went off without a hitch, and just by being there, he's helped the cause. If I was proud and inspired to see him on that stage, can you even imagine how kids in wheelchairs feel when they see him?

Electing a mayor who has a serious physical disability - and not even making a fuss about it - is not something that could happen in too many cities, or countries, in the world.

You know, for most of my life I didn't use the flag of my country, not even on a postage stamp, and I didn't stand for the national anthem. I don't know what's happening to me, but I really dig the Maple Leaf. I even like hearing O Canada. You'll pardon my amazement. This national pride thing is really new to me.

Well, I had a relaxing and productive weekend, and - thanks to getting it out of my system this morning - I'm starting my work week sans anxiety. Just gonna take it as it comes.

I may not post tomorrow, but I have a special post planned for Tuesday.

whinging

I've been avoiding the blog this morning, afraid if I post, all I'll do is whine. I'm feeling very whiny.

I'm feeling a bit like the world is closing in around me. My sweet little life, home all day in my cute little house, taking care of business, afternoon tea with my sweetie, never at the gym or a store when it's crowded, plenty of time for all my writing assignments... all coming to a screeching halt.

I'm also a little worried. My health issues demand that I balance out my activities and get enough rest. Last time I was working full-time, I was really unable to do anything else. But that was a long time ago, before I had a proper diagnosis and good treatment. My health is much better now. I just wonder if, after working a full 40-hour week, if I'll have anything left.

Temporary, temporary. I keep telling myself it's temporary.

Who knows, in a few weeks, the Perfect Job could appear, and you can all laugh at me for being worried about a little temping.

Maybe later today I'll think of something more interesting to say.

2.25.2006

gold

After the Canadian men's curling team won the gold medal yesterday, I really enjoyed the coverage.

Who wasn't moved watching Brad Gushue's mom, kept from Torino by cancer treatments, celebrate at home with family and neighbours? It was great seeing a livingroom full of people sipping champagne as Gushue called her from the rink. And the scenes from around Newfoundland - kids being let out of school early, pubs packed, the province virtually shutting down to watch the game - reminded me of New England when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. Isn't it great how you can feel so happy for people you don't even know?

Before the gold-medal game, CBC noted some disappointed men's hockey fans had come over to watch curling. One of them said into the microphone, "At least we can get some medal on the ice." I guess the women's hockey gold medal doesn't count. Grrr.

The frequent TV ads for Newfoundland and Labrador tourism are very effective: they're really making me want to go. The land looks so beautiful - on the ads, at least, it looks like Ireland. I want to see all of Canada, but Newfoundland has just moved up on The List.

complicity

Some time ago, there was a long argument on wmtc about the US media's complicity in the junta and the war in Iraq. One lone reader, a Canadian, claimed that the media had nothing to do with it, a position that left the Americans on the verge of stroke.

People in the US who oppose the anti-democratic policies of the W regime feel very strongly that the US media has been a huge factor in keeping the public ignorant and misinformed, re-packaging the administration's motives, and drumming up support for their policies. This has taken many forms: paid government spokespeople posing as journalists, actual journalists accepting government bribes, media running government press releases as news stories without disclosure, smear campaigns against people who publicize the truth, and a laundry list of distortions, deceptions and outright lies.

MediaChannel.org, an excellent group that monitors mainstream media coverage, and United for Peace and Justice, the umbrella organization for hundreds of anti-war and social activism groups, are teaming up to focus attention on media complicity in the Iraq War.

A Media Day of War Coverage Protest is planned for March 21, 2006, as part of a week of activism marking the third anniversary of the war.

Danny Schechter, editor of MediaChannel and author of When News Lies, among other books, writes on Common Dreams:
Last week, new photographs of detainees abused by US soldiers in the infamous Abu Ghraib gulag in Iraq surfaced. They were discovered by the American Civil Liberties Union. The story was covered on TVS in Australia.

The most elaborate statistics on the abuse scandal appeared in the press.

1,325 images of suspected detainee abuse
93 video files of suspected detainee abuse
660 images of adult pornography
546 images of suspected dead Iraqi detainees
29 images of soldiers in simulated sexual acts

This information made headlines in the Guardian newspapers in England.

Meanwhile, in the United States, all of the networks covered a speech by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the man who once famously said, "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know."

Now, the Pentagon's Rumsfeld is declaring a new war - on the press. The Washington Post reports:

"Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Friday called for the U.S. military and other government agencies to mount a far more aggressive, faster and nontraditional information campaign to counter messages of extremist and terrorist groups in the world media. Rumsfeld lashed out at the U.S. media, whose coverage he blamed for effectively halting recent military information initiatives, such as paying to place articles in Iraqi newspapers."

Rumsfeld's attack on the media for mildly questioning propaganda posing as news is consistent with the Administration's management of war news through a billion dollar "information warfare" program that engineered positive media coverage for the invasion.

That continuing coverage documented by critics, including in my own new book, "When News Lies: Media Complicity and the Iraq War," is on its way from being a public complaint to becoming a political issue.

America's largest anti-war coalition, United For Peace and Justice, is broadening its anti-war protest to include targeting a US media system that has largely substituted jingoism for journalism and backed the war - often in the name of supporting the troops.

UFPJ Coordinator Leslie Cagan announced that her organization is partnering with MediaChannel.org and other media groups to organize a Media Day of War Coverage Protest on March 21, 2006. It takes part during a week of organizing and activism marking the third anniversary of the war. Plans are also underway for forums and film screenings on March 20th.

"We are thrilled that anti-war activists will now be connecting with media reform activists to challenge mainstream media 'coverage' that has underreported civilian casualties and much of the costs of the war," says MediaChannel Director David DeGraw.

"Sadly, the media helped make the war possible, and despite mea culpas about flawed pre-war coverage, the coverage has basically not changed, an approach which treats every Administration claim seriously, while marginalizing the anti-war movement."

Even as public opinion shifted against the war - only 37% of the American people are said to still back the war - most of the media downplay reporting on demands for troop withdrawal.

Focusing on the media role is a departure for the anti-war movement that helped organize the protests that brought 30 million people to the streets on [February] 15, 2003. Until now, protesters have focused almost entirely on government policies and practices.

Recognizing the media role indicts a corporate America that has, in some cases, profited from the war with rises in ratings and revenues. This includes General Electric (GE), owner of NBC-Universal, who received $600,000 in Iraq reconstruction contracts.

Before the war began broadcast networks lobbied the FCC for rule changes to allow them to buy more stations. At the time, Washington insiders spoke of a quid pro-quo with the networks asking the FCC to waive their rules while their news shows waved the flag. In that period, then FCC Commissioner Michael Powell justified a need for more media concentration with the claim that "only big companies can cover a war like the one in Iraq."

Many journalists and media organizations have since blasted one-sided coverage. Editor & Publisher, a media industry trade magazine, has consistently documented and criticized pervasive media practices that boosted the war with more "selling than telling."

Mediachannel.org launched a "Tell the Truth About the War" campaign months ago, calling for better and more consistent coverage. Thousands of emails from readers have gone to media executives.

If the war is to end, the coverage has to change. We need to press the press and move the media.

Now MediaChannel plans to organize meetings between critics and media companies. Planning for protests and panels is underway - not only in New York, but at local newspapers, radio and TV stations across the nation as part of a national effort. A national email campaign will be launched as well.

If you would like to endorse or participate in this effort, or help in your community by organizing meetings, house parties - including screenings of WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception) and other films critical of the war media coverage - contact Priya@mediachannel.org.
Whenever I blog about activism like this, I receive a flurry of comments about how none of this will do any good. I understand cynicism, and I understand feeling helpless and overwhelmed. But I don't think the response to evil is to lay down and declare defeat, nor to complain but never take action.

Has no fascist regime ever been brought down by democracy? Has no people's movement ever succeeded? Shall we just throw up our hands and do nothing? Doesn't that just give them the unchecked power they want? If nothing else, it's our duty, our responsibility, to protest.

Of course, it's easier to sit and sneer.

2.24.2006

end of an era

The era of Laura writing full time ended three weeks ago. The era of Laura having lots of free time ends now.

Starting Monday, I'll be working Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, until late April, unless the Perfect Job shows up before then. I need the work, and it comes just in time for our bank account. We won't have to dip into our savings.

On the other hand: ARGH! I haven't worked a straight full-time job since 1991. And did I mention that my hourly rate will be exactly less than half what I last earned in New York? (We knew that before we moved.)

Hooray! Boo! It's great! It sucks! Mixed feelings? Why, yes.

I've no idea when I'll blog. Certainly not before I leave for work in the morning. So expect some gaps until I get re-settled.

2010

The front page of today's Globe and Mail features a story on Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, and his Olympic task this weekend.
His greatest fear is that a gust of wind will blow the Olympic flag across his face, leaving him feeling disoriented and helpless. And then, to the horror of the 70,000 people watching in the stadium and the hundreds of millions taking it in on television, Vancouver's mayor plunges off the stage in his wheelchair.

"That would not be good," Sam Sullivan said in Turin yesterday.

No, Sam, that would definitely not be good.

Mr. Sullivan discussed his possible nightmare as he revealed to the international press how he plans to accept the Olympic flag from the mayor of Turin, Sergio Chiamparino, during the closing ceremony of the 20th Winter Games on Sunday.

As most of Canada knows, Mr. Sullivan is a quadriplegic. Soon after he won the mayor's job last November, many wondered how he would fulfill one of the key obligations of the position -- travelling to Turin to accept the Olympic flag from its mayor. The handoff is an Olympic ritual dating back to the Winter Games in Oslo in 1952.

Being in a wheelchair and having minimal use of his hands, Mr. Sullivan doesn't have the strength to hold the flag or wave it around the way most mayors do after the handoff. But letting someone fill in for him was not something he considered even for a minute.

This was a 46-year-old guy, after all, who drove a car, skippered a sailboat and flew an ultralight aircraft. Carrying a flag the size of a king-size bed is, by comparison, a piece of cake.
Sam Sullivan is an amazing man, and not because he's an active quadriplegic. I know lots of those, and believe it or not, they're not amazing by definition. He's an incredibly dedicated and tireless person, who has devoted his life to improving the world around him. I'll feel tremendous pride for Canada, and for people with disabilities everywhere, when Sullivan takes the stage in Turin on Sunday night.

saying no to war

According to a Globe and Mail/CTV poll, a clear majority of Canadians oppose sending troops to Afghanistan and want to see Parliament vote on the issue.

According to the poll of 1,000 Canadians, people are generally supportive of increasing the size of the military - but they don't want the military to be used in international conflicts that aren't strictly peacekeeping ventures or to help prop up the US military.

In this poll, 62% opposed sending troops to Afghanistan, a whopping 73% want their MPs to vote on any troop deployment, and only 48% support further participation in the so-called war on terrorism.

Let's hope the Canadian Parliament is more responsive to the people's wishes than the US Congress.

CTV story here.

2.23.2006

fences and neighbours

One thing that hampers many discussions of current politics is a good grasp of history. As someone who loves history, I know that once you start studying it, the first thing you learn is how little you know. Pronouncements beginning with "Canada is..." and "the United States has become..." often display more about the speaker's knowledge of history - or lack thereof - than anything.

History is always open to interpretation, of course, and choices of emphasis, and myth, and propaganda, and anti-propaganda. The truth is never as simple as the facts. But it's impossible to understand current events - any current events, anywhere - without at least a basic knowledge of the history behind them.

US culture is famously ahistorical - all new! all the time! - and most of the public is willing to accept whatever's in front of them, devoid of context. This is very useful for a government that wants to declare various nations The Enemy at any given time.

Trying to understand relations between Canada and the US, I've been surprised at how, historically, they've been - to put it mildly - highly strained. I had imagined Canada-US relations to be generally peaceful and benign, but that's because I hadn't read history from a Canadian point of view.

This historical overview of relations between the two neighbours is on the "In Depth" section of the CBC news website.
So, how's it going, eh?

The relationship between North America's two largest countries may have been a bit testy as the 20th century wrapped up and the 21st began. But compared to the 18th and 19th centuries, it was an arm-in-arm stroll through the park.

In the years following the American war of Independence, the United States and British North America relations were testy at best. People opposed to the American break with Britain headed north and settled in what would become New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario.

There was a movement south of the border that argued for an invasion – and annexation – of parts of what would become Canada. Britain was tied up fighting Napoleon's European ambitions and many Americans saw that as an opportunity to strengthen the new republic's security.

In 1812, the Americans invaded southern Ontario – but met much stiffer resistance than expected. By 1814, the war had ended with neither side making gains of note.

Relations between the two countries slowly but steadily improved after the war – until the 1837 rebellion in Upper and Lower Canada. The Canadian rebels – who sought more domestic and less British control of the government – received support from Americans in bordering states. Some of the Americans who were captured were tried and hanged. Others were shipped off to penal colonies in Australia. A few were sent home because they were deemed too young to have known better.

By the time Canada was officially a country in 1867, the United States was busy repairing the divisions caused by civil war. But by 1876, cross-border tensions would rise again. After annihilating General Custer and his army at Little Big Horn, Chief Sitting Bull and 3,000 of his followers slipped into what would become Saskatchewan. The Mounties spent the next five years working to keep the Sioux and the U.S. Army from launching cross-border raids on each other. By 1881, the Sioux were persuaded to return to the U.S.

In the years that followed, relations between Canada and the U.S. ebbed and flowed, mainly over economic matters, or boundary disputes. In 1903, an international tribunal imposed a settlement over a long-running dispute over the boundary between Alaska and British Columbia. A British judge on the panel sided with the Americans. Then prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier complained that because Canada had to rely on Britain to negotiate treaties, Canada could not adequately protect its international interests.

It wasn't as though Ottawa could ask its ambassador to Washington to deliver a sharply worded letter to the American president when these disputes flared up. Canada didn't have its own representative in Washington until 1944, when Leighton McCarthy was appointed. Before that, Canada was officially represented by the British, and unofficially represented by Canadian diplomats operating from legations in major world centres like Washington, London and Paris.

By 1957, Canada and the U.S. had jointly set up NORAD, the North American Air Defence Command. But the economy – and the growing American influence over Canadian industry – was catching the attention of Canada's new prime minister, John Diefenbaker. He argued for Canadian independence from U.S. influence. Following two decades of heavy U.S. investment in Canada. Americans controlled 70 per cent of the capital of Canada's petroleum and natural gas industry and 90 per cent of the auto industry.

The 1960s and 1970s featured testy relations right at the top. Diefenbaker said America's first president of the 60s –John F. Kennedy – was too young and brash for the job. When the U.S. announced its blockade of Cuba, it did so without telling Diefenbaker, which contravened the NORAD agreement. When Kennedy asked Diefenbaker to move Canadian troops into an advanced state of readiness, he didn't respond.

But compared to Lyndon Johnson and Lester Pearson, Kennedy and Diefenbaker were pals. In 1965, Pearson drew the ire of Johnson for suggesting in a speech that the U.S. cease bombing North Vietnam, and give negotiation a chance. At a lunch at Camp David later, an angry Johnson grabbed Pearson by the collar, lifted him off the ground and shouted, "You pissed on my rug!"

Relations between Canadian and American leaders hit a modern low with Pierre Trudeau at 24 Sussex Drive and Richard Nixon in the White House. In 1969, tensions between Canada and the U.S. peaked as Ottawa openly criticized the U.S. role in the Vietnam war and opened Canadian borders to American draft dodgers. Nixon was widely quoted as calling Trudeau an "asshole." Trudeau shrugged and said, "I've been called worse things by better people."

It wasn't until the mid-1980s that a Canadian prime minister and an American president would enjoy close relations. Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan became close friends. But that didn't prevent the birth of the softwood lumber dispute in 1984, an issue that would dog the two countries for two decades. It also made it easier for the two sides to negotiate the Free Trade Agreement in 1988.

Relations continued to go relatively smoothly after Mulroney and Reagan left the scene. Jean Chretien and Bill Clinton enjoyed a good working relationship that included frequent trips to the golf course.

But the election of George W. Bush in 2000 signaled the first time in a decade and a half that ideological opposites occupied the highest offices in the two countries. Bush's first trip as president was to Mexico and not Canada, Washington's biggest trading partner.

In the days after the 2001 attacks on Washington and New York, Bush thanked several countries for their support. He didn't mention Canada. When Chr├ętien decided not to join the American-led attack on Iraq in 2003, Bush's schedule suddenly got too busy to accommodate a planned trip to Ottawa. The schedule did, however, permit Bush to entertain Australian Prime Minister John Howard at his Texas ranch on the days Bush was to have visited Canada. Australia had sent troops to Iraq.

Bush didn't make an official trip to Canada until Nov. 30, 2004 – after he had won a second term in office and after Chretien had stepped aside as prime minister for Paul Martin.

Bush used the visit to make his first major speech on foreign policy since his re-election. He didn't offer much on resolving the softwood lumber dispute – or ending the American ban on Canadian beef over fears of mad cow disease, even though there had been no cases of infected Canadian cattle in more than a year and a half.

Martin's decision – a few months later – not to join in Bush's proposed ballistic missile defence system also did not sit well. It was a decision Stephen Harper promised to revisit as he made mending fences with the United States a key part of his election campaign. His government also committed to signing a new NORAD treaty that will expand the air-defence agreement with the United States to include maritime surveillance.

Still, it didn't take Harper long as prime minister to ruffle a few American feathers when he stressed that Canada will invest heavily in protecting its claim to Arctic waterways – a claim Washington has never recognized.
The same page has links to background on the softwood lumber dispute, missile defence, mad cow disease and other issues that divide along the 49th parallel.

not yet

I don't think this law firm is going to offer me anything I want. I'm glad I met with them, though. They seem like a good place to work, and you never know what might open up in the future.

About the mysterious writing gig, Wrye asked:
What could it be?

Penthouse Letters? Prime Minister's Office? Juno Awards jokewriter? Incomplete Sentence Preservation Society? National Post corrections and accuracy department? The possibilities are limitless!
Indeed they are. But alas, the mystery will not be solved, as the interview was cancelled.

All I know is that an older man with a heavy Greek accent and a gruff, cigar-smoking voice, who has owned a restaurant in downtown Toronto for 47 years, is looking for a writer. I thought he might be looking for someone to ghost-write his memoirs, or a family history. I don't care that the interview was cancelled, but just tell me what the job was! We were so curious.

2.22.2006

interviews

Yesterday's shoes-in-the-house post certainly drew a lot of interest. (Thanks to Lone Primate for bringing up this important cultural distinction!) Maybe I should change wmtc's subtitle. "no shoes, please, we're canadian"? Or "shoeless indoors since august 30, 2005"?

I have an interview today at a big corporate law firm that's looking for word-processors. As of right now they don't have a spot with my kind of hours. The agency is thinking that once they meet me, they might create one. It's been known to happen, and they haven't ruled out the possibility.

So, while I'm sure I can get the job that's being offered, I don't know if they'll offer me the job I want.

I also have an interview tomorrow, for a part-time writing gig. It sounds a little wacky, and whether that's wacky in a good way remains to be seen. I answered an ad and was intrigued enough to see it through. Details to follow.

2.21.2006

feet

In comments here, Lone Primate drew my attention to a fundamental difference between Canadians and Americans previously unknown to me. I had seen this behaviour in Canada but didn't realize it was an important cultural trend. Forget health care, forget empire, we're talking shoes in the house. The conversation, with some additional thoughts about food.
[Lone Primate]

When you get down to the granular level, Canadians and Americans are really, fundamentally pretty similar. But this is one of the few genuine cultural differences I've observed between Canadians and Americans on a daily-living level: Americans don't cook; they don't even eat at home if they can avoid it. I don't mean that absolutely, of course, but far, far more than I notice to be the case here. Canadians, in my experience, typically have their favourite dishes and prepare them at home; they might eat out one or two evenings a week, and often it's something social. Ditto lunch: I've found most of my co-workers, who aren't poor by any means, generally brown-bag lunch, and go out as a group about once a week.

But my experiences in the US are entirely different. Some time ago I spent about a month with various friends in Los Angeles, and all the time I was there, I could count the number of home-cooked, even home-eaten, meals on both hands. At one place, it amounted to once. At another, "home cooked" consisted of broiled chicken breasts... period. Well, and beer. That was the side dish. :)

Other visits to other places or on business have convinced me that while my LA experience was probably extreme, it's not that far from the norm. I've also noticed that most US supermarkets have terrible selections of produce. And yet, most of ours this time of year comes from the US. My only conclusion is that in the US, producers are selling mostly to restaurants and food preparation places, and dumping the dregs on the supermarkets, since cooking is becoming a rarity in the US. I'm at a loss to explain the difference in cultures in this aspect, but to me, it's a real indicator of what side of the border I'm on. Well, that, and the fact that people in the US wear their shoes in the house. Man, that's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers weird. :)

[Me]

Your observations [about cooking at home vs eating out] definitely apply to NYC and L.A., but I don't know if they do to the rest of the country. They might - I'm not sure.

New Yorkers and Los Angelenos are notorious for hardly ever cooking, and both cities have lousy produce in supermarkets (although excellent produce in specialty markets).

But in smaller cities and throughout suburbia, the supermarkets are rich with wonderful produce. I don't know about cooking, though. There is a lot of restaurant going, that's for sure.

Shoes in the house? Funny! We always wore them in NY - but we had hardwood floors. Here we have carpeting, and we wear slippers. But we noticed that everyone who comes over - the landlord, the heating oil guy, the next-door neighbour - all take their shoes off as soon as they walk in. Is it living in a country with a lot of snow?

I've found most of my co-workers, who aren't poor by any means, generally brown-bag lunch, and go out as a group about once a week.

This is definitely different. When I worked in an office, I usually brought lunch to save money and eat better - food is SO expensive in midtown Manhattan. But I was a rarity. Most of my co-workers went out to lunch every day. I was amazed at how much ordinary office-workers would drop on lunch every day.

[LP]

Shoes in the house? Funny! We always wore them in NY

First time I can remember being aware of this was watching The Brady Bunch when I was about five. I noticed Bobby wearing his sneakers as he came down the stairs. To me, this was like wandering around in a snowsuit. But even at that age, I was grasping for explanations, and I decided it was because it was a TV show: that Bobby was wearing shoes because he was an actor on a set. But no, later on, I realized it's typical for people in the States to just wander through the house with their shoes on... There's a line in Huey Lewis and the News's song Bad Is Bad that still makes my eye twitch: "There's a strange pair of shoes underneath the bed." How the hell did shoes get all the way upstairs? You might as well sing "There's a strange garden hose underneath the bed." :)

I really don't know what the essential difference is, but I suspect you're right; it's probably to do with the weather. Whatever it is, it sets its mark, though... my first impression someone's low class is if they traipse through someone's home with their shoes on, and I don't think I'm alone in that in this country.

[me]

"There's a strange pair of shoes underneath the bed." How the hell did shoes get all the way upstairs? You might as well sing "There's a strange garden hose underneath the bed." :)

This is so funny! Those lyrics draw from a long tradition of blues and R&B songs that note whose shoes are under the bed. Shoes under the bed, obviously, equal who's in the bed. It's like "How come my dog don't bark when you come around?"

Women will say, "He can put his shoes under my bed anytime," as a semi-risque-without-being-graphic way of saying mmmmyummy.

Now it turns out this is not universal. Who knew!

my first impression someone's low class is if they traipse through someone's home with their shoes on, and I don't think I'm alone in that in this country.

OMG. Thank you for warning me. I may have already looked like a hillbilly! Hopefully I will not do it again.

Let me ask you this, then. Does everyone wear slip-on shoes? What do you with big lace-up boots?
My cultural odyssey never ends.

needles

I guess most folks didn't want to talk about health care, although I appreciate the comments that you did leave. Maybe everyone is all talked out on the subject.

In case it's not perfectly, brilliantly, transparently clear, I value Canada's national health insurance beyond measure. Remember, I come from a place where health care is a luxury for the wealthy and well employed, or a bone thrown to the very poor. As far as I'm concerned, that green card in my wallet is a piece of awe and wonder. When people ask me why I moved here, about the differences between the US and Canada, my shorthand version is: war vs health care. In the US, my taxes supported illegal, immoral, unjust, unnecessary war for the profit of a few. In Canada, my taxes support health care for all.

I would never stand in favour of altering the system in a way that lost the fundamental values outlined in the Health Canada Act.

But unless a system is perfect, changes will always be necessary to help it achieve its goals. We have to be open to discussing possible changes with an open mind.

* * * *

I recently discovered another great thing about a public health system: public health information. I needed information about vaccinations for our trip to Peru. The Health Canada website led me right to travel health information, which gave me lots of good things to read, and directed me to a list of Travel Medical Centres by region.

Yesterday we went to a Travel Clinic in Mississauga and began the vaccination process. They have lots of pamphlets and papers so you can educate yourself on your needs, depending on where and why you're traveling. If you're making a pilgrimage to Mecca, you need a vaccination against meningitis. If you're visiting relatives in sub-Saharan Africa, you'll want malaria protection. And so on. They also have a protocol to follow, to ensure you get all the doses (some vaccines require two or three boosters), and so you don't overload your system at one time.

Yesterday we received a diptheria and tetanus booster (one injection, and covered by Ontario Health), plus our first Twinrix, which vaccinates against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Next time we go, we'll get yellow fever vaccination, plus another Twinrix. On our third and last visit, we'll get a typhoid vaccination, plus the last Twinrix. (After the last hepatitis injection, you're immunized for life.) There's also an oral medication that greatly reduces your chance of contracting travellers' diarrhea. We're always careful about water when we travel, but on the other hand, I'm completely adventurous about food - that is, I don't hesitate to try anything, including food from street vendors - and one of has some gastrointestinal issues. So, why not.

I haven't been focusing much on our Peru trip, but beginning this process made me think about it and get really excited. Thank goodness we planned it and paid for our plane tickets before I lost my job.

2.20.2006

the great debate

Recent news from Quebec reminded me that it's been a long time since we talked about health care. Wmtc readership has changed a lot since the last time I blogged about it, so I think it's time to re-open this can of worms.

Last June, when the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Quebeckers could purchase private health insurance, I was confused by some of the strong reaction - and strange interpretations - to the ruling. I asked for readers' help, and a discussion ensued (a little more here).

Now Quebec has issued its response to the ruling.
The Quebec government promised yesterday to provide hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery within six months of a patient's diagnosis and said it would pay for the procedures to be done at private clinics if necessary.

This would make Quebec the first province to guarantee access to certain health procedures and would open the door to a greater role for private health care in Quebec.

"We're putting the private sector to work for the public," Premier Jean Charest said at a news conference. "What we are announcing today is a new era in the delivery of health and social services for the population of Quebec -- a new era of guaranteed access to care."

The proposals are the government's formal response to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in June that Quebeckers should be allowed to buy private medical insurance if basic medical care is not provided in a timely fashion. The province was given one year to speed up care or lift the ban on private insurance, a move that would have led to parallel systems of private and government-funded health care.

"We chose to maintain the principles of the public health-care system within which the private sector can play a role," Mr. Charest said, adding that Quebec could serve as a model for the rest of the country. "Other Canadians may choose to go down that route."

Under the proposals, the government promises to provide cataract, hip and knee surgery within six months of the day a specialist recommends the operation. If government-funded hospitals cannot perform the procedure within that time, the government will pay to have it done at certified private clinics affiliated with a hospital.

If the operation cannot be done anywhere in Quebec within nine months, the government will pay to send the patient outside the province, including to the United States.
For many Canadians, the mere mention of the world "private" in the health care debate brings cries of "They're privatizing the system!", or worse, "They're Americanizing it!". To me, this seems short-sighted (not to mention ignorant of what "Americanizing" would mean).

I understand the arguments about a slippery slope - that any introduction of private health care into the public system can be a wedge to drive in more and more, until the system falls apart. But fear of that slope also amounts to fear of change. And change may be necessary. It usually is. If we know what we want to guard against - that is, if we know our priorities - we should be able to avoid the pitfalls.

All countries with national health insurance have a mix of private and public delivery. According to all sources I read, most other countries (the UK, Australia, New Zealand, France, Israel) have a more balanced picture, with a greater percentage of private care in the mix. Yet those countries maintain their public health system, and, to my knowledge, have not been accused of "Americanizing" health care.

If a Canadian wants to shell out her own money for an MRI, or purchase private insurance to fund a hip replacement sooner, then they're no longer waiting, and the queue moves more quickly for those who don't want to or can't afford to do that. And how can a government tell people they can't spend their own money on their own health?

To fears of siphoning off the best doctors into the private sector, leaving the public sector with the dregs, I say, make sure that doesn't happen. One can easily imagine mechanisms to guard against that, such as requiring doctors spend a certain percentage of their time working in the public sector, or some similar means.

Maintaining national health insurance is clearly a top priority for Canadians, as well it should be. And most people agree the system, while an excellent one, needs some improvements. Improvements mean change. Yet say the word change, and people panic.

I find myself out of step with leftist thinking on this one. I'm very interested in hearing your thoughts.

Late addition: This op-ed by two Senators in today's Globe And Mail makes a good case for more solutions like the one proposed in Quebec.
A care guarantee to count on

by Michael Kirby and Wilbert Keon

The myth that the Canada Health Act requires health-care services to be publicly delivered -- not just publicly funded -- is finally dead.

As a result, Canada is on the verge of a truly constructive health debate that holds promise for real progress on what concerns Canadians most -- ensuring they have timely access to quality care when they need it.

This myth, combined with unwarranted fears about an imminent slide into a U.S.-style health-care system, has kept important policy options off the table for far too long.

Roy Romanow perpetuated the myth when he declared that health-care delivery is a "moral enterprise." There is no doubt Canadians cherish their publicly funded single-payer system because it ensures access to health care based on need, not ability to pay. But there is no moral imperative that this care be delivered exclusively by a publicly owned provider.

Beginning with the October 2002 health-care report by the standing Senate committee on social affairs, science and technology, several events have helped dispel the myth. The most important of these was the Supreme Court of Canada's decision last June in the Chaoulli case.

The focus of that case was not the phony issue of who delivers services, but rather the very real one of whether or not Canadians have the right to timely access to the care they need, regardless of the provider -- public or private, for-profit or not-for-profit.

The Supreme Court clearly set out the choices confronting Canadians.

Governments must either live up to their end of the medicare bargain and deliver timely access to care, or they must allow individual Canadians to purchase the medically necessary care they need for themselves. To do otherwise leads to violations of Charter rights that guarantee the security of the person.

In recent weeks, the governments of Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec have all indicated that they recognize their obligation to provide timely service. The health-care discussion paper released last week by the Quebec government is particularly encouraging to us as it embraces precisely the same solution -- a health-care guarantee of timely service -- that the Senate committee recommended in 2002. The care guarantee was also advocated by the Conservative Party in the recent federal election.

A care guarantee ensures that people receive the care they need within evidence-based, clinically determined wait times. It thus prevents two undesirable outcomes. ...

Senator Michael Kirby was the chair of the standing Senate committee on social affairs, science and technology when it released "The Health of Canadians: Recommendations for Reform, in 2002"; Senator Wilbert Keon, a physician, was a member of the committee.
Read more here.

not good news

The other day, I thought this was good news. This, not so much:
Bloc plans to prop up Harper's minority

The Bloc Quebecois says it intends to keep the Conservative minority government in office for a "good while," encouraged by the Tories' openness toward Quebec.

With the Liberals already digging in their heels more than a month before the new Parliament begins and the NDP at least one vote shy of holding the balance of power, the Bloc will often be the deciding factor between Conservative success and an early federal election.

Many federal Liberals warned during the last election that a Conservative minority beholden to the Bloc would lead to the dismantling of federal powers and a rise in Quebec sovereignty.

But Bloc House Leader Michel Gauthier dismisses those warnings.

In an interview, he said his party has no intention of imposing such demands and will simply be happy with an end to Liberal centralization and the Conservative pledge to respect the constitutional division of powers.

"We don't want useless battles. We want to help the government function for a while. I have no shame in saying I will be urging my colleagues . . . to conduct ourselves in a way that the government stays in place for a good while to do what needs to be done," he said in French.

"[The Conservatives] have already shown more openness than the Liberals. The Liberals were centralist in everything they did, trying to infringe on the responsibilities of Quebec. It couldn't be worse than that. I think the Conservatives will be more respectful of Quebec's responsibilities."

Mr. Gauthier said the Bloc will not spearhead specific policies, but will push to ensure government policies are good for Quebec.
It seems odd to me, and not a good thing, that a party with purely parochial concerns is the deciding factor on the national stage. It's also such blatant political gamesmanship: the Conservatives make kissing noises at the Bloc, so the Bloc scratches the Conservatives' back, because only Quebec matters.

I understand that all politics are quid pro quo, but in this transaction, what does Canada get? Screwed?

some wines


I don't think they can ship to Canada. (Which would make the Maple Leaf tongue a bit irrelevant.) I'll have to ask my wine-loving sister to order some for me.

2.19.2006

hbc, usa

Peter Newman, author of a four-volume history of the Hudson's Bay Company, as well as The Secret Mulroney Tapes, published an extended essay about HBC in yesterday's Globe And Mail. It's the cover story of the Globe's "Focus" section, and it's very interesting.

It begins:
Hudson's Bay, USA

Peter C. Newman

Like totems sacrificed to the French Revolution -- the trophies melted down for coinage, the statues of angels torn out of cathedrals and tossed into the Seine -- Canada's corporate selloff accelerates unabated. Once safe-and-sound corporate idols such as Air Canada, Canadian National, Future Shop, Molson's, Tim Hortons, Shoppers Drug Mart, EnCana, Club Monaco and many others are now owned or controlled by U.S. investors. So it should be no surprise that next week this country's founding commercial enterprise, the Hudson's Bay Company, becomes a plaything of South Carolina financier Jerry Zucker.

It shouldn't be a shock, but it is, because for those of us who have studied the HBC seriously, it is difficult to separate company and country. This epic acquisition (for just over $1-billion) by an American takeover artist shatters a unique 336-year link between Canada and its founding transcontinental business empire.

An essential formative influence in Canada's evolution from colony to nation, the company exercised a profound impact on our economy, geography and psyches. Its presence made us Canadian. Even now that the once-glorious Company of Adventurers has become just one more department-store sacrifice to the 100-ton gorilla known as Wal-Mart Inc., its absence will be felt.

If the metaphor holds -- if historically Canada was indeed the HBC writ large -- its demise as a core Canadian institution does not bode well for our future in a global economy. Sell too many of our big-box companies and we cease to be players in the only league that counts.

Even in this context, assigning such significance to a department store that has been in the black only once in the past seven quarters may seem melodramatic. But warnings are not always obvious. The Bay's demise as a touchstone Canadian institution sends an uncomfortable message: If we continue to cast adrift all of our historic anchors and become mere squatters on our own land, it will too late.

The question will then become not whether this century belongs to Canada (as the previous one never did), but a more urgent query: Will Canada belong to the 21st century? That's a profound dilemma and the answer should worry us all.
The story is available only by paid subscription. If you're interested, leave a comment or drop me an email.

open thread

I'm turning wmtc over to you today. I'm working on something meaty for us to discuss and debate, but my brain's not up to it yet today. (I might wait for Monday.) So why don't we talk about whatever you want?

Some trivia from my life to get things going.

It's very cold today. -14 C (2 F), -25 C (-13 F) with the wind-chill - very cold for the GTA. It looks like all of Canada is in a deep freeze. It makes for shorter dog-walks, but I'm happy the sun is shining.

I still don't have any word-processing work. I'm not worried, I know it will come eventually. Meanwhile I'll continue to enjoy my freedom while I have it. I also have lots of time to finish up my current Kids On Wheels stories and start an assignment for New Mobility.

I'm trying to brush up on my Spanish for our trip to Peru, but every time I sit down with the book, my eyes glaze over.

This week I solved the mystery of how to clean inside old radiators, thanks to a Helpful Canadian Tire person.

We also worked on the house more this week. I love it and hope to live here a long time.

My mother's best friend, and an important member of my chosen family, is very ill. She's having hospice care at home. It's not a tragedy: she's 87 years old and is not suffering greatly. It's very hard on my mom.

That last doesn't qualify as trivia. I'm trying to end on a lighter note, but I can't think of anything. I'll just get more coffee and turn this over to you. What's new? Any good stories to share? Oddball links to post? Dick Cheney jokes?

2.18.2006

dumb

I've heard sportscasters say some pretty dumb things, but this has got to land CBC's Brian Williams in the Top Ten All-Time Dumbest.

Moments ago, Shani Davis became the first African American man to win an individual gold medal in a Winter Olympics. Davis took the gold for speed skating, in the 1000-meter event.

Said Williams: "Davis is from the south side of Chicago. He put on a White Sox cap after his race, perhaps some Jim Croce music playing in the background..."

Jim Croce?

Can you think of anything less "south side of Chicago" than Jim Croce?

For those who don't understand the reference, the words "the south side of Chicago" are found in the lyrics of an old pop song. For those who don't understand the stupidity, the song has nothing to do with Chicago. Less than nothing. Ask 100 - no, 1,000 - Chicagoans to reel off a few things their city is known for. I guarantee you none of them will name "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown".

What's more, Davis's mother moved her family to the far north end of Chicago when Shani was 10, to be closer to a skating rink.

Hello, Brian? Here's a dollar. Go buy yourself a metaphor.

the gates, reloaded

Long-time readers may remember my enthusiasm for The Gates, the Christo project in New York's Central Park.

I was thrilled to still be living in New York when the project happened, and I blogged about it incessantly. Old posts: when The Gates first opened, why I cared about it (in response to a reader's question), my thoughts on Gates detractors, and finally, my impressions after seeing it for the first time. (I went twice, once without a camera and once with - plus, the second time, there was snow on the ground.)

Also, some Gates fun here.

Reading these old posts, I see I was considering buying something to remember the experience. I was also happy about the little freebie giveaway, which now resides in a small clip frame near my desk.

As we got ready to leave New York, the idea of owning a signed print from the project appealed to me more and more. Allan and I both enjoyed The Gates so much, and it seemed so fitting to bring something very special, and very New York, to our new home. We decided to splurge.

Back in present-day Port Credit, I'm on another round of fixing up the house: ordering shades for the living room windows, hanging curtains in the kitchen, framing some photos, putting things on the walls. To these ends, we had our prized poster framed and hung it over the couch.

It looks like this, in a simple black frame, with Christo's signature in the bottom left margin. Click to enlarge.


I also just noticed that I saw The Gates exactly one year ago! The day we took the print in for framing was actually a year to the day; quite the coincidence. When we walked into a local art gallery with our print, the curator couldn't believe her eyes: she had just printed her own photos from The Gates and was choosing one to have enlarged and framed. Must have been something in the air.

2.17.2006

olympic check-in

I'm thoroughly enjoying watching The Olympics. I'm not watching in any organized, concerted way, just turning on the TV more than I normally would and tuning in to whatever sport is on. (Unless it's figure skating, then I turn it off.)

I'm really enjoying the coverage at the venues themselves, which is informative, purely sports-oriented and not overly patriotic. What a great change from US coverage! I could use more information about the sports, as I think Olympics coverage should assume that most people watching don't normally follow these sports, and need some instruction. However, since I'm often just watching highlights - for example, of curling - the announcers might be doing a lot of this and I'm just not catching it.

One thing I love about Olympics coverage these days is the total lack of sexism. This probably dates me, but I well remember coverage of women's sports that reeked of blatant sexism. Not any more. Progress!

The only thing I don't like about the CBC coverage is Brian Williams. Almost everything about him annoys me. I especially dislike his automatic assumption that anyone accused of cheating has cheated. Even with casual viewing, I've heard him do this many times already, and I think it's wrong. Anyone can be accused of anything, and when someone says "I didn't do it," they might be telling the truth. Not according to Mr Williams.

His opinionated commentary bothers me in general. I'm interested in sports; I'm not interested in one man's opinions. He seems to inject himself into the story whenever possible. Hey Brian, it's not about you.

(US readers, this isn't this guy, it's this guy.)

Other than that, I'm loving it. I don't know how many medals Team Canada has won so far, and I don't care. I just love seeing these incredible athletes do their thing.

conspicuous consumption

I don't know how many of you have ever been to Whole Foods. They have three locations in Canada - Vancouver, Toronto, and in the Toronto suburb of Oakville. When Whole Foods opened its first location in New York City a few years ago, it was a Big Thing. I immediately fell in love with it and contrived to shop there whenever possible, even though it was nowhere near where we lived, and despite prices that put it in the "indulgence" category.

Whole Foods is a combination of an extremely upscale supermarket, a health food store and a specialty food outlet. They have a giant selection of organic produce, organic food products of every description, huge organic meat, fish, cheese and bakery departments, and - what they're especially famous for in New York - prepared food. Everything is freshly prepared in the store with all organic ingredients, and the selection is vast.

Buying freshly prepared food from specialty markets - that is, bringing home already prepared, but healthy and delicious, dinners - is very big in New York, and Whole Foods outdid every other seller. In addition, their space is beautiful, and their customer service is perfect. In a city where shopping is often a zoo-like experience, this is big.

Last week we checked out the Whole Foods in Toronto, and yesterday we went to the one in Oakville, partly in search of certain foods we haven't been able to find in our local Loblaws, but partly just because I love them. The one in Toronto, in the upscale Yorkville neighbourhood, is very nice. But the one in Oakville is the true Whole Foods Experience. It's huge, gorgeous, and the prepared food section rivals the one in New York.

There's a downside, of course. That two Whole Foods can be successful in the GTA belies any stereotype of frugal Canadians, because their prices can be outrageous. You have to really watch what you're putting in your cart, lest you find that the bunch of seedless grapes you've just selected comes to $28 or that little goat cheese salad is $14.50. (Someone near us at the prepared-food counter quipped, "Another name for this place is Whole Paycheque".)

At the same time, there are bargains to be found, especially the Whole Foods brand, 365. The prepared food is no more expensive than other prepared food - that is, much more than cooking for yourself, much less than eating in a restaurant - but it's so much better.

To the health-food store community and the labour movement, Whole Foods is an Enemy. Although they're supposed to be an excellent company to work for, the owner is notoriously anti-union. They're also accused of using their giant volume purchasing to strong-arm suppliers.

An independent health food store in our neighbourhood, Alternatives, just went out of business; their branch in Oakville tanked last month. I'd be extremely surprised if the advent of Whole Foods in the area didn't at least hasten its demise, if not kill it outright.

I don't necessarily believe, as some people do, that any independently owned store is good and any large chain is evil. But for the folks who owned and worked at Alternatives, Whole Foods is certainly not a good thing.

Despite these very real negatives, since moving to Canada, I've missed shopping at Whole Foods. When we stayed at my mom's over US Thanksgiving, we visited the one nearest her and stocked up on a few things. But mostly I've missed what you can't stock up on: delicious prepared dinners. I was surprised and disappointed that suburban supermarkets here don't offer that, since I'd think busy working families would really enjoy it. But it's very expensive and labour-intensive for stores to introduce, and I guess people don't expect it, so it doesn't exist. I've had to get used to cooking more, which doesn't thrill me.

Which brings us back to Oakville. It's only 15 minutes away, a short hop on the QEW, and it made me very happy. So it seems likely we'll be supporting their healthy, delicious, spacious, corporate, anti-union, over-priced store on a semi-regular basis.

2.16.2006

good news

I took this as a good sign.
Liberals unwilling to prop up Harper
Graham says onus now on Bloc and NDP to support Conservative minority

Opposition Leader Bill Graham said he will not be afraid to defeat Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government, even though the Liberal Party will spend much of the year in a leadership race.

Mr. Harper must either accommodate Liberal positions on key issues such as child care and income-tax cuts or turn to the New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois for support in the House of Commons, Mr. Graham said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

He placed the onus for avoiding a quick election on the New Democrats and the Bloc, saying they triggered the last election out of political opportunism.

"We're not in the business of propping up the government," he said. "We're the Official Opposition. And that is our role, and we will stick to our points where they are important to the future of the country.

"Other parties will have to decide whether they want to compromise on this, because they're the ones — the Canadian public very well knows — that put us in this position. They're the ones that created the Harper government. They're the ones that are going to have to accommodate it."
Yesterday I read this letter to the editor in the Globe And Mail, from an astute man in Vancouver:
My take on Canadian politics is that, every decade or so, Canadians forget how much they dislike the Conservative Party and what it stands for and give it a chance to govern. Given the appalling, but not surprising, arrogance of Stephen Harper since the election, I suspect Canadians' memories will be well refreshed by the time his minority government falls in the next year or two. - Henry Sporn
Sounds good to me.

shame

The United Nations released a report today calling on the United States to release or bring to trial everyone being held in the Guantanamo Bay prison, Cuba, and to shut the facility down.

The report is a summary of an investigation by five UN experts. It calls on the US government "to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and to refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." The UN report is found here..

It comes as no surprise that the US discredits and ignores the report. It's not like they give a shit about human rights, or international opinion, or... anything except their own agenda. Not much new there. But these kinds of reports are important nonetheless. Reliable third parties must document the abuses of the most powerful. It's bad enough the US rewrites its own recent history; they can't be allowed to rewrite it for the entire world.

One of the US's complaints about the UN report is that the investigators rejected an invitation to visit Guantanamo. The US had invited the experts to the prison - but wouldn't let them interview the people being held there. Because they were not to be given free access, the investigators refused to go. Their findings were instead based on interviews with former detainees, public documents, media reports, lawyers and a questionnaire filled out by the U.S. government.

The Guantanamo Bay prison is one of the great shames of the United States. If there was ever justification for imprisoning the people held there - without charges, without trials, without even the protections that POW status would confer - it has long, long since vanished. These prisoners are the often forgotten victims of the US's war of terror.

AP story here.

2.15.2006

reality

Well, I guess we have a doctor. I felt comfortable with her, certainly enough for now. I suppose the real test of any doctor is what they do when something changes, but there's no way to know that in advance. For now, though, this is fine.

I haven't gotten any temp work yet. There's something likely for next week, so I'm trying to enjoy my freedom while I can - swimming, reading, taking Cody to the off-leash park. I am dreading temping, with a fervor out of all logical proportion. I know it will be fine. I do. But I have a completely sick dread of it anyway.

I think the full effects of losing my great writing gig is just hitting home. When I wrote the first manuscript, I was under such enormous pressure - moving preparations, Buster's illness, saying goodbye to friends and family in New York, and still working my weekend job. I sometimes felt on the verge of exploding. (Indeed, I did have at least one full-scale panic attack.)

Even under those difficult conditions, I enjoyed the work. I was so looking forward to writing the next manuscript under greatly improved circumstances - without a day job, working away in our cozy little house near the lake.

But no.

Believe me, I'm well aware that I have little to complain about in the larger sense. My non-writing work is always in demand, so there's little danger of serious financial crisis. And I still have writing work I enjoy, it just doesn't pay enough to live on. My working life will return to what it's usually been - part word processing, part writing. It was just savouring that taste of full-time writing, then having it snatched away, that sucks.

I'm off to enjoy my day. For those interested, a long discussion about censorship and so-called obscenity laws is going on here.

2.14.2006

some sheep make some noise

Here's something I love about Canada. The media says things like this:
Other newsworthy events took place yesterday: Four U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan and Iran began enriching uranium in its deadly game of nuclear brinkmanship, but the press corps here was interested in only one story — why it took almost 24 hours for the world to find out that U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney had accidentally shot a man in the face during a weekend Texas hunting trip.

After five years of largely accepting the Bush administration's version of events on everything from Iraq's illusory weapons of mass destruction to the bungled response to hurricane Katrina, the White House press corps suddenly turned aggressive yesterday, refusing to accept spokesman Scott McClellan's explanations of why the public had been left in the dark about Mr. Cheney's hunting mishap.
At the gym yesterday, I happened to see a CNN headline saying Scottie was "grilled" about the shooting. I was thinking, oh yeah, I can imagine the grilling, what'd they do, ask one follow-up question? But apparently the White House press corps rented a spine for the day.

final piece

We have appointments today with a nearby family doctor. If we like her - or, if I like her, since it's more important to me - the last piece of our settling-in puzzle will be in place. This was the issue I was most concerned about, because I've had bad doctors, and finding a good one changed my life, and because I heard it was very difficult to find a doctor who's accepting new patients in the Toronto area.

I wasn't seriously worried, as there are walk-in clinics everywhere. I went to trouble and expense to make sure we had a good six-months' supply of all our medications, and just hoped for the best.

As it turned out, there were several doctors accepting new patients in Mississauga. Now I'm crossing my fingers that I like this one, or enough to start out, anyway.

It will be our first time using our wonderful and amazing Ontario Health cards.

* * * *

Back in the Old Country, 26.9 inches of snow fell in Central Park in 24 hours - breaking the previous record set in 1869! Can't say I'm sorry I missed that.

2.13.2006

what a coincidence

From United for Peace and Justice:
As if losing their homes, jobs, and family members were not enough, displaced Katrina survivors are now at risk of being denied their Constitutional right to vote in Louisiana elections.

Under Louisiana's current election plans, a high percentage of the state's registered voters who have relocated to other cities and states are in danger of being excluded from the voting process. Many of them are low-income African Americans and immigrants.

Few of Louisiana's displaced residents are in a position to return to New Orleans and other Louisiana cities to vote. For instance, on Monday, February 13th, FEMA's short-term hotel program expires for most of the 26,000 displaced hurricane survivors, yet most of these evacuees have not been provided with long-term, or even transitional, housing solutions. To protect evacuees' right to vote, it's vital that Louisiana set up satellite voting centers in other parishes and states where large numbers of displaced residents are temporarily residing.

For satellite voting to be incorporated into Louisiana's election regulations, Governor Kathleen Blanco must act by early next week, but until now, she's waffled on the issue.
Here's how you can help.

recommendation

Read this book.

It's excellent. It scared the shit outta me.

shall make no law

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This is the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. It was ratified in 1791, four years after the Constitution was ratified, along with the other nine amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights.

I'm a First Amendment nut. I view unfettered freedom of speech as one of the backbones of a free society, along with freedom of religion, the right to assemble, and the right to bodily integrity (not mentioned in the US Constitution).

When the First Amendment is in trouble, I have no trouble knowing where I stand. When the Nazis wanted to march through Skokie, Illinois, I was only 17, but it seemed clear to me that they must be allowed to do so. In the nearly 30 years since, my beliefs have been clarified and strengthened. Whether it be a t-shirt I agree with or a billboard I detest, I support every person's right to publicly express her or his views. The way to fight hate, in my opinion, is not to censor it, but to bring it out in the light of day. Fight messages of hate with messages of tolerance. Fight propaganda with truth.

Way back when our immigration applications were being processed, I had an extended email conversation with a woman who lives in Toronto. She's very progressive, and is also involved in queer issues. She was upset over the latest Fred Phelps outrage, and was both hurt and contemptuous that he was allowed to practice his brand of bigotry so publicly in the US. I remember her saying, "One person like that has the ability to hurt so many people. I don't see what on earth that has to do with free speech."

She was taken aback with my response, defending his right to spew. When she said, "In Canada, we believe..." I took it to mean that Canada's anti-hate-speech law has nearly universal acceptance. Since moving here, I've read several editorials and columns from Canadians who disagree with that, so now I see it isn't quite so one-sided.

I also see the laws in a new light. One way the US and Canada can be contrasted is individual vs community. Both countries value both, to be sure, but to me the emphasis is unmistakable. In the US, the individual's right to freedom of expression is supposed to trump any other concern. (Supposed to. Don't confuse John Ashcroft's and Alberto Gonzales's America with true American values.) Canada's anti-hate-speech law curtails an individual's right to say whatever he pleases in favour of the comfort of the community, and a community's right to exist free of harassment.

I still oppose it.

When looking online for more information about this from a Canadian perspective, most of what I found was written by Christian Conservatives bemoaning their right to spread homophobia. I obviously disagree with their views, but I don't know why they should be enjoined from publicly stating them.

This column was a little more moderate, although still from a conservative point of view. I was disappointed to find only conservatives and reactionaries opposed to the hate-speech laws, but no liberals or progressives. If this is an accurate representation, rather than an error in my research, it confirms a right-wing stereotype about the left. I'm hoping it's not the case.

As the "cartoon riots" were being discussed and debated last week, this caught my eye. Doug Saunders, writing in the Globe And Mail, ended his column with this:
As the riots were getting under way this week, Britain's Labour government attempted one solution to the dilemma, a law to make such cartoons completely illegal. Britain's Racial and Religious Hatred Bill would have outlawed any disrespectful expressions toward religions. It was drafted in response to an equally ill-conceived law that passed last summer in the wake of the July 7 bombings, which outlaws the expression of intolerant or hateful ideas in places of worship.

That's one response to the multiple ironies of offence-giving cartoons versus offensive religious practices: Pass laws against unpleasant thoughts and ideas. During the long and angry parliamentary debate, it emerged that all manner of posters, cartoons, jokes and even sermons would be rendered illegal, as they implicitly are in Canada's unfortunate hate-speech laws.

The British government tried to define this sharia-like law as a necessary tool in a diverse society. As it turned out, the debate taught a more important lesson -- that what social diversity requires is not "tolerance," as the cliche would have it, or even laws to make our expressions sound "tolerant," but rather a greater latitude for intolerance.

Rowan Atkinson, the normally silent comedian of Mr. Bean fame, was suddenly rendered articulate, and spoke eloquently on Monday of the "right to criticize and ridicule religious beliefs and practices." To everyone's surprise, his side won: After Tony Blair made the mistake of leaving the House of Commons for five minutes, the bill came to a swift vote, and it was defeated by exactly one "Nay" -- indicating just how sharp this division has become. The Tory whip was forced to resign.

"Something I feel that I have learnt over this long campaign," Mr. Atkinson said afterward, in a surprisingly non-squeaky voice, "is that hate legislation, no matter how well-intended, is never more than a mechanism to paper over the cracks in society.

"Of course, I would sympathize with anyone who says, 'I would rather look at the wallpaper than the cracks,' and if such legislation can provide short-term comfort to vulnerable communities, that is all to the good. But it will never provide any solutions to the ills of society. In the absence of other action, behind the paper, the wall will continue to crumble."

A strikingly non-funny line from a master of visual humour. But if there was a lesson this week, it was that dreadful jokes can have a useful effect.
Although I found the C-250 Bill when it was read in the House of Commons, I was unable to locate the text of the law itself, or even its proper name. Wikipedia is down and I can't find the exact law on any Canada government information site. I must not know what to look for. If you can fill me in, I'll edit this post to include your information.

[Update: new commenter Wangmo posted a link to the hate-speech amendment to Canada's Criminal Code. Thank you!]

What are your thoughts about laws criminalizing hate propaganda? Why does Canada need this law? Whose interests does it serve? When can government censorship be justified?

2.12.2006

protest, canadian style

Hundreds of Muslims protested in Toronto and Montreal yesterday, peacefully raising their voices against the insulting depiction of the prophet Mohammed in European newspapers.

According to the CBC, about 250 people demonstrated near McGill University in Montreal and another 200 people marched in front of the Danish consulate in Toronto. (Does that mean there were really 1,000 people at each? Veteran demonstrators will know what I mean.) Apparently there was one arrest in Montreal, of a man who was shouting profanities about Islam.

In Europe, there were several peaceful protests, many people condemning both the cartoons and the violent responses to their publication.

Four days ago, the student newspaper of the University of Prince Edward Island published the infamous cartoons. CBC: "Two thousand copies of The Cadre were distributed on campus Wednesday, but university administration ordered them removed. Officials say the cartoons have already caused enough violence around the world."

The school's student union came out in support of the administrators' decision, and the newspaper's editors complied, returning all the remaining copies.

In the US, student journalists often conflict with school administrators, with the school calling publications offensive and inappropriate, and newspaper staff citing principles of free speech. This can be a huge issue in the US, where high schools and universities routinely demand students surrender their Constitutional rights. Courts have divided over the issue.

In P.E.I., the newspaper was technically owned by the student union, which was demanding the return of the newspapers. It sounds like it was pretty clear cut and the editors didn't put up a fight.

I'm reading about free speech vs hate speech laws in Canada, and I'll post something for us to discuss. Please stay tuned and hold your comments.

if canada ruled the world

If Canadians Ruled, a Photoshop contest at Worth1000.com.

Many thanks to James.

2.11.2006

pepys

Since January 2003, I have been reading The Diary of Samuel Pepys, online, at PepysDiary.com.

Samuel Pepys (pronounced "peeps") lived in London, England, in the 17th Century. For ten years, he kept a meticulous diary, a highly unusual concept for its day. Pepys - or Sam, as the diary readers all call him - wrote about the major political, religious and military events of the time, as well as the mundane dealings of every day life - food and drink, servants and neighbours, family feuds and marital spats. Luckily for us, Sam was a man of endless curiosity. He loved new inventions and innovations, and he loved books, music, theatre and art. (He also loved women.) The Diary of Samuel Pepys is a literary landmark, a great repository of history and a treasure trove of 17th Century London life.

A little more than three years ago, the incomparable Phil Gyford had the idea to put the entire diary online. Like many people, Gyford had wanted to read Pepys' diary but was intimidated by its massive length. Using the most recent version of the Diary that is in the public domain (that is, no longer copyright protected), Gyford decided to post an entry each day, to read the work in manageable bits, and to encourage others to read along.

It's been a huge success. The site is now inhabited by a regular group of readers and annotators who explain, augment and discuss entries. Some are experts in various fields that relate to the diary, some are amateur historians, most are just interested readers. Through the work of Phil and all the annotators, the characters are all linked with bios and all manner of background information is explicated.

This is the main diary site, here's an FAQ, and the "story so far" page can bring you up to date. Here's an NPR interview with Phil Gyford shortly after he began the site, and another from the BBC.

I read the Diary weekly, catching up on entries for the past week as if they were a chapter in a novel. And why did I post this today? From the entry for Friday 6 February 1663:
And so to a bookseller’s in the Strand, and there bought Hudibras again, it being certainly some ill humour to be so against that which all the world cries up to be the example of wit; for which I am resolved once again to read him, and see whether I can find it or no.
You know who I immediately thought of, right? Hudibras is Sam's Rick Mercer!

what i'm reading

I didn't expect to write another "what i'm reading" post so soon, but I'm so absorbed in this book that I had to post: The Plot Against America by Philip Roth.

I'm not sure how familiar Canadians are with Philip Roth. He's an important American writer, very prolific, often confounding. His first novel was Goodbye, Columbus (1959), Plot Against America came out in 2004, and there's a long, long list in between.

Roth is both profound and playful, and his writing is hugely varied - he's not a writer for whom you can read one or two books and declare you know him. Some of his novels are among my favourite books; others I found unreadable. But without a doubt he is a great American voice. I'm hoping he wins the Nobel Prize in his lifetime.

Roth has also been very influential in bringing other voices to US audiences, most notably Milan Kundera and Primo Levi. One can imagine a direct line following the Eastern European experience, beginning with Kafka, then Roth, then Kundera. Roth is the branch of the family that came to America.

When The Plot Against America begins, it is 1939, in a working-class Jewish neighbourhood in Newark, New Jersey. Everything is historically accurate: it is exactly 1939.

Then something different happens: the Republicans do not nominate Wendell Willkie to challenge Franklin Delano Roosevelt's bid for an unprecedented third term. They nominate Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh: hero, celebrity, friend of the Nazis, virulent anti-Semite. (This is true, too, except he wasn't nominated.) During the campaign, Lindbergh keeps his most objectionable sentiments under his hat, and the media - then known as "the press" - goes along for the ride. Lindy seduces the public with his plain-spoken charm, and runs on one simple promise: I will keep the US out of another war.

He wins. FDR goes home to Hyde Park. A Nazi-sympathizer sits in the White House. It begins.

I am finding this book so gripping, so terrifying, and so completely believable, that I have to keep reminding myself that it didn't happen this way. I keep thinking, thank god I'm in Canada already, before this happens. Obviously, that's part of Roth's point.

The Plot Against America is not told as history. The narrator is a nine-year-old boy, who experiences these world events as personal, family history. So the book is also a coming-of-age story, and Roth is brilliant at this. The narrator's milieu is very familiar to me: it's the culture in which my parents grew up. My parents grew up in Brooklyn, but for these purposes, it's the same thing.

I don't know if the impact of this book would be as great for a reader who wasn't from the US, or who wasn't Jewish. I'm finding it sometimes almost too scary to read.

Have you seen the movie The Garden of the Finzi-Continis? (I've mentioned it repeatedly in this blog, it's one of my minor obsessions, like George Orwell.) Finzi-Continis is about Italian Jews on the eve of their destruction, and it's the best movie I've ever seen about the Holocaust. There is no violence; you never see a concentration camp or a murder. The comfortable Italian Jews are slowly stripped of their lives. They adapt to one indignation, and then another, rationalizing and adjusting, as people do, as they gradually become second-class citizens. And then, it happens. I don't know if I've ever been so affected by a movie - so completely chilled, so frightened - as I was at the end of that one.

I am about halfway through The Plot Against America, and I purposely haven't read anything that might reveal plot. So I don't know if the American Jews, and their country, make it out alive.

Late addition: In this alternate universe, where the US does not enter the war against Germany or Japan, leaving the British and Canada to struggle virtually alone against the Nazis, Canada emerges as a safe haven for American Jews. Canadian readers will be justly proud of their country's role in this imagined nightmare.

question

Why are books so much more expensive in Canada than in the US? Does anyone know?

We are accustomed to buying books so much more cheaply. This is hard to get used to.

Please note, I'm not asking where to find discount books in the GTA. Thanks to readers, guidebooks and the internet, I have a good idea of that already, along with a Chapters discount card. I'm wondering why the big price difference exists.

2.10.2006

torino

The XX Olympic Games open today in Torino. I've been hugely impressed at how big the winter Olympics are here in Canada. It completely makes sense, of course, this being a winter country with a natural affinity for the winter sports. You don't see nearly the attention paid to the winter Olympics in the US.

I got a CBC broadcast schedule in my Globe And Mail this morning. It's going to be hard to get any writing done this weekend.

I also can't wait to see how much coverage the 2006 winter Paralympics receive. As far as US media coverage, if the Paralympics are the Olympics' poor neighbour, the winter Paralympics are the squirrels in their backyard. Even in the world of disability sports, the winter Paralympics are barely noticed, probably because the two premiere wheelchair sports - racing and basketball - are in the summer games.

But Canada has a great sledge hockey team, and great disabled skiers, so I'll be watching for them.

I always have mixed feelings about the Olympics - I dislike the nationalism, and the presence of professional athletes, as well as the corrupt, self-righteous IOC. But I love great athleticism, so I put aside the negatives. In general, the Olympics are more palatable here in Canada, where patriotism is so much less obnoxious than where I am from.

more t.o.

Allan and I spent the afternoon in Toronto yesterday. Checking out the map before we left, I had a minor revelation: I'm starting to know my way around. For a limited area of the city, I've gotten my bearings and know where things are in relation to each other. It's a good feeling! Also one I thought would take much longer to achieve, since we don't live in the city.

No big new sights to report, just a nice day of wandering and exploring, including a pub lunch at the Black Bull on Queen West.

2.09.2006

the company that became a country

When I first looked into Canadian history, I was amazed to learn how much of the land was formerly owned by the Hudson's Bay Company. Because the 336-year-old company is about to pass out of Canadian control, bought by US gazillionaire Jerry Zucker, there is some concern about what will happen to its vast repository of Canadian history.

Much of the company's documents and artifacts are already housed in the official archives of Manitoba and in the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature. But some objects of great historical value are still owned by HBC. In addition, there's the question of continued funding for the Hudson's Bay Company History Foundation, and the two HBC heritage museums.

From yesterday's Globe And Mail:
When a private company changes hands, that's business news. When a private company is also a national icon and repository for more than three centuries of papers, artifacts and art related to Canada's very genesis, it's news for the history books, and also for the policy-makers watching over national heritage.

The issue arises because Jerry Zucker, the South Carolina financier, is taking over Canada's Hudson's Bay Co. with a $15.25-a-share offer worth $1.1-billion. "It's the only company that became a country," notes Peter C. Newman, author of Empire of the Bay. And with the transfer of the company could go artifacts and art that are part of this country's DNA.

Founded in 1670 by a stroke of Charles II's royal pen, HBC was first known as the Company of Adventurers -- greedy and daring men given a charter to be "true Lordes and Proprietors" of all the lands whose rivers drained into Hudson Bay. At its early 19th-century peak, that definition encompassed 1.5-million square miles. An area of woods, barrens, prairies and tundra vaster than the Holy Roman Empire, it was traversed by trappers and mappers bringing furs and reports in to company men, who, half-mad with cold and isolation, kept and sent meticulous records back to London.

"Talk to any natural scientist or historian," says Newman. "These people in their little outposts across the North are one of the only records of early Canada -- geography, geology, social history, of illnesses, weather, mosquitoes, everything."

In 1994, HBC donated many of its treasures to the public. An estimated $49-million worth of documents went to the Provincial Archives of Manitoba; meanwhile, objects (carvings, early company kettles, guns and a pair of Midewiwien, Ojibwa religious scrolls -- a collection whose value is as much as $10-million) were given to the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature. And HBC established a foundation to continue to help underwrite the housing and preservation of its gift -- a model of how corporations should treat their own legacies.

But important material is still owned by HBC, and its fate is what is now of interest.
The Globe And Mail story quotes the new HBC ownership as being "very sensitive to the historical importance of the material" and "pledged to honour the undertakings with the Manitoba Museum." Like, what else are they going to say? Still, it's good to know it's being talked about, and these pledges, for whatever they're worth, are being made.