3.28.2006

so i lied

OK, so I announce I'm taking a break from blogging, then three hours later, I post. Hello, my name is Laura, and I'm addicted to blogging.

We just watched the movie "North Country," a powerful, if somewhat predictable, story of one person standing up for her rights, who ends up changing the law, and changing the world. It's a loose dramatization of the story behind Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, the landmark sexual harassment case that introduced the concept of "hostile climate" to the US workplace.

I vividly recall this 1998 ruling, mostly for the shock and revulsion people felt upon reading the details of what women workers endured in the all-male environment of mining.

So here's why I quickly interrupted my time off. I want to ask you all a question.

Why do many men act this way? Why are many men so offended, so disgusted, so threatened, by the presence of women in a previously all-male environment? What's going on, underneath?

Just to say "it threatens their masculinity" isn't enough. To that, I have to ask, Why?

There's no simple answer to this question. Let's give it a go.

Here's a timeline of the Jenson case.

time off

I'm taking a little break from blogging, maybe a week, maybe more. My day-job is very busy, we have to file two sets of taxes, prepare for our trip to Peru - something's got to give.

Later this week I'm going to New York (and points nearby) for an extended weekend, Thursday night til Monday morning. My mom will be back from Florida, we'll celebrate my sister's 50th birthday, and I'll see a couple of good friends. Allan will pick me up in Buffalo on Monday morning, just in time for... [trumpets, drums, marching band]... Opening Day! Can't wait.

But there is at least one good post coming up. When I get back from the Old Country, I'll be ready to send invitations to our early-summer party. I'll let you know how you can get one of your very own. Tune in for that next week.

Til then, hope you're all well and happy. I'll miss you, but I'll be back.

3.27.2006

prize

One of the best blogs on the net is up for a literary award. The book Baghdad Burning, a collection of entries from the blog of the same name, is on the long-list for the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize. This is an honour richly deserved.

peeve

Last time I blogged about something that annoyed me, many of you thought I was seriously angry. So I'll begin by saying that the only things that make me seriously angry have serious consequences: war, injustice, discrimination, child abuse, environmental destruction. (Not an exhaustive list, but that's the idea.) Everything else is simple annoyance. Pet peeves. Just stuff I don't like.

So let's agree that I'm not seething, steam is not coming out of my ears, and this is not a rant. This is just something I don't care for.

I dislike when bloggers ask for donations.

I first noticed this a couple of years ago, while visiting a popular female blogger who I won't name. With time to kill on my old weekend job in New York, I dropped her a line to ask what exactly her readers were being asked to contribute to. I mean, she's using Blogger, the software is free. She appeared to be writing just like the rest of us, not performing any special activism or offering a service. I didn't say any of this, I didn't express my opinion. I only asked. She never replied.

Since then, an increasing number of bloggers have started asking for donations. The blog-ad usually says "Donate to this Blog". Maybe I'm wrong, but isn't that another say of saying "Give me some money?"

Some blogs put a real emphasis on donations, the bloggy equivalent of running a pledge drive. I find this a tad self-important. If you choose to put a lot of time and money into your blog, that's a perfectly reasonable choice, like any other hobby or interest. But why should you expect your readers pay for it? If it costs too much to maintain the kind of blog you have in mind, scale back.

The bottom line, for me, is that none of us are doing anything that wouldn't be done just as well without us. If any of our favourite bloggers called it quits, we might miss them, but our lives would be unchanged. We'd find the information elsewhere. We'd find something else to read, and probably something just as good.

I'm not saying the blogosphere isn't important. It's an incredible tool for building community and sharing information. But we're all doing that. We choose to do this, on our own time. People who try to use blogging as a form of employment accept advertising and try to re-sell stories. But they shouldn't, in my opinion, ask their readers to pay for their choice.

My main gripe with "donate to this blog" is that it's not actually a donation, in the sense of contributing to some greater good. Giving money to a blogger will not help save one acre of rainforest or one harp seal, or help end black-box voting, or get a progressive elected, or keep abortion safe and legal, or find a cure for AIDS. It's just giving your own money to another person, for no reason. You may choose to be this generous. But I think it's dishonest of bloggers to ask.

3.26.2006

hakoah

I saw an interesting movie last night, one I'd like to recommend to you: "Watermarks".

In Vienna, in the early part of the 20th Century, there was a Jewish sports club called Hakoah, Hebrew for "The Strength". Jews were prohibited from participating in Austrian sports clubs, so they founded their own. Hakoah became hugely popular, with thousands of members throughout Europe, and hugely successful, both their women's and men's teams winning championships in several sports.

In the 1930s, Hakoah became best known for its female swimmers, who dominated national competitions in Austria. After Hitler annexed Austria in 1938 (with overwhelming popular support from his native Austrians), the Nazis shut down the club. Hakoah's president and its swim coach, high on the Gestapo wanted list, managed to escape. From safety in England, they smuggled out every swimmer and their families. So Hakoah gave these young women direction and purpose, and it ended up saving their lives.

Watermarks tells Hakoah's story, and filmmaker Yaron Zilberman brings seven of the former swimmers back to Vienna for a reunion.

My mother recommended this movie to me, and I immediately understood its appeal to her. She's very interested in Jewish heritage, much more so than I am. But she knew I would love this story on other levels, as part of women's history, especially women's sports history. It's also the story of encroaching fascism - and resistance.

In old photographs, you see the Hakoah women when they were young - vibrant, healthy, beautiful girls, not skinny in the fashion of today, but curvaceous and strong. But it's the women today that impress - vibrant, intelligent, assertive older women. They've lived at least a few different lives, first happy lives of relative privilege in Vienna, then cast out as refugees, and forced to make new lives for themselves, in England, the US, Israel and several other countries.

In our youth-obsessed society, older women are invisible. Women of any age are supposed to do whatever it takes to not appear old. But, as I am fond of saying, aging is another word for living. The women of "Watermarks" are in their early 80s, and each of them is very much alive.

"Watermarks" illuminates some hidden corners of history, especially around the 1936 Berlin Olympics, European culture at that time, what it felt like for young Jewish people as their world began to change. The film's music is cheesy and annoying, and some of the footage of the women's reunion is a little dull, but the extra interviews on the DVD more than compensate.

In one scene, one of the women is being driven from the airport to her hotel, the first time she has seen her native Vienna in more than 60 years. She chats with her driver, who asks her, "Did you leave?"

She says, "I left," then corrects herself: "I was kicked out."

The driver asks her what year it was, then says, "Those were bad times."

The former swimmer replies, "For some people. Not for everyone."

The driver insists, "Well, for most people." Then he reflects and says, "It was hard for 'non-natives', so to speak."

She says to him, very mildly, "It's hard for me to think of myself as a non-native. I was born and raised in Austria, so was my mother and my grandmother."

Afterwards, to the camera, she says, "Four hundred years of Jews in Austria in my family, and he says 'non-native'. Today he says that. What am I supposed to think?"

"insulted by cretins"

Here's a great column I want to share with you, written by Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle, which I found through the NOW newsletter that appears in my inbox.

Carroll writes, in part:
Last year the Ford Motor Co. started to buy ads in several publications aimed at gay readers. They did so, one presumes, because they realized that gay people buy automobiles, and Ford has, alas, not been selling many automobiles lately. Then the company got assaulted by the American Family Association, a creation of the Rev. Donald Wildmon, a clever right-wing agitator with a hate-based agenda. So Ford announced that it would stop advertising in gay publications.

But then, whoops, Ford reversed its reversal and said, never mind, it was going to advertise in gay publications after all. So then a representative of the AFA announced that it was reinstating its boycott. "We cannot, and will not, sit by as Ford supports a social agenda aimed at the destruction of the family."

What a vile sentence. What a vile sentiment. What overbusy, underbrained worms these people must be. I am not yelling.

My older daughter is a lesbian. She is also the single mother of an adopted child, working to make and sustain a family with jaw-dropping tenacity. I am a member of that family, but she is the head of it. The idea that any part of her social agenda involves the destruction of the family is insulting and stupid. She adopted a child, which means that a child who would not have had a home now has one. It means that a child who would not have rested safely in a mother's arms now does so. These are real family values, not the poison spouted by these thoughtless, gossip-mongering abominations.

Sure, I feel strongly because it's my daughter who's being smeared, but it ain't just my daughter. All over this nation there are gay and lesbian families working hard to make a life for themselves and their children. I know a few of them. They could have done it the easy way, stayed in the closet and decided not to endure the hassles of having children, but they didn't. They wanted a family. They wanted a lover and companion to share their lives with, and they wanted children to love. And for this they get insulted by cretins.

The gay and lesbian parents I know are too busy to have an agenda, unless the agenda is "1. cook dinner, 2. wash clothes, 3. find frog." They're doing the usual stuff, teaching manners and insisting on homework and keeping doctor's appointments and reading bedtime stories. It's all very conventional and humdrum; families with kids often look pretty boring from the outside. But when you're in such a family, the last thing you are is bored. Tired, maybe. Irritated, occasionally. Bored, no.

The reality is the mirror image of the stereotype. The real keepers of the American flame, the real practitioners of daily love and a life of the spirit, are gay and lesbian parents. They are, gosh darn it, what made this country great. Someone get a damn fife and drum.

The people who hate America are the members of American Family Association and its ideological fellow travelers. They're the ones who do not believe that all people are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these rights are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
Read the column here. It may not say anything you haven't read before, but Carroll does a great job of saying it once more, with feeling.

And here, Carroll writes about reaction to that piece.

3.25.2006

silly

I noticed in my Statcounter that several readers had come from Norwegianity, one of the other Koufax finalists in the Most Deserving of Wider Recognition category. I suppose it's meant to be a humourous post; not really my brand of humour, but that's not important.

Reading that post, I realized I hadn't looked at the other finalists in this category. Truth be told, I'm not a big reader of blogs. I read a lot: hard news with as little commentary as possible, well constructed leftist essays, novels, history, political thought - but not a whole lot of blogs.

So I used Norwegianity's post as an impetus to look at all the finalists in this category, and I suddenly thought, This is ridiculous. The whole idea of a blog competition is ridiculous.

Not that the Koufaxes are ridiculous. The good folks at Wampum work hard to introduce more of the lefty blogosphere to each other, and they do an excellent job. (I have a problem with blog fundraising drives, but that's a post for another day, coming soon.) Wampum frequently says that the point of the Koufaxes is to build community, and that is always a worthwhile endeavor. So I mean no disrespect to Wampum or the Koufax Awards in any way.

But I looked at all the Blogs Deserving of Wider Recognition finalists, and they're all so different. Each blogger has a different writing style, a different emphasis on graphics, a different vision of what their blog means. They're all worthwhile, and they're all very different, and what appeals to me may not appeal to you, and vise versa. One thing is obvious: they all deserve a huge crop of devoted readers.

If you know me at all, you know I'm not saying this because I'm not going to win, so I'm trying to devalue the race. It just struck me as silly. And while as a writer I'm very pleased to garner any new readers, as an organizer and an activist, I know it's not important. All that matters is that we read, stay informed, and take action whenever we can. Educate ourselves, and try to educate others. That's all any of us can do.

So if you've voted for wmtc, I thank you. But really, I'd much rather you send twenty bucks to NNAF or NARAL than vote for me 1,000 times.

P.S. The best thing I saw at Norwegianity is that today is Simone Signoret's birthday. I've always imagined I'm related to her.

jane roe

Those of you who follow the burgeoning theocracy to the south may already have seen this, but it bears repeating. From Indianz.com:
Oglala Sioux president on state abortion law

"When Governor Mike Rounds signed HB 1215 into law it effectively banned all abortions in the state with the exception that it did allow saving the mother's life. There were, however, no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. His actions, and the comments of State Senators like Bill Napoli of Rapid City, SD, set of a maelstrom of protests within the state.

Napoli suggested that if it was a case of "simple rape," there should be no thoughts of ending a pregnancy. Letters by the hundreds appeared in local newspapers, mostly written by women, challenging Napoli's description of rape as "simple." He has yet to explain satisfactorily what he meant by "simple rape."

The President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Cecilia Fire Thunder, was incensed. A former nurse and healthcare giver she was very angry that a state body made up mostly of white males, would make such a stupid law against women.

"To me, it is now a question of sovereignty," she said [to the writer] last week. "I will personally establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on my own land which is within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation where the State of South Dakota has absolutely no jurisdiction."
So there's one possible response to the post-Roe United States. Another response may be the return of self-care, now being called DIY abortions. This was practiced in the 1960s and 1970s by women's groups, most famously Chicago's Jane Collective. It was a way of taking control of women's health care, and making abortions safe, if not legal, for those who needed them.

From Voices of Choices, stories of US doctors who performed abortions before Roe v. Wade:
The Jane Collective was a group of women who became trained by a physician to provide abortions themselves. I was not part of the Jane Collective, but I was involved in the next tier out, the people who would lend their apartments to Jane. Somebody would appear at your door and say, "Jane would like to see you next Thursday. She'll be here at 7:30 in the morning." And that meant you should leave. And so you would leave your apartment at 7:30 in the morning and you would only know the one person who approached you. And at the time of your departure, the person would say something like, "Jane will be here until 7:30 tonight." So that meant don't come back until after that time.

They had this really extraordinary safety record and people didn't get into trouble. I've read that the Chicago police decided pretty much to leave them alone. Part of the way in which my experience with Jane pushed me towards becoming a doctor was that even though Jane's reputation was exemplary--their reputation was one of providing very sensitive, thoughtful and good care for people--I did come home sometimes after Jane visited and find blood spatters.

And even in my unsophisticated state, I thought, "Nobody should be subjected to having an abortion in my apartment and have blood spatters on the wall, and nobody should be in the position of trying to provide an urgently needed service without all the right equipment and training." It was very important personally in helping me decide to go to medical school and be in a position to provide those services properly myself.

I guess it must be about 15 years ago, I was the Director of New York City's Bureau of Maternity Services and Family Planning. I knew all the chiefs of ob/gyn departments around town. And I remember having conversations with two in particular, each of whom was an older, very religiously conservative man, neither of whom were themselves abortion providers. Both came from orthodox religious traditions that didn't approve of abortion. And they both said to me, "Wendy, if you've seen a 13-year-old dying of gas gangrene, you can never really be opposed to abortion after that."
Last time I posted about the US's rapidly dwindling reproductive freedom, a reader asked me what concerned Canadians can do to help. I've been giving this a lot of thought.

In the immediate sense, I think the best thing you can do is donate money to pro-choice groups. I don't know the laws governing foreign donations to US nonprofits, and I haven't been able to learn much online. I know there are laws prohibiting foreign donations to election campaigns and lobbying groups. So far I haven't come across any prohibitions on donations to charitable groups - but I really don't know. I'm sure there's at least one person reading this who knows, so please fill us in and I'll update this post.

In my opinion, these are the places your hard-earned loonies will do the most good.

The National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF - pronounced En-Naf) helps low-income women pay for procedures. Click here to see the states that don't cover abortion in their Medicaid programs, thanks to Henry Hyde [spit!], Republican of Illinois. NNAF-affiliated funds are run by volunteers, so your whole donation goes to helping low-income women obtain abortions.

The Planned Parenthood Federation is a vital link between women and reproductive health. In addition to its comprehensive clinics, Planned Parenthood is involved with education and advocacy work, and is a leader in the ongoing struggle for true equality for women, people of colour and low-income people all over the world. Look here for all the good things they do.

NARAL Pro-Choice America is a very important pro-choice advocacy group. However, as a Political Action Committee, it's not allowed to accept donations from non-US citizens. American readers may want to contribute to their excellent work.

In the longer term, if you are concerned about reproductive rights and willing to donate time and effort - and if you live near the US border - it's very likely you'll be able to help individual women exercise control over their bodies. The abortion underground railroad may be coming to your town soon. If this happens, I'll be a part of it, and I'll let you know how you can help. The new passport regulations at the border may prove to be the biggest obstacle.

Running the Haven Coalition was exhausting, maddening, electrifying and incredibly rewarding. It was a huge amount of work. But being a Haven "host" - volunteering to take a woman (and often her friend or partner) into your home - was not. It wasn't always a breeze, there's effort involved, but it's a relatively easy form of direct-action activism, as well as simple human compassion.

spring

Spring in the Old Country. Pale Male and Lola, the famous Fifth Avenue hawks, are nesting again.

hawks4

Via green-links, via Main St. USA, who hopes the birds have good aim, via Redsock.

revealed

Hey, I just realized something! In comments here and here, readers were talking about "ParticipAction", Canada's physical fitness promotion from the 1970s. Someone mentioned Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod, and I asked who they were.

I just realized that I see these two wankers all the time. Since I've been working full-time, before I go to sleep - too tired to read or even watch "The National" - I've been watching "Seinfeld" reruns. Before the show, there's a cheesey public-service ad for "Bodybreak", and last night I actually listened to their introduction: "Hi, Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod here..."

They were someone's pick for Most Annoying Canadian, and although I would still vote for Canadian Tire Guy, these two are definitely in the running.

relief

Ah, the weekend. And a real weekend, because all my current writing assignments are in. I can spend two days relaxing and doing things around the house and the neighbourhood.

The firm where I'm temping wants to hire me, which is not surprising - if only I was as good a writer as I am legal secretary and word-processor! What is surprising, and great, is that they're trying to accommodate my need for an unusual schedule.

They have several employees who work unconventional schedules, like four 10-hour days or three 12-hour days. Not every law firm is open to that, and it shows flexibility on their part. As corporate law firms go, this one is a very nice work environment - relaxed and friendly.

Knowing they're considering offering me a better schedule makes it a whole lot easier to do the Mon-Fri 9-5 thing. I feel like I'm making an investment, with a chance of some kind of payoff down the road.

3.24.2006

no reason

I wanted to post this the other day with my Wallace & Gromit post, but Blogger wouldn't comply, and I had to go to work. So here it is tonight, for no reason.

wallace&gromit

finals, again

Final voting for the Koufax Awards is closing soon. Vote here for wmtc, or vote by email:
wampum @ nic-naa.net
subject: Koufax

Best Blog (non-pro):
Best Blog Community:
Best Blog (pro/sponsor):
Best Group Blog:
Best Post:
Best Series:
Best Writing:
Best Expert Blog:
Best Single Issue:
Most Humorous Blog:
Most Humorous Post:
Best state and local Blog:
More Deserving of Wider Recognition:
Best New Blog:
Best Commenter:
Please remember, one vote per category per person.

3.23.2006

canines

A coyote was caught in Central Park two days ago, but only after leading New York City police, parks department workers and the media on a wild chase.

I remember the last time a coyote appeared in New York City, in 1999. Coyotes are extremely intelligent and among the most adaptable of mammals - and their habitat is always being developed by humans - so you never know where they'll turn up. Even so, how an animal like this ends up in Central Park makes me shake my head in wonder. This one's bound for a wildlife rehabilitation farm in upstate New York.

Last night we saw another adorable canine: Gromit. We watched "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit". It's very enjoyable, and if you don't know Wallace and Gromit, this is a good place to start.

We've been fans of Nick Park and his insanely detailed plasticine animation since seeing "Creature Comforts" and "A Grand Day Out" ages ago at New York City's Film Forum. The screening included a making-of documentary, about Park's painstaking animation techniques, and his incredible commitment to his vision.

After toiling on "Creature Comforts" for more than five years, Park had finished about ten minutes of his movie. Once the film-school studio discovered his work and offered their resources, it took another two years to make the rest. Which means it took seven years to make a 30-minute film.

Now, with a whole studio at his disposal, the work is just as finely detailed, but richer, more fleshed out. Although I didn't like "Chicken Run," the first Nick Park/Aardman/Dreamworks feature, I love all the Wallace & Gromit films: "A Grand Day Out," "The Wrong Trousers" (penguin!) and "A Close Shave" (sheep!). They're so much fun.

The "Were-Rabbit" DVD has lots of extras, and in this case the "making of" featurette is really worth seeing. There's also a summary of Park's career, in which you can see snippets of the other films.

As much as I admire Park's work and his dedication to his vision, I just adore Gromit. It's his face! Those facial expressions just drive me crazy. Check out this film, you'll enjoy it.

make noise

Trying to shoehorn my life around this full-time work schedule isn't leaving me much energy for creative or interesting blog posts. But I'm only working these hours until we leave for Peru, so we'll get back to our interesting discussions in May, if not sooner.

Meanwhile, I'll do something easy, but important. A good email from United For Peace and Justice caught me up on events around the country and the world marking the third anniversary of the US's invasion of Iraq.

Much is made of the obvious fact that the antiwar movement in the U.S. has not yet reached the level of, say, the anti-Vietnam protests in 1973. But don't forget, the U.S. was involved in Vietnam (secretly) in the 1950s. It was another decade before the public was aware of the war, and many more years until the peace movement gained the huge numbers that are now associated with it.

Don't let anyone tell you there's no peace movement in the U.S. There is one, and it's growing stronger every day. The government isn't listening, because they have their own agenda, and it doesn't include the wishes of the people. That just means we have to speak louder.

Their deafness makes our job more urgent. It's our duty to chant and shout and sing and march, to bang our tin cups against the bars, louder and louder, until we cannot be ignored. Here's a report on some events from the past week.
Over this past week, tens of thousands of people throughout the U.S., and thousands more around the world, turned out to mark the 3rd anniversary of the war in Iraq. In town squares and parks, on street corners and bridges, in front of legislators' offices and military recruiting stations all over the country, people stood up for peace -- and to make the war's third anniversary its last anniversary. There were more than 600 events, held in all 50 states.

Many communities held several educational and action-oriented events throughout the week, often culminating in a march, demonstration or vigil. While some organizers reported smaller turnouts than in years past, many groups also reported seeing a lot of new faces and recruiting new members. Coverage by local and national media was generally better than in the past.

The breadth and variety of the local events is a tremendous achievement, and bodes well for building grassroots momentum as we head toward the April 29 mass mobilization in NYC and the November Congressional elections. Here are a few of the many highlights:

More than 200 veterans and survivors of Hurricane Katrina marched from Mobile to New Orleans to make the connection between the destruction in Iraq and the neglect and need at home. Thousands gathered in New Orleans' Armstrong Park to welcome the marchers; afterward, participants helped repair a veteran's home that had been damaged by the storm.

The 541-mile Peregrinacion por La Paz (March for Peace), led by Iraq vet Camilo Mejia, Fernando Suarez Del Solar, the father of one of the first U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, and Iraq war resisters Pablo Paredes and Aidan Delgado, is still underway, spreading the word about the realities of war from Tijuana to San Francisco. The journey will culminate in San Francisco on March 27 with a mass blood drive for civilians and coalition forces in Iraq.

In Washington, DC, an organizer of the National Coalition for Nonviolent Resistance event reports, "Some 200 antiwar activists gathered near the Lincoln Memorial. ... [W]e conducted a solemn and somber march across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the LBJ Grove. There four speakers condemned the war: Cindy Sheehan; Mike Ferner, fasting since February 15; Laura Costas, Military Families Speak Out; and Michael Berg, whose civilian son Nick was killed in Iraq. We then marched with a commemorative coffin towards the Pentagon, until we encountered a five-foot-high steel barrier. Since we intended to deliver the coffin to Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld, fifty-one of us climbed over or went under the barrier. We were taken into custody and charged with 'failure to obey a lawful order.' ... At a post-arrest gathering, the activists reflected on the powerful emotional tone of the March on the Pentagon and started strategizing about future actions. Many of the actions will take place in local communities, but there was also a sense of urgency to continue coming together for mass resistance."

Chicago, IL: More than 100 religious, community and labor organizations built a diverse coalition, which drew 7,000-10,000 protestors from neighborhoods all over the city and surrounding suburbs, culminating in a rally and a triumphant march down Michigan Avenue.

One other note from Illinois: After a five-month campaign by AWARE (Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort) of Urbana/Champaign, the Urbana City Council passed a resolution on March 20 to bring the US military home from Iraq and to end US occupation.

New York, NY: Nineteen people were arrested on March 19 for blocking traffic when they attempted to read the names of Iraqi civilians killed during the war outside the Times Square military recruiting station. The demonstration was part of the War Resisters League march, which drew approximately 400 protestors who walked in silence, accompanied by a gong and drums, carrying signs, cardboard coffins and pictures of war victims.

The Idaho Peace Coalition handed out 500 'receipts' from the Department of Defense for the $225.6 billion taxpayers have been forced to spend on the war: "Beautiful sunshine warmed the day for over 500 folks who participated in the Idaho Peace Coalition's War Buck Brigade on Sunday. A human line was formed between the offices of the two Idaho congressmen and the Idaho Statehouse. Uncle Sam doled out $743 million dollars (Idaho's share of the cost) outside the offices and the participants handed the money down the line to the Iraq War trash can at the Idaho Statehouse."

From a report from Las Cruces, New Mexico: "Around 100 diverse people gathered to be a presence for peace and for an end to the Iraq War. One family had made gorgeous signs and had their poodle adorned with a 'poodles for peace' sign, along with others that had signs like 'Kids Want Peace' and 'Who would Jesus bomb?' and 'End the War Begin the Peace.' Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Moms, Dads, kids, babies, drummers, musicians, teachers, a Buddhist Priest and others were together in thought and prayer and presence. The majority of people driving by the busy intersection by the local post office and City Hall honked in agreement and waved peace signs and gave friendly nods. Some did disagree, but there was no incident."

The war and occupation in Iraq is now in its 4th year. Hard to imagine, but true. Even in the face of the horror of this war, the actions around the country this past week give us grounds for hope.
I won't be able to attend the big demonstration in New York on April 29, as I'll be in Peru. I hope some of you will be there. If you can't attend, think about what you can do to show your solidarity. To show that you stand for peace.

3.22.2006

me again

Allan keeps telling me I'm supposed to post my Globe And Mail essay. I did update the link, but it's timed out, and now you can only read it with a subscription.

So, ok. By special request, and because Allan made dinner tonight, here it is.
Cross a border, adjust a mind-set

by Laura Kaminker

A number of months ago, my partner and I moved to the Toronto area from New York City. Unlike many immigrants who come to Canada in search of economic opportunity, we came seeking something more abstract: a healthy democracy.

We didn't leave because of George W. Bush, although his placement in the White House by the Supreme Court gave our feelings sudden, irreversible clarity. No, the Bush-Cheney White House was just one last, very large, straw on a pile that had been building since the Reagan era. After years of frustration with the country's rightward drift, we decided we'd had enough. We were tired of feeling so alienated. We wanted to live in a society with values more like our own.

I began researching how to emigrate to Canada in the summer of 2003. I learned we'd be applying for permanent resident status, in the "skilled worker" category. The application process took about 18 months and cost more than $2,500 (U.S.). We listed every place we'd ever lived, every job we'd ever held, every organization we'd ever belonged to. We assembled sheaves of documents: high-school diplomas, university transcripts, birth certificates, affidavits of common-law partnership, proof of employment, medical records. We were fingerprinted and checked by the FBI. We were poked and prodded by an ancient doctor whose hand shook when he tried to draw blood. We traipsed to the bank for certified cheques and to photo shops for pictures.

And we saved money. We cancelled a dream vacation (no small thing for me -- I live to travel) and saved and saved to attain the required "proof of funds," and to build a cushion should employment be harder to find than we hoped.

We filed our applications in March, 2004. I then spent the summer working to elect John Kerry, despite our plans to leave no matter who won the election.

We checked the mailbox daily, as we wrapped up our lives in New York. Finally, on May 11, 2005, the envelope arrived -- "Important Notice: The processing of your application for permanent residence in Canada is complete. We require your passports before we can issue your immigrant visas . . ."

We found a place to live, arranged the move, said many goodbyes. On Aug. 30, we drove the world's fullest minivan, our two dogs nestled among the boxes, through New York state farmland. Hearts pounding and eyes welling with tears, we crossed the border.

We left behind a large, affordable apartment, great jobs, good friends and nearby family. Waiting for us in Canada was a rented house and a small band of well-wishers we met through my blog (wemovetocanada.blogspot.com). We clutched our résumés, our faith in ourselves and our sense of adventure.

What would we find? Other than Tim Hortons and Don Cherry, the new coins and the new spellings -- would it all be pretty much the same?

We knew life in Canada would be different, if only for how we see the United States: foreign wars for profit; unchecked poverty and its twin, rampant violence; increasing government intrusion into citizens' personal lives; media controlled by the government, and a government controlled by religious fanatics; a corrupt, antiquated election system.

But contrary to what some Canadian cynics say, Canada is not only defined as "not the United States." Its identity is more subtle than that of the U.S., but then, it's a more subtle country. Canada doesn't go around thumping its chest declaring itself The Greatest Nation on the Face of the Earth. Canada speaks more quietly.

I think when Canada speaks, it uses "we" more often than "I." One might sum up the difference between the U.S. and Canada as individualism vs. community. Of course, both countries have both, but there is an unmistakable difference in emphasis.

The most obvious example of this is national health insurance. Ensuring that every person has access to basic health care requires some sacrifice from everyone -- and that's a trade-off most Canadians willingly accept. Despite whatever problems the system may have, the vast majority of Canadians agree that everyone must contribute toward this greater good.

I also see this emphasis on community in the mundane dealings of daily life.

Where I live, in the Peel region of Ontario, there is a robust recycling program. Learning its many rules and regulations took some time. As our recyclables grew and our weekly garbage output shrank, I marvelled at how a true recycling program could work.

The New York City recycling rules can fit on a small pamphlet -- and recycling is a disgrace. If New York tried to institute the Peel guidelines, there would be a revolt. The mayor and the city council would be run out of town. Too inconvenient, too confusing, too many rules, I can't be bothered.

Then there are the GO trains. They are clean, comfortable, and the service, albeit infrequent, is reliable. But no one takes your ticket! American friends are amazed when I tell them that Ontarians ride on an honour system. As one visitor to my blog said, "I couldn't even contemplate not punching my ticket. What if they checked me and I hadn't done it! Also, if people started abusing it and riding for free then eventually they wouldn't be able to have the GO train at all or they would have to reduce the service!"

This is not, shall we say, an American attitude. If the New York City subway ran on an honour system, the system would go bankrupt in a week. Naturally some New Yorkers would pay a fare even if they weren't forced to, and I'm sure some of my Mississauga neighbours would gladly sneak a free ride.

Where I'm from, diligent honour-system riders would be derided as fools and chumps. Where I am, a dishonest rider is seen as hurting the greater good.

That accent on the greater good, for me, defines Canada. Here's what one Canadian said in my blog: "When it snows and nobody's been out to shovel yet, so you're walking on that bit of trampled snow in the middle of the sidewalk, and you see somebody coming towards you, you'll step aside to let them have the path, and they'll do the same thing. Snow, self-effacement, and consideration of others' needs -- that's Canada right there, for me."

As we near the end of our first Canadian winter, those are words to warm my heart.

Laura Kaminker lives in Port Credit, Ont.
I continue to get emails from Americans who are in Canada for the same reasons, others who are in the application process, and Canadian well-wishers. It's really nice.

3.21.2006

finalist

Thank you for making we move to canada a finalist in the Koufax awards! I wanted to make the next round of voting, and thanks to you, I did.

I don't know that wmtc deserves more recognition than any of the other finalists in the category. In fact, I'm sure it doesn't. But it's fun to win stuff, and it's fun to have readers. So if you want to vote for wmtc again, or for any other blog (I won't be offended), here's how:

You can leave a comment here, naming your choice for Blog Most Deserving of Wider Recognition. You don't have to use your real name, but please only vote once.

You can also leave a comment to vote in any of the other categories - once per category. Go here and scroll down to see a separate post for each category.

Or, you can send an email to:
wampum @ nic-naa.net. (subject: Koufax)

Here's a list of categories to cut and paste:

Best Blog (non-pro):
Best Blog Community:
Best Blog (pro/sponsor):
Best Group Blog:
Best Post:
Best Series:
Best Writing:
Best Expert Blog:
Best Single Issue:
Most Humorous Blog:
Most Humorous Post:
Best state and local Blog:
More Deserving of Wider Recognition:
Best New Blog:
Best Commenter:
Please folks, one vote per person. That's democracy. Let's practice what we preach.

Thanks again, everyone. If this blog deserves more recognition, it's because of the community that's formed around it. (Or, according to Wrye, the confederation.)

common sense

I thought this was very interesting. According to an in-depth panel study, Canadians prefer a national child-care program to cash payments directly to parents.
Canadians favour a national child-care system over direct cash payments to parents, a new study sponsored by the YWCA Canada suggested Monday.

The report's findings were drawn from the work of four panels from representative communities of Halifax, Vancouver, Cambridge, Ont., and Martensville, Sask.

The panels met over the course of a year with business and labour, aboriginal, ethnic, community, women's and parent groups, profit and non-profit service providers and municipal and provincial officials.

"The findings dispense with many assumptions that Canada is too vast and diverse to make a national child-care program viable," YWCA chief executive officer Paulette Senior said.

"We found that both mothers at home and those in the labour force want early-learning programs for their children."

. . . .

According to Monday's report, all four panels involved in the YWCA study returned with so-called hub models that would offer uniform accessible public child care and related programs. The proposals also recommended using the existing "patchwork" of child-care across the country as a starting point.

None of the panels favoured giving money directly to parents, noting that that kind of funding will not address the absence of available services.

The report also recommended that governments take primary responsibility to support early childhood learning and care services and that legislation be introduced to guarantee all children "high quality, developmentally appropriate, affordable and inclusive" care regardless of their socio-economic status, location, language or culture.

The study also suggested that formal steps be taken by the federal government to ensure its accountability for the system. It also argued that funding to those providing service be conditional on their meeting service and quality standards.
Let's hope this carries some weight, and opposition in Parliament remains united. $1200 - before taxes! - won't pay for a year of babysitting, never mind beer and popcorn.

Globe And Mail story here, YWCA study results here.

"for a redress of grievances"

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.

Amendment I, U.S. Constitution
If we can make pre-emptive war, certainly a little pre-emptive arrest and imprisonment is no big deal. By way of Attytood, via Redsock (again), this story from Jim Dwyer, one of the good guys writing for the New York Times:
In five internal reports made public yesterday as part of a lawsuit, New York City police commanders candidly discuss how they had successfully used "proactive arrests," covert surveillance and psychological tactics at political demonstrations in 2002, and recommend that those approaches be employed at future gatherings.

Among the most effective strategies, one police captain wrote, was the seizure of demonstrators on Fifth Avenue who were described as "obviously potential rioters."

The reports provide a rare glimpse of internal police evaluations and strategies on security and free speech issues that have provoked sharp debate between city officials and political demonstrators since the Sept. 11 attack.

The reports also made clear what the police have yet to discuss publicly: that the department uses undercover officers to infiltrate political gatherings and monitor behavior.

Indeed, one of the documents — a draft report from the department's Disorder Control Unit — proposed in blunt terms the resumption of a covert tactic that had been disavowed by the city and the federal government 30 years earlier. Under the heading of recommendations, the draft suggested, "Utilize undercover officers to distribute misinformation within the crowds."

. . .

Parts of that document and others were made public, over the objections of the city, by a federal magistrate, Gabriel W. Gorenstein, who said the excerpts went to the heart of a lawsuit brought by 16 people who were arrested at an animal rights demonstration during the economic forum. The police said they were blocking the sidewalk and had refused to obey an order to disperse; the demonstrators said no one told them to move.

Many of the issues in the animal rights case, which challenge broad police tactics and arrest strategies, resonate in well over a hundred other lawsuits brought against the city by demonstrators who were arrested at war protests, bicycle rallies and during the Republican National Convention.

Daniel M. Perez, the lawyer representing the people arrested at the animal rights demonstration, argued that the police tactics "punish, control and curtail the lawful exercise of First Amendment activities." The Police Department and the city have said that preserving public order is essential to protecting the civil rights of demonstrators and bystanders.

Mr. Perez maintains that the police documents, taken together, show a policy of pre-emptive arrests.

. . .

Demonstrators arrested during the economic forum were held by the police for up to 40 hours without seeing a judge — twice as long as people accused of murder, rape and robbery arrested on those same days, Mr. Perez said.
So long, First Amendment. It was sure nice knowing you.

honestly

Last time I posted about sexual assault in the military, a pro-military blog picked up the post. Wmtc weathered a brief inundation of military defenders who accused me of being both gullible, because I found the story very credible, and "intellectual dishonest," because I didn't want to scrap with the other side.

This time the story doesn't involve Abu Ghraib or Janis Karpinski, so chances are the wingnuts won't be Technorati'ing, and I won't have to lean on the delete key quite so much.

From ABC News:
Reports of sexual assaults in the military increased by nearly 40 percent last year, the Pentagon announced Thursday, saying the increase was at least partly due to a new program that encourages victims to come forward.

According to a report released Thursday, there were 2,374 allegations of sexual assaults reported during 2005, compared to 1,700 in 2004. Of last year's reports, 435 were initially filed under a new program that allows victims to report the incident and receive health care or counseling services but does not notify law enforcement or commanders.

The restricted, confidential reporting program also allows the victims to consider pursuing an investigation later, and that was done in 108 of the 435 cases during 2005. Until that new policy went into effect last June, an investigation was automatically triggered by a sexual assault report.

"This is the most underreported crime in our society," said Roger Kaplan, a Pentagon spokesman. "The key, at least in the military, is to make it less. We want victims to have treatment. And the more who come forward, the better chance we have of taking action and getting the offenders off the street."

Kaplan said it is impossible to tell whether the increase in reports during 2005 signals any actual increase in sexual assaults. But he said he believes it shows that the military's extensive program in recent years to better train troops and to encourage reporting has been successful.
Story here, Pentagon report here.

I'd like to note that if the number of reported assaults are up because of increased reporting, that means the reported assaults now more accurately reflect the number of actual assaults.

In other words, the point is not whether incidents of sexual assault have suddenly become more prevalent in the military, or if the frequency of these crimes has remained the same. The point is that there are a large number of sexual assaults within the military, and now victims are being given a chance to come forward.

Hopefully I won't have to delete any comments claiming this is why women shouldn't be in the military. Anyone with that low an opinion of men is too radical for this feminist.

Thanks to Redsock for the story. Now that you're blogging only about baseball, does everything else come to me?

japan

Japan is the champion of the first World Baseball Classic, after cruising past Cuba by a score of 10-6.

Now I'm really ready for baseball! Less than two weeks to Opening Day.

them

He says:"We will fight them in Iraq, we will fight them across the world and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won".

Who are they?

Where are they?

How will we know when the fight is won?

While he lives in comfort and peace, young men and women will die, and will kill people who have done them no harm. What will he sacrifice?

He makes me sick.

Elsewhere, an exhibit about how easily we can turn people into them.

3.20.2006

happy spring

Everyone will wish you a Happy Solstice, but how many people remember the Vernal Equinox? Happy spring!

It's a good time to be in Mexico.

3.19.2006

winning brevity

Our own Lone Primate was one of the winners in the ten words or less impeachment contest.

To complete the sentence, "*** should be impeached because...", Lone Primate answered:
...To Protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Simple and brilliant.

Some of our other answers are here.

Also, back by very popular demand: the ribbon!

gold

Congratulations to the Canadian sled hockey team for bringing home the country's first gold medal in sled hockey. Canada beat the powerhouse Norwegian team by a score of 3-0. There's a good CBC story here.

Canada also took the gold for the new sport of wheelchair curling. Don't laugh - unless you laugh at curling anyway. It's almost exactly the same sport.

Too bad we couldn't see either game.

equal time

A few days ago, I posted a link to an essay by Canadian athlete Rick Hansen, arguing for greater visibility for the Paralympics when the Games are hosted by Canada in 2010.

Amateur alerted me to an opposing opinion, also from the Toronto Star.

Amateur, I thank you for pointing this out, because I'd like to demolish it.

"You can't force people to care."

Ms Ormsby, no one is trying to force anyone to care about anything. However, people can't care about what they haven't been exposed to. If Canadians were exposed to Paralympic sport, they might care very greatly. They might find themselves caring about the country's Paralympians as much - or as little - as they do its Olympians. Or they might not. Right now we have no way of knowing. Only equal media exposure would answer that question.

You can't guilt them into cheering for athletes in sports for which they have no passion.

Guilt has nothing to do with it. Nothing. The last thing any athlete with a disability wants from anyone is guilt, or pity, or sympathy. The Paralympics is about sport. Incredible, mind-blowing sport. Photo finishes, nail-biting suspense, seemingly impossible speed, strength, coordination, endurance. Heated competition. Grudge matches. Touching moments of sportsmanship, pride and glory. Heartbreaking scenes of wipe-outs and instant defeats. The Paralympic Games are about what humans can accomplish. Just like the Olympics.

Again, Ms Ormsby, no one can have passion for something they don't know anything about. No one is born with passion for basketball, or baseball, or cricket, or soccer - or even hockey. It's true! Canadians are not born with their love of hockey. They learn it. They acquire it from their environment and their culture.

Of course most people don't have a passion for disabled sports - they've had no exposure to them! Why don't we expose everyone to these incredible athletes and let them decide for themselves, rather than deciding in advance, that if you build it, they won't come?

There's no conspiracy. There's no deliberate attempt to ignore the country's disabled in Italy while more compelling news, such as the Maple Leafs' playoff battle, dominates sports coverage.

No one said there is a conspiracy. There is, however, a vicious cycle between a dearth of media attention and a dearth of corporate sponsorship, the lack of each one making it difficult to attract the other.

What do the Maple Leafs' playoff battle (as if anyone seriously believes the Leafs are going to the playoffs) have to do with it? Canadians managed to follow both the NHL and the Olympics. Why wouldn't they be able to work the Paralympics into their busy TV-viewing schedule?

That same compelling attraction cannot be said of the Paralympics.

This could only be said by someone who has not seen Paralympic sport. I've seen few things more compelling in my life. But again, you have to see it to decide.

These Games do not have the same worldwide involvement as the Olympics in numbers of countries and participants and therefore its heft as an event of true international scope and gravitas is diminished. There are 486 Paralympians from 39 countries in Turin, while more than 2,500 athletes from 84 nations attended the Olympics.

It's true that the Winter Paralympics are smaller in scope than the summer Paralympics. However, the Paralympics - without regard to season - is one of the largest international competitions, period. In Athens in 2004, 3800 athletes from 136 countries competed.

What's more, since countries that excel in winter sports generally create a viewership for the Winter Olympics, there may be a built-in audience for Canada's Winter Paralympians. However, we can't know that unless they're on TV. Sports can't be enjoyed in theory; they have to be seen.

In addition, events are divided into separate categories, a layered approach making it difficult to figure who's the true champion -- is it the blind skier or the standing class skier? Or the sitting class skier?

The "true champion"? Is that what you're worried about? Put your mind at ease, Ms Ormsby.

Viewers have already proven they have no trouble distinguishing between categories of athletes. No one says, Ooo, two gold medals were awarded, one to Cindy Klassen and one to Enrico Fabris, which is the true champion? We all manage to follow the concept that there are different events. Gee, is the gold medalist in the team pursuit the true champion, or is it the 5,000 metre?

If viewers can distinguish between short track, long track, team pursuit, luge, skeleton, two-person bobsled, four-person bobsled, and whatever else, they'll be able to distinguish between monoskiers, amputee skiers and blind skiers.

No one is suggesting that every classification of disability in every sport must be televised. But if North American viewers watch blind skiing, or amputee skiing, or sled hockey, they'll know who the champions are - because they'll know who won.

Disabled sport in general also suffers from a dearth of competition.

The best example of this is the remarkable success of Canadian wheelchair athlete Chantal Petitclerc. At 36 years old - an age when many athletes' best days are behind them - Petitclerc currently holds every world record from the 100 metres to the 1,500, strongly suggesting her competitive fields are shallow.


Ms Ormsby, I don't know what you do know about, but whatever it is, write about that.

Wheelchair athletes have a greater longevity than standing athletes because of the nature of their sports: they don't wear out their knees. The elbows, shoulders and wrists of wheelchair racers don't take the constant pounding that the knees of able-bodied runners do.

Chantal Petitclerc is a great athlete, but she does not hold all the world records for women's wheelchair racers! Where does Ormsby come up with that one? Does she mean for Canadian female athletes? I'm not sure. But it's not true.

[Late addition: I just figured out what Ormsby must mean. Petitclerc won an astounding five gold medals in the 2004 Paralympics. She does not hold the world record in every distance she won.]

There is a discrepancy between male and female athletes in the sport of wheelchair racing; the men have more competition. The female side is well developed, but not as much as the men. So using Petitclerc as an example twists the evidence to suit the outcome. I thought Ormsby was writing about Torino and Vancouver? If you throw in the Summer Paralympics, she doesn't have a leg to stand on.

You cannot create the illusion that the Paralympics are on par with the Olympics and suggest that not believing this constitutes prejudice.

Nor can you create the illusion that people don't care about something when your only evidence is that you say so.

Not paying rapt attention to sledge hockey is not a moral failing of Canadians.

A moral failing? No.

An exciting, compelling sport that they're missing because of a lack of media coverage? Yes. People who love hockey will probably love sled hockey. I'd be willing to bet on it.

Sports viewership changes over time, and public taste can be shaped by exposure. Once upon a time, the three major sports in the US were baseball, boxing and horse racing. (If you don't believe me, look at the sports pages of any newspaper from the first part of the 20th Century.) Once upon a time, millions of people in the US did not live and die with college basketball tournaments. Once upon a time, golf was not a huge spectator sport - or auto racing.

Many people who don't even watch sports watch the Olympics. Why should we assume the same people wouldn't tune in to the Paralympics?

It just means in this country of many choices, where Canadians choose to send Olympians and Paralympians around the globe to compete, we don't need to be told whom to cheer.

I agree. No one should be told for whom to cheer. We should be exposed to all the international athletes, the elite, the best of the best, and decide for ourselves if they're worth our time.

* * * *

For another response to Ormsby's column, go here. Go, read. It's good.

snowdrops

The flooding in our backyard has receded. Now the ground is soft and mushy, but at least it's ground, and not a pond. Our landlord came over with a shovel, and cleared the trench at the back edge of the property. Now we'll know where that is for in the future.

Little white flowers have popped up all along the borders of the lawn. Marnie tells me they are snowdrops. They're lovely, a harbinger of spring.

backyard flowers in march 001

backyard flowers in march 004

I'm halfway through this full-time temp assignment. No, it has not gone quickly. Time drags every day, the week is interminable, the weekend is an eye-blink. It's very unpleasant to work full-time, then spend my weekend doing my "real" work as a writer. It was hard enough when I was young and didn't know better. Now it's just dreadful. Nevertheless, I am halfway through.

Four more weeks of this, including an extended weekend in New York and New Jersey, then a week to myself - then Peru! This law firm would love me to continue working there when I return, but they'll have to offer me better hours. I'll have a bunch of stories to write, and a party to prepare for.

3.18.2006

cuba

Felicitaciones a los Cubanos por su victoria sobre la Republica Dominicana en la semifinal del Clasico Mundial de Beisbol.

(I sure hope that's correct.)

Not only did Team USA fail to make the semifinals, but the little island that the US is so afraid of will play in the final game. Too sweet.

The other semifinal game is tonight, Japan vs Korea. The winner of that game plays Team Cuba for the championship on Monday. I will have to root for our Spanish-speaking Communist neighbours. I enjoy Latino cultures, and I love to love whatever the US hates.

Sometimes in New York, when we watched a Yankees-Red Sox game - which meant the local Yankees announcers - we'd listen to the Spanish-language broadcast instead. That way we got the crowd noise, but Allan didn't have to listen to the announcers he hated, and I didn't have to listen to Allan complain. I would try to follow the Spanish, and I could do well for a while, but it was too exhausting to do for more than an inning or two.

Which reminds me, guess how much progress I've made on my Spanish study for Peru? That's right: zero. When we went to Mexico, I enjoyed speaking my rudimentary Spanish so much. Without brushing up on it for a moment, vocabulary was coming back to me - from high school! I swore that the next time we went to a Spanish-speaking country, I would prepare, and enjoy it even more. I've been intending to; the book is right here at my side. With five weeks to go, I'd better open it.

Here's an excellent English-language Cuban baseball site. Not much to look at, but very thorough.

three years in

This is (approximately) the third anniversary of the United States's invasion of Iraq. What a terrible, terrible waste.

From United for Peace and Justice:
The human cost of the U.S. war in Iraq is staggering:

Over 2,300 U.S. military men and women have lost their lives in Iraq.

Over 30,000 -- and possibly as many as 100,000 -- Iraqi civilians have been killed since the invasion.

Over 16,500 U.S. military men and women have been wounded in combat.

Over 4,000 U.S. military men and women have been seriously maimed in combat.

Over 4,000 Iraqi police and military men and women have been killed.

The war in Iraq has already cost the United States $251 billion.

The estimated long-term bill for Iraq will exceed $1 trillion.

The infrastructure of Iraq has been devastated with no rebuilding in sight.

The Iraq war has created "a training and recruitment ground (for terrorists), and an opportunity for terrorists to enhance their technical skills." (source: U.S. National Intelligence Council), and led to "accelerated recruitment" for Al Qaeda (source: International Institute for Strategic Studies)
Actions and demonstrations are planned all over the world this weekend, including a few blocks from me in Mississauga. I hope you'll join with other peace-minded people in saying no to war.

For something simple you can do from home, click here to sign a petition calling on Congress to stop funding this immoral war.

I have one request. If you feel signing a petition is worthless and choose not to do it, I don't need to know. I'm aware of the challenges we face, the deaf ears of Congress and who profits from this war. I still believe in the value of raising our voices in protest. If it's all we have, we'd better use it. Your mileage may vary, but I'd rather not argue about it. Thanks in advance for respecting this.

3.17.2006

kudos

Cheers to the Globe And Mail for featuring Paralympic athlete Brian McKeever on the front page.

And many more cheers to the Mexican Baseball Team for eliminating the US from the World Baseball Classic! Redsock must be thrilled, as the man he calls Fathead took the loss.

Now it's "Viva La Dominicana!" in the semifinals, although I'd be equally happy if Cuba won.

faq

I've gotten quite a lot of mail from the Globe And Mail essay. I answer every email, however briefly, but I'm asked the same questions over and over. To that end, an FAQ. New readers may find this educational, veteran wmtc readers may find it amusing.

1. Have I seen Rick Mercer?

This is the most frequently asked question. Sometimes it's phrased in the form of advice and instruction.

I have seen Rick Mercer.

I do not care for him. I just don't find his show funny or compelling in any way. Sorry.

My thoughts on his show are here and here.

2. Will I travel in Canada?

Yes, definitely. I plan on seeing as much of the country as possible, a little at a time. Thank you all for your travel suggestions.

3. Will I move to [your city here]?

Probably not. The GTA is a very good fit for us in many ways: jobs, baseball, proximity to family and friends in the NYC area. We like Toronto, and we love Port Credit.

People on the west coast are particularly adamant, some saying that I can't possibly find what I love about Canada here in Southern Ontario, and should be seeking it in B.C. It's lovely that you feel so strongly about your province. However, I'm not interested in moving to the west coast. Contrary to what you imply, Toronto is part of Canada.

4. Am I disappointed in Canada? Will Canada meet my expectations?

No, and probably. My expectations about Canadian society were realistic, not utopian. I do think it's a better place than the US, a society more in tune with my own values. But I have no illusions of perfection. Canada is a country, made of people. Therefore it will always be flawed. One big difference between Canada and the US is that Canada knows that.

5. Do I find Canadians anti-American?

No more than me.

I understand that disapproval of the policies of the US government is not bigotry against the American people. I do find that many Canadians subscribe to stereotypes about Americans, as many Americans do about Canadians. See #4, above.

6. Do I always pay on the GO train?

Yes. I have been tempted to cop a free ride now and again, as I've always had a bit of a shoplifting and petty-theft streak. Although I've outgrown it, it lives within. And I am still a New Yorker, who would gladly milk the hated MTA for any freebies. However, I keep these anti-social impulses in check, and dutifully pop my ticket.

7. Do I wear shoes in the house?

Just kidding. No one has asked me that. But new readers might enjoy the long discussion that ensued from that observation.

3.16.2006

safer

By now we've all heard how international aid worker Mark Budzanowski would have been harmed or killed had he not been Canadian. Apparently his captors' mood softened when they learned Budzanowski wasn't American.

I'm sure US wingnuts will spin this to imply Canada is a friend to terrorists. What it's really about, of course, is how the US's policies put their citizens in danger.

first

One of my favourite athletes, wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc, carried the Canadian flag at yesterday's opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.

From the Toronto Star:
In Chantal Petitclerc's first trip to the Commonwealth Games, officials chased her and other wheelchair athletes off the track, complaining their tires would damage the racing surface.

But that was 16 years ago. Since then, Petitclerc has won 11 Paralympic gold medals and smashed many world records and social barriers.

These days Petitclerc, now the most accomplished wheelchair racer in the sport, isn't merely welcome at the Commonwealth Games. She's an equal.

Petitclerc, 36, carried Canada's flag at today's opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia. She is the first athlete with a disability to serve as Canada's flag-bearer in an Olympic, Pan American or Commonwealth Games, and symbolizes the progress disabled athletes have made since her career started.

"It has a special connotation for me because the recognition is there from the Games and now it's there from the team as well," Petitclerc said in a phone interview before leading the Canadian team into the opening ceremony. "It's very unique and special. It tells how far we have come."

At Petitclerc's first trip to the Commonwealth Games, 1990 in Auckland, New Zealand, wheelchair athletes weren't even included in the opening ceremony. "It was a frustrating experience, both as an athlete and a human being," she said.

Dr. Ross Outerbridge, Canada's chef de mission for the Games, said several athletes were nominated for the honour but only one really had a chance.

"It was really a straightforward and easy choice for us because of her accomplishments in sport."
Also in the Star, the great Canadian athlete Rick Hansen says it's high time for complete equality between the Olympics and the Paralympics.
More than two decades have passed since I wheeled on to the track and heard the cheers of the crowd at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

It was 1984 and eight of us were participating in what was the first-ever wheelchair sport demonstration.

My dream back then was that one day our athletes with a disability would have equal recognition. Today, as Canada's best competes at the ninth Paralympic Winter Games that dream remains unfulfilled. My challenge to Canadians is to see our team and indeed all the participants recognized as athletes first.

. . . .

We will have an unprecedented opportunity to burst through these remaining barriers once and for all in 2010. The whole world will be watching Canada when we host the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Let's use the opportunity to create a model unique to Canada; one that bridges the Olympics and the Paralympics and reflects a society that is inclusive of all its citizens. We can demonstrate our commitment to people with spinal cord injury and related disabilities to include them in society fully, as equals. . . .

I would urge all Canadians that as our Paralympic athletes capture medals in Turin, their achievements are celebrated with the same kind of enthusiasm afforded to Cindy Klassen and others.

Then, let's begin building a truly Canadian model of inclusiveness for 2010 which ensures that the Games and the benefits of hosting them are applied equally to all our athletes.
Read Hansen's essay here.

history

During my last few years in the US, there was an attitude among many liberals that the country had now - just now - fallen off the rails. There was a steady stream of op-eds and columns lamenting, "Where is the America of my youth?" and "What has happened to American values?" I clearly remember bristling when MoveOn called the invasion of Iraq "unprecedented". If only.

The "Where is the America of my youth?" cry comes from a place of ignorant privilege. It's like when fans talk about "the good old days" of baseball: I always say, when was that, when only white men could play? Or when the players were paid minimum wage and owned by their teams? In the US, the 1950s are the good old days - if you're white. Or the 1970s - if your family didn't have a son in Vietnam. Or the 1920s - if... you get my point.

I felt that people who called themselves liberals should know better than to say the US we see today was ushered in by W. They should certainly know better than to say the US invading another country without provocation is unprecedented. Damn, it's not even unusual!

One of my favourite writers and thinkers, Howard Zinn, wrote this recent column about why Americans were so easily led into the Iraq war. Part of it, he says, can be attributed to Americans' ignorance of their own history.
On the third anniversary of President Bush's Iraq debacle, it's important to consider why the administration so easily fooled so many people into supporting the war.

I believe there are two reasons, which go deep into our national culture.

One is an absence of historical perspective. The other is an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism.

If we don't know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives. But if we know some history, if we know how many times presidents have lied to us, we will not be fooled again.

President Polk lied to the nation about the reason for going to war with Mexico in 1846. It wasn't that Mexico "shed American blood upon the American soil" but that Polk, and the slave-owning aristocracy, coveted half of Mexico.

President McKinley lied in 1898 about the reason for invading Cuba, saying we wanted to liberate the Cubans from Spanish control, but the truth is that he really wanted Spain out of Cuba so that the island could be open to United Fruit and other American corporations. He also lied about the reasons for our war in the Philippines, claiming we only wanted to "civilize" the Filipinos, while the real reason was to own a valuable piece of real estate in the far Pacific, even if we had to kill hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to accomplish that.

President Wilson lied about the reasons for entering the First World War, saying it was a war to "make the world safe for democracy," when it was really a war to make the world safe for the rising American power.

President Truman lied when he said the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima because it was "a military target."

And everyone lied about Vietnam -- President Kennedy about the extent of our involvement, President Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin and President Nixon about the secret bombing of Cambodia. They all claimed the war was to keep South Vietnam free of communism, but really wanted to keep South Vietnam as an American outpost at the edge of the Asian continent.

President Reagan lied about the invasion of Grenada, claiming falsely that it was a threat to the United States.

The elder Bush lied about the invasion of Panama, leading to the death of thousands of ordinary citizens in that country. And he lied again about the reason for attacking Iraq in 1991 -- hardly to defend the integrity of Kuwait, rather to assert U.S. power in the oil-rich Middle East.

There is an even bigger lie: the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior.

If our starting point for evaluating the world around us is the firm belief that this nation is somehow endowed by Providence with unique qualities that make it morally superior to every other nation on Earth, then we are not likely to question the president when he says we are sending our troops here or there, or bombing this or that, in order to spread our values -- democracy, liberty, and let's not forget free enterprise -- to some God-forsaken (literally) place in the world.

But we must face some facts that disturb the idea of a uniquely virtuous nation.

We must face our long history of ethnic cleansing, in which the U.S. government drove millions of Indians off their land by means of massacres and forced evacuations.

We must face our long history, still not behind us, of slavery, segregation and racism.

And we must face the lingering memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is not a history of which we can be proud.

Our leaders have taken it for granted, and planted the belief in the minds of many people that we are entitled, because of our moral superiority, to dominate the world. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties have embraced this notion.

But what is the idea of our moral superiority based on?

A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world.

It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join people around the world in the common cause of peace and justice.

Howard Zinn, who served as a bombardier in the Air Force in World War II, is the author of "A People's History of the United States" (HarperCollins, 1995). He is also the co-author, with Anthony Arnove, of "Voices of a People's History of the United States" (Seven Stories Press, 2004).
Howard Zinn never fails to inspire me: to learn more history, to think more clearly, to dare to dream about and work for justice.

3.15.2006

g&m alert

I was about to post my annoyance with one Stephen Harper, when I turned over the newspaper and saw my essay in the "Facts & Arguments" section. I didn't expect it to run so soon. What's more, I didn't expect the editor to leave the reference to wmtc, including the URL. Cool! (Welcome, new readers!)

I think it will be online only today, then tomorrow I'll post the piece here.

Many thanks to Marnie for providing me with an ending - and for all your good wishes, in advance. Because now I have to go to work.

crazy

We saw "C.R.A.Z.Y." last night, a French Canadian film that has won all kinds of awards. It was excellent.

It's a coming-of-age story, and a family story, funny, sad and profound, and somehow manages to tell an old tale in a very fresh and engaging way. If you haven't seen this, you should.

We have seen so many excellent films Quebecois. It seems like a disproportionate number of good movies come from la belle province.

3.14.2006

fair play

The folks who run the Koufax Awards are trying to be very fair.

Not an easy job with internet voting. What a shame that not everyone can be trusted with the honour system.

miracle

Late today, but still here. I had the day off, as we had already scheduled weekday morning doctors appointments when I started working. Our first appointment, last month, was a consultation and chat. This one was a physical.

I really like the doctor a lot. So, it looks like I lucked out again. Finding a good doctor was a real concern of mine. Everyone told me it would be hard to find any doctor taking new patients, and then, who knows if you'll like the person who's available? It turned out there were several available doctors in our area, some of whom were female (which I strongly prefer for a family doctor). We chose someone close by, and today, I got a really good feeling about her.

Once again, we see a doctor, there is no charge to us, and we say, This is amazing. Universal health insurance is like a miracle to me.

* * * *

I've learned another difference between health care in the US and Canada. In the US, if you have decent insurance coverage, certain cancer screenings start at age 40 - mammograms for women and prostate checks for men.

It's drummed into your head that you must do this when you turn 40, despite scant and conflicting evidence of the benefits. I've known that there are lots of false positives in mammograms of women under 40 - I had one myself, and that's not something anyone needs to go through. But you always hear you have to do this when you turn 40, your doctor tells you your insurance covers it, and you go.

In Canada, unless there's a risk factor present, such as family history, mammograms start at age 50, and men are screened for prostate cancer beginning at age 50.

There's two ways to look at this.

In the US, it's: more screening is better, early detection is paramount, if there's any chance of benefit, let's do it. Many would look at Health Canada's guidelines and say: scarce resources, rationing, inadequate public system.

In Canada, it's: there's no proven benefit to this, it's wasteful, it causes needless anxiety (from false positives), why run tests just to run them. Many would look at US insurance company guidelines and say: waste, profit, greed.

The fact is, every one of those tests in the US is paid for by someone. And false positives, of course, only lead to more testing. It means more commerce for the health care industry, more business for the insurance companies. But does it mean a healthier population? There's no evidence that it does.

And of course, in the US, not everyone is entitled to these tests. People with decent jobs that include good health insurance are screened at age 40. In Canada, every woman can get a mammogram at age 50.

Growing up American, I was definitely conditioned to think early screening was, by definition, better. As an American woman who's already started having routine mammograms, it feels odd to just stop. Like I was taking care of something that now I'll be neglecting.

But I often wondered if all that cancer screening was just to make us feel better psychologically: I got my mammogram, now I'm safe! A close friend of mine developed very aggressive breast cancer four months after a clean mammogram, so what does annual testing actually do?

Having had a false positive - and six weeks of waiting in between tests (yes, waiting, even with private health insurance in the good ole USA) - and knowing many other women who've had one, and now reading that the benefit of mammograms between ages 40 and 50 hasn't been shown, I'm now more inclined to chalk up all this testing to the profit motive. More testing, more business, more profit. More radiation, too.

3.13.2006

one more chance

Voting for the Koufax Awards has been extended until midnight tonight.

You can vote for wmtc (or any other blog) for Blog Most Deserving of Wider Recognition here or here.

mouseland

Thanks to a tip from James, I caught the beginning of the CBC miniseries "Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story".

Before this, the only things I knew about Douglas was that he's called "the father of medicare," that he was an NDP leader, a long-time Premier of Saskatchewan, and that he was voted "The Greatest Canadian" by viewers of the CBC series of that name.

I learned this since coming to Canada, of course. Previously, I shared with all other Americans a complete ignorance of Canadian history.

Now that I know a little more about Douglas, I'm extremely impressed with his being chosen as Greatest Canadian. It speaks volumes about this country.

From the CBC:
Not just because he was the father of Medicare, but because he changed the way we live. The eight-hour work day, guaranteed minimum wage, government funding for the arts, the first declaration of human rights that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race or gender ... that's all Tommy Douglas, a Baptist preacher from Saskatchewan who created the Canada we live in and love today.
The only US equivalent - a reformer of this scale who worked within the system - might be Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR had different motivations - he was trying to save capitalism and prevent a socialist revolution - and he was continually pushed by his radical wife, my great hero, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Other than FDR, the great American reformers who I admire all worked outside of the established system, through women's groups, unions, churches, grassroots groups - through whatever it took. Most of them were outlaws during their lifetimes, loathed and smeared by the media, spied on, harassed and often jailed by the government. Some would later be lauded as heroes after their radical ideas became accepted by the mainstream. Witness the posthumous praise heaped on Martin Luther King, Jr, through a scaled-down and sanitized version of his legacy, or the image of Malcolm X on a US postage stamp.

Anyway. Tommy Douglas. I am really impressed. I'd like to see a documentary about his life, as opposed to a dramatization. If there isn't one out there, I'll just have to read a book.

It was also interesting to see how much history Canada shares with the US: the dust bowl, the depression, the humiliations of "government relief," the brutality of government-hired strikebreakers, labour leaders smeared as communists. Canadians need to remember that history, which those in power in the U.S. have long forgotten and ignored.

I'll close by reprinting this famous speech of Douglas's. I could hear this a hundred times, I'd never get tired of it. It makes me proud to call myself a socialist.

From The Tommy Douglas Research Institute: "Mouseland".
This is the story of a place called Mouseland. Mouseland was a place where all the little mice lived and played. Were born and died. And they lived much as you and I do. They even had a parliament. And every four years they had an election. They used to walk to the polls and cast their ballot. Some of them even got a ride to the polls. They got a ride for the next four years afterward too. Just like you and me. And every time on election day, all the little mice used to go to the ballot box and they used to elect a government. A government made up of big black fat cats.

Now if you think it's strange that mice should elect a government made up of cats. You just look at the history of Canada for the last ninety years and maybe you'll see they weren’t any stupider than we are.

Now I am not saying anything against the cats. They were nice fellows; they conducted the government with dignity. They passed good laws. That is, laws that were good for cats.

But the laws that were good for cats weren't very good for mice. One of the laws said that mouse holes had to be big enough so a cat could get his paw in. Another law said that mice could only travel at certain speeds so that a cat could get his breakfast without too much physical effort.

All the laws were good laws for cats. But oh, they were hard on the mice. And life was getting harder and harder. And when the mice couldn't put up with it anymore they decided something had to be done about it. So they went en masse the polls.

They voted the black cats out. They put in the white cats.

The white cats had put up a terrific campaign. They said all that Mouseland needs is more vision. They said the trouble with Mouseland is those round mouse holes we've got. If you put us in we'll establish square mouse holes. And they did. And the square mouse holes were twice as big as the round mouse holes. And now the cat could get both his paws in. And life was tougher than ever.

And when they couldn't take that anymore they voted the white cats out and put the black ones in again. And then they went back to the white cats, and then to the black, they even tried half black cats and half white cats. And they called that coalition. They even got one government made up with up cats with spots on them. They were cats that tried to make a noise like a mouse but they ate like a cat.

You see my friends the trouble wasn't with the colour of the cats. The trouble was that they were cats. And because they were cats they naturally look after cats instead of mice.

Presently there came along one little mouse who had an idea. My friends watch out for the little fellow with an idea. He said to the other mice. "Look fellows, why do we keep electing a government made up of cats, why don't we elect a government made up of mice?" Oh, they said, he’s a Bolshevik. So they put him in jail. But I want to remind you that you can lock up a mouse or a man but you can't lock up an idea.

niagara in a barrel

Seven questions for Billy Bragg, by Carl Wilson of the Globe and Mail:
Born Dec. 20, 1957, raised in working-class Barking, Greater London. In the early 1980s, became an electric-guitar-toting troubadour, singing of sex and socialism in cult hits A New England, Between the Wars, Levi Stubbs' Tears. In 2002, released England, Half-English, a concept album on English identity and multiculturalism. He's completed his first book, on the same subject, and put out Volume One, a nine-disc compilation of his first four albums and bonus material. Volume Two is due this fall.

It's a shock to realize the boyish socialist bard with the broken-nosed Essex accent is pushing 50. As documented in his new box set, his anthems of revolution and romance date back to 1981. But going grey doesn't mean he's looking backwards.

When you listen to those early albums, what do you think of the guy you hear?

It's the alternative James Blunt, isn't it? . . . No, really, the records still have an edge to them. And I stand by the sentiments.

Is it difficult to bring yourself back to that sense of hunger and energy, the songs just pouring out?

When you're trying to break out, you have to have a fever. You can't do it any other way. You've got to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. I was so angry -- looking back, Spandau Ballet seems like kind of a stupid thing to be angry about. But I had been in the audience at Clash gigs, I thought we were going to change the world.

Writing my first book [about multiculturalism] has been a similar sort of challenge. I felt that I must do this: The British National Party, the BNP, a fascist, racist party, had suddenly won a council seat in my home town. An album would not suffice. . . . So in that sense I think I am as driven. Still in the barrel, still looking for Niagara Falls.

Is it harder to write songs about marriage than dating, about politics after the fall of the Berlin Wall?

My focus on things I think worth doing is just broader now. I've been writing, campaigning for reform of the House of Lords, doing gigs against the BNP. In September, a charity called Rosetta Life sent me into a hospice to write songs with terminally ill women, and one got to no. 11 in the U.K. charts. . . . It's all been a bit of a sabbatical, so when I do pick up the guitar now, I have new ideas. I'll be trying some of them out in Toronto.

Do you ever feel you've become a channel of nostalgia for your audience's own idealistic youth?

Yes, especially in England. When they want me to play Between the Wars, sometimes I do . . . but I always remind them that I don't miss the 1980s. I don't miss Thatcher, Reagan, the Soviet Union, or Spandau [expletive] Ballet. The essence of a culture that's vibrant is to respect the past, but live in the present and concern yourself with making a better future. Doubly so when you're a parent. The whole reason I wanted to write about identity is that I don't really care what your background is -- I care about how my kid is going to get on with your kid.

How did the subway bombing last summer in London affect those questions?

It was incredibly divisive. The question put forward by reactionary newspapers was that this was the fault of multiculturalism. Their answer was to try to restore "British values." But nowhere could I find a definition of what British values are, and neither could I find agreement on what multiculturalism is. These two leviathans are set against each other in a way that has warped the debate.

I think for many young North Americans, hearing you sing explicitly about class was a bit of a revelation. Now that you're less a traditional socialist, do you still find it relevant?

I think social background still does define so much of your life, what education you'll get, what your prospects are. But the language of Marxism I don't think really makes sense to people any more. Those of us who want to create a better, fairer society are trying to construct a new language. If you say you want to live in a compassionate society, that perhaps has a stronger resonance with people now.

Does music still have a role to play? Many people are cynical now about 'celebrity activism.' If people expect to solve world poverty by having a few gigs in Hyde Park, that's obviously ridiculous. But it's been proved popular culture can be used to help set the agenda. That chimes in nicely with the role of the performer -- to ask the right question, rather than to deliver the answer. Because, as we all know, the answer is blowing in the wind. That's already been sorted.
I'm not so much a fan of Billy Bragg's music as I am of his politics and his commitment. Anyone who appreciates Woody Guthrie as he does is worth my time.