6.30.2006

disorientation

I worked in law firms in New York City for 15 years. Up until a few months ago, the only law firms I had ever worked in were in New York City.

Now I work in a law firm in downtown Toronto.

When I pass a window and glance outside, I still expect to see New York. For the tiniest moment - a speck of time, barely registered consciously - I am disoriented.

It's weird.

cbc

Here's something I keep forgetting to blog about: the CBC's decision to bump "The National" for several weeks this summer, in order to simulcast ABC's "The One: Making a Music Star".

In all the uproar over this, I first thought The National actually wouldn't be aired during this stupid so-called reality show broadcast. Now I've learned that the news show is only being moved from its timeslot in the Ontario and Quebec time zones. Apparently CBC is not as insane as I first thought.

In the practical sense, most fans of The National will be able to watch the show at another time. If you have digital cable, you can watch it at any time of the night anyway, by tuning in to a broadcast from another time zone.

But with or without The National, the decision to air an ABC "American Idol" wannabee is moronic. When public television imitates commercial television in order to (supposedly) appeal to a younger audience, it loses everything. The audience that tunes in for the brain candy doesn't stick around for the more serious shows, and the core audience walks away in disgust.

And why is the Canadian national broadcaster airing crap from the US? If it's determined to run crap, shouldn't it at least be Canadian crap?

Knowlton Nash, famous Canadian journalist and former anchor of The National, said of the move, "If the CBC really wants reality TV, let people get the reality of what's happening in the world by turning on The National at 10 p.m. every night." Nash's comments were read by his wife, Lorraine Thomson, while Nash was accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation. (Thomson read the comments because Nash has Parkinson's disease.)

Around the same time, the Canadian Senate released its report on the state of Canadian media. (Emphasis mine.)
The CBC needs a full re-examination of itself to get back to its core mandate of public broadcaster, says the head of the Senate committee on transport and communications.

The committee released a report Wednesday afternoon recommending the CBC eliminate all commercials from its TV network.

It also recommends the CBC get out of the business of covering professional sports and the Olympics, leaving those areas to the private broadcasters.

At the same time, it wants Ottawa to have a "more coherent" system to refine the mandate of the public broadcaster, including a commitment to long-term planning.

"CBC-TV in particular is in danger of losing its way," Senator Joan Fraser, head of the committee, told CBC Radio.

"It's trying to be all things to all people. It's trying to compete head-on with the private sector, where such competition is neither necessary nor in the public interest."
I don't think CBC needs to stop broadcasting sports. Sports is a part of culture, too. But mindless fluff that people watch to tune out - and that is easily found everywhere else - should be left to commercial broadcasters.

The Senate committee also urged that Canada should take steps to limit media conglomeration and ensure diverse ownership of media.
However, in some areas of the country, the report says "the concentration of ownership has reached levels that few other countries would consider acceptable."

"An important element of a free press is that there be a variety of different sources of news and opinion," the report states.

It recommends beefing up the Competition Act to require an automatic review of media mergers whenever certain unspecified thresholds are exceeded.

"The country will be poorly served if as few as one, two or three groups control substantial portions of the news and information media in particular markets or within the country as a whole.

"In simple terms, there is a public interest in having a plurality of owners. There is also a public interest in complementing private-sector news organizations with a national public broadcaster."
This is good advice. However, if I understand it correctly, these recommendations are just that: recommendations. They have no teeth and the government has no obligation to implement any changes.

6.29.2006

what i'm reading

I'm reading Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

I'll start by saying that Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is one of the most remarkable books I've ever read. It permanently changed the way I see the world and how I view history, and that's quite a big thing to say about a book. I won't go on about it here; I'll just say that I couldn't recommend it more highly.

Collapse is sometimes called the sequel or follow-up to Guns, Germs, but I don't see it that way. You can certainly read one without the other. Collapse has a very different feel from Guns, Germs. In the first book, Diamond is using a huge breadth and scope of research to alter your perception of history, to teach and enlighten. In Collapse, he's adding an additional layer: he's using that research to advocate, to impress people into action. He's drawing specific parallels between ancient societies that did not survive and our modern world. The parallels are chilling, and inescapable.

Those of us who travel great distances to view the ruins of ancient societies may forget, or not realize, that some of them were not conquered. While the Incan empire was destroyed by Pisarro's conquistadors, the Spanish never found the Mayan Empire. It had already crumbled. The Mayan people were still there, of course (as they are to this day) but they were no longer powerful and wealthy. Their gleaming stone cities - technological marvels of their time, centres for trade, art, religion, and culture - had been abandoned. There was no longer an empire. There were only survivors.

There are many examples of this in history. Diamond takes you through several of them, demonstrating how environmental destruction contributed to their collapse. The degree of that contribution varies, but Diamond says he knows of no case of a failed civilization where environmental destruction did not play a significant role. He also gives examples of societies that adapted to new environmental challenges, properly managed scarce resources, and survived.

Diamond claims that he is not a doomsayer, that he aims to demonstrate that we can make proper choices and save our environment, and so, ourselves. Whether this stems from his optimistic nature or the understanding that one cannot write and market a book like this without including a message of hope, I don't know. However, I find it impossible to share his optimism.

I look at history, at the choices people make and have always made - especially at the choices made by powerful people who control scarce resources and whose concerns are profit and power - and I see little reason for hope. Because of this, I'm finding Collapse almost too depressing to read. I continue to read it, because of my fascination with ancient societies and my desire to learn about them. But I can only read a little at a time, before I become too discouraged and need to put down the book. It's not unlike how I felt reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. It's great stuff, but the implications are so heavy.

If you don't read Collapse, I highly recommend at least reading Diamond's introductory overview to the book. The book's premise is not a simple equation, and Diamond lays to rest many of the objections to his work, raised by people who haven't read it. For example, in the divisive atmosphere surrounding environmental debate, the pro-growth camp dismisses Diamond as an environmental fear-mongerer, while environmentalists cry that he has sold out to business interests. In reality, Diamond is neither simply pro-environment nor pro-business. He recognizes both the need to use resources - try imagining a world without mining! - and to manage resources wisely, in order to ensure long-term survival. That is, survival of both those resources and ourselves.

In the introduction, Diamond also responds to predictable objections from people who view ancient societies through stereotype - whether that be racism or its opposite, the myth of the idyllic people who lived in perfect balance with nature, before those nasty Europeans came along and ruined it. Neither stereotype is valid.

* * * *

One of the collapsed societies Diamond examines is Easter Island, the home of those famous giant stone statues. Easter was never conquered; it was already uninhabited when Europeans found it. Easter Island civilization was dependent on large palm trees, which the people used to make their sea-going canoes, shade their crops, hold down topsoil, and transport and erect their icons. Despite this, and for complicated reasons, the inhabitants of Easter completely deforested their land, which touched off a chain of events that led to an extreme shortage of resources, and eventually, war, starvation, chaos and collapse.

An often-quoted passage from the chapter on Easter Island:
I have often asked myself, "What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?" Like modern loggers, did he shout "Jobs, not trees!"? Or: "Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we'll find a substitute for wood"? Or: "We don't have proof that there aren't palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering"?
Here's an excellent essay summarizing Collapse Diamond wrote for the New York Times, reprinted by Truthout.

new here, again

More from the Toronto Star's report on diversity and immigration:
He and his wife, Shweta, have a 2-year-old son, Om, who speaks English and Hindi, likes cricket and basketball and enjoys Bollywood as well as Hollywood movies. He is, says Tandon, the new face of a multicultural Canada, melding his birthright as a Canadian with the advantages of his cultural heritage.

Tandon hopes Om will learn Cantonese and Mandarin someday, to give him a competitive advantage in a global marketplace. In Canada, anything is possible — his son could aspire to be prime minister, he says.

"I'm living my dream. It's not the one I came with, but it's still good."
* * * *
The new face of Canada smokes and drinks less and is more physically active than the general population, according to a sweeping poll examining the behaviours and social attitudes of immigrant Canadians.

For a country that loves its beer and bars, the results of the survey may sound sacrilegious.

But the poll, conducted by the Solutions Research Group, raises the welcome possibility that a population practising healthier lifestyles could eventually save the $100 billion public health care system millions of dollars in doctors visits and medical treatment for certain diseases, including lung cancer.
* * * *

There is no comparison," says Julie Kamarashavu, a 35-year-old administrative assistant who works in a downtown Toronto office. She arrived here eight years ago, pregnant and a refugee from war-torn Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A week after landing in Toronto, she gave birth to a son at St. Joseph's Health Centre and was overwhelmed by the generous care she received. For relatives back home, she says, every doctor's visit, every blood test and every day spent in hospital is paid out-of-pocket. Often, treatment is withheld until the money is paid upfront.

"I was just, like, 'Oh my God, so this is Canada. This is really amazing.' I called my mother after and said, 'If you knew how I got the baby, just like a princess with nurses around, it was just like a dream. And I didn't pay anything.'"
I'm from a supposedly First World country, and I was fortunate enough to always have health insurance there, but I still share Ms Kamarashavu's sense of wonder at Canada's health care system. I understand what she means when she says, "Oh my god, so this is Canada."

6.28.2006

day games

We're seeing The Real Thing today, the play from our Soulpepper subscription that we were supposed to see on my birthday. Love those weekday matinees! The joys of working weekends.

After the play, we have to hurry home, as there's a big game tonight: Pedro Martinez returns to Fenway.

Hey Mets fans, I'm up for a 1986 rematch this year, whaddaya say?

difference

I've been making my way through the special report on diversity and immigration that the Star published last Saturday. Some of it is very interesting, if fairly intuitive, if you've lived in a big city and thought about immigration.

Here's something from an article about discrimination and prejudice towards visible minorities.

Overall, the people surveyed rate Canada highly, although not perfectly, for having a justice system based on fairness and equality. Most people draw a distinction between individuals who are biased or bigoted - those are found everywhere - and an institutionalized system that discriminates.

In the US, I've found that people often fail to make that distinction. When talking about equality, they'll point to individual acts of bigotry as "proof" that very little has changed since the days of enforced segregation, which is ridiculous. Others, of course, act as if all discrimination has been rectified and the justice system is now 100% colour-blind, which is equally ridiculous.

I have no problem holding both thoughts in my mind at the same time: the US has come a very, very long way, and still has a long way to go. Clearly the same can be said about Canada.

When it comes to individuals' acceptance and tolerance of difference, and of change, we'll always be on a learning curve - always. Some people will never accept it. That's their loss, but ultimately, their choice. All we can do is make sure their attitude is as isolated as possible, and isn't reflected in law, housing, banking, or any other institutions.
Welcome but unequal? - The 'Canadian experience' isn't the same for everyone

by Nicholas Keung and Prithi Yelaja

What's it like to be part of an ethnic minority in Canada?

The experience may depend hugely on where you came from originally, what you look like, how the media view you and whether your ethnic community has a voice in the political arena.

The Diversity in Canada survey, conducted with 3,000 subjects in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal last year, took a closer look at how major ethnic groups perceive their treatment by the most powerful institutions of society: police, courts, employers, media and government.

Italian immigrants — the group with the longest history as a large ethnic minority in Canada — are the least likely to say they've experienced discrimination (only 22 per cent), and they express a degree of confidence in Canadian institutions that's even higher than the urban Canadian average.

But their experiences are drastically different from those who belong to the more "visible" minorities who make up the vast majority of recent immigrants.

More than one in three members of visible minorities report having experienced discrimination at some point: 52 per cent of blacks, 45 per cent of Chinese, 38 percent of Hispanics, 37 per cent of South Asians and 36 per cent of West Asians/Arabs.

Though Canadian-born, Giuseppe Pelligra went back to Sicily with his family at age 8, returning to Toronto in 1982 at 22, speaking not a word of English. Now 45, the Toronto restaurant owner says he has never experienced overt racism — though admitting it's "probably because I have white skin."

Immigrants who choose to wear traditional dress, such as hijabs, make themselves targets, he argues. "If you wear that, you should expect you will face discrimination."

Parag Tandon, on the other hand, has seen blatant racism more than once since he arrived here from India in 2001.

"You bloody brown people have no concept of urban living," said a stranger whom he once accidentally bumped on the subway.

Another time, while still unfamiliar with some Canadian routines, Tandon asked a gas station attendant to explain how the self-serve system worked. The attendant swore at him, adding, "Who the hell gave you a licence and money to buy a car?"

But Tandon dismisses these incidents as isolated. "Canadians are the most loving, understanding people I've seen in my life, and I'm glad I'm one of them."

Asked whether "the courts in Canada generally treat people fairly, regardless of their ethnic background," Chinese and South Asians were more likely than the average urban Canadian to say they "strongly" or "somewhat" agree (77 per cent and 79 per cent respectively). Other groups expressed less faith in the courts, with West Asians/Arabs and blacks rating them lower (69 per cent and 70 per cent).

Blacks took the dimmest view of the fairness of Canadian police, with only half agreeing that "police in Canada generally treat all people fairly, regardless of their ethnic background."

South Asians were the most enthusiastic in their perceptions, with three-quarters rating the police as fair, well above the benchmark of 68 per cent.

Chinese Canadian Stephen Lam, 62, a social worker, has worked closely with police and feels our justice system is, by and large, fair to all.

"The one thing I had problems with, as to the police, was that they used to have special crime units associated with cultural groups, like the Asian Crime Unit. By doing so, they stigmatized the entire cultural group. It just wasn't good or fair," says the Markham resident, who came here from Hong Kong in 1992.

Abbas Azadian, a psychiatrist originally from Tehran, feels there's an invisible social hierarchy in place in Canada, where people of Western European background tend to rank at the top, followed by Asians, with people from the Middle East and blacks at the bottom.

Suspicions following the 9/11 terrorist attacks have also made things more difficult for those of South Asian and Arab/West Asian background. (The survey was done months before the recent terrorism-related arrests of 17 Muslim men and boys.)

"I have had a friend's son being stopped three times on his way home, being questioned by police for 10 to 15 minutes each time. If a white young man is taking the subway home, do you think he'd be stopped that many times? This is scary to any parent," says Azadian, a 48-year-old father of three with a practice in Thornhill.

"You can say they are being sensitive, but when someone is given differential treatment for no reason other than their colour, race or physical attributes, we call it unfairness."

Azadian said he hasn't had direct contact with the justice system, but has friends and clients who have.

"I have positive views of the justice system. But I think the system works and is fair only when the defendants can afford to have a good lawyer," he notes. "But how many people, immigrants and visible minorities, can afford to hire a top-notch lawyer? So often, they have to compromise and make a guilty plea."

Laura Fernandez, a Yorkville spa owner who left Venezuela in 1976, says she has never experienced racism, though she has no doubt it exists here.

"What has saved my ass is my white skin and green eyes. Even back in Venezuela, that's a big plus. The world seems to have a mentality that white is best. It's not right, but that's the reality.

"I can camouflage," she adds. "If I didn't open my mouth, you wouldn't know I was an immigrant."

Having an accent can be a special hindrance in housing and employment, notes Busha Taa, president of the Ethiopian Association of Greater Toronto.

"Sometimes you call (Canadians) for jobs or an apartment. They can hear your accent on the phone and turn you down right there. And when you apply for employment and write down your (address) in a shanty part of the town, you get rejected.

"There is definitely discrimination out there, but it's not something you can easily prove. It's just so subtle," says the University of Toronto researcher in sociology.

All ethnicities surveyed, except Italians, were less likely than the average urban Canadian to agree that "employers in Canada are open to hiring people from any ethnic background."

Taa, 42, who fled political instability in Ethiopia in 1993, believes he experienced racism when he once applied for a tenured position. "Everything went well with my interview, and they didn't have an explanation why I didn't get it and they ended up hiring someone less qualified," he laments.

"I think the system in Canada is equal, but it's the individuals who are bad in treating people equally," Taa says. "I blame it on those individuals."

The media have an important role to play in promoting understanding and appreciation of diversity, he says.

"The problem is when one of us does something bad, everyone in the community get broad-brushed. People don't see that the person who does drug trafficking or kills somebody is just a bad guy. It isn't because he's black," he notes. "And reporters here only show up in our community when there's a bullet fired."

Not surprisingly, how they're portrayed in the media is a concern for several ethnic communities. Nearly two-thirds of black respondents and more than half of the South Asians, West Asians/Arabs and Hispanics said mainstream media "present negative stereotypes" of minorities.

The Chinese, at 44 per cent, and Italians, at 32 per cent, were least likely to report media bias.

Then there's the question of who represents them politically. Nearly half of the respondents rated Canada as "good" or "excellent" in the extent to which people have an influence over how they're governed — compared with just 36 per cent of the general urban population. But, except for Italians, all the groups agreed that Canada needs more politicians from diverse backgrounds.

"Politicians not only represent their own ethnic group, but everyone in their communities. But by having a diversity of people in government, it enriches the decision-making process and ensures that different perspectives are being represented and recognized. That's how we can promote harmony and tolerance as a nation," notes Azadian.

"When you see someone who looks like you in the government, you see you belong here. You are no longer isolated, marginalized and not counted."
All the articles from the special report are found here.

6.27.2006

watch this

Have you all seen Bruce Springsteen's recent performance on Late Night With Conan O'Brien? Along with the Seeger Sessions Band, Bruce performs a haunting version of Pete Seeger's "Bring Them Home".

Go here to see the video.

A minor correction to the post linked above: this song is not on Springsteen's latest release, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.

Thanks to Crooks and Liars for hosting the video, to Allan for sending me the link, to Conan for putting this on his show - and thank you, thank you, thank you, Bruce.

Watch and listen.

call to action

Today is a National Day of Action for Lt Ehren Watada, the first US army officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. In cities and towns throughout the US, peace-loving people will be holding vigils, speak-outs, and rallies, distributing flyers, hanging banners, and otherwise taking action to support Lt Watada, and to build the anti-war movement.

If you live in the US, consider joining a local action. If there isn't one in your area, write a letter to your local newspaper speaking out against the war, and in support of war resisters. And of course, post about this in your blog.

From a recent email from Thank You, Lt:
I am the mother of Lt. Ehren Watada, an officer stationed at Ft. Lewis. He is part of a Stryker brigade unit that deployed last week to Iraq. Despite an unflinching commitment to his men and to democratic ideals, he chose not to accompany his men. His decision came through much soul-searching and through research and consultation with experts across disciplines, inside and outside of the military and the government.

After weighing the evidence, he came to the conclusion that he could no longer be silent while atrocities were committed in the name of democracy. He could no longer be a tool of an administration that used deception and lies to make the case for pre-emptive war.

As a member of the armed forces, sworn to uphold the US Constitution, he refuses to blindly participate in a war of aggression, an illegal war that undermines who we are as a nation and violates international law. Implicit in his oath as an officer is the duty to disobey all unlawful orders for; to carry out these orders renders him an accomplice to a criminal act. Furthermore, to order his men to participate in a war of aggression multiplies his guilt a thousand fold. His conscience will not permit him to do so. He believes that he can best serve them by taking a stand against the war. In so doing, he demonstrates that one does not relinquish the freedom to choose what is right, even in the military, and that the freedom to choose what is right transcends the allegiance to man and institutions.

Contributions to the Friends and Family of Lt. Ehren Watada legal and political defense fund are urgently needed to challege these new restrictions.

As a mother, I have evolved from fearing for his safety and for his future to the realization that there is a higher purpose to all that has transpired. My son no longer stands at the crossroads. He has chosen "the road less traveled." Come what may, he is committed to staying the course.

I invite you to affirm your support of Lt. Ehren Watada on June 27th, National Day of Action. On this day, groups across the country will participate in peaceful demonstrations, prayer services, candle light vigils, parades, leafleting, visitations to recruitment stations to provide counsel to prospective recruits, etc. Please contact your local organization for details.

My deepest thanks,

Carolyn Ho
Ehren's Mom
I've blogged about Ehren Watada several times now, and, amazingly enough, I've received no comments from the wingnuttery. They're really falling down on the job.

You can read about other war resisters at Courage To Resist. For more on how you can resist the creeping (leaping?) fascism and theocracy, try Refuse & Resist.

6.26.2006

meta

Every once in a while, I think I should wrap up this blog. I would keep it online, because people who are considering emigrating to Canada or in the process of doing so, use it all the time. But I'd stop writing, or maybe write very infrequently.

When I first mentioned this to Allan, he was horrified, and told me I couldn't, I shouldn't. Then I got a second wind, or a third, felt good about wmtc again, and kept going. This repeats itself every few months.

We're coming up on the one-year mark of living here, amazing as that seems (to me, anyway). Much of our settling-in has been done, and although we're still exploring and learning about Canada, we'll be doing that for a long time to come. I'm not going to blog forever. (Or am I?) Perhaps the first anniversary of our big drive north should be the end of wmtc as we know it.

My original purposes for starting this blog have either been accomplished or never really worked. Writing helped me process this Big Life Change, and wmtc has helped some other people making the same move. On the other hand, blogging didn't turn out to be a good way to keep in touch with long-distance family and friends. I don't know why, but most of those people don't read it.

The most wonderful and unexpected result - the community that's formed around wmtc - is what keeps me writing. I'd miss everyone. I'd miss the advice, the reflection, opinions, jokes, and most of all the occasional but excellent in-depth discussions.

Also, the writing discipline has been excellent. I've never been a journal-keeper; I would write things in notebooks on an as-needed basis, but not as a daily discipline. But writing to be read on a daily basis - as opposed to writing for your own eyes only - helps one think, and therefore write, more clearly. I like to say it "primes the pump" for other writing.

So if something helps me be a better writer, then I should do it.

On the other hand, it often feels like just so much blather.

6.25.2006

true stories

A friend and former co-worker from New York sent this to his mailing list today. And who could blame him? It's not every day you're featured on the home page of a New York tabloid!

Harry lives one neighbourhood farther uptown than we did, at the northernmost tip of Manhattan. And yes, we lived there during the riots. Ho, hum.

theocracy watch

Meanwhile, south of the border - way south - the only medical facility in the state of Mississippi that provides abortions is under siege. This from a fundraising letter forwarded to me by my former comrades at the Haven Coalition, which I helped run during my last years in the US.
As summer begins, your Feminist Majority Foundation is preparing to protect the lone remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi. The Jackson Women's Health Organization is facing a week-long siege by Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue) from July 15-22 to make Mississippi "the first 'abortion-free' state in America."

Flip Benham, the director of Operation Save America, has said "We will not wait for the President, Congress, or the Supreme Court to end abortion."

Your Feminist Majority Foundation is determined to help this clinic and protect women's access to abortion in Mississippi. We are sending organizing staff to help the clinic withstand the protests this July and to work with law enforcement to ensure the safety of the clinic and its healthcare workers. We need your help to ensure that doctors, healthcare workers, and volunteer clinic escorts are safe and the clinic remains open.

We need to immediately raise $25,000 for security equipment and staff. Half of your emergency tax-deductible contribution will help the Jackson Women's Health Organization get the security assistance they need.

The other half of your tax-deductible gift will support the Feminist Majority Foundation's Clinic Defense Project, which will be working closely with the Jackson clinic and with other targeted clinics across the country.

We need your help now to keep the Jackson clinic open and keep the Feminist Majority Foundation strong in our struggle to stop this domestic terrorism against women's health care providers. We cannot allow anti-abortion zealots to win through violence and intimidation.
Operation Rescue, as they were then known, invaded New York City in 1992, trying to shut down several family planning clinics. I was involved in clinic defense, at that time the most exciting activism I had ever done. But it was easy for us: the police, the city government and the general population was on our side. Outside the clinics, sanitation workers and taxi drivers would honk their horns and raise their fists in support. There was a pro-choice march through the city, and thousands of people helped fund, organize and staff round-the-clock clinic access teams.

But this is Mississippi.

If you can, donate here.

fearless

Pride Week in the GTA culminates today with Toronto's big parade. Everyone tells me it's one of the best in the world, but I'm working weekends again, so I'll have to take your word for it.

The Toronto Star reminds us that Canada remains a beacon of acceptance, dignity, and hope to people who are still persecuted throughout the world.
Arsham Parsi had barely crossed the border into Turkey when he received the email. It was shattering.

Two gay teenagers, it said, had been tortured and publicly hanged in his homeland of Iran. Mahmoud Asgari, 16, and Ayaz Marhoni, 18, were executed because they had contravened strict Islamic morality laws that command the death penalty for gay sex.

"I had never met them, but I cried and cried," says the small, immaculately groomed gay activist, who won refugee status in Canada last month.

Parsi, 25, fled Iran in March 2005, the moment he learned through friends that government officials were looking for him. He was in Ankara and applying for asylum in Canada when he learned about the teens' fate, which could very well have been his own. "The judge has four choices," explains Parsi with remarkably little emotion. "You can be hanged, stoned to death, beheaded or pushed from a precipice."

In the mid-1990s, an exiled Iranian gay-rights group, Homan, estimated that 4,000 homosexuals had been executed by the government since 1979.

As Toronto Pride Week reaches its culmination with today's Pride Parade, one could easily forget that in many parts of the world, it is extremely dangerous to be gay.

In some cases, it's not just the state that harasses and sometimes executes homosexuals, but the intolerant citizenry as well. So, for some foreign-born celebrants and their loved ones, Pride Week's theme of "fearless in 2006" strikes a particularly resonant chord.

Because it arguably sets the gold standard for gay rights around the world, Canada is the new home of choice for many homosexuals fleeing repressive countries. Only a few other nations (Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain) can match our record of legalizing gay marriage and adoptions by gay and lesbian couples, or our strong anti-discrimination laws.

"I think Canada is a beacon of hope for a lot of refugee claimants," says immigration lawyer and gay community activist Michael Battista, who has represented many gays and lesbians seeking refugee status.
My great friend Alan With One L sent me this people-profile, also from my local paper, about a man who has really made a difference in the world. AWOL (wow, I never realized what a terrible acronym that made!) attended a conference for gay Muslims in Toronto in 2003, and came back raving about the city and the people.
As a devout Muslim who is gay, El-Farouk Khaki knows what it is like to be an outsider. The Toronto lawyer and human rights activist, who founded the Salaam support group for queer Muslims, was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and came to Canada with his parents in 1974 at the age of 10.

"I was in my mid-teens when I spoke to my parents for the first time about being gay," says Khaki, 42. "They were wonderful, but they said it was a natural part of puberty to be questioning your sexuality and it was something I would grow out of."

He says he first dealt with isolation as a young freshman at the University of British Columbia, but it wasn't until law school that he became openly gay.

"I think my coming out had a lot to do with the stress and pressures of law school," he says. "I really hated law school, as a bastion of social conservatism and elitism that was predominantly white, particularly in the middle '80s."

Khaki moved to Ottawa in July of 1988 and came to Toronto the following year, setting up his legal practice here in '93. "I didn't know anyone in Vancouver who was Muslim and queer," he says. "But when I came to Toronto, I started meeting people who were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered - and Muslim.

"One of the difficult parts of coming out as a Muslim - or in any religious tradition - is the religious condemnation and the religious interpretations of text, which demonize same-sex relationships," he says. "As a believer, that was a problem for me, so once I moved to Toronto and began meeting other people, I started the original Salaam in 1991."

He says the original purpose of Salaam, which means peace, was social and support, "just to know that you're not alone."

At this year's Pride gala, Khaki is being honoured for his spirituality and his contribution to queer life through Salaam.

"I think Salaam is very important, both locally and internationally, in terms of creating a safe place for people of Muslim tradition to be able to come together both socially and spiritually," says Rev. Brent Hawkes of Metropolitan Toronto Community Church.

"There are Jewish synagogues that are open; there are Christian places that are open, there are Buddhist places that are open. But progressive Muslims, particularly gay and lesbian Muslims, don't have many options. The work that El-Farouk has done as to help to make sure there is an option there."

Khaki says the original Salaam disbanded in 1993. "This was pre-Internet, and communications were much more difficult.

People would say, 'If you call and my mother picks up the phone, don't tell her your name; don't say this or don't say that.'

"After a series of incidents, including a nasty letter from Islamic Jihad, I decided it wasn't worth my life, it wasn't worth the angst. So I shut it down."

Salaam was reborn in 2001 after years spent reorganizing and establishing ties with sister groups such as Al-Fateha in the United States.

"Salaam is a unique organization because we have a true diversity in gender, as well as a diversity in orientation," Khaki says. "Our co-ordinators, as well as our membership, come from diverse racial backgrounds: We have Iranians, Indo-Pakistanis, Turks, Ismalii, Shiite, Sunni, people who are religious and people who are not, people who are believers, people who are not. We've also had non-Muslims or people who don't identify as Muslim.

"A lot of our members are newcomers, so a lot of what Salaam has been doing is providing support for queer refugees, as well as for the whole body of Canadian queer Muslims, a group that we have some difficulty in reaching."

There are several reasons for the inaccessibility of queer Canadian Muslims, Khaki says. "There is the degree to which people are out to their families and communities. For example, there is a very large Somali community in Toronto, yet Salaam doesn't have any members from the Somali community. My understanding is that a lot of them are very concerned about visibility. You won't see them on Church St. or in other groups or organizations.

"We're not interested in debating or challenging or confronting the larger Muslim community - that's not our goal," he adds. "Our goal is to provide a sense of community and safety for people who come to us. Bringing people together is the cornerstone of Salaam's work.

"Every Ramadan, we host a fast-breaking dinner, called an iftar, for about 150 people. It's an interesting event, because it's 50 per cent Muslim, 50 per cent non-Muslim, 50 per cent queer, 50 per cent not queer.

"I think it's very important right now for Muslim organizations to be building bridges," he says. "We need to recognize that there is a fringe element at the present time within the Muslim community that resorts to violence; for reasons that are multi-level.

"We need to isolate this element and identify what leads to this sort of alienation and this psychology of violence."

6.24.2006

sounds

Thursday night was a Red Sox night off, and we didn't even watch a movie. The same four DVDs from Zip.ca have been sitting on the coffee table since early April. After a recent influx of new CDs, we needed a Music Night.

So what did we get? Some capsule reviews.

We finally picked up Green Day's American Idiot - late, I know, but I don't buy music very often. I really like Green Day, and it's a good album, but I expected more. It's completely unsurprising - more of the same. That same is good, but... I guess I got fooled by the hype. I'm glad I have it, and I'll listen to it, but I was hoping they'd do something more.

As part of my relatively new, ongoing exploration of jazz, and in my quest to buy more of the jazz sounds that grab me while listening to Jazz FM in the car, we got Sonny Rollins's Sonny Rollins Plus Four and Saxophone Colossus. I don't have enough vocabulary to write intelligently about jazz; I just love this stuff.

I'm new to jazz. I only started to explore it after feeling I had nowhere to go with the rock and roots sounds I love. I felt I could only find more of what I already like, but no new sounds were appealing to me. (To pick just two examples, I tried and failed to like Radiohead, and think Coldplay is a sad joke.) My favourite music is blues, and I love big band and swing, and I used that as my point of entry into jazz. Once I got over feeling overwhelmed and intimidated, and followed my ears, it's been going really well.

Sonny Rollins from 1956 is an excellent addition to my fledgling collection. Interestingly, some of my favourite blues - some of my favourite music, period - was recorded during the same time period.

Neil Young's Living With War. Love it for the politics, love it for the heart. The music, not so much. It's a string of slogans and political feelings set to standard Neil Young music, with not quite as much grit as Crazy Horse could give it. It's really, really difficult to write topical songs that are anything but prosaic. He doesn't succeed, but I love him for doing it.

Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, The River In Reverse. I am a total sucker for New Orleans- style rolling piano and funky horns. Toussaint's piano gives me chills. Costello's straining voice adds an edge that an off-the-shelf soul singer wouldn't give it. For me, it's a great combination. Many of these songs were debuted at various benefit concerts for post-Katrina New Orleans.

We also re-bought Costello's King Of America, because the CD has finally been re-released with the bonus disc of demos, alternative takes, and previously unreleased material from the same sessions. It's an often-forgotten but excellent Costello album. I think at this point we've re-bought all our favourite Elvis Costello CDs. I admire him no end for his creativity and scope, but I really don't care for most of the results.

Our most important new CD is the one Allan bought me as part of my substitute birthday gift: Bruce Springsteen's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Bruce assembled a melange of country, folk and soul sounds to pay tribute to the American folk music that Pete Seeger helped popularize. The disk is also a DVD, so you can see the band recording and playing. This is music that is meant to be experienced live, so that's a great addition.

On the DVD, Bruce talks about "recontextualizing" the songs. It's not a word I would have used, but it's exactly what the songs needed. Who can hear "Froggie Went a Courtin'" or "The Erie Canal Song" ("low bridge, everybody down...") anymore? We've heard these songs too many times; for most of us, they're old and dusty. But a new arrangement, with a screechy fiddle, a slinky trombone, some chugging percussion and gospel-tinged backup singing, breathes life into these old gems. If you like rootsy sounds, I highly recommend it. If you've heard and liked John Mellencamp's Trouble No More, it's a similar idea, but a little narrower in scope, and maybe better for it.

Whether or not this music is to your taste, I hope you all know Pete Seeger. As a musician, he's best known as a folk singer, a member of The Weavers, and a major pillar of the folk and protest-song movement. But for me, he's Pete Seeger the lifelong activist, fighting the good fight from the earliest days of the US civil rights movement to the present. He's been investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, he's done time in prison, and he's never stopped inspiring younger musicians and activists with his commitment.

I saw Seeger perform at rallies and demos when I was a small child, then again as a young adult at The Clearwater Festival, an outdoor music and craft festival that benefits Clearwater, the environmental group Seeger helped to found. (Once upon a time, I used to attend the festival every year.) Seeger was born in New York City, and lives in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley. I would call him a national treasure, but I think he would want something less parochial and more universal in scope. I guess he's an humankind treasure.

new here

The Toronto Star has a special section on immigration and diversity in Canada. It looks really interesting; I'm going to read a lot of it before I post about it. (I know, how retro.)

From the front page of the hard copy:
A groundbreaking poll of Canadian immigrants shows a country pointed in a fresh direction. Our nation's newest builders are younger, smarter, healthier and committed to Canada. But if you're a fan of beer or baseball, you should know you'll soon be in the minority.
You know what's funny about an observation like that? It assumes that no one changes in their new home, that immigrants don't pick up habits from their countries of choice, which of course can't be true. I'd bet quite a few fans of beer, hockey - and even baseball - are created in Canada.

One section follows a handful of new immigrants through their first year. I don't think there are any US political defectors among the people interviewed, but then, very few of us have passed our first year yet.

6.23.2006

do you really

An excellent editorial from the excellent St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Much of what is so terribly wrong about the U.S. incursion in Iraq has been on display in the last seven days, a misbegotten war writ small.

— On Friday night, three young U.S. soldiers -- a Latino kid and two small-town white kids -- were left to guard a vehicle checkpoint on a canal bridge in the heart of the Sunni-dominated "triangle of death" south of Baghdad. Seven masked insurgents surrounded them, killed one and took the other two captive. Eight thousand troops spent the weekend searching for them. Their mutilated and decapitated bodies were found Monday.

— Friday was the same day the House voted to approve a non-binding resolution expressing "solidarity" with the troops fighting the war on terror. Ignoring reality, the Republican-sponsored resolution linked the war in Iraq with the attacks of 9/11. The breathtaking stupidity of the resolution was best captured by Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga.: "It is time to stand up and vote. Is it al-Qaida, or is it America?"

— Not to be outdone, the Senate Friday briefly toyed with an amendment calling for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year. Democrats promised to get back to the amendment this week, once their political backsides are properly covered. Republicans, sneering at what they call the "cut and run" amendment, promised to defeat it.

— Monday, the same day that the bodies of the two kidnapped soldiers were found, Vice President Dick Cheney was asked at the National Press Club whether he still believed his remarks from a year ago that the Iraq insurgency was in "its last throes."

Mr. Cheney, ignoring the inconvenient facts that 835 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since he made his "last throes" remark; and more than 6,000 others have been wounded; and nearly 3,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers have been killed; and nearly 15,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, answered, "I do."

Say "I do" to the family of Khamis al-Obeidi, one of Saddam Hussein's defense lawyers. Mr. Obeidi was kidnapped and killed Wednesday morning by men posing as police officers. He was the third member of Mr. Hussein's defense team to be killed. How is an Iraqi government so incompetent that it can't protect someone so vulnerable ever going to stand on its own?

Say "I do" to the families of Spec. David Babineau of Springfield, Mass., Pfc. Thomas Tucker of Madras, Ore., and Pfc. Kristian Menchaca of Houston. For all the "solidarity" that the House expressed, they were hung out to dry at their checkpoint Friday night. Spec. Babineau was killed in the attack, his comrades kidnapped and brutalized.

The war is being fought by kids like these, kids with high school diplomas or GEDs, taking risks for a better future. There were never enough of them to do the job they wound up doing or enough armor to protect them. The risks they have faced and still face have been grossly underestimated by President George W. Bush and his cadre of ideological zealots.

Last Wednesday, a few hours after returning from his surprise photo-op in Baghdad's Green Zone, Mr. Bush appeared in the White House Rose Garden to tell the American people that while he'd been impressed with the new Iraqi government, "The challenges that remain are serious and they will require more sacrifice and patience."

More sacrifice? Unless you or a loved one are in the military, this war hasn't cost you anything, except maybe a couple of bucks for a "support the troops" car magnet. The trillion-dollar cost of the war will be handed to our children and grandchildren, the worst of it paid in blood by kids like David Babineau, Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker.
Someone actually stood up on the floor of Congress and said, "Is it al-Qaida, or is it America?". This actually happened.

You know, I don't read a lot of US news anymore (though still probably more than many Americans). Every time I do, I find some bit of lunacy like this, and a tremendous feeling of relief washes over me.

needed: class warfare

What's the minimum wage in Canada? When was the last time it went up?

In the US, the minimum wage hasn't been raised in ten years. Ten years. Think of how your living costs have risen in the past decade. Imagine making the same salary you were earning then - if that salary didn't cover those costs in the first place.

Conservatives are fond of saying that government cannot create equality of conditions, only equality of opportunity. If a substantial portion of a population can't legally work their way out of poverty, how can there ever be equality of opportunity?

When Howard Dean tried to talk about working people who always vote against their economic interests - the first Democrat in my memory to lay that on the line - Republicans disingenuously accused him of fomenting "class warfare". In The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel writes:
The GOP just shafted the working people of America. By rejecting an attempt to raise the minimum wage, the Republican-controlled Senate showed that it is far more interested in lining the pockets of its campaign contributors than - as Paul Krugman wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Monday - arriving at a "new New Deal" and working to "rebuild our middle class." The 52-46 vote was eight short of the 60 needed for approval. (The measure drew the support of eight Republicans - four of these are up for re-election in the fall.)

Sen. Edward Kennedy's amendment would have raised the wage from the current $5.15 an hour to $7.25 – the first raise in a decade. "The minimum wage," as economist Gwendolyn Mink, makes clear, is supposed to guarantee an income floor to keep full-time wage-earners out of poverty. But today, the federal minimum wage guarantees abject poverty for workers... nearly $6,000 per year below the federal poverty line for a family of three."

But the vast majority of Republican Senators, several of them millionaires several times over, don't care about poverty or the well-being of their working class constituents, What they really care about is that they're sitting pretty, having voted themselves another raise - to $168,500 - on January 1.

Even the not-exactly-populist Wall Street Journal points out, "While the minimum wage has remained frozen, lawmakers' salaries have risen with annual cost-of-living increases keyed to what is given federal employees. And last week's vote in the House Appropriations Committee followed a floor vote days before in which the House cleared the way for members to get another increase valued at thousands of dollars annually." So, while Congress will soon make close to $170,000 a year, hardworking full-time minimum wage workers make just $10,700 annually.

. . . For millions of families, this callous vote means another day of choosing between rent and health care, putting food in the refrigerator or gas in the car. Meanwhile, a Big Oil CEO makes $37,000 an hour. Want to talk about class warfare?
But don't look now, we've got a terrorism scare to keep you all busy.

6.22.2006

coming soon: peru

Allan just solved two of our problems in one swoop, by bringing home a combination printer and scanner. Our scanner hasn't worked properly since we moved, and our printer died a few months ago. Now we're fully equipped again.

This Epson model also makes photocopies. We always do our photocopying at work, but for the occasional one-off need, this is very handy.

I can't believe how inexpensive all this hardware is now. I imagine the reasons for those low costs couldn't be very good, either for workers or the environment. But sheesh, it does make your life easier. I guess that's why we all look the other way.

So now that we are up and running, we'll be able to post photos from our Peru trip. I have one more deadline to get past, and Peru photos will be our next project after that. I opened a Flickr account, in case Blogger's photo capability proves too frustrating. It took way too long to get the party pictures up, so links to Flickr might be the way to go.

urban test

Last March, Readers Digest International sent thousands of undercover "behaviour testers" into cities all over the world. For three days, the testers walked into public buildings behind other people to see whether they would hold a door open, dropped a folder full of papers to see whether anyone would help pick them up, and counted how many times people said "please" and "thank you" while conducting business in stores. Each test was conducted 20 times in each city.

The results may surprise you, but they didn't surprise me.

Toronto came in third. And the most polite city in the world? New York.

New Yorkers are always in a hurry, and they generally don't spend time making idle chit-chat with strangers. But they hold doors, they pick up dropped change (and return it!), they give directions - constantly. In such a densely urban environment, where people are always in crowded public spaces, there is an ethos that encourages both anonymity and tolerance (be cool, don't stare, don't ask questions) and cooperation (we're all in this together).

I have always found that people are more polite in places where they travel on foot and by public transit than in places where they travel by car. Sure, the cashier at my local Loblaws will make small talk with me in a way that you'd never see in New York, but that's not being polite - it's just filling space. After the small talk, we each get in our cars, isolated from each other. The subway, the sidewalk, the streetcar - that lifestyle forces us to deal with each other. For the most part, people do it well.

From the CBC News website:
Toronto-based freelance writer Ian Harvey, who was one of the undercover testers in Toronto, said people shouldn't be surprised that big cities like New York and Toronto topped the list.

He said courtesy is the social lubricant that allows people to get along in densely packed urban areas.

What surprised him was that young people tended to be more courteous than the elderly.

"It was often the high school students or school-age kids that jumped right forward and dived in and were so polite," he said.
This also didn't surprise me. I only wish more people knew it.

In my experiences working with teenagers, they were generally the most considerate, courteous people, and went out of their way to return kindness when it was shown to them. My experience was almost entirely with troubled kids who had dropped out of high school and come from seriously damaged environments. I can't say if privileged kids would be as polite, but the inner-city teens I knew were the best.

The Readers Digest results are here. (It kills me to link to Readers Digest, which strung me along and screwed me over... grrr...) I love how the RD story says "civility [is] alive and well in a place you'd least expect." Meaning, their suburban readers, full of negative stereotypes about New York City, would not expect it.

6.21.2006

party pics, part two

James's excellent photos of the wmtc party are now up on his Flikr site. You can click on "view as a slide show" for a nice walk-through.

solstice

Today, our summer solstice, I'm thinking about Peru, the Peruano friends we made, the ancient cultures we met. As in much of the world, it's winter solstice there, although so close to the equator, the hours of daylight and darkness don't vary very much. Even so, many Incan and pre-Incan tombs and monuments are oriented towards June 21.

I see that Solstice-watchers are allowed onto the Stonehenge site today. Stonehenge is an amazing place, but if you should ever go to Ireland, do visit Newgrange, a passage tomb complex older than Stonehenge, and older than the Egyptian pyramids. After creeping through a narrow, sunken passageway, we stood in the burial chamber, under a corbelled stone ceiling, and learned that on June 21, the sunrise would light up that dark passage and flood the interior space.

Ireland's Boyne Valley, a short drive north of Dublin, is full of neolithic tomb sites in various stages of excavation. But beware: like us, you may become fascinated with spirals.

Today is also National Aboriginal Day in Canada, a good excuse to appreciate the people who were really "here first". Another cool place to be today is Alaska, where you can play or watch midnight baseball, a tradition more than 100 years old.

I'm extremely happy and content to enjoy solstice in Port Credit. No ceremonies needed, just a glass of cold wine, a plastic lawn chair, and our green backyard.

6.20.2006

party pics

Welcome!

party01


Cody will show you around back.

party02


Part of our backyard. We're gathered in the shade.

wmtc party 6.17.06 010


More shade, and some food. Also some of our great next-door neighours.

party03


My sister-in-law Marcie ("mkk") made the trip from New Jersey. Our nephew Dave drove from western Massachusetts, met his mom at the Buffalo airport, and they drove up to our place together. We spent Saturday evening and part of Sunday with them, which was a really special treat.

party04


Our friends James (of wmtc commenter fame) and Lori.

party06


S&A, fellow US defectors. They moved to Canada three days before us - and found us through my Globe & Mail essay.

party07


Shane and his wife (not sure how to spell her name).

party09


A nice party photo. Someone showed up without a face.

wmtc party 6.17.06 077a


Cody and Ellen, who lived at our place while we were in Peru.

party08


Dave, Laura, Claudia, Allan, and some knees.

wmtc party 6.17.06 088


Lori, Paul (Ellen's partner), and Dianne. Dianne and I met in an online community, long before I ever thought I'd move to Canada.

wmtc party 6.17.06 013


Carlee (cleavage) and Claudia (preggers), two new friends, who I met at work.

wmtc party 6.17.06 034


Maggie, Claudia's best friend.

wmtc party 6.17.06 014


S, Allan, and Laura.

wmtc party 6.17.06 082


Whew! It's been a long, hot day for Cody.

party05

wmtc party 6.17.06 001

6.19.2006

wmtc the book

Last week, for my birthday, Allan gave me a treasure trove of books, CDs and DVDs - a real haul. Yet he said that my Real Present had been delayed, and these were merely substitute gifts.

Apparently he was hoping Real Present would arrive in time for the wmtc party, but no luck. Meanwhile, in the excitement of party prep, I forgot all about it.

When I came home tonight, he handed me a package (in between innings!), obviously a wrapped book, and a lengthy one. I couldn't imagine what book he could have been waiting for, what this Real Present could be.

Wow.

wmtc the book!

It's a slightly edited version (some posts omitted) from my first post (July 11, 2004) to my year-end wrap-up (December 31, 2005). He worked with a designer on the beautiful cover, and it's available for purchase at Cafe Press.

Man, I don't know what to say right now. I'm overwhelmed.

You can look at the front and back covers, and spine, here on my very own Cafe Press page.

join him

From Democracy Rising:
A Fathers’ Day Statement
by Michael Berg

Of all of the holidays a grieving father can be confronted with after the death of his child, Fathers’ Day is for me the most difficult.

My son Nick died in Iraq on May 7, 2004. He is buried next to my father, who had died just a year and a half before. That is not the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to go somewhere between my father and my son. My mother is on the other side of my father, and my mother’s parents are nearby. My proud immigrant grandparents died first, then my parents died many years later. That is the way it is supposed to be.

I want to make sure no father suffers the loss of their son or daughter in Iraq or a future illegal war of aggression. I urge all those who oppose the military occupation of Iraq and do not want to see future wars of choice to sign the Voters' Pledge at VotersForPeace. Nearly fifty thousand people have already signed. It will let politicians know that we will not support pro-war candidates in the future.

There is a lot else going on that is not the way it is supposed to be. Our leaders are not supposed to lie to us. Yet that is precisely what George Bush and company have done. They told us to beware of weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi involvement in 9/11, and Al Qaeda infiltration of Iraq. We now know these were all lies, yet still my son and the loved ones of 150,000 other grieving souls lost their lives because of them.

I have no excuse. Though I doubted the veracity of George Bush’s words, I did too little too late.

My son Nick was an independent contractor, not associated with Haliburton, Bechtel, Lockheed-Martin, or the U.S. military. Nick was murdered in retaliation for the atrocities committed at the Abu Ghraib prison: murders, rapes, and torture of Iraqi citizens. Though Donald Rumsfeld says he took responsibility for those atrocities, no consequences were felt by him, but they were by my son and everyone who loved him. George Bush ordered Alberto Gonzalez to rewrite definitions of torture essentially ordering these sins, and he did so with impunity. This is not the way it’s supposed to be either.

Nick was arrested by George Bush’s military without reason and then illegally detained for thirteen days. While he was in custody, the revelations of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal became public. These revelations ignited the resistance in Iraq and made it impossible for Nick to get home alive. When Nick did arrive home, it was to the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, a base from which I and all other loved ones of the invisible deceased are barred. This is not the way it’s supposed to be either.

We learn more and more of the truth of what is happening in Iraq every day. We learn what is happening to America and our allies as a result of the voters of these United States electing the wrong men and women: unjustifiable wars, the undermining of vital social programs, willful neglect of the maintenance of the infrastructure of our nation, and dangerous "ignorance" of climate change that could result in unprecedented disaster. This is the legacy of these leaders. Neither of the two largest political parties in this country are doing anything to make things the way they are supposed be.

On March 17, 2006, I joined many others, both conservatives and liberals, in taking the first steps to put things right. I had the honor to be the first person to sign the Voters Pledge for Peace.

The Voters' Pledge on the Voters for Peace website is a project comprising many of the major organizations in the antiwar movement—United for Peace and Justice, Peace Action, Gold Star Families for Peace, Code Pink, and Democracy Rising—as well as groups with broader agendas like the National Organization for Women, Progressive Democrats of America, AfterDowningStreet.com, and magazines including the American Conservative and the Nation. The goal of this coalition is to build a base of antiwar voters that cannot be ignored by anyone running for office in the United States. We want millions of voters to sign the pledge and say no to pro-war candidates.

You can help right now by visiting www.VotersForPeace.US and immediately signing the Voters' Pledge, which states:
I will not vote for or support any candidate for Congress or President who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq, and preventing any future war of aggression, a public position in his or her campaign.
And after you sign it, send it to everyone you know and urge them to do the same. Together we can change the path of the United States—move ourselves in a new direction toward the way it’s supposed to be, so that all fathers, all mothers, all Americans will be able to face the next Fathers Day, Mothers Day, and Independence Day with the pride these holidays deserve.
Sign, send, circulate.

us and them

I had an interesting conversation with someone at work recently, and I'd like to hear your thoughts.

I'll preface this by emphasizing that the person I spoke with - we'll call her PA, for Person A - is not a bigot, not overtly racist, and seems open-minded. She grew up in Canada, and has traveled in many parts of the world.

I'll also say that my conversation with PA was not confrontational or adversarial at all. I mostly just listened, or gently offered my own perspective from my own experience.

PA said Canadians are "too easy-going," too unlikely to make a fuss when they should stand up for themselves. When I asked what she was referring to, it turned out to be about immigration and multiculturalism.

PA took pains to emphasize that she appreciates a multicultural society, that she believes it enriches everyone, that Canadian society is stronger and more interesting for its diversity. I believe her.

PA's central gripe went something like this. (I'll paraphrase.) "We welcome these people into our country, we go out of our way to make them feel comfortable and accepted and not second-class citizens, and that's as it should be, but then they turn around and tell us our customs and traditions are offensive, and we can't display the traditional symbols of our society."

When I probed further, she said (again, paraphrasing), "We respect everyone's right to celebrate their own religion and their own holidays and customs, but now people are telling me I can't have a Christmas tree? I'm sorry, that's going too far."

I gently offered that no one has told her she can't have a Christmas tree in her own home. Correct?

PA softened a little. Yes, that's true. No one is saying we can't have a Christmas tree at home. But we can't in school. In my child's school, we can't call it a Christmas tree, it can only be a holiday tree, for the winter holiday. There can't be any mention of Christmas, because it excludes the children who don't celebrate Christmas. Now how could anyone be offended by a Christmas tree?

Poor PA, she didn't know who she was sitting next to. I told her that as a Jewish person, and an atheist, I am not offended by other people's Christmas trees, but I was always bothered that there was a Christmas tree on the White House lawn, in a country that is not supposed to have an official religion - and that Christian symbolism in public places has been a source of discomfort and alienation for me.

PA said that when she was growing up, students stood and recited the [so-called] Lord's Prayer every morning, and the Jewish students left the room during that time. She said, "I never thought of them any differently, I never looked down on them."

I offered that, although she may not have looked down on the students who left the room, those students were singled out, made to feel different, and may indeed have felt unwelcome. They had to accommodate the majority. The majority religion was being practiced in public, taxpayer-funded space - rather than the public space being neutral, and each of us practicing religion in our own private space.

PA ignored this. She was very huffy and worked up that Canada "has gone too far," and has "allowed" "these people" too much leeway, without sticking up for "ourselves". Her main issue seems to be the Christmas tree, which she insists is not a religious symbol. She claims the Christmas tree is a neutral symbol of the winter holiday season. Yet she is incensed that her child's school says the tree must now be called a "winter holiday" tree. She is angry that her children can no longer sing Christmas carols in public school.

I pointed out that the Christmas tree is indeed, in our modern world, a religious symbol. If it truly were a neutral "winter holiday" tree, why would she have a problem with it being called a winter holiday tree?

(Please, no need to point out the pre-Christian, pagan roots of the Christmas tree, or how Christians in other eras condemned its use. It's true, but irrelevant.)

I asked PA if it would be ok with her if Muslim or Jewish parents brought religious symbols to school and asked all students to sing songs of their faiths. She said that in Canada, everyone is free to celebrate their own religious traditions, but that has no place in public school.

PA saw no irony in this.

She insisted that the Christmas tree is part of "how we've always lived" and should be seen and accepted as neutral. She said that her family has been in Canada for hundreds of years, and that part of her family is First Nations. (Again, no irony.) "We're not making them become Christian! But why shouldn't we be able to practice our religion the way we always have?"

We talked like this for a while. When the conversation threatened to become a little touchy, I tried to validate her concerns: "Your point of view is valid and should be listened to and respected." She said, "Well, that's the problem. Canadians don't speak up, so we just get walked on."

I segued into a different subject.

So to summarize: Multiculturalism is good, but "Canadian ways" are Christian. Christian symbols are the default setting, because that's the way it's always been. "We" have accommodated "them", but "they" cannot ask us to change our ways. Religion should not be in public school, but Christmas trees should be, because that's what "we've" always done.

So at what point do "they" become "us"? How many generations removed from immigration must someone be to be truly "us"? Could it be that unless one is nominally Christian, one will always be "them"? Chances are good that PA's child's classmates who are Muslim and Jewish are themselves Canadian citizens. Why are those children still "them", the ones who've been accommodated? Why is it so difficult for some people to grasp that Christian symbols are not universal?

6.18.2006

solved

The iced coffee problem has been solved! (Alex E, are you reading?) Thanks to James and Lori, I checked out the Port Credit Starbucks. Lo and behold: ice brewed coffee and the horrendously named but delicious iced Americano. I don't know where there are Starbucks in Toronto, but I'll soon be learning.

I'm also going to tell Second Cup, for what it's worth, that I'd rather spend my loonies there, if only they'd satisfy my summer craving.

icecoffee
Ahhhhhh....

party wrap

I think the first (annual?) wmtc party was a success. I really don't know. It appeared that everyone was enjoying themselves. When you're the host, it's so hard to tell.

People talked, ate, remarked on the enormity of our backyard. It was a very hot day, and groups of people migrated around the yard, huddling in shade. I had no idea our yard got that much sun! It looked like a sparse crowd, but then, in our yard, anything would - kind of like listening to chamber music in a football arena.

About 20-25 people showed up, including several wmtc readers. Attendees you might know included G, James, and Diamond Jim, who has just arrived in Canada! My friend D from Waterloo, who I met online long before I ever dreamed I'd live in Canada, came, as did three groups of American ex-pats who contacted me after my Globe And Mail essay ran, and long-time reader/lurker Shane, who made me happy by asking for an invitation. They all seemed like terrific people who I'd love to see again. Our next-door neighbours came, and hopefully they enjoyed their tables and various other items we had borrowed.

My sister-in-law "mkk" and my incredible nephew D were there; between them and Ellen The Amazing Dogsitter and her partner Paul, I thought Cody would pass out from happiness. When she saw each of them, she literally sank down to the ground. Another dog might have leapt or run in circles out of joy, but our Cody just collapses.

Two new friends from work came, too, and one brought her adorable dog Maggie. While Maggie chased her ball, Cody chased after Maggie, one of her favourite things to do. But Maggie is a young girl, about two years old, and Cody's an older lady, and Cody quickly gave it up, lying down and panting while Maggie took over the fetch duties.

Guests were so generous. Despite my admonitions against bringing anything, people brought an array of beverages, plants, a CD of Canadian humour, even folding chairs with a Canada logo. And don't forget the flashing Maple Leaf pins and maple sugar candy. Now we can try icewine and Tankhouse Ale for the first time. The Strongbow cider was gone before I could try one! It sounded like something I would like, so I'll pick some up this summer.

The last group left around 7:30. Our two out-of-town guests, mkk and D, and Allan and I, hung out in the backyard until well past dark, telling family stories, including the extended-play versions of How We Met, from both me and Allan, and mkk.

We had a really lovely day. The best part, for me, was meeting people who we'd like to see again - people I feel we could be friends with. That's a Big Thing.

The food was great, but the person at Whole Foods who told us how much to get (based on the number of guests) was way off. We have enormous amounts of food leftover. That kind of pissed me off. I would have been very happy to spend the money to feed 50 people if 50 people had been here - but to feed 50 people when you're expecting 25 doesn't make much sense.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize how much extra food there was, or I would have begged people to take home leftovers. As it stands, I'm hoping people will take leftovers after the fact: we're offering to deliver roasted potato salad, blue cheese coleslaw and black bean cilantro salad to anyone who wants it. The only catch is you had to be there yesterday.

We have photos. What's the protocol on posting people's pictures? Do I need permission from every single person? Is it ok to post pictures without captions, meaning I don't say who's who?

6.17.2006

party

The wmtc party is today! I have a serious, discussion-oriented post lined up, but I'll save it for another day. Now, to get ready.

6.16.2006

heard

At Zeller's:

"Will you be using your HBC card today?"

"No."

"Do you have an HBC rewards card?"

"No."

"Would you like to apply for one today?"

"No."

"Would you like to donate one dollar to [unintelligible]?"

"No. Thank you."

And unfortunately, because I found the cashier nearly impossible to understand, the conversation actually sounded like this:

"Will you be usinzyershababalalay?"

"Sorry?"

"Will you be using your sheesha bleeza today?"

"No."

"Do you have a kurjashablablahcard?"

"Sorry?"

"Do you have an blatherbebeddy card?"

"I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"Would you like to jabbawabbablabla today?"

"No."

"Would you like to donate one dollar to wazeewhahoolie?"

"No. Thank you."

Please just let me buy these two items and get out of this store!!

saved

Whole Foods, the upscale supermarket chain, has announced it will stop selling live lobsters and soft-shell crabs.
Customers craving fresh crustaceans will have to look beyond Whole Foods Market Inc. after the natural-foods grocery chain decided Thursday to stop selling live lobsters and crabs on the grounds that it's inhumane.

The Austin-based grocer spent seven months studying the sale of live lobsters from ship to supermarket aisle, trying to determine whether the creatures suffer along the way.

In some stores, they experimented with "lobster condos," filling tanks with stacks of large pipes the critters can crawl inside. And they moved the tanks behind seafood counters and away from children's tapping fingers.

Ultimately, Whole Foods management decided to immediately stop selling live lobsters and soft-shell crabs, saying they could not ensure the creatures are treated with respect and compassion.

"We place as much emphasis on the importance of humane treatment and quality of life for all animals as we do on the expectations for quality and flavor," John Mackey, Whole Foods' co-founder and chief executive, said in a statement.

Animal rights activities were thrilled with the decision, not just because of the way lobsters are harvested, shipped and stored but because of the fate that awaits many of them — being dropped alive into a pot of boiling water.
Although I am no longer a vegetarian, I have serious ethical discomfort with the way the animals I eat are turned into food. Allan (who has never been a vegetarian, and never will be) and I have both stopped eating certain foods because of the extreme cruelty involved in the processing. Veal and lobsters are two such animals. I'll add that I adore lobster; it's one of my very favourite foods. However, I've eaten quite a bit of it in my life and I'm sure I will live quite nicely without ever eating another.

I applaud Whole Foods's decision to "consider the lobster".

cody

Cody has been so sweet lately. She's really thriving as the only dog in our pack. She spends lots of time outside, says hello to all the other dogs she meets on our walks, and has lots of new human friends (especially her Favourite Person In The World, our next-door neighbour). She's even more affectionate to us, in her own low-key way, now that she doesn't have a dog brother or sister to obsess on.

Cody loves sticks. Finding them, chewing them, carrying them, chasing them (although not retrieving them). And the bigger, the better. She loves to bite down a huge branch - sometimes several times longer than she is, and full of leaves - and drag it around the backyard. She has a special corner of the yard where she brings all her stick treasures, stockpiling them for future use.

The other day I was cutting down a patch of dead shrubs - mostly sticks with some leaves on the top. Cody came over, turned her head sideways, and tried to pick up a stick that was still rooted in the ground. She was trying to bite a stick right off the tree! It was so funny. Next time she does it I'll try to have a camera ready.

Allan's going to take pictures at the party tomorrow, so with any luck, Cody will perform her stick-dragging routine.

* * * *

I'm starting to dislike having only one dog. But at the same time, I'm not ready to do anything about it. If there were stray dogs in Mississauga - wandering around on the street or in parks, the way there often were in New York - the question would probably be answered quickly. But a conscious, non-accidental decision to adopt another animal... I think we don't have it in us right now. And, as Cody ages, she'll reach a point where it wouldn't be right to bring another dog into the family. Yet we can't imagine one day being dog-less. (We adopted Gypsy, our first dog, in 1987.) That's where it stands right now: just kind of confused.

6.15.2006

courage

About ten days ago, I blogged about someone who - at the time - was known only as "LT". Since that time, his identity has been revealed. From the website Thank You, LT:
On Wednesday, June 7th U.S. Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada became the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to the unlawful Iraq war and occupation. He announced his duty to disobey the illegal order to deploy to Iraq in coordinated press conferences in Tacoma, Washington and Honolulu, Hawaii via a video taped messaged due to a direct military order not to attend the pre-scheduled Tacoma press conference.
You can listen to Lt. Watada's statement here.

It is no surprise that the US military is trying to silence Lt. Watada. From Thank You, LT:
The following day, Thursday, June 8th, Lt. Watada's commanding officer moved to prosecute Lt. Watada for nothing more than his protected free speech. Lt. Watada was read his rights and declined to make a statement without a lawyer present. Although the Fort Lewis military public affairs officer has stated that Lt. Watada "hasn’t done anything wrong" so far, an official investigation into his public speech is underway.

When soldiers join the military they swear to uphold our Constitution. They do not give up their basic right to freedom of speech. Outlined in Department of Defense Directive 1325.6, members of the military have the right to say what they think and feel about the military, and even participate in peaceful demonstrations, as long as they are off-duty, out of uniform, off-base, and within the United States.
Unfortunately, the information in the press release is not completely clear. I'm not sure what Watada is being charged with, or what the US military is doing to suppress his public speaking. I do know that I want to support this brave man.

My opposition to the US's invasion and occupation of Iraq costs me nothing. (Although I did take a few unpaid days off from work to attend demos!) But really, when I blog about the war, nothing is at stake. This man is putting everything on the line. That's moral courage, which is more impressive - and more rare - than the physical variety.

Friends Of LT asks us to write or call:
"Dear Col Stephen Townsend; Please drop the investigation currently underway against First Lt. Ehren Watada of 3-2 SBCT for his protected free speech in opposition to the war in Iraq. Respectfully,"

TO:
Col Stephen Townsend
Commanding Officer
3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division
Fort Lewis WA 98433
(253) 967-9601

CC:
Lt Gen James Dubik
Fort Commander
Fort Lewis WA 98433
This guy's doing our heavy lifting. Let's try to help.

6.14.2006

celebration

Thanks for all your birthday wishes, my friends. Here's how I spent the day.

I had to get some work done in the morning, unfortunately, but it went well. Allan showered me with gifts and cards, as usual. The man is a great Birthday Guy. He says my Big Present is late, so yesterday's book, CDs and DVDs were "fill in" gifts. Cool!

We had tickets to The Real Thing, part of our Soulpepper subscription, but I decided to exchange them for another performance. I'm feeling too busy to relax and enjoy a play. Besides, working three nights a week, we already miss too much baseball. We decided to see the play when it doesn't conflict with the Red Sox. (James, what's that you said about fandom as a career...?)

So from the Soulpepper box office in the Distillery District, we walked over to the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar. Many thanks to Genet for this excellent recommendation (seconded by Gazetteer). It was fabulous, and such an Allan and Laura kind of place. We sat at the bar, sampled many wines, ate small plates of yummy things (including perfect frites, no small find) and were generally very happy.

After Jamie Kennedy's, we got some amazing gelato at Solferino, among the best I've ever tasted, and ate it while walking up to Sam The Record Man. My birthday gift to myself was a CD-buying splurge. I haven't bought any music in well over a year, and I walked out with a nice bundle. I like that store so much better than the usual big-box chains.

On the way home, I called J, my oldest nephew, with whom I share a birthday. He lives in California now, and I hardly ever see him, but we always speak on our mutual day. (Another friend with whom I shared a birthday is gone now, dying tragically before he turned 50. Rhonda, my very dear friend who was his partner of 25 years, called me from England yesterday. I just wanted to mention Stephen here.)

We were home in time to catch the Red Sox - and what a game it was, we were so glad we didn't miss it. Unfortunately, what started out as a scintillating pitcher's duel ended as a devastating loss in the 12th inning. That's baseball for ya.

As I write this, it occurs to me I had a very Toronto birthday. It was, in fact, very similar to how I might have celebrated my birthday in New York. My life is very different now, living in a house in the suburbs, but when I want to renew my urban spirit, it's just moments away. Very cool.

6.13.2006

it comes again

I'll just repeat what I wrote last year.

This year I just feel all those things more deeply.

And the fifth holiday (also mentioned here) will be celebrated on August 30.

6.12.2006

seen

In a review of Douglas Coupland's new book, JPod:
And still we gravitate toward the familiar, no matter how frequently or profoundly it has let us down in the past; we always prefer the cold comfort of formula to the white-hot panic of unpredictability — modest security over the risk associated with trying something different. At least we do if we live in the United States, which is perhaps why we so desperately need a Canadian to make sense of our lives for us.
I don't read Coupland, personally. I just liked that sentence.

facts for trolls

1. I am still an American citizen. That is not a matter of choice. The US and Canada require that I retain my American citizenship for a certain number of years, no matter where I live.

2. I am not a Democrat. I have voted Democrat in some elections and for progressive third-party candidates in others. In general I hate the Democrats almost as much as I hate the Republicans.

3. You are free to express all your opinions. However, I am under no obligation to host your opinions. That is not censorship. Censorship would be if you were somehow prevented from having your own blog, say, wemovetocanadasucks.blogspot.com. I have no power to censor you and wouldn't exercise that power if I had it.

4. I am not attacking you. I did not post insulting, ignorant comments on your blog. You, however, posted insulting, ignorant comments on my blog, which you freely admit you did not even bother to read.

5. This is my own blog. My partner, whose blog you also know, reads and comments on my blog, and I on his. We are each individuals and are solely responsible for the content on our respective blogs.

6. We don't know you and we wish you no harm. (Well, I don't.) Now please be a good boy and go away.

* * * *

Additional information you might find useful:

7. We decided to move to Canada in late 2002 and filed our immigration applications in 2003. Note that this was before the 2004 "election". George W Bush's continued residence in the White House, although loathesome, was not a determining factor.

8. We have lived in Canada since August 30, 2005 and have no plans to leave. We are planning to apply for Canadian citizenship as soon as we are eligible.