7.31.2006

polder

I just finished reading Collapse. It took a while, because a novel I had requested at the library came in, and I put down one book to read the other. But I went back to finish Collapse, and here's my three-word review: Read this book.

Make that five words: Read this book, right away.

It scared the hell out of me, and made me glad I don't have children. (I'm always glad I don't have children; this was an extra boost.) But I have many people I love, and I care about the world around me, so not being a parent is not much compensation.

It's not that I doubt humans' ability to change the world, and to make bold choices for our own survival. What I don't see is the political will. Too many people who control resources and can make decisions that affect whole nations are mired in short-term thinking, concerned only with their own power and profit, and . That's what scares me.

Jared Diamond is now two-for-two with me, and I still recommend Guns, Germs and Steel to everyone who'll listen. My only criticism of Collapse is that I would have liked more on what we can do, in our own lifetimes, to help build a more sustainable world. Those suggestions are hidden under "further reading," and could have been expanded. If it would mean slightly less detail in the historical part, it would have been a good trade-off.

Next up: a book by a friend of wmtc!

A word about the title of this post. I'll let Jared Diamond explain it himself.
A good example of a society minimizing such clashes of interest is the Netherlands, whose citizens have perhaps the world's highest level of environmental awareness and of membership in environmental organizations. I never understood why, until on a recent trip to the Netherlands I posed the question to three of my Dutch friends while driving through their country-side. Their answer was one that I shall never forget:

"Just look around you here. All of this farmland that you see lies below sea level. One-fifth of the total area of the Netherlands is below sea level, as much as 22 feet below, because it used to be shallow bays, and we reclaimed it from the sea by surrounding the bays with dikes and then gradually pumping out the water. We have a saying, 'God created the Earth, but we Dutch created the Netherlands.' These reclaimed lands are called 'polders': We began draining them nearly a thousand years ago. Today, we still have to keep pumping out the water that gradually seeps in. That's what our wind-mills used to be for, to drive the pumps to pump out the polders. Now we use steam, diesel, and electric pumps instead. In each polder there are lines of pumps, starting with those farthest from the sea, pumping the water in sequence until the last pump finally pumps it out into a river or the ocean. In the Netherlands, we have another expression, 'You have to be able to get along with your enemy, because he may be the person operating the neigh-boring pump in your polder.'

And we're all down in the polders together. It's not the case that rich people live safely up on tops of the dikes while poor people live down in the polder bottoms below sea level. If the dikes and pumps fail, we'll all drown together. When a big storm and high tides swept inland over Zeeland Province on February 1, 1953, nearly 2,000 Dutch people, both rich and poor, drowned. We swore that we would never let that happen again, and the whole country paid for an extremely expensive set of tide barriers. If global warming causes polar ice melting and a world rise in sea level, the consequences will be more severe for the Netherlands than for any other country in the world, because so much of our land is already under sea level. That's why we Dutch are so aware of our environment. We've learned through our history that we're all living in the same polder, and that our survival depends on each other's survival."

That acknowledged interdependence of all segments of Dutch society contrasts with current trends in the United States, where wealthy people increasingly seek to insulate themselves from the rest of society, aspire to create their own separate virtual polders, use their own money to buy services for themselves privately, and vote against taxes that would extend those amenities as public services to everyone else. Those private amenities include living inside gated walled communities, relying on private security guards rather than on the police, sending one's children to well-funded private schools with small classes rather than to the underfunded crowded public schools, purchasing private health insurance or medical care, drinking bottled water instead of municipal water, and (in Southern California) paying to drive on toll roads competing with the jammed public freeways. Underlying such privatization is a misguided belief that the elite can remain unaffected by the problems of society around them: the attitude of those Greenland Norse chiefs who found that they had merely bought themselves the privilege of being the last to starve.

7.30.2006

finally

Finally! I've got photos of Peru to share.

After coming home from Peru, I was very busy with writing deadlines, the wmtc party, a visit from my mother, blah blah blah. Then our scanner and printer both died - a murder-suicide pact, I believe - and then the weather was just too nice to bother.

Last week we tackled the somewhat daunting task of choosing a representative sample from the approximately 1200 photos we shot in Peru (19 rolls of film and about 700 digital pictures). Once that was done, it was smooth sailing.

Yesterday I spent the day scanning, uploading, and organizing on Flickr. And now I have a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

You can go here to see the photos.

If you have more time and want more context, I've gone back to the Peru posts and added links to the corresponding photo sets. They begin April 24 and end May 17: here are the April archives and the May archives.

Enjoy!

7.29.2006

christmas

This is an exciting weekend for baseball fans, as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. Contending teams may look very different on August 1, and overly optimistic fans will know their management has given up.

Sox fans are waiting to see what Theo will bring us for Christmas. (I'm still wishing for Dontrelle Willis.) I stay away from trade rumours all season - until now. This is when it gets really fun.

I'm cooking up a little present for wmtc fans, or at least for myself. More later, much later.

7.28.2006

maybe not

Many Canadians believe it's virtually guaranteed that the Harper government will come back with a majority in the next election. Although I understand that's the Conservative strategy and intentions, I believe it's premature to predict the outcome. A lot can happen between now and the next election, whenever that might be, and Harper's looking none too popular right now.

Of course I don't know any more than anyone making these bold predictions, but I've come to realize I don't know that much less, either.

For those of us who dread the idea of a Conservative majority, here's a little hope from Globe And Mail columnist John Ibbitson.
The federal Conservatives insist otherwise, but they may have done irreparable harm to their dreams of winning a majority government.

Unfortunately for the three opposition parties, there is little chance they will be able to exploit the situation. The Tories would not gain as many seats as they would like if an election were held tomorrow, but neither would the Liberals, Bloc Québécois or NDP.

This is bad news for political operatives of all stripes, but good news for voters, who may now be spared the unpleasantness of another federal election for some time.

The Conservatives have never made a secret of their two-election strategy for attaining a majority government. The first step was to defeat the Liberals and win a minority. Then, went the theory, the Conservatives would govern well, reassuring nervous voters who would reward the new governing party with a majority next time out.

To win a majority, the Conservatives must increase their seat count by at least 30. Since only incremental gains are available elsewhere, this means winning 15 or more seats in Quebec, in addition to holding their existing 10, and another 15 or more seats in suburban Ontario, while retaining their current 40.

These are big numbers, and not easily achieved. And the Conservatives seem hell-bent on not achieving them.

The Kyoto Protocol on climate change is popular in Quebec, but the Conservatives have declared that Canada won't meet its targets. The Afghan deployment is unpopular in Quebec, but the Conservatives are four-square behind it.

The long-gun registry was more popular in urban Quebec and Ontario than in most other parts of the country, but the government has scrapped it anyway. Same-sex marriage is strongly supported by Montrealers and Torontonians, but the Tories will reopen debate on the legislation this fall.

And if that weren't enough, the Harper government's firm support for Israel in this latest war is bound to alienate immigrant Canadians, many of whom are sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians and Arabs, and who largely congregate in suburban Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Given all the negatives that the Tories are piling up within constituencies they must woo to win a majority, it's hard to imagine them scoring 30 seats.

Conservative strategists insist this analysis is superficial. They argue that Quebeckers, suburban Ontarians and immigrant Canadians will support their party even if they disagree with its stands on specific issues because they see Stephen Harper as a strong leader who will keep taxes low and government small.

The Conservatives are also bolstered by the fragile state of the opposition. The Bloc has been badly frightened by the Tory surge in Quebec, and fears further losses. Right now, the Bloc is the government's best friend in the House of Commons.

The NDP under Jack Layton has settled into comfortable stagnation, its typical state. And most thoughtful Liberals are skeptical about the electoral chances of Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae or Stéphane Dion, the three leadership candidates with the best chance of winning.

So, while the Tories may have to abandon hope of a majority in the next election, they are not in imminent danger of defeat. And the polls bear this out, putting the Conservatives in the high 30s, which is about where they were on Jan. 23, and the Liberals in the mid-20s, down slightly from election night. (It will be very interesting to see whether the government's pro-Israeli stand affects its support in the polls.)

There will be a confidence vote on the softwood-lumber agreement this fall, and another next spring on the 2007 budget. But, barring the unforeseen, the government should survive both tests, simply because an election is in no one's interest.

Politics, however, is always about the unforeseen. So if a big scandal breaks, or the Tories' popularity suddenly spikes, just forget you read any of this. Okay?

dickensian

If this law holds up in court, how long until other towns and cities follow suit?
Las Vegas Makes It Illegal to Feed Homeless in Parks
By Randal C. Archibold

Las Vegas, July 21 — Gail Sacco pulled green grapes, bread, lunch meat and, of course in this blazing heat, bottles of water from a cardboard box. A dozen homeless people rose from shady spots in the surrounding city park and snatched the handouts from her.

Ms. Sacco, an advocate for the homeless, scoffed at a city ordinance that goes into effect Friday making it illegal to offer so much as a biscuit to a poor person in a city park.

Las Vegas, whose homeless population has doubled in the past decade to about 12,000 people in and around the city, joins several other cities across the country that have adopted or considered ordinances limiting the distribution of charitable meals in parks. Most have restricted the time and place of such handouts, hoping to discourage homeless people from congregating and, in the view of officials, ruining efforts to beautify downtowns and neighborhoods.

But the Las Vegas ordinance is believed to be the first to explicitly make it an offense to feed "the indigent."

The ordinance does not apply to the famous Las Vegas Strip, which lies mostly in unincorporated Clark County, but it demonstrates both the growing pains the city has endured as tourism has boomed, and the steps Las Vegas is taking to regulate where entrenched populations of homeless people can gather. And eat.

"The government here doesn't care about anybody," said one homeless woman, Linda Norman, 55, taking a bottle of water and already perspiring in morning heat approaching 100 degrees at Huntridge Circle Park, a manicured, well-watered three-acre patch of green in a residential area near downtown. "We just want to eat."

Las Vegas officials said the ordinance was not aimed at casual handouts from good Samaritans. Instead, they said it would be enforced against people like Ms. Sacco, whose regular offerings, they said, have lured the homeless to parks and have led to complaints by residents about crime, public drunkenness and litter.

"Families are scared to go to the park," said Gary Reese, the mayor pro tem and a City Council member who represents the area around Huntridge Circle Park. The city, Mr. Reese added, had just spent $1.7 million in landscaping and other improvements there.

"I don’t think anybody in America wants people to starve to death," Mr. Reese said. "But if you want to help somebody, people can go to McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken and give them a meal."

He said that the police would ignore "isolated cases" of violating the ordinance, and predicted that the law would ultimately help the homeless because they would be forced to seek meals at soup kitchens run by social service organizations that could provide other assistance as well.

But Maria Foscarinis, director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in Washington, said the prohibition would do more harm than good. "Nobody wants the poor and homeless living in public spaces," Ms. Foscarinis said, "but this kind of response is terribly misguided."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which opposed the ordinance, said it was preparing a legal challenge. The group's general counsel, Allen Lichtenstein, called the measure absurd and said it was an unconstitutional infringement on free assembly and other rights.

Mr. Lichtenstein accused Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, who supports the new restriction, of waging a campaign against homeless people, whom the mayor has openly criticized. At a June meeting of the City Council, Mr. Goodman suggested that panhandlers with signs asking for food be sued for "false advertising" because soup kitchens provide free meals. "Some people say I'm the mean mayor," Mr. Goodman acknowledged, but he defended the ordinance as part of the effort to steer the homeless to social service groups, and said the city was taking part in a regional initiative to end homelessness in 10 years.

The ordinance, an amendment to an existing parks statute approved by the Council on July 19, bans the "the providing of food or meals to the indigent for free or for a nominal fee." It goes on to say that "an indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive" public assistance.

Violating the ordinance is a misdemeanor, and can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000 or a jail term of up to six months, or both. Diana Paul, a spokeswoman for the city, said the police would begin enforcing it after briefings from city lawyers.

Mr. Lichtenstein said the ordinance allows a picnicker to offer food to a middle-income friend but not to a poor one. "If you have a picnic, are you supposed to have everybody give you a financial statement? This is a clumsy and absurd attempt to make war on poor people."

The ordinance says nothing about offering money to the homeless, and allows offering food to poor people on adjacent sidewalks, something Ms. Sacco said she was considering.

Las Vegas already prohibits 25 or more people from gathering in parks without a permit, and allows the police and city marshals to bar people on the spot for certain periods. The A.C.L.U. has filed a federal lawsuit attacking those restrictions, and Mr. Lichtenstein said he would seek to add this new ordinance to the suit.

Bradford Jerbic, the city attorney, did not reply to a message left at his office. Mr. Reese, the mayor pro tem, said Mr. Jerbic had assured officials that the ordinance was legal and would hold up in court if applied "sensibly."

And Mr. Goodman, a lawyer, said he did not fear a court fight either.

"For 35 years, I represented reputed mobsters and was never afraid to go to court," he said, "“and I am not afraid to go to court against the A.C.L.U."

Some cities, like Fort Myers, Fla., and Santa Monica, Calif., have scaled back restrictions in the face of community objections or lawsuits. The Santa Monica ordinance, which governs public gatherings in parks, faced a federal lawsuit in 2003 by Food Not Bombs, a group that has drawn controversy in several cities for serving regularly scheduled hot meals to the homeless in city parks.

The city eventually eliminated a provision requiring a permit to distribute food on public property, but with the backing of a federal appeals court last month, it requires a permit for giving out hot food to groups of 150 or more. Carol Sobel, a lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, said they still feed the homeless in parks but make sure the groups have fewer than 150 people.

In New York, Angela Allen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services, said: "The city has not created any policies around feeding in the park, but we believe there are better ways of serving the homeless and all of their needs for both food and shelter. No one should ever go hungry."

On Monday, Orlando, Fla., adopted a prohibition on feeding groups of 25 or more people in downtown city parks and other public facilities without a permit.

Social service providers said they had mixed views of the Las Vegas ordinance. Las Vegas has a severe shortage of shelter space for the homeless, but operators of soup kitchens said they could feed many more people than they do.

"We don't want to discourage people to give out food, but it has to be done intelligently and with the right format and in the right area," said Charles Desiderio, a spokesman for the Clark County chapter of the Salvation Army.

Homeless people and Ms. Sacco, a retired restaurant owner who has been serving pots of soup and beans for several years in Huntridge Circle Park, said that it could be difficult to travel to soup kitchens and that the police often forced the homeless from areas where shelters were located.

Huntridge Circle Park is about three miles from most of the soup kitchens downtown, a difficult walk when the weather is hot.

Another reason the homeless do not flock to shelters here, Ms. Sacco acknowledged, is that the chronically mentally ill who make up a sizable part of the homeless population typically resist treatment and services.

"I don’t have no money for a bus," Nalinh Khamsoukthavong, who said he was "about 50," and gave a rambling explanation of his plight that involved promised help from several people, a visit to his native Laos and a series of deceitful bosses. "I have to walk, and I don’t have food."

krugman

Reign of Error
By Paul Krugman

Amid everything else that's going wrong in the world, here's one more piece of depressing news: a few days ago the Harris Poll reported that 50 percent of Americans now believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when we invaded, up from 36 percent in February 2005. Meanwhile, 64 percent still believe that Saddam had strong links with Al Qaeda.

At one level, this shouldn't be all that surprising. The people now running America never accept inconvenient truths. Long after facts they don't like have been established, whether it's the absence of any wrongdoing by the Clintons in the Whitewater affair or the absence of W.M.D. in Iraq, the propaganda machine that supports the current administration is still at work, seeking to flush those facts down the memory hole.

But it's dismaying to realize that the machine remains so effective.

Here's how the process works.

First, if the facts fail to support the administration position on an issue — stem cells, global warming, tax cuts, income inequality, Iraq — officials refuse to acknowledge the facts.

Sometimes the officials simply lie. "The tax cuts have made the tax code more progressive and reduced income inequality," Edward Lazear, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, declared a couple of months ago. More often, however, they bob and weave.

Consider, for example, Condoleezza Rice’s response a few months ago, when pressed to explain why the administration always links the Iraq war to 9/11. She admitted that Saddam, "as far as we know, did not order Sept. 11, may not have even known of Sept. 11." (Notice how her statement, while literally true, nonetheless seems to imply both that it's still possible that Saddam ordered 9/11, and that he probably did know about it.) "But," she went on, "that's a very narrow definition of what caused Sept. 11."

Meanwhile, apparatchiks in the media spread disinformation. It's hard to imagine what the world looks like to the large number of Americans who get their news by watching Fox and listening to Rush Limbaugh, but I get a pretty good sense from my mailbag.

Many of my correspondents are living in a world in which the economy is better than it ever was under Bill Clinton, newly released documents show that Saddam really was in cahoots with Osama, and the discovery of some decayed 1980's-vintage chemical munitions vindicates everything the administration said about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. (Hyping of the munitions find may partly explain why public belief that Saddam had W.M.D. has made a comeback.)

Some of my correspondents have even picked up on claims, mostly disseminated on right-wing blogs, that the Bush administration actually did a heck of a job after Katrina.

And what about the perceptions of those who get their news from sources that aren’t de facto branches of the Republican National Committee?

The climate of media intimidation that prevailed for several years after 9/11, which made news organizations very cautious about reporting facts that put the administration in a bad light, has abated. But it's not entirely gone. Just a few months ago major news organizations were under fierce attack from the right over their supposed failure to report the "good news" from Iraq — and my sense is that this attack did lead to a temporary softening of news coverage, until the extent of the carnage became undeniable. And the conventions of he-said-she-said reporting, under which lies and truth get equal billing, continue to work in the administration's favor.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that the Bush administration continues to be remarkably successful at rewriting history. For example, Mr. Bush has repeatedly suggested that the United States had to invade Iraq because Saddam wouldn't let U.N. inspectors in. His most recent statement to that effect was only a few weeks ago. And he gets away with it. If there have been reports by major news organizations pointing out that that's not at all what happened, I've missed them.

It's all very Orwellian, of course. But when Orwell wrote of "a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past," he was thinking of totalitarian states. Who would have imagined that history would prove so easy to rewrite in a democratic nation with a free press?

bad review

We're hardly seeing any movies right now, even less than we usually do during baseball season. In New York, since we hid in the air-conditioning all summer, we'd watch movies on off-nights or before west-coast games. Here, with less oppressive temperatures and a backyard, we're more likely to sit outside, drinking wine and talking, or to go out in the neighbourhood.

Last night, however, we finally did watch one of the DVDs from Zip that have been sitting around for months: David Cronenberg's "A History Of Violence". Thumbs down!

It won the Palm D'Or at Cannes, and a truckload of film festival awards, including the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Canadian Film. Incredibly to me, William Hurt was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Canadian critics raved about this movie, which forces to me wonder if Cronenberg gets a pass because he's Canadian.

Allan and I both thought "A History of Violence" was obvious, predictable, trite, extremely poorly written, and above all, horribly, horribly acted. Viggo Mortensen, the lead, was not bad, but the supporting cast was dreadful, most notably Maria Bello. She's beautiful, but if this is the best she can do, she should stick to TV or modeling. When Bill Hurt (who I normally like) showed up at the end, we literally burst out laughing at the ridiculous accent he was using. A cartoon Mafia man would have been more convincing.

Nothing about this movie worked for me. It was supposed to be a thriller, but I knew all along what would happen. It was supposed to comment on our violent society, and how we cannot escape our pasts, but it never rose above a slightly violent melodrama. Much is made of Cronenberg linking sex and violence, but a fight between a married a couple that turns into passionate sex is hardly an original or interesting statement - especially when you see it coming before it happens.

I've seen a few other Cronenberg movies, and haven't liked any of them. Now I'll go back to not seeing them.

7.27.2006

ssod

Search strings of the day:
can a US citizen vanish if they move to canada

laws canada nude backyard illegal

what are your chances of getting through customs into canada if you are a felon traveling with only a passport
Hmm.

nightmare

The Toronto Star has a long interview with Benamar Benatta today. Benatta, who I blogged about here, was "detained" (translation: abducted and imprisoned) on September 12, 2001. Despite being cleared of all suspicions of terrorism, he was freed only last week.

Benatta is believed to be the last "domestic detainee" to be released from custody. He is now seeking refugee status in Canada. From the interview:
What transpired during those days is a blur for Benatta, but court filings say he was "spirited off" to Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center, a facility normally used to house crime suspects, not immigration detainees.

Even though Benatta was cleared of terror links in November 2001, he was left to languish at the Brooklyn jail until the following April.

"There was constant abuse at that time. For instance, they hit your head, every half hour they came, they wake you," he said. "During the first month I wasn't allowed to shave or wear shoes. There was no recreation. I was locked up 24 hours, with a light 24 hours. When they escort you outside, they hit your head, they twist your hands, they step on the shackles sometimes, they want to trip you," he said.

Benatta also said jail guards wrote the letters 'WTC' on his cell door to mark his connection to the World Trade Centre investigation.

In 2004, Benatta's allegations of abuse in custody were presented to a human rights panel of the United Nations by attorneys of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The group later accused the Bush administration of subjecting him to eight months of a "high security prison regime ... that could be described as torture."

"I ran from my country, where I was persecuted over there and there was threats against my life," he said. "I was expecting to come here and find America or Canada, they open their arms to me. I came here to forget what happened to me back home ... and get on with my life."

A federal magistrate who looked into Benatta's claims wrote in 2003 that he had been "held in custody under harsh conditions which can be said to be 'oppressive.'" He recommended that Benatta be released, saying he had been "undeniably deprived of his liberty."

The fact that Benatta had been held on alleged immigration charges after he was cleared of terror links prompted the magistrate to call the prosecution's case a "ruse," a "sham" and a "charade."

"The FBI would have been derelict in its duty if it did not pursue an investigation of the defendant after the Canadian authorities contacted the U.S. officials on Sept. 12, 2001," he wrote, adding: "Absent due process, the end cannot justify the means no matter how well or good intentioned the parties may be, for as the adage teaches, 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions.'"

In spite of the magistrate's recommendations, Benatta was held at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility while he fought the American attempt to deport him, until last week.

"I was believing they just locked me down and threw the keys away," he said.

Now, Benatta is staying at a Toronto refugee shelter, where he'll remain until he gets his footing. It will probably be more than a year before he learns the outcome of his refugee claim.

He has few belongings — most were lost when he was transferred. But Benatta has few complaints about his current digs. "It's better than the jail, that's for sure," he said.

7.26.2006

responsibility

A Middle East correspondent for the Globe And Mail writes:
It's not as easy as it once was to be a Canadian abroad.

There was a time when being a Canadian would instantly bring smiles to the faces of whoever you were speaking to, whether you were travelling in Western Europe or in the Middle East. We were the peacemakers, the good guys.

In recent months though, as Canadian troops have grown more involved in Afghanistan and our foreign policy has become more aligned with that of the United States, our happy maple-leaf passport is not always as welcome as it once was. And if you happen to be a holder of that passport, often those you meet want to let their feelings known, immediately and passionately, whether they're positive or negative: as if you personally are responsible for every foreign policy decision of the last decade or so.

Take one conversation with an Israeli military analyst, a former intelligence officer who spoke with me at length about Israel's intentions in Lebanon. As the interview wound down, he insisted on keeping me on the phone for a while longer, thanking me profusely for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's strong stances this week, telling me how much the Israeli public appreciated such sentiments from such a "steadfast ally" at such a difficult time.

Then, there was a meeting yesterday with a Fatah legislator by the name of Abdullah Abdullah on negotiations in Gaza. There, an Israeli soldier is still being held captive, Qassam rockets are still being fired into Israel, and, night after night, airstrikes and artillery barrages by the Israeli military are shaking houses, and killing and injuring civilians, along with the militants they're trying to hit.

Mr. Abdullah spent nearly 20 years in Canada as the PLO's representative there, and was later the Palestinian ambassador to Greece. When he first learned I was from Canada, his face broke into a broad smile and he gave me a high-five. His children are Canadian citizens and his daughter, he says proudly, is a doctor there. By his account, during his days in Ottawa, he used to eat pizza with the family of now-Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, whom he described as wonderful people.

But then his face grew sober, and he began to grill me on why Canada is moving away from its traditional mediator role in the Middle East, and he told me how disappointed he is.

"It's cowardice," he said, throwing up his hands.

We're good, we're bad, we're on the side of right, we're siding with the enemy; just about every journalist working abroad hears the debate now.

And in this complicated part of the world, I still haven't figured out what my response is supposed to be - to any of them.

"And if you happen to be a holder of that passport, often those you meet want to let their feelings known, immediately and passionately, whether they're positive or negative: as if you personally are responsible for every foreign policy decision of the last decade or so."
Any American who has traveled abroad knows how that feels.

connecting

Last week we met Lone Primate, an absolutely lovely evening. LP's (extremely flattering) description of that event is here, with some nice pictures.

Today it's dim sum with M@. I'm looking forward to getting a copy of his new book. (M@, is there a link?).

Last night we had dinner with Ellen The Amazing Dogsitter and her partner Paul. Although Ellen doesn't blog, we connected through Craigslist.

I am incredibly happy and appreciative to be meeting friends here in our still-new home. I feel myself putting down roots, and it's a good feeling. Long-time readers will forgive my repetition of a constant theme: without the internet, this would have been a far more difficult and lonelier experience.

I think I will steal the title of Lone Primate's post for this one. Sometimes it's so hard to think of one word!

7.25.2006

predictable

Katha Pollitt, one of my writing heroes - and a colleague through the Haven Coalition - has just published another collection of essays, called Virginity Or Death!.

In a predictably snark-filled review for the New York Times, Ana Marie Cox (The Wonkette), doesn't see what all the fuss is about.
Strident feminism can seem out of place — even tacky — in a world where women have come so demonstrably far. With Katie Couric at the anchor desk, Condoleezza Rice leading the State Department and Hillary Clinton aiming for the top of the ticket, many of the young, educated and otherwise liberal women who might, in another era, have found themselves burning bras and raising their consciousness would rather be fitted for the right bra (like on "Oprah") and raising their credit limit. Katha Pollitt is the skunk at this "Desperate Housewives" watching party. Her new collection of essays, "Virginity or Death!," culled from her columns for The Nation over the past five years, shows her to be stubbornly unapologetic in championing access to abortion and fixated on the depressingly slow evolution of women's rights in the Middle East. In the midst of our celebration of Katie's last day, Pollitt is the one who would drown out the clinking of cosmo glasses with a loud condemnation of the surgery available to those women who would sacrifice their little toes the better to fit their Jimmy Choos.
It would be mind-boggling if it weren't so predictable. Couric, Rice and Clinton, cosmos and Jimmy Choos - that just about negates the needs of ordinary American women to have access to birth control and abortion, don't you think?

I dashed off a letter to the Times, but two terrific writers beat me to it:
To the Editor:
Ana Marie Cox's review of Katha Pollitt's "Virginity or Death!" (July 2) manages to reduce feminism to a list of self-indulgences enjoyed by privileged women.

In fact, Pollitt argues from the capacious terrain of principle and history, where feminism is imbedded in, indeed inseparable from, a progressive legacy of social justice. Cox's assertion that feminism's task is to "navigate between stridency and submission" exposes the poverty of her social imagination and a meanness of spirit. Pollitt wants to amplify the conversation about the rights and wrongs of American society; Cox wants to reduce it to chitchat about shoes.
Victoria de Grazia
Martha Howell
New York
Both writers are professors of history at Columbia University.



To the Editor:
Ana Marie Cox makes it clear that she just can't figure out why feminists like Katha Pollitt are still kicking up such a fuss. After all, Cox points out, Katie has the nightly news, Condi has State and Cox herself has "elbowed my way into more boys' clubs than I care to remember." What else — and who else — could there possibly be? For Cox, the ability of women today to support abortion rights and at the same time wear Jimmy Choos constitutes a "complicated feminist mind-set" far beyond the grasp of Pollitt and her doddering sisters.

Dear Ms. Cox: If the boys will let you use the library, do a little research in the history of the women's movement. You'll find that complacency has a long tradition of its own, starting with those 19th-century homemakers who argued that women were perfectly well protected by their husbands and had no reason to want to vote. You'll also encounter the great tradition that brought us Katha Pollitt — generations of smart, witty, articulate rabble-rousers who were always out in front taking the hits.
Laura Shapiro
New York
The writer is the author, most recently, of "Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America."
In The Nation, where she writes her regular column, Pollitt responds directly:
Emily Amick: There's a discussion raging on the blogosphere right now about Wonkette's [a/k/a Ana Marie Cox] "post-feminist" review of your book in the New York Times. Is this the reaction you expected? Do you think Bush feels left out?

Katha Pollitt: You certainly wouldn't know from the review that the book is not, actually, one long grim fulmination against high-fashion shoes and the young women who wear them. It's fine that she hated the book (well, not really!), but I wish she had accurately conveyed its contents.

There are pieces about Republicans, Democrats, Greens, fundamentalists (of all stripes), creationism in Kansas, sexism in the media, the war in Iraq, Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass, Abu Ghraib, stem-cell research, cloning, healthcare, childcare, gay marriage, FBI spying, Maureen Dowd, Andrea Dworkin, Pierre Bourdieu (who?), "blasphemous art" at the Brooklyn Museum, Larry Summers, my old colleague Christopher Hitchens, Howard Dean, Dr. Judith Steinberg a/k/a Judy Dean and daycare workers sentenced to long prison terms for sex abuse that almost certainly did not occur. There are pieces about Muslim women's rights--a topic Wonkette says I'm "fixated" on, which is an odd choice of word, don't you think? Maybe she'll tell us someday exactly how much concern is the right amount to have. Oh and yes, George Bush. He's all over the book.

In "Vaginal Politics" you say that the contradiction between serious feminist issues and sexual self-expression is "way overdrawn." Yet many young women believe the feminist movement doesn't allow them to wear stilettos and lipstick. So where is the line between "stridency and submission?"

We're still on Wonkette, I see. Have you ever heard that word "strident" applied to a man? I can't believe the conversation is stuck on this idiotic plot point: Feminists with loud voices and hairy legs versus girls who just want to have fun. Actually, there are lots of young feminists. "Vaginal Politics" is actually an essay about V-day--the campus "Vagina Monologues" festival that raises tons of money to fight violence against women. It's hip, it's sexy, it's hugely popular and it's all the work of students. Young feminists!

The blogosphere is full of young feminists--thank God, because print media publishes very few. But sure, many young women reject the word. For their entire lives, they've been told that the women's movement is evil and weird--Hillary Clinton is a feminazi, working mothers hate their children, feminists hate men. Like the rest of the progressive movement, the women's movement has suffered from not having well-funded popular media of its own and from not paying enough attention to grassroots organizing. We've let our opponents define the discourse. [More here.]
One of the best things about my work with the Haven Coalition was the opportunity to work with feminists 15 and 20 years younger than me - to see all the brains, energy, and power pouring into the movement now. Feminist women in their 20s and early 30s easily reconcile some of the issues their forerunners found contradictory. Their attitudes towards sexuality, reproduction, relationships - and fashion - are simpler and, I think, more life-embracing, more joyful than their predecessors'.

And they're not afraid to call themselves feminists. They know full well what the word means.

7.24.2006

protest

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world demonstrated on Saturday to protest Israel's bombing of Lebanon. In Toronto, thousands of people gathered, also condemnng Stephen Harper's endorsement of Israel's actions.
Hundreds of red and white Lebanese flags waved on Toronto's downtown streets as thousands of protestors called for an end to the violence in Lebanon.

To the beat of drums, the demonstrators yesterday gathered first at the Israeli consulate on Bloor St. W. before marching to the United States consulate on University Ave.

The horde chanted slogans condemning Israel for the deaths of Lebanese civilians and slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper's comments calling Israel's response "measured."

Many also called for sanctions and a boycott of Israeli goods and businesses. The chants that rang out included "Shame, Shame, Shame," "The people united will never be defeated," "Shame on you Mr. Harper" and "Arab lives have value too."

. . .

The march began in front of the Israeli consulate under rain and ended at the U.S. Consulate under semi-clear skies. Peggy Nash, a member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park, said the violence must stop.

"We are the voices of sanity, calling for peace," Nash, a New Democrat said.

The Toronto protest was part of several global demonstrations that took place yesterday.

. . . .

In Toronto yesterday, Zahie Awad was one of the many chanting in the crowd. But unlike many others, she was also in tears as she looked into the rows of protestors. Her son, a Canadian citizen, is now in Lebanon, trying to come to Canada with her grandson.

So far, it hasn't been easy, as her grandson's papers were lost when their home was destroyed. Appeals to the Canadian government have been unheeded, she said. She hasn't been able to sleep and yesterday, contact was cut off with her son as Israel stepped up its campaign, Awad said.

Hussein Awad, her other son, said they came to the rally so other Canadians could know what was happening in the Middle East.

"We need Canada to do its role," he said, calling for this country to broker a ceasefire.

Like Awad, all Roni Chaia has been thinking about is his father and sister in Lebanon.

"They say they don't know when they are going to get hit." Chaia said, adding his family is running out of water and food.

"There is no safe place for them in Lebanon."

For Khadijeh Rakie, who also has family in Lebanon, the rally affirmed the belief she has in Canadians.

"The amount of people who showed up today, it's inspiring," she said. "It shows that Canadians do care and that our prime minister is not reflective of the country."
Toronto Star story here.

7.23.2006

question

You might want to catch up on comments in this thread.

Franc has posted a terrific link to the International Dialects of English Archives (IDEA) where you can hear all kinds of dialects for yourself. Great stuff, Franc, thank you!

Another reader pointed out that if my reference to nude beaches drew traffic, the post called "tongues" is sure to drive the Statcounter wild.

* * * *

Do any of you know anything about Americans stealing Canadian health care cards in order to get health care? This is another question from Egalia at Tennessee Guerilla Women, part of her never-ending quest to drive neocons insane.

I found various links about health care fraud, but nothing specifically about this. I know the Ontario cards were recently re-designed with more security measures. Is this why?

the l word

The truth is, most of the good things about this country have been fought for by liberals. If conservatives had carried the day, blacks would still be in the back of the bus, women would be barefoot and pregnant, medical care would be on a cash-only basis, there'd be mouse feet in your breakfast cereal and workers would still be sleeping next to their machines.
-- Katha Pollitt

evidence

Recently a co-worker asked me what I thought of the "fiasco going on in New York City". She was referring to the alleged plot to blow up the tunnels connecting New York to New Jersey. I brushed it off, saying I don't pay attention to that type of news, and that I assume most of it is false. To which she replied, "But they arrested someone for this one!" I noted that arrests aren't proof of anything.

Case in point. From the Guardian:
An Algerian man believed to be the last domestic detainee still in custody from a national dragnet after Sept. 11 - and who was cleared of links to terrorism in November 2001 - was set free this week, his lawyer said Friday.

Benemar Benatta, 32, went to Ontario, Canada, where he is seeking political asylum, after being released from a Buffalo immigration lockup Thursday, attorney Catherine Amirfar said.

"After five years, he had become all but hopeless," she said. "Now he's cautiously optimistic."

Benatta was among 1,200 mostly Arab and Muslim men detained nationwide as potential suspects or witnesses in the investigation following the terrorist attacks. The government has refused to discuss their fate, but human rights groups have said they believed the former Algerian air force lieutenant was the only one still in custody.

Heather Tasker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, refused to discuss Benatta's release, which was first reported by The Washington Post.

U.S. officials agreed to release Benatta after the Canadian Consulate General's office in Buffalo granted him temporary residency, according to court papers filed Wednesday in New York.

The last detainee's odyssey began Sept. 5, 2001, when, after overstaying a six-month visa, he crossed the border near Buffalo to seek asylum in Canada. After the Sept. 11 attacks, his background as a Muslim man with flight experience prompted Canadian officials to turn him over to U.S. authorities.

He spent the next six months in solitary confinement in a federal jail in Brooklyn. Though the FBI concluded he had no links to terrorism, he was eventually charged with carrying false identification - a case that was dropped after a federal magistrate found his right to due process had been violated.

The magistrate wrote in a 2003 decision that Benatta had been "undeniably deprived of his liberty," and "held in custody under harsh conditions which can be said to be oppressive."

Despite the ruling, immigration officials kept him in custody in Buffalo while he appealed a deportation order and renewed his quest for asylum based on a claim that, as a military deserter, he would tortured or killed if he returned to Algeria.

A United Nations human rights group that studied the case noted that most asylum seekers are released pending the outcome of their cases.

"The imprisonment Mr. Benatta has endured has been a de facto prison sentence," the U.N. group wrote in findings made public in March. "In no way can the simple administrative offense of having stayed in the United States after his visa had expired justify such a disproportionate sentence."
Get the timeline there? Taken into custody after September 11, 2001. Cleared of any links to terrorism in November, 2001. Released from custody in July, 2006.

Think back to September 11, 2001. It's easy to do, since every one of us can remember what we were doing that day. Now think of what you're doing today. Imagine your life between the two dates, almost five years apart. Imagine being imprisoned the entire time, when you had done nothing wrong.

Thanks to Redsock for the story.

edge of outside

I recently had the opportunity to see a reviewer's copy of Edge Of Outside, a documentary about independent film, directed by Shannon Davis. It premiered on Turner Classic Movies earlier this month, but the filmmakers are trying to get a wider release.

Many people think the expression "independent film" is synonymous with "low budget," or imagine independent filmmaking to be a very recent phenomenon. Edge Of Outside dispels both those myths. Independent filmmakers and actors who have worked with them are asked to define independent cinema, and to talk about their influences. How many of us would immediately recognize Charlie Chaplin as one of the great independents? In the context of this documentary, his inclusion makes perfect sense.

Edge Of Outside uses interviews with directors, writers, actors and technicians, intercut with movie clips. There's no narrator, and the effect is one of great immediacy, which is very appropriate to the material. There are interviews with Martin Scorsese, Peter Falk, Ed Burns, Spike Lee, Henry Jaglom, Arthur Penn, Gena Rowlands and John Sayles, as well as people who worked with filmmakers Nicholas Ray, John Cassavetes, Sam Peckinpah and others. I especially loved hearing my favourite filmmaker, John Sayles, talk about his influences and early struggles.

The film takes an in-depth look at maverick filmmakers such as Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Samuel Fuller, Ray, Pekinpah and Cassavetes. You hear about the filmmakers' process - each widely different, and uniquely his own - and the obstacles they faced. Each took a different approach to making movies: some were able to maintain independence within the Hollywood studio system, some were always on their own, and others were banished and had independence forced on them. The common thread is an artist with a personal vision.

I would have liked to see at least one woman included in this section: one could easily come away from this film with the false idea that women never made movies. But that's my own quibble. On the whole, it's an excellent movie.

Many of the movies referenced in Edge Of Outside are ones I've heard of but not seen, or else saw when I was too young to appreciate their significance. So one thing this movie did for me was lengthen my already-long list of movies to see!

If you're interested in movies and moviemaking, you should try to catch Edge Of Outside, either in a rebroadcast on Turner Classic, or when it's out on DVD. More information is here on the TCM website.

7.22.2006

unbelievable

GaryStJ:

Are you incredibly rude or just plain stupid?

You are not welcome here - not because I disagree with your opinions, but because you were unwilling or unable to engage in civil discourse. Only a fool would let a stranger speak to her the way you spoke to me, and I am not a fool.

There's no squirreling out of it, claiming I'm being too sensitive or flying off the handle (as if your judgment of that matters): I have the written proof.

Everything you post will always be deleted. Make it easier on both of us and go away. Permanently.

* * * *

Everyone else:

When Lone Primate was over for dinner the other night, the three of us imagined the conversation as it might have happened, if GaryStJ had behaved normally. How he might have phrased his initial questions, and then his later responses, and what an interesting discussion might have then ensued. Indeed, it could have been classic wmtc material - different viewpoints, discussed by intelligent, literate people, fleshing out their own and each other's ideas.

Oh well.

* * * *

SSOTD: We are permanent residents in Canada and my father who is permanent resident died shortly after we got our PR Card

Sorry about your dad. That's not a good search string.

darkness

News from the Old Country.
An estimated 100,000 people or more remained without power in western Queens last night, as Con Edison conceded that the blackout that began Monday affected more than 10 times as many customers as it had said previously, and that it still had no explanation for the failure.

It will take at least until Sunday - six days after the blackout began - to restore power to everyone, Con Edison said.

A chorus of elected officials demanded investigation and punishment of the utility, and more help for the area's sweltering, dispirited residents. They voiced particular concern for thousands of elderly residents with no electricity, no working elevators and, in some cases, no water.

Utility officials and others said this power failure was perplexing, unlike previous blackouts that darkened large swaths of the city and were corrected in a day or two. This time, new problems have cropped up day after day: dozens of manhole fires, transformer fires and, most seriously, electrical cables' burning out and needing replacement.

. . .

The blackout has exposed an apparently serious weakness at the utility: its inability to measure the size of a problem. For three days, Con Edison gave estimates ranging from 1,200 to 2,100 customers without power. But those were based solely on the number of phone calls from people complaining. A customer can be a single house or a business, or a large building with dozens of apartments and hundreds of residents.

The company acknowledged yesterday, after a block-by-block canvass conducted Thursday night, that at least 25,000 customers were blacked out, possibly more. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg estimated that that meant at least 100,000 people lacked power in their homes, a number Con Edison did not dispute.

An even larger number of customers, 90,000, had reduced voltage, Con Edison said; that translates to several hundred thousand people. Some people with reduced power said it was so diminished that conditions were barely better than a blackout; elevators and air-conditioners did not work, and food went bad in refrigerators.

"We weren't trying to be misleading," Mr. Olert said of the numbers. "We went with what we knew."

Mr. Bloomberg called the utility's underestimate "annoying," but other elected officials used much stronger language. Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris called for criminal charges against Con Edison, and District Attorney Richard A. Brown of Queens said his office would investigate.

By underestimating the size of the problem, City Councilman Eric N. Gioia said, Con Edison "slowed everybody's responses, which put people's lives in danger."

"When we first talked to the mayor's office and the Red Cross about the extent of this, they were skeptical because of what they'd heard from Con Ed," he said.
This is something Allan and I relate to in a very personal (and angry) way.

In 1999, during a record-breaking heat wave, Con Ed cut off power to the large swath of upper Manhattan known as Washington Heights. The ancient cables, transformers and switches in the residential, working-class area hadn't been properly maintained or replaced, and were dangerously overloaded. Con Ed later admitted that rather than risk losing power to midtown - where the money is made - they decided to cut off upper Manhattan.

However, having deliberately done this, they still denied that there was a significant power outage. When people called to report having no electricity, Con Ed claimed the problem was localized to a handful of buildings.

Meanwhile, everything above 168th Street was in darkness - and heat. No streetlights, no subways, no refrigeration. We were the neighbourhood that time forgot. We had no power, and no one cared.

Our friends Alan With One L and Fred, back from London and looking for an apartment in New York, were staying with us. Always lovely to have company under the worst possible conditions. It was more than 100 Farenheit outside, and if you've never lived in a top-floor apartment, you can't imagine what that means inside.

My mother drove over from New Jersey with a cooler of ice, Snapple and some sandwiches. We couldn't go stay with her because of the dogs. We took the pups - Clyde and Cody, in their too-brief time together - to the park and sat on a bench, all of us panting. At night I thought I'd lose my mind.

When at last the subways were working, Allan, Fred and I went to a movie, just to sit in the cool. I'll never forget coming out of the subway at Broadway and 96th Street, seeing the stores open, the streetlights working, all the people going about their normal days. That's when it really hit me how the city had orphaned us.

When Con Ed finally admitted that there was a blackout, we had already been in the dark for 48 hours. References to the the 1999 Washington Heights blackout always give the time as 19 hours. I estimate we were without power for 67 hours.

From then on, every time we saw Con Ed trucks in our neighbourhood, we cringed and mentally held our breath.

The massive blackout in 2003 wasn't nearly as bad for us, since everyone was in it together - and it wasn't nearly as hot. If I recall correctly, the US tried to blame Canada for that one.

* * * *

Footnote. I tried to find a good online map of Manhattan to link to. In keeping with the theme of this post, most of the maps only go up to 125th Street! And that's fairly recent. Before Harlem was declared safe to visit, the maps only went up to 96th Street. There's a lot of city north of 96th - and north of 125th.

That's sarcasm, by the way. Harlem has always been safe to visit, and has never been less safe than any other neighbourhood in the city.

I also notice that the tourist maps now refer to where we used to live as "Fort George". As more young professionals move in, and the price of real estate goes up, you don't want it confused with Washington Heights, where se habla español...

7.21.2006

tongues

Americans parody Canadians by saying "aboot" (real clever) and some Canadians claim they don't say it.

But they do. It's not really the hard oo sound of "boot," but it's not the ow sound of "towel," either. It's a sound somewhere between ow and oo that I can't pronounce, but wish I could. It's distinctively Canadian. Even Canadians who have lived and worked in the US most of their lives will have just the slightest hint of "aboot" in their speech. I always smile when I hear it.

Many Americans don't know that other, everyday words are pronounced differently north of the 49th parallel.

In the US, "again" and "against" have a vowel sound like "fence". In Canada, in those words, you hear the word "gain".

In the US, "been" - as in, I've been working on the railroad - rhymes with gin. In Canada, "been" has the same sound as "bean".

There's project - Americans say prah-ject, Canadians pro-ject - and process, same distinction. In each case, Canadians pronounced the "pro" to rhyme with "toe".

On an episode of Corner Gas, Mark McKinney, playing an anti-stereotype of a mild-mannered American, asks if the folks in Dog River are bilingual - pronounced with four syllables: bi-ling-you-al. In the US, that word has three syllables: bi-lean-gwal. Dead giveaway.

how to

How to increase your blog traffic: mention a nude beach in one of your posts.

Welcome new readers. Sorry to disappoint you.

island report

For those who don't know, "the islands" - officially Toronto Island Park - are a group of islands in Lake Ontario, a very short ferry ride from downtown Toronto.

Toronto's other airport is there, a children's amusement park, some beautiful piers and parkland, Hanlan's Point (a baseball landmark), and a nude beach. There are lots of picnic tables, bike paths (and bike rentals) and even day lockers, a nice touch.

Allan knew about Hanlan's Point from his own work, but had always imagined it to be in Toronto proper, not a boat ride away. It's the site of Babe Ruth's first professional home run.

We walked around Centre Island, which is a beautifully landscaped park - huge shade trees, thick lawns, gorgeous flowers. I can see it as a quick country getaway, a breath of fresh air and space, a perfect spot for a picnic and a relaxing day out, if you live in a dense, urban area.

After wandering around Centre Island, we walked towards Ward's Island, because I wanted to see the residential area. Entering Ward's Island, we found the Rectory Cafe, which Genet had mentioned, and plunked ourselves down for lunch and drinks. We sat in their backyard patio, surrounded by lush green - very nice. (Genet, you're two for two!) It reminded me very much of the restaurant we used to frequent in Ft. Tryon Park, near where we lived in New York. That was the scene of all my goodbye dinners, and the Rectory Cafe made me a little nostalgic.

We would have explored more, but it began to rain, and we were on foot, so we hopped on the ferry and headed back. If you want to go directly to the restaurant, take the ferry to Ward's Island, and it's a short walk from there. Once you're out there, you can take the ferry back from any of the docks.

The houses on the island look like lovely, simple country homes. Someone in the cafe was explaining (to someone else - I was eavesdropping) that because the island is city-owned land (and possibly because it's a park? I'm not sure), there can't be speculation and development. People's homes are worth a set amount assessed by the City, and no more. So people who live there don't tend to sell their homes, and the area stays stable and quiet. If not for that, I'm sure there would be huge, ostentatious homes there, since it's such an attractive and out-of-the way location.

Living in Mississauga where there are so many great Lake-side parks - and our own backyard practically a park in itself - I doubt I'd go to the islands often. But I was impressed by their beauty and accessibility, and at how nicely they are maintained. Good work, Toronto.

* * * *

Search string of the day: why do people want to move from one country to another for greener pastures

back

Comments are back, since I'll be able to monitor properly today. More soon.

7.20.2006

maturity

It seems Gary can't control himself, so I'm turning off comments for the day. See you all later.

relax

I'm a wee fuzzy this morning from grilling and swilling with Redsock and Lone Primate last night. Today, "the other anniversary", we're off to check out the islands.

I don't have much to say today. I'm just hoping the big storm has passed and I can sound the all-clear.

7.19.2006

primatology

Today is wmtc party, part 2, featuring our sole guest, Lone Primate. We're really looking forward to observing the Primate in his natural habitat, suburban Mississauga.

No sneaking into our neighbours' yard with your paparazzi lens!

breakthrough

A vaccine to prevent the human papilloma virus, or HPV - the virus responsible for most cervical cancers - has been approved by Health Canada.
HPV is said to infect half of all sexually active women between ages 18 and 22 in North America. In most women, the virus clears up on its own, but if the infection persists, it can lead to cervical cancer.

"Until now, we have only been able to react to the effects of HPV in women," said Dr. Guylaine Lefebvre, president-elect of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. "Now we are talking about preventing most of the serious diseases caused by HPV."

This year in Canada, nearly 1,400 new cases of cervical cancer are expected and approximately 390 women will die from the disease.

Montreal-based Merck Frosst Canada Ltd. said its vaccine, called Gardasil, is approved for females between nine and 26 years of age to prevent:
Cervical cancer.
Vulvar cancer.
Vaginal cancer.
Precancerous lesions.
Genital warts caused by HPV.
The vaccine will be available in Canada by the end of August through Canadian doctors and pharmacists.

U.S. regulators approved the vaccine in June, at a cost of $360 US for a course of three treatments.

Ideally, the vaccine would be given to children before they become sexually active and face exposure to the virus.

After the U.S. announcement, Canada's advisory committee on immunization started discussing whether to employ Gardasil in school-based vaccine programs.

"The issues now are not medicine and science," said Dr. Simon Sutcliffe, who heads the Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control. "They are practical, logistical and ethical issues about population vaccination."

Since the vaccine doesn't prevent infection from all strains of HPV, women would still need to get a Pap test to screen for the virus.

It will be up to the provinces to decide who should receive the vaccine, how to deliver it, and how to pay for it.
While the vaccine has been approved in the US as well, it is currently administered very rarely, because the anti-sex crowd believes use of the vaccine will encourage sexual activity in minors.

This article from Slate describes how that opposition disproportionately effects low-income girls and women - the same women who are at greatest risk for cervical cancer, because they lack access to regular PAP smear screenings.
Another problem is how to get the vaccine to the women and girls who need it most - poor, uneducated women and those in the developing world. "None of us are going to be happy if the only women who get the vaccine are the same women who are already getting regular screens for cervical cancer," John Schiller, one of the vaccine's inventors, told me at his National Institutes of Health laboratory. The Vaccines for Children program, a Clinton-era entitlement, will probably make the vaccine available for free to poor children in the United States. But social conservatives like Focus on the Family leader James Dobson have opposed making vaccination mandatory, believing vaccination might lower barriers to teen sex.

In a roundabout way, this prudery may keep the vaccine out of reach of poor girls. Research and experience have shown that only mandatory-vaccination laws - which typically increase vaccination rates by 10 to 15 percent - get even cheap vaccines to the poor. Given the politics, state legislatures and public health boards may shy from requiring HPV vaccine for middle-school entry. Even mainline medical ethicists like Richard Zimmerman of the University of Pittsburgh have argued that "it seems unreasonable to mandate that an adolescent or college student who plans lifelong abstinence for religious or other reasons be vaccinated."

The answer may be to require HPV vaccination for children while explicitly allowing parents with strong beliefs to exempt their kids. This would recognize that mandatory vaccination campaigns work not by dragging refuseniks kicking and screaming to the medical clinic, but by forcing the issue for people who have to take the bus or borrow a ride to get to the doctor. Most states already allow some kind of religious or philosophical exemption for those who oppose other vaccines for their children.
I'll be interested to see how the vaccine is administered in Canada - who gets it, and when. One thing's for sure, access to the vaccine won't be based on income level. A fundamental difference if ever I saw one. (Fanboy strikes again.)

earplugs

Well, wasn't that fun. Perhaps we should thank GaryStJ for giving wmtc readers a chance to strut their stuff. (Or not.) Once again I am grateful for the intelligent, engaged, caring community that has formed here.

Here are some particularly irritating scenes from the dustup. (Some of the best words for heated clashes are antiques, preserved by baseball: dustup, brouhaha, and my favourite, donnybrook. Great etymology for that one.)

Gary: Question, question, question, question, question.

Laura: Answer, answer, answer, answer, answer.

Gary: Why won't you answer my questions?

Laura: Please see above.

Gary: Why won't you answer my questions?

Laura: See above.

Gary: Why won't you answer my questions?

Laura: See above, $%*&@!

Gary: There she goes, flying off the handle. But she still won't answer my questions.

My other fave is this.

Gary: Canada and the US are the same.

Commenters: Here are some specific ways in which they are different.

Gary: Stop speaking in generalities and cliches.

Commenters: Here are some specifics.

Gary: All you can offer are cliches and generalities.

Many more commenters: Here are many more specifics. Why don't you respond to them?

Gary: You can't expect me to respond to all of you, can you?

Allan called it early on: a troll. A troll with a larger vocabulary is still a troll.

7.18.2006

he's back

GaryStJ is back, and he says: "Unfortunately, however, L-girl (and I mean no offence), the burden of proof is on you."

Burden of proof? No offence Gary, but fuck you! I've explained all I'm going to explain, in recent posts, and throughout my blog. Wmtc readers have expanded and emphasized my basic points. You're not paying attention, and you're not worth it.

Y'all are free to argue with him, of course. I'll enjoy it from the sidelines.

perversity

Here's a perfect example of the perverse logic of nationalism: Israel apologized to Canada for killing eight Canadian citizens. They didn't apologize for killing Lebanese or Palestinians, nor cease their murders. But oops, we're sorry we killed your people, they were innocent bystanders. Unlike everyone else they've killed? Once again, western lives are more valuable.

Here, too, is a reason to seriously dislike Stephen Harper: unqualified support for the Israel terrorists while condemning the Palestinian terrorists. Disgusting.

I read a good piece in the The Progressive about what readers of the supposedly liberal New York Times have read about the current Middle East crisis: lies.
New York Times Tells a Whopper About Legality and Morality of Israel's Actions
by Matthew Rothschild

The lead editorial for The New York Times on July 15 was entitled "Playing Hamas's Game," and it told a whopper.

It exonerated Israel for any responsibility in the current crisis. Its only critical word toward Israel was to be prudent tactically.

"It is important to be clear about not only who is responsible for the latest outbreak, but who stands to gain most from its continued escalation," the Times intoned. "Both questions have the same answer: Hamas and Hezbollah."

And while it is certainly true that the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah were illegal acts of provocation, Israel's response was not designed to get the soldiers back safely. "That cannot be achieved by military means," as Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has noted.

(Avnery says "the real aim is to change the regime in Lebanon and to install a puppet government," as well as to burnish the image of the Israeli military.)

The Times loudly condemned Hamas and Hezbollah—which deservedly earns more condemnation every day, most recently for the disgusting bombing of the Haifa train station on Sunday — but the Times only softly cautioned Israel.

"Israel needs to be careful that its far-reaching military responses, however legally and morally justifiable, do not end up advancing the political agenda that Hamas and Hezbollah hard-liners had in mind," the Times said.

Check out that clause once more: "however legally and morally justifiable."

Let's look at legally first.

Amnesty International, which knows a thing or two about the law, calls Israel's actions "a war crime."

It says Israel has been guilty of imposing collective punishment both in Gaza and in Lebanon by destroying civilian infrastructure.

And it cites chapter and verse.

To wit:

The Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 33, prohibits "collective penalties."

Article 147 of the Convention prohibits "extensive destruction . . . not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly."

Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions, Article 48, states: "In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operation only against military objectives."

Finally, Amnesty notes, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court says that "intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects" is a war crime.

Now let's look at morally.

How is it morally justifiable for Israel to cause a humanitarian crisis in Gaza by blowing up the power station, which is necessary to purify the water supply?

How is it morally justifiable for Israel to bomb crowded neighborhoods in Lebanon or to fire on fleeing refugees?

Is the killing of children morally justifiable?

Here is Robert Fisk's account of one of Israel’s attacks.

"They came first to the little village of Dweir near Nabatiya in southern Lebanon where an Israeli plane dropped a bomb on to the home of a Shia Muslim cleric," Fisk wrote.

"He was killed. So was his wife. So were eight of his children. One was decapitated. All they could find of a baby was its head and torso, which a young villager brandished in fury in front of the cameras. Then the planes visited another home in Dweir and disposed of a family of seven."

The same day that the Times editorial ran, Steven Erlanger reported for the Times that 66 Lebanese had been killed in the prior 72 hours and 4 Israelis.

The Times editorial did say that Israel should do "far more to minimize the damage to civilian bystanders."

But if Israel, by the Times' own admission, is not doing enough to minimize civilian casualties, how can the Times bless the legality and morality of what Israel is doing?

idiocy

I see our new friend GaryStJ - who doesn't mean to attack, of course, he's just inquiring - hasn't returned to respond to our questions and answers. Perhaps he was busy last night.

I'm still cracking up over "jingoism" and "imperialism". Jingoism! Canadians! The people who are always apologizing for themselves, and saying things like, "We're a young country, doomed to fail, but we do the best we can..."

And imperialism? Canada was founded, in part, by British and French imperialism, but it wasn't Canada then. We don't say India has a history of imperialism, because it was part of the British empire.

We're talking imperialism, and we're weighing the US against Canada, and we find them indistinguishable?

Maybe I'm the idiot for taking these questions seriously!

7.17.2006

confusion

In comments here, a reader criticizes me for... well, I'm not sure for what. I need some help interpreting this one.
I should mention that you (L-Girl) are sounding more like a Canadian apologist than the radical progressive you claim to be. In fact, you sound an awful lot like the American "right wing, wing-nuts" you rail against regularly - only the Canadian version of them.

Nothing personal, but I say this (coming from the Left) because Canada doesn't need anymore of these types of people. We've become complacent, and self-congratulatory attitudes such as yours only complicates the matter. Yes I realize that its "better than the US" (even though in some respects it isn't), but you live in Canada now and unless you want to live life playing the comparison game, you're not serving anyone. In fact, its a slap in the face to people like me who see real injustices here faced by real, living people.
I'm looking at this observation seriously, not intending to hold it up for ridicule. I replied here, a little annoyed at a wide-ranging negative critique of my outlook, but mostly baffled. The more I read GaryStJ's comment, the less I understand it.

I can appreciate the idea that progressive Canadians want Canada to improve, not just be better than the US, but be the best it can be, period. That's as it should be. From my perspective, though, it's impossible not to compare the Canada with the US - the place I lived my entire life, save for the last 10.5 months. I know someone who's originally from Montreal, and has lived in Toronto for 10 years, and she still constantly compares the two cities. It seems reasonable that I would still be comparing the country of my origin and citizenship with my chosen country.

But maybe I'm not really understanding GaryStJ's complaint. What is a Canadian apologist? In what way do I "sound an awful lot like the American 'right wing, wing-nuts' you rail against regularly - only the Canadian version of them"?

Please opine. (And of course, be honest.)

UPDATE:

GaryStJ explained further in another comment:
I think the point I was driving at is that you seem to be well on your way down the slope to Canada fanboyism. And when I say it serves no one, I'm inlcuding yourself into that equation for what I think are obvious reasons.

Now, the case may well be that you are, in fact, a proponent of everything that is fundamentally "Canadian". You might, save for a few current events here and there, feel confident in the overall direction this country has taken in the past few decades.

There certainly is nothing wrong with this point of view, nor is there anything wrong with having these same feelings towards the US. But it does beg a question, namely, how does one who is so fundamentally opposed to the United States find themselves so fundamentally a proponent of Canada - so much so that one emigrates from the former to the latter - when any honest analysis of the macro-level direction of both countries reveals an almost indistinguishable destination.

More specfically, I'm left with a number of other questions. For instance, I wonder why you pass on a Republican invasion of the Middle East in favour of a Liberal invasion of the Middle East. I wonder why Canadian flag-waving jingoism is tastful while American flag-waving jingoism is ignorant. I wonder why you abhor a news agency which is interfered by government in practice (Fox) to one which is interfered by government in defintion (CBC). I wonder why you can justify a history of slavery, genocide and imperialism while not being able to justify a history of slavery, genocide and imperialism. I also wonder why you admire an immigration system which favours wealthy, educated immigrants over one which favours wealthy, educated immigrants. I think these are questions which deserve answers, and ones which I assume you've mulled over during the months you contemplated your choice to migrate.

I believe that one can emigrate legitimately from one to the other without answering these questions, but I think to do so without admitting that the choice was based on anything but aesthetics is intellectually dishonest.

I guess I should also say that I'm not holding anything against you or trying to sound cheeky. Its just that someone denoucning a place one day then holding its partner in crime on a pedestal the next puts me at a loss. Maybe you could clarify your position...
So that's a mouthful and a half. It's ignorant of what I've written for the past two years, ignorant of much history, and presumptuous of what I do believe. "I think to do so without admitting that the choice was based on anything but aesthetics is intellectually dishonest," is rude, judgemental and presumptuous: as if my own choices, for my own reasons, are not good enough, as if I am under some kind of obligation to explicate my choices to a Board of Intellectual Directors who will then pass judgement on my reasons for emigrating and declare me Honest or No. I mean, who the hell is GaryStJ to declare me intellectually dishonest?

However, since Gary bothered to write out all those questions, and since he's not a wingnut, I will rise to the challenge and do the best I can to answer at least most of them.

I think the point I was driving at is that you seem to be well on your way down the slope to Canada fanboyism. And when I say it serves no one, I'm inlcuding yourself into that equation for what I think are obvious reasons.

I am quite a fan of Canada. I admit that freely and proudly. I am also a fan of Bob Dylan, Charles Dickens and the city of Paris, France. All have made me very happy.

At the same time, Bob Dylan has recorded some terrible music, Dickens can sometimes be very dull, and I once contracted food poisoning in Paris. I still love them all. The analogy to my new country should be obvious.

Now, the case may well be that you are, in fact, a proponent of everything that is fundamentally "Canadian". You might, save for a few current events here and there, feel confident in the overall direction this country has taken in the past few decades.

So far, and if we're limiting the discussion to the last few decades, I can say, yes, I feel okay. Not perfect, because I'd rather see the country move even further left (for example, providing day care, a prescription drug plan and even dental benefits under the provincial health insurance). But as I haven't a clue if or how those things are possible, I'm content for now to simply observe, ask questions, and learn. If you've actually been reading this blog, you know I do that frequently. That's why wmtc readers rise to my defense: because you don't know what you're talking about.

There certainly is nothing wrong with this point of view, nor is there anything wrong with having these same feelings towards the US. But it does beg a question, namely, how does one who is so fundamentally opposed to the United States find themselves so fundamentally a proponent of Canada - so much so that one emigrates from the former to the latter - when any honest analysis of the macro-level direction of both countries reveals an almost indistinguishable destination.

Sorry, I don't even understand what this means.

More specfically, I'm left with a number of other questions.

These I'll take one at a time.

For instance, I wonder why you pass on a Republican invasion of the Middle East in favour of a Liberal invasion of the Middle East.

What Liberal invasion of the Middle East would that be? I frequently write of my opposition to the mission in Afghanistan. So if that's what you're referring to, you haven't read this blog very much, and therefore should not be judging me. If there's an invasion I'm not aware of, do fill me in. You'd be hard-pressed to find an invasion I support, or have ever supported.

I wonder why Canadian flag-waving jingoism is tastful while American flag-waving jingoism is ignorant.

I haven't seen any Canadian jingoism. Pride in country is not the same as "my country is always right".

The dictionary I have on hand here at work defines jingoism as "extreme nationalism characterized especially by a belligerent foreign policy; chauvinistic patriotism". I haven't seen this in Canada.

I wonder why you abhor a news agency which is interfered by government in practice (Fox) to one which is interfered by government in defintion (CBC).

Ah, where to start on this one. GaryStJ, have you watched much television news?

Fox broadcasts lies, uncorroborated rumour, government propaganda without disclosure, hate-mongering and bigotry, under the guise of "news". They care nothing about honesty, integrity or the quaint little rules of journalism that distinguish opinion from reporting. They adhere only to their right-wing agenda, they exist only in the service of that agenda, and to turn a neat profit while doing so.

CBC, to my knowledge, is publicly funded, something I approve of wholeheartedly. I think (my opinion here) it does a very good job of presenting most points of view, of providing context, and staying judgement-free, to the extent that such a thing is possible (with the understanding that it's not entirely possible to eliminate bias altogether).

Inasmuch as CBC has a bias, it seems to be a bias I approve of. That's called personal preference.

I wonder why you can justify a history of slavery, genocide and imperialism while not being able to justify a history of slavery, genocide and imperialism.

One, I don't justify any country's history. Almost every country on earth and all the ancient countries that came before us have a history of all three, either giving or receiving.

Two, Canada's history in this regard, relative to the United States, is (to quote a Canadian-American [Vietnam draft resister] who wrote me when I first started this blog) "less worse". I haven't studied Canadian history as extensively as I have US history, but I've studied both to some extent. When it comes to slavery, genocide and imperialism, these two countries are not on the same planet. Surely you must know that?

Three, the countries have dealt with their past transgressions in vastly different ways. To give one example, while First Nations people in Canada have serious issues that need to be taken seriously and addressed, and are legitimately angry that they have been repeatedly rebuffed, Native Americans in the US are absolutely invisible, except as providers of gambling. I have been stunned at the level of awareness of native issues in Canada, and of the constant reminders that Canada was founded by three nations.

Four, I can't emigrate to a country based on history. I can only emigrate based on what is.

I also wonder why you admire an immigration system which favours wealthy, educated immigrants over one which favours wealthy, educated immigrants.

Here, you are just plain misinformed.

Immigration policy in the US favours illegal immigrants to do the dirty work, and a large, poorly defined group of people from countries deemed acceptable, most of who are working-class or what is sometimes called lower middle class. Go to Queens, New York, to see for yourself. It's also extremely difficult to emigrate to the US.

Canada favours people who are employable, students, and people who need refuge from persecution. Canada wants immigrants who will contribute to Canadian society (what's wrong with that?) and also offers shelter from a large number of storms. It's fairly straightforward to emigrate to Canada. Although you cannot be completely impoverished (unless you are a refugee), you certainly do not have to be wealthy. Aren't I proof of that?

I would advise against arguing with me about immigration. I know a thing or two about it.

I think these are questions which deserve answers

I disagree, but I answered anyway.

and ones which I assume you've mulled over during the months you contemplated your choice to migrate.

You assume incorrectly. My reasons for leaving the United States for Canada are well documented in this blog. I certainly did not contemplate the ridiculous questions you listed above! Can you imagine a prospective immigrant saying to herself, hmm, Canada once had slavery, and the CBC is publicly funded, I'd better not move there...?

For more answers to GaryStJ's questions, see comments here and in the older post.

gripe

Do you know what I hate? I hate when I help people and they don't say thank you. Don't even bother to reply. I fucking hate it.

I wish there was some way to know in advance who was going to say thank you, then only help those people.

waves

Now here's something I could listen to on the radio! (Our most recent radio discussion is in comments here.)

I used to love creative musical programming, long ago on commercial radio, then on college broadcasts. When I met Allan, he was doing college radio at University of Vermont, and he re-introduced me to its joys.

I'd love to get XM radio to hear things like this. If I spent large amounts of time driving, I'd do it.

From the essay linked above:
And now Bob Dylan breaks our hearts. How? By his weekly Theme Time Radio broadcasts on XM satellite radio, warm evocations of old-timey radio. In each hour, Mr. Dylan covers a chosen theme: Mothers, Fathers, Baseball, Coffee, Weddings, Divorce, showing how the common musical traditions of the United States shaped our lives in song and lyric. The broadcasts are one-hour lessons in the history of who we were and are.

Mr. Dylan's succinct commentary makes the music shine. He is witty, gently humorous, erudite and always reverent about the music he is playing. We hear the sounds of big band, country swing, rock-a-billy, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, jazz, Nashville, MoTown, Sun Records, Frank Sinatra, the Ink Spots, Bob Wills, Prince La La, Dirty Red, and Kitty Wells. Interspersed he gives plainly spoken information about the artists, where they came from, where they went, who influenced them and what influence they had. He recites lyrics, painting pictures of our lives in sound.

Mr. Dylan doesn't peddle himself or anything else. No product placement here. Period commercials are spliced in to set the mood. A listener asks on Theme Time Coffee: "Why do you play so much old music? Do you have something against new music?" Mr. Dylan replies, "I like new music. But there's more old music than new music."

Mr. Dylan retrieves many classics and brings to light many should-be-classics. On Theme Time Mothers, he plays Buck Owens' "I'll Go to Church with Mama," and tells us an old joke from Buck's t.v. show "Hee Haw." He spins Ernie K. Doe's 1961 chart-topper "Mother-in-Law," and LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out," explaining its ultimate origins in the African-American insult-song contests known as the "dozens".

Theme Time Radio is hip, but not Tarantino's jaded hip, or William Shatner's self-mocking hip. Mr. Dylan respects the music we and he loved. He respects the artists who created it, even lived it.

Mr. Dylan tells us that Billy Stewart, who poured his soul into his version of the Gershwin Brothers' "Summertime," died in a cars crash at age 32, in the summer time. And Bobby Hebb wrote the beautiful "Sunny" overwhelmed by the assassination of JFK and the death of his own brother in a knife fight the very next day. Hebb needed to pour his soul into something good in life, a song, and then pour it back out for us.

Another listener writes that she likes to listen to baseball broadcasts at night, but that bothers her boyfriend. Mr. Dylan's solution, "Put the radio under your pillow and rest your ear on the pillow. That's what it's made for." Remember listening to ball games like that, or music programs from distant cities at night? These shows are so humane, so out of time, they will break your heart.
Nice, eh?

7.16.2006

guidebook

One of the five Major Holidays of Kaminker-Wood-land is fast approaching. In keeping with an old theme of taking boat rides on July 20 - on the actual day, in 1985, we cruised around Manhattan - we are going out to the Islands.

I've got the ferry information, and read the basic info online. Beyond that, anything we should know? Hints, tricks, tips?

Please note, we're totally not going to the nude beach at Hanlan's Point. Everything about it is unappealing - the heat, the beach, the nudity. We're shade people. We go to the beach in November. And we prefer our nudity by special invitation only.

Other than that, fire away.

* * * *

Search string of the day:

email contact and gust book of all watch manufacturers in Switzerland 2006

reality cheque

The excellent people of Tennessee Guerilla Women have honoured me (and some other Canadian bloggers) with a visit. They have a question, which I am turning over to you.

Back before I moved, when this blog was a lightning rod for wingnuts, friends of wmtc heard a lot of myths and misperceptions lies about Canada. I'm not talking igloos and dogsleds here.

You may recall the nut-bar who said it's illegal to disparage the Queen - and if you do, the Mounties will knock on your door in the middle of the night and haul your ass to the prison. (Projection, anyone?)

I was told my children would be forced to speak French (poor Cody, she barely speaks English!), and I'd be forced to submit to sharia law - that is, if I didn't die first, while waiting for medical treatment.

The Tennessee feminists have unearthed another claim, and I can't say whether or not it's true.

When the events that eventually came to be known as the Sponsorship Scandal first occurred, was there a media blackout?

You know I don't need convincing that the Canadian media is heads and shoulders better than the US media. Relative to the US, media in Canada is more free of government interference, less biased, reports with more context, and represents more points of view. (Not as much as we'd all like to see, perhaps, but way better than the US.) Anyone who holds up the media as an example of the US's "freedom" and "liberty" is beyond misinformed - they're insane.

However, I want to get my facts straight. Was there a media blackout, and if so, why?

UPDATE: We've been quoted. Wmtc readers are the best.