12.31.2006

persistence

Once upon a time I told you the saga of getting my refund from Time Warner Cable.

And once upon another time I told you about my love of VoIP phone.

Here is a new VoIP saga.

Now, this is not VoIP's fault. I still love VoIP. Vonage, however, has some seriously lousy customer service. There's a huge disconnect between the customer service and the tech sides of the company. I would switch to Rogers VoIP (called "Rogers Home Phone") in a heartbeat, if only I could keep my phone number. But because my phone number is from Vonage (not from a Bell Canada), I couldn't keep it with Rogers, so I don't switch.

Fortunately, I never need Vonage customer service - everything is self-managed on the website, which is completely self-explanatory, easy and efficient. But on the extremely rare occasions when I have needed customer service, it's always been for something complicated - and it's always a nightmare.

The saga.

When we moved here, we took our VoIP equipment with us, and set it up ourselves, just as you would set up another computer component. It takes a minute, and your phone service and number come with you. It worked perfectly.

This meant we were still using a US phone service, which had two implications. One, on caller IDs, our phone number showed up as a 212 - New York City - number. I added a local 905 number*, which anyone could call, but our outgoing number was still 212. This was not a problem for me. Once when Allan called in sick to work, there was speculation that he was really in New York City, but office gossip is not a reason to change phone service.

The other caveat was more serious: we didn't have 911. If we called 911 from our home phone, we would be connected to 911 in the US. Not very helpful. I know this is an important gap, no lectures needed.

Could I change my 911 address to a Canadian address and still use US Vonage? No. US addresses only.

Was there any way to swap our "virtual" (local, add-on) number for our primary (old, US) number? Only if we switch to Vonage Canada.

Could I switch to Vonage Canada but keep the same equipment and phone number? No. We would have to discontinue our Vonage US service and open a new account, with new equipment and a new phone number.

I didn't want to do this. Someone told me that the 911 situation might change over time, and I decided to put it off. Goddess knows we had enough to do without bothering with this.

So we haven't had 911 from our home phone (we'd have to use a cell, and Allan doesn't have or want one) and our outgoing number is area code 212.

Now fast-forward to the present.

I used the occasion of our upcoming local move to take out a new local phone number, this one truly local: area code 416. I'd be notifying everyone of a change of address, might as well do a change of phone number at the same time.

I also asked US Vonage if there was any movement on the 911 situation. Answer: no, you'd have to switch to Vonage Canada.

Question: Could I do that and keep the same equipment and phone number? Here it comes, folks. Answer: yes.

Friday afternoon, I began the process.

Call #1: I explain my question. Customer service says, no problem, we can take care of that for you, please hold. I hold. I am cut off and get a dial tone.

Call #2: I explain my question. No problem, let me connect you with someone who can do that. Next person, no problem, let me connect you with someone who can help you. Next person, oh no, that can't be done, everything in Canada is different, there's a completely different system there, your equipment won't work in Canada. I explain that I've been living in Canada for a year and a half, using all my same equipment, and it's been working perfectly. No, I'm sorry, that can't be done. But I'm doing it right now. No, I'm sorry, that's not possible.

Call #3: I explain my question. No problem, let me connect you with someone who can do that. Next person, no problem, let me connect you with someone who can help you. Next person, you will have to cancel your US Vonage service and start all over with Vonage Canada - new account, new phone number, new equipment.

Call #4: I explain my question. No problem, let me connect you with someone who can do that. (For each call, of course, I am proving my identity by answering all the questions with my identifying information.) Next person, no problem, let me connect you with someone who can help you. Next person, I can take care of that for you. This person actually begins the process of changing over my account to Vonage Canada. He says I should create a new account online while we're on the phone, so he can immediately refund the activation fee, and make sure I can keep my same equipment. We begin the process, but eventually reach a step where I have to order equipment, and - checking repeatedly with various tech people - he insists I need new equipment.

Right about now Allan is asking me - again - why I want VoIP instead of a land line. So many reasons. I think VoIP is a big improvement on traditional land line phones. Most customers would never have to do this odd switch, and I'll only have to endure it once. I continue.

Call #5: to Rogers. I like Rogers. Despite what Canadians say, I have found their service very reliable and their customer service friendly, helpful and efficient. (You want to see a bad cable company, go to New York.) I use Rogers for cable, internet and cell phone, and I never have a problem with any of them. Why not get an even bigger discount and get all four Rogers services? So... can I switch from Vonage to Rogers and keep my phone number? No. Thank you, goodbye.

Now I take a long break, and two Advil, and pour a glass of wine.

Call #6: I explain my question. No problem, let me connect you with someone who can do that. Next person, yes. I can do that for you. It will take quite a bit of time, we'll be on the phone awhile, but by the time you hang up, you'll have your Vonage Canada account. He sounded like he knew what he was doing. I settled in on the couch.

First he tried the shortest distance between two points. If your service is working in Canada, why switch at all? (To get 911.) Can we just change your 911 address (home address) to your current Canadian address? (No, it won't accept Canadian addresses.) He tried more of that from his end, which I appreciated, because it showed me he understood my issue and was trying to come up with a solution.

Then I heard him typing a long message into my account, so the next person would know exactly how to proceed.

Finally, he said he would switch me to Vonage Canada sales, I would set up a new account, then ask to be transferred back to US account management and they would finish the process. By this time, he knew (the short version) of what I had been through, and promised me profusely that the issue would now get resolved to my satisfaction. I was skeptical, and he reassured me, several times.

He emphasized that after dealing with Vonage Canada sales, I must ask to be transferred to US Vonage account management - not Customer Service, and not Vonage Canada account management (who had gone home for the day), but US Vonage account management, accept no substitutes.

OK. I get transferred to Vonage Canada's Sales department. A friendly rep takes my order, then tells me she cannot complete the order, and must transfer me to customer service. I tell her that the person who started this process specifically instructed thath I return to account management, not customer service. I'm sorry, she says, account management closes at 5:00. No, I explain, I don't need Vonage Canada account management, I need US Vonage account management. She insists I need customer service. I insist I need account management. She claims she cannot transfer me to any other division, then tells me she cannot transfer me at all, advises me to call the main number, and terminates the call.

I struggle to maintain my cool, knowing the Competent US Account Manager has recorded the whole transaction in my file.

Call #7: I go through the lengthy identification process, and lo and behold, all the information is in my file. Customer service transfers me to account management. Competent US Account Manager Number Two has an even better idea: she keeps me on the line and conferences in Vonage Canada sales, then shepherds them through the transaction herself. As it turns out, my first transfer to Vonage Canada sales did nothing: there is no record of my conversation with her at all.

I remain on the line, answering questions as needed, for another hour. I am lying on the couch drinking wine, so I don't care how long it takes, as long as the transaction gets completed correctly. Mostly the Vonage Canada representative is taking direction from Competent US Account Manager Number Two, who ensures that I will not be charged an activation fee, nor sent any equipment I do not need.

They swap my phone numbers, so our primary number (for 911 and caller ID) is the 416 area code, and my virtual number, for US callers, is the 212 area code.

Two hours after making Phone Call #6, five hours after beginning the process that customer service said was "no problem," the issue is resolved.

* * * *

One big part of the problem, as far as I can tell, is that Vonage's first line of customer support appears to be under instructions to say yes to everything. Whether or not it's possible, just say yes, and let the other departments pick up the pieces. Think of how detrimental this is for customer relations, of the misplaced customer expectations and frustration it creates.

But clearly, if one Vonage account manager was able to complete this transaction, shouldn't they all be able to do so? Shouldn't all the representatives at least know what's possible to do?

As for why I want to stay with a company that's so ridiculously hard to deal with... I love VoIP, I want to keep my phone numbers, and this is only the second time I've ever had to deal with them at all - once when I signed up for service, and now again to make this unusual change. Usually it all just works, and that's that.





-------------------------
* Of course, this turned out to be not-so-local. Not knowing that all 905 numbers are not created equal, I inadvertently took out a 1-905 number, causing calls from Toronto and Mississauga to our home to be long-distance. This in turn caused many cheap Canadians not to call us, and caused me quite a bit of annoying repetition to local businesses, explaining, yes, I live in the area, but yes, it's a 1-905 call. This situation has now ended. That's why I took out the 416 number.

12.30.2006

headline

With the recent death of former US President Gerald Ford, New Yorkers and former New Yorkers everywhere must remember some of the most famous words never spoken.

The story in very brief. In the 1970s, New York City - like all of urban America - was falling apart. New York was on the brink of bankruptcy, and City officials were seeking a federal loan to stay afloat. According to the New York's Daily News, this was the response:

dropdead

By now we all know Ford never actually used those words, but the headline may have cost Ford (who was both an unelected vice-president and president) the presidency the following year: Jimmy Carter narrowly carried New York State.

Not only did Ford never actually say "drop dead" - although he arguably implied it - he soon changed his mind. Only a few months later, Ford signed legislation providing federal loans to New York, which were repaid with interest.

Now, taking the revisionist history one step further, people who were involved with the City at the time acknowledge that Ford's response and timing were probably good, if unwelcome, medicine for the struggling City. Sam Roberts of the New York Times had a good story about this a few days ago, full of Big New York Names like Felix Rohatyn, Victor Gotbaum, Henry Stern, Ed Koch, Abe Beame and Hugh Carey. The infamous PR man Howard Rubenstein, who advised Mayor Beame at the time, says Ford's speech and the News headline "galvanized New York like I've never seen before". He says a framed copy of the newspaper hangs on his office wall.

meaningless

So one man is killed. One man who called himself President, and caused the death of many human beings, is put to death. Another man who calls himself President, and has caused the death of many human beings, continues to live in the White House.

One man is killed. The UN estimates that 100 Iraqi civilians are dying each day in the violence caused, directly or indirectly, by the US invasion and occupation.

One man is killed. The US death toll in Iraq is now at 2,990. The other day on CBC, I saw a crawl that said, "US death toll in Iraq now surpasses the number of people killed on 9/11, which started the war..." My eyes popped. I shouted at the TV. Which started the war???? 9/11 started this war??? Please tell me I didn't just see that on CBC Television. 9/11 didn't start any war, let alone the one in Iraq. Orwellian revision happens so quickly, we get whiplash as the new truth spins around our heads.

One man is killed.

On the one hand, we should never celebrate the death of a human being. State murder is still murder.

On the other hand, the death is meaningless.

Do you remember when we were supposed to be celebrating the "elimination" of some Al-Queda "target"? Thank goodness that ended terrorism.

Work for peace.

12.28.2006

looking ahead, part two

I thought we would start to do some serious traveling in Canada in 2007, and had planned to start with Newfoundland. But between moving expenses, adopting a new dog, and some other obligatory (but fun) trips that are coming up, we really can't do a Big Vacation this year. That's not easy for me, but I'm resigned.

But the year will be broken up by lots of shorter getaways, which should really be fun.

First, we have The Anniversary Trip.

In early March, I'll visit my very close friend AWE, who left New York City for southern California at the same time we moved to Canada. We miss each other a lot, and are really looking forward to a four-day gabfest. (Special bonus attraction, meeting David Cho and his dog Noah!)

Allan's oldest friend, who lives in Vermont (where they grew up), is getting married this summer. While we're there we'll also visit some elderly relatives.

I'll go to New Jersey and New York City at least once, probably twice, and we hope to have some visitors from there, too.

Our nephew who's living in western Massachusetts will visit for a few days before he moves back to New Mexico. One or more other nieces or nephews may visit. I hope so.

We might take a three-day trip to Ottawa. I'd like to make the Niagara Wine Region an annual event, and to get in a habit of doing more day hiking in nearby areas in the spring and fall.

We're planning on hosting wmtc2, the second annual we move to canada party, featuring more friends, more new US defectors, more dogs, and hopefully, more shade.

And... We're really looking forward to more moving-to-Canada bloggers getting their acceptance letters and making the big move north. Stay tuned for many joyous announcements as family after family realizes their dream.

looking ahead, part one

January 2007 will be a very eventful month.

We move on January 2, so we start the new year in a new home, our fifth home together. As much as I'd rather not leave this neighbourhood, I'm really excited about the new place. It's a nicer house, in better shape than our current rental, and it comes without the insecurity of a non-renewed lease. The backyard is still large, but more manageable than the one we have now, and more private. And the neighbourhood, while lacking the small-town feel of Port Credit (which is very rare in today's suburbs), is spacious and leafy. Once we get past the enormous inconvenience of the move, I think we'll be very happy there.

On January 3, we celebrate 20 years of domestic partnership. Twenty years! I can hardly believe it. And we're probably in the best place our partnership has ever been, both figuratively and literally.

On January 22, we take a very special, slightly crazy trip to celebrate that anniversary. I don't want to write about it yet, but will soon.

And on January 29, we bring home Tala, the fifth dog to join the Kaminker-Wood fambly. We lost Buster last November, which makes it the longest we've had only one dog since finding our second dog, Clyde - Allan's baby, and the sweetest dog in the world - in 1989.

Having fallen in love with Tala, I find myself finally moving out of my deep grief for Buster. As I've said so many times here, Buster was a very special animal, with a long list of complicated special needs. His death was a huge wound, his absence a gaping void. (Some of that story here, here, here and here; the story of how we found him here.) All through this year, I missed him so much.

Every once in a while, I would mention this to Allan, wondering when I would get to the place I reached with our other dogs' deaths, where we could remember them fondly and happily, talk and laugh about their quirks and their personalities, and feel happy and lucky to have known them, not just stricken to have lost them. I assumed it would happen one day, but I couldn't seem to say two words about Buster without starting to cry.

This month, I find myself looking ahead to Tala more than I am looking back to Buster. I can talk about him without crying. I think I turned a corner.

Of course I'm crying as I write this! But still.

looking back

We took a break from packing last night to have dinner in T.O., see the lights and the skaters at Nathan Phillips Square, and have a semi-spontaneous drink with a friend. The lights (which we skipped last season) were very nice, but had a little too much build-up from proud Trontonians. Toronto is best seen when not compared with New York.

The drink was much better - which brings me to my topic today. Any time now, this blog will temporarily disappear as I change over to WordPress, then re-map the domain name. It could take a while, and I don't know exactly when the process will begin, so I'll do my year-end wrap up now, a few days early.

Our first full calendar year in Canada is coming to a close. Compared to the preceding year, among the most eventful and emotional of my adult life, almost anything would be calm and normal. Mostly we settled in, and lived our new lives. The highlights are few, and mostly good.

I lost the best writing gig I ever had, and had to face the prospect of real-life work at half the pay that I earned in New York.

I found a lousy temp job, which led to a very decent real job, at which I am still employed.

Kids On Wheels completed its first full year of quarterly publication, thanks to myself and two other writers and editors, and survived to see another year.

We went to Peru. That itself was pretty unbelievable. I realized a life-long dream to visit Macchu Picchu. We saw many other wonders, experienced so many beautiful and rich cultures, and had loads of truly peak travel experiences. This trip was utterly fantastic.

More locally, we continued to explore our area, including a trip to the Niagara Wine Region, lots of stuff in Toronto, the Waterfront Trail, and our own Mississauga. All good.

We lost our little rental house, which meant leaving Port Credit. I am completely in love with this neighbourhood and our location. This came as a nasty shock, and a huge inconvenience.

Emotionally, this year was both happy and bittersweet. I learned more about being long-distance with friends and family. It's not so good, and it's not so bad. I continued to miss Buster more painfully than I can remember missing any creature. And then I turned the corner. (More on that in my next post.)

Above all, this past year has been about making friends.

I'm frankly amazed by how many friends we have up here now. Most of the friendships started here at this blog, then moved to real life. I even made a friend from work, which is not something I expect. I'm friendly with co-workers, but I don't expect to meet people through my day-job that I really click with outside of work. In fact, I didn't expect any of this. I'm not accustomed to finding many like-minded people, people with whom I can truly be myself. It feels like a tremendous bonus, and I'm very, very grateful.

game

Tonight we're going to a hockey game, Mississauga Ice Dogs at home against the Barrie Colts. We went to one Ice Dogs game last year, and this will probably be our one game this year. We'd gladly go to a few more, but they're usually playing during our work hours.

This game is a great coincidence for me. Between periods, there'll be a sledge hockey demonstration by a local junior team. I interviewed two of the players and their parents for the upcoming issue of Kids On Wheels. One of the dads is the coach, and he invited me to this game, which happened to be on a Thursday night. They'll have an information table set up, and I'll stop by with a stack of KOW magazines. I very rarely meet any of the kids I write about, so this is a treat.

It's been my personal mission to include some Canadian content in every issue of Kids On Wheels, but this last one got a little out of control. We try for geographic balance, but it's more important to balance gender, ages and disabilities. Trying for the right mix of ingredients, I inadvertently ended up with half the magazine being Canadians. So far my editor hasn't complained. Our secret march to world domination continues.

* * * *

Don't miss this comment from an ex-pat Brit in the previous thread. It's important.

12.27.2006

comparison

James sent me this yesterday. It was perfect timing, as I had been combing through old wtmc posts. Pre-Canada, Paul Krugman was my number one source. I still read him regularly, but hardly ever post his columns anymore. Here's his piece from Christmas Day.
Helping the Poor, the British Way
By Paul Krugman

It's the season for charitable giving. And far too many Americans, particularly children, need that charity.

Scenes of a devastated New Orleans reminded us that many of our fellow citizens remain poor, four decades after L.B.J. declared war on poverty. But I'm not sure whether people understand how little progress we've made. In 1969, fewer than one in every seven American children lived below the poverty line. Last year, although the country was far wealthier, more than one in every six American children were poor.

And there's no excuse for our lack of progress. Just look at what the British government has accomplished over the last decade.

Although Tony Blair has been President Bush's obedient manservant when it comes to Iraq, Mr. Blair's domestic policies are nothing like Mr. Bush's. Where Mr. Bush has sought to privatize the social safety net, Mr. Blair's Labor government has defended and strengthened it. Where Mr. Bush and his allies accuse anyone who mentions income distribution of "class warfare," the Blair government has made a major effort to reverse the surge in inequality and poverty that took place during the Thatcher years.

And Britain's poverty rate, if measured American-style - that is, in terms of a fixed poverty line, not a moving target that rises as the nation grows richer - has been cut in half since Labor came to power in 1997.

Britain's war on poverty has been led by Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer and Mr. Blair's heir apparent. There's nothing exotic about his policies, many of which are inspired by American models. But in Britain, these policies are carried out with much more determination.

For example, Britain didn't have a minimum wage until 1999 - but at current exchange rates Britain's minimum wage rate is now about twice as high as ours. Britain's child benefit is more generous than America's child tax credit, and it's available to everyone, even those too poor to pay income taxes. Britain's tax credit for low-wage workers is similar to the U.S. earned-income tax credit, but substantially larger.

And don't forget that Britain's universal health care system ensures that no one has to fear going without medical care or being bankrupted by doctors' bills.

The Blair government hasn't achieved all its domestic goals. Income inequality has been stabilized but not substantially reduced: as in America, the richest 1 percent have pulled away from everyone else, though not to the same extent. The decline in child poverty, though impressive, has fallen short of the government's ambitious goals. And the government's policies don't seem to have helped a persistent underclass of the very poor.

But there's no denying that the Blair government has done a lot for Britain's have-nots. Modern Britain isn't paradise on earth, but the Blair government has ensured that substantially fewer people are living in economic hell. Providing a strong social safety net requires a higher overall rate of taxation than Americans are accustomed to, but Britain's tax burden hasn't undermined the economy's growth.

What are the lessons to be learned from across the pond?

First, government truly can be a force for good. Decades of propaganda have conditioned many Americans to assume that government is always incompetent - and the current administration has done its best to turn that into a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the Blair years have shown that a government that seriously tries to reduce poverty can achieve a lot.

Second, it really helps to have politicians who are serious about governing, rather than devoting themselves entirely to amassing power and rewarding cronies.

While researching this article, I was startled by the sheer rationality of British policy discussion, as compared with the cynical posturing that passes for policy discourse in George Bush's America. Instead of making grandiose promises that are quickly forgotten - like Mr. Bush's promise of "bold action" to confront poverty after Hurricane Katrina - British Labor politicians propose specific policies with well-defined goals. And when actual results fall short of those goals, they face the facts rather than trying to suppress them and sliming the critics.

The moral of my Christmas story is that fighting poverty isn't easy, but it can be done. Giving in to cynicism and accepting the persistence of widespread poverty even as the rich get ever richer is a choice that our politicians have made. And we should be ashamed of that choice.
My friends who closely follow UK news are mostly American ex-pats living in England, or former ex-pats now back in the States. I'd be very interested in hearing what they think of this.

reflection

Shortly after we moved to Canada, a long-time reader told me that I seemed less angry, more calm, almost serene. We never spoke or met in person, this was based only on wmtc. His observation amazed me. I did feel a huge sense of relief in being here - both from leaving the US and from finally achieving our goal - but I didn't think it was so obvious.

For the last few days, I've been going back over wmtc from the very beginning, to label every post with categories. (I've stopped because I'm not sure the labels will import to WordPress. Much time wasted.) It's been very eye-opening, seeing how this blog has changed over time.

If you've been blogging a long time, and you write regularly, your blog has probably undergone changes that you're not even completely aware of. Your writing reflects your mood, what you're going through at the time, your comfort level in writing for an audience. Every time you sit down to blog, you're a slightly different person than you were the day before, and your writing is going to reflect that. The changes are probably imperceptible on a daily basis, but the patterns show up over time. That's been the case for me.

As I went back over every post, the first thing that struck me was that this blog used to be much more political. I blogged constantly about the war, about labour, health care, poverty - with a consistency and a fervor that I rarely bring to this blog anymore.

There are two reasons for that. For a long time I was very reluctant to write a "what I'm doing" kind of blog, although I knew once we moved I would want to. And more importantly, while we were still in the US, I was positively seething with anger and frustration - not just at what was going on in the country, but that I was party to it. That I was involuntarily supporting it. That it was being done in my name. I just couldn't stand it.

Once we left, I felt such a huge sense of relief and peace. All those terrible things are still going on, of course, but now I see it from a slight distance. I feel removed from it. The burning urgency is gone.

I suppose this is what certain people meant when they said we are "giving up" or "running away". After a lifetime of activism, watching the country get worse and worse, fighting to keep it from moving further backwards, but always seeing it regress further still, I could stand it no longer. My activism in the US helped keep me sane, and I had to believe it could make a difference or I couldn't have done any of it. But the more I saw it make no difference, the more our actions seemed merely symbolic and to make ourselves feel better - two important reasons, but neither producing change - the more frustrated I got. Eventually it reached a boiling point. And I did what we were accused of doing. We gave up. We ran away.

We were entitled to, of course. And you know I am so grateful that I had the opportunity, more grateful than I can ever express. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to do this.

For the most part, I think people who left comments on wmtc criticizing me for "giving up" were full of shit. All the progressive Americans who stay in the US aren't doing so because they're more dedicated and committed than I was. They're staying because it's right for their lives, or because they have no choice, or because they are afraid of doing otherwise. They're making a personal choice, just as we did, and that choice allows them to look more-activist-than-thou compared to me.

I also still believe there's such a thing as "voting with our feet". Withdrawing ourselves from the system can be seen as the ultimate protest - especially when you're leaving the (supposedly) GNOTFOTE.

And I still believe what a very early move-to-Canada blogger told me early on: "I don't feel like I am running away. I feel like I am running... home. Giving up? Nah, no more than I "gave up" on personal relationships in the past that weren't right for the long term. At a certain point, you've got to stop beating that dead horse."

I still believe all these things. But now I can also see that I did give up. And I feel so much better for it. Is it a coincidence that my blood pressure decreased to normal for the first time in 10 years?

* * * *

Our lifestyle has changed a lot since emigrating to Canada, mostly because of our change from urban to suburban living. I knew that I wouldn't get involved in any activism or volunteer work for a while, that I needed time to focus on my own life, to let all the newness settle down. I knew that when the time was right to get involved, I would know it, as I always have, because I'd feel compelled in that direction. That time is coming.

Actually, it's here already, but moving (again) and adopting our new pup has pushed it off a bit. But soon I'll be able to fulfill part of my response to the critics from our side: people who work for social justice will do that, no matter they live.

12.26.2006

movies

We saw a good movie last night - very funny, and sweet without being saccharine: "Seducing Dr. Lewis", or in the original French, "La Grande Séduction".

It takes place in a poor seaside town in Quebec, an once-proud fishing village, where the sons of fishermen now queue up for welfare cheques. They are trying to attract a factory to their town, but in order to get the factory, they first have to get a doctor. They set about to lure a big fish to their little boat - to seduce a young Montreal doctor to fall in love with their town and set up a practice on their little island. You could say it's "Northern Exposure" meets "Waking Ned Devine," but it's better than either of those.

Once again, the best Canadian movies we see are made in Quebec. I've gotten to really trust the French Canadian recommendations on Zip.ca.

We also saw "Neil Young: Heart of Gold," Jonathan Demme's film of a Neil Young concert. From the promo:
In the fall of 2005, Neil Young returned to the sound and style of his iconic 1972 album "Harvest" with "Prairie Wind", a set of ten songs which look to America's past and future accompanied by sweet but rough-hewn country-rock. The album was written and recorded after Young was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, and shortly before he went into the hospital for surgery for the condition, Young played a pair of special concerts at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, where he performed the "Prairie Wind" album in full along with a set of old favorites.
I admire Neil Young no end, a committed artist who has always gone his own way, and put out the music that was in him, with no regard to commercial trends. What I like of his, I love. But man, when he is off the mark, is he ever boring and trite. For me, "Prairie Wind" is Neil Young at his worst: literal, prosaic lyrics set to standard Neil Young templates that sound like he wrote them in his sleep.

The music is boring, and the movie is boring. You'd have to really love this brand of music to like this film. We were glad it was a Zip rental and made frequent use of the fast-forward button.

12.25.2006

godfather

I just learned that James Brown died today. The self-described "hardest working man in show business," the Godfather of Soul, was 73.

James Brown's career spanned more than 50 years. As singer, songwriter, dancer and front man par excellence, he was an immeasurable and pervasive influence on modern music. Not to mention hair styles. One of my favourite music critics, Jon Pareles, describes James Brown's music as "sweaty and complex, disciplined and wild, lusty and socially conscious".
Beyond his dozens of hits, Mr. Brown forged an entire musical idiom that is now a foundation of pop worldwide.

"I taught them everything they know, but not everything I know," he wrote in an autobiography.

The funk he introduced in his 1965 hit, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," was both deeply rooted in Africa and thoroughly American. It found the percussive side of every instrument and meshed sharply syncopated patterns into kinetic polyrhythms that simply made people dance.

His innovations reverberated through the soul and rhythm-and-blues of the 1970s and the hip-hop of the next three decades. The beat of his instrumental "Funky Drummer" may well be the most widely sampled rhythm in hip-hop.

Mr. Brown's stage moves -- the spins, the quick shuffles, the knee-drops, the splits -- were imitated by performers who tried to match his stamina, from Mick Jagger to Michael Jackson, and were admired by the many more who could not.

And especially during the 1960s, Mr. Brown was a political force; his 1968 song, "Say It Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud," changed America's racial vocabulary.
What a talent - what a life. I wish I could have seen him in his prime.

wordpress

WordPress looks very cool. I am definitely switching.

I can't do it right away, since their importing tools need to catch up with New Blogger. Ironically, if I had never switched to New Blogger - which sucks for me - I could have changed over to WordPress right away. But then, if I had never "upgraded" (ha!), I wouldn't have been so frustrated and looking to get out of Blogger in the first place. But as soon as WordPress can accommodate New Blogger blogs, I'm outta here.

The amazing thing (to me) is that all the new features that Blogger is crowing about have been available on WordPress all along. The drop-and-drag dynamic template, publishing on the fly, categories, improved archiving - all of it - has all been on WordPress, there for the taking. Honestly, I don't know why I didn't realize this sooner. My host, Laughing Squid, prefers WordPress, and I should have realized there was good reason for it.

I'm beyond sick of looking at this template, which I've used since I started blogging in July 2004, but I'm going to wait and revamp all at once. If Talented Designer Guy doesn't come through soon, I'll use one of WordPress's many lovely themes and do a little customizing myself.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to be patient.

unchristmas

Happy Christmas to wmtc readers who celebrate it, and an extra happy un-christmas to those who don't.

We both work this extended weekend and next, but with greatly reduced hours. We move next Tuesday, Jan 2, so the extra time off is great timing. And this paid time off - what a concept! It almost makes up for having a day-job. Almost.

Today we're having our newly traditional Mississauga un-christmas: dim sum. Can two years in a row be called a tradition? Why not!

A typical New York City Jewish Christmas means Chinese food and the movies. The whole Jewish population of the city - sizeable, as you know - goes out for Chinese food, and everyone of any background who's had enough of their family goes out to the movies. The city's gazillion Chinese restaurants are packed, along with every movie theatre. On our last Christmas in New York, we pulled out all the stops.

Last year, our first in Canada, we ventured to a dim sum restaurant recommended by then-new reader - and now our friend - M@. We were thrilled to find the place rocking, just like New York. Unlike New York, we were one of the few non-Asian people there.

The Star recently ran a little piece (which I can't find online) highlighting what non-Christians in the GTA do on Christmas Day. There were Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, one Jew - and no atheists. The Jewish woman said she was doing what most of Toronto's Jewish population does - having Chinese food and renting movies. I felt right at home.

12.23.2006

dilemma

I don't know what to do about this blog.

I've been waiting on two things: Talented Designer Guy, who's designing a new look for wmtc, and Blogger beta to accommodate externally published (FTP) blogs, meaning blogs without a blogspot.com address.

TDG is almost done, so I'll soon have my New Look.

A couple months back, Blogger announced that beta could now support FTP blogs, but I was too busy to deal with it at the time. Then, in a weird coincidence, the day I had slated to finally upgrade to beta, Blogger announced they were out of beta. Now there was only old and new Blogger.

I switched.

Then I found out that many of the new goodies I was waiting for in beta/new Blogger are not available to FTP blogs.

I'm really disappointed. I wanted the improved archives, the ability to use labels and sort by categories, and of course, I wanted to publish on the fly, without the dreaded spinner. I did get some other improvements, but not the ones I most wanted.

Investigating this problem, I learned that the new features won't work with any customized template, whether blogspot.com or FTP.

So, what to do?

I'm definitely keeping my URL, that's for sure. And I want the TDG's beautiful design. But I want the cool features, too.

Now I'm trying to decide whether or not to switch to WordPress.

Pros:

All the cool new features of new Blogger have been available in WordPress all along.

WordPress interfaces perfectly with my host, Laughing Squid. WordPress is their preferred blog platform, so theoretically I would lose any potential communication problems.

WordPress says it has import tools so you can import your posts and comments from Blogger, LiveJournal or any other platform.

Cons:

What if the importing doesn't work? That is scary.

I've been using Blogger for 2.5 years. Do I want to start over with a new platform?

The only blogs I know that have been hacked or "harvested" were WordPress blogs. I don't know if that's a small-sample-size coincidence, or a problem with WordPress. But it scares me.

A future version of Blogger will probably support FTP blogs with all the new features. It's not definite, but it's likely. Perhaps I should just wait.

And, complicating all of this, does this effect my site redesign?

I'm disappointed and confused. I also don't want to spend enormous amounts of time re-creating the framework for what is supposed to be an enjoyable outlet and hobby, not a chore.

I welcome any information or opinions you may have on this.

12.22.2006

why, part 2

Last night we watched the DVD extras on "Why We Fight". I highly recommend, even if you've seen the movie, seeing it again on DVD to watch the extras.

One jaw-dropping highlight was the revelation of "The Missing C". Eisenhower originally called the Military Industrial Complex the "Military Industrial Congressional Complex". He removed the word "Congressional" from the final draft of his famous farewell address so as not to offend anyone in Congress. Stunning.

This in turn reminded me of something I meant to blog in my earlier post but forgot. When I said "In a country where there are no jobs, the military looks increasingly attractive," I meant also to include members of Congress who approve military appropriations that benefit their districts by generating jobs.

A piece of the B1 bomber is famously constructed in every state in the US, thus assuring that Congress will always approve its funding. That fight for jobs in home districts must also be seen against the backdrop of the depressed economy. So not only are Americans pushed into the military by their lack of options, the military budget gets an enormous and essential boost from that same lack of jobs. Not much incentive to fix the economy, is there?

Another riveting piece was Chalmers Johnson discussing his transformation from CIA cold warrior to a man squarely in opposition to the military industrial Congressional complex. Johnson says he always regarded the Soviet Union as a genuine threat. Then (I'm paraphrasing, but this is very nearly a direct quote), "In 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the excuse for the massive military was gone. I expected a much bigger peace dividend, but almost immediately the government went around trying to find a replacement enemy. This raised the question, was the cold war really just a cover?"

A replacement enemy. It's what we've been saying all along. Yesterday communism, today terrorism. Same massive corporate boondoggle, new excuse.

This goes to something else I'm forever saying. I'm frankly amazed when people call the war in Iraq a failure. It's a failure only if you believe the US government's propaganda about their objectives. If you believe, as I do, that the stated objectives - which changed constantly! - were only excuses to sell a war that was planned long ago, the goal of which is corporate profit and personal gain, then the occupation has been a spectacular success. And it will continue to be far into the future. There are already nine permanent US bases in Iraq. They're not leaving any time soon.

Other DVD extras were equally fascinating: Eugene Jarecki on The Daily Show, in which Jon Stewart notes that President Eisenhower "would be Dennis Kucinich today" - that's how far to the right the US has shifted; Jarecki speaking with audiences after screenings of the film, including a very moving talk with high school students; and the chilling expression "hobby war".

12.21.2006

solstice

Ancient peoples all over the world lit fires and torches on this darkest day of the year. I've heard that outdoor Christmas lights are the modern equivalent. If it's true, it makes sense, given the other pre-Christian symbols that have attached themselves to Christmas.

Port Credit at night is beautiful right now. People do really creative things with lights on trees and hedges, and the outlines of the old homes. It's a nice tradition.

Fortunately there doesn't seem to be any insane one-upmanship around here, the kind of people who use up end up on the local news. I mean, can you imagine living near this guy? Who cares if it's for charity? There are ways to raise money that don't suck up this much energy. When I see the words "synchronized to music," I read "neighbourhood menace".

Happy Solstice. If you hate the darkness, the nice thing is we start getting more daylight tomorrow.

Back to packing.

12.20.2006

why

We saw "Why We Fight" last night, the incredible movie by Eugene Jarecki. I know this ran on CBC recently, and I hope many of you watched the whole thing. If not, rent it. Don't miss it. It is stunning.

"Why We Fight" is about the US military-industrial complex: where it comes from, what it does, how it dictates policy, how it works in the world.

Jarecki follows the thread of three lives: a young man who enlists in the military to escape his empty life and his grief over his mother's death, a high-level female officer who retired from the military, and, most movingly to me, a New York City cop who lost a son on 9/11. (I always think I can't cry any more about September 11th, and I'm always wrong.)

Jarecki masterfully weaves these threads with interviews with knowledgeable people on all points of the political spectrum: William Kristol, Chalmers Johnson, John McCain, Gore Vidal, and the son and granddaughter of Dwight Eisenhower, among others.

There are some brilliant bits of history, that, unless you have really studied US history, are likely to be revelatory. For example, you may know that Eisenhower coined the phrase "military-industrial complex," and you may be familiar with the quote the expression comes from. But you may never have heard the full quote - just what the prescient Eisenhower was warning against. Chalmers Johnson offers a stunning capsule history of the US's involvement in Iraq - which dates back to the 1950s - and explains the real meaning of "blowback". On the other side of the information coin, average Americans try to articulate what their country is fighting for.

For me, this film is important because it speaks to my view of war and of the US military, and helps me gather more facts and language to support it. I don't subscribe to the war in Iraq as "Bush's holy war"; I never thought he was out to avenge his father. You may notice I seldom write about Bush at all, as I regard him as a completely irrelevant figurehead.

I was dumbfounded when, early on, progressive Americans called the unprovoked invasion of Iraq "unprecedented". Which war in our lifetime was not pre-emptive? When did - just pick any example here - when did Vietnam attack the US?

To me the US's invasion and occupation of Iraq can only be understood in the context of all its other military adventurism. In the context of imperialism, and of corporate neocolonialism. In the context of Guatemala, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Panama, Grenada, Iran, and many more, until we finally get to Iraq, and until the next one. To me, US war is for profit. If war wasn't so profitable, there wouldn't be any. And when war is so very profitable, its beneficiaries will find a way to make some.

I would add only one other thread to think about while you watch this film. When you see the part about why people "volunteer" for the US military, put it in context of a failed economy - especially the collapse of the manufacturing sector, where people with limited education traditionally found decent jobs. In a country where there are no jobs, the military looks increasingly attractive. For most of the recruits, it's this or Wal-Mart.

This was one of the best documentaries on the US and recent US history that I've ever seen. Talking about it afterwards, Allan and I both had the same thought: it could have been called "Why We Moved To Canada".

Movie website; Amy Goodman interview with filmmaker Eugene Jarecki.

12.19.2006

upgrade

Funny that the day I choose to finally switch to beta is the day Blogger declares beta is no more. Here's hoping for a painless FTP upgrade tomorrow.

We saw an incredible movie tonight. More on that tomorrow, too.

I've noticed that whatever happens in my life now, I run to report it to you guys. Hmm.

meta

Ahhhh! All my writing assignments are in, all my deadlines are met, and I've worked my last full work-week for a while. What a great feeling.

Besides lots of short days and days-off for these various holidays - Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve - I get an extra vacation day in place of Boxing Day! Because Boxing Day falls on a day I don't work, I can either get an extra day's pay, or take an extra day off in 2007. Christmas happens to fall on a day I do work, but if it didn't, I'd get another freebie for that one. Who says I don't love Christmas?!

Allan's been packing for a couple of weeks, and now I can join the fun. But today, there's something very important on our agenda: the switch to beta.

Blogger started offering beta to FTP blogs (i.e., blogs with a non- .blogspot.com address) a while ago, but I had too much going on to deal with it. I've been dying to do it - which was good incentive to hurry up and finish all my assignments.

From what I read, the FTP upgrade is not completely painless. It's also untested with the host I use, Laughing Squid: they prefer Word Press, so that's what most of their clients use. But I've got to do it. Plus it's a precursor to my site redesign, which is coming... soon... I hope.

So, fingers crossed, Joy Of Sox and wtmc will be joining the beta blogosphere later today.

spies

Yesterday we learned that the highest law enforcement in the country was spying on Tommy Douglas as if were a criminal.

Douglas shares that honour with every great US reformer, and thousands of minor ones. Like so many of Canada's shameful moments, this one sounds like a diluted version of what goes on south of the border.
Perhaps fittingly, the file contains articles noting Douglas's concern about rumours of RCMP surveillance of Canadians, though there is no indication the politician suspected he was being watched.

"Setting people to spy on one another is not the way to protect freedom," he wrote while NDP leader.

RCMP security and intelligence officers amassed files on 800,000 Canadians and actively monitored thousands of organizations, from church and women's groups to media outlets and universities.

Markings indicate Douglas's file is one of more than 650 secret dossiers the RCMP kept on Canadian politicians and bureaucrats as part of a project known as the "VIP program."
The stories all note that many of the RCMP secret files "remain completely sealed". I hope Canadian historians are trying to do something about that.

The quote from this story that's making the rounds is telling.
A Mountie assessment from the late 1970s says it was difficult to determine the influence Douglas's various leftist associates had over him: "It is felt, however, there is much we do not know about Douglas and the file should be maintained in order to correlate any additional information that surfaces which might assist in piecing this jigsaw puzzle together."
There is much we do not know about Douglas. Of course, there's no indication that the RCMP learned anything that the public didn't already know.

FBI, RCMP, CIA, CSIS: whatever the initials, it's disgraceful.

12.17.2006

manchurian

Another look at Dion's dual citizenship, from Paul Wells.
Now playing: The Parisian Candidate

Fade in...

Interior. Stornaway, the residence of Canada's leader of the Opposition. Packing crates are everywhere; men in overalls carry boxes back and forth. Stéphane Dion enters, leading his dog Kyoto.

Dion: Well, here we are, almost moved in after only a few weeks as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada!

There is a knock at the door.

Dion: Who could that be?

Dion opens the door. The French Ambassador enters, a menacing figure in a black cape, who bears an odd resemblance to Angela Lansbury.

French Ambassador: Would you like to play zee cards, Monsieur Dion?

French Ambassador begins shuffling a deck of cards. He pulls out one in particular: the red queen. Dion is instantly hypnotized.

French Ambassador: Ah, I see your training still work! You are starting to rememb-air zee mission, aren't you? . . .
Read it here, it's quite amusing. Many thanks to self-described "long time (silent) reader" MJ.

words

I love palindromes, and I love anagrams. I guess it's my love of words and language, combined with my enjoyment of puzzles and games. I can't make palindromes at all, and maybe that's partly why I like them.

For reasons unknown, Allan recently started making anagrams of Red Sox players' names. (Scroll down.) I joined in - and then continued because it was annoying a neocon. (Did I ever claim to be mature?) So there I was, wracking my brain to use up all the letters, only to learn that Allan's astounding anagrams were more easily acquired: he used one of the many online anagram generators.

So folks, anagrams for "we move to canada"?

The only rule is you've got to do it on your own, no using anagram sites. You're on the honour system. Be (or be like) good Canadians: pay your fare, don't cross against the lights, and think up anagrams on your own.

I'll warn you, we do have a Scrabble champion in our midst.

cliches

We're ignoring the late-December madness completely this year. We don't celebrate any of these December holidays - we wait for the Most Important Date in the Kaminker-Wood household: January 3, the anniversary of our domestic partnership. Some years we send holiday cards, and some years we do our version of going all-out and make our own card.

But this year, we're moving, we have an anniversary trip planned in January - and Tala is coming! A lot to look forward to in January, and December is just another month.

Except for the ads, the Christmas muzak, the co-workers reciting litanies of what they bought for whom... This year I'm finding it pretty easy to tune out. Not working in Rockefeller Center sure helps!

I've noticed something new this year. Long ago, I blogged about platitudes, meaningless expressions that drive me nuts. Nuts! This year I'm hearing one that's new to me: "Why do the worst things always happen around Christmas?"

The answer is easy: they don't.

If by "around Christmas," one means December, then you've got a one in twelve chance of the Bad Thing occurring around that time. If you charted everyone's life histories, noting every Bad Thing, you'd probably find them pretty evenly spaced through the year. Even persistent urban legends like an increase of suicide attempts on New Year's Eve and an increase in domestic violence around Super Bowl have been debunked. Why did this particular Bad Thing happen around Christmas? Coincidence. Why does it seem like Bad Things happen around Christmas? Because those are the ones you're remembering.

But most people don't like coincidence, and they don't believe in them. Thus my least favourite platitude in all the world: everything happens for a reason.

In my universe, there are no reasons. There are only coincidences, and random chance.

12.16.2006

liars

Figures, doesn't it? They can never admit they've made a mistake.
Americans take a turn smearing Arar
Thomas Walkom

For Maher Arar, it never ends.

It wasn't enough that the Canadian computer engineer was deported by the U.S. to Syria to be tortured.

Nor was it enough that, even after he got home, unknown Canadian government officials deliberately leaked false and damaging information to the media in an attempt to smear him.

Now, after a painstaking 34-month judicial inquiry finally cleared his name, the U.S. government has decided that it is its turn to smear Arar.

The smear was delivered by David Wilkins, U.S. ambassador to Canada. In a statement released yesterday, he said that Arar will stay on a U.S. watch list that denies him entry to that country "based on information from a variety of sources."

The ban also means that the B.C. resident won't be able to fly domestically within Canada if — as is the case with many flights between Vancouver and Toronto — he at any point crosses American air space.

Wilkins insisted that the U.S. decision to deport Arar to Syria in 2002 was also based on the same "variety of sources."

In any other case, this claim might be believable. It is the nature of security services to keep the information they gather secret. Most ordinary citizens never know why, or even if, they are under suspicion.

But most ordinary citizens don't have extensive judicial inquiries examining their situations. Arar did. And while it is true that Justice Dennis O'Connor, the inquiry head, did not have the authority to directly investigate American actions in this affair, he came about as close as anyone could.

O'Connor says in the first part of his report, released in September, that it is possible the U.S. decision to deport Arar to Syria for torture was based on information other than that provided by Canada. But he concludes it is most unlikely.

One of the reasons he does so is that RCMP officers testified that they never received any intelligence information from their U.S. counterparts about Arar. The data flow, they said, was only one way.

Again, it is possible that the Americans chose not to share even a shred of information with the RCMP about a Canadian being investigated in Canada for alleged links to terrorists. But it is so improbable as to be unbelievable.

So why then Wilkins' statement?
Read more here.

goal

When will I feel Canadian? We've talked about this here, and I think it's very interesting - questions of nationality, identity, how the two are the same or different.

When we were in Peru, our first time out of North America since emigrating here, people asked, "¿De qué país es usted?". What country are you from? We were so happy to say "de Canada"! And that's true, we are from Canada.

But when will I be Canadian?

Citizenship questions aside, here's my theory. I'll know I'm Canadian when I pronounce "Ottawa" and "hockey" the way people do here.

Those words are a dead giveaway. How do you guys do it?

12.15.2006

ugly

Allan Thompson, whose "World Citizen" column in the Toronto Star I recently quoted at length, has been revisiting the subject of Stéphane Dion's dual citizenship. I'm disturbed by what some his readers have to say.
The revelation that new Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion holds French nationality triggered a new twist on the dual citizenship debate: Should the person who seeks to lead this country also hold the citizenship of another?

The answer from many quarters — including the editorial board of this newspaper — was "no."

And after a few days of media attention to the issue, Dion conceded that he would forfeit his French nationality if the dual citizenship bestowed upon him at birth by his Paris-born mother proved to be a political liability.

For what it's worth, I would like to give some space to readers who sent email messages about this issue to World Citizen.

Several pointed out an error in last week's column: If Dion were to win the next election, he would not be the first dual citizen to be prime minister of Canada.

Former prime minister John Turner, who was born in England, was a dual citizen during his time in office and remains one to this day.

As a British subject domiciled in Canada, Turner became a Canadian citizen on Jan. 1, 1947, by operation of law. He remained a U.K. citizen by birth. Indeed, Turner bestowed dual citizenship on his children.

Interesting that no one seemed to notice or care that Turner was a citizen of the United Kingdom while also serving as Canada's prime minister.

Could it be that public attitudes toward citizenship, loyalty and what it means to be Canadian are hardening?

Or was it the fact that Dion is a citizen of France — not the United Kingdom — that triggered the public response?

Readers who contacted World Citizen were split on the issue.

"People born in this country are becoming more small-minded every day ... In my opinion, the people who are complaining are very insecure in themselves," one reader said.

"The question of Dion's French citizenship, which is a symbolic and emotional attachment to the birthplace of his mother, is a non-issue and the fact that it only arises now that he has become leader of the Liberal party is confirmation of that," said another.

It goes on: "Dion was born in Canada, has a very public profile and a long track record of defending Canadian unity. Question any issue you like, but his patriotism? Please."

But another reader took issue with last week's column.

"I'm a bit troubled by the implication in your column that any who are concerned about a country's leader having dual citizenship are petty.

"It's important for Canadians to trust when their leader is representing them internationally that s/he is representing Canada's interests, not Canada's interests as well as (that of) Country X.

"The issue is not dual citizenship in France per se, but dual citizenship in any other country — be it Syria, Israel, North Korea, Britain, or wherever. Would you be comfortable with a prime minister who was also an American citizen?"

The reader goes on to draw a parallel with marriage:

"Before we were married my husband was tolerant of my relationships with other men, but after we were married he expected some exclusivity on my part, although certainly not that I would give up platonic friendships with other men. Just that I wouldn't be married to anyone else or sexually involved elsewhere. And needless to say I would be absolutely appalled were he to announce he had another wife ...

"Nor am I suggesting that Canada ought to do away with dual citizenship entirely. Clearly it serves a practical economic purpose for some Canadians. Nevertheless, not all jobs are the same with respect to the responsibilities involved — the job of prime minister is one in which there must be no suggestion that the holder's loyalties are divided. It is a matter of confidence in the truest parliamentary sense.

"We are all citizens of the world — but that's an abstraction which suggests a commitment to universal principles, transcending all borders. Mr. Dion's retention of dual citizenship doesn't speak to that grand idea but to something else."

Another reader provided the link to the list of current MPs who were born in other countries, some of whom are eligible for dual citizenship.

(You can consult the list here.)

Another reader follows the marriage theme:

"Stéphane Dion, in proclaiming 'One Canada' should reconsider his dual citizenship status. One spouse. One country. One citizenship."

And in reflecting on the Dion issue, another reader suggested the name of this column, World Citizen, is an oxymoron: "World Traveller would be more appropriate. The fact is, citizenship ends at the boundaries of one's country."

With all due respect, World Traveller sounds to me like a brand of luggage. No, I like World Citizen just fine, precisely because it does transcend borders.

As for dual citizen Stéphane Dion, he will almost certainly be browbeaten into relinquishing his French citizenship.

So does that mean we've gone forward, or back, since the time two decades ago when dual citizen John Turner held the highest elected office in the land — without anyone asking to see his passport?
I find the "one spouse" analogy particularly repugnant. As if monogamy were some kind of higher evolved state, or something to aspire to, or the only way to live. As if a person who chooses not to have "one spouse" and "one country" is less trustworthy, less upstanding... or simply less.

Thompson believes that Dion "will be browbeaten" into giving up his French citizenship. It seems very likely, and very sad.

A few days ago, this letter ran in the Star:
I am an English-speaking, single-citizenship Canadian who can't help but wonder about the nature of the concerns regarding Stéphane Dion's French citizenship. I have a funny feeling these issues would not be raised if he were Anglo and his second citizenship were British. I am embarassed at my fellow Canadians for trying to make this an issue at all. Dion has never voted in a French election and does not even hold a French passport.

Asking this person to rescind the legacy of his mother's French nationality is mean-spirited and, I suspect, racist. Why would we be disturbed that he maintains a link to his mother's native country? This counters so many important Canadian values that I think we owe him an apology. - Janine Robinson, Toronto
I agree.

12.14.2006

senate

How do you guys feel about Harper's Senate reform bill?

The whole concept of the appointed Senate seems so odd to me. But then, Canadian Senators have little power - or traditionally they don't exercise that power - so does it matter? If Senators were elected, would they have play more of a role? Would we want that? If they were elected, wouldn't they have to campaign? That is, how would we know who we were voting for?

When a certain conservative from Alberta frequented this blog, he used to talk a lot about wanting an elected Senate - the "Triple E" Senate. Does Harper's bill bring us one step closer to that? Or is this bill useless window dressing?

After asking all these questions, I can't participate much in the answers, as this is crunch week for all my current writing assignments. But I'll be reading, so please feel free to chatter away.

exceptional

From Gun Guys, "Where Everyone's A Straight Shooter":
The United Nations passed a resolution [on December 6th] that could lead to an international treaty on small arms around the globe. The vote on the treaty was 153 to 1. Take a guess who was the sole vote against.
Over U.S. objections, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution Wednesday that could lead to the first international treaty on controlling the trade in assault rifles, machine guns and other small arms.

The nonbinding resolution asks the secretary-general to seek the views of the 192-member General Assembly on the feasibility of a comprehensive treaty "establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms."

Global trade in small arms is worth about $4 billion a year, of which a fourth is considered illegal. The arms cause 60 percent to 90 percent of all deaths in conflicts every year.

The resolution asks the secretary-general to submit a report in the next General Assembly session, which starts in September 2007. It also asks the secretary-general to establish a group of government experts to examine the feasibility of a treaty based on the report.

Resolution advocates said they hope any final treaty would compel countries to officially authorize all weapons transfers, stiffen compliance with previous treaties related to conventional weapons while prohibiting weapons transfers with countries likely to use the arms to violate their citizens' rights.
This is an international embarrassment. These small arms account for, as the article says, a huge percentage of deaths across the globe, and we can't even sign a nonbinding resolution against them. It's sick. [The US is] the backwards member of the UN on this one, and the reason for that is none other than the NRA.

The National Rifle Association has strongly opposed U.N. efforts at crafting a treaty to curb private ownership of small arms. The group has said such a treaty might embolden regimes that violate human rights to disarm their citizens and make popular uprisings against oppression impossible.

But human rights campaigners supporting the drive to regulate the arms trade welcomed the resolution's approval, though they said much work is left to be done before the final passage of any comprehensive compact.

"This indicates not only widespread recognition of the problem but also widespread political will to take action," Rebecca Peters, director of the International Action Network on Small Arms, said in a statement.

Did you catch the NRA's rationale for being against this? They say they're fighting for human rights by allowing these weapons to be used to slaughter human beings. Even human rights people think that's crazy. Even if the Second Amendment did grant an individual right to firearms (it doesn't), that law doesn't exist outside of this country. For [the US] to vote against even the thought of this resolution is a travesty.
Great stuff, read more here. Many thanks to Redsock for sending it to me.

12.13.2006

dogness

In Toronto and the GTA, entire parks are designated as "dog parks" - fenced-in, leash-free zones were dogs can run and play freely without bothering non-doggy park users. We think this is incredible. The dog park where we take Cody is huge and beautiful, with big, open areas for romping and trails through wooded areas for a little hike.

In New York City, thanks to the advocacy of urban dog lovers, most parks have small, fenced-in areas that are designated dog runs. They're not big, but they serve a vital function. There's also been an informal, unwritten agreement that in parks without a dog run, dogs can play off-leash after 9 p.m. or before 9 a.m. If your pup is romping off the leash one minute after 9:00 a.m., you'll be handed an expensive ticket, but early in the morning, New York parks are a doggy paradise.

I was horrified to learn that recently this might have changed. And I really liked this piece by the writer Jonathan Safran Foer.
My Life as a Dog
By Jonathan Safran Foer

For the last 20 years, New York City parks without designated dog runs have permitted dogs to be off-leash from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. Because of recent complaints from the Juniper Park Civic Association in Queens, the issue has been revisited. On Dec. 5, the Board of Health will vote on the future of off-leash hours.

Retrievers in elevators, Pomeranians on No. 6 trains, bull mastiffs crossing the Brooklyn Bridge it is easy to forget just how strange it is that dogs live in New York in the first place. It is about as unlikely a place for dogs as one could imagine, and yet 1.4 million of them are among us. Why do we keep them in our apartments and houses, always at some expense and inconvenience? Is it even possible, in a city, to provide a good life for a dog, and what is a "good life?" Does the health board's vote matter in ways other than the most obvious?

I adopted George (a Great Dane / Lab / pit / greyhound / ridgeback / whatever mix -- aka Brooklyn shorthair) because I thought it would be fun. As it turns out, she is a major pain an awful lot of the time.

She mounts guests, eats my son's toys (and occasionally tries to eat my son), is obsessed with squirrels, lunges at skateboarders and Hasids, has the savant-like ability to find her way between the camera lens and subject of every photo taken in her vicinity, backs her tush into the least interested person in the room, digs up the freshly planted, scratches the newly bought, licks the about-to-be served and occasionally relieves herself on the wrong side of the front door. Her head is resting on my foot as I type this. I love her.

Our various struggles -- to communicate, to recognize and accommodate each other's desires, simply to coexist -- force me to interact with something, or rather someone, entirely "other." George can respond to a handful of words, but our relationship takes place almost entirely outside of language. She seems to have thoughts and emotions, desires and fears. Sometimes I think I understand them; often I don't. She is a mystery to me. And I must be one to her.

Of course our relationship is not always a struggle. My morning walk with George is very often the highlight of my day -- when I have my best thoughts, when I most appreciate both nature and the city, and in a deeper sense, life itself. Our hour together is a bit of compensation for the burdens of civilization: business attire, e-mail, money, etiquette, walls and artificial lighting. It is even a kind of compensation for language. Why does watching a dog be a dog fill one with happiness? And why does it make one feel, in the best sense of the word, human?

It is children, very often, who want dogs. In a recent study, when asked to name the 10 most important "individuals" in their lives, 7- and 10-year-olds included two pets on average. In another study, 42 percent of 5-year-olds spontaneously mentioned their pets when asked, "Whom do you turn to when you are feeling, sad, angry, happy or wanting to share a secret?" Just about every children's book in my local bookstore has an animal for its hero. But then, only a few feet away in the cookbook section, just about every cookbook includes recipes for cooking animals. Is there a more illuminating illustration of our paradoxical relationship with the nonhuman world?

In the course of our lives, we move from a warm and benevolent relationship with animals (learning responsibility through caring for our pets, stroking and confiding in them), to a cruel one (virtually all animals raised for meat in this country are factory farmed -- they spend their lives in confinement, dosed with antibiotics and other drugs).

How do you explain this? Is our kindness replaced with cruelty? I don't think so. I think in part it's because the older we get, the less exposure we have to animals. And nothing facilitates indifference or forgetfulness so much as distance. In this sense, dogs and cats have been very lucky: they are the only animals we are intimately exposed to daily.

Folk parental wisdom and behavioral studies alike generally view the relationships children have with companion animals as beneficial. But one does not have to be a child to learn from a pet. It is precisely my frustrations with George, and the inconveniences she creates, that reinforce in me how much compromise is necessary to share space with other beings.

The practical arguments against off-leash hours are easily refuted. One doesn't have to be an animal scientist to know that the more a dog is able to exercise its "dogness" -- to run and play, to socialize with other dogs -- the happier it will be. Happy dogs, like happy people, tend not to be aggressive. In the years that dogs have been allowed to run free in city parks, dog bites have decreased 90 percent. But there is another argument that is not so easy to respond to: some people just don't want to be inconvenienced by dogs. Giving dogs space necessarily takes away space from humans.

We have been having this latter debate, in different forms, for ages. Again and again we are confronted with the reality -- some might say the problem -- of sharing our space with other living things, be they dogs, trees, fish or penguins. Dogs in the park are a present example of something that is often too abstracted or far away to gain our consideration.

The very existence of parks is a response to this debate: earlier New Yorkers had the foresight to recognize that if we did not carve out places for nature in our cities, there would be no nature. It was recently estimated that Central Park's real estate would be worth more than $500 billion. Which is to say we are half a trillion dollars inconvenienced by trees and grass. But we do not think of it as an inconvenience. We think of it as balance.

Living on a planet of fixed size requires compromise, and while we are the only party capable of negotiating, we are not the only party at the table. We've never claimed more, and we've never had less. There has never been less clean air or water, fewer fish or mature trees. If we are not simply ignoring the situation, we keep hoping for (and expecting) a technological solution that will erase our destruction, while allowing us to continue to live without compromise. Maybe zoos will be an adequate replacement for wild animals in natural habitats. Maybe we will be able to recreate the Amazon somewhere else. Maybe one day we will be able to genetically engineer dogs that do not wish to run free. Maybe. But will those futures make us feel, in the best sense of the word, human?

I have been taking George to Prospect Park twice a day for more than three years, but her running is still a revelation to me. Effortlessly, joyfully, she runs quite a bit faster than the fastest human on the planet. And faster, I've come to realize, than the other dogs in the park. George might well be the fastest land animal in Brooklyn. Once or twice every morning, for no obvious reason, she'll tear into a full sprint. Other dog owners can't help but watch her. Every now and then someone will cheer her on. It is something to behold.

Jonathan Safran Foer is the author, most recently, of "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close".
Shortly after this ran, New York City leash laws did change -- for the better. The informal agreement of off-leash hours will soon be codified into law. This is great news for New York dogs and the people who live with them. It's surprisingly smart of the New York City Health Department and the Parks Department, and they are to be thanked and commended for their decision.

Thanks to Alan With One L for sending the Op-Ed, and to mkk for poaching the text.

movie

We saw another very good movie last night: "Mysterious Skin". It's about two boys, a trauma they suffered when they were very young, and how it plays out in their lives as they grow into adulthood.

It's excellently done. I'd caution anyone who's been touched by child sexual abuse, either as a survivor or someone who loves one, to tread carefully. I'd want to be in the right frame of mind when I saw it. But I'd see it.

This movie reminded me of another overlooked movie, "Things Behind The Sun", written and directed by one of my favourite filmmakers, Alison Anders. That movie also explores how the past plays out in our lives - and how the past will continue to poison the present - until it is dealt with head-on.

"Things Behind The Sun" never preaches, never has a character stand on a soapbox to educate us, but speaks volumes about surviving rape. Anders, a rape survivor herself, returned to the place where she was assaulted to make this movie. It's one of the best works I know of, in any media, about sexual assault.

"Mysterious Skin" does something similar on the theme of child sexual abuse.

"Mysterious Skin" also involves something I haven't seen portrayed in a movie before: that many people who believe they were abducted by aliens have been victims of sexual abuse. For anyone familiar with the patterns, it can be very obvious: descriptions of scary monsters entering the bedroom, of "probes" and "examinations", lost time. When a survivor with deeply repressed memories comes upon descriptions of alien abductions, it seems to explain what happened to them, and their own hazy, incomplete memories meld with the television version.

Imagine: it's easier to live with the thought that creatures from another galaxy beamed you up to their space ship and conducted experiments on you, than the thought that your stepfather visited your room at night and raped you, and your mother didn't stop him.

So there's no confusion, I myself am not a survivor of child sexual abuse. I was a young adult when I was raped, by a stranger. Through my work (as a volunteer and as a writer) in sexual assault advocacy and education, I've interviewed many childhood survivors, heard them speak publicly, learned about the effects of childhood sexual trauma in adult lives. It's very heavy. The most disturbing part, surely, is how common it is.

12.11.2006

resistance

Courage To Resist, which supports soldiers with the courage not to fight, just finished three days of events in cities all over the US. Iraq war resisters have very little visibility, and receive very little support. That's why I always revisit. Just to remind us.

One resister I've never blogged about is the one whose story touches me the most deeply: Suzanne Swift.

Swift served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, where she was raped and sexually harassed by superior officers. Earlier this year, facing re-deployment - which would mean serving under the command of officers who were complicit in the assaults - and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Swift went AWOL.

Swift was arrested at her mother's home in June of this year. She faces court martial for being AWOL and "missing movement".

The army claims it conducted an investigation of Swift's charges and found them unsubstantiated. (What a surprise.) After members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace staged a sit-in at a congressperson's office, a congressional investigation was launched. Meanwhile, Swift is serving in a different unit while she awaits court martial.

The website for Suzanne Swift, unfortunately, is a bit of a mess, but perhaps you'll find it more useful than I did. There is a link for actions, and if you took a few minutes to write to your US representative or local newspaper, I'm sure the Swift family would be very grateful.

The first time I wrote about a female soldier who had been raped and sexually assaulted by "fellow" soldiers and officers, the post was picked up on a pro-military blog and wmtc was barraged with denial. Many people who claimed to be veterans were convinced the charges were false. The charges had to be false because, they claimed, women in the company "are like our sisters". I have no doubt that is true for many male soldiers. Does that mean it didn't happen?

Think of the logic here. It's unthinkable that a male soldier could have raped a female soldier in his unit. But it's perfectly all right to accuse the female soldier of fabricating a story of rape and making a false accusation? But isn't she your sister? Is that how you would treat your sister if she told you she had been raped? What if the rapist was one of your friends? None of your "brothers" could have committed such a crime, but your sister, well, she's just a lying bitch.

I really feel for Suzanne Swift. Here are some photos of actions supporting her, and here's a roundup of press about her case. Her "special court martial" - which gives the military the right to try her without a pre-trial hearing - is scheduled for January 8.

12.10.2006

dialogue

Terry Glavin of The Tyee says that with Stéphane Dion as Liberal leader, "Voting NDP Just Got Harder". He asks, "So why am I supposed to vote NDP again? It would be refreshing to hear a convincing, reasoned, NDP response, and not . . . shut up and vote the way you're told."

Idealistic Pragmatist answers the question.

Terry Glavin responds to her answer.

Thanks to both bloggers for the insights.

salesmen

Last night I was walking Cody through our neighbourhood. It was dusk and the holiday lights were blinking on the houses. It was cold and crisp - not so cold as to be bone-chilling, but just enough to say it's winter.

We passed a few other folks walking their dogs, a runner or two, some people packing a car. But mostly the sidewalks were quiet and empty.

I noticed a man across the street who looked out of place. He was wearing a dark suit without a winter jacket, and carrying a book. A moment later, I saw another man on my side of the street dressed the same way, also carrying a book. I knew he was going to approach me and I knew what he wanted.

As he stepped towards me, I caught a glimpse of a name tag, which included the words "Jesus Christ".

"Excuse me, have you ever had the opportunity to speak with a missionary?"

I never broke stride. "No thank you, I have no interest in that, thank you very much."

He tried again. I knew he would. They always do. "Do you know anyone else who does?" he called, now speaking to my back.

"No I don't, have a nice day," I said to the air in front of me.

"Have a nice day, god bless you," he called.

Grrrr.

I hate proselytizing of any type. I just hate it.

In New York, when I was younger and Jehovah's Witnesses would approach me, it infuriated me. Now that I've mellowed generally, it doesn't get under my skin so intensely, but it still really bothers me.

If that man had been selling magazine subscriptions, I would have also said "no thank you" and kept walking, but it wouldn't have bothered me at all. If he had been collecting for a charity, I would have listened and probably donated. And if he had been canvassing for a political group, I would have stopped and listened, and maybe chatted. But he was selling religion, so I had to mentally bite my lip to refrain from snarling at him.

The whole idea of trying to change someone's religion, or of trying to introduce a religion to someone who wasn't seeking it on her own, irritates me no end. The notion of selling religion door-to-door is, shall we say, extremely distasteful to me. Spirituality seems very personal to me, and proselytizing feels like an invasion of my privacy.

I used to think all nonreligious people felt this way, but I've realized that they don't necessarily. Why do these people bug me so much? I don't even know.

surprise

I saw Dion on "One On One" last night, the extended interview show Peter Mansbridge hosts. This guy is really growing on me. He's very smart, and seems like a person of integrity. I like his ideas. What a Liberal government will do, of course, is another question, but as far as what Dion says, I can't find much to complain about.

Meanwhile, Jack Layton's agreement that a party leader should not have dual citizenship really turned me off. I don't worry about what a Neanderthal like Ezra Levant thinks. (France is going to unduly influence the decision of a man who was born in Canada and lived here all his life? The first Prime Minister of Canada wasn't born in Canada, for godsake.) But Layton! He should know better.

If an election was held tomorrow - and if I were eligible to vote! - I'd have a hard time pulling the lever for the NDP. This is a surprise to me.

suggestion

Those of you who disagree with calls for Stéphane Dion to renounce his French citizenship, please consider writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. You'll reach a different - and larger - readership than you do on your blog.

The Toronto Star, for example, disappointed me with this editorial, and I plan on telling them so.

Keep your letter short and simple, and you'll stand a better chance of seeing it in print.

On this blog, please post comments on this subject in yesterday's thread. Thanks.

12.09.2006

stench

This fake news about Stéphane Dion's dual citizenship - and calls for the Liberal leader to renounce the French citizenship that his mother gave him at birth - are truly disgusting.

The Canadians kicking up this dust should know how very American, how very Fox News, they sound: concocting a non-issue to smear an opponent, pushing xenophobic buttons, and in this case, anti-French buttons, too, as they question the "loyalty" of a French Canadian.

One needn't be a Liberal partisan to find the stench from this filth overpoweringly vile.

Canada recognizes dual citizenship. It is legal. It is part of Canadian society.

Dual citizenship benefits Canada at least as much as it benefits the millions of dual citizens themselves. At the very worst, it's neutral. It certainly in no way harms Canada. Dual citizenship harms single-citizenship Canadians about as much as same-sex marriage harms heterosexual marriages.

As has been pointed out hundreds of times already, former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner was a dual citizen. Not only that, but in contrast to Dion, who was born in Canada and has lived here his whole life here, Turner was born in the UK. But apparently that is OK: it's British. More likely, it's OK because we weren't making a fuss about those things then, and we've decided it's an issue now.

Stéphane Dion was born in Canada. He is a citizen of Canada. He's worked for Canada his whole life. End of story.

Or it should be, but sadly, it is not.

I saw Dion on "The National" the other night, on the "Your Turn" segment where the interviewee answers viewer's questions. ("Your Turn" is archived here, but the one featuring Dion isn't up yet.) After Dion answered the various questions, host Peter Mansbridge said he had to bring up another issue because people are talking about it: What about you holding two passports?

Mansbridge goes on about how he holds two passports, British and Canadian, that many journalists find this useful, passport this, passport that. When Mansbridge finally wraps it up, Dion replies that he has only one passport, that of Canada.

To which Mansbridge replies, Oh, did I say holding a passport? I meant that symbolically, I meant the ability to hold two passports.

I thought that was pretty lame.

Dion handled the question, and has been handling it, very well: his French citizenship was a gift from his mother, no one should be questioning his loyalty to Canada, that's unthinkable, if forced to renounce his French citizenship, he will sadly do so, but why should it be an issue?

But yet it persists. This is a slimy, name-calling, anti-immigrant, anti-French, anti-diversity distraction, a sleight of hand on the part of a certain faction of Conservatives. Swift boats, anyone?

It needs to be buried, finally and deeply.

I blogged about dual citizenship, and about the concept of loyalty to one's country over the summer, when all this nonsense started in response to Canada's evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon.

On reflection, I'll quote some of that here.
Does loyalty mean "My country right or wrong"? We've seen what that attitude leads to. I've been accused of disloyalty to the US, since I chose to leave. I suppose I have been disloyal - because the US has been disloyal to its own ideals.

That's really the crux, I think: we should be loyal to ideals, to values, and we should support whoever supports those values. When our country lives up to the values we admire, or at least strives to, we support it. When it turns its back on them - when it chooses authoritarianism over democracy, empire over self-determination, conformity over personal liberty, selfishness over community - we have to speak up. Dissent is not disloyalty.

However, if dissent is consistently ignored, and the country continues to march to a dangerous beat, disloyalty may be the right thing to do. Imagine, once upon a time, if a few million Germans had been a little more disloyal.

In this sense, loyalty is the wrong word entirely. When a person flees their country because it has been taken over by a dictator, are they being disloyal to their country? The country they love and value no longer exists. They can either be loyal to the dictator, or if they're lucky, get out. Immigrants who have escaped fascist regimes all say the same thing: I love my country, but the country I love no longer exists.

How are people who are citizens of only one country more loyal than dual citizens? In our average, daily lives, how are any of us loyal to our country? By paying taxes? Dual citizens do that, of course - as do non-citizen residents such as myself. There must be something more than that, no?

If Canadian dual citizens live and work outside of Canada, then they don't pay Canadian taxes - but then, they don't use Canadian services, either. How, then, are they "freeloading"?

Are the Canadians opposing dual citizenship imagining a scenario where the country of birth wages war against Canada, and the dual citizen must choose which side to support? Seems a bit far-fetched, in today's world. Even so, history shows that country of choice will usually win over country of birth. It was usually chosen because it's a better place to live.

So (as I said yesterday in comments), assuming none of us are terrorists planning to blow up a building in Ottawa, how could any of us be loyal or disloyal to Canada?
Toronto Star columnist Allan Thompson wrote a good piece about dual citizenship last month, before this crap about Dion floated to the surface.
We don't really know how many dual citizens there are in Canada, where they live or who they are. By some estimates, there could be as many as 4 or 5 million Canadians eligible for dual citizenship. And we literally don't have a clue how many Canadian dual citizens are living in other countries. We simply don't keep track.

And just as we have no way to measure the cost to Canada of allowing its citizens to hold multiple passports and move about freely, nor do we have any reliable way to measure the economic or other benefits to Canada of its dual citizenship policy. We're operating on gut instinct. We need more information.

. . . .

How many times in 30 years of allowing dual citizenship has Canada expended significant resources on absentee citizens? Apart from Lebanon, no other examples spring to mind. And in those intervening 30 years, how has Canada benefited from its openness to the world?

No, this discussion is being driven by political considerations and by politicians who are anxious to assuage their constituency.

These politicians are not making policy. They're making noise. And frankly, they're probably glad to be garnering some headlines about a review of our dual citizenship policy. It is one of those public policy deliberations that come at virtually no price to a government make some noise, get people talking, scare a bunch of people, satisfy some others - then do nothing.

After letting the citizenship question percolate for a while, sparking some news reports that the government was actually considering abolishing dual citizenship, the government finally made crystal clear last week that Canada's policy of allowing its citizens to also hold the nationality of another country was here to stay.

"We're not tinkering with dual citizenship," Solberg declared.

. . . .

Canadians - dual citizens and those attached only to Canada - should take a deep breath. Then we should think for a while before embarking on a civil, informed, national conversation about what it means to be a Canadian citizen in today's world.
Here's a very good essay from CBC columnist Margaret Drohan.
The debate over whether dual citizens are "real" Canadians represents the worst of Canada in that it seems at times to be both parochial and uninformed. Strong words perhaps, but it is difficult not to come to that conclusion after reading or listening to comments that ignore or overlook some basic facts.

Let's start with the implicit assumption by many commentators that the benefits in the relationship between country and citizen flow only in one direction — from Canada to the citizen. It is an obvious conclusion to draw in the midst of the evacuation of Lebanon, when what Canada had to offer was safe transit out of a war zone. But is this the whole story? There has been little or no consideration given to the idea, startling as it may seem, that benefits also flow in the other direction — from the citizen to the country — and that these benefits should also be considered within the context of the debate.

One would think that this would be evident from the fact that Canada is busy beating the bushes around the world at the moment for new immigrants. If these new citizens, who are allowed by Canada to keep their former citizenship if they so choose, represent only a burden, why are we seeking them out?

Thinking of immigrants as penniless beggars harkens back to the time when vast numbers of people landed on our shores fleeing famine and war. My Irish ancestors were part of this group. They came with nothing and Canada offered them the opportunity to build a better life.

Canada still opens its doors to refugees. But they represent a small fraction of the 240,000 immigrants on average who arrive each year. Over the past decade, more than half of the people taking up permanent residence in Canada were economic migrants, a class that includes investors, entrepreneurs, skilled workers and those whom individual provinces selected to fill specific labour shortages.

At a minimum, they bring their skills and money to the table. Only anecdotal evidence exists of what more they contribute because the economic aspects of multiculturalism remains a neglected field of research. Yet we know from anecdotes that companies with a multicultural staff find it easier to reach out around the world for business and trade opportunities if they have employees who speak other languages, are familiar with other cultures and can travel comfortably in other countries.

Fine, you say, immigrants are a boon to Canada. But does the same hold true for dual citizens? That is, after all, what the debate is about.

It must be said that Canada collects very little information about its dual citizens. Citizenship and Immigration does not keep figures. In this, they are not much different from other countries, which focus on their own citizens and pretend that other citizenships do not exist. But since the 1981 census, Statistics Canada has been asking people to declare multiple citizenships.

. . . .

As for why they [choose to be dual citizens], she suggested better career prospects and income benefits were one possibility. People with more than one passport could engage in transnational activities. But she also pointed to research that indicated people applied for dual citizenship because they wanted to become more politically active and more integrated into their host society. "Allowing immigrants to keep multiple citizenship could further Canadian nation building and integration efforts, reinforcing the state rather than undermining it," she concluded.

None of this has come up in our current debate. Instead, dual citizens have been painted as semi-rapacious Canadians of convenience, who do little for the country, except demand evacuation when problems arise. And in return, we grant them the same rights as native-born Canadians. (Except that we don't entirely. Their citizenship can be revoked if they are found guilty of certain crimes, whereas that of a Canadian-born citizen cannot.)

Also ignored is the possibility that Canadians might be responsible in part for persuading people to hang on to their other passports, just in case things don't work out here. StatsCan surveys indicate 20 per cent of visible minorities say they encounter discrimination here and that it does not decline over time. Professional immigrants complain vociferously that their credentials are not recognized and they are forced to find jobs well below their level of education.

The final factor missing from the debate is that Canada has its own diaspora and that some of its members are almost certainly dual citizens. (And here I must say that I hold British citizenship, which I applied for during my eight years in London.) Again, this is an area where there is very little research. But one estimate by analyst Kenny Zhang of the Asia Pacific Foundation suggests there are 2.7 million Canadian citizens living abroad.

Do we feel as free to characterize these Canadian-born dual citizens as freeloaders, as some commentators have done with foreign-born dual nationals in Canada? Or is the situation somehow different when native-born Canadians are involved?
In comments, Lone Primate calls this uninformed, bigoted discussion "a national disgrace"; Idealistic Pragmatist says it's the first thing in her ten-year residence in Canada that has shaken her faith about the country.

Those are strong words from two people who feel strongly about their country. Please, Canada: come to your senses. Don't let the rantings of a small, yet vocal, minority drown out your essential nature.

P.S. If you jumped the gun and commented on this in a recent thread, please feel free to re-post your comment here.