political compass

Long ago, with a very different readership, I blogged about political compass.

I haven't thought about it ages, but just yesterday MSS of Fruits & Votes mentioned it in comments. James, also in comments, re-took the test.

If you're not familiar with this tool, here's something about it from the website:
The old one-dimensional categories of 'right' and 'left', established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of 1789, are overly simplistic for today's complex political landscape. For example, who are the 'conservatives' in today's Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher?

On the standard left-right scale, how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi? It's not sufficient to say that Stalin was simply more left than Gandhi. There are fundamental political differences between them that the old categories on their own can't explain. Similarly, we generally describe social reactionaries as 'right-wingers', yet that leaves left-wing reactionaries like Robert Mugabe and Pol Pot off the hook.

Political Compass doesn't want to say more until after you've taken the test, so I won't spoil it for them.

There are some fun categories on the site, showing the positions of the parties in the 2005 Canadian election and of the candidates in the 2004 US "election". Comparing the two graphs is particularly interesting - and, for me, reassuring.

Take the test here and tell us where you score on the quadrant. This is one time where it would be fun to have a few wingnuts around. Still, wmtc readers don't march in lockstep, so I'm curious to see where each of us fall.

My own results:
Economic left/right: -9.00
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.51
[far lower left quadrant]


don't thank jack

Have you seen this badge on certain Canadian blogs? Under a picture of Jack Layton, it counts the days of the Harper government and says "Thanks, Jack!"

Oh yes, Ralph Nader is responsible for the Resident and Jack Layton, of all people, is responsible for Harper.

This is so stupid.

The thinking goes, I suppose, that if the New Democrats had propped up the Martin government, we'd be basking in the sunshine of a Liberal minority government right now, instead of toiling under the dark cloud of a Conservative blahblahblah.

I saw one of these badges this weekend (not the one I've linked to), and it was all I could do to restrain myself from posting one of Idealistic Pragmatist's greatest hits: "Jack Layton's Sinister Mind Control Experiment", in which our Ideal-Prag takes apart this lame non-theory brick by broken brick. If you've never read this, do yourself a favour and do so now. I'll wait.

OK, you're back? Now, do you know what? If Canada had proportional representation, there wouldn't even be a Harper government. There'd be a centre-left coalition that more closely matches what most Canadians want.

On that, more from Ms I Pragmatist.
Jamey Heath's new book, Dead Centre: Hope, Possibility, and Unity for Canadian Progressives, makes five important points that every centre-left or left-wing Canadian needs to internalize:

1. Liberals tend to present the voters with laudable centre-left policies in their Red Books. But once elected with a majority--or, in Paul Martin's case, even with a minority--they veer right and refuse to deliver on most of their own best ideas. This has happened over and over again, and is undeniable.

2. When Canadian progressives are feeling anxious about the Conservatives, they tend to forget about the fact that they don't like what Liberal governments actually do, and vote Liberal indiscriminately.

3. Even worse, this tendency extends to ridings where the New Democrat has a better chance of winning than the Liberal, and so-called "strategic" voters end up electing scores of Tories in ridings that are actually Tory-NDP races.

4. Ontario is a region within Canada, not a microcosm of it--and while the Liberals may be the dominant choice of progressives there, this is not the case either in Québec or in the growing west. When we hear about the Liberals being Canada's sole natural governing party, forever and ever amen, that's Ontariocentrism talking, not reality.

5. Progressive voters who refuse to recognize these essential facts end up trying to exist in some warped universe in which Jack Layton is personally responsible for the Liberals' loss of their hegemonic grip on the country. This idea is not only demonstrably false, but because of #1, it actually perpetuates a situation that prevents progressives from getting what we want out of our government.

People who call for the NDP to become the left wing of the Liberal Party are forgetting one part of what makes the Canadian system so much better than the US system. Look south. Do you really want a two-party system? We need more parties, not fewer parties. And we need a system that truly represents the electorate's choice.

One bright day in the future, I'll be able to vote in this new country of mine. And you can bet your last loonie I didn't save all that money and wait all those months and quit that great job and give up that rent-controlled Manhattan apartment to vote for the supposedly expedient party over the party that represents my own values.



Does anyone here use LaLa.com? How have you found it?

I'm wondering if it's a way for me to hear more new (to me) music without spending a lot of money.

it can and it is

One of wmtc's recurrent themes, or at least something I'm always blathering about, is the continuing decline of the United States. I see this both in terms of standard of living, as the country in many ways becomes a third-world nation, and in terms of the breakdown of democracy and the inroads of fascism.

In light of this, it looks like I should add this book to my (ridiculously lengthy) to-read list: It Can Happen Here by Joe Conason. An excerpt is available on AlterNet and truthout. It begins:
Can it happen here? Is it happening here already? That depends, as a recent president might have said, on what the meaning of "it" is.

To Sinclair Lewis, who sardonically titled his 1935 dystopian novel "It Can't Happen Here," "it" plainly meant an American version of the totalitarian dictatorships that had seized power in Germany and Italy. Married at the time to the pioneering reporter Dorothy Thompson, who had been expelled from Berlin by the Nazis a year earlier and quickly became one of America's most outspoken critics of fascism, Lewis was acutely aware of the domestic and foreign threats to American freedom. So often did he and Thompson discuss the crisis in Europe and the implications of Europe's fate for the Depression-wracked United States that, according to his biographer, Mark Schorer, Lewis referred to the entire topic somewhat contemptuously as "it."

If "it" denotes the police state American-style as imagined and satirized by Lewis, complete with concentration camps, martial law, and mass executions of strikers and other dissidents, then "it" hasn't happened here and isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

For contemporary Americans, however, "it" could signify our own more gradual and insidious turn toward authoritarian rule. That is why Lewis's darkly funny but grim fable of an authoritarian coup achieved through a democratic election still resonates today - along with all the eerie parallels between what he imagined then and what we live with now.

For the first time since the resignation of Richard M. Nixon more than three decades ago, Americans have had reason to doubt the future of democracy and the rule of law in our own country. Today we live in a state of tension between the enjoyment of traditional freedoms, including the protections afforded to speech and person by the Bill of Rights, and the disturbing realization that those freedoms have been undermined and may be abrogated at any moment.

Such foreboding, which would have been dismissed as paranoia not so long ago, has been intensified by the unfolding crisis of political legitimacy in the capital. George W. Bush has repeatedly asserted and exercised authority that he does not possess under the Constitution he swore to uphold. He has announced that he intends to continue exercising power according to his claim of a mandate that erases the separation and balancing of power among the branches of government, frees him from any real obligation to obey laws passed by Congress, and permits him to ignore any provisions of the Bill of Rights that may prove inconvenient.

Whether his fellow Americans understand exactly what Bush is doing or not, his six years in office have created intense public anxiety. Much of that anxiety can be attributed to fear of terrorism, which Bush has exacerbated to suit his own purposes - as well as to increasing concern that the world is threatened by global warming, pandemic diseases, economic insecurity, nuclear proliferation, and other perils with which this presidency cannot begin to cope.

Read more here. Or buy the book.

* * * *

Update. Hi again. I came back to add these two paragraphs from the excerpt above.
The most obvious symptoms can be observed in the regime's style, which features an almost casual contempt for democratic and lawful norms; an expanding appetite for executive control at the expense of constitutional balances; a reckless impulse to corrupt national institutions with partisan ideology; and an ugly tendency to smear dissent as disloyalty. The most troubling effects are matters of substance, including the suspension of traditional legal rights for certain citizens; the imposition of secrecy and the inhibition of the free flow of information; the extension of domestic spying without legal sanction or warrant; the promotion of torture and other barbaric practices, in defiance of American and international law; and the collusion of government and party with corporate interests and religious fundamentalists.

What worries many Americans even more is that the authoritarians can excuse their excesses as the necessary response to an enemy that every American knows to be real. For the past five years, the Republican leadership has argued that the attacks of September 11, 2001 - and the continuing threat from jihadist groups such as al Qaeda - demand permanent changes in American government, society, and foreign policy. Are those changes essential to preserve our survival - or merely useful for unscrupulous politicians who still hope to achieve permanent domination by their own narrowly ideological party? Not only liberals and leftists, but centrists, libertarians, and conservatives, of every party and no party, have come to distrust the answers given by those in power.

That is all.

"the past is not dead. in fact, it's not even past."

Al Sharpton - US politician, activist and civil rights leader - has learned that his great-grandfather was a slave owned by the family of the late US Senator Strom Thurmond.

This just blew me away.

Although Sharpton is known nationally and internationally, he's a New Yorker. We New Yorkers watched his several transformations, from minister/performer/civil rights activist/loud-mouthed buffoon and back again. No matter what his outer image, Sharpton has always stood on the side of justice. In recent years, he's evolved into a clear, steadfast voice for the working class and the poor, for peace, and for sanity. And what would we have done without him during the Giuliani years?

From the New York Times:
The results of the investigation, pieced together from census documents, slave narratives and birth and marriage registries, were unveiled yesterday in The Daily News, with the front-page headline, "Shock of My Life!"

"In the story of the Thurmonds and the Sharptons is the story of the shame and the glory of America," Mr. Sharpton said at a news conference at the office of The Daily News yesterday, with the older of his two daughters, Dominique, standing behind him.

"The shame is that people were owned as property, and the shame is that I'm the heir of those who were property to the Thurmond family," he said. "The glory is that Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 on a segregationist ticket; I ran in '04 on a ticket for racial justice, and that shows what America can become, if you’re determined to beat" discrimination.

Mr. Sharpton said he had not heard from the Thurmonds and had no immediate plans of contacting them. "This is not family," he said firmly. "This is property."

Great answer.

The movement of African Americans to uncover their slave ancestry is relatively recent and, as I understand it, still pretty rare. I can well understand the reluctance. What a thing to come face to face with.

Senator Thurmond, as you probably know, was a staunch segregationist, a wingnut, and a walking cadaver whose continued existence gave credence to the belief that the good die young. And of course, he was a raving hypocrite. A woman named Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the daughter of the Thurmond family's maid, waited until the senator was dead to publicly acknowledge that she was his daughter.

* * * *

The title of this post is from William Faulkner, who knew a thing or two about the past, and about slavery. It's one of my favourite quotations.

New York Daily News exclusive here.


another family gets the green light

From the I'm Always One Week Late Department:

Two Moms To Canada are in!!!

All our very best wishes to the whole Two Moms family. And apologies on being so late with my congratulations. I'm always way behind on my blog reading.

Who's next???

amateur hour

I can't say I've been following the details of the United States' impending invasion of Iran. I hope it isn't too ignorant to say I feel I understand about as much as I need to know.

The US continues on its endless war, using one pretext after the next to gain control of a scarce and precious resource, and to install governments friendly to US corporate interests. The American public isn't part of the equation, except inasmuch as they provide the funding and the bodies with which to wage war. If they don't buy the propaganda, they are ignored, and occasionally silenced. What passes for political opposition is either a pantomime or utterly ineffectual.

However... when I do try to understand the situation in any depth, I trust Seymour Hersh to know the score. For my money, Hersh is the most important investigative journalist of our time.

Here's a tidbit from his latest wrap-up. What lessons did the Cheney regime learn from one of its predecessors?
The Bush Administration's reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then — notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams — are involved in today's dealings.

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal "lessons learned" discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: "One, you can't trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can't trust the uniformed military, and four, it's got to be run out of the Vice-President's office" — a reference to Cheney's role, the former senior intelligence official said.

I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)

The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. "Negroponte said, 'No way. I'm not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.'" (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because "he believes he can influence the government in a positive way."

The government consultant said that Negroponte shared the White House's policy goals but "wanted to do it by the book." The Pentagon consultant also told me that "there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that he wasn't fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives." It was also true, he said, that Negroponte "had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East."

The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. "There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions," he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general.

"This goes back to Iran-Contra," a former National Security Council aide told me. "And much of what they’re doing is to keep the agency out of it." He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, "The C.I.A. is asking, 'What's going on?' They’re concerned, because they think it's amateur hour."

the rats

Things like this make me miss New York.

Not the vermin themselves. The people straining to see them, the talking about them, the shared experience of something simultaneously hideous, amusing and mundane. A little New York moment.

Allan told me some other rodents have been spotted in New York City: beavers. Swimming in the Bronx River, and building dams. Photos of the little guy and his dam can be seen here.

I bet you didn't even know there was a Bronx River.

minor improvement

Clicking on (part of) the banner should now bring you to the main page.


what liberal media?

Finally, the religious right has a reference site of its own: Conservapedia. Don't be surprised if you can't get to it - it's listed in Technorati's Top 10 searches. Here's a sample from Conservapedia's main page:
Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian "C.E." instead of "A.D.", which Conservapedia uses. Christianity receives no credit for the great advances and discoveries it inspired, such as those of the Renaissance.

While you're waiting for Conservapedia to load (or not), here's a very amusing post about it, from blogger Jon Swift.
For years homeschooled children have had to rely for all of their information on Wikipedia, which is full of dangerous ideas that homeschooling was supposed to prevent from seeping into the home. Now, finally, there is an alternative, which doesn't have any controversial ideas at all: Conservapedia. Conservapedia is based on good Christian values, unlike Wikipedia, which I gather from the name, is based on Wiccan.

I take it the blogger named him- or herself after Jonathan Swift, one of the greatest satirists of all time. Good name, great post.


Only a few readers responded to my question here, so for now, I'm leaving things the way they are. I love my wmtc.ca URL. I didn't go through all the trouble I've had with this blog to go back to using a blogspot address.

I understand that some readers are disturbed by clicking on a link from this page and still seeing the wmtc.ca URL in their browser. If you are among them, here's an easy workaround: right-click on the link, and choose "open in a new window". Ta-da.

Of course, when visiting other blogs, you can use your own bookmarks instead of my links. That works, too.

"he could be one of the great two-sport athletes of his generation"

Many thanks to Woti-Woti, friend of wmtc and citizen of Joy Nation, doing his part for Canada-US relations.

canada does the right thing

Yesterday the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that security certificates violate the Charter.
The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the security certificate system used by the federal government to detain and deport foreign-born terrorist suspects.

In a 9-0 judgment handed down Friday, the court found that the system, described by the government as a key tool for safeguarding national security, violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The high court gave Parliament one year to re-write the law that's keeping three men at the centre of the case in legal limbo.

It's excellent to see that the decision was unanimous, and that the court has charged lawmakers with changing the law.

There's a story on the CBC website this morning that tells something of what the detainees and their families have been going through - although I'm sure it barely scratches the surface of their years of hell.

For me, it's a relief to see that Canada will move in its own direction, away from the fear-mongering that discounts human rights and civil liberties in the quest for an elusive security. I'm so relieved that Canada has, at last, done the right thing.

Meanwhile, the Guantánamo concentration camps live on.


dilemma: please opine

I'm supposed to be writing right now. But that's not the dilemma.

I've chatted with my DNS hosts. It seems much of strange behaviour of wmtc.ca is caused by the "stealth" URL forwarding.

The "ghost" blog address - how this blog is actually hosted on Blogger - is wmtc.blogspot.com. It is then stealth-forwarded to wmtc.ca. That's how I can use Blogger, get all the new Blogger functions, and still have my own domain name.

If I turn off stealth forwarding, and just use regular URL forwarding, the ghost URL will appear in your browser. But the blog would stop doing some of the odd things it does, like retain the wmtc.ca URL when you click on a link from this page.

But what's the point of having my own URL, which I pay for and which I am very fond of, if this other URL shows up in your browser? It wouldn't even be my original address, wemovetocanada.blogspot.com, but some non-existent URL. If I'm not going to use wmtc.ca, I would have just stayed with the original address in the first place.

Which would you do? Not worry about these little weirdities? Or turn off the stealth feature and get this other address?

Before you answer, please do not suggest another option entirely, such as using WordPress software or switching to WordPress's hosted service. I have explored both those possibilities to death, along with several others. For many reasons, Blogger is still the best (or least worst) option for me.

Update: Please don't be put off by the long off-topic conversation, which a few of us picked up from this thread (more on the subject here). I do want your opinion on this. Thanks.

making every vote count

Ontarians got some good news today. The citizens' assembly, which has been charged with studying how provincial elections are decided, voted overwhelmingly in favour of changing to mixed member proportional voting.

The Toronto Star's bias against the change was obvious in its headline -"Radical voting proposal gains steam" - and in this sentence, set off in its own paragraph: "The system can lead to permanent minority governments and a proliferation of fringe parties." As I understand it, this is mostly myth. The Star also later refers to the current system as "our centuries-old system". Lay it on a little thicker, why don't you.

For the real story about proportional representation, read Fruits and Votes and Idealistic Pragmatist. I'm still reading up on the difference between true proportional representation and mixed member proportional voting. Hopefully MSS and Ideal-Prag will stop by to help out.

question period

Why do so many Americans love the Canadian and British Parliamentary systems? Question Period!
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was shouted down with cries of "shame, shame" during question period Wednesday after he raised a media report that said a Liberal MP is the son-in-law of a man police allegedly interviewed in connection with the Air India bombing case.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion was asking the prime minister about judicial appointments, accusing him of stacking the committees with Conservatives and jeopardizing the independence of the judiciary.

Harper responded that the Liberals opposed the changes the Conservative government has made that give police officers a voice in the process.

But Harper then said he was "not surprised, given what I'm reading in the Vancouver Sun today when I read this is how the Liberal party makes decisions."

"The Vancouver Sun has learned that the father-in-law of the member of Parliament for Mississauga-Brampton South..."

At that point, the last two rows of Liberal benches erupted in shouts, banging on their desks and jeering, CBC's Susan Bonner reported.

"They were ready for this. They were primed and they were angry," Bonner said.

Navdeep Singh Bains, the Liberal MP Harper was referring to, sat with his head down.

House Speaker Peter Miliken tried to get the Liberals to stop. When the shouting continued, he cut off their questioning and went to the Bloc Québécois for the next question.

No matter how many times we see this sort of thing, we can never quite get over it. Is there a progressive American alive who wouldn't love to see Bush or Cheney - or any president! - treated to a round of jeering and desk-pounding? In comments recently, M@ mentioned the level of reverence with which a US President is treated compared with Canada's Prime Minister (more evidence of Americans' authoritarian tendencies). To my mind, nothing exemplifies this more than Question Period.

Last night on "The National" - which I turned on specifically to see coverage of this story - Keith Boag, CBC's Parliamentary Bureau Chief, said, "If there's ever been a nastier Question Period in a Canadian Parliament, no one I know can remember it."

After the cries of "Shame! Shame!" MP after MP called on Harper to apologize, and, as one Member said, "to do the decent thing." But as we know - Maher Arar settlement notwithstanding - apologies are not in Stephen Harper's vocabulary. And if he were going to apologize, why would he have brought it up? It made for some excellent theatre, with the Liberals shouting, Harper forced to stop speaking, and an ostentatious display of support for MP Navdeep Bains.

For non-Canadian readers, the issue itself - what Harper is referring to, what's angering the Liberals - is probably a little murky. But if Harper is making this shit up, then the Liberals are correct: this is indeed a new low.


one day when you least expect it

My head isn't into posting today, so I'll use a bit of humour that James emailed me.


"...and they threw me outside, right into a horse"

Yesterday in comments on the Little Mosque post, reader Edward Ott noted:
i think it is very funny, not sure how non-muslims get all the jokes as some off them are what i think of as inside jokes.

I thought this was great, as I often think the same thing in a similar context: Seinfeld. Allan and I often wonder how non-New Yorkers understand some of the material, especially in the earliest (and, in my opinion, best) seasons, when the material was more New York-specific. But obviously millions of people not from New York City like Seinfeld, so we're all "getting it" on different levels. I like that.

In Seinfeld, most of these references are quick throwaway lines. The excellent Subway episode is full of them.

When George is handcuffed to the bed and the female con artist is stealing his suit, he screams, "That's my only suit! It cost me $350! I got it at Moe Ginsburg!" Moe Ginsburg is a great NYC reference, and a bit of a window into George, too, but only if you get it. (Holy cow! I just found out the Seinfeld Scripts website says "I got it at Mount Kingsbrough"?!)

In that same episode, Jerry takes the D train to Coney Island with the naked man (played by the terrific New York actor Ernie Sabella). The subway doors open and Jerry says, "French Fries!" If you're not from New York, does that mean anything?

Likewise at the very beginning of the episode, Kramer details various convoluted routes by which Jerry can get to Coney Island by subway, until Elaine says, "Couldn't he just take the D straight to Coney Island?" This is so New York.

(On the other hand, there are major continuity problems with the subway cars themselves. None of the lines are right, and the markings change from scene to scene.)

Last night as I was falling asleep, I watched a great episode: "The Visa," in which Elaine doesn't give Jerry his mail promptly, which leads to Babu being deported, and in which George is dating the lawyer handling Ping's case. ("I ran across the street to apologize to a virgin" is one of my favourite lines.)

Kramer is describing how he tried to apologize to Mickey Mantle, after punching him in the face at the Yankees fantasy camp.
Kramer: Well, I just came back from Mickey Mantle's restaurant.

Jerry: How could you go in there?

Kramer: Well, I had to. I had to apologize. I mean, I punched Mickey Mantle, my idol. It was eating me up inside!

Jerry: Well, what happened?

Kramer: I got down in my knees and went, "Go ahead, Mickey. Hit me. I'm begging you, Mickey, please hit me. C'mon, hit me. I love you, Mickey, I love you!"

Elaine: So, what did he do?

Kramer: Well, the four of them, they picked me up by my pants and they threw me outside, right into a horse.

OK folks, does anyone know why Kramer gets thrown into a horse? What does a horse have to do with anything? New Yorkers and former New Yorkers are not eligible to answer.

* * * *

Allan is visiting his country of origin (Vermont) this week, and probably won't be online very much. I know when he gets back he'll have something to say on this topic, which is much discussed in our home.


you might want to move to canada before it's too late

From the New York Times editorial page:
A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration's behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.

The provision, signed into law in October, weakens two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty. One is the doctrine that bars military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in law enforcement. Called posse comitatus, it was enshrined in law after the Civil War to preserve the line between civil government and the military. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which provides the major exemptions to posse comitatus. It essentially limits a president's use of the military in law enforcement to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights.

The newly enacted provisions upset this careful balance. They shift the focus from making sure that federal laws are enforced to restoring public order. Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any "other condition."

Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate. The president made no mention of the changes when he signed the measure, and neither the White House nor Congress consulted in advance with the nation’s governors.

This week a letter to the editor in the Toronto Star called Chris Hedges's warnings about the rise of fascism in the US "idiotic". According to him, that Hedges is allowed to write and speak proves democracy reigns. I wrote this letter (unpublished) in reply:
Letter writer [name] of Toronto believes that saying the US is turning fascist is "idiotic". Perhaps he is looking for the wrong signs. Just because there are no tanks rolling through the streets and some dissent is allowed does not make a country a democracy.

Right now in the US, there is: overwhelming evidence that the last two presidential elections were fraudulent; the president's legal right to imprison American citizens indefinitely without charging them with a crime; endless war; government propaganda being disseminated through supposedly independent media; the escalating influence of religious fundamentalism in every public institution.

Perhaps we are witnessing something we have not seen before: a fascist state dressed in the trappings of democracy. The danger is not using a word too soon. It's recognizing the threat too late.

Please add this to my list.

truthout freedom and democracy awards

Truthout has just announced the winners of the first annual Truthout Freedom and Democracy Awards.
These awards have been granted to three individuals who have done the most in the past year to promote freedom and democracy. These recipients will each receive an honorarium of $1,000 to assist them in continuing their work.

This year's recipients, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Gold Star Mother of US Army Spc. Casey Sheehan and peace activist Cindy Sheehan, who has taken her protest of the War in Iraq to the president's doorstep and worked tirelessly to bring an end to US engagement in Iraq.
  • 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, US Army, the first commissioned military officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq, stating that the war was not legal.
  • Ann Wright, former member of the military and a US State Department Foreign Service member who resigned her post in protest of the Iraq War and has joined the fight to end the war.
Each of these recipients has shown a deep commitment to efforts to strengthen freedom and democracy in a time of great need. Truthout salutes these honorees for their work.

Excellent choices! We all know Cindy Sheehan, and if you read this blog, you should know who Ehren Watada is. If you're not familiar with Ann Wright, here's an Amy Goodman interview with her.

At first I confused Wright with Karen Kwiatowksi, who was featured in Why We Fight.

Here's Ann Wright writing about the impending invasion of Iran, the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Principles.


freedom: for whom and for what

Two stories of freedom and attempts at censorship.

The first: who can and can't do what in public. You might be sick of this story already, but I thought this was thoughtful piece.

The second: what you can and can't write in a children's book.

The first: two men kissing in front of middle America.

The second: the word "scrotum". Crabbi recently blogged about people freaking out from seeing the real names for anatomical parts. I guess this is another one.

* * * *

And again the New York Times files a gay-themed story in the Styles section! What is up with that? I notice it all the time. It drives me nuts.

abraham lincoln, real and imagined

More from Cannonfire on fake - and surprisingly real - quotes from Lincoln, which I blogged about here.

thoughts on the monarchy, loyalty oaths and citizenship

Many months ago, I received an email from a new Canadian reader, who wrote:
I'd love to read about your position on the monarchy as our head of state and (more "interestedly") your opinion about making an oath to the queen when you become a Canadian citizen!
I told her I'd save the topic for a mentally rainy day, and that day has finally arrived.

I don't have many feelings about the Queen or her representative, the Governor General, as the head of state. In modern Canada, the role is so symbolic, and seems so perfunctory, that it doesn't stir up many feelings for me.

In theory, separating the head of state from the head of government is a useful tool, allowing the entire populace to look to one country, beyond any ethnic, religious, partisan or other divisions. Does it serve that function in practice? I don't know. It certainly doesn't bring together the French/English divide, and I imagine at times it's exacerbated that rift, since the GG represents the British monarchy. (Does Michaëlle Jean's Haitian and French roots ameliorate that?) On the other hand, Canada is a less divisive society than the US. Is this partially why? Perhaps, although the answers have to be more complex than that.

But the second part of the reader's question - that's another story.

I grew up in a political household, or at least one where I discussed the issues of the day with both parents, all the time. Both my parents were - and my surviving parent still is, I am very pleased to say - very progressive. But they were also patriotic, and saw no contradiction in that. They were both children of immigrants who came to the US to escape poverty and persecution; they both believed the US is a great country, flaws and all. They always told me that wanting the country to live up to its ideals was the highest form of patriotism.

My own disowning of patriotism came much later. Even my mother remembers her former patriotism wistfully.

One piece of the American iconography that I always bought into was the story of the colonists breaking with England, the struggle for freedom and self-representation. Never mind that the story is more complicated than that, and rooted in as much in economics as anything else. We never forgot that the self-representation was only for one class of people, but, we told ourselves, it was a start. The documents were written, there would be no king, and now the work of creating a true democracy could begin.

This is the story I grew up with, and one that is embedded deeply in my consciousness. I remember spending one Fourth of July in Williamsburg, Virginia. This was before the days of theme parks, so it was really all about history. We stared upwards as the Union Jack was lowered and the original US flag was raised - cannons roaring, fireworks exploding. I was perhaps 8 years old, and it was very stirring.

As you can imagine, loyalty to a monarchy is not part of my vernacular.

Obviously Canada built a successful democracy without violently overthrowing the monarchy, choosing instead to adjust its role a little at a time. But to me the very idea of a monarchy is an anachronism, and the antithesis of a democratic state. I realize that Canada has both. I'm speaking from an emotional or psychological perspective.

Then there's the issue of loyalty oaths, in general.

As we've discussed here, only new citizens are asked to make such a declaration. People who are Canadian citizens by accident of birth are not asked to declare their loyalty, and their loyalty is not questioned. This hurdle is reserved for those who actively and consciously choose Canada as a country. I understand the idea behind it, but it seems a little ass-backwards to me.

A loyalty oath for new citizens reminds me of what adoptive parents go through. They pass through a long series of hurdles - financial, psychological, emotional - to prove that they are suited for parenthood. The fact that they have gone to such lengths to become parents might provide a clue to their suitability, whereas anyone - bully, abuser, molester, moron - can become a parent through biological means.

So the whole thing seems a little off to me.

I want to become a Canadian citizen, and I intend to apply as soon as I'm eligible. I'm certainly not going to miss the opportunity because of a symbolic loyalty oath to a symbolic Queen.

It just rubs me the wrong way.

* * * *

In preparing this post, I learned about Canada's newest citizens, the history of the current loyalty oath and the Canadian Citizenship Act. Imagine uniform Canadian citizenship dates back to only 1947!

On the oath itself, I found this very informative site from the Monarchist League of Canada.

On the nuts and bolts of becoming a Canadian citizen, the moving-to-Canada crew will want to read Idealistic Pragmatist's excellent post on the subject (written two weeks before Allan and I moved to Canada!).

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. One request, if I may: let's hold off on discussions of whether or not Allan and I will retain our US citizenship when the time comes. (Thanks in advance.)

* * * *

Canada's oath of citizenship:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen."

Here are some oaths of citizenship from other countries.

year of the boar

Happy Lunar New Year!

In 4704, or 5767, best known as 2007, I'm expecting some excitement when the Harper government gets the boot. So the year of the boar should not be a year to be bored.


catapulting the propaganda

Today the Toronto Star gave us an eye-opening glimpse inside a government selling its people on a war.
The Conservative government has been "too American" in its attempts to justify the Afghan war to a skeptical Canadian public, according to an internal report commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The extensive critique of the Tory communications strategy on the war comes from a series of cross-country focus groups conducted in November 2006 at a cost of almost $76,000.

The study, obtained by the Toronto Star, found that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was "echoing" U.S. President George W. Bush in his attempt to explain why Canadian soldiers are fighting and dying in the country's southern province.

Harper has drawn a link between the NATO-led mission and the 24 Canadians who were killed in the collapse of New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor recently described the fight as "retribution" for the terrorist attacks.

"Participants associated this message with public relations positioning – it was seen as echoing the kind of messaging American officials have made regarding Iraq," wrote the report's authors, the Strategic Counsel public opinion firm.

The report lists "vocabulary/terms/phrases/concepts to reinforce" the message that the government is right about its commitment to the war in Afghanistan. They include "rebuilding," "restoring," "reconstruction," "hope," "opportunity" and "enhancing the lives of women and children."

Words and phrases to avoid include: "freedom, democracy, liberty – in combination this phrase comes across as sounding too American."

Strategic Counsel also advised that the government "avoid developing a line of argumentation too strongly based on values. While the value of human rights is strongly supported, there is a risk of appearing to be imposing Canadian values. Again, this is not seen to be the 'Canadian way.'"

. . .

The Tory communications problems are compounded by "a general perception that this government is already closely aligned with the U.S. on other fronts," the report states.

To counter this, the Tories should seek opportunities to "underscore Canadian sovereignty" and quash the view there is an "overly-close, dominant-subservient" relationship between the two countries.

. . .

It seems the government has heeded some of the tough-talking advice.

A section of the focus group examined words and pictures that were to be placed on the federal government's main website explaining Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.

Instead of references to threats or terrorism, which the study found only underscored the Harper-Bush link, there are pictures of children in schools, references to progress and development, and the explanation that Canada is in Afghanistan at the request of the democratically elected government.

So we don't have to worry about redefining - or even defining - the "mission," as this war is always called. All we have to do is repackage it. And they're worried about sounding too American?

The title of this post, in case you don't remember, comes straight from the figurehead himself.


From our friends at Wal-Mart Watch:
No matter how hard you hit Wal-Mart, they always come back for more.

14 years ago in Greenfield, Massachusetts our friend and partner Al Norman received national attention for stopping Wal-Mart in his hometown. Al was nicknamed "Wal-Mart's enemy #1" and has since been working with grassroots groups all across the country to protect cities and small towns from Wal-Mart's greed.

But this year, Wal-Mart is back in Al's backyard. Not satisfied with the super centers already open just minutes away from Greenfield, Wal-Mart is pushing hard once again. And this time, their planned store is 20,000 square feet bigger!

. . .

We have a lot to thank Al Norman for. He is the "guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement," and his organization, Sprawl-Busters, was a forerunner to programs like ours.

Last year, we partnered with Al to create Battle-Mart, a clearinghouse of information and step-by-step tactics for activists to use in their own site fights. Now, its time to help as Al puts the Battle-Mart fight plan to work to protect his small New England town.

. . .

Things are moving fast. The developer is well on its way to getting the special permits he needs and has spent years lining up political support for the project. Even Greenfield's newly-elected mayor says "it's only a matter of time now that we see the big box retailer that I promised."

But Al Norman doesn't back down easily, and neither will we.

Here's what's at stake, in Al's own words:

Greenfield is being transformed from a once family-friendly community into a bland, national retail chain center, with national logos and national restaurants dominating the marketplace… Everyone's hometown is turning into just another 'chain-store town,' with rising crime rates, rising traffic, and a deteriorating downtown.

Greenfield is under siege. Land that was once home to ancient Native American communities could soon be spoiled by 160,000 square feet of corporate greed. The developer's plan even calls for paving over wetlands to build a parking lot.

Al's got his own well-tested plan of attack, but following Battle-Mart's battle plan isn't easy. As you can see, the necessary lawyers, hydrogeologists, engineers and other experts don't come cheap. Al can't put up the fight that Greenfield deserves without our help.

Anyone who's ever fought for their home town against a giant corporation owes a debt to Al Norman. Here's how you can repay him.

In Canada, a Battle-Mart campaign is being fought in North Grenville, Ontario.

evolution is a jewish conspiracy. who knew?

Anti-science meets anti-Semitism meets the United States Congress. There's a Congressperson who says evolution is a Jewish conspiracy. He has proof.

I wish I were joking.

Thanks to you-know-who.

(Also, isn't that a great cartoon? "Abraham Lincoln also said...")

john amaechi: a milestone

Last week a former NBA player named John Amaechi came out as gay.

Some people try to downplay the importance of his announcement, shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Who cares about sexual orientation". Well, the sports world still cares. In 2007, we can say skin colour isn't a hiring factor in professional sports; in 1945 we couldn't say that. One day we'll be able to say sexual orientation doesn't matter, but that day is not now. Amaechi's announcement is a major milestone.

Those of us who care about both progress and sports are waiting - and we wait still - for a male player, playing on (not retired from) a US professional sports team to come out as gay. Individual sports are not the same; women's sports are not the same. Any time someone in the public eye comes out, it's a victory, but the world of professional team sports, with its entrenched, unquestioned homophobia, and its thinly disguised homoeroticism, is still the final frontier.

It's often acknowledged that the first player to cross this threshold will have to be a major star, someone who is indispensable, unbenchable, someone who the fans adore. (The musical "Take Me Out" imagined a team very much like the Yankees and a player very much like Derek Jeter carrying the torch.) Only a huge star will be able to come out as gay and keep his job and his endorsements. And if he doesn't keep them, no excuse will mask the bigotry.

I was really happy about Amaechi, and greatly encouraged by the reaction. Sure, there were the predictable stupid comments. But there were statements of support, too - and that would have been unimaginable, say, 25 or even 10 years ago.

Dave Zirin, the author of What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States, covers a beat that I envy: the intersection of sports and activism. I've quoted him a few times on this blog; whenever there's a story about progressive thought or politics in the sports world, I know Zirin will be on it.

About Amaechi, Zirin writes:
Sports is one of the last grand hamlets of homophobia. Amaechi poses a real challenge to the realities of the locker room, the press box and the owner's box: all places where I have heard homophobic comments used as casually as a comma. I give no credit to [NBA Commissioner David] Stern's pretension that it just doesn't matter. I also have nothing but contempt for folks like bench-warming Philadelphia 76er Shavlik Randolph, who said, "As long as you don't bring your gayness on me, I'm fine." Then there was Steven Hunter, who said, "For real? He's gay for real? Nowadays it's proven that people can live double lives. I watch a lot of TV, so I see a lot of sick perverted stuff about married men running around with gay guys and all types of foolishness."

I have nothing but pity for 22-year-old LeBron James (yes, still just 22), who commented, "You take showers together, you're on the bus, you talk about things. With teammates, you have to be trustworthy. If you're gay and you're not admitting that you are, you're not trustworthy. It's the locker room code."

As Washington Post writer Michael Wilbon responded, "Not to be too cynical, but I don't want to pay too much attention to reactions from a 22-year-old ballplayer with incredibly limited exposure.... LeBron's reaction simply reflects the self-absorption of the day when it comes to young athletic gods whose transition from boyhood to manhood is in too many cases put off until retirement from the pros."

It's a rather sharp sign of the level of homophobia and repressed homoeroticism--in a sport that involves all kinds of "banging down low," as the announcers tell us--that so many jocks immediately gravitate toward the fear of what might happen in the shower. In our televised interview on the Canadian program Outside the Lines, Jim Traber insisted that he had no problem with having a gay teammate... as long as he didn't "try to touch my butt in the shower." (I gently informed Jim that not even the soap wants to touch his butt in the shower.) Amaechi had to tell fellow members of the Utah Jazz to stop flattering themselves. When his Neanderthal, crew-cutted teammate Greg Ostertag asked Amaechi, "Dude, are you gay?" Amaechi responded in his clipped British accent, "Greg, you have nothing to worry about."

But I have nothing but respect for the NBA people going beyond the "locker room code" to offer real support. Former teammate Michael Doleac told the Palm Beach Post, "If that's who he is, good for him. John was a smart guy, a great guy, a fun guy."

Another former teammate, Grant Hill, said to the Associated Press, "The fact that John has done this, maybe it will give others the comfort or confidence to come out as well, whether they are playing or retiring."

But my favorite comments came from Knicks coach Isiah Thomas. Lord help me, I am starting to really like the man, which may be a sign of the apocalypse.

Thomas told the press, "If [there is an openly gay player] in my locker room, we won't have a problem with it. I can't speak for somebody else's locker room, but if it's mine, we won't have a problem. I'll make damn sure there's no problem.... We're a diverse society and we preach acceptance. We're proud of diversity and no matter what your sexual preference may be...no one should be excluded."

In the middle of all of this tortured--and long overdue--public grappling by the league, Amaechi was also blindsided from a surprising source: ESPN columnist LZ Granderson. Granderson, who is gay, wrote, "I am so over gay people. Specifically, John Amaechi.... You know, the athlete who comes out after retiring, writes a tell-all, and then hears how courageous he is from straight columnists trying to appear 'evolved'.... I can't help but wonder: When will somebody simply man up? That is, come out while he is still playing and finally demystify this whole gay athlete thing once and for all."

This is an outrageous argument. Granderson, as a well-salaried ESPN columnist, feels safe out of the closet. But his daily reality couldn't be more different from someone who has to navigate the machismo that dominates the typical locker room. It couldn't be more different from the athlete risking the opportunity to emerge from poverty in a profoundly homophobic society. As Amaechi said about coming out while active, "It's terrifying. These people are looked at as stars, as NBA players. Any change to that would be psychologically, emotionally and financially devastating."

If Granderson really wants to do something about homophobia, maybe instead of chastising closeted gay players, he should report on the extracurricular activities of Indianapolis Colts football coach Tony Dungy. Dungy, who just became the first African-American to lead a team to Super Bowl victory, will thump his Bible at a March fundraiser for the Indiana Family Institute. The IFI is affiliated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family, which fights to "retrain" the "evil" of homosexuality.

Granderson should take a cue from gay former NFL player Esera Tuaolo, who told the Associated Press, "What John did is amazing. He does not know how many lives he's saved by speaking the truth.... Living with all that stress and that depression, all you deal with as a closeted person, when you come out you really truly free yourself."

I can't wait for that first player from the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL to step out of his closet and be "really truly free".


new look update

Folks who were finding the all lower case text difficult to read should be happier now. I've got my template in all lower case, the way I like it, and you've got the content and comments in normal sentence case, the way you like it.

I fixed the spacing issue on the sidebar - myself! That was fun.

I also fixed the spacing issue that partially hid the post date with an arrow.

The banner is a link to the main page in Firefox, but not in Internet Explorer. Designer Guy is still working on that. Meanwhile I made a stupid link in the sidebar as a workaround.

I'm almost there.


Mike Carlton, a smart columnist from the other side of the world, writes that President Cheney is visiting his country.
The Chickenhawk-in-Chief is coming. We are to be visited next week by Deadeye Dick Cheney, the most odious individual to hold the office of US Vice-President since the criminal Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace from the Nixon administration.

A little history to begin with: first the chicken. Asked in 1989 by The Washington Post why he had dodged the draft for the Vietnam War, Cheney notoriously replied that "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service".

Now the hawk. In recent years, his enthusiasm for military service - other people's military service, that is - has multiplied like anthrax. No man, not even George Bush, has done more to drive the American disaster in Iraq.

It's an excellent wrap-up of Cheney's treason; you can read it on Common Dreams.

more lies of the radical right

Have you seen this? It's a favourite quote of the wingnuts, one that was especially popular during last year's attacks on Representative John Murtha.
"Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged." — President Abraham Lincoln.

If you know anything about Abraham Lincoln, you might find it difficult to believe he said such a thing. You might suspect the quote is a hoax.

And you'd be right.

From Editor and Publisher, courtesy of my favourite researcher:
The drive by some political and military figures -- and pundits -- to paint those who oppose the war in Iraq as traitors or at least not supporting the troops has hit another low, with a Washington Times columnist trumpeting an incendiary quote from Abraham Lincoln shown to be a fabrication last year.

Frank Gaffney, Jr. opened his latest column with this: "Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged." — President Abraham Lincoln.

He continues: "It is, of course, unimaginable that the penalties proposed by one of our most admired presidents for the crime of dividing America in the face of the enemy would be contemplated — let alone applied — today. Still, as the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate engage in interminable debate about resolutions whose effects can only be to 'damage morale and undermine the military' while emboldening our enemies, it is time to reflect on what constitutes inappropriate behavior in time of war."

One problem: Lincoln never said it.

Brooks Jackson at FactCheck.org, the Annenberg Public Policy Center group, studied the sudden appearance of the quote last August. Why? He had found that his Web search "brought up more than 18,000 references to it."

He reported: "Supporters of President Bush and the war in Iraq often quote Abraham Lincoln as saying members of Congress who act to damage military morale in wartime 'are saboteurs, and should be arrested, exiled or hanged.'

"Republican candidate Diana Irey used the 'quote' recently in her campaign against Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, and it has appeared thousands of times on the Internet, in newspaper articles and letters to the editor, and in Republican speeches.

"But Lincoln never said that. The conservative author who touched off the misquotation frenzy, J. Michael Waller, concedes that the words are his, not Lincoln's. Waller says he never meant to put quote marks around them, and blames an editor [at the magazine Insight] for the mistake and the failure to correct it. We also note other serious historical errors in the Waller article containing the bogus quote."

Jackson later provided this update: "Candidate Irey retracted the quote and apologized hours after this article appeared."

Waller wrote to Jackson concerning the 2003 article: "Oddly, you are the first to question me about this. I'm surprised it has been repeated as often as you say. My editors at the time didn't think it was necessary to run a correction in the following issue of the magazine, and to my knowledge we received no public comment."

Gaffney is a regular columnist at the Washington Times.


UPDATE: As of Thursday night, The Washington Times had neither removed the quote from the Gaffney column nor run a correction.

On Thursday, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) cited the quote on the floor of the House during the debate on the Iraq war "surge."

Well, we can't let little things like truth and accuracy get in the way of our witchhunt, can we?

And PS, I didn't say I was surprised. It's just worth noting. I also think it's worth spreading the word.

canada regains some sanity

We learned this morning that Mohamed Mahjoub was finally released from prison, after being held for seven years without charges being made against him. It's about time a Canadian court woke up and did the right thing. But it's a terrible disgrace that Canada imprisoned a man indefinitely without charging him with anything - and is still holding other people in the same circumstances.

Thomas Walkom writes that Canada is taking steps back towards sanity, but has a ways to go.
Gradually, tentatively, the country is groping its way back to sanity. Yesterday in Toronto, a judge ruled it didn't make any sense to keep a sick, 46-year-old man who has not been charged with any crime locked up for almost seven years. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the opposition majority is set to let two of the most odious provisions of Canada's illiberal anti-terror laws – enacted in panic following 9/11 – die a richly deserved death.

We haven't gained our equilibrium yet. Egyptian refugee claimant Mohamed Mahjoub may be able to rejoice now that Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley has allowed him to be detained under house arrest rather than in a special jail built just outside of Kingston. But there are still two other immigrants there who have been imprisoned for years without charge.

And while many Canadians have belatedly discovered the importance of civil liberties when it comes to these so-called security certificate cases, few are championing 20-year-old Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen currently held against all the norms of international law in George Bush's Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Which is to say that we have a way to go.

But still, we've made a start. Stéphane Dion's Liberals have acknowledged that they made a gross error in supporting two of the most draconian provisions of the anti-terror laws – the power to jail any citizen without charge and the power to compel individuals, who have not been charged with any crime, to answer police questions.

Unless the Liberals change their minds again, this means that they, along with the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois, will defeat a government motion to extend these two powers past their March 1 expiry date.

I can't imagine being imprisoned. I can scarcely imagine many things worse than being imprisoned indefinitely without knowing the charges against oneself. The Guantanamo Bay prison is the eternal shame of the United States. Canada should be above it.

Canadians who worry about Canada becoming the 51st state should rail against these very real threats to human rights and civil liberties as passionately as they do about perceived threats to the health care system.


css help wanted

I'm trying to close up the white space between the sidebar headings and their contents. (I believe this is called padding?) I've tried several things, but I can't seem to get it.

There are three different kinds of widgets in the sidebar: text, link lists, and html/java. The text widgets are not bad, although I'd close them up a little if I could. The link list widgets have way too much white space between the heading and the list. The java/html widgets vary.

Any ideas?

Update: Now I've somehow increased the space between paragraphs within posts. Argh. He'p me.

what i'm watching: little mosque on the prairie

Are you all still watching? Now that we've seen four episodes, what do you think?

I like it. It's not hilarious, but it's quietly funny, and the characters are being fleshed out more. I thought this last episode, about the convert, was good.


Two weeks after arriving in our home, Tala has really turned a corner.

For about two weeks, she was extremely hyperactive. All young dogs have a lot of energy, but this little girl was just bouncing off the walls. Then, all of a sudden, she settled down.

I realize now that the hyperactivity was her response to the overwhleming change that had been foisted on her.

When we adopted Gypsy, our first dog, from death row at the ASPCA, she was depressed. She had very little personality (boy, would that soon change), and did little but sleep. More recently, Cody was depressed when we first moved to Canada, and then again when we moved to the new house. So I was looking for that type of behavior in Tala. Not seeing it, I mistakenly thought that she showed no signs of missing her foster family, had no difficulty adjusting.

But just as people respond to crises in different ways, dogs do, too. In fact, some people, when overwhelmed with a life change, become hyper, zooming from one activity to the next, unable to sit still. And that's what Tala was doing.

I've heard from many people that dogs usually adjust to a new circumstances in about two weeks. When one dog in a family dies, the surviving dog often mourns for two weeks, then snaps out of it. Coming to a new home, which is an upheaval of enormous magnitude, the adjustment period will often last about two weeks. The two examples I mentioned, Gypsy and Cody, were both depressed for about two weeks. I don't know if there's evidence to back this up, but many people I know have observed it.

Now it seems that, two weeks in, Tala has decided that this is her home.

Right now she's dancing around the backyard with a toy in her mouth, bucking and jumping and floundering through the snow, having a great time, all by herself. Cody's standing in a corner of the yard, watching.

what i'm watching: thank you for smoking

We're on a roll with movies now, because baseball season is fast approaching, and because I've pared down our ZipList to only our high-priority films.

Last night we watched "Thank You For Smoking", Jason Reitman's movie based on the Christopher Buckley novel of the same name.

The main character of "Thank You For Smoking" is a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, and the consummate spinmaster. How do you do sell a product that kills 12,000 people a day? By obfuscating and twisting the truth, and generally corrupting language until it has no meaning, and can mean anything you want it to mean. TYFS's Nick Naylor can make the tobacco industry look like victims or defenders of freedom. In his business, there is no objective truth, there is only who is the better spinmaster.

According to Wikipedia, Reitman says "Thank You For Smoking" is meant to make fun of so-called political correctness, but I didn't see that. To me this movie is about PR, and spin, and how they distort the truth. It won't change your life, but it's an amusing little movie.

If you want to see something about the dark side of Big Tobacco, try "The Insider," based on Jeffrey Wigand's heroic whistle-blowing of former tobacco giant Brown & Williamson.

Going public with his knowledge of the tobacco industry's lies and deception ended Wigand's career, ruined his marriage, and threatened his life - but he spoke out anyway. "The Insider" focuses on Wigand's and relationship with "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman, who convinced Wigand to go public, only to have CBS kill the story for fear of being sued by B&W. It's a very compelling and frightening story about moral courage. If I recall correctly, it's also a very good movie.



I just found out that a friend of mine died Tuesday night, after a ten-year struggle with breast cancer. I want to write a little memorial for her here.

* * * *

"Battle with cancer" is a tired cliche, but this woman did battle with everything she had, trying every treatment, both conventional and alternative, and exploring other forms of healing, such as Chinese medicine, meditation and other spiritual practices.

Regina was not one my closest friends, nor someone in my immediate circle whose absence I will feel daily. But over the years our casual friendship deepened, and she came to confide in me. We developed a warm bond based on mutual respect and admiration, and some common interests - especially our love of dogs.

Regina was a paralegal at the New York City law firm where I worked on the weekends. Chronically disorganized and scattered, she usually came in on Sundays to catch up. It was on those Sundays that we became friends.

She was a great Rennaissance person, with a profound appreciation for opera, theatre (especially Shakespeare), wine and good food, but also a soft spot for baseball and the Rolling Stones.

Everyone associated Regina with her dog, a wire-haired fox terrier named Sam, who was the light of her life. Sam died a few years ago of cancer, not long after Regina had lost both her aged parents. Since Sam's death, Regina co-parented two fox terriers named Albert and Einstein. We talked about our dogs all the time.

Regina's political worldview was somewhat like mine, although she purposely didn't keep up with the news, feeling it was too stressful for her compromised immune system. She was sporadically informed, and often suddenly passionate about something, a bit out of context. Her heart was always in the right place.

When she retired from the law firm, Regina had a lot of plans of how she'd spend her time. I think she mostly just enjoyed New York, some weekends in the country with her good friends (both human and canine), went to the theatre, and focused on her health.

We saw each other once before I left New York, at a dinner with Allan and Charlie, another mutual friend from work. Regina very much wanted to get together before I left the City, but I was just too busy and too stressed. I made it a point to see her on my first visit back. I knew it would likely be the last time I would.

The last time I spoke to Regina, she was in the hospital with pneumonia. She was weak and frustrated. She needed more chemotherapy, but her body couldn't tolerate any more. Shortly after that, she decided to go home, stop all treatment, and receive hospice care.

Knowing she wasn't up to speaking, I mailed her a note. I'm grateful it reached her before she died. She left a message on my voice mail, saying, "I think of you often. I want to send you something, can you leave your home address on my voice mail? Bye. Oh, I'm still here. Bye. Not for long, but for now. Bye. But I'm fine, it's fine. I'm good. Bye."

I listened to it a few times. I just deleted it yesterday.

what i'm watching: scoop

We saw "Scoop" last night, Woody Allen's latest.

If you love Woody Allen, as I do, you'll enjoy this one very much. Allen plays an aged Jewish magician who hails from Brooklyn, doing his act in London; Scarlett Johansson is a goofy American be journalism student who can't stop sleeping with the men she's supposed to interview.

Allen's classic Woody Allen character is completely over the top - more stuttering, more nervous hand gestures, more indigestion and anxiety, than any character should have to live with. It's a cartoon, but knowingly so, a nod to all the Woody Allen characters of the past. Thankfully, the man has learned a thing or two, and hasn't scripted a romantic encounter between the two leads.

Allen still possesses that uncanny knack of getting more out of his female leads than anyone else can. From the early days of Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow, through Dianne Weist and Julie Kavner, on to Helena Bonham Carter, Mia Sorvino and Christina Ricci, Allen makes them all look like better actors - and more beautiful - than they do in anything else.

"Scoop" is lighthearted, silly, sweet but not saccharine, not entirely predictable, and a lovely, brief 90 minutes. If you hate Woody Allen, this wouldn't change your opinion, but if you want to see everything he's made, as I do, add this to your list.

Allen is one of the quintessential American independent filmmakers, creating what he wants, neither overly commercial or affectedly nonconformist, always working, always true to himself. I get the feeling as long as there's daylight and he's breathing, this man will be making movies.

each one, teach one

More reasons for hope, courtesy of AW1L's subscription to The Economist. Check out #5!
AMERICANS are worried about God, globalisation and their place in the world. That, at least, is the conclusion to be drawn from the global sale of history books through Amazon.com.

A new edition of Thomas Friedman's 2005 bestseller, "The World is Flat", is there, along with Newt Gingrich on the role of religious faith in America and Michael Oren and Mark Steyn (interestingly, both outsiders) on the consequences of American behaviour abroad, especially in the Middle East.

These books all came out within the past six months. Big names and big subjects tend to generate big publicity around publication time, but it takes an additional, often indefinable something for a book to continue selling. James Loewen's "Lies My History Teacher Told Me" is nearly a decade old, and still sells hundreds of copies each week.

In an easy, readable style, the author vets ten topics (from Christopher Columbus to the Vietnam war) and bewails how American textbooks distort them. Although he sometimes adopts a tone of high political correctness, he often proves the textbooks and teachers wrong. For readers who are children at heart, what could be more appealing?

1. The World Is Flat [Updated And Expanded]: A Brief History Of The Twenty-First Century - By Thomas L. Friedman

2. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid - By Jimmy Carter

3. Power, Faith, And Fantasy: America In The Middle East, 1776 To The Present - By Michael B. Oren

4. America Alone: The End Of The World As We Know It - By Mark Steyn

5. A People's History Of The United States: 1492-Present - By Howard Zinn

6. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History Of Medical Experimentation On Black Americans From Colonial Times To The Present - By Harriet A. Washington

7. Rediscovering God In America: Reflections On The Role Of Faith In Our Nation's History And Future - By Newt Gingrich

8. Six Frigates: The Epic History Of The Founding Of The U.S. Navy - By Ian W. Toll

9. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong - by James W. Loewen

10. The Cartoon History Of The Modern World Part 1: From Columbus To The U.S. Constitution - By Larry Gonick

There's an old activist saying: "Each one, reach one. Each one, teach one." I love that, because it emphasizes the ability of each of us to work for justice, and it emphasizes the need to educate.

All positive change begins with education. People can't fight against what they don't know and don't understand. So while I'm sorry to see flatworlder Tom Friedman's book at the top of the list, I'm confident his book will be collecting dust in the remainder bin while People's History and Lies My Teacher Told Me is still educating the world.

people: 2 million, evil empire: 0historic lawsuit against wal-mart to proceed

I used to blog regularly about Wal-Mart (now conveniently filed under "labour" for your viewing pleasure). Although I don't mention them much anymore, I am still on the mailing list of the good folks of Wal-Mart Watch. They are a busy bunch, and a recent court ruling gave them something to celebrate.

The historic lawsuit called Dukes v. Wal-Mart - the largest class-action suit in US history, popularly known as "Betty v. Goliath" - will be proceeding against Wal-Mart, despite the company's best efforts to stop it. From WMW:
Wal-Mart may have the best legal team money can buy -- but even the fanciest of corporate lawyers can't stop the largest class-action lawsuit in U.S. history.

Thanks to the determination of current and former Wal-Mart employees, their dedicated counsel and the judicial wisdom of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the world's largest employer will face allegations that it actively discriminated against its female employees. This case could cost them close to $20 billion.

This is a historic day for all of us who believe that women deserve equal pay, equal promotions and equal treatment at work.

From Bloomberg News:
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the biggest U.S. private employer, lost a bid to prevent 2 million current and former female workers from proceeding as a group with sex bias claims in the largest employment lawsuit in U.S. history.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco today upheld a 2004 lower court ruling granting class-action status to a lawsuit accusing Wal-Mart of paying women less than men and giving them fewer promotions. That ruling expanded the suit, originally filed by six women, to include all women who worked at Wal-Mart stores from December 1998 to the present, excluding upper management and pharmacy workers.

"Expert opinions, factual evidence, statistical evidence and anecdotal evidence present significant proof of a corporate policy of discrimination," the appeals court said.

The court's 2-1 decision is a blow to Bentonville, Arkansas- based Wal-Mart, which is facing more than 200 federal lawsuits by employees. While the workers still have to prove their claims at a trial, the ruling provides leverage for a settlement. The workers are seeking billions of dollars in back pay and punitive damages, court-ordered changes in Wal-Mart's practices and independent monitoring of company practices.

Any action against Wal-Mart has ramifications for all US employers, which is why it's so important to fight them on every front. WMW is leading and helping to coordinate battles on discrimination, labour relations, the environment, Wal-Mart's undue influence on the political process, its effect on communities, its relationships with its suppliers, and of course, the all-important issue of health care.


portugal takes a step forward

Thanks to a socialist government, the women of Portugal will be more free of the Catholic Church's control of their reproductive decisions.
After a referendum on Portugal's strict abortion laws failed due to low voter turn-out, the country's Socialist government has announced that it will work to legalize abortion in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Portuguese voters yesterday decisively voted to liberalize Portugal's extremely strict abortion law, but the results were considered invalid because only 44 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot; for a referendum to be considered binding, at least half of the country's eligible population must vote. Currently, Portuguese legislation allows for abortion only in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if a woman's health or life is at risk. Women pregnant because of rape may be considered for an abortion until the 16th week.

Luis Marques Mendes, who heads the Social Democratic Party, remarked, "The will of the Portuguese must be respected," the BBC reports, suggesting that opposition parties will not attempt to veto new legislation that would liberalize the country's laws. Supporters of lifting the abortion ban cited over 23,000 illegal abortions performed yearly. Currently Portugal's abortion practices are some of most restrictive in the European Union.

The debate over Portugal's restrictive abortion laws heated up after Women on Waves raised awareness about them in 2004. WOW is a Dutch organization based on a ship. Their mission is to prevent unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions throughout the world, by travelling to countries where abortion is illegal and providing reproductive health services in international waters. When WOW tried to help Portuguese women in 2003, they were blocked by the Portuguese Navy.

In addition to Portugal, Women On Waves has had campaigns in Poland, Argentina, and their first, highly publicized campaign, in Ireland in 2001. Ireland has the most restrictive abortion laws in the Europe Union. More than 6,000 Irish women travel to Britain every year to obtain abortions.


new look

Ta-da! It's finally up!

We're still tweaking the sidebar and a few other things. But the basics are here. Fun with banner photos is coming, too.



james returns to the blogosphere

Longtime friend of wmtc James and his partner have a new puppy! James is blogging about it.

James has been so nice about the off-topic material, I thought a shout-out was the least I could do.

The puppy is adorable, as puppies are. Go over for a quick melt.

so you all can comment...

...I have temporarily turned off the verification. Let's see how it goes.

comments are screwy

I've heard from many readers that comments are behaving badly. Some people are unable to leave comments at all, others can only sporadically.

Blogger is aware of it, and hopefully it's temporary. But who knows.

land of the free

This man just won the lottery.

What will he buy? Improved treatment for his lung cancer. That is, if he can get New York State Lottery to assign his ticket to the cancer treatment centre and pay out his winnings all at once.

Who needs universal health insurance when getting better cancer treatment is only a jackpot away?


what i'm watching: jeff ltd.

Did any of you watch the first season of "Jeff Ltd."?

I discovered this strange Canadian comedy one night last year, and got hooked in spite of myself. I didn't know anything about it, but there seemed to be only one season, and it was being re-run in random order on the Comedy Network. When I introduced Allan to the show, he had a similar reaction. At first you don't think it's very funny, but somehow you get hooked.

"Jeff Ltd." shares a sensibility with Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm": an unsympathetic main character who continually gets himself into trouble, completely of his own doing, and never learns, and never changes. Like Larry David in Curb, Jeff Seymour's character is annoying and usually wrong, but you end up liking him anyway. This show is not as good as Curb, but that's a high standard. It has a similar vibe, and I think Curb fans would like this show.

Last fall I caught a bit of (what I assumed was) the season finale of season one, but I haven't managed to find a repeat of that episode, to watch the whole thing and tape for it for Allan. In today's Star, we saw that the show was picked up for a second season, which premieres tonight on CTV.

Q&A with Jeff Seymour here; Canadian viewers may know him from "The Eleventh Hour," but I don't know that show.

when is a canadian not a canadian

I'm always saying everyone is Canadian.

Idealistic Pragmatist has a great take on this. She posted this in comments a while back.
Q: What do Canadians call a famous person who was born in Canada but left to go to Hollywood at the age of four?

A: A Canadian.

Q: What do Canadians call a famous person who was born in the United States but moved with his family to Vancouver at the age of fifteen?

A: A Canadian.

Q: What do Canadians call a famous person who was born in the United States but married a Canadian and spends summers in Toronto?

A: A Canadian.

Q: What do Canadians call a famous person who was born and raised in the United States, lives there now, but once made a pit stop in London, Ontario on his way through from Buffalo to Detroit?

A: A Canadian.
OK, that last one might be a humourous exaggeration. But there's no denying that when it comes to famous people, Canadians claim the lot, from Saul Bellow (born in Lachine, Quebec, but identified with the city of Chicago for most of his life) to Winnie-The-Pooh (a Brit, named after a bear called Winnipeg).

Unfortunately, when it comes to ordinary folks, some Canadians are decidedly less generous, as those periodic letters to the editor complaining about dual citizenship show.

Then there are Canadians who discover that they are really not Canadians after all. From The Economist, courtesy of my friend AW1L:
When is a Canadian not a Canadian?

In the deathless prose of bureaucracy, it is known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Adopted after the terrorist attacks of 2001, it requires all returning Americans, as well as citizens of Canada, Mexico and some Caribbean countries, to present a passport when entering the United States by air. Since many such travellers previously got by with a driving licence, it was dreaded by tourism officials in the countries concerned. But when it came into effect earlier this month, all seemed to go smoothly.

Except it didn't for several thousand Canadians who, when they applied for passports, discovered that their own country's bureaucracy had incomprehensibly stripped them of their nationality. Some of them have even become stateless.

Up to 20,000 people may have fallen foul of a little-known provision of the Citizenship Act of 1947. In some cases, their misfortune lies in having been born during the period when Canada did not recognise dual citizenship until the act was amended in 1977. Some are the children of war brides who came to Canada after the second world war. Others are "border babies" born in an American hospital because it was closer to their home than the nearest Canadian town. A third group are children of parents who moved to the United States for work and took out American citizenship. The law states that if any of these Canadians were living outside Canada on their 28th birthday (or 24th in the 1947 act) they would automatically lose their citizenship unless they filled out a form saying they wished to keep it.

One of many who knew nothing of this requirement is Barbara Porteous, a British Columbian born just over the border in Washington state. When she applied for a passport last July she was told she would first have to re-apply for citizenship. This would take three years, involve health and criminal checks and a C$125 ($106) fee. "It just blew me away," she said. "I've been living here for 46 years and getting the Canadian pension for the past five years."

Andrew Telegdi, a Liberal MP, dubs those affected "lost Canadians" and says they were deprived of their citizenship without proper notice. He is campaigning to reform the law. But like its Liberal predecessor, the current Conservative administration shows no inclination to do so. Diane Finley, the immigration minister, announced on January 24th that she had directed her department to resolve these cases as quickly as possible. That means about a year, her officials admit. It makes the complex immigration procedures at American airports feel like greased lightning.


what i'm watching: an inconvenient truth

We finally saw "An Inconvenient Truth" last night. I thought it was truly excellent. A huge amount of complex information is conveyed in a very clear, straightforward and compelling way - and that is the highest compliment one can pay a movie like this. I've written some educational videos, and let me tell you, it is not a simple thing to do. I think Al Gore and his team have done a brilliant job.

Several wmtc readers said they found the segments about Gore himself jarring or intrusive. I did not. I think the movie is also a personal journey or quest. It's about, in some sense, why Gore made the movie. I think that personal piece might make it more compelling for some viewers.

I admire Gore tremendously for dedicating himself to educating the public this way, for committing the time, energy and resources to what is clearly the most important issue of our time. If Gore wants to be part of the story, well, why shouldn't he be? Who doesn't want recognition for their work? Who among us is so free of ego that we don't want credit for our own efforts? After losing the presidency, Gore could have chosen any path: he chose public service. And this, to my mind, is true public service.

I noticed that many of the points made in the movie are ones I read about in more detail in Jared Diamond's Collapse, which I blogged about here, among other entries. If "An Inconvenient Truth" interested you, if you've read about global warming in the newspaper or heard about it on TV, but haven't explored it further, and don't know where to start, I highly recommend reading Collapse.

I loved Gore's quick run-through of examples of human beings radically changing the world, from the American Revolution to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. It's so important to remember that humans have created very positive - and completely radical - change. It's so easy to be cynical, to feel hopeless. But it's vitally important not to succumb to those feelings, to focus on what we can do. Gore makes a great point about how people often go straight from denial to hopelessness: "It's not happening, but if it is, there's nothing we can do about it." That skipped step in the middle is what could save our lives.

I also liked the pie chart illustrating how small changes add up incrementally. One sliver for this, another for that... and you've restored hope. This made me feel better about any little steps that I've taken, and it inspired me to go further. I can't be the only one who felt that way - proof that this movie can do a lot of good.

Two things in the past year have greatly influenced my thinking about the environment. I was not a global warming denier, and I've always tried to do my little share for conservation, my habits falling somewhere in that vast middle ground between off-the-grid simple living and wasteful disregard. But two things have brought me a sense of greater clarity and urgency, and gave me more tools to think, write and talk about the issue, using both hard facts and personal, human observations. One was my trip to Peru. The second was reading Collapse. Now I'll add a third: "An Inconvenient Truth".

Did you see that tickets for Gore's appearance in Toronto sold out in minutes? In Boise, Idaho, his appearance had to moved to a larger venue to accommodate the huge demand, and 10,000 tickets sold in 90 minutes.