This week the Battle of Vimy Ridge has been in the Canadian media on a daily basis. It's the 90th anniversary of that World War I slaughter, which, according to legend or myth or possibly fact, forged Canada's identity as a nation. From the Canadian War Museum:
Many historians and writers consider the Canadian victory at Vimy a defining moment for Canada, when the country emerged from under the shadow of Britain and felt capable of greatness. Canadian troops also earned a reputation as formidable, effective troops because of the stunning success. But it was a victory at a terrible cost, with more than 10,000 killed and wounded.

The Canadian Corps was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge in April 1917. [Map] Situated in northern France, the heavily-fortified seven-kilometre ridge held a commanding view over the Allied lines. The Canadians would be assaulting over an open graveyard since previous French attacks had failed with over 100,000 casualties. ...

Although I know a fair amount about World War I -era Canada and the US, I know (and care) very little about the details of any specific battle of that terrible, useless war. The Canadian commemoration of Vimy seems most analogous, in US terms, to events surrounding the invasion of Normandy, known as D-Day.

What's interesting to me is the idea that a World War I battle helped create Canada's identity as a separate nation. In 1917, Canada already was a nation from separate Great Britain, not a colony. Clearly this battle is seen as a defining moment, but I always wonder about defining moments. They may be more products of the media than reality. Would an entire generation of Americans feel that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was their defining moment if they hadn't constantly seen, heard and read that it was? Maybe, maybe not. Culture is what we see reflected around us.

I wonder, too, how many present-day Canadians relate to a 1917 battle at all. Older folks of British descent, sure. And possibly the millions of Canadians descended from the mass influx of immigrants just prior to World War I, from many Eastern European countries, from Scandinavia, from the US, and from elsewhere. But what of the huge influx of Canadians who came here, or whose parents came here, after 1950? Or 1970? Or in the last 10 years? It would be interesting to know.

In our first months here, I saw how Remembrance Day (November 11) is a much more important holiday in Canada than in the US. Canada was involved in World War I on the same level as Britain, while the US just popped in for a quick kill at the end. (Some Canadians like to crow about that, but why was the US there at all?) In the US, what was originally called Armistice Day is now Veterans Day, and has very little connection to the Great War.

Did Vimy really mean what it is said to mean? Is World War I as much a part of Canadian culture as we are told? What does it mean to you?

I know at least two wmtc readers who'll have something interesting to say about this. I look forward to their comments.

trust your stuff

It occurred to me that my current job search is another example of what I like about getting older. It's a great feeling to be confident in your abilities, to have senior-level experience on your resume, and to walk into an interview knowing you can project that confidence. Thinking back to interviewing, say, 20 years ago - the nerves, the apprehension, the self-consciousness - this is a breeze.

I've always enjoyed getting older. It helps that I have an incredibly positive role model for aging. My mother remade her life when she was in her early 50s by leaving my father (a move that was long overdue), and has been enjoying her life to the fullest ever since. She never whines about her age; she embraces it. As I wrote in an essay somewhere, aging is another word for living.

In my 30s, when I would hear younger friends or acquaintances complaining about growing older, I always insisted that getting older was great. Now that I'm closer to 50 than 40, and some of the less pleasant aspects of aging have advanced a bit further, I still believe it. There's not an age I'd ever want to go back to.

Now, of course, I have a greater understanding of the issues of aging, and why it's so scary. Hell, I've lost one friend to AIDS, one to a heart attack, and another to breast cancer, and have friends who are breast cancer survivors. Most of my peers are either dealing with aging parents or have already lost their parents. (And on the purely esthetic or cosmetic level, sheesh... let's not go there!) So it's not like I'm blind to the down side.

But when I was in my 30s, the people I knew who were whining about getting old were 27 or 32! It's not like they were dealing with serious issues of health and mortality, or of physical deterioration.

In my 30s, I understood so much more about what I wanted out of life. I stripped away so much extraneous noise. I took those millions of life lessons I learned painfully in my 20s, and put them into practice. In my 20s I created the framework of the life I wanted; in my 30s I furnished it and made it my home.

It's not that only good things happened to me. But that would be an absurd way to assess one's life. I had some really difficult times in my 30s, some serious pain. But I knew who I was. I knew what I wanted. Many times, that's what guides you through.

The lessons of my 40s - so far - have been more subtle. They all seem to fall under the category called "understanding your process". You could call it "listening to the voice within". In keeping with the season, I'll use a baseball metaphor, and call it "trusting your stuff".

fingers crossed

I'm holding off Cheap Firm as a potential safety, and Better Firm isn't making a decision until mid-April. Meanwhile, I had a great interview yesterday at Even Better Firm.

Here's a great lesson in being proactive in a job search - or in anything. I haven't been waiting to see weekend jobs posted or announced. I'd like all the human resource people to have my resume and know that I'm available. Weekend staff is hard to find, and I want them to know that an excellent person is available.

To that end, I've been emailing my resume and cover letter to the HR managers at all the major downtown law firms. It helps that I'm part of this famous dissolution; our resumes are getting a little more consideration.

This week I heard about another firm with a good reputation, and sent. The following day, I received this reply: "Even Better Firm doesn't currently have weekend staffing, but we've been talking about implementing it." !!

She told me the schedule they had been thinking of; it was awful. I told her I wasn't available for that, but here's what I'm looking for. Her reply: "Could you come in for an interview? We may be able to accommodate your preferred schedule." Bingo!

I interviewed yesterday, and it was gangbusters. My resume came across the HR desk at precisely the right time. By the time I got back to my desk at Dissolving Firm, Even Better Firm had emailed asking for references.

I'm really excited about Even Better Firm. This job would have the added advantage that I'd be working alone on the weekends. For my day job, that's the best.

I have a phone interview with my potential supervisor on Monday. Fingers crossed.


what i'm watching: christopher guest

We watched "For Your Consideration" the other night, the latest Christopher Guest spoof. If you like his movies, this is a good one. Other than a clunky ending, it's very funny.

The prescence of Ricky Gervais was an unwelcome surprise for me. I loathe that character he does, and as far as I know, it's all he does. But I'm sure for many people his appearance is a bonus. Some of the jokes in this movie will be much funnier if you're Jewish, so you'll want to convert before viewing.

My favourite of Guest's spoofs and mockumentaries was "A Mighty Wind", a send-up of folk music culture. For me that was both the funniest and the most dead-on since "Spinal Tap". I know most people loved "Best In Show," but that was my least favourite, although it had its moments.

As in most of the Christoper Guest spoofs, "For Your Consideration" affords many opportunities for us to turn to each other and say, "Canadian" (Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara). It's a little slice of the everyone-is-Canadian culture.

Which reminds me, did anyone watch The Colbert Report last night? What did he call Canadians...? "Not bad for a bunch of bilingual..." Bilingual what? This is what happens when you watch TV when you're half asleep. I heard it, and loved it, and promptly forgot it.

Well, only two more movie nights left before the season changes. Which means, it's almost Opening Day!! I can't wait.


speaking truth to power

Did you see this guy?

protester westminster abbey

That's Westminster Abbey. He's an uninvited (and unexpected) guest, and he's telling the dignified assemblage: "This is a disgrace," referring to Britain's refusal to apologize for their part in the slave trade. Cool, eh? Read more here.

early spring

Ah, the backyard. After living in an apartment for all of my adult life, I cannot get over the simple pleasure of sitting in my backyard, enjoying the peaceful quiet, listening to the birds chirp. As I always say, living in New York, the only thing I missed was having some private outdoor space. But I really missed it. And now, I enjoy it immensely.

Allan and I both couldn't wait for the snow to melt and the weather to warm up, just so we could sit outside, have a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and watch the dogs play. Yesterday was our first opportunity.

Cody's our first dog to ever have her own backyard (Buster lived briefly in the old house, but he couldn't play off the leash, and the backyard wasn't fenced in, so it wasn't the same). Now Tala is our first dog to never know apartment life.

When I watch them play, I still sometimes feel bad that Gypsy and Clyde never enjoyed this simple luxury. It's ridiculous, of course. We took them to the park all the time, we all went upstate together, they went hiking and swimming. We gave them the best lives we possibly could, after rescuing them both from certain death. But I can't help it. When I see Cody and Tala running around outside, or just relaxing on the lawn, any time they want, I wish I could have done this for my G and little munchkin, too. Ah, well.

Those dogs never had a mommy with a digital camera, either! I just put more photos up at Flickr. It's just more of the same, but I can't stop enjoying them.

tala cody backyard 03 131

tala cody backyard 03 122
the snow melted... and the sticks reappeared!

tala cody backyard 03 116
happiness is just a stick away

tala cody backyard 03 105
tala doesn't care about sticks. she's too busy with her kong.

tala cody backyard 03 050
these two are in love.


great t-shirt

I could have used this when I worked in Rockefeller Center.

Thanks to James for sending me this. Check out some great photos of his puppy.


I had two job interviews yesterday, both for positions with the hours I'm looking for.

One firm uses archaic equipment, is in the technological stone age and is obviously tight-fisted with salaries and benefits. They're almost sure to make me an offer, but it doesn't seem like a great place to work.

The other firm seems like a more comfortable work environment, and more competitive, but they're still talking to other people.

Allan thinks I should turn down Cheap Firm regardless of what Better Firm says. It's hard to pass up work when I keep hearing how what I'm looking for (three 12-hour days) is scarcer than ethics in the Bush administration.

Then again, are these positions as rare as everyone thinks? Allan has one, I'm leaving another, and I've already interviewed for two spots, after only two weeks of looking. It's certainly less common than straight Monday-to-Friday positions, but possibly not in the hen's teeth category.

Plus, I'm employed until June 6. I have time.

quebec results

Do any wmtc readers have opinions on the results of the Quebec election? Want to share?



Here's a lovely picture from TGNOTFOTE.
Mary Rose Derks was a 65-year-old widow in 1990, when she began preparing for the day she could no longer care for herself. Every month, out of her grocery fund, she scrimped together about $100 for an insurance policy that promised to pay eventually for a room in an assisted living home.

On a May afternoon in 2002, after bouts of hypertension and diabetes had hospitalized her dozens of times, Mrs. Derks reluctantly agreed that it was time. She shed a few tears, watched her family pack her favorite blankets and rode to Beehive Homes, five blocks from her daughter's farm equipment dealership.

At least, Mrs. Derks said at the time, she would not be a financial burden on her family.

But when she filed a claim with her insurer, Conseco, it said she had waited too long. Then it said Beehive Homes was not an approved facility, despite its state license. Eventually, Conseco argued that Mrs. Derks was not sufficiently infirm, despite her early-stage dementia and the 37 pills she takes each day.

After more than four years, Mrs. Derks, now 81, has yet to receive a penny from Conseco, while her family has paid about $70,000. Her daughter has sent Conseco dozens of bulky envelopes and spent hours on the phone. Each time the answer is the same: Denied.

Tens of thousands of elderly Americans have received life-prolonging care as a result of their long-term-care policies. With more than eight million customers, such insurance is one of the many products that companies are pitching to older Americans reaching retirement.

Yet thousands of policyholders say they have received only excuses about why insurers will not pay. Interviews by The New York Times and confidential depositions indicate that some long-term-care insurers have developed procedures that make it difficult — if not impossible — for policyholders to get paid. A review of more than 400 of the thousands of grievances and lawsuits filed in recent years shows elderly policyholders confronting unnecessary delays and overwhelming bureaucracies. In California alone, nearly one in every four long-term-care claims was denied in 2005, according to the state.

"The bottom line is that insurance companies make money when they don't pay claims," said Mary Beth Senkewicz, who resigned last year as a senior executive at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. "They'll do anything to avoid paying, because if they wait long enough, they know the policyholders will die."

Profit, profit, profit before all. As long as someone's feeding from the trough, what do we care how many people suffer?

I recently wrote a story about the Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark civil rights law for people with disabilities. In discussing where the disability rights movement is heading next, one of my interviews said, "Eventually people in the United States will realize that people have a right to health care. And the disability community will be in the forefront of that struggle."

The baby boomers, too, will play a part. Living longer, accustomed to comfort, and possibly a lot less well off than they intended to be, they will swell the ranks of Americans needing long-term care.

Will they fight for it - now, while they can? Will they even recognize this fight - against for-profit health care, for universal insurance - as their own?

New York Times story here.


a little paranoia is a good thing

I've been blogging about this for a very long time. Now more proof has been uncovered by the excellent New York City journalist Jim Dwyer. I can only assume I was included in this one.
City Police Spied Broadly Before G.O.P. Convention
By Jim Dwyer

For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews.

From Albuquerque to Montreal, San Francisco to Miami, undercover New York police officers attended meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists, the records show.

They made friends, shared meals, swapped e-mail messages and then filed daily reports with the department's Intelligence Division. Other investigators mined Internet sites and chat rooms.

From these operations, run by the department's "R.N.C. Intelligence Squad," the police identified a handful of groups and individuals who expressed interest in creating havoc during the convention, as well as some who used Web sites to urge or predict violence.

But potential troublemakers were hardly the only ones to end up in the files. In hundreds of reports stamped "N.Y.P.D. Secret," the Intelligence Division chronicled the views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking the law, the records show.

These included members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies. Three New York City elected officials were cited in the reports. [Emphasis mine.]

In at least some cases, intelligence on what appeared to be lawful activity was shared with police departments in other cities. A police report on an organization of artists called Bands Against Bush noted that the group was planning concerts on Oct. 11, 2003, in New York, Washington, Seattle, San Francisco and Boston. Between musical sets, the report said, there would be political speeches and videos.

"Activists are showing a well-organized network made up of anti-Bush sentiment; the mixing of music and political rhetoric indicates sophisticated organizing skills with a specific agenda," said the report, dated Oct. 9, 2003. "Police departments in above listed areas have been contacted regarding this event."

Police records indicate that in addition to sharing information with other police departments, New York undercover officers were active themselves in at least 15 places outside New York — including California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montreal, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, D.C. — and in Europe.

The operation was mounted in 2003 after the Police Department, invoking the fresh horrors of the World Trade Center attack and the prospect of future terrorism, won greater authority from a federal judge to investigate political organizations for criminal activity.

To date, as the boundaries of the department's expanded powers continue to be debated, police officials have provided only glimpses of its intelligence-gathering.

Now, the broad outlines of the pre-convention operations are emerging from records in federal lawsuits that were brought over mass arrests made during the convention, and in greater detail from still-secret reports reviewed by The New York Times. These include a sample of raw intelligence documents and of summary digests of observations from both the field and the department's cyberintelligence unit.

Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the Police Department, confirmed that the operation had been wide-ranging, and said it had been an essential part of the preparations for the huge crowds that came to the city during the convention.

"Detectives collected information both in-state and out-of-state to learn in advance what was coming our way," Mr. Browne said. When the detectives went out of town, he said, the department usually alerted the local authorities by telephone or in person.

Under a United States Supreme Court ruling, undercover surveillance of political groups is generally legal, but the police in New York — like those in many other big cities — have operated under special limits as a result of class-action lawsuits filed over police monitoring of civil rights and antiwar groups during the 1960s. The limits in New York are known as the Handschu guidelines, after the lead plaintiff, Barbara Handschu.

"All our activities were legal and were subject in advance to Handschu review," Mr. Browne said.

Before monitoring political activity, the police must have "some indication of unlawful activity on the part of the individual or organization to be investigated," United States District Court Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. said in a ruling last month.

Christopher Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represents seven of the 1,806 people arrested during the convention, said the Police Department stepped beyond the law in its covert surveillance program.

"The police have no authority to spy on lawful political activity, and this wide-ranging N.Y.P.D. program was wrong and illegal," Mr. Dunn said. "In the coming weeks, the city will be required to disclose to us many more details about its preconvention surveillance of groups and activists, and many will be shocked by the breadth of the Police Department’s political surveillance operation."

The Police Department said those complaints were overblown.

On Wednesday, lawyers for the plaintiffs in the convention lawsuits are scheduled to begin depositions of David Cohen, the deputy police commissioner for intelligence. Mr. Cohen, a former senior official at the Central Intelligence Agency, was "central to the N.Y.P.D.’s efforts to collect intelligence information prior to the R.N.C.," Gerald C. Smith, an assistant corporation counsel with the city Law Department, said in a federal court filing.

Balancing Safety and Surveillance

For nearly four decades, the city, civil liberties lawyers and the Police Department have fought in federal court over how to balance public safety, free speech and the penetrating but potentially disruptive force of police surveillance.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Raymond W. Kelly, who became police commissioner in January 2002, "took the position that the N.Y.P.D. could no longer rely on the federal government alone, and that the department had to build an intelligence capacity worthy of the name," Mr. Browne said.

Mr. Cohen contended that surveillance of domestic political activities was essential to fighting terrorism. "Given the range of activities that may be engaged in by the members of a sleeper cell in the long period of preparation for an act of terror, the entire resources of the N.Y.P.D. must be available to conduct investigations into political activity and intelligence-related issues," Mr. Cohen wrote in an affidavit dated Sept. 12, 2002.

In February 2003, the Police Department, with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's support, was given broad new authority by Judge Haight to conduct such monitoring. However, a senior police official must still determine that there is some indication of illegal activity before an inquiry is begun.

An investigation by the Intelligence Division led to the arrest — coincidentally, three days before the convention — of a man who spoke about bombing the Herald Square subway station. In another initiative, detectives were stationed in Europe and the Middle East to quickly funnel information back to New York.

When the city was designated in February 2003 as the site of the 2004 Republican National Convention, the department had security worries — in particular about the possibility of a truck bomb attack near Madison Square Garden, where events would be held — and logistical concerns about managing huge crowds, Mr. Browne said.

"We also prepared to contend with a relatively small group of self-described anarchists who vowed to prevent delegates from participating in the convention or otherwise disrupt the convention by various means, including vandalism," Mr. Browne said. "Our goal was to safeguard delegates, demonstrators and the general public alike."

In its preparations, the department applied the intelligence resources that had just been strengthened for fighting terrorism to an entirely different task: collecting information on people participating in political protests.

In the records reviewed by The Times, some of the police intelligence concerned people and groups bent on causing trouble, but the bulk of the reports covered the plans and views of people with no obvious intention of breaking the law.

By searching the Internet, investigators identified groups that were making plans for demonstrations. Files were created on their political causes, the criminal records, if any, of the people involved and any plans for civil disobedience or disruptive tactics.

From the field, undercover officers filed daily accounts of their observations on forms known as DD5s that called for descriptions of the gatherings, the leaders and participants, and the groups' plans.

Inside the police Intelligence Division, daily reports from both the field and the Web were summarized in bullet format. These digests — marked "Secret" — were circulated weekly under the heading "Key Findings."

Perceived Threats

On Jan. 6, 2004, the intelligence digest noted that an antigentrification group in Montreal claimed responsibility for hoax bombs that had been planted at construction sites of luxury condominiums, stating that the purpose was to draw attention to the homeless. The group was linked to a band of anarchist-communists whose leader had visited New York, according to the report.

Other digests noted a planned campaign of "electronic civil disobedience" to jam fax machines and hack into Web sites. Participants at a conference were said to have discussed getting inside delegates’ hotels by making hair salon appointments or dinner reservations. At the same conference, people were reported to have discussed disabling charter buses and trying to confuse delegates by switching subway directional signs, or by sealing off stations with crime-scene tape.

A Syracuse peace group intended to block intersections, a report stated. Other reports mentioned past demonstrations where various groups used nails and ball bearings as weapons and threw balloons filled with urine or other foul liquids.

The police also kept track of Richard Picariello, a man who had been convicted in 1978 of politically motivated bombings in Massachusetts, Mr. Browne said.

At the other end of the threat spectrum was Joshua Kinberg, a graduate student at Parsons School of Design and the subject of four pages of intelligence reports, including two pictures. For his master’s thesis project, Mr. Kinberg devised a "wireless bicycle" equipped with cellphone, laptop and spray tubes that could squirt messages received over the Internet onto the sidewalk or street.

The messages were printed in water-soluble chalk, a tactic meant to avoid a criminal mischief charge for using paint, an intelligence report noted. Mr. Kinberg’s bicycle was "capable of transferring activist-based messages on streets and sidewalks," according to a report on July 22, 2004.

"This bicycle, having been built for the sole purpose of protesting during the R.N.C., is capable of spraying anti-R.N.C.-type messages on surrounding streets and sidewalks, also supplying the rider with a quick vehicle of escape," the report said. Mr. Kinberg, then 25, was arrested during a television interview with Ron Reagan for MSNBC’s "Hardball" program during the convention. He was released a day later, but his equipment was held for more than a year.

Mr. Kinberg said Friday that after his arrest, detectives with the terrorism task force asked if he knew of any plans for violence. "I'm an artist," he said. "I know other artists, who make T-shirts and signs."

He added: "There's no reason I should have been placed on any kind of surveillance status. It affected me, my ability to exercise free speech, and the ability of thousands of people who were sending in messages for the bike, to exercise their free speech."

New Faces in Their Midst

A vast majority of several hundred reports reviewed by The Times, including field reports and the digests, described groups that gave no obvious sign of wrongdoing. The intelligence noted that one group, the "Man- and Woman-in-Black Bloc," planned to protest outside a party at Sotheby’s for Tennessee’s Republican delegates with Johnny Cash's career as its theme.

The satirical performance troupe Billionaires for Bush, which specializes in lampooning the Bush administration by dressing in tuxedos and flapper gowns, was described in an intelligence digest on Jan. 23, 2004.

"Billionaires for Bush is an activist group forged as a mockery of the current president and political policies," the report said. "Preliminary intelligence indicates that this group is raising funds for expansion and support of anti-R.N.C. activist organizations."

Marco Ceglie, who performs as Monet Oliver dePlace in Billionaires for Bush, said he had suspected that the group was under surveillance by federal agents — not necessarily police officers — during weekly meetings in a downtown loft and at events around the country in the summer of 2004.

"It was a running joke that some of the new faces were 25- to 32-year-old males asking, 'First name, last name?'" Mr. Ceglie said. "Some people didn't care; it bothered me and a couple of other leaders, but we didn't want to make a big stink because we didn't want to look paranoid. We applied to the F.B.I. under the Freedom of Information Act to see if there's a file, but the answer came back that 'we cannot confirm or deny.'"

The Billionaires try to avoid provoking arrests, Mr. Ceglie said.

Others — who openly planned civil disobedience, with the expectation of being arrested — said they assumed they were under surveillance, but had nothing to hide. "Some of the groups were very concerned about infiltration," said Ed Hedemann of the War Resisters League, a pacifist organization founded in 1923. "We weren't. We had open meetings."

The war resisters publicly announced plans for a "die-in" at Madison Square Garden. They were arrested two minutes after they began a silent march from the World Trade Center site. The charges were dismissed.

The sponsors of an event planned for Jan. 15, 2004, in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday were listed in one of the reports, which noted that it was a protest against "the R.N.C., the war in Iraq and the Bush administration." It mentioned that three members of the City Council at the time, Charles Barron, Bill Perkins and Larry B. Seabrook, "have endorsed this event."

Others supporting it, the report said, were the New York City AIDS Housing Network, the Arab Muslim American Foundation, Activists for the Liberation of Palestine, Queers for Peace and Justice and the 1199 Bread and Roses Cultural Project.

Many of the 1,806 people arrested during the convention were held for up to two days on minor offenses normally handled with a summons; the city Law Department said the preconvention intelligence justified detaining them all for fingerprinting.

Mr. Browne said that 18 months of preparation by the police had allowed hundreds of thousands of people to demonstrate while also ensuring that the Republican delegates were able to hold their convention with relatively few disruptions.

"We attributed the successful policing of the convention to a host of N.Y.P.D. activities leading up to the R.N.C., including 18 months of intensive planning," he said. "It was a great success, and despite provocations, such as demonstrators throwing faux feces in the faces of police officers, the N.Y.P.D. showed professionalism and restraint."

I'm tempted to write that this is the long shadow of 9/11 falling between Americans and their Constitutional rights. But spying like this was commonplace during the Vietnam anti-war movement, during the civil rights movement, in the early days of the labour movement, and at many other times in US history. 9/11 is just the latest excuse.

This instance has an additional level of sadness and anger for me, as Michael Bloomberg, pimping my great city for his party's convention, made the NYPD join the fun.


I forgot to mention the gruesome task we accomplished this week: our taxes.

You single-country folks out there, no complaining. As Permanent Residents of Canada and US citizens, we have to file in both countries. We don't owe taxes to the US - we get a "foreign tax credit" - but as long as we are citizens of that country, we are required by law to check in with the IRS.

I know I said the same thing last year, but this might be the best reason to give up that citizenship when I'm eligible.

"reject the dishonesty of false compromise"

The mainstream media is portraying the supplemental spending bill, recently passed by the House of Representatives, as a bold step towards ending the war. The word "timetable" is on everyone's tongue, as if the United States has committed itself to withdrawing its troops from Iraq. But in fact, the US has built permanent bases in Iraq, and is building more (privately contracted, of course).

When the House of Representatives authorizes an additional $100 billion towards the occupation of Iraq - $25 billion more than the Resident asked for! - I don't call that moving in the right direction. And when a supposedly progressive group endorses the move, I don't call them an antiwar group.

Howard Zinn asks, "Are we politicians or citizens?"
As write this, Congress is debating timetables for withdrawal from Iraq. In response to the Bush Administration's "surge" of troops, and the Republicans' refusal to limit our occupation, the Democrats are behaving with their customary timidity, proposing withdrawal, but only after a year, or eighteen months. And it seems they expect the anti-war movement to support them.

That was suggested in a recent message from MoveOn, which polled its members on the Democrat proposal, saying that progressives in Congress, "like many of us, don't think the bill goes far enough, but see it as the first concrete step to ending the war."

Ironically, and shockingly, the same bill appropriates $124 billion in more funds to carry the war. It's as if, before the Civil War, abolitionists agreed to postpone the emancipation of the slaves for a year, or two years, or five years, and coupled this with an appropriation of funds to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.

We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress.

Timetables for withdrawal are not only morally reprehensible in the case of a brutal occupation (would you give a thug who invaded your house, smashed everything in sight, and terrorized your children a timetable for withdrawal?) but logically nonsensical. If our troops are preventing civil war, helping people, controlling violence, then why withdraw at all? If they are in fact doing the opposite—provoking civil war, hurting people, perpetuating violence—they should withdraw as quickly as ships and planes can carry them home.

Zinn offers us some historical perspective on compromise and on what may or may not be "the best we can get". He even mentions the new movie by one of my favourite filmmakers, Ken Loach.
The Congressional Democrats' proposal is to give more funds to the war, and to set a timetable that will let the bloodletting go on for another year or more. It is necessary, they say, to compromise, and some anti-war people have been willing to go along.

However, it is one thing to compromise when you are immediately given part of what you are demanding, if that can then be a springboard for getting more in the future. That is the situation described in the recent movie "The Wind That Shakes The Barley", in which the Irish rebels against British rule are given a compromise solution—to have part of Ireland free, as the Irish Free State. In the movie, Irish brother fights against brother over whether to accept this compromise. But at least the acceptance of that compromise, however short of justice, created the Irish Free State. The withdrawal timetable proposed by the Democrats gets nothing tangible, only a promise, and leaves the fulfillment of that promise in the hands of the Bush Administration.

There have been similar dilemmas for the labor movement. Indeed, it is a common occurrence that unions, fighting for a new contract, must decide if they will accept an offer that gives them only part of what they have demanded. It's always a difficult decision, but in almost all cases, whether the compromise can be considered a victory or a defeat, the workers have been given some thing palpable, improving their condition to some degree. If they were offered only a promise of something in the future, while continuing an unbearable situation in the present, it would not be considered a compromise, but a sellout. A union leader who said, "Take this, it's the best we can get" (which is what the MoveOn people are saying about the Democrats' resolution) would be hooted off the platform.

I am reminded of the situation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, when the black delegation from Mississippi asked to be seated, to represent the 40 percent black population of that state. They were offered a "compromise"—two nonvoting seats. "This is the best we can get," some black leaders said. The Mississippians, led by Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, turned it down, and thus held on to their fighting spirit, which later brought them what they had asked for. That mantra — "the best we can get" — is a recipe for corruption.

It is not easy, in the corrupting atmosphere of Washington, D.C., to hold on firmly to the truth, to resist the temptation of capitulation that presents itself as compromise. A few manage to do so. I think of Barbara Lee, the one person in the House of Representatives who, in the hysterical atmosphere of the days following 9/11, voted against the resolution authorizing Bush to invade Afghanistan. Today, she is one of the few who refuse to fund the Iraq War, insist on a prompt end to the war, reject the dishonesty of a false compromise.

Except for the rare few, like Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, and John Lewis, our representatives are politicians, and will surrender their integrity, claiming to be "realistic."

We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth. That, history suggests, is the most realistic thing a citizen can do.

Read the column here.

Work for peace.


what i'm reading: oh play that thing by roddy doyle

I'm reading a novel by one of my favourite authors, Roddy Doyle: Oh, Play That Thing, the second part of "The Last Roundup" trilogy that began with A Star Called Henry. It's terrific. I've thoroughly enjoyed every one of Doyle's books.

Although my long-running fascination with Ireland and Irish history has finally run its course, Doyle remains a touchstone for me. And although I read so many New York City historical novels that they started to all blend together, and I vowed to take a good long break from that subgenre, Oh Play That Thing takes place in New York City and Chicago during Prohibition, a good 50 years after most of those books are set.

If you haven't read anything by Roddy Doyle, I recommend Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, winner of the 1993 Booker Prize, which is narrated by a 10-year-old boy, and The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, which is narrated by a 40-year-old woman.

"The Barrytown Trilogy" is also very enjoyable: The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van. They've all been made into movies, for which Doyle wrote the screenplays. These books are light reading, but the characters are complex, and they evolve in ways both credible and touching.

Doyle has an unerring ear for dialogue and a profound understanding of human motivation. I so admire writers who create page-turning entertainment while illuminating human complexity, both at the same time. (Graham Greene is a master at this.) Most of Doyle's work is humorous and has a light feel, but is also so rich and insightful.

I've seen Roddy Doyle read at bookstores on two occasions, and he seems like a very unassuming, low-key man. Here's a nice interview with him in Salon.


I've been impressed with all the changes planned for Toronto. It seems like every week I read about some new major plan or design. A re-designed Nathan Phillips Square and a bold new transit plan are the most notable. Mayor David Miller's long-range plan to reduce greenhouse emissions also has the potential to radically alter the city landscape.

When we first moved to the area, I was impressed that two major museums were being renovated and expanded, both with designs by famous architects, but that's old news now. And of course this is in addition to the endless construction of condo towers, mirrored by the endless construction of townhouses in the suburbs.

Living in Mississauga, I don't feel as connected to these changes as I would if I lived in Toronto itself, but I like it anyway. Big plans like these avoid that small-time mindset that a city must attract an outside event, like the Olympics or an Expo, to revitalize it - as if there isn't reason enough already to create a great city.

It's the difference between needing outside approval to tell you you're all right, and standing up and saying, I am great. If Toronto is going to get over its well-publicized inferiority complex, these plans are the kind of therapy it needs. Even if the execution falls short, no one gets what they don't reach for.


there's no such thing as bad publicity

Especially when it's great publicity! Sports Illustrated - wow!


u.s. readers: pick up the phone

I'm sure wmtc readers in the US already know this, but just in case... Please call your representatives today.

The House of Representatives could vote today to authorize another $100 billion towards the endless war. Democrat House leadership is trying to portray the supplemental spending bill as a positive step toward ending the war. Even certain organizations that claim to be progressive support the bill and claim it is a step towards peace.

The peace movement strongly disagrees.

Please call your Congressperson and urge her or him to vote no on the supplemental, to vote no on the "Iraq Accountability Act", and to support military funding only for troop withdrawal (the Lee amendment).

You can call the Congressional Switchboard for free at 888-851-1879. Ask the operator to connect you to your Representative's office. If you are not sure who represents you in Congress or how to reach her or him, try this site.

election preview

What is it with conservatives and the support-our-troops game?
"I can understand the passion that the leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for the Taliban prisoners," Harper said. "I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers."

His comments were quickly followed by boos and jeers from Liberals in the House. Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion said he was shocked by Harper's suggestion and demanded an apology.

Harper continued with his barrage.

"I would like to see more support in the House of Commons from all sides for Canadian men and women in uniform," he said. "I think Canadians expect that from parliamentarians in every party. They have not been getting it, and they deserve it.

Historically, has this been as typical in Canada as it is in the US? I know everyone likes to say that Harper's team follows the Bush playbook, but Bush didn't invent the support-the-troops bait, and the Liberals are the ones who sent Canadians troops to Afghanistan in the first place. Is the phony with-us-or-against-us mode new and imported?

We can support human rights, fair treatment of prisoners and the country's own troops, you know. They're not mutually exclusive. I hope Canadian voters know that.


what i'm watching: "let's go back to new york, at least there's no jews there"

We saw "Borat" last night. I haven't laughed so hard in a very long time. He is really an amazing talent.

If any wmtc readers read a lot about the making of this movie, I have two questions. How did they get the bear? And, was Pamela Anderson in on it? Because if she wasn't, that would have been an absolutely terrifying experience. As she's running around - and as Cohen is evading capture - it seemed improbable to me.

For anyone curious about the much-hyped DVD extras, they are, in fact, hype. There's nothing "too outrageous" for the film. The promo clips are very funny, but all the good scenes are in the movie itself.



Last November I was verbally attacked for not voting in the US elections. Then as now, I don't feel I have the ethical right to vote in the US anymore, despite what is technically true. More importantly to me, I feel the system is fatally corrupt. I believe US elections are a sham, a palliative to present the appearance of democracy, to make us believe things aren't as dire as they really are. I just feel finished with it.

And even if I could stomach the system, I can't stomach the Democrats. They sicken me and the idea of voting for them sickens me further.

Without my help, the Democrats won the day, and there was much jubilation over the supposedly good guys - the better guys, anyway - taking back Congress.

And what has happened since then? For the last four months, the Democrats have had the power to end the war. What have they done?
In what may be the largest supplemental in U.S. history, the House appropriations committee passed a $124.1 billion emergency funding bill – more than $25 billion more than requested by President Bush.

The bill is touted as changing course in Iraq because it requires troops to be out by August 31, 2008. But even then there are four exceptions that troops can remain in Iraq for including "capturing or killing" members of Al Qaeda or other terrorists.

Remember "starve the beast"? That's conservative shorthand for cutting revenue (taxes), which in turn cuts spending on social programs, and supposedly reduces the size of government. How about starving the gargantuan beast that is the war machine? Put another way, has anyone ever heard of a war and occupation ending because it was getting more funding?

This post is coming more from my heart and my gut than from a careful following of every move the Democrats have made, or failed to make. I don't follow news of the US Congress that closely. I read a headline and a few paragraphs and I think, that's just Dems being Dems. What did anyone expect?

So this morning I did a little searching to see if I could find a good wrap-up. Thanks to Alexander Cockburn for providing it.
This last Sunday Harry Reid, the incoming Democratic majority leader in the US Senate, went on ABC's Sunday morning show and declared that a hike in U.S. troops in Iraq is okay with him.

Here's the evolution of the Democrats' war platform since November 7, 2006, the day the voters presented a clear mandate: "End the war! Get out of Iraq!" and took the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives away from the Republicans.

So somewhat to their surprise the Democrats recaptured both the Senate and the House. Then they went to work--to obliterate the mandate.

Read Cockburn's story. It's very good.

Here's an interview with Dennis Kucinich, a true progressive, about what his colleagues are doing.

Another excellent piece is this editorial in The Nation.
The House and Senate have the authority to end the war in Iraq quickly, efficiently and honorably. Claims to the contrary by George W. Bush and his apologists are at odds with every intention of the authors of the Constitution. Which part of "Congress shall have the power to declare war... to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces...to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers" does the White House fail to understand? Unfortunately, it may be the same part that cautious Congressional leaders have trouble comprehending.

With the announcement of spending legislation that includes benchmarks for progress in Iraq, and a plan to begin withdrawing troops if those benchmarks are unmet, Pelosi has begun to define a Democratic opposition to Bush's policies. But she has not gone nearly far enough. . . .

Forcing Americans and Iraqis to die for Bush's delusions for another year while emptying the Treasury at a rate of more than $1 billion a week is unconscionable. That is why House members who have battled hardest to end the war are so frustrated with Pelosi's approach. "This plan would require us to believe whatever the President would tell us about progress that was being made," says Representative Maxine Waters, speaking for the bipartisan Out of Iraq Caucus. Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey has been blunter, saying of the legislation, "There's no enforcement mechanism."

. . .

The haggling over compromises points up the flaw in Pelosi's approach: It is too soft, too slow, too open to lobbying mischief and abuse by a President who has done nothing but abuse Congress for six years. America and the world are not crying out for a timeline that might begin extracting troops from Iraq a year from now. Almost 200 American soldiers, and thousands of Iraqis, have died since the Democrats took control of Congress. To accept that the war will go on for another year, at the least, is to accept that the death toll will continue to mount.

Democrats should recognize that the time has come to use the full power accorded Congress in time of war: the power of the purse. As Senator Russ Feingold says, "Some will claim that cutting off funding for the war would endanger our brave troops on the ground. Not true. The safety of our servicemen and -women in Iraq is paramount, and we can and should end funding for the war without putting our troops in further danger."

Instead of negotiating with Bush to give him another year of his war before facing consequences, Democrats should refuse to write another blank check.

This column by Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times gives the full run-down on the Democrats betraying their base. (Look how he begins the piece! Is it really ironic?)

None of this is the slightest bit surprising, and that what makes it so very, very sad.


bad intelligence

From Frank Rich, courtesy of truthout:
In the broad sweep of history, four years is a nanosecond, but in America, where memories are congenitally short, it's an eternity. That's why a revisionist history of the White House's rush to war, much of it written by its initial cheerleaders, has already taken hold. In this exonerating fictionalization of the story, nearly every politician and pundit in Washington was duped by the same "bad intelligence" before the war, and few imagined that the administration would so botch the invasion's aftermath or that the occupation would go on so long. "If only I had known then what I know now ..." has been the persistent refrain of the war supporters who subsequently disowned the fiasco. But the embarrassing reality is that much of the damning truth about the administration's case for war and its hubristic expectations for a cakewalk were publicly available before the war, hiding in plain sight, to be seen by anyone who wanted to look.

By the time the ides of March arrived in March 2003, these warning signs were visible on a nearly daily basis. So were the signs that Americans were completely ill prepared for the costs ahead. Iraq was largely anticipated as a distant, mildly disruptive geopolitical video game that would be over in a flash.

Now many of the same leaders who sold the war argue that escalation should be given a chance. This time they're peddling the new doomsday scenario that any withdrawal timetable will lead to the next 9/11. The question we must ask is: Has history taught us anything in four years?

Here is a chronology of some of the high and low points in the days leading up to the national train wreck whose anniversary we mourn this week [with occasional "where are they now" updates].

Read it here.


peace actions

As we approach the 4th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, there were more than 1,000 actions for peace around the United States, and many more throughout the world.

On this thread from Democratic Underground, you can see photos from various demonstrations and vigils. (Thanks to Evil DUer Redsock.)

If you have photos of your own, or links to photos from other demos, please feel free to post them in comments.

* * * *

On a personal note, it kills me not to be in Washington or New York City for every major protest, and many minor ones. However, I'm about to re-launch myself into the movement in a way I'm really excited about. Details as they develop.


what's next

Recently I achieved some clarity on a dilemma about my time, my writing, and the direction to take in the near future.

Here's the background. I write for a magazine called Kids On Wheels, a unique, progressive magazine for young people who use wheelchairs. I'm one of three writer/editors who comprise the core of the magazine; we've all been with Kids On Wheels since its first days as a resource guide.

Like all my writing, it's something I do out of interest, passion, and dedication. I do get paid, but a young, specialized magazine cannot afford very much. Over the course of the year, the fees add up, but it's less than half of what I would earn from a large commercial magazine. On the other hand, my experiences with large commercial magazines have ranged from frustrating to hellish.

I like to be paid for my writing, but that's not my primary goal. If all I wanted from my writing was income, I'm sure I could be writing full-time, but my goals are more complex, and more elusive. I want to educate, inspire and entertain my readers (preferably all at the same time); I want to promote progressive values; I want to write about subjects I care deeply about; I want to challenge myself as a writer.

It's a tall order. When I can find the right mix, it's fabulous. When I can't, I enjoy the free time. I no longer take writing gigs just for money, because I learned that, for me, it just isn't worth it. If I'm going to do something only for money, I'll work overtime on my day-job. It's a lot easier.

Kids On Wheels has been going really well, but it's becoming routine. It's begun to feel like a poorly paid part-time job.

So here's the crux of the dilemma. Because KOW doesn't pay very much, I have to work full-time hours (which I do in a three-day work week). But KOW takes up enough time that I don't have adequate time to develop other writing projects. And now that KOW has become routine, it's no longer satisfying enough to be my only writing.

Last year I approached our publisher about turning my freelance position into a half-time salaried job, which would enable me to drop one day a week from my day-job. As I suspected, the funds just aren't there. I go back a long ways with this company - I've written for the adult wheelchair-user magazine, New Mobility, for 10 years, and I know they treat me fairly. They're not bullshitting me, they pay what they can - but that isn't much.

For many months I've been letting the issue sit on the mental back burner, knowing that eventually I would know what to do. That's what's great about getting older, for me. Questions that would have once made me anxious and worried as I tried to force a decision now just simmer away and let me know when they are cooked. (Sorry about that awful cooking metaphor!) I guess that means that I trust my process.

So a few days ago - just before the clock started ticking on my day-job - I knew what to do.

I have to stop writing for KOW, or at least greatly cut back my involvement. It's sad, because I love the magazine and I contribute a lot to it, both in writing and ideas. But it's time to move on. I have several ideas that I need to try. I don't know if any of them will come to fruition, but that's a separate issue, and mostly not in my control. I need to give some other things a shot.

I just turned in my assignments for the spring issue, and the summer issue will be my last, at least for the foreseeable future.

This morning there was, perhaps, a bit of serendipity. In today's Star, there's a big story about girls' issues, which is really a PR piece for a new girls' magazine and website. It sounds perfect for me, and it's perfect timing. They've just launched, and I'm just freeing up time.


what i'm watching: the u.s. v. john lennon

As Movie Season winds down, we saw another good one last night: "The U.S. v. John Lennon". It's a documentary about John Lennon's transformation from apolitical musician to peace activist, and his fight to stay in the U.S. - specifically in New York City - despite the politically motivated deportation proceedings against him. Through that lawsuit, Lennon's paranoid beliefs were confirmed: he had been under FBI surveillance.

There are clips of interviews with Walter Cronkite, Gore Vidal, George McGovern, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Bobby Seale, and on the other side of the divide, G. Gordon Liddy, and a former FBI staffer, as well as Yoko Ono and close friends of Ono's and Lennon's.

The movie is also full of archival clips from the 1960s and 1970s, but it's not the usual footage that we've all seen hundreds of times. Filmmakers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld used some eye-opening clips that really held my interest.

"Held my interest" is a bit of a euphemism there. I wept through much of this movie: hearing Nixon tout his "secret plan" to end the war in 1969, knowing in reality he was escalating the aggression and widening it, knowing how many people were yet to die - seeing the massive protests, the head-smashing in Chicago, the murders in Ohio. At least hearing that scumbag Liddy blame the protesters - "What did they expect?" - got me back from sorrow to anger. But soon tears were running down my face again. Mostly for my country, doing it all over again.

I wept, too, listening to the chants in Chicago, as the cops split heads and beat the backs of peaceful protesters, as the bloodied bodies were hauled off, the rest of the protesters chanting, The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching... I wept because the US government learned those lessons so well. Now no one can watch.

And speaking of chanting, I'm pretty sure there was footage from my first political action ever, the 1969 Moratorium. I was 8 years old. I went to Washington DC with my father, on a bus with textile workers and other union types. We held our arms in the air, our fingers signifying peace, proudly waving our arms in unison, more than a million of us, in front of the Washington Monument, chanting, All we are saying... is give peace a chance.... all we are saying... is give...

More than ever I feel that the peace movement in the US won't break wide open, won't reach the massive level too huge to be ignored, until there is a draft. And, as Allan said last night, that's why they're doing everything possible to avoid that politically unattractive necessity. Yet until young men and women are being hauled off to the Middle East in large numbers - large, middle class numbers - the peace movement will struggle for traction.

The movie also made me think about timing, about the arc of justice. All of us who are old enough to remember other movements need to help younger activists understand how long these things take - how there is no such thing as immediate results. That is, we need to talk about how a movement builds. By 1970, 1971, massive anti-war demonstrations were commonplace in the United States - but the end of the war was many years, and many deaths, away. The war ended because of the movement. The movement succeeded. But it took a very long time and a tremendous amount of work.

During Lennon and Ono's Bed-In in Montreal, a reporter asked about their billboards, how much is this costing you, where are you getting the money? He said, Whatever it costs, it's less than a human life.

I was never a huge John Lennon fan or follower, although I acknowledge his talents as a songwriter. Seeing this movie, I gained a new appreciation of Lennon's commitment to peace activism. I realized he was a true hero of social justice.

I also really appreciated the fair and admiring treatment of Yoko Ono. When I was younger, Ono was universally - and, I thought, unfairly - despised as "the woman who broke up the Beatles". People didn't understand her art, didn't seem to understand that the Beatles were obviously going to break up anyway, as they grew up and in different directions, and, amazingly to me, didn't understand that John Lennon was a grown man who made his own decisions. In "The U.S. vs. John Lennon," you see that in Ono, Lennon had found his true life partner, and as a team, they both flourished.

This movie is well worth seeing, especially if you stand for peace.

vagina follow-up

In case you haven't heard, the three girls who were suspended for uttering the evil word "vagina" onstage at a school event have had their suspensions rescinded.

Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," will speak at the school, at the parents' invitation. Also, Ensler and the three girls will address the district school board. The school faculty supports the three girls, and will hold a discussion about the play.

This outcome is more consistent with the suburban New York State I grew up in. I had been wondering if wingnuts had taken over Westchester County, and am relieved to know that reason has prevailed.

Bill O'Reilly disagrees.

Thanks to M@ for alerting me to the follow-up, as I was lost in a writing assignment.


zip shapes up

The customer service manager at Zip.ca told me they were changing some procedures, and service would soon improve. It did.

Whether the improved service was coincidental to my complaint, or a function of it, I don't know. But since I complained, we've been receiving our top priority movies, even after I added many titles back on our ZipList.

The race was on to see which would come first, "The Departed" and "Borat" DVDs, or baseball season. We just mailed back "The Departed," and Zip says that "Borat" is on the way. Yay!

I'll actually be out of town for the first two weeks of baseball season, so my first real games will be the Red Sox here in Toronto. Double yay!

what i'm watching: the departed, scorsese on scorsese

We saw "The Departed" this week, which we both really enjoyed. Highly suspenseful, great plot twists, brilliant writing and the usual fantastic filming and directing from Scorsese and his crew. I even liked Jack Nicholson's performance. In recent years he has seemed like a caricature to me, playing Jack Nicholson more than anything else. Perhaps the Scorsese touch resuscitated his talent, or perhaps it was the material, but I found Nicholson's performance very credible and compelling.

But that's not why I'm blogging about this. "The Departed" on DVD comes with a bonus disk that is well worth your time. There's a fascinating featurette on some of the real-life underpinnings of the movie, the notorious Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger and the Irish-American neighbourhood of South Boston that helped shield him.

There's also an entire second movie, Scorsese On Scorsese, which originally aired on Turner Classic Movies, part of their Directors on Directing series. Scorsese walks you through his filmography, talking about his influences, his intentions, his goals. There are some fascinating bits of background, and although I know quite a bit about Scorsese's life and influences, it was still exciting to hear the man talk about his own work.

I used to love Martin Scorsese's movies. I saw them all up to a certain point, then found myself losing interest in his material, and skipped several of his latter-day efforts. I never saw "Casino," "Kundun," or "The Aviator" (which still looks dreadful to me), although we did see, and loved, "Gangs of New York". Some clunkers aside (and all great artists have them), Scorsese is one of the greatest American filmmakers. Hearing him talk about his own movies is a real treat. Did you know "Are you talking to me?" was originally ad-libbed?

Anything about Scorsese's early influences and movies is also about New York City. I never get tired of seeing the City's influence on any artist's work. The only disappointment for me in the "Scorsese On Scorsese" movie was there was nothing about "The Last Waltz"! He references that period only once, in a bit of heavily coded shorthand: "Then I had some problems of my own, came out the other side, and woke up alive." Problems indeed. He was busy doing massive amounts of drugs with Robbie Robertson and the rest of The Band, filming all day, doing drugs all night, seeing how far they could push both enterprises. Even knowing Scorsese almost died from the experience, I am still wildly envious.

There are two other tracks on the bonus disk. One is about Scorsese's take on organized crime. This is marred by the inclusion of film critic Peter Travers, who gives the most banal, obvious commentary. Scorsese himself is also in this one, and it would have been much better to hear the director's own words, instead of Travers's boring pseudo-analysis. There are also the usual deleted scenes, but each scene is prefaced by Scorsese explaining what he was trying to do and why the scene didn't make the final cut.

If you're into movies, it's worth renting "The Departed" on DVD even if you don't want to see the movie again. It might make you add 5 or 10 movies to your must-see list.



The law firm where I work three days a week is dissolving.

This firm has been a Toronto institution for more than 40 years, and the news is rocking the Toronto legal community. My co-workers are all freaking out - and of course everyone will be going after the same jobs.

My situation is different, since I want to work on weekends. There aren't many weekend positions, but there are even fewer good people to fill them. Plus, I was already looking - trying to find something with better hours. Of course, I was hoping to be employed while I looked, but hey.

The firm is paying us until June 6. That's a decent amount of time to find something. And if nothing comes up, I can always temp.

green bin comes to mississauga

Our green recycling bin was delivered yesterday, the next step in the long-range plan for waste in the Peel Region.

First, some months back, we were able to combine all our recycling into one bin - paper, plastic, glass, foil.

Next, we received several information bulletins about organics recycling, what it would look like, how it would work, when it would be implemented.

Then yesterday our green bins were delivered: one large container with wheels and a locking cap for the garage, and a smaller container with a lid for the kitchen. The contents of our collective green bins will be composted.

Organics recycling for Peel begins on April 2. In October, the three-bag standard for garbage - that is, how many bags of trash you can leave at curbside for pick-up - will be reduced to two. The eventual goal is to divert 70% of Peel's trash from landfill by 2016.

People who already have green-bin recycling have told me that their weekly trash output is one grocery bag's worth of garbage each week. Between the various recycling containers, I think we'll hardly have any garbage at all.

Many wmtc commenters already have green-bin recycling, but many other readers don't, and I had never heard of it before moving to Canada. It fairly amazes me. Delivery of these large, sturdy containers to every home in this sprawling region amazes me.

In fact, the whole regional landfill diversion plan, and the progressive attitude towards recycling, amaze me. It's fantastic.

But it's also so frustrating that we - all of us - didn't start thinking this way a long time ago, and that so much of the world still does not.

Since our trip to Peru last year, I always imagine that beautiful country filling up with plastic water bottles. An economy dependent on tourism, plus unhealthy, undrinkable water, plus no plastics recycling, equals millions upon millions of plastic water bottles. Where are they all going?

Then I imagine all the countries of the earth, filling up with plastics.


open thread

I have a deadline this week, and am feeling a bit pressured. It's possible that by the end of the day, I'll be in great shape and ready to blog again. Until then, please feel free to post off-topic, recommend websites, link to YouTube clips, mangle the English language, or ridicule the government. Any government will do.



Here's something else from a New York Times book review.

Jacob Heilbrunn reviewed two books that are highly critical of the Bush regime - one ostensibly from the left, Joe Conason's It Can Happen Here - Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush (which I blogged about, and which I feel transcends the left/right divide), and one from the right, Michael Tanner's Leviathan on the Right - How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.

Michael Tanner is a Reagan Republican who feels the promise and glory of Reaganism has been squandered by those who would be his successors. "To dramatize this fall from grace," Heilbrunn, the reviewer, writes, "Tanner evokes a lost conservative golden age that stretched from Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan." Then, much to his credit, he reminds us:
Tanner is a lucid writer and vigorous polemicist who scores a number of points against the Republican Party's fiscal transgressions, but he has ultimately produced a fairy tale.

The notion that Reagan actually fought for small government is wishful thinking. The Gipper didn't abolish a single major federal agency, he strengthened Social Security by approving a payroll tax hike and he added $1.4 trillion to the national debt. It was Bill Clinton who left behind a $236 billion surplus in 2000, which Bush promptly squandered. Contrary to Tanner and many other Reagan idolaters, Bush hasn't forsaken Reagan's legacy; by engaging in simultaneous tax cuts, massive military spending and deficit spending, he has continued it.

What's more, Tanner glides rather easily from linking the corruption of the Republican Congress to big government. There is no necessary connection between the two. The fact that a Republican Congress looted the government on behalf of big business and itself does not discredit Social Security, Medicare and a host of other programs. It simply testifies to the venality of the Republican Congress. Perhaps Tanner's most questionable claim is that "politically, for all the internal disagreements, support for a strong national defense remains the glue that holds the various wings of the Republican Party together. The debate that will truly matter is whether or not conservatives still believe in small government." Like it or not, conservatives such as Tanner will have to grapple with the political, moral and fiscal consequences of an imperial foreign policy.

This is a bit of a non sequitur, but any truth-telling about the Reagan presidency is a breath of fresh air, and worth mentioning.

oh, the irony, part 2

Catching up on some book reviews yesterday, I came across something pertinent to one of our recent discussions. Patricia O'Connor, reviewing two language books for the New York Times Book Review, writes:
Get a few language types together, and before long someone will bring up the great divide between the preservers and the observers of English, the "prescriptivists" and the "descriptivists" — those who'd rap your knuckles for using "snuck" versus those who might cite Anglo-Saxon cognates in its defense.

The truth is that the divide isn't nearly as great as it's made out to be. Most grammarians, lexicographers, usage experts and linguists are somewhere in between: English is always changing, but that doesn't mean anything goes.

Ben Yagoda, the author of "When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It," is with the right-thinking folks in the middle. His book, an ode to the parts of speech, isn't about the rights or wrongs of English. It's about the wonder of it all: the beauty, the joy, the fun of a language enriched by poets like Lily Tomlin, Fats Waller and Dizzy Dean (to whom we owe "slud," as in "Rizzuto slud into second").

. . .

While some things bug Yagoda (he despises "enthuse," for example), he has a healthy skepticism toward language extremists. The rule-bound sticklers leave no room for change, and the descriptivists are inconsistent: they sneer at Miss Grundy, "yet in their own writing follow all the traditional rules."

One might make the same complaint about Yagoda. He says it's time we embraced "they," "them" and "their" as sexless singular pronouns (as in "Who lost their lunch?"). Sure, Ben. Then why don't you use them yourself?

David Crystal, on the other hand, has the courage of his convictions. You'll find sexless pronouns and more in "The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left," his survey of the 500-year-old crusade for correctness in English. By and large, he's against it — not the correctness so much as the crusade.

His subtitle is an allusion to Lynne Truss's best seller "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation," and his subject is "the whole genre of books which that book represents." His beef isn't with standards for punctuation or other rules; he doesn't believe that anything goes. It's with a "zero tolerance" attitude better suited to "crime prevention and political extremism."

Crystal, an eminent British linguist and the author of "The Stories of English," "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language" and about 100 other books, manages to be genial and irascible at the same time. He acknowledges that the emergence of standards is natural. It's the umpires he can't abide. He sees them as "self-appointed language watchdogs" with a "social agenda": to promote the interests of the ruling classes and make the proles feel bad. He then lumps together just about everyone from Johnson and Swift to Fowler and Strunk as enemies of linguistic tolerance and diversity.

He sees spelling, grammar and pronunciation as battles in a kind of class war. In one camp are the descriptivists, academic linguists like himself. In the other are the prescriptivists, politically incorrect language cops.

There are two points to be made here. First, this is not a class issue. Fowler, who was more interested in puncturing pomposity than in oppressing the underclass, would have snorted at the notion that he was elitist. The worst crimes against English are committed not by the underprivileged but by bureaucrats in academia, government and business.

Second, Lynne Truss aside, most writers on usage today agree with Crystal on the big issues: Change is inevitable. People don't talk the way they write. Dialects are the life of the language. The sillier "rules" of grammar were just stupid misunderstandings.

Now can we dispense with the labels? Usage guides have their uses. Since language is forever changing, it's nice to be able to look up a word and see how most people currently use it, spell it and say it.

. . . .

Much as I admire both Crystal and Yagoda, I can’t believe the singular "they" will become accepted in educated writing in our lifetime. Of course, I could be wrong. In the words of Fats Waller, "One never knows, do one?"

This helped me articulate where I come down in this quasi-debate. I respect the rules of language; I like to know them and strive to use them correctly. Incorrect usage and punctuation bother me. But, like David Crystal, the self-righteous umpires bother me more.


american invasion

I have another thought to share from The Promised Land.

Immigration to Western Canada was planned, purposely and methodically, by the federal government, both to create farms to feed the East, and to increase the market for Eastern-made goods. Immigrants were lured to Canada with the promise of freedom: free land, and freedom from the semi-feudal system that was still entrenched in Europe. The settlers came mostly from Eastern Europe, Sweden, Germany, and Britain.

They also came from the US - where land was extremely expensive and trade was controlled by monopolies - in droves. In the early part of the 20th Century there was "an American invasion" that helped shape Western Canada. Americans, with their money, their optimism and their industriousness, were very welcome in Western Canada (as long as they were white).

There was, of course, the usual fears of annexation, but not necessarily among Canadians.
The American invasion caused considerable soul searching on both sides of the Atlantic. What would be the result of all this influx? It was certainly changing the West; would it change Canada? Would the nation become "Americanized", or, worse still, would it become part of the United States? Many Americans thought so. Would the American presence mean a loosening of Imperial bonds? Many Britons believed it would. Or would the West become a separate nation, neither British nor American? The American frontier novelist James Oliver Curwood was convinced of that. "A new nation," he declared, "will be born in the West, formed of the very flesh and blood of the United States." As Curwood noted in Alberta, "every town is hustling with American spirit" and former Americans were entering politics, becoming reeves and councillors in Alberta communities.

The general attitude south of the border was that the [Canadian] West would soon be part of the United States. The Saturday Evening Post referred to Alberta as "the Yankee province." Such Eastern papers as the Brooklyn Eagle, the New York Post, and the Detroit Journal were convinced that annexation was inevitable. Western American politicians echoed these sentiments. Senator Moses E. Clapp of Minnesota thought the union would come as the result of assimilation. Marsh Murdock, the powerful Republican congressman from Kansas, was for outright capture. The Governor of North Carolina predicted a struggle that would result in "one great republic under the government of what is now the United States."

Such a possibility failed to raise the hackles of Canadians, giddy from the prosperity the Americans were bringing. [Influential newspaper editor] John Dafoe said he "saw no sign that Westerners viewed the invasion with any feeling
of dread". Frederick Haultain, the Premier of the North West Territories, agreed that there was no political danger in the influx. The Toronto Globe was worried at first: five out of eight Alberta newspapers were edited by former Americans. It sent a reporter out, west only to be told that the editorial ideas expressed were no different from those of other Canadian newspapers.

The Americans in the West, in fact, turned out to be among the most enthusiastic Canadians. "It is the Americans rather than the Canadians who show jealousy at the flocking in of people of other nationalities and raise the cry of 'Canada for the Canadians'," the national president of the British Brotherhood Movement discovered during a trip to Canada. Those Americans who were not European-born or ex-Canadians were, in the words of Dr. Peter Bryce, chief medical inspector for the Immigration Department, "accidental" rather than "essential" Americans. This type of American, Bryce explained, "came to the [American] West for bread, and not for liberty; he will come north into Canada for bread, regardless of national flag or tradition."

It was the British in Canada and the British press in the mother country who worried about the effects of the American invasion. British periodicals and newspapers were concerned about the dilution British blood in Western Canada, the "loosening of ties," as a writer in the Fortnightly Review called it. The Americans might make good Canadians, he wrote, but would they become loyal subjects of the Empire?

what i'm reading

I've finally finished Pierre Berton's The Promised Land, which I first blogged about here.

This excellent book completes Berton's tetralogy (one more than a trilogy) about the settling of the Canadian West. Now I've read all four. My next Canadian history project will be - at some future date - Berton's three books about the War of 1812.

In the early days of wmtc, one of the principal readers and commenters was a guy named RobfromAlberta. Rob (he doesn't blog anymore) is a Western conservative with a lot of animosity against Ottawa and Ontario, and an advocate of Alberta secession. There was always a lot of spirited debate between Rob and some other commenters, and through those discussions, I learned something about Western Canadian disaffection and alienation.

When I asked what caused such regional dissension, some people said it dated back to the National Energy Program, or NEP, when the federal government nationalized oil production. Well, reading The Promised Land, I've learned that Western resentment of and animosity towards Ottawa dates back a hell of a lot longer than that. Its roots are in the very beginning of white settlement of Western Canada.

The Western territories were essentially colonies under the control of Eastern Canada, which in those days meant Ottawa and Ontario. Eastern business interests controlled Western resources and the terms of Western labour, and used protectionist tactics to force extremely one-sided trade agreements for Eastern-produced goods.

The federal government had given the settlers free land, and had built the railroad that connected them to the rest of the country. But that railroad was hated beyond measure for its protectionist tariffs, its corrupt land speculation, and its monopolies on farmers' trade.

Even after Alberta and Saskatchewan gained provincial status - after a long, bitter battle - the federal government still controlled their resources and much of their policy. That was already the arrangement with Manitoba. It was, Berton writes, "a status, the Times of London, in a prescient editorial, predicted would sow 'the seeds of future mischief.'"

The hatred wasn't completely one-sided. Folded into the anti-Eastern sentiment, there was also racism: the West was anti-Catholic, anti-French and mostly anti-British, too.

The Western Canadian settlers were bound together by a shared experience: the hardships they endured as they carved a society out of wild land. They didn't have to cope with the kind of violence that raged in the Western US, but they did endure incredible hardships, clearing and farming the land (many farming for the first time in their lives), the harshest of winters (without any modern conveniences), poverty, fires, and terrible loneliness for which no one could have been prepared. This shared suffering bound them together and created a cooperative spirit, which would later help form the roots of Canadian socialism.

Westerners' sense of themselves as a breed apart, more Western than Canadian – which Berton goes to great lengths to illustrate – combined with the perceived oppression from the East gave rise to radical politics. With help from the US agrarian movement and the British labour movement, radical and populist political movements gained traction and strength in the West.

Also, in the Western cities, there was vast poverty, slums and degradation - the underside side of the capitalist expansionist spirit which dominated the land. Here the great Canadian radical reformers Nellie McClung and J. S. Woodsworth enter the scene. It's no surprise that, as in the United States, the Western provinces were the first to grant women the right to vote. This is where the Canadian labour movement was born (which, from what I gather, followed the same trajectory as the American labour movement), the land from which Tommy Douglas would emerge, and where the CCF, the forerunner of the NDP, would be born. If I understand correctly, the NDP still forms the provincial governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

An aside: J.S. Woodsworth's illustrious public career would end in 1939, when he rose in the House of Commons to declare that his conscience could not allow him to vote for a declaration of war.


missed opportunity

I've been trying to stay away from email. Not my personal email, I'm as obsessed with that as ever. But I'm trying to check the email listed on this blog a little less frequently. No more than once daily. Or even to skip a day now and again. I mean, what's the point, why am I so obsessed with email?

Here's why.

Yesterday I got an email from a reporter at the Toronto Star, who wanted to interview me for an article about Conservapedia in the Sunday paper. He emailed on Thursday afternoon, but I didn't see it until Friday morning, and by that time his deadline had passed. That could have been some very nice publicity for wmtc!

That's what I get for trying to be less obsessed.

oh, the irony

Although I ask people on this blog not to correct each other's spelling, usage and grammar, this is not to say that incorrect usage doesn't bother me. It does. Sometimes it drives me nuts.

Yet people who are very nitpicky about other people's grammar and usage also drive me nuts. I think we should all be more generous with each other, and that what's important is that we communicate, not that we communicate according to a specific set of rules.

Clearly these two modes of thought come into conflict.

And it's with that preface that I write this post, which is not aimed at anyone in particular, certainly not at anyone on this blog.

When it comes to language, the thing that drives me the nutsiest is the spread of fake words or meaningless expressions in the media. If you follow a sport, you see this all the time in the sports media. Words spread through interviews like wildfire cliches. One season everything will be prefaced with "obviously" or "and again...", whether or not it's obvious, whether or not the person is repeating him or herself. Another year it will be "Having said that...". Right now words are being turned into adverbs with abandon. "Relatedly", "admittedly" and "belatedly" are just a few that are making the rounds.

But here's my point, and I do have one.

Would everyone please stop calling everything IRONIC???

Every little coincidence is not ironic. Every time something happens that even vaguely resembles or contradicts something else, it cannot rightly be described as "ironically".

How's this for a sentence? I won't provide a link because I have no wish to embarrass anyone. In a history of First Nations people in Canada, I read, "...which happened ironically on September 11, 1883".

Can something that happened to native peoples in the Canada of 1883 be described as ironic? Because it occurred on a date that, 118 years later, would be famous for something else? That's at most a coincidence, but it's really not even that, as there's no connection between the two events.

Here's a coincidence. Two people meet in Chicago on September 11, 2012. It turns out they both lost partners in the World Trade Center attacks. They fall in love. Their meeting on September 11 is a coincidence. Their falling in love might correctly be described as ironic, although I don't think so. But September 11, 1883? There's nothing ironic there.

On the bus yesterday, I overheard this, "I'm telling you, she's out to get me. And it's so ironic, because I hate her too, but there's nothing I can do about it."

What is ironic about that?

For the next week or so, listen carefully to what you hear at work, on the street or on TV. When you read the newspaper, especially letters to the editor, keep an eye out for the word "ironically". See if what's being described is actually ironic.

That is all. Rant over.


Is everyone still alive? Did anyone have a heart attack when they saw the title of this post?

By now you've probably all heard about the three girls who were suspended from school for saying the word "vagina".

At a school event, three honour students at a suburban New York high school read a selection from Eve Ensler's "Vagina Monologues". They were warned in advance not to utter the terrible word, but they did. The girls say, "We want to make it clear that we didn't do this to be defiant of the school administration. We did it because we believe in the word vagina, and because we believe it's not a bad word. It shouldn't be a word that is ever censored, and the way in which we used it was respectable."

School officials insist the girls were not suspended for what they said, but for insubordination: they were told not to do something, and they did it anyway.

But why were they told not to? Because, according to the New York Times, "young children could be in the audience"!

Young children? How young do you have to be to not know what a vagina is? Not what it looks like, or even what it does, and forget about the lengths people will go to be near one. Just what it is. If you're old enough to be in school, you should know what a vagina is. And if you're so young that you don't know what a vagina is, you won't understand anything that's being said, so it really doesn't matter.

When it comes to things biological or sexual, I didn't grow up in a very progressive household. But I knew the correct names for the body parts that I have, and the ones that I don't have. I knew the words vagina and penis. The other words for those parts I found out on my own, like everyone else. Are there really parents out there who don't want kids to know the correct name for parts of their anatomy? Don't answer that, my head will explode.

The three girls have gotten tons of support, including a phone call from Eve Ensler. Fun!

If you don't know some of the the background to this story, you can read about it at Chez Crabbi. Not long ago, I blogged about people going nuts over the word "scrotum" in a children's book - also used in a completely non-sexual context.

This stuff just baffles me. I mean absolutely baffles.

Hey, is it just me, or do you think the New York Times headline writer was having a little fun with this headline: 'Monologues' Spurs Dialogue on Taste and Speech?