harper's environmental plan, khadr's trial: both frauds

Al Gore has called the Tory environmental plan "a complete and total fraud" "designed to mislead the Canadian people". Conservative Environment Minister John Baird points to Gore's eight years as Vice President, which doesn't change the validity of Gore's observation.

* * * *

Readers have also asked me to blog about the impending "trial" of Omar Khadr, the Canadian who has been held at the US Guantanamo Bay concentration camp since 2002, when he was 15 years old. Now 20, Khadr was imprisoned without charges for five years. Last week, the US charged him murder, attempted murder, spying, and providing material support to the enemy and conspiracy, and plans to try him before a military court.

Khadr's detention, his imprisonment without charges, and the tribunal he will face are a totalitarian nightmare worthy of Orwell or Kafka. I don't know what, if anything, Khadr has done. I do know that the US's response is so far outside of what civilized societies governed by the rule of law are supposed to do that it renders anything that comes from it utterly meaningless.

Guantanamo should be emptied. It should stand empty, forever, as a beacon of caution, a monument to human potential, like Auschwitz. Whatever happens to the US in the future, this will always be its eternal shame.


wmtc 2: the return of wmtc

It's almost time for the second annual wmtc backyard bash. (It's not really a bash, I just like the alliteration.)

If you're a regular reader and you haven't received an invite, it means I don't have your email address. Please feel free to email me and invite yourself. I mean it.

Step right up. Don't be shy. It'll be fun.

each one, reach one: it's not about me

Judging from some unexpected reaction to my recent post about puppy mills, I didn't make my point very well.

I wasn't patting myself on the back for doing a good deed. I was feeling good about a little victory, and I wanted to share that feeling.

I was also offering an example of something each of us can do, about any issue we care about. We can seize opportunities to educate people. Instead of just listening and nodding our heads, we can listen, then offer another perspective.

We can't control the outcome, or even whether the person we're speaking to will really hear us. But we can try. Sometimes we'll succeed in a tangible way. More often than not, we'll never know the effect our words (written or spoken) might have. All the sources of information, each little piece of education, pile up. We can each be one piece in that pile.

And when we do have tangible success, we can pass that along. In turn, we might embolden or remind someone else to do the same thing.

"hypocrisy is canada's national vice"

It's not enough not to torture and abuse prisoners. You can't hand them over to people who do that, either.

From the Toronto Star's Thomas Walkom:
Prisoner abuse just part of the brutal landscape there

The only surprise about the Afghan prisoner controversy gripping Ottawa is that any of this comes as a surprise.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government is reeling under allegations that prisoners captured by Canadian troops are being handed over to Afghan authorities who then torture and abuse them.

The opposition is in full cry. The newspapers are chock-a-block with references to the brutal abuse handed out by Afghan police to those unfortunate enough to be identified as Taliban suspects.

But what did we think would happen when, in 2001, we signed on to support a gang of brutal warlords trying to oust the gang of brutal clerics who were running this unhappy country?

Afghanistan today may have the trappings of democracy – a well-tailored president elected in a relatively fair vote, a parliament that includes women, even a constitution that promises full-blown political rights.

But underneath, not much has changed. As Canada's foreign affairs department notes in an internal report, the reality of Afghanistan remains bleak.

A censored version of that report, grudgingly released this week under access to information laws, talks of "political repression, human rights abuses and criminal activity by warlords, police, militia and remnants of past military forces."

Those unfortunate enough to end up in the Afghan justice system, the report says, find that bribes and connections are essential. "Those who have no money or power can remain in prison without trial for months, and possibly years." Violence against women is widespread "both at home and in public."

And that's the version Ottawa is willing to let the public see. The unexpurgated version is even blunter, noting that "extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial are all too common."

Civil wars are rarely gentle. The Afghan conflict, which has been sputtering on for more than 27 years, is particularly brutal. Over time, the various sides have treated one another with unspeakable savagery.

For human rights groups, Afghanistan is a full-time job. Amnesty International slams the government of President Hamid Karzai ("barely functional"), the Taliban insurgents ("war crimes") as well as U.S. troops ("torture and ill-treatment").

In this context, Canadian soldiers – equipped with wallet-sized cards that list key elements of the Geneva Conventions on correct prisoner-of-war treatment – seem absurdly benign.

As far as anyone can tell, Canada's hands-on treatment of captured prisoners has been good. First, it seems that not many have been detained. Citing political sensitivity, the defence department won't release figures.

But Amnesty's John Tackaberry estimates the number arrested by Canadian troops since 2002 at about 40.

Second, prisoners themselves say the Canadians treat them well. The Globe and Mail's Graeme Smith recently interviewed 30 who had been detained. Most, he wrote, praised their Canadian captors fulsomely. Their troubles, it seems, began only when Canada handed them over to the Afghans who, among other things, whipped them with thick, electric cables, stripped them naked in freezing cells or left them hanging upside down for days.

Throughout all of this, the Canadian government has adopted the ostrich strategy of keeping its head firmly buried. Technically, it made sure its soldiers would be beyond reproach. In practice, it left glaring loopholes.

On paper, Canadian policy seems golden. The defence department's 2004 manual for handling detainees says all are to be accorded prisoner-of-war status "as this is the highest standard required under international humanitarian law."

Amnesty's Hilary Homes argues that it would be more appropriate to make reference to other elements of international law. Still, compared to the U.S., Canada's formal position has been positively enlightened. Detainees under Canadian control are not to be waterboarded, hung by their wrists, humiliated or threatened with sodomy. It's just name, rank and serial number as far as Canada is concerned.

Of course, it is easy to be Mr. Nice Guy when you don't want to bother imprisoning alleged insurgents yourself. And that seems to be Canada's view.

In the early days of the war, Canadian troops handed over their prisoners to the U.S. When it was pointed out that this could get them in trouble (the Geneva Conventions require that prisoners be transferred only to countries willing to observe basic human rights laws – which the Americans are not), Ottawa came up with another solution. It would hand them over as quickly as possible to the Afghans.

After all, the theory went, the Karzai regime is the legal government of Afghanistan. And Afghanistan is party to the Geneva Conventions. So, why not?

The problem is that this theory is at odds with everything the government knows about the Afghan authorities. The U.S. State Department has documented their brutal and corrupt practices; so has Amnesty International. As the public discovered this week, so, too, has Canada's foreign affairs department.

In its efforts to wash its hands of the problem, Ottawa has proved particularly inept. First, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said he would send officials into Afghan prisons to make sure that those captured by our troops were well-treated. Then, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day insisted – incorrectly, according to those on the ground in Kandahar – that Canadian officials have already made such visits.

Meanwhile, Harper insists the abuse allegations are "baseless accusations," while Day labels them part of a Taliban disinformation campaign.

If there were not independent confirmation of Afghan interrogation techniques, this defence might have some validity. But in the context of Afghanistan today, the Harper-Day strategy veers perilously close to that used by Holocaust deniers, who insist that the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II was a fiction created by a powerful, international Zionist conspiracy.

Sadly, all of this is part of a familiar pattern. Hypocrisy has long been Canada's national vice. In the post-9/11 period, it has run rampant. We say we are firm believers in fair play and the rule of law. But it seems we are only willing to apply those standards when there is little cost.

We eagerly chastise Iran for its human rights abuses; Iran, after all, is regarded these days as an official pariah.

Yet, when it is politically convenient to ignore abuse, we happily do so.

Take the case of 20-year-old Omar Khadr. The Conservatives, like the Liberals before them, have made not a peep on behalf of this imprisoned Canadian child soldier, who has been held by the Americans against all international law at Guantanamo Bay for fully a quarter of his life and who now faces charges before a tribunal so blatantly stacked that even his U.S. military lawyer calls it a "kangaroo court."

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, we close our eyes and pledge allegiance to the grand principles of human rights. As the Star's Rosie DiManno reported from Kandahar this week, we may detain Afghans on the flimsiest of evidence. (In the case she witnessed, Canadian troops arrested a man they thought might be a bomber simply because he was bearded, dark and one-armed – a description that could fit thousands in a land of dark, bearded males, many of whom have had hands or limbs blown off by the mines that still pepper the countryside.)

Then, we hand these detainees over to the jailers with the thick, electric cables.

Don't ask. Don't tell. It is all very Canadian.

election time

Let's get this election on the road already! The Harper government is on its heels, taking well-deserved hits on both Afghanistan and the environment. It's time to knock them over. I'm looking forward to posting a big, fat I Told You So to everyone who was so sure Harper would come back with a strong majority in his second term.

Chantal Hebert, as smart a political observer as there is, muses about when the election will be called.
Harper has taken the climate change file out of the play of the minority Parliament. Voters, not the opposition, will eventually hold his government accountable for its choices.

The only element that the other parties still control is the timing of that moment of reckoning.

If St├ęphane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe feel that the failure to move more decisively on climate change is grievous, if they are convinced that Harper is wrong when he argues that he cannot do more without doing irreparable harm to the economy, then they are free to move a non-confidence motion in the government at the first opportunity.

That places Dion in front of the starkest choice of his short tenure. The Liberal leader has staked his leadership on his environment credentials. But polls consistently show that his party would face long odds in an election this spring.

For its part, the NDP can no longer delude itself that it is engaged in a collaborative effort that gives it a chance to act as the environmental conscience of the government.

Yesterday, the Conservatives put more nails in the coffin of their Clean Air Act. It has clearly become redundant to their plans. The time spent at Layton's initiative fleshing out the act in committee has turned out to be a make-work project designed to tide the government over while it came up with a strategy to reduce its electoral exposure on climate change.

As for Duceppe, election fatigue in Quebec may mean that he is under no great pressure to seek a federal election but there is no way that his party could live down propping up the Conservatives on the climate change issue.

For months, the opposition has collectively wrapped itself in the various folds of the Kyoto protocol. Now the time has come to see whether the emperor had any clothes.


the blogosphere scoops the media - again

Yesterday a huge media firestorm raged through Red Sox Nation. And who started it? None other than our Redsock, proprietor of The Joy of Sox.

AOL Sports has a wrap-up of how it happened, and today's story in the Boston Globe credits Allan with the call.

Citizens of Joy Nation report that Allan's name, his blog - and occasionally even his book! - have been all over sports radio, ESPN, and other such venues. All this, and it's only April. It should be an interesting season.


stop puppy mills

I've become friendly with a woman I see at the hair salon, an esthetician. She and her husband are thinking about getting a dog. She mentioned that they were looking at the puppies in the pet store at the mall.

I told her that it wasn't a good idea to buy puppies from malls, and I told her a little about puppy mills. I was trying hard to be informative without being strident, to strike a conversational tone, even though to me it's a matter of great urgency. I've learned (the hard way) that this is often the best way to reach people.

I see this woman about once a month. She always asks how my dogs are, and she tells me she is still considering getting a dog. We go over the same ground each time; I have no idea if it's sinking in. Every time we see each other, it's like I've never said anything.

* * * *

You all know about puppy mills, right? They are "farms" where dogs are forced to breed constantly, until the females die of complications or exhaustion. Puppies are kept in filthy, overcrowded cages, where they are under-fed and not given proper medical care, let alone human kindness and love (which every dog needs). Then the puppies are plucked from this mess, cleaned up to appear presentable, and sold to retail pet stores, usually in malls.

Puppy mills violate many laws against animal cruelty and farming practices, but enforcement is sporadic, or nonexistent. There is general agreement in the animal welfare community that the best way to combat the horror of puppy mills is to educate the public about retail pet stores that sell dogs. The smaller the market, the fewer dogs will be ordered by pet stores. As demand shrinks, supply will shrink. When the system is no longer profitable, it will shut down. But as long as there's a market, the puppy mills will continue.

Even if you're not in the market for a puppy or kitten, you can help fight this problem by never purchasing anything from a retail pet store that sells puppies. And you can go one step further by telling the company - dropping an email or postcard to their customer service department - why you will never shop there. That's an important piece. They should hear from potential consumers, and know how much business they're losing.

The big pet-supply chains such as PetCo, PetCetera and PetSmart have been a great turning point in this battle. Not wishing to be the target of animal welfare activists, and desirous of pet-friendly publicity, these stores do not sell puppies or kittens at all, and instead work with local rescue groups to promote adoption. This has been a huge milestone.

* * * *

Back to my story. Two days ago, I was at the mall, and the store I needed was right next door to the pet store. There were two dogs in the window who were outgrowing their cage. They were still puppies, but their legs were getting long. Most of the floor space of their cage - maybe 90% - was a wide metal grid. The cages are constructed so the dogs can relieve themselves without soiling the cage itself, which wouldn't look very presentable to the public, but the dogs don't need to be walked.

But a puppy won't stand on a wide grid - it's frightening for them and it hurts their paws. So these dogs had only the tiniest bit of solid floor space to curl up in. They barely fit in.

I stared at the dogs for a while. I thought about living in a tiny cage, never going outside, never getting any exercise or fresh air, never having any human contact. It just about broke my heart. The store was full of shoppers, cooing at the puppies in the windows, oblivious to what lurks behind their adorable faces. There was a sign for the store's "spring puppy special" - 20% off. It made my stomach turn.

I forced myself to walk away, knowing that it would do no good to go into the store and ask about the dogs. (In fact, puppy-mill activists advise against this.) I managed to get home before bursting into tears while telling Allan about it. I'm going to find out what people in my area are doing to combat this. There are lots of animal activists around here; I'm sure this store must be the target of a campaign already. I want to help the effort, whatever it is.

I was also thinking about my friend in the salon, and feeling so helpless that I couldn't get through to her. By coincidence, I had an appointment there the folowing day (yesterday). I couldn't decide if I should say something or not. If she didn't listen, I would just feel worse, more frustrated. But how could I not?

After the usual pleasantries, I plunged in. I said, "I was thinking about you yesterday. I was at the mall, and I saw the puppies in the store, crammed into this little cage. I got really upset, knowing the kind of life they have. Are you and your husband still considering getting a dog? If you are, please, please do not buy a puppy from the mall." It was the first time I was ever that direct.

To my complete amazement, she replied, "We're not. Not since you told me about that, and the - what did you call them? the mills? I told my husband about it, we went online and read about it, and he said, no way, this is horrible."

I almost cried with joy. I told her, "You just made my week. I didn't know if we were connecting on this, if you were really hearing me." She said, "Oh yes, I heard you, I paid attention, there is no way we want any part of that." She said her husband is also concerned about getting a healthy, normal puppy - which is another excellent reason to avoid puppy mills.

She also told me that they've decided to delay getting a dog altogether, that they don't think it's the right time and they're afraid they can't make the commitment yet. That's another huge relief to me - just the fact that they are thinking in those terms.

It was the perfect "each one, reach one" activist moment. I had educated one person, and helped her make a more responsible decision. And who knows, maybe she'll tell other people, too, and on it goes.

But this isn't really a happy ending. My conversation with in the hair salon doesn't help those dogs I saw yesterday.

* * * *

Stop Puppy Mills is the best site I know for puppy mill information and activism. Other excellent sites are Prisoners of Greed, No Puppy Mills Canada and A Dog Owner's Guide to Stopping Puppy Mills.

saturday april 28: impeach day

This Saturday, April 28, is Impeach Day. From World Can't Wait:
The Bush administration is carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity as you read this. A war of aggression in Iraq that is taking countless innocent lives, legalized torture, military tribunals which strip away the most basic of legal rights, warrantless spying, and now plans for attacking Iran being drawn up. This must be brought to a halt, and the Bush administration must be impeached for war crimes.

Yet Congress, now with a Democratic majority, refuses to act in any meaningful way to stop the Bush regime, declaring that impeachment is "off the table", and recently approving $100 billion more for the Iraq war. It will be up to the people to mobilize massive resistance that demands Bush's impeachment for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On April 28, World Can't Wait is joining with other pro-impeachment organizations in calling for people across the country to make the demand for impeachment visible everywhere.

Some ideas people have come up with so far include: human murals (like Beach Impeach), putting up signs on freeway overpasses, writing it on the streets with chalk, handing out cookies with it spelled out in frosting, planting flower beds in the shape of the word, spelling it out with Nathan's hot dogs on the Coney Island boardwalk, and projecting it on the sides of buildings. Then we'll all upload our photos and videos to the website, vote on our favorites, and they'll be compiled into a video for TV. So how would you like to spell it out?

US readers, to find out what's being done in your area, or to organize and publicize an event yourself, go to A28.0rg. While you're there, check out ImpeachSpace, a social network for people who support impeachment. Organizers say, "It's like MySpace, but for impeachment."


courage to resist

Courage To Resist, an excellent organization that supports war resisters and educates the public about them, is in desperate need of funds.

Helga Aguayo, wife of war resister Augustin Aguayo says:
"I don't know if I could have gone through all of this without the support of Courage to Resist. They have been amazing. They have been pivotal in Agustin's campaign. We didn't know how to start a political and legal defense campaign. They were there when he held a press conference in Los Angeles, when he turned himself in at Fort Irvin, and when he was court martialed in Germany. It meant a lot to know that we had a commitment from Courage to Resist that they were going to stand behind us and help us through the whole process. They helped us by organizing fundraisers and just calling to see how we are doing and trying to meet our needs. If you can donate to Courage to Resist you really are helping the soldiers that choose to resist this war."

Sara Rich, mother of war resister Suzanne Swift, says:
"My daughter Suzanne went AWOL days before her second deployment to Iraq as a result of her severe post traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma of her first tour. When she didn't return to Iraq, we were scared to death and did not know where to turn for help. However, we found Courage to Resist. The staff and volunteers were amazing and continue to support us through a horrible battle and ordeal."

The Courage to Resist website is full of stories of true bravery and heroism. Clicking on the name of one of the people they are helping, you can go to a blog with news and backstory about that person.

Most of us are trying to end the war from our desk chairs, and occasionally in the streets. Agustin Aguayo, Ehren Watada, Ivan Brobeck, Suzanne Swift, Ricky Clousing and others are putting their freedom and their own lives on the line to help usher in peace. Please consider helping them, through a donation to Courage to Resist.

"a handful of patriots trying to hold back the tide of tyranny"

A few months ago, there was a letter in the Star decrying those who say the US is becoming (or has become) a fascist state. It was in response to an essay by Christopher Hedges, author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America. I wrote a letter in response, which the Star said was shortlisted for publication, but which did not appear in print. Here 'tis.
Letter writer [name] 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.

Much has been written about the warning signs of fascism. I've seen few pieces that lay it out more clearly than this one by Naomi Wolf, from The Guardian (UK), also found at Common Dreams.
Fascist America, in 10 easy steps

Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down: the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took certain activists into custody.

They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy - but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree - domestically - as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government - the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens' ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors - we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don't learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of "homeland" security - remember who else was keen on the word "homeland" - didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.

It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable - as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.

Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.

Wolf goes on to describe the ten steps, and how the junta has taken each one. She concludes:
Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us - staff at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody's help, including that of Europeans and others internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the world.

We need to look at history and face the "what ifs". For if we keep going down this road, the "end of America" could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before - and this is the way it is now.

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands ... is the definition of tyranny," wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

Read the essay here.


cody ear mystery, part 2

Cody's surgically repaired ear comes against a backdrop of a series of visits to the vet, which we thought would be over by now.

First Tala had worms, then some extended intestinal troubles caused by the parasites. We solved those, thank goodness. They were a little frightening for me, since Buster nearly died from inflammatory bowel disease (and that did ultimately contribute to his early death).

At the same time, Tala had seriously itchy skin, and that's more difficult to solve. Skin allergies are a long process of trial and error, finding medication that calms the itch with a minimum of side effects, while also trying to find the source of the problem. Twice she's ripped open "hot spots" - when an animal scratches so hard, they rip the fur off and rip open the skin. If you don't treat those seriously, they can become huge and infected. Hot spots are also a big clue that the itching is not yet under control.

So between Tala's stomach and skin, we've been back and forth to the vet since we brought her home in late January. Throughout, she's been happy and has seemed healthy. She's never acted sick, or been sad. It's not the awful, scary experience of Buster, but it's not the easy-breezy world of Cody, either.

Last week we took Cody for her annual check-up and vaccines, which become a little more complex as a dog ages, and got heartworm meds for both dogs. Since we were going anyway, the vet also wanted to do a re-check of Tala's skin. That was a week ago today. Two days later, I found the lump of dried blood in Cody's ear. Sigh.

* * * *

All our dogs have needed to wear a cone collar at some point in their lives, some more frequently than others. (Gypsy also had itchy skin, as well as knee surgery, minor lumps removed... many cones.)

If you've ever had an animal in a cone, you know that at first it's both pathetic and comical as they walk into walls and can't get through doorways, until they learn to judge their new girth. But Cody is in a class by herself.

Cody hates anything being done to her. Baths, nails clipped, blood drawn - whatever it is, she hates it. This is typical of a submissive dog. Where the alpha dog is confident and secure, and will gracefully condescend to whatever you need, the bottom dog is fearful and anxious, and will often be difficult in those situations. Plus Cody is a drama queen. If she gets wind that you might be bothering her, she's screaming "Help! Stop! You're killing me!" before you've even touched her.

Last night when I came home from work, she was standing in the middle of the living room, coned head pointing down, staring at the floor, looking utterly dejected. We had to coax her to lie down, to eat, to go out; we had to coax her to move at all. She finally settled in for the night, and today seems a little better. But it's going to be a long two weeks for her until these stitches come out.

the mystery of cody's ear, part 1

A few nights go, I was stroking Cody's ears and felt a lump. I thought it was a growth, but closer inspection revealed a clot of dried blood. With Allan's help, I cleaned it out with hydrogen peroxide and found a large tear in the bottom part of the ear. I put some anti-bacterial ointment on it, but I had a feeling it was too large to heal on its own. Every time I checked on it, there was another thick clot of dried blood, and I knew it needed a few stitches.

Yesterday while I was at work (my last day at Dissolving Firm) Allan took Cody to the vet, and left there for the minor surgery. It was a pretty nasty tear, cut in three different ways. Now poor Cody has a cone on her head and is perfectly miserable. More on that later.

How did this happen? We don't know.

The dogs recently had a little tussle outside - teeth barred, lots of snarling, it went on long enough that Allan had to break it up. (I only saw part of it from an upstairs window.) It was the kind of argument that frightens inexperienced dog people, but didn't seem all that serious to us.

Did it happen then? Allan didn't hear Cody yelp in pain, which she certainly would have done if Tala had bitten her ear. The pain yelp is a very distinct sound, and we would have recognized it. Allan didn't have to drag Tala off Cody's ear, and he certainly didn't see any blood or other evidence of a more serious fight. This is all evidence against that fight being the cause of Cody's wound.

After the fight, Cody wanted nothing to do with Tala for several days. In fact, she was still acting like that when I found the wound. That's evidence in favour of the backyard fight theory.

Could Tala have bitten Cody's ear when we weren't around? It couldn't have happened when we weren't home, because Tala is crated when we're out. Could she have done it when they were playing in the backyard, while we were both busy with other things inside?

It seems unlikely, because we've never observed them fighting. Lately, Cody's been lying down, just hanging out on the lawn, while Tala amuses herself keeping her territory free of birds and squirrels. We don't watch them every moment, so it's theoretically possible that they got in a fight that we didn't see. But it's hard to imagine, as - except for this one fight that Allan observed - they always get along outside. Before Cody even accepted Tala in the home, they were playing happily in the backyard.

Could the wound have been caused by something else? Could Cody have stuck her head somewhere and gotten caught, and ripped her ear trying to free herself? She's such a timid dog - so not an explorer - that it's hard to imagine. But again, it's theoretically possible. We're going to examine the fence today to see if we can find a ragged edge or hole.

I find this very perplexing. Tala shows no signs of aggressiveness. She lived with a huge number of dogs at her foster home, and was never aggressive there. She's an assertive dog, for sure. At the dog park, when we're giving her treats for coming when called, she'll check back another dog who's trying to get in on her treats - but that's as far as it goes. She's not the Bottom Dog like Cody, but she's happy and well behaved around other dogs.

If Tala bit Cody's ear, that's something I need to know. But did she? And if she didn't, what happened?


to be black and from mississippi

Speaking of sinking, infant mortality rates are up in Mississippi and several other Southern states.

After years of progress on this vital social indicator, things have been sliding backwards since 2004. It should come as no surprise that there's a sharp disparity between infant mortality rates for whites and those for African Americans.

Before you blame BushCo for this, remember that it was a Democrat who ended the federal guarantee of welfare. Every administration since Jimmy Carter has had a hand in this shame.

Infant mortality rates in the US overall are twice as high as those in Hong Kong. True, for some countries, seven infant deaths per 1,000 births would be reason to celebrate. But shouldn't TGNOTFOTE set its standards a little higher?

By this measure, Canada is not as good as Japan, but not as dreadful as the US. There is also a sharp divide in Canada: First Nations people have rates 20% higher than the national average.

my former country, sinking fast

Some wit and wisdom from the Op-Ed page. Click to enlarge.

the supreme court will see you now

to whom do they answer?


Via Bartcop, via Redsock.

the charter at 25

Last week marked the 25th birthday of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada's constitutional bill of rights. It was signed by the Queen on April 17, 1982.

In contrast with the seemingly endless commemorations of Canada's part in that most useless of wars, there is very little fuss being made about this much more significant anniversary.

The Harper Government did not participate in the conference at McGill University held to study and discuss the Charter. The Prime Minister himself did nothing to mark the anniversary, a decision former Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien finds shocking.

Many people read into Harper's decision a general disdain for Charter rights, which may be so. But given Harper's shrewd and constant political maneuvering, I'm more inclined to read this as a political move, not wishing to be seen celebrating a Liberal legacy (or to invoke the memory of Liberal icon Pierre Trudeau), and playing to socially conservative voters who see the Charter as the downfall of their imagined good old days. (You know, when men were men and women knowed their place!)

Besides the Government's lack of fervor, the media isn't making much of a fuss, and there seems to be little (nothing?) being done to mark the anniversary for ordinary Canadians. I've been reading essays in the Star and Globe and Mail, but a reader could easily miss the news altogether. This is a real shame. The Charter is much more relevant than a battle fought 80 years ago; it represents what is best about Canada today.

Here's a guide to The Charter which explains each section.

Here's an essay about the Charter's significance by Errol Mendes, professor of constitutional and human rights law at the University of Ottawa.
There are moments in the history of a people and a country that profoundly affect the evolution of that society in a way that changes them forever. There was such a transformation in Canada on April 17, 1982, when the Queen signed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Charter was a product of the aspirations of Pierre Trudeau and his followers to unify their country under a document that they hoped would produce a common citizenship, which would unite French and English and all the communities that constituted the emergence of a multicultural and global society.

Trudeau also hoped the Charter would bring Canada into the mainstream of the international human rights movement triggered by the horrors of World War II.

The Charter was also the product of a ferocious desire of those citizens who wanted to see their identity and rights not left out of this new, vibrant vision of Canada.

Thus women's groups, disability rights groups, ethnocultural groups, linguistic minorities, religious communities and other equality seeking groups fought and succeeded in having their identity and rights recognized in the Charter.

The Charter was also the product of a globally unique form of Canadian accommodation between majority rule in a parliamentary democracy and the fundamental values and rights of Canadians.

. . . .

If the purpose of the Charter was to cement a common citizenship in an often ruthless global economy and society, those aspirations have been and will continue to be severely tested.

There will be Charter-based demands that governments do more to protect the most vulnerable in areas such as mental health, the elderly and the homeless. In addition, the mutating face of terrorism, organized crime and other societal threats will bring rights in conflict with the search for protection in an increasingly dangerous world.

In the face of such challenges, those who fought to have the Charter become part of the fabric of Canadian society must fight to ensure the original vision does not weaken because it speaks to the nobility of the Canadian spirit and of all Canadians.


three questions for wmtc readers

I will be writing about Steven Fletcher, the Member of Parliament who is a quadriplegic, for New Mobility magazine.

What questions would you like me to ask Mr Fletcher?

Keep in mind I'm writing for people who use wheelchairs. Questions about how he conducts the tasks of daily life are not very interesting to our readers.

Other than that, what are you curious about? If you were reading a profile of Mr Fletcher, what would you like to know? Nothing is off-limits.

* * * *

I'm using the excuse of this story assignment to plan a trip to Ottawa! I usually have to interview by phone, so this is a great opportunity to turn in a better story (in-person interviews are always superior), and see the capital of my new country at the same time.

Any suggestions for what we should see and do in Ottawa?

I'll pick up a guidebook and also do some research online, but I'd love to hear your ideas, tips and pointers. I'm thinking history, museums, walking, dining. Standard tourism and off-the-beaten-track are both welcome.

* * * *

One of my goals this year - and hopefully, continuing into the future - is to go hiking more often. I find that nothing relaxes and rejuvenates me more than walking in the woods. It's great exercise and stress relief for body and mind.

In New York it was always a big production to rent a car and get out of town, and we managed it once or twice a year. Now that we're car owners, I want to do it more often.

In our first months here, we hiked in Forks of the Credit. We did the same thing last fall, but just once, and both times in the same place. I need more places to go! Where do you suggest?

Here's our criteria. We're talking walking, not climbing. Some hills are OK, but rock- or mountain-climbing is not. It has to be dog-friendly; leash laws are cool, but "no dogs allowed" is not. It should be within a two-hour drive from the GTA, preferably closer.

I know there are many places within Toronto where you can walk and forget you're in a city. New York has a few, too, and I love that. But this is also about driving into the country, stopping at a roadhouse for lunch, maybe poking around a small town. So as wonderful as the trails and ravines of Toronto may be, that's not what I'm looking for.

* * * *

OK, Steven Fletcher, Ottawa, hiking. Your go. Thanks in advance.


odds and ends, eh

When asked about Canada's largest city, how long will it take the average Canadian to utter the phrase "Toronto sucks"? Canadian filmmaker David Nerenberg wanted to find out. The results: "Let's All Hate Toronto," screening this week at the Hot Docs, the International Documentary Film Festival.
The 73-minute film, which premieres at Toronto's Hot Docs documentary festival next week, follows a character called Mister Toronto, who embarks on a cross-Canada trip brandishing a sign that reads "Toronto Appreciation Day" and steels himself for the onslaught.

His tour leads from Newfoundland on the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific city of Vancouver, where feelings against Toronto — usually acknowledged as the country's financial centre and the cultural capital of English Canada — run deepest of all.

"There is something different (about hating Toronto). People are more passionate about it," filmmaker and co-director Albert Nerenberg said in an interview.

"People have a grudging respect for New York outside of the city, and have a grudging respect for London. But people outside of Toronto don't have that for Toronto, they really don't."

Grudging respect? I don't know, Albert. When I travel in the US, and people ask me where I'm from, that sour look on their face doesn't resemble respect.

Toronto needs to take a page from New York's book. Be proud that the rest of the Canada hates you! Stop trying to earn their love. Make them earn you. Embrace the dark side. You've got to learn to love the hate.

* * * *

A University of Toronto sociolinguist finds that fewer Canadians are using a certain monosyllabic Canadian codeword these days. Although I don't doubt her findings - her research is extensive - I personally see no evidence that "eh" is an endangered species.

I've picked it the word from my co-workers, who say it frequently, and I find it very useful. Where previously I sometimes used "you know?" or "huh?" or "yeah?" at the end of a sentence, in that asking-for-confirmation kind of way, I find myself using "eh" now, and I like it. I'm very prone to picking up speech patterns from the people around me - not consciously, it just happens - so I'm not surprised that "eh" has crept into my speech.

According to this article, this might make me a proud Canadian.
Elaine Gold, another linguist at the University of Toronto, agrees that "eh" is a "marker" of Canadian English. But she isn't so sure that our national shibboleth is endangered, not after surveying University of Toronto students in 2004.

The students told her that they definitely do use "eh," and in new ways Gold wasn't accustomed to. Such as: "I know, eh."

She also found that some students whose native tongue isn't English grasp onto "eh" as an anchor in their new home. "One of them commented, 'I was very proud the first time I said "eh."' It made her feel Canadian."

Gold also found that people are using the word consciously – in two ways. Some cultivate "eh" as an expression of their Canadian-ness, "sort of like putting in the "u" when you spell "colour" ... I've had students say, 'When I go to the States I say "eh" more so they'll know I'm Canadian."

And then there are the people who employ the "narrative eh" – I got trashed, eh, and then I fell down, eh – frequently and ironically in a parody of the "hoser-speak" popularized by Bob and Doug McKenzie.

* * * *

Our week at Skydome is going well so far.

Tuesday night, for Daisuke Matsuzaka's first game in Canada, the place was packed, and it was a rowdy crowd (for Blue Jays fans). We sat next to a man who had just returned to Canada after 18 years in Japan. He was a high school teacher and followed Dice-K's high school baseball career!

Both Matsuzaka and the Jays' Gustavo Chacin (one scary-looking man) were great; Dice-K had one bad inning and that was the difference in the game. The Jays won 2-1, and by some of the fans' reaction, you would have thought they just clinched the division. Calm down, guys: it's April.

Last night we saw another pitching duel. Jays pitcher Toma Okha was baffling Sox hitters for a while, but once they got his number, they tagged him for three solo home runs. The Sox won by a score of 4-1, but more importantly, I got to see my boy Jonathan Papelbon close the game. I love that man. Love. That. Man.

Wmtc night was great. Four people (two couples) cancelled day-of, including Nick and Mason, who were supposed to help us cheer for the Red Sox. Oh well. The rest of us had a good time.

For me, it's a wonderful feeling to be at the ballpark with friends. It's something I had in my old life that I wasn't sure would exist in my new life - something I didn't dare hope for. That might sound silly. Of course I'd make friends, right? But it didn't feel obvious on my end. I knew we'd find a nice place to live, I knew we'd find work, I knew we'd like Canada, and Toronto, and even Mississauga. But how and when I'd meet people I felt happy and comfortable with, people around whom I could relax and be myself - that I didn't know. And here we are. I never take it for granted.

Today we have a day game, and I'm hoping the dome will be open. It's probably a little too brisk for most people, but it would feel like springtime to me.

* * * *

And lastly, but not leastly, it's Cody Day!

Eight years ago today, we took Cody home from the overcrowded Queens apartment where she was tied to a doorknob. Sounds cruel, but it's not - she had been living on the street, and her rescuer already had more dogs than she could reasonably care for.

Cody's come a long way since surviving on the mean streets of Jackson Heights. She's been through a lot with us, taking it all in stride, in her calm, low-key way. Now she's enjoying her mellow older age in the suburbs. None of our other dogs ever had it so easy. We love her a lot.

fork of the credit 09


u.s. supreme court practices medicine without a license

In a long-awaited victory for women haters and fetus lovers, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the nationwide ban on an abortion procedure.

The 5-4 ruling said the so-called "Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act" that Congress passed in 2003 does not violate a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.

This marks the first time the court has banned a specific medical procedure.

This procedure - correctly known as "dilation and extraction" or D&X - is used very rarely, and normally only as an absolute last resort.

I had a close friend who had already suffered two spontaneous abortions (commonly and incorrectly called "miscarriages"). On her third try, an amnio revealed the fetus was severely deformed; it lacked most of its brain. It would either have been born dead or lived for a few minutes outside the womb. It never could have survived, either on its own or on a life support system.

My friend was more than five months pregnant at the time. She wanted a baby more than anything in the world. Had the D&X procedure not been available, she would have had to carry the pregnancy to term, and go through labour, knowing the fetus would not survive. (Inducing labour was not a medically safe option.)

Only the tiniest percentage of abortions are performed by D&X, and as far as anyone can substantiate, those are always medically necessary.

That's why this isn't about the procedure itself. It's about finally stripping American women of the right to control their reproduction, and their lives.

Without access to safe and legal abortion, women can never be free and equal people.

Read Katha Pollitt on this nationwide scam. The example in her lede is the group I used to work with in New York.

Read me on the state of women's reproductive freedom in the US. I wrote that in 2005. You can safely assume it's only gotten worse.

robin morgan: it's the hypocrisy

The great feminist activist Robin Morgan has written a terrific piece on what the recent Imus flap revealed.

I don't agree with 100% of what she's written here; I break with most feminists my age to welcome "dude," "girl" and other similar expressions into our vocabulary. But 99% is good enough for me. And I don't mock the 1% I don't share. I understand where it comes from, and I admire the commitment. I know we couldn't have gotten this far without it.

I always know a great essay when I find myself thinking, I wish I had written that...
Beyond Imus — It's the Hypocrisy, Stupid!
by Robin Morgan

Periodically, some new wound rips the scab off our national, livid scar where sex and race intersect: the young law professor, Anita Hill, shaming Congress by her dignity and inspiring women with her truth; the O.J. Simpson circus trials; the Duke-Lacrosse mystery; Don Imus v. the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team.

We're an adolescent country, ahistoric, not that well educated. Most Americans still don't know that "races" do not exist, that what gets termed "races" are miniscule physical variations across our species, due to different survival adaptations we've developed since our human ancestors migrated from Africa to other geographical regions. (One instance: in a sun-drenched sub-Saharan climate, melanin in our pigmentation created darker skin as a protective necessity; under cloudier northern skies, paler pigmentation suppressing melanin became necessary so we could absorb more Vitamin D from the sun.)

Yet ironically, while believing "race" is real, many Americans think racism, sexism, and other bigotries are myths—a staggering feat of collective denial. How many times have you heard someone start (or finish) a diatribe with "Well, I'm no racist (sexist, homophobe, etc.), but . . . ?"

Michael Richards follows his melt-down by proclaiming he's not a racist; Mel Gibson weeps he's not an anti-Semite; actor Isaiah Washington calls a colleague "faggot," but insists he's no homophobe. Politicians spew blatant or coded hate speech, then muster blame-the-victim, nonapology apologies ("Sorry if anyone mistook what I meant"). They all scuttle behind the excuse of work-stress or alcoholism while fleeing to the latest damage-control hideaway: rehab.

Howard Stern, who built his career on every form of bigotry, "libertarian" Bill Maher, and new neocon Dennis Miller all boast about attacking "the Establishment" while they parrot and reinforce its basest values, and hide behind the "equal-opportunity insulter" justification — as if pain lands with the same impact on the powerless as on the powerful. A few others walk a fine line of satirizing prejudices while trying not to reinforce them. Stephen Colbert has built a not-so-bright, archconservative character deliberately to skewer that character's politics. Yet even Jon Stewart, whose work I admire, at times jettisons his political conscience where sexism is concerned—perhaps too eager to court that age 18 to 24 pale-male consumer demographic?

But all of these "truth-telling," "ground-breaking," "ballsy," so-called rebels, however much they might now tiptoe around "the N word," tiptoe more around words hat would be really dangerous to use, especially in self-examination: The R word: Racist. The S word: Sexist. The H word: Homophobe.

Well, after a lifetime of activism — from the civil-rights movement through antiwar, antipoverty, the birth of lesbian and gay rights, the founding and flowering of the contemporary feminist movement in the United States and globally — I am still a racist, a sexist, a homophobe. How could I not be? How can any of us — no matter our sex or ethnicity — not be sexist, racist, and all the other –ists? Our society sowed these seeds in our formative consciousness.

I remember my mother and aunts — good women, liberal whites, working-class, apostate Jews, proud members of the NAACP — unthinkingly saying "That's white of you," or "I'm free, white, and 21," or even "You can't wear those new shoes yet! Stop acting nigger-rich." Yet these women once soaped out the mouth of a playmate who used "nigger" as an epithet; all the while they chuckled at "Amos and Andy" stereotypes on the radio and made "No tickee no washee" jokes at the Chinese laundry. Conveniently, they didn't connect the dots.

As a child, I sure got their double message, though. Never since have I been able to cleanse myself totally of those messages, not under the blast of Southern sheriff's fire hoses, not on picket lines or at sit-ins or in jail cells. I wrestle with those toxins — whispery, seductive, semiconscious—every damned day, in myriad ways, and will do so until I die. Hannah Arendt termed this a necessary vigilance about "the Eichmann within," who gets loose only when not acknowledged. It's the hypocrisy. I believe that each of us truly commits to fight bigotry only when we get royally pissed at how it has warped our own humanity. At least then, with enlightened self-interest, we're less likely to play Lord or Lady Bountiful but abandon the direct victims when the going gets rough. There's no vaccine for these poisons siphoned into our systems, no individual-case cure. But recognition is the prerequisite step in treating such diseases until we can eradicate them outright. For that we need to come off it and tell the truth.

It's not about blame, but about responsibility; not about guilt, but about change.

The same is even truer of sexism — where denial and collaboration are epidemic. Racism is still taken more seriously because men suffer from it, too — and whatever any men do or feel must be more important than what happens "only" to all women. When a man says "I'm no sexist, but . . . " I groan inside. But when the rare guy begins, "I guess I must be a sexist, but I don't want to be, so how . . ." he gets my attention: he's owning up to reality, and already addressing not what but how.

Everyone over age 45 shares some version of my childhood brain-soiling experiences. Younger Americans share different pernicious messages: It's cool to make fun of geezers, fat people, spastics, amputees. If certain hip-hop lyrics reek violent woman-hatred, it's hip for everyone to echo that (and it rakes in dough for the pale-male-owned record companies). If chic fashion spreads celebrate sado-porn rape poses, well, that's just edgy. If talk-radio's crude propaganda spews words like "feminazis," "retards," "Lezzies," "ragheads," and "wetbacks," gee, lighten up, nobody takes that seriously. (Who is nobody?) If "Hey, man," "What's up, dude," or "You guys" have been resurrected as generic terms for greeting a friend/friends, then to point out wearily that these terms erase female presence is to invite rebuttals revived word-for-word from the 1970s: to be overly sensitive, uncool, and, naturally, one of those humorless, dreary PC types. (About 15 years ago, I wrote a Ms. editorial explaining "PC" as really standing for Plain Courtesy.) D'uh. We've been here before, oh yeah. But it still hurts.

It hurts. What part of "It hurts" don't they understand?

I know, I know, it's positive (however maddening) that our memory-challenged pundits now claim the Imus affair will "open" a national dialogue about which some of us Americans are already hoarse, yet still babbling. I know patience is not my strong suit. I know that over time, consciousness is contagious. Once you start connecting dots, you can't help but connect more. Rep. Linda Sanchez recently suspended her membership in the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, the second to leave the group charging sexism; her sister, Rep. Loretta Sanchez resigned after accusing caucus chairman Rep. Joe Baca of referring to her as a "whore." Star athletes, members of Congress, law professors, single moms dancing at frat parties to support their kids, presidential candidates—when in doubt, call 'em whores. We're none of us immune to the hurt. And we're none of us immune to being agents for the hurt.

I don't only mean obvious offenders, serial right-wing purveyors of hate like Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, et al. What about liberal compartmentalizers? Wasn't that left-leaning Hollywood awarding an Oscar to the song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"? In a coyly intellectual version of "Ooops, my bad!" progressive politicians and journalists — Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Rep. Harold Ford, Frank Rich, Jeff Greenfield, a depressingly long list — now sheepishly admit to having been (caught as) enablers by appearing on "serious" segments of Imus shows, while they conveniently overlooked vicious sexist and racist "jokes" bracketing their discussions. I've heard feminist spokeswomen defend appearing on shock-jock shows or political shout-fest programs claiming the "need to reach those audiences." To help generate more heat than light? To be a guest or a dartboard? To do outreach or to collaborate—conveniently compartmentalizing while hyping a book or oneself?

Language reflects and defines attitudes. Attitudes reflect and define action. It's the hypocrisy, stupid.

From the media, as usual, we relearned Compartmentalization 101: Whatever Men Say and Do is More Interesting than Whatever Women Say and Do.

Feminist movement support for the Rutgers team has been close to eradicated in coverage, which positioned Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson as leading the protests. Most pundits chose to play a sick Competition of Oppressions game, presenting the Imus debacle as more a racist story than a sexist one — as if human suffering should be compared, women appear in only one skin tone, and bigots can't hate and chew gun at the same time. The Sunday morning TV political shows ignored the sexism entirely. Some commentators justly praised pressure brought by a 200,000 member African American women's organization joining the protests, but neglected to mention that The National Council of Women's Organizations — 11 million multiethnic women in 210 organizations — was among the first to demand firing Imus and his producer. Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation met privately with the team at the start, and her speech brought down the house at their Rutgers rally. NOW's President Kim Gandy has been denouncing Imus for years, and from the first moment this story broke, she, together with heads of other national feminist organizations, attended those same pressure meetings with CBS and NBC executives. These were meetings where Sharpton and Jackson — each bearing personal baggage as an apologist for his own past sexist actions and ethnic hate speech — garnered the media spotlight.

The fall-out from such destructive divide-and-conquer reporting implies that African American male leaders cared, but women of all other ethnicities did not. Erasure again—partial-truth reporting that feeds racism and sexism.

By now, we ought to know better, right? We ought to know that, despite persistent, erroneous media references otherwise, women are not another minority: we're 52% of the population — and of the species. And you can damned well bet we come in all sizes, shades, shapes, ages. You name it, we are it. That's the F word: Feminism.

At least the women athletes from Rutgers (two of whom are stereotype-breaking European Americans, by the way) got it right. Refusing to compartmentalize, and continuing to demonstrate not only physical but moral grace, they made clear they felt all women had been degraded by Imus's remark. As team captain Essence Carson said: "We're just trying to give a voice to women who suffer from sexism. . . . Not just African American women, but all women." Slam dunk.


to the editor

I have a letter in today's Toronto Star. It's an edited, but still accurate, version of what I submitted:
Although your recent article about purchasing a puppy tries to emphasize responsible pet ownership, there are some important omissions.

There's a reason pet store chains such as PetSmart, PetCetera and PetCo do not sell puppies. Puppies sold through retail outlets, such as mall pet stores, usually come from "puppy mills", cruel places of forced breeding and shockingly inhumane conditions.

The only responsible way to buy a puppy is through a responsible breeder. But better yet, prospective pet owners should be encouraged to adopt. Web sites such as Petfinder.com make it easy to find the right pet for your particular needs. Thousands of wonderful dogs and cats need homes, and - as anyone who has a "rescue" can attest - adopted animals make the best pets.

Further, placing an article about pet ownership in the Shopping section gives the false and dangerous impression that dogs are items to be acquired. They are not. They are living creatures who need permanent, loving homes.

game day

Today is our first game at Skydome this season.

We purchased a mini season-ticket package, and will attend eight of nine Red Sox games at Toronto this year. Once I learned that the Red Sox games were all on weekdays - perfect for our backwards schedule - it was irresistible. As an extra bonus, because of a rainout in Fenway, we're seeing Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Japanese pitching sensation that the Red Sox acquired this season. Sox pitching looks awesome so far. We're excited.

Tomorrow night is the first of two wmtc nights at Skydome. Reports to follow.

domestic violence

What is there to say? "Worst gun rampage in US history" pretty much says it all. I have nothing to contribute that progressive people haven't been repeating for decades. Gun culture, mental illness, a society addicted to violence. Thirty-three immediate victims, hundreds upon hundreds of survivors who will struggle with the trauma for the rest of their lives.

I'm just putting up this post in case wmtc readers want to talk about it here.


let canada lead the drive for peace

From Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui.
Let Canada lead peace drive in Afghanistan

One of the blessings of Toronto is that you can find experts in this city on almost every international issue. Returning from a recent trip to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I met Karamatullah Ghori, a retired Pakistani diplomat whose last posting was as ambassador to Turkey and who now lives in Scarborough, to be near his daughter and grandchildren, and writes essays and books.

From his Canadian Pakistani perspective, what does he make of our mission in Afghanistan?

"Why are you there?" he shot back. "What's the Canadian interest that's at stake in Afghanistan? When did Afghanistan, or even the Taliban, declare war on Canada? There was one mention of Canada by Osama bin Laden, way back when.

"The alibi is that we are there to prevent the spread of terrorism. In fact, it is by being there that you are creating enmity against yourself."

Can the Taliban be defeated?

"No, they can't be. There's no end to the supply of razakars (willing fighters). For an Afghan, there's no greater calling than taking on a non-Afghan occupying his land, especially a white man who is not a Muslim."

The British and the Soviets may have discovered that but, I ventured, the Taliban may be doing well not because of their DNA but the sanctuaries they allegedly enjoy in Pakistan.

"This is being alleged on the flimsiest of evidence," Ghori said. "Where's the proof?

"The Americans and now the Canadians are asking Pakistan to do what they themselves have not been able to do" – prevent the insurgency in the first place and, failing that, to contain it.

Ghori then tossed a question at me: "What's your red line?"

Meaning? "How many casualties can Canada take? A hundred? Two hundred? Three hundred? What's the ceiling?"

Don't know. Can't know. Perhaps don't want to know.

But we must know, I suppose, as also the answer to his central question: What's Canada's interest in Afghanistan?

Perhaps nothing more than a desire to please the Americans and also to protect our trade with it. Or, to indeed do good in Afghanistan, as the Afghans do want us to, but in a more constructive way than we have been.

Canada needs clarity of mission. The planned withdrawal date of 2009 is too far off to keep muddling along, which is what NATO has been doing. Just one day's news stories bear this out.

Pervez Musharraf claims that 300 foreign fighters have been killed in South Waziristan, the lawless Pakistani area along the Afghan border, where Al Qaeda remnants are hiding.

Afghan officials claim they are killing the Taliban by the dozen.

A Canadian commander in the field claims progress at building several schools and clinics.

If everyone is doing their job as well as these stories suggest, and as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his bumbling Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor keep proclaiming, why is Afghanistan still in turmoil and NATO so divided?

The allies are ducking Canada's repeated calls to take on more of the fighting. Either they do not want to put their troops in harm's way or they understand far better than us the futility of the exercise.

France and Germany openly question the wisdom of committing more troops, when there are already 35,000, plus another 11,000 Americans hunting Bin Laden, et al.

Yet here's the U.S. leaning on Canada, of all allies, to commit even more troops and hardware.

Why does the U.S. think a few hundred more troops can defeat the Taliban, when the Soviets failed during their 1979-89 occupation despite deploying 80,000 troops, and sowing millions of land mines and conducting endless carpet bombings?

What drove the Soviets out was Afghan guerrilla warfare, which is what the Taliban are waging, even more brutally, with suicide and roadside bombings.

We need a political solution in Afghanistan.

Ottawa should be encouraging Afghan President Hamid Karzai's tentative steps toward political reconciliation with the Taliban. He met 50 of them this month. Canada should persuade the U.S. and other allies to back him, openly.

Canada should also be taking the lead in having Karzai and NATO talk to Pakistan.

Its entanglement in Afghanistan dates back to the 1980s when it was the chosen conduit for American funding to the anti-Soviet mujahideen, who morphed into Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

That involvement brought Pakistan praise then, but much heartache later – waves of refugees, Islamic extremism, and a culture of Kalashnikovs, drugs and crime.

Pakistan is also nervous about the involvement of its archrival India in Afghanistan.

Besides opening four consulates, India is investing $750 million in development projects – and is quietly doing a much better job of it than most NATO nations.

Pakistan, always suffering from an existentialist paranoia, feels sandwiched between India and a hostile Afghanistan.

Canada, friendly with all three nations, should be suggesting a regional conference, where they, along with the U.S. and other NATO allies, would explore ways to end the agony of Afghanistan.

The city of Ottawa would make a good neutral site for such a gathering.

one last socal tidbit

I just remembered something else from my trip. At the In-N-Out Burger, we ordered double-doubles! That's double meat, double cheese. (They're small.) Of course I told my friends what you get if you order a double-double in Canada. Very different!

I take my coffee with just a little milk, no sugar, so I've never actually ordered a double-double at Tim's.

God those burgers were good. I'm getting hungry just thinking about them. How much carbon do I have to renew to eat one of those, I wonder.

going carbon neutral

What does anyone know about going "carbon neutral"? Are any of you currently practicing this? Do you have plans to start? Do you feel its a legitimate and useful way to contribute to the fight against climate change?

I've been reading about going carbon neutral at David Suzuki's website.
Going carbon neutral is an easy way to take responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions we create every time we drive our cars, take a plane, or turn on our computers. It's based on the principle that, since climate change is a global problem, an emission reduction made elsewhere has the same positive effect as one made locally.

Here's how it works: if you add polluting emissions to the atmosphere, you can effectively subtract them by purchasing 'carbon offsets'. Carbon offsets are simply credits for emission reductions achieved by projects elsewhere, such as wind farms, solar installations, or energy efficiency projects. By purchasing these credits, you can apply them to your own emissions and reduce your net climate impact.

Why Go Carbon Neutral?

To solve the problem of climate change, we all need to take account of our personal carbon emissions and make continued efforts to reduce them wherever possible. But it is impossible to reduce our carbon emissions to zero, no matter how hard we try. Going carbon neutral by purchasing carbon offsets is a practical and affordable way to do something about those remaining emissions.

In addition, by voluntarily calculating and assigning a cost to your carbon emissions, you can begin to prepare for the inevitability of an economy in which carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are regulated and taxed. Whether you are a business or an individual, this is an important step towards managing your carbon emissions efficiently and identifying potential for reductions and savings.

Purchasing high quality carbon offsets from projects such as wind farms also helps support the transition to a sustainable energy economy by providing an additional source of revenue to developers of renewable energy.

While voluntary offset programs should not be seen as a substitute for comprehensive government regulations to reduce greenhouse gases (e.g. through implementation of the Kyoto Protocol), they are a step in the right direction, and an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on climate change.

It goes on to list corporations, sports teams, huge special events, bands and other enterprises that have already gone carbon neutral. It's an impressive list. (Scroll down to "Who's Doing It".)

And I guess that's what concerns me. This sounds like an important step, and because it's David Suzuki, I'm inclined to embrace it. (Al Gore has a similar section on his website.) I'm just naturally suspicious of anything that sounds too easy. Which doesn't mean I won't do it, just that I have questions.

Your thoughts?

number 42, reprised

Allan and I took our respective posts from yesterday and combined them in one essay, which hopefully will run elsewhere.

Here you go.

* * * *

April 15, 2007 is the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's Major League debut. Robinson was the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball.

The story of how Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey went against baseball's entrenched, unwritten, whites-only rule, in what is so glibly called "breaking the color line," is a story of tremendous courage and revolutionary thinking.

In recent years, Major League Baseball, as an organization, has been celebrating Robinson, showing off the increasingly international – and integrated – game. In 1997, Robinson's number 42 was retired by every Major League team, the only player to receive that honor. Players already wearing 42 were allowed to continue until the end of their careers (only one remains, the Yankees' Mariano Rivera). When Rivera retires, no player will ever wear number 42.

Every Major League club has put number 42 on the retired-number wall of its park. This is generally done with a different color or style, placed apart from the team's other retired numbers. This causes people to inquire about it all the time: "Why does the 42 look like that?" It's a great opportunity to highlight history.

On Sunday, April 15, 2007, number 42 was temporarily taken out of retirement. On that day, any player who wants to wear 42 as a tribute and homage to Robinson can. At least one person from every team is doing so, and six entire teams are wearing 42, including the Dodgers. It's a terrific idea, and gets players involved in the celebration. Both Ken Griffey, Jr., who originally petitioned MLB to allow him to wear Robinson's number for a day, and Bud Selig, who expanded the idea, are to be commended for their efforts.

This is all good. But it's not entirely well.

Baseball announcers routinely refer to Robinson as having "broken the color bar" or "having crossed the color line". Very rarely do they explain what this actually means. Jon Miller, who calls the Sunday night ESPN baseball game along with Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, recently explained in more detail. Miller said, "Of course, before Jackie Robinson, African-Americans were excluded from playing Major League ball. It was a segregated game, until Jackie and Branch Rickey challenged that." It was wonderfully surprising to hear – and our surprise underscored how rarely that statement is made.

When Jon Miller said that last Sunday, it was startlingly different from, for example, what the Red Sox announcers said on Friday. (We're not singling them out; they're just the announcers we hear most.) Jerry Remy, a former player, and Don Orsillo kept referring to "what Jackie did" and "Jackie's great achievement" – but never said what it was. Remy mentioned courage, but he never said what Robinson did that was courageous, or why courage was required.

We hear about the color line – but not about how impenetrable that barrier was, how hatred fueled its decades-long existence, how the owners and officials of every team in baseball banded together and refused to sign any Black players. Robinson's debut is sanitized, and, with very few exceptions, presented with no context whatsoever. No one mentions how 12 more years would pass before every team had at least one African-American player on its roster. (The Red Sox were the last team, in 1959.)

Listening to baseball announcers, one might get the impression that, before Robinson, there were no African-American athletes good enough to make the Majors – that the color line existed because of lack of talent, not rampant racism. As though when Robinson came along in 1947, the baseball establishment said, finally, here's a Black player good enough to play alongside white men – because the Major Leagues would have included Black players for years, but none of them had what it took to reach the pinnacle of the sport. This was the excuse offered by Commissioner "Happy" Chandler when he explained that there was no rule officially banning Blacks. While that was technically true, there was certainly an understanding among the owners that each would never sign a Black player.

Jim Becker covered Robinson's debut for the AP:

It was a time in our country when in many places blacks couldn't stay in the same hotel as whites, eat in the same restaurants, attend the same movie theaters or even drink from the same water fountains in the South. ... There was no rooting in the press box, but many of us in it that day, like Robinson, had served in the Armed Forces and had just helped to defeat Hitler and thought it would be a good idea to defeat Hitlerism at home.

That's another thing. No one talks about what Robinson went through after April 15, 1947: the death threats, the separate hotels, the restaurants that wouldn't serve him. The racial slurs shouted from the stands – and from the opposing dugout. No one talks about the reaction from the other National League teams, one of which – the Cardinals – threatened to go on strike if Robinson remained in uniform.

Some of this is down to sports announcers' continuing assumptions that everyone watching knows the same things they do. Baseball announcers refer to "the pine tar game," "the Clemens bat game," "the shot heard 'round the world," and so forth, often giving only the most cursory explanations, if any. It's like a big inside joke in a private club. It's a poor way to cultivate a new audience or make new members of the club feel welcome.

But this alone does not account for the absence of context and explanation. This is about America's discomfort with talking about race.

Many people seem to feel that stating a fact about race is in itself somehow prejudicial. Remember the "Seinfeld" episode where Elaine may or may not be dating a Black guy? "Should we be talking about this?" That's a comic version of what happens all the time. Should we be talking about this? Why, of course! It's what happened!

Many years ago, on a blues pilgrimage to the Mississippi Delta, we took a tour of a former plantation. The tour guide showed us the slave quarters and said, "This is where the workers lived." Workers? We looked at each other, shocked. Another man on the tour spoke up. "You mean the slaves, right?" The guide said, "Yes, but we don't like to use that word."

Don't like to use the word?? But that's what they were! They were slaves! There was slavery!

Do people not realize that saying there was slavery, that there was Jim Crow, that there was segregation, does not mean one is saying those things were OK? Do they confuse stating a fact with condoning it?

Baseball announcers will never describe – or even refer to – the color of a player's skin. If you listen to games on the radio, you'll hear players described by body shape and size, by hair color and facial features, even by the creative shapes of their facial hair, but never as dark-skinned, fair-skinned, black, tan, white, or any other description that connotes race. Why is that? Skin color is physical description, yet it's always omitted. It's as if in trying to be inclusive, we believe that any mention of skin color equals bias. As if, because we want judgments to be color-blind, we pretend we actually are color blind.

There's another problem with the MLB's celebration of Jackie Robinson: the hypocrisy.

Why did Jackie Robinson have to "break the color bar"? Because Major League Baseball would not allow anyone who looked like him to play.

There was no law against it. There was no physical reason for it. There was only the tradition of segregation – a tradition that baseball officials went out of their way to uphold.

All Major League teams, prior to the Dodgers in 1947, sacrificed quality in order to remain all white. Think of it: all the great stars of the Negro Leagues could have been enhancing the play of the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cubs or the Tigers. There was a vast pool of untapped talent, playing high-quality, professional baseball right in the same cities. But the owners chose to field inferior teams – chose not to be as competitive as possible – rather than integrate.

Some managers, like the Giants' legendary manager John McGraw, wanted (and tried) to integrate much earlier. McGraw tried to "pass" a light-skinned African-American player by calling him "Cuban", but alone, he couldn't beat the system. Most went right along with the "tradition", and many commissioners and officials went well out of their way to maintain it.

Major League Baseball has made April 15 a day of celebration. But it was the institution of Major League Baseball that created and nurtured the Jim Crow conditions that prevented so many Americans from playing Major League ball. Now Baseball congratulates itself and celebrates the game's integration, as if they had anything to do with it. As if they had wanted it all along. As if they proudly stood up and chose democracy, rather than were dragged into it, digging in their heels and hollering bloody murder.

The game of baseball has always been a reflection of America, and this is what America does. Today it hails Martin Luther King, Jr. as a hero for us all to emulate. Yesterday King was a dangerous radical who the FBI wiretapped and the CIA tried to assassinate (and may have succeeded). Countless American heroes, from Susan B. Anthony to Cesar Chavez, were villified, harassed, ridiculed and imprisoned during their lifetimes. Now their images adorn the walls of grade schools across the land. Malcolm X's face is on a postage stamp.

America will always try to thwart revolutionary ideas. Then, after enough time has passed, it often ends up celebrating the achievements of those brave, forward-thinking people who refused to be intimidated, who refused to go along with injustice – and who forced the country to do what it should have been doing all along.


number 42

Today is the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's Major League debut. Robinson was the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball.

The story of how Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey went against baseball's entrenched, unwritten whites-only rule, in what is so glibly called "breaking the color bar" [US spelling purposeful there] is a story of tremendous courage and revolutionary thinking.

My parents grew up in Brooklyn, and like so many of their neighbours, they felt a special pride that their home team had taken this historic step. There's also a Canadian connection, as Robinson played for the Dodgers' minor league club, the Montreal Royals.

(I'd also like to put in a word for Larry Doby! Doby was the first African American to play in the American League. He suffered just as much bigotry and harassment as Robinson, but without the fame.)

In recent years, Major League Baseball, as an organization, has been celebrating Robinson, showing off the increasingly international flavour of the game, and congratulating itself at the same time. In 1997, Robinson's number 42 was retired from all of baseball, the first player to be so honoured. Major League players already wearing 42 were allowed to continue to wear it until the end of their careers (only one remains, and he's worthy of it), then no one else will ever wear the number.

Every Major League club has put number 42 on the retired number wall of its park. This is generally done with a different look - different colours or style, placed apart from the others - than the team's other retired numbers. This causes people to inquire about it all the time: "Why does the 42 look like that?" It's a great opportunity to always mention Robinson.

Today, on the 60th anniversary of Robinson's first game, the number has been temporarily taken out of retirement. Any player who wants to wear 42 as a tribute and homage to Robinson can. At least one person from every team is doing so, and some whole teams are wearing 42, including the Dodgers. I think it's a great way to get players involved in the celebration. Every team will also hold some type of tribute to Robinson. To see the Dodgers' celebration, tune in tonight to ESPN (Rogers SportsNet in Canada).

This is all good. But it's not entirely well.

Baseball announcers routinely refer to Robinson as having "broken the colour bar" or "having crossed the colour line". Very rarely do announcers explain what this means. I recently heard Jon Miller, who calls the Sunday night ESPN baseball game along with Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, explain in more detail. Miller said, "Of course before Jackie Robinson, African Americans were excluded from playing Major League ball. It was a segregated game, until Jackie and Branch Rickey challenged that." I was thrilled - and my reaction underscored how rarely that statement is made.

Newcomers to the sport, or people unfamiliar with US or baseball history, would never know that blacks were not allowed to play in Major League Baseball. Honestly, one could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps there was no black athlete good enough to make the majors, and that the line Robinson crossed was one of athletic achievement.

Some of this is down to sports announcers' continuing assumptions that everyone watching knows the same things they do. (I'm sure they do this in all sports, but I follow only one sport, so all my examples are from baseball.) Baseball announcers refer to "the pine tar game," "the Clemens bat game," "the shot heard 'round the world," and so forth, often giving only the most cursory explanations, or none at all. It's like a big inside joke in a private club. It's a poor way to cultivate a new audience or make new members of the club feel welcome.

However, I don't think this accounts for the lion's share of the lack of explanation of Robinson's achievement. I think it's more of America's discomfort with talking about race. When Jon Miller said that the other night, it was startlingly different from, for example, what the Boston announcers said on Friday. (I'm not singling them out; they're just the announcers I hear most.) Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo kept referring to "what Jackie did" and "Jackie's great achievement" - but never said what it was. Remy mentioned courage, but he never said what Robinson did that was courageous, or why courage was required.

People seem to feel that just stating a fact about race is in itself somehow prejudicial. You know the "Seinfeld" episode where Elaine may or may not be dating a black guy? "Should we be talking about this?" That's a comic version of what happens all the time. Should we be talking about this? Why, of course! It's what happened!

When Allan and I took a tour of a former plantation in Mississippi, the tour guide referred to the slaves as "workers". We immediately looked at each other in horror. Another man on the tour said, "You mean the slaves, right?" (We were so glad someone else had the same thought!) The guide said, "Yes, but we don't like to use that word."

Don't like to use the word?? But that's what they were! They were slaves! There was slavery!

Do people not realize that saying there was slavery, that there was Jim Crow, that there was segregation, does not mean one is saying those things were OK? That somehow stating a fact is tantamount to condoning it?

I notice that baseball announcers will never describe the colour of a player's skin. We are not supposed to notice that! I remember thinking this when Alfonso Soriano played for the New York Yankees. I used to listen to a lot of games on the radio, so I frequently heard physical descriptions of players. I remember Soriano being described as a tall, long-legged young man with a big, handsome smile. All true. He is also very dark-skinned. If I were describing him, I would say he was a tall man with very long legs, very dark skin, and a wide, happy smile.

When I was teaching, I was one of the few white faces in the youth centre. My African American and Latino colleagues routinely described everyone by skin colour! Not only skin colour, of course, but that was always included. It's physical description. It needn't be omitted. But you never hear that in baseball. It's as if, because we want hiring and judgements to be colour-blind, we pretend we are actually colour blind. As if in trying so hard to be inclusive, we believe that any mention of skin colour equals bias.

Whenever I hear announcers say Robinson "broke the color bar," I think, say it! SAY IT! Please: say what he did, and explain - at least a little - why he had to do it.

* * * *

As if this post isn't long enough, if you're still reading, I have another problem with the MLB's celebration of Jackie Robinson: the hypocrisy.

Why did Jackie Robinson have to "break the color bar"? Because Major League Baseball would not allow anyone who looked like him to play.

There was no law against it. There was no physical reason for it. There was only the tradition of segregation - a tradition that baseball officials went out of their way to uphold.

All Major League teams, prior to the Dodgers in 1947, sacrificed quality in order to remain all white. Think of it: all the great stars of the Negro Leagues could have been enhancing the play of the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cubs or the Tigers. There was a vast pool of untapped talent, right in their own cities. But they chose to field inferior teams, rather than integrate.

Some managers, like the Giants' John McGraw, wanted (and tried) to integrate much earlier, but alone couldn't take on the system. Most went right along with the "tradition", and many commissioners and officials went well out of their way to maintain it.

And now Baseball congratulates intself and celebrates the game's integration, as if they had anything to do with it. As if they had wanted it all along. As if they proudly stood up and chose democracy, rather than were dragged into it, digging in their heels and hollering bloody murder.

The sport of baseball has always been a reflection of America, and this is what America does. (I'm purposely using "America" - the concept - and not "the US" - the country.) Today it hails Martin Luther King, Jr. as a hero for us all to emulate. Yesterday King was a dangerous radical who the FBI wiretapped and the CIA tried to assassinate (and may have succeeded). Countless American heroes, from Susan B. Anthony to Cesar Chavez, were villified, harassed, ridiculed and imprisoned in their lifetimes. Now their images adorn the walls of grade schools across the land. My favourite example of this hypocritical syndrome is Malcolm X on a postage stamp. Think of it.

America always celebrates the achievements of brave, forward-thinking people who refused to be intimidated, who refused to go along with injustice - and who forced the country to do what it should have been doing all along.

* * * *

If you'd like to read more on this from a baseball perspective, I believe Allan and I have both been typing furiously at the same time.