6.30.2007

wmtc2

The party's today! I'm excited. The weather looks beautiful, Allan's got the whole weekend off, and I feel like I'm on vacation. There's been a flurry of last-minute cancellations, of course; that seems to be inevitable. I've learned not to worry about who can't make it, and just enjoy the company of who shows.

Last year, we actually knew very few of our guests before they arrived. It was more like an internet meet-up than a regular party. This year, it feels like our friends are coming over. That is a great feeling.

6.29.2007

but we do know it will happen again

Thank you, Antonia Zerbisias, for using the word that the media won't learn: femicide.
So, World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Chris Benoit – a.k.a. "The Canadian Crippler" – sent "several curious text messages" to friends last weekend before apparently strangling his 43-year-old wife Nancy, smothering his son Daniel, 7, and then hanging himself.

Atlanta authorities suggest he may have suddenly snapped in a fit of 'roid rage.

Or was Nancy about to toss him out of the (marriage) ring?

Meanwhile, east-end Toronto sewing machine technician Alton Beckford killed his common-law wife, her mother and himself Monday night, just after returning from his 13-year-old stepdaughter's Grade 8 graduation. The girl escaped with self-defence wounds.

Beckford had reportedly lost his job five weeks ago because, according to what he told neighbours, he had complained about unsafe working conditions.

Guess he must have "suddenly snapped" after five weeks of hormone rage of a different sort.

Or were the women about to boot him?

After all, the Star's Betsy Powell tells me, Beckford felt burned by another woman.

In any case, the bottom line is, three more women and one more child are dead, victims of the men in their lives.

And always, the storyline is the same.

Each case is treated as an isolated incident. Nobody connects the dots. The word "femicide" is never used – and indeed is not even recognized by my spell checker.

In the U.S., reports the FBI, men murder an average of three women – and often their children – every single day. That's down 25 per cent from the period 1976-1996, perhaps because there are more shelters. But fears are that as the personal bankruptcies increase and employment nosedives, the killing will increase.

Canada's record is also spattered with blood.

Yes, as in the U.S., our rate of spousal homicides has declined in recent years. Women's groups report an average of 80 femicides in Canada per year – and that's unacceptable. Some 25 women a year are killed every year in Ontario alone, while the health-care system staggers under the $1.5 billion cost of abuse.

Most of these deaths are deemed "preventable and predictable" by the experts. The warning signs are well-documented.

At the University of Western Ontario's Centre for Research on Violence Against Women, there are stacks of studies, including a 2005 Domestic Violence Death Review Committee report to Ontario's chief coroner.

It shows that the "most consistent" and "most common" factors are "an actual or pending separation; a prior history of domestic violence; and depression (or other mental health or psychiatric problems)."

We're not talking severe mental illness. We're talking depression. Like losing your job, your family, your home, your manhood.

So, it's never a simple matter of a woman recognizing the threat to her life – she knows a broken jaw when she feels it – and sticking around for more punishment because she's too dumb to go.

There's little chance of getting out, once you're in.

And, as anybody who reads the posters in the TTC knows, you often don't know you're in until you're pregnant. That's usually when the violence begins.

Maybe we will never discover what really happened in Fayette County, Ga., or in Scarborough.

But we do know it will happen again. And again. And again.

In the end, only one thing needs to "suddenly snap" and that's the outrage.

6.27.2007

what i'm reading

I finished Miriam Toews's A Complicated Kindness. It's very good. The book is funny, sad and hopeful. It has some profound things to say about religion, love, forgiveness and hope, and it says all of them through the story and characters, not through preaching. A really nice book.

I'm about to start The Darling, by one of my favourite authors, Russell Banks. When I blogged earlier about A Complicated Kindness, I mentioned I am attracted to novels with teenage narrators. Banks wrote one of the quintessential teenage-narrated novel, Rule of the Bone. ROTB is the child of Catcher in the Rye and the grandchild of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the latter in a very conscious way. Banks's novel Cloudsplitter, about the radical abolitionist John Brown, is his masterpiece. I've read several other books by him, too. I don't know anything about The Darling, but I'm expecting good things.

Don't you love the library?

one door closes, another door opens

Here's a great example of what can happen when you keep an open mind and an eye out for possibilities.

Last week I answered an ad on Craigslist, someone looking for drivers in Mississauga. Pick up a few kids in the morning, drop them off at a summer program, pick them up in the afternoon, drop them off at their home. $50 per kid per week, cash. I thought, hey, it's worth a look.

It turns out to be an ESL program. This is how I came to think about tutoring as a possibility.

I went to the office today. It's a one-woman operation, a former ESL teacher who started her own teaching and tutoring business. She seems to run a quality service, and she's thrilled to find me.

Next week I'll start ferrying some nearby kids to their summer program, earn $200 cash a week and have all day free in between trips. She groups kids together by location, so they'll be somewhat nearby.

Beginning in the fall, her clients contract for tutoring in packages of 8 hours, paid in advance. Tutors set their own fees; the company gets $5 per hour off the top.

This summer, I'll refresh my memory about materials and teaching tips. I imagine there's plenty of information online.

This might be a great compliment to notetaking, or possibly some income in between college terms.

Here's something that made me uncomfortable. The company owner is an Asian Canadian woman; her clients run the full spectrum of Mississauga immigrants. She told me that most parents want white tutors. She quotes them as saying, I didn't take my kids halfway around the world to get them teachers who sound like me. They want white teachers only, and the fact that I'm American will be a huge plus.

She made a big point of telling me that she disagrees with it, but found that her clients insist.

* * * *

I don't have much else to blog about right now. I'm so focused on my employment situation, and getting ready for wmtc2. It's this Saturday! If you're going to be in the area and feeling brave, it's not too late to score an invite.

6.26.2007

i can't do it

I'm sure this comes as no surprise. In the freedom vs security dilemma, I've chosen freedom.

I had a good first interview with HR, and they scheduled a second interview with the department supervisor, and extensive testing. It seems like LFF would be a good employer, and that they might offer me a decent full-time job... if one wanted such a thing.

I just can't do it, not while I still have other options.

I'm cancelling the second interview.

Meanwhile, I thought of another option for September: tutoring. There are several Mississauga companies that offer ESL classes, tutoring and other educational help. I'm not qualified to teach ESL, but I have a lot of tutoring experience, and I enjoy it.

Onward.

6.24.2007

unstoppable

I forgot to wish everyone a happy Pride Weekend. My thoughts go out especially to the folks spending their first Pride in Canada - and even more especially to Gito and Juan, who fought so hard to be together, and now they are, in their new home. Next year, I'll say that for Tom and Emilio!

I hope everyone has a fantastic weekend. Lots of love to all.

job update: major dilemma approaching

Reading about the trials and tribulations of my job search must be getting pretty boring. But I've learned to stop apologizing for the content of my posts. I finally got it that if you don't want to read it, you'll just skip this one.

Tomorrow I have an interview with a Large Financial Firm for a full-time document production position. It's normal Monday-Friday daytime hours. I've already done a phone interview, and I'm reasonably certain I'll get an offer. The question is, do I want the job?

Advantages:

  • Good, steady money and other benefits like paid sick and vacation days. Easier living, which we had before I quit my job at Really Crappy Firm. The end of our financial worries for a while.

  • It's not a law firm, so if a Fri/Sat/Sun law firm job becomes available, I could bolt with no negative consequences.

    I don't think leaving Really Crappy Firm after only 3 weeks on the job will reflect badly on me, but doing that twice in a row would not be good. Even if I don't put these jobs on my resume, the Toronto corporate legal world is pretty small, the HR managers all know each other, and I can't make a habit of taking jobs and leaving. LFF would presumably be outside that loop, so if a weekend spot came up somewhere else, I would just leave.


  • Since Allan and I wouldn't be working the same hours, we wouldn't need dog-walking services, which is a major expense. I'd be able to begin paying back the money we've borrowing from our savings right away.


  • Daytime hours would mean I would still be home for grilling in the backyard and baseball with my sweetie four nights a week, which is tremendously important to me right now. It might just be the nicest summer we've ever had, and I'm incredibly reluctant to see it end.


  • Disadvantages:

  • Conventional hours feels a bit like going to prison. I haven't worked Monday-Friday hours in more than 15 years. I took a Mon-Fri job briefly last year, but that had the possibility of changing to three 12-hour days, and it did. This job would have no possibility of that, as LFF does not have weekend or evening shifts.


  • Working conventional hours means no writing. I did it when I was younger - waking up at 5:00 a.m. to crank out pages on my novel before going to work as a secretary - but I don't have the energy or motivation for that anymore. It basically means a life of work for money (with no other incentive), watching baseball, staying home on weekends (Allan will have the car) and waiting for a better job to come along.


  • What happens if I don't take the job:

  • We can manage the way we have been through the summer. Money is tight but doable, and we are using money from our moving-to-Canada savings. In August I'll apply for the notetaking work, and presumably start that in September. In between terms, I'll fill in with copyediting and other work, and sweat.


  • Notetaking may lead to more work, as I'll be on college campuses, and will look for international students in need of an editor. I've also been picking up work from my Craigslist ad.


  • Of course those are not guaranteed salaries. Freelance work is always variable and less secure.

    So. Money and security, now, with the end of freedom, relaxation and writing time? Or very tight finances, with more time and freedom?

    One moment the choice seems clear: if I'm offered the job, I must take it. The next moment it seems equally clear in the other direction.

    6.23.2007

    call it whatever you like, just bring the troops home

    This morning's headlines tell us that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has "softened" his stance on extending Canada's military presence in Afghanistan, and will seek "consensus" before keeping the troops there longer.

    If you read a bit further, however, Harper manages to "soften" while still blaming the Liberals for a potential pull out.
    I don't want to send people on a mission if the opposition is going to, at home, undercut the dangerous work they're doing in the field.

    So Canada won't leave Afghanistan because that's what most Canadians want, and it won't leave Afghanistan because it has no business being there. And it certainly won't leave because the Tories needs votes in Quebec, where polls show a whopping 70% opposition to the war. Certainly not. Canada will leave because the Liberals are undercutting the mission. Uh huh.

    But politics aside, the main thing is that the debate is out there, that the discussion is moving forward. That gives us hope for Canada to do the right thing.

    6.22.2007

    what i'm reading

    I've started A Complicated Kindness, by the Canadian novelist Miriam Toews, the first of a few novels I took out of the library to give my brain a break from overly dense history.

    I really like the book so far, especially the voice of the teenaged narrator. I'm always interested in books with a teenage narrator, especially ones that are not necessarily written for young people. Toews's narrator feels very authentic and not forced, which can be a common pitfall.

    I had A Complicated Kindness from the library last year, but for some reason I never got to it. While it was sitting around the house, Allan picked it up, and he found the depiction of growing up in a repressive religious environment rang true as well. I'm enjoying the dark humour and the pointed observations.

    more brief updates

  • The "Engrish" editing job may not have been a scam after all. And here I deleted the question mark from the title of that post! They're looking into other methods of payment. If they'll use PayPal, I'll do it.

  • I realized I can do the notetaking work without making a long-term commitment. If no weekend doc-pro spot comes up through the summer (which I suspect will be the case), I can apply for notetaking work in August, and if I'm accepted, start work in September. Notetaking during the college term will buy me some time to wait for a good doc-pro job, as opposed to taking a schedule I dread. So while there's not enough work for my main employment, it might be an interesting and well-paid stop-gap.

  • I've been copyediting websites for various people who are not native speakers of English. I enjoy the work, and I wouldn't mind doing a lot more of it. I put an ad on Craigslist (me and a zillion other people), and I'm brainstorming other avenues to find work. Woti-Woti suggested contacting universities about thesis editing, which I have to look into. Feel free to jump in if you've got ideas.
  • canada out of afghanistan

    The head of NATO is doing a PR stint in Quebec, trying to bolster support for the Afghan "mission" in that province. (Don't you love that euphemism? Why don't they start calling the soldiers "missionaries"?)

    NATO is now pushing Canada to stay in Afghanistan past the current commitment, which expires in 2009. Let's hope an autumn election quashes any notion of that. From today's Star:
    NATO has had a tough time convincing members of the 26-member military alliance to deploy troops alongside the Canadians in the dangerous regions of southern Afghanistan, where insurgent activity is highest.

    Now it's facing the possibility that two of the nations already there – the Netherlands and Canada – could pull up stakes with no nations waiting in the wings to take their place.

    The Netherlands, Scheffer's home country, is due to decide on its troop presence in southern Afghanistan this summer, a debate that could influence Canada's own decision, which isn't expected until next year.

    Just this week, the Commons' defence committee issued a report calling for an immediate debate in Parliament on the future of Canada's presence in Afghanistan.

    Immediate debate, then immediate withdrawal.

    6.21.2007

    toronto city vehicles to remain political billboards

    For a few months, Toronto fire and ambulance vehicles have been displaying "support our troops" ribbon-shaped decals. The stickers were supposed to be removed in September, but some city councillors wanted them left on indefinitely.

    Mayor David Miller correctly pointed out that may people view the decals as support for Canada's military presence in Afghanistan, which he termed "very controversial". Yesterday Miller was quoted: "There are calls from people saying, 'Why are you expressing support for war in Afghanistan?'" he said, adding he wasn't made aware ahead of time that the decals would appear on city vehicles."

    This morning we learn that the mayor, caving to pressure, will keep the decals on city vehicles for some indeterminate period.

    I'm not blaming Miller alone, although he could have shown a little spine. The City Council vote was 37-0 in favour of leaving the stickers on. Pressure must have been pretty intense, because those who wanted to vote against it absented themselves instead.
    But unease with the motion, voted on twice, prompted a few councillors to abstain with their feet.

    The first vote was 37-0, and a second was taken to give some who weren't present another chance.

    Councillor Pam McConnell absented herself both times.

    "My father died in (World War II) and so I was orphaned by the war. My nephew has returned (from Afghanistan) and I am aware this is a war," she said.

    McConnell said she felt that though she supports the troops – "How can you not support people who are giving their lives?" – it was important to make a statement against the war in Afghanistan.

    "In order to show my support for both my father, my nephew and other people who are being hurt, maimed and who have died in wars, I left the chamber. I felt it was the most important thing I could do.

    "I was not going to vote against my conscience or my beliefs," she said.

    Councillor Janet Davis, who said Tuesday she doesn't believe city vehicles should be used to "promote political messages," was present for the first vote but absented herself for the second. She later said she supports Canadian soldiers, but not extending the ribbon campaign.

    Councillor Gord Perks, present for the first vote, left for the second, explaining later that he felt the subsequent vote was being used to embarrass those who were abstaining.

    Sounds more like a small-town mob than the city council of Canada's largest city.

    You all know how I feel about support-our-troops stickers. (I should invite Crabbi over. She's the most rabid anti-stickerite I know.) Here are a few questions.

    Does putting a sticker on a truck mean you are more patriotic than the person driving a vehicle without a sticker?

    What does "support the troops" actually mean? How are you supporting the troops by putting a sticker on your truck? The Star story says "Proceeds from the decal sales go to a fund helping Canadian military people and their families." That's pretty vague. But if you contribute to that fund, why do you need to advertise your contribution to the world? Wouldn't your contribution go further if there weren't an exchange of goods involved?

    Why should a city-owned vehicle bear a political statement of any kind? And how can this possibly be viewed as apolitical?

    Do I support the troops any less because I want Canada to bring them home now?

    Can you tell me what Canada is doing in Afghanistan? Not what it's supposed to be doing, what it's really doing. What's being accomplished, besides death.

    As an aside, this incident should (but won't) remind us to pause before we make these kinds of changes. Once you ramp up, it's very hard to reverse. That's why they're still singing "God Bless America" during the 7th-inning stretch at Yankee Stadium, and why we still have a news crawl on the bottom of our TV screens during news programs. Once the sticker goes on, it becomes an act of sacrilege to remove it.

    As usual, the Star's Jim Coyle has the right idea.
    If you support our troops and can't remember the names of any of the Canadian kids killed in the last year, get rid of the ribbons. If you support our troops but have never done so much as sent them a message saying so, have never sent a note of condolence and thanks to the bereaved families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, lose the decals.

    Ribbons have become symbols – once local and personal, now mass-produced – that in their ubiquity have less meaning, not more.

    They're rather like the American flags plastered on every football helmet, baseball jersey and political lapel in that nation, an excess that speaks of diminished, rather than enhanced, self-confidence.

    It's long past time, moreover, to put paid to the notion – which seems to have started in New York after Sept. 11 six years ago – that emergency services are the nearest thing to an arm of the military and, quite literally, vehicles for advertising.

    Firefighters and paramedics have jobs to do and political commentary ain't it.

    It goes without saying that they support the troops. They're entirely free to plaster their own vehicles with ribbons saying so if they choose.

    But they really have no more business making political billboards out of equipment owned by their employers than I do hanging Ottawa Senators car flags from trucks that deliver the Toronto Star.

    Here's some reader opinion from the Star. It's interesting to see the full gamut of opinion, from the staunch supports of peace to those too myopic to comprehend why anyone could possibly object.

    job update: disappointment

    I've been researching the computerized notetaking gig - gathering information, laying the groundwork - and have been increasingly excited about the possibilities. I was looking forward to the work, and especially the change of lifestyle it would bring. The pay turned out to be better than I thought, and the hours per week would be perfect.

    Yesterday I found the catch, and I can't find a way around it.

    There aren't enough work weeks. Notetakers work during class time only, not during reading periods (I didn't know what those were, but apparently Canadian college students have study breaks before exams), or during exams, and of course not between terms. I was told the rule of thumb is seven weeks on, seven weeks off. The pay is nice, but not enough thta I could work only half the year.

    If I earned more money from my writing, this would be the perfect compliment. But although that happens occasionally, I can't count on it or plan for it. That's why I need the day-job in the first place. I could certainly supplement the notetaking work with writing and copyediting jobs, but it would only be supplemental, not an entire second income.

    I've thought myself silly over this, but I can't come up with a way around it. Very reluctantly, I must give up the idea. Damn.

    All work has a downside, and I easily recognize the downside that disappears as this option falls through: the insecurity of true freelancing. The constant hustling for work, the inability to turn down jobs, no matter how odious or inconvenient, because you don't know when the next offer will come in. I've done that, and that's why I settled on the steady day-job at a law firm.

    I really wanted this notetaking gig, and I was willing to accept the downside with the bargain, at least to try it for a year. But now that I see it won't work, I can focus on the comforting prospect of seeing a steady paycheque deposited into my bank account every two weeks, and the luxury of paid vacations and sick time.

    Trouble is, I still have to find one of those!

    My dilemma: If I don't find a job with my preferred schedule, when do I give up and interview for jobs with conventional full-time schedules (which will feel something like going to prison)? There's no clear answer to this.

    6.20.2007

    the first victim

    Archaeologists have uncovered the human skeleton of what appears to be the earliest known gunshot victim in the New World. The skeleton was found in an Inca cemetery outside Lima, Peru.
    Digging in an Inca cemetery in the suburbs of Lima, they came on well-preserved remains of an individual with holes less than an inch in diameter in the back and front of the skull. Forensic scientists in Connecticut said the position of the round holes and some minuscule iron particles showed that the person most likely was shot and killed by a Spanish musket ball.

    Ceramics and other artifacts in the 72 examined graves established the approximate time of the burials, archaeologists said, and this indicated that these were casualties of combat between Inca warriors and Spanish invaders, who seized the Andean empire in 1532. Spanish chronicles describe a pitched battle, a last stand of the Incas that was fought in the vicinity in 1536.

    Conquistadors were equipped with some of the first effective firearms, which had been developed recently in Europe, military historians say.

    The National Geographic Society announced yesterday the discovery of the gunshot victim by the independent Peruvian archaeologists Guillermo Cock and Elena Goycochea, who have conducted research at the Puruchuco cemetery for years. A Nova-National Geographic television program on the research is scheduled for next Tuesday.

    The fact that Incan remains were found in a European-style cemetery is in itself evidence of subjugation. The Incas left their dead in a crouching position, facing northeast, in a rock niche or similar opening, so the soul could be carried to the next life by a condor-shaped god. Catholic missionaries ordered those types of burial sites destroyed, and forced the Incas to bury their dead underground, in prone position. In the Incan belief system, this destroyed a person's chance for passage into the next life. Nothing spells subjugation like an eternity without peace.

    More from the New York Times story:
    Dr. Cock said that at least 35 of the excavated skeletons bore evidence of violent injuries: cheekbones crushed by heavy blows, broken hands and limbs, a smashed chest. Some had presumably fallen in hand-to-hand combat or been trampled by Spanish horses, another instrument of warfare new to the Americas.

    No similar evidence of a death by gunshot this early has been found elsewhere in the Americas, Dr. Cock said. The musket shot appeared to have entered the back of the man's skull, punching a piece of bone from outside to inside, and emerged through the face.

    "The individual may have been escaping from the Europeans," the archaeologist said.

    These particular graves attracted the attention of the excavators because they were shallow and the bodies appeared to have been interred hastily. They were not ritually wrapped in shrouds and placed in a crouched position facing northeast, as was customary in Inca burials.

    Forensic experts at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut, confirmed the violent nature of the deaths. Albert B. Harper, executive director of the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science at the university, said, "We tried to rule out all kinds of causes of the hole — a rock from a slingshot, spear, sledgehammer."

    An examination of the skull with a scanning electron microscope detected the otherwise invisible iron traces, Dr. Harper said, sealing the verdict of death by a musket ball fired from a range of perhaps 100 feet.

    I think forensic archaeology is fascinating. The same experts have been called upon to determine cause of death in modern exterminations on the same continent.

    The remains of this earliest gunshot victim was found outside Lima, the capital of modern Peru. The Incan capital was Cuzco. In Cuzco, you can see the original Inca stone foundations of the city, which have survived in near-perfect condition through centuries of earthquakes and attempted human destruction. You may recall how these stones blew me away last spring. They were among the most astounding human creations I have ever seen.

    Slightly over 100 kilometres away in Machu Picchu, you can see the remains of a glorious Incan city that the Spanish never found, an absolute wonder of human ingenuity, engineering, industry, heartbreak and loss.

    6.19.2007

    are we safer yet?

    I feel so much better now that Canada's no-fly list has been implemented. How has the country managed to avert disaster all this time without it?

    What's that you say? Terrorists don't fly with their own names and passports? Civil what? That's so pre-6/19/07 thinking!

    Well, it can't be pre-9/11 thinking. We've been managing without it since then.

    6.18.2007

    pop answers

    Answers and explanations are now in comments.

    our man ko

    Amazing stuff from our man in the mainstream media, Keith Olbermann.

    On the restoration of habeas corpus, and what its costing the US to ignore it.
    Turley: "The greatest irony of the Bush Administration is that his legacy will be to show the dangers of walking away from those rights that define us. We're very much alone today. He can't go to Canada without people protesting, Miss America can't even go to Mexico without being booed. We're viewed as a rogue nation and it is a dangerous world to live in when you’re alone."

    On the nexus of politics and terror:
    . . . from the mind-bending idea that four guys dressed as Pizza Delivery men were going to out-gun all the soldiers at Fort Dix . . . to the not-too-thought-out plan to blow-up J-F-K Airport . . . here we go again. Time for an update of our segment "The Nexus of Politics and Terror".

    And, to refresh our memories, the first part of that timeline.

    Thanks, as always, to Crooks and Liars for hosting Mr Olbermann.

    letter: green cities

    I have a letter in today's Toronto Star. A recent article about Toronto's environmental plans looked at three other cities: San Francisco, Chicago and New York.

    Perhaps the writer just wanted to use three US cities, or perhaps it's de rigueur to compare Toronto to New York. But New York's environmental policies are so weak, that the article cites Mayor Bloomberg's proposals, none of which exist yet - and many of which, knowing New York, may never exist. I wrote this.
    If Toronto wants to emulate New York City's successes, it shouldn't look at proposals for programs that don't exist, and may never, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed vehicle congestion tax.

    Where New York should and can be imitated is its massive public transportation infrastructure. Driving into Manhattan's business district is an unnecessary luxury. Owning a car at all in New York is a luxury, not a necessity. Can Toronto say that?

    I think a vehicle congestion charge is an important and necessary idea. I'm sure you know that Ken Livingstone, the forward-thinking mayor of London, pioneered its use. Its success led Livingstone to push on, introducing a pilot program to one area of London, in which drivers pay tolls based on vehicle emissions.

    I'd like to see New York City ban private vehicles from downtown and midtown Manhattan altogether. Buses and cabs only. I've been saying this for years.

    But London and New York City both have an incredible amount of public transit. How can Toronto reduce vehicular use in the city without offering enough alternatives? Toronto needs more subways, and the suburbs need more trains.

    And if you want to make a green city, don't look to New York as your model.

    6.16.2007

    what i'm reading

    I'm completely stalled on At Canaan's Edge. This is the final book in Taylor Branch's trilogy subtitled "America In The King Years". It's a huge doorstop of a book, and very dense. So were the first two books, and I loved those. This one... I'm having some problems with.

    Branch has an unfortunate tendency to overwhelm the reader with details. While the well-chosen detail brings clarity and focus, mountains of extraneous detail can obscure all meaning. The book is full of long, winding sentences, clauses looped onto clauses, often using odd constructions that force me to read a sentence two or three times before I understand it. One after the next after the next.

    I feel more like I'm plowing through this book to absorb information than actually enjoying the experience of reading.

    This is a big disappointment, as I loved the first two books, and was eagerly awaiting this one.

    I long ago stopped forcing myself to finish every book I start, as long as I give it a good chance. (After giving up on a book, I'll often wonder if I did give it a fair shot, and I'll try again - almost always with the same result.) But having read the first two 1,000-page books in this trilogy, and a good two-thirds of this last one, there's no way I'm going to quit.

    But I am going to take a break.

    My library card plus a list of novels I want to read will save me. Then I'll come back to King, Hoover, Johnson, the Klan, George Wallace, Robert McNamara, Stokeley Carmichael, Watts, Chicago, Selma, Vietnam, and everything else in the world in 1967.

    pop quiz

    1. Whose blog is this?

    2. Is the answer to that question difficult to find?

    3. Is there anything about this blog that causes you to think someone other than [answer to question number one] writes this blog?

    Please answer below. Thank you.

    khadr and makhtal, the us and canada

    From Thomas Walkom:
    Governments like to say there is only one class of Canadian citizen – that no matter whether we were born here or naturalized, no matter our religion, ethnicity or political views, we receive equal treatment from the state. That is what governments like to say.

    Unfortunately, this is not true – particularly when citizens find themselves in trouble abroad. If a middle-class Canadian tourist is killed in Mexico, the story is front-page news. The minister of foreign affairs makes statements; the Mexicans are asked to explain. Similarly, if a Canadian is mistreated by a country we disapprove of – like Iran or even China – Ottawa is happy to talk tough. The former Liberal government roasted Iran over the jailing and murder of Zahra Kazemi. Stephen Harper, the current prime minister, is taking China to task over its imprisonment of Huseyin Celil.

    But if a Canadian is unlucky enough to run into trouble with a country that Ottawa does not wish to offend, it is a different story. In those cases, the government says little and does less. If the Canadian is unpopular or lacks media-savvy supporters, the government pays even less attention.

    So it was with software engineer Maher Arar at the beginning of his torture-imprisonment ordeal. So it is still with Omar Khadr, the 20-year-old Canadian imprisoned for five years by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay. The Canadian government finally moved on the Arar file, in large part because his wife cut a sympathetic figure with the public. The government is able to stall on the Khadr file, in large part because his family does not.

    Bashir Makhtal is one of the latest to fall victim to this cruel double standard. Born in the rebellious Ogaden province of Ethiopia, raised in Somalia, a Canadian citizen since 1994, Makhtal – like many others in the Somali diaspora – returned to Mogadishu to do business. In his case, business consisted of importing used clothing.

    In December, when Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to oust the government of the day, he fled to the Kenyan border.

    What he didn't know, however, was that the geopolitics of the region had shifted. With a new military command based in Ethiopia, the U.S. quietly helped its client state unseat an Islamic government in Somalia that Washington didn't much like. Kenya was also onside with the Americans. Makhtal was caught in the middle.

    Along with 84 others, he was illegally transferred by Kenya to Ethiopia via Somalia for interrogation and imprisonment. A letter received by his relatives in Hamilton says he was threatened with torture and forced to make a false confession. Consular officials have not been allowed to see him.

    Ottawa's response has been spectacularly anemic. Makhtal's name been raised only once in the Commons. Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay has said his usual little. He has not taken Kenya to task for deporting a Canadian to a country with a dodgy human rights record. Nor has he pressured Ethiopia to release Makhtal. The reason, it seems, is America. Amnesty International says U.S. agents have been involved in the interrogation of the Kenyan deportees. And when Washington is involved, the Canadian government stays mum.

    Makhtal's relatives and friends continue to push for action. It is an uphill battle. They hold demonstrations that no one reports on. They receive only minimal attention from politicians. As someone who is neither famous nor beautiful, Makhtal does not lead the newscasts. In this very brutal version of Canadian Idol, he does not get many audience votes.

    A group of lawyers, politicians and human rights organizations have called on Stephen Harper to negotiate directly with the US to bring Khadr home to Canada. Peter MacKay says Canada must wait until the appeals process is finished. The appeals process! As if any part of this process has a shred of legitimacy. A teenage boy is held in a concentration camp for five years, then after he's cleared him of all charges, Ottawa still won't intervene to bring him home to Canada.

    I dream of a Canada that stands up to the bully south of the border. A Canada unafraid to assert its own values - which, from a selfish point of view, could only increase its standing on the world stage. Instead, I see a Canada that blithely brushes off human rights, international law and basic decency, so as not to ruffle the feathers of its major trading partner.

    As much as some wmtc readers - mostly in the US - love to point fingers at Harper and MacKay, there's little evidence that Khadr would fare better under a Liberal government. A Liberal government got Canada into Afghanistan, then did nothing to help Khadr for four years before the Conservatives were elected. I sometimes wonder at the venom spewed against Harper, when in many ways he's just maintaining the status quo.

    When it comes to the US's war of terror, Canada is still the US's handmaiden. Maybe there's some tough talk at election time, but that's where it ends. It's naive to think this is a Harper issue. This is a Canada issue.

    Here's an excellent long article from Rolling Stone on Khadr's ordeal, and background from Amnesty.

    If you're unfamiliar with Bashir Makhtal's ordeal - or what we know of it - here's some background. Also: Friends of Bashir Makhtal.

    6.15.2007

    job scam

    I answered an ad on Craigsist for some freelance editing work. It was supposed to be a service that edits Asian "Engrish" into North American business English.

    They sent me a fairly extensive edit test, which I took. Then the contact asked - via email - for my banking information for wire transfers. No secure server, no website, no documentation on the company.

    When I said I wasn't comfortable emailing bank information, he said I could do it by phone.

    I explained that I wouldn't give that information at all, because "for all I know, this could be an elaborate scam to obtain banking information". I said I could be paid by Paypal.

    I have not heard back from them since, and the ad has been removed! I posted a warning on Craigslist.

    The work sounded interesting. Too bad it was nonexistent!

    I think I will pursue Woti's suggestion of looking for university and graduate students who need their papers and theses edited.

    apathy, laziness, fear?
    or something else?

    If you've done any activism, especially if you've taken a leadership role, then you've experienced the frustration of trying to convince people to join your battle, whatever it happens to be. I'm not talking about changing people's minds. I mean getting people who already agree with you to take action.

    My most recent high-stakes activism, while still in New York, didn't involve a lot of recruiting. I was organizing and working with people who were already active. But I recently stepped out into the larger world, and received a face-slap reminder of how frustrating activism can be.

    I started a petition asking Major League Baseball to end interleague play. It's not an issue of global importance, nor was I treating it as such. But it's something discussed endlessly around the world of baseball, and something many fans complain about.

    My intentions were simple. I thought it would be cool to assemble a large number of signatures, possibly get a little media attention (which in turn would attract more signatures), and then present the signatures to MLB. Here, we're unhappy. We are serious fans, and we hate what you've done to the sport. As consumers, if we're unhappy with a product, management should hear from us. I see a petition as an opportunity for communication and complaint.

    I can't invest a lot of time posting the petition to blogs and forums. I did that a little bit, but mostly I'm just hoping people pick it up and it takes off on its own. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I don't have a lot invested in it, it's not the focus of my life, it's just something I put out there in the world. I'm willing to see what happens.

    I was totally unprepared for the vehemence of reaction to a simple petition! Not about interleague play itself. I'm used to those debates, I've heard every argument for and against. This is reaction to the idea of circulating a petition. The most common response: "I got news for you, this will never work!"

    First, he has news for me. Meaning, I'm naive. I don't know how the world works.

    Second, it won't "work", so he won't sign.

    I explain that it's not about whether the petition will actually bring about the end of interleague play. I realize it will not. But I want to tell MLB that a significant number of fans dislike this change they have made in the game.

    To which the fan replies, "That's stupid! Why are you doing this if you don't even think it will work?"

    Sometimes the issue seems to be petitions themselves: "Petitions don't work."

    I say, "If you don't agree, don't sign, of course. But if you agree, it only takes a moment. Why not put your name down?"

    Because, he says, petitions don't work.

    Do these responses contain clues to why more people don't get involved, in any activism? I don't have the time or inclination to bother with people who won't sign a petition to end interleague play. It's not worth my time or energy to try to convince them. But their reaction is something I have to look at.

    We often say the biggest obstacle to organizing is apathy. But apathy, a lack of caring, doesn't explain this. These are folks who will work themselves into a lather about sports issues. You can read their angry postings on blogs and message boards, and hear them on talk radio, every day of the week.

    But will they take a tiny step to communicate with the people who have the power to change the issue? No. That's stupid, because it will never work.

    Is this perhaps an extreme fear of being wrong? Are people afraid that they will invest emotionally in something, and when it "doesn't work," they'll look foolish, having backed a loser? Is this about an extreme need to be right?

    In the summer of 2004, our applications to immigrate already filed, I spent most of my time organizing voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote campaigns for John Kerry. I did this, despite believing the election system is fraudulent and corrupt, and despite the fact that I was leaving the country no matter who was elected. Madness, perhaps, but it was something I felt compelled to do.

    I chose not to spend any time debating the issues or the relative worth of candidates. I put all my energies into getting people to register to vote, and then to actually vote.

    I remember inviting a work acquaintance to join the voter-registration drive. He had the time, he had the skills, and he believed in the cause. He asked, "Will I see results? I only like to do things where I will see results."

    I only like to do things where I will see results.

    Results of activism are long-term, and can only be seen cumulatively. We can't point to a single action and say this is what brought about change. In any movement, there are hundreds of battles fought simultaneously on dozens of fronts. That's what a movement is.

    You can play a part, you can add your voice to be an agent of change, or you can sit on the sidelines and declare that you will only move your butt if the organizer can guarantee you a positive, short-term outcome.

    "I only like to do things where I will see results" is the long-form of "it will never work".

    For me, personally, activism is a necessary part of life. It's an antidote to helplessness, a balm for frustration. It's a connection with like-minded people, a reminder that I am not alone, that people care, that, although the road is long, we are many, and united, we have power.

    Sometimes, that's result enough.

    But what is "It will never work"? What does it mean? Why is that the first concern?

    6.13.2007

    happy birthday to me

    Hey, this is weird. I just realized I'm now closer to 50 than 40. Even though that's technically been true since last June 13, I just noticed it today.

    I've been alive on this earth 46 years. It's good.

    6.12.2007

    he is tyler

    Last week I had the opportunity to interview a young man named Tyler, a high school senior from Waterloo, Iowa.

    For his Eagle Scout project, Tyler made this video. Check it out. (Running time 11 minutes.)

    I'm Tyler.

    6.11.2007

    hunger and plenty

    James passed along this photo essay from Time magazine: What The World Eats.

    It shows a week's worth of food from 15 different homes, all over the world.

    The photographs are from the book Hungry Planet, by photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D'Aluisio. Here's more about the book from NPR.

    porportional representation redux

    There's some new info in the proportional representation thread, courtesy of MSS of Fruits and Votes.

    Let's be tidy and keep the comments there. Thanks.

    peace claws

    Catching up on the news this morning, I saw this headline on truthout: Cindy Sheehan Sells Protest Site to LA Radio Host. When I clicked, the name of the purchaser jumped out at me: Bree Walker! Walker is a smart, strong feminist and disability-rights activist. I lost track of her career over the years, and was thrilled to see that's she still working and successful.

    Walker has a condition called ectrodactyly, which fuses her fingers and toes together, making her hands appear somewhat claw-like. When she was younger, she used to hide her hands under prosthetics, but later decided to be proudly herself. When she first "came out," I noticed that in interviews she would fix her hair or otherwise make her hands visible where she could have easily hidden them from view.

    Walker's success in front of the camera was hailed by people with disabilities everywhere. It doesn't hurt that she is conventionally beautiful, but then, her disability is thought of as a "deformity". She's not a beautiful woman sitting poised in a wheelchair that you can't see. She's a beautiful woman with lobster hands.

    Wouldn't you know it, Walker was publicly criticized for having children - ectrodactyly is genetic - then further criticized for getting her children surgery to help alleviate the condition! File that under one my favourite truisms: if you're a woman, your reproductive choices will be condemned no matter what you do, so you damn well better do what you want.

    And guess what? Walker's buying Camp Casey from Cindy Sheehan and turning it into a peace memorial.

    6.10.2007

    "the united states is not a democracy, nor was it ever intended to be"

    Gore Vidal was in Toronto this week, speaking in the Grano Lecture Series. Today the Star, who helps sponsor the Series, ran a portion of a transcript.
    William Thorsell: Is there a Europe? I mean, this whole idea of Europe has got so diffused. The EU gets bigger, and so on. We talk about Europe as though there were a place or a society. We're not talking about foreign policy or anything, just is there a European civilization any more that can pick up if the United States falters?

    GORE VIDAL: Oh, sure there is, and every bit of it is like my fellow illuminata here. It is the Europe of the la lumière. And it is a great Europe since the Protestants' appearance at the Renaissance. One other thing that we neglected to do, and we could have done in '45 when the mandate of heaven, as Confucius would have said, came to us after World War II, we had a chance to develop a civilization. We were number one in everything, really by accident: ballet, something nobody had known about before; literature, poetry particularly; theatre. I mean, it was extraordinary.

    After the Depression, in which I grew up in Washington, and I spent three years in the army in the Pacific and the Aleutian Islands, suddenly we all came back, filled with energy, ready to begin a life. And there it was, everything. The world was ours, and from Lenny Bernstein writing On the Town, it was just a chorus of great talent released at last after depression and war, and we blew it all because Harry Truman wanted to impress Stalin, so he drops the atomic bomb, forever darkening our reputation.

    This is not generally known but every major military man in World War II, from Admiral Nimitz to General Eisenhower, begged Truman not to use the bombs. They said, "We'll be hated for all time. We have enough problems as it is with the world." He went right ahead and did it, because he wanted to scare Stalin. That's spite. God knows, it's stupidity which makes me very excited but... there is a Europe. The problem is, where is America?

    We seem to be vanishing... I spent 30 years doing the history of the United States through a series of novels, through one family a bit like my own, and that's the way I educated myself, since the schools are not going to educate anybody else that I can tell, unless you are from a rich family and you can send them, as I was sent, to Phillips Exeter Academy, which was not all that good. It was more indoctrination than it was education. But we were taught our place as the premiere empire of the world. We filled it. We had a lot of Theodore Roosevelt's rant behind us and Franklin Roosevelt's meliorative, tentative attempts to give us a degree of socialism, which might make us as civilized as Canada.

    THORSELL: It's probably a pretty self-centred thing, but what's your sense of this country? Do you have a sense? Does this country project any sense of itself beyond the borders of itself, and do you have any sense of this country or any sense of where it could fit in the world?

    VIDAL: It's a good model for us, particularly in medical care, and every now and then there are wistful looks at "Our Lady of the Snows" up here, where you need not die of, you know, whatever happens to be wrong with you at that moment. You might be cured, looked after.

    No. I mean, the shadow of England is a dense one. I had a fan letter from a Canadian lady. I had made a reference to the phantom Crown of England and I was talking about the political situation, you know. They have a parliament. They are a far more democratic country than the United States but, I said, "You know, everywhere that phantom Crown has cast a shadow." She said, "What phantom Crown? Lilibet (Queen Elizabeth II) has more power. She drove that awful man you like, (Gough) Whitlam, out of office in Australia." Well, she didn't, but the Tories did. And I thought, What is going up here with Our Lady of Snows? They are still people who are waiting for, well, maybe they're waiting for Charles the III..."

    THORSELL: At this point, I think we'll throw you to the circus.

    MICHAEL ADAMS: Is the United States of America a democracy?

    VIDAL: No. The United States is not a democracy, nor was it ever intended to be. This is where the schools have got it all wrong and where the media daily gets it wrong.

    The one thing they feared the most was tyranny, another King George the Third or a dictator, another Cromwell.

    Many of us are descended from Cromwell's men. That's how we became to be such vicious Protestants. Well, if you want to see any of the founders, read the federalist papers. Any one of them looks like he's near apoplexy, he's about to have a stroke when he's talking about the people. They hate the people. They want the people out of government. Their idea of bad government is Pericles in Athens. And that's just, you know, forbidden country for our founders. They were Republicans, and they wanted a republic based on Rome, secretly based on slavery and based on imperial progress elsewhere in the world.

    So from the beginning, we've been imperial. From the beginning, we've missed the whole point of the republican effort to create a republic in this brave new world. And I think we had a pretty good beginning. We were well served until Lincoln. It's not his fault, but with Lincoln came new elements. The power of money. The power of sheer greed and the power of military might.

    You know, Bismarck, who had the best army in Europe or wanted to have, sent observers to our Civil War. He wanted to see what we knew – we had created a war machine the world had never seen. Now, how this little agrarian republic pulled that off is the trick of the week. Bismarck used to say, "God looks after drunks, little children and the United States of America." For a long time, He did.

    6.09.2007

    "the rope around us is getting tighter"

    Did you all hear about this? The 1943 diary of a 14-year-old Jewish girl living in the Bedzin ghetto, near Auschwitz, has been revealed. Rutka Laskier gave her diary to a friend, Stanislawa Sapinska, who held onto it for 60 years. Sapinska, who is not Jewish, recently revealed the diary. After it was authenticated, Sapinska donated the diary to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel.

    Of course I read The Diary of Anne Frank as a child, but it was only when I re-read it as an adult that I appreciated its power. I was stunned by the clarity and immediacy of the writing, by the force of that prematurely wise voice speaking across the vast gulf in experience.

    The excerpts in the news stories about this diary have the same quality.
    "The rope around us is getting tighter and tighter," Rutka Laskier wrote in 1943 shortly before she was deported to Auschwitz. "I'm turning into an animal waiting to die."

    . . .

    "I simply can't believe that one day I will be allowed to leave this house without the yellow star. Or even that this war will end one day. If this happens I will probably lose my mind from joy," she wrote on Feb. 5, 1943. "The little faith I used to have has been completely shattered. If God existed, He would have certainly not permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers be smashed with butt of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death."

    Reports of the gassing of Jews, which were not common knowledge in the West by then, apparently filtered into the Bedzin ghetto, which was near Auschwitz, Yad Vashem experts said.

    The following day she opened her entry with a heated description of her hatred toward her Nazi tormentors, but then, in an effortless transition, she speaks about her crush on a boy named Janek and the anticipation of a first kiss.

    "I think my womanhood has awoken in me. That means, yesterday when I was taking a bath and the water stroked my body, I longed for someone's hands to stroke me," she wrote. "I didn't know what it was, I have never had such sensations until now."

    Later that day, she shifted back to her harsh reality, casually describing watching a Nazi soldier tearing a Jewish baby away from its mother and killing it with his bare hands.

    "I have a feeling that I am writing for the last time," Rutka wrote on Feb. 20, 1943, as Nazi soldiers began gathering Jews outside her home for deportation. "I wish it would end already! This torment; this is hell. I try to escape from these thoughts of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies. If only I could say, it's over, you only die once ... but I can't, because despite all these atrocities I want to live, and wait for the following day."

    However, Rutka would write again. Her last entry is dated April 24, 1943, and her last written words are: "I'm very bored. The entire day I'm walking around the room. I have nothing to do."

    In August, she and her family were shipped to Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp. She is believed to have been murdered upon arrival.

    Another thread of Rutka's story really moved me, too.
    Rutka's father, Yaakov, was the family's only survivor. He died in 1986. But unlike Anne Frank's father, he kept his painful past inside. After the war, he moved to Israel, where he started a new family. His Israeli daughter, Zahava Sherz, said her father never spoke of his other children, and the diary introduced her to the long-lost family she never knew.

    "I was struck by this deep connection to Rutka," said Sherz, 57. "I was an only child, and now I suddenly have an older sister. This black hole was suddenly filled, and I immediately fell in love with her."

    This sounds identical to adoption stories, where people feel a deep and immediate connection with their birth families, whether or not they've ever met.

    If you have not visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I highly recommend doing so if you ever have the opportunity. Physically being in that tiny, cramped attic feels like a form of witness. It boosts that exercise in imagination we all experience when we think about round-ups and exterminations.

    The Museum portion of the house ends with a global perspective on genocide, bringing you from Frank's specific, personal story to the universality of its themes.

    6.08.2007

    "working class immigrants need not apply"

    From an Op-Ed in the Star, by Pedro Barata, Vilma Filici, and Victor Wong, of the Portuguese Canadian National Congress, the Canadian Hispanic Congress, and the Chinese Canadian National Congress, respectively.
    Working-class immigrants need not apply.

    Although these words do not actually show up on Canadian immigration application forms, they might as well. After all, carpenters, plumbers, cleaners, hotel workers and others eager to fill positions in industries that are desperate for new recruits don't have a prayer of qualifying for permanent residency under Canada's points-based immigration system.

    Yesterday, Ottawa took the first important step toward rectifying this situation. Parliament passed a motion to put a moratorium on further deportations and to seek sensible solutions aimed at regularizing the status of undocumented migrants and finally overhauling the immigration and refugee determination system.

    The motion, which was passed by a 147 to 115 vote, with most of those opposing it being Conservative MPs, presents a forthright recognition that Canada's immigration system is unsustainable and that many sectors in our economy would suffer without the contributions of today's undocumented migrants.

    Immigrant groups, employers, labour unions and faith communities will now be watching closely to ensure that Parliament puts its words into action.

    The urgency of the situation certainly calls for decisiveness. Although precise numbers are unavailable, it is estimated that thousands of undocumented migrants live, work and attend schools wherever employment gaps are glaring throughout Canada.

    Without their contributions, construction sites for condos, residential homes, new industrial developments, new factories and office buildings could well shut down by the end of the week. The food industry would likely grind to a halt. Maintenance of our homes, office towers and hotels as well as many other industries would be crippled.

    How did we get to this point? Who made up a points system that excludes the very people that are needed by our economy? And who decided that the only worthy economic migrants to Canada are those with university degrees, high technical skills, or plenty of money?

    I'm very glad to see that more attention will be paid to undocumented workers and other hard-working people who want to immigrate to Canada. As the writers say, "Canada faces many challenges that require our undivided attention – climate change, poverty, competitiveness and good jobs, to name just a few. The last thing we should be doing is wasting valuable financial and human resources hunting down hard-working families and removing them from jobs for which there is no one else to take their place."

    I couldn't agree more. But it's also odd for me to read this, because I consider myself working class. Allan and I have one university degree between us and no grad school; we work at staff-level positions; we rent our home; we own one car. While we earn more than a hotel cleaner, we earn less than a successful plumber, electrician or carpenter.

    The Canadian immigration system does favour professional people with advanced degrees, but ever since the point threshold was lowered from 75 to 67 in 2003, many working class people with good employment prospects have been able to make the grade. Many skilled trades, such as electrician and machinist, are listed among the professions recognized on the application. The category that most of us apply through is called "skilled worker class".

    Perhaps the writers are exaggerating to make a point. Or perhaps my definition of working class is askew.

    Read the essay here.

    reconsidering ashley

    A few weeks ago, I blogged about the medical abuse by her parents of a girl known as "Ashley X". Kids On Wheels, the magazine I help write and edit, ran a letter in response to their article on those parents' choice. I'm posting the outstanding letter with permission of the author.
    I love your magazine, but I was frankly appalled when I read "Considering Ashley" (Wheel Life, Winter 2007). For all of us to have to worry that ethics committees and families might consider mutilating a little girl, and subjecting her to experimental hormone injections as a preferable alternative to institutionalizing or even euthanizing her, is so far off the charts that I am left speechless. Ashley is not the problem. The problem is that all the Ashleys and their beleaguered families don't have the supports they need.

    We would never be having this discussion if Ashley had been a boy, and the parents had cut off his penis and testicles. Nor would we be having this discussion if Ashley did not have a disability. Ashley's parents said they wanted to spare her from the discomfort of large breasts and the potential for breast cancer, so they cut out her breast buds. Yet, both her mother and her sister still have their breasts. How did the parent's access the crystal ball that assured them that if she was allowed to become a woman she would absolutely have painful large breasts and a high risk for breast cancer?

    Removing Ashley's uterus was rationalized by saying the goal was prevention of menstruation and menstrual cramps and potential pregnancy. If, as they stated, no one is allowed to care for Ashley but her parents and grandmothers, how would she ever be subject to becoming pregnant, assuming she was even physically able to become pregnant in the first place? Why is the concern for pregnancy, not for the potential of being sexually abused? How is that being prevented? Because if sexual abuse is being prevented, then so is any potential for pregnancy. And there are definitely medically approved ways to prevent menstruation without removing body parts.

    And now that Ashley's parents have been able to create this designer "pillow angel," who will hold them accountable to their stated rationale of caring for Ashley for the rest of her life? The answer is no one, because whether or not her parents had sought the "Ashley treatment," there is never a guarantee about what the future holds. Life happens. Her parents could die or become disabled, or just get tired, or something else unexpected could happen, and they might have to consider alternative living arrangements for Ashley. And make no mistake, those alternative arrangements would in no way be limited to an institution! Stating that an institution or euthanasia are the alternatives to surgery and hormones is patently false, and a great disservice to all the families and service providers that care for children and adults with the most significant disabilities in their own homes and communities every day. Even at this tender age, Ashley could be cared for by another family in that family's home, if her parents were unable or unavailable to care for her.

    I am further dismayed that Ashley's parents have had no trouble "showing and telling" every intimate detail about her on their website, but they have chosen to protect the privacy and confidentiality of themselves and their other children by blacking out their faces in the pictures. Why are they allowed that dignity and respect for privacy, yet Ashley is not? Why is it OK to display Ashley and tell the world what they did to her? Is it OK because, after all, Ashley has a disability, and she'll never know? Does anyone else not see the double standard here? Does anyone else not see what's wrong with this picture?

    Thanks for KIDS ON WHEELS. Our youth definitely need to develop a sense of community at the earliest possible age. Their very survival depends on it!

    Marsha Katz
    ADAPT Montana

    Thank you, Marsha Katz. I'm ashamed that I didn't even think of the sexism and misogyny inherent in Ashley's abuse.

    I appreciate Katz's clear indictment, and I appreciate her anger.

    active threads

    The proportional representation discussion and the creation museum discussion are still active. Just thought I'd let you know.

    the job front

    It's a good-news-bad-news kind of post, so let's get the bad news out of the way first. There's a resounding silence on the job front. No weekend spots at all.

    However... it's looking like this is leading me to make another change in how I earn my living. I'm excited about the potential, but I'm concerned about our income during the transition.

    I've discovered that colleges and universities hire people to take notes for hearing-impaired students. The notetakers attend classes with the students, take notes on a laptop, then email the file to the student. This sounds like a great fit for me in many ways: I'm a great notetaker, a fast typist, and I like the idea of attending different classes at area colleges. The work is flexible and cyclical, following the school term, and I like that, too. The pay is not fantastic, but it's all right, and it has the potential to increase greatly with experience.

    I heard about this work shortly after we moved to Canada, through someone who might even be reading this post, the wonderful "V". We were working with V so she could take care of Buster while we went to New Jersey for US Thanksgiving in 2005. (Alas, that was not to be, as by the time the holiday came, we had lost him.)

    At that time, I was very intrigued with the notetaking idea, but I quickly found a good law-firm job, and that was that. But now that I'm unemployed, I've had time to investigate it more thoroughly. I've discovered three different agencies that hire "computerized notetakers", as they're called, and I'm preparing my applications with all of them.

    Of course there's a catch. Work wouldn't start until September, and I've already been unemployed a month. I have some income from writing and editing work, but it's not adequate.

    There is some legal word-pro work I can get, with a schedule I really don't want. But for various reasons, it's not really feasible to do that temporarily while I keep an eye on the notetaking route. One precludes the other.

    I'm seeing an avenue through which to transform this job loss into an opportunity for change, and I want to take it. But I have to figure out the finances to make it work.

    May I add this is the stupidest time in the world to be throwing a party? No, I'm not cancelling. And no, I'm not making it pot-luck. Just come and enjoy.

    6.07.2007

    proportional representation?
    why or why not?

    In my recent post about the Creation Museum, Lone Primate mentioned that this is why he doesn't support proportional representation: the opportunity for fringe parties that many of us consider dangerous and anti-democratic to share a role in government.

    My instincts and my reading tell me this is not the case, but I'm not well-versed enough in the issues to argue effectively. So I tapped someone who is; I invited Idealistic Pragmatist over to comment.

    Since I don't have time to write anything original right now, I'll rerun their discussion here, and I'll invite MSS of Fruits and Votes to join us. MSS is a professor of political science who specializes in elections.

    Here's the story so far.

    Lone Primate:
    ...this is the reason I get cold feet every time someone waxes eloquent about proportional representation. Sure, sounds great when you imagine it's just Latin for "the NDP gets more seats"... till you realize it also means folks like this, who couldn't get elected God catcher under the present system, suddenly wind up guaranteed a handful of reps who will give cheer and encouragement to the like-minded as they wind up on the CBC every night, quoted ad nauseam in The National Post, and potentially hold the balance of power in a system that promises minority government after minority government.

    They're out there.

    Let's KEEP 'em out there.

    Idealistic Pragmatist:
    Fortunately, this isn't actually true. Only two potential systems have floated for use in Canada, the one currently under consideration in Ontario (Mixed-Member Proportional) and the one currently under consideration in B.C. (Single Transferable Vote). BOTH of these systems have thresholds that would prevent small fringe parties from being elected unless they had significant support. Scroll down in my FAQ to the question about "small regional or ethnic parties" for the full explanation.

    LP:
    "BOTH of these systems have thresholds that would prevent small fringe parties from being elected unless they had significant support."

    Yeah, and the GST was "revenue neutral". As you've pointed out, it's possible under the current system for these people to get elected, with "significant support". We've had upwards of, if I remember correctly, six parties in the Commons at any given time, and some of these parties have significant support out west. Anything that lowers the threshold of what constitutes "significant support" makes me nervous. It gives them a voice that would almost certainly bleed off right-wingers who figure at least their vote counts for something if they vote Tory/Reform/CCRAP, whatever. Empowering a move away from moderation towards fragmentation... cripes, isn't that trend bad enough in this country already? I certainly think so.

    I suppose it's bound to come to this sometime. All I'm saying is when you're tiptoeing through the tulips of democracy, be prepared to step... or even slip... in the fertilizer.

    IP:
    My point is that proportional representation wouldn't lower the threshold for significant support--and in some ways, it would raise it. If anything, first past the post is far, far more dangerous in this respect than either of the two PR-based systems proposed for Canada, as the inflated seat count of the Bloc Quebecois indicates. We've been slipping in the fertilizer for years, and it's time to wake up and smell the democracy.

    And your assumption about "more fragmentation" isn't particularly warranted if you look at what happens in other jurisdictions. It's not impossible that PR would create more parties, but I actually find that highly doubtful, given how many we have already (I suspect there would be a realignment of the current parties instead, with lots of politicians changing teams for a year or two). Regardless, though, there would still be less fragmentation under PR because it demands true intraparty cooperation within stable, majority coalition governments. If you're sick of the infighting and grandstanding, PR is actually the solution, not something that would create more of the same problems.

    (See also six reasons to support proportional representation and myth #1: proportional representation leads to minority governments.)

    LP:
    You've done little to reassure me, I'm afraid. I understand how coalitions work — they're the issue for me. We effectively had one for most of Mulroney's tenure; he'd co-opted the sovereigntists and his constitutional and economic peddling to them and their eventual defection nearly brought an end to our country. Without their support, it's highly unlikely he would have won in 1984 and certain he wouldn't have in 1988. Thank God Harper has had the sense not to step into that mine field... but he does have to watch his step with them, all the same. I foresee even more dances with the Devil in a system that pretty much assures no single party in Canada will ever be able to plot a course without worrying about shoals around the fringe.

    I look at Italy. The place has had nearly as many governments since WWII as it's had years. Israel is a country full of bright, progressive, educated people whose political process is perennially in thrall to a handful of people who really believe Samuel was right to denounce Saul for merely enslaving the Amalakites instead of killing them man, woman, and child as God commanded — a big part of the reason the place can never find peace with its neighbours or the rest of the people of the very same land.

    Coalitions. And so a coalition between the minority Tories and, say, the Family Party? Would the recent vote on same-sex marriage been the non-issue it was under such circumstances? What would it mean for abortion rights? Immigration? The equality of faiths? The independence of the judiciary?

    In the abstract, I love the idea of PR. It is more fair. It does give people more of what they want. But I'm not such a democrat and I'm not so generous that I don't look at what that means in practical terms in this country and look away in sang froid. When I think of what we have to lose, and I look at how close the example of that is even in a two-party system, I find myself retreating to the safer shores of known waters.

    Feel free to jump in. Fact, opinion, gut reaction - all are welcome.

    6.06.2007

    swamped

    I have lots to write about, but no time to write it. My Kids On Wheels and New Mobility assignments have all exploded at the same time, and I have to focus on that.

    Do you know, if I were paid normal writing fees for my KOW work, I wouldn't need a full-time job (whether three days or five days) in the first place? Of course, if Kids On Wheels could pay standard rates, it would be a standard magazine, and not the great work that I love and care so much about. But still.

    I'll be back when I can. See you all soon.

    6.05.2007

    numberless diverse acts of courage and belief

    It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and . . . those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

    These words were spoken by Robert F. Kennedy during a 1966 visit to South Africa. Kennedy, acting on an impulsive dare from an American civil rights worker, toured that country when only a tiny handful of Americans knew aware of the brutal apartheid regime.

    It would be another 15 years before the issue would strike public consciousness worldwide, and another decade 13 years before the dismantling of apartheid would begin.

    I'm not posting this because it's Kennedy; that's irrelevant here. This is about movement, and progress, and time. More on this soon.

    6.04.2007

    only in america? (maybe not)
    the creation museum

    Many of you probably already know about this reading from evolution blogs, but not being a visitor to that world, my eyes popped.

    There's a creation museum in Kentucky.

    The country of my birth grows ever stupider, and ever more divided.

    rom revisit

    Since my post about Torontonians' reaction to the new addition to the Royal Ontario Museum attracted a lively discussion, here's a bit of follow-up.

    According to the Star, reaction at the opening was generally positive. Of course it's an extremely skewed sample, since I doubt people who loathe the building, or who don't care about architecture, would attend the opening. Still, I was cheered to read that thousands of people showed up. A major addition to the Toronto streetscape deserves the attention.
    So what will the verdict be? An architectural wonder or a risky monstrosity?

    The crowds waiting all day to get their first glimpse inside the now-infamous Crystal, which opened this weekend as part of Luminato's Open Weekend Festivities, were downright split as to what they thought of the museum's $270-million makeover.

    "I think it's a very daring building. It's nice to see such bold architecture in Toronto," said Lianne Raymond, as she stood in line about the building's exterior.

    In a hurried city like Toronto, Raymond says it might take a structure like the Crystal for people to slow down.

    Rosemary Bishop, who was waiting in line with her friend, Lana Grill yesterday afternoon, went even further.

    "I am really proud of it," she said. "I think it's a real architectural wonder."

    But for others, there was still something that troubled them.

    "I don't think it works for the space. I am disappointed that there's not more glass," Phyllis Wharton said.

    "I think it loses something," said Alexandra Zalucky. "You would have had much more of a beautiful impact if it is made of glass.

    "It's interesting but not beautiful."

    Still, she says she is curious to see how it looks inside.

    "I think it's interesting it's open all night," she said.

    "It would be cool to check out the museum at night."

    It's a sentiment that Wharton echoes. "I am dying to see it from the inside," she said.

    For Lana Grill, it's the juxtaposition between old and new that caught her fancy.

    "It's so unexpected between two old buildings," said Grill.

    "We are impressed from the outside."

    As for Evguenia Ioussoufovitch, she says she has mixed feelings about what she describes as "controversial" project.

    "It's a risky move when it's a fusion of stuff," adding "it's nice to have something new as long as it fits."

    On the subject of whether or not the two structures, old and new, belong together, James sent me this neat snippet.

    Canadian icon Leonard Cohen recently collaborated with the great composer Philip Glass, part of Toronto's Luminato festival (which I confess I haven't paid any attention to). The Daily Dose of Imagery photoblog posted this photo of Glass and Cohen in conversation about the project. The caption reads:
    Leonard Cohen jokingly described the collaboration: "It shouldn't have worked, but it did. Like that iceberg crashing into that museum . . . a beautiful catastrophe!" comparing the piece to Daniel Libeskind's new architectural addition to Royal Ontario Museum.

    Lovely! Here are the Daily Dose's photos of the ROM Opening.

    I've been very much anchored in Mississauga these days - between writing deadlines, unemployment and the gorgeous weather (that is, my love of my own backyard), I haven't had time, money or inclination to wander around Toronto. My mom is visiting in early July, and I've saved the ROM's ancient Peru exhibit for us to do together. That will be my first visit to the museum, and probably my first view of the completed and unveiled crystal.

    6.02.2007

    on luck

    In an earlier post about our work life in Canada, I wrote:
    People often note that I am "lucky" because my job gives me the time and freedom to pursue my writing career. That irritates me, because it's not a function of luck.

    Then I wrote a capsule version of how I got to this place, in terms of my writing career and my day-jobs, which involved huge amounts of hard work, persistence and drive. Then I said:
    Of course, we, all of us, are fortunate to achieve what we strive for, and you know I am grateful for good fortune. You can work hard at something and still not achieve it, through no fault of your own. (I ought to know that: I have two unpublished novels.) But I seriously bristle at the implication that I accidentally fell into my life. I didn't. I built it.

    Some readers questioned my downplaying of the role of luck, citing luck or the lack of it in their own and others' lives.

    That made me think about why the "you're so lucky" comment irritates me so much, and the role of luck in our lives generally.

    I can't count how many times I've written on this blog how fortunate I feel, how lucky I consider myself to be, and that has expressed only a fraction of my feelings.

    I regard myself as very privileged. I feel extremely fortunate in all the major, important parts of life. Hey, I'm a woman, and I am Jewish. How lucky am I to be born in North America in the latter half of the 20th Century?

    I am lucky that my body is in generally good working order (something I wish all women realized that when they beat themselves up over the size of their hips or thighs).

    I'm lucky to have grown up with one parent who gave me unconditional love and support. I wasn't so lucky with the other parent, but lots of people never have parental love and support at all. I have family - siblings, sibs-in-laws, nieces, nephews - who love me. I have a life partner and soulmate. That is very lucky, but I will say that our happiness is not a function of luck. Meeting the right person is luck; building and maintaining a relationship takes hard work and commitment.

    And I'm lucky to have found meaning in life, through my writing and my activism.

    When I think of the sum of all this good fortune, I believe I am, to paraphrase my favourite baseball player, the luckiest person on earth.

    In the bad luck I've had - I am a rape survivor, I had an abusive parent and quite a bit of craziness growing up - I was still lucky. I had help and support, and I came through in one piece. I turned the damage into growth. Some of that was luck. Some of it was hard work, and my refusal to yield.

    So let's call all this big-picture luck. In the big picture, I've been damned lucky.

    The "you're so lucky" comment that I find so irritating attributes things for which I've worked to what I'll call small-picture luck.

    Having a three-day-a-week job so I can have more time to write was not luck. If a job was there when I looked for it, that was luck - and I could sure use some of that right now. But arranging my life to be able to write wasn't luck. It was a deliberate choice.

    Finding a portable, marketable skill and becoming very good at it - so that if a job existed, I could get it - wasn't luck. Right now, I'm brainstorming for other suitable income-earning ideas, in case I can't find a legal doc-pro job that works for me. I'm not waiting around to get lucky.

    If you're hard-working and persistent like I am, then you've known lots of people who are lazy, or mired in inertia, or who quit at the first obstacle, and then blame the world around them for their failure to get what they want. And those are usually the people who pronounce me lucky.

    I didn't grow up this way. I was told I was "smart but lazy". All through grade school and into high school, I sailed through, getting top grades without trying. There were plenty of things I couldn't do (sports, advanced math), so I simply didn't do them. (What passed for parental advice in my home was, "You can't be good at everything.") I did what came easy and the rest I let slide.

    I didn't discover the motivation to work hard until university. Maybe that's why I value my own hard work and persistence so much: it's an acquired skill. (I just thought of that, right now. The power of blogging.)

    Then there's the other side of the coin. You can be hard-working and persistent and come up empty-handed. That's one of the hardest lessons I've learned.

    I rearranged my life so I could write, which included incurring parental disapproval and entering into voluntarily poverty. While working as a nanny and a proofreader, I wrote a book, then did everything I could to get it published. Then I wrote another one, and did the same. The first was a "starter novel," I'd have been shocked if it was published. The second deserved to be published. Still does. Yet neither are.

    I am persistent to a fault. Giving up is very hard for me. But I had to let go. I had publishers tell me, "15 years ago we would have snapped this up, but it's not in style now..." My agent told me houses that used to publish 30 young-adult titles a year were now publishing 3. The book never got published. I have to think that was bad luck.

    [However, had it been published, if someone had said, "You're lucky your book is published," I would have burst a blood vessel. Small-picture luck to finally get that much-needed break, yes. But that break would have been just one step along the path I had paved myself.]

    So I kept writing, and eventually my writing was recognized. Someone offered me an opportunity. I took it. I built on that. I tried different kinds of writing, and different venues. And slowly I became a working, published writer.

    I needed a break, for sure. But I got the break by writing, by putting my work out there, by persisting. Without my own hard work and persistence, that break never would have found me. It took a lot of work to get to the point where that small-picture luck was relevant.

    You can do all the right things and never get the small-picture luck. And apparently you can do nothing right and get lucky anyway. Life is not fair. The world is not a garden of just rewards. The industrious fail and the indolent prosper. That's the annoying truth.

    But when you've worked hard and gotten what you worked for, you want to believe your choices and actions had something to do with it. Maybe it's an illusion I cling to. Or maybe the apparent absence of luck is an excuse to do nothing.

    immigration reform on both sides of the border

    Several readers have expressed surprise that I haven't blogged about the proposed massive changes to US immigration policy. If adopted, these changes would make the US's immigration policy similar to Canada's, which favours skilled workers, educated professionals and the middle class, while also offering legal status to illegal immigrants already in the US.

    From a mainstream news story about the bill:
    A bill being discussed would legalize millions of illegal immigrants, tighten border security and mandate that employers verify they are hiring legal workers.

    The bill includes conservative-backed initiatives such as the worker verification program to prevent illegal immigrants from getting jobs, and a new point system to prioritize skills and education over family in deciding who can immigrate in the future.

    Liberals decry the point scheme as unfair to families and are vehemently opposed to a guest worker program that would let laborers come to the US for temporary stints without a guarantee they would be able to stay and eventually gain citizenship.

    But it also includes a long-sought liberal priority — granting legal status to the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. Conservatives view that as an unacceptable amnesty program.

    Although I am an immigrant from the United States, I don't follow immigration issues to the US closely, if at all, so I don't have a clear opinion on it.

    The US adopting an immigration system like Canada's presupposes that the countries have the same population and labour issues. Canada needs the population and the professional work force. Does the US? As far as I know, it does not - but again, I haven't studied the issues.

    My concerns about immigrants in the United States are pretty simple. I want to see all workers, whether or not they have legal documentation, treated humanely. I want families to be able to stay together, and persecuted people to find refuge.

    The National Organization for Women (NOW) calls for meaningful immigration reform that includes these principles:

    • a legalization program that will allow undocumented immigrants living in the US to apply for residency,

    • enforcement of existing federal labour laws for all workers, including domestic workers, most of whom are female,

    • improvements in the family reunification program

    • adequate health care for all children, including US-born children of undocumented immigrants,

    • family-planning health care coverage for all immigrant women regardless of legal and economic status, and

    • adoption of the provision of the WISH Act which provides safe harbor and safety-net benefits to immigrant victims of sexual and domestic violence.
    My friend NN sent me this link to a public radio program discussing how the changes might effect New York City.

    In New York, a huge, mostly legal immigrant population comprise a huge percentage of the small business owners and nonprofessional labour force. The enormous influx of legal immigrants in the last 25 years, who have come to the US via family sponsorship, has revitalized New York's economy, and transformed the outer boroughs that were decimated by the white flight of the 1950s and 60s.

    The segment of the Brian Lehrer show linked above includes immigration experts explaining the proposed point system in the US immigration bill, and how Canada's system works.

    My understanding is that Canada has completely different immigration needs. While Canada encourages a skilled immigration force from all over the world, the pressing issues are how to help that population succeed once they are here. The shorthand anecdote for these issues is the doctor who is driving a taxi while the city he lives in suffers from an acute shortage of doctors.

    Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Mike Colle has announced a pilot program to address the key problems that undermine the success of Canada's immigration policy:
    ...long delays in processing applications; the disconnect between the qualifications of immigrants and their success in the labour market; and the concentration of immigrant settlement in major urban centres like the GTA that combine high living costs with often limited employment opportunities.

    With an aging population and a low birth rate, increases in the labour force increasingly depend upon Canada's ability to attract highly qualified immigrants. In competition with Australia, the United States and European Union countries, Canada's global immigration strategy uses a point system to recruit highly educated, skilled and experienced immigrants who can readily find employment and contribute to economic growth.

    However, numerous studies point to the same troubling conclusion: Canada is losing its status as a destination of choice as delays in the processing of applications and growing awareness of difficulties finding employment related to their education, skills and work experience deter highly qualified immigrants.

    Currently, applicants for admission to Canada as independent class or economic immigrants – 60 per cent of all immigrants – face an 18- to 30-month processing time. The waiting list is more than 800,000. Once admitted, based on existing trends, slightly more than 50 per cent of the projected 141,000-158,000 economic-class immigrants in 2007 will settle in Ontario, the overwhelming majority in the GTA.

    After a brief period of adjustment, many economic immigrants find employment and fulfill their expectations, but despite high levels of education, skill and work experience, the majority face a high risk of unemployment, underemployment and poverty.

    The cost of processing delays and unsuccessful settlement is high, both for the immigrant and their dependants and the Ontario economy due to the underutilization of their skills and expertise at a time of emerging labour shortages.

    Ontario's new provincial nomination program will enable employers in the health, education, manufacturing and construction sectors to recruit employees for jobs in 20 occupations, matching job vacancies with the qualifications of prospective immigrants. Citizenship and Immigration Canada will fast-track the admission of nominated immigrants and their families and the program will allocate 50 per cent of nominations to communities outside of the GTA to encourage more balanced immigrant settlement throughout the province and contribute to regional economic development.

    [From an Op-Ed in the Star by Ryerson University professor Arthur Ross]

    That Canada sees itself in competition with other countries to attract immigrants, and is trying to help immigrants thrive and contribute to Canada, strikes me as a pretty basic difference between the two countries' attitudes toward immigration.