10.31.2007

more happy immigrants are on their way!

Congratulations to West End Bound and drf of the Moving to Vancouver blog: they're in!

It's been a long process, but now the waiting and the paperwork - well, most of it - are behind them.

When we finally make it out to Vancouver, we'll have lots of people to visit!

Yay and hooray. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the US's loss is Canada's gain. Welcome home, guys.

boo, take three

On our first Halloween in Canada, only two months after we moved here, I was excited about living in a house, and I wanted to join the festivities. We bought candy, and decorations, and I was looking forward to answering the door wearing a mask, and to doling out tooth decay to neighbourhood goblins.

Two kids came to the door.

The following year we intended to leave the light off and ignore the whole thing.

As it happened, that night, Halloween 2006, was the first time we saw what turned out to be our new house. There were dozens of kids out trick-or-treating, some with their parents, and it made us feel good about the neighbourhood.

Only a year ago, I was so upset that I had to move; it seemed like such a burden, and I was so sad to leave our little (cold, drafty) house in Port Credit. Now we are very settled and happy in this house. We love it here. Nice how that can happen.

So this year we're trying again. I'll be at a War Resisters Support Campaign meeting, so Allan will be home with the candy and the mask.

drinking and driving

Yesterday we went to the Niagara wine region with our friends M@ and S for a day of tasting, buying, eating and relaxing. M@ and S's current employment situation allows them a midweek day off, and as we all appreciate good food and good wine, I knew it would be a fun time.

When Allan and I did this last year, we stayed at a B&B in Niagara on the Lake, and did some historical things the next day. That was fun, but NOTL was too touristy for us, and the overnight felt a bit unnecessary. An annual day trip seems perfect to me.

Yesterday we visited wineries in the Vineland and Beamsville area. Highlights included Kacaba, Vineland Estates and Tawse; the flat-out lowlight was Thirty Bench.

Kacaba is a tiny, family-run winery, where an enthusiastic and unpolished host told stories and poured with a loving hand. We had some of the best wines of the day here, including a Reisling with a butterscotch toffee finish and a knockout Meritage (a Bordeaux-like blend). Allan and I treated ourselves to that one for our anniversary - not for two months, but a good excuse to overspend.

Vineland Estates was notable both for the setting and the wine. The tasting room is a dark, church-like space with a beamed cathedral ceiling. Gorgeous pieces of blown glass and wrought-iron craft works are nestled among the bottles.

Our host there led us on a "wine journey," pouring several reserve wines clearly marked as "not available for tasting," offering a compare-and-contrast, encouraging us to drink, learn and enjoy. It was clear she loved her work - and her wine, which was generally excellent.

Vineland also has a restaurant, a B&B and a guest house. The restaurant menu looked terrific, and the setting is so beautiful, it seems like a perfect special-occasion spot.

At Tawse - not listed on the official Wines of Ontario map - we had an unexpected treat: a walk into the cave, where the casks ferment. Tawse uses a completely organic process; their farm is full of environmental-friendly innovations, including geothermal heating and cooling, and a gravity-fed processing system.

Thirty Bench wins the Bronx cheer of the day, for pretentious, condescending, pedantic hosting, amid truly mediocre wine. My advice: skip it!

The weather was beautiful, and the area is, too. Our friends - who grew up around there - tell us it's particularly beautiful in the spring, when all the fruit trees are in blossom. I'll put that on the list; maybe a scenic drive and a hike at Ball's Falls is in order for the spring.

An altogether lovely day off. And now back to work.

10.30.2007

let them stay: urgent action needed

This is a heads-up about something you can do this Friday, November 2 to help US war resisters stay in Canada.

Last week, Patrick Hart and Corey Glass, two war resisters here in Canada, received pre-removal risk assessments ("PRA") from the Immigration and Refugee Board. Along with Robin Long, this makes three resisters who have received PRAs in the last two weeks.

The PRA is the first step in the process that can lead to deportation.

Patrick Hart, who spoke at the rally last Saturday, was told to prepare to leave. Patrick is in Canada with his wife and 5-year-old son. They want only to live in peace, as ordinary people, and one day to be Canadian.

Both the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party support a provision for asylum for US war resisters. Now we must pressure the opposition Liberals and the minority government to Let Them Stay.

Canadians: On Friday, November 2, please contact your MP and key members of government.

US readers: Courage To Resist is launching a campaign for Americans to help war resisters in Canada. More on that in a separate post.

In Canada:

Ask: Will you and your party support a provision to allow US war resisters to stay in Canada?

Key points to highlight:

  • A recent poll shows that over 64% of Ontario residents think war resisters should be allowed to stay in Canada, including a majority of Conservative and Liberal voters. (Sorry for the Ontario-centricity; that's where the poll was taken.)

  • Since Canada didn't join the invasion of Iraq, we should support the soldiers who refuse to participate in this illegal and immoral war.

  • US war resisters face imprisonment and even the death penalty if they return to the US. No one should face punishment for complying with international law - and for refusing to participate in torture and murder.

    Who To Call: [any and all]
    The Right Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister:
    phone 613.992.4211
    fax 613.941.6900 (faxes are good too if you have a machine)
    pm@pm.gc.ca

    The Hon. Diane Finley, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration:
    613.954.1064
    Minister@cic.gc.ca

    The Hon. Stéphane Dion, Leader of the Opposition (Liberal):
    613.996.5789
    Dion.S@parl.gc.ca

    Michael Ignatieff, Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Liberal):
    613.995.9364
    Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca

    The Hon. Maurizio Bevilacqua, Opposition Critic for Citizenship and Immigration (Liberal):
    613.996.4971
    Bevilacqua.M@parl.gc.ca

    After you call, take a moment to let the Support Campaign know about your effort: resisters@sympatico.ca.

    This massive call-in effort will take place across Canada on Friday, November 2. I'll post reminders on Thursday and Friday, but meanwhile, please bookmark this page and make a note on your calendars. If you blog, you can post this, or post it on your Facebook, MySpace or LiveJournal page.

    What kind of Canada do you want to live in?

    A Canada that is, in the words of Pierre Trudeau, a refuge from militarism? Or a Canada that values good relations with the US over the peaceful, safe lives of ordinary people?

    A Canada that stands up for international law and human rights? Or a Canada that holds the US's coat while it bullies the world?

    Please help let them stay.
  • 10.29.2007

    canada out of afghanistan: a perspective (updated)

    Longtime friend of wmtc Lone Primate and a visitor named Mark, Ottawa (a/k/a Clark Kent) have been going at it over Canada's military presence in Afghanistan.

    Mark is avoiding and evasive, although with the hurt Lone Primate has put on him, I give him credit for showing up at all.

    As always when things heat up at wmtc, I've learned a lot from the discussion. The Primate, with his gifts for metaphor and articulation, has given me a huge new storehouse of context and meaning to bolster my views.

    I wish I had the time, mental clarity, writing talent and knowledge of Canadian and world history to formulate these arguments myself. I lack most of that - or I seldom find them all at the same time.

    But I'm fortunate in that my blog has attracted people who do posses both the knowledge and the skills. Lone Primate has shredded Clark's specious arguments, but more importantly, he has exposed the hypocrisy behind them.

    Below are some choice excerpts. I am only quoting Lone Primate; the full thread is found here.

    Before I am accused of censorship or selective editing, the full version of the extremely lopsided argument is still available. Nothing is taken out of context. I have simply removed the opposing point of view.

    I am re-posting Lone Primate's portion in the same spirit that I would post any interesting, well-written essay that reflects my own views. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy.

    Update: I just re-read the whole exchange, and I'd like to correct myself.

    I didn't delete the opposing point of view, because there is practically none to delete. Mark sidesteps all the difficult questions, and refuses to answer any. When Lone Primate presses him, Mark throws back flaccid quips, such as, "Those 'yes or no' remind me of Mr Layton during Question Period."

    In another example, when Lone Primate posits that foreign "interventions" are often determined by whether the country in question is sufficiently armed or sufficiently white to work out its own government, Mark offers this gem of a non sequitir: "I apologize for being white. One of my grandfathers died in China (Yunan province) working with the YMCA. He had a stroke whilst showing the kids how to punt a football. Imperialism at its best, I guess."

    You are, of course, welcome to read the full exchange and follow the links Mark is so fond of posting. But if you don't, you're not missing anything. Literally. There is nothing there.

    And now back to Lone Primate.
    No no no. Mark has a point. It's a semantic one, but it's very important to the future of our way of life that it be understood.

    An "invasion" occurs when someone we don't like sends their troops uninvited into a foreign country. When we, or someone we do like, does it, that's not an "invasion" . . . there's a euphemistic name for actions like that: "peacekeeping", or "spreading democracy", or "fighting terrorism" or the like. Oh, wait — "intervention"! That's a good one, yes! No blood on your hands when you "intervene" someone's country; the very idea sounds silly phrased that way, doesn't it? Now, I will admit the results in either case look very much the same (thousands of dead civilians, the wholesale destruction of the infrastructure supporting basic living, and the rise of resistance, terroristic reprisals, and blowback), but as we all know, it's the thought that counts. Which is to say, we never thought about those things, so. . . they don't count. QED.

    Keep in mind that when Russian troops entered Afghanistan in 1979, that was an invasion. We felt so strongly at the time that this was wrong that we boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Now if what we were doing constituted an "invasion", obviously Canada would have no choice but to boycott the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver, and we haven't done that, have we? So clearly, what we’re doing in Afghanistan can't possibly be an "invasion", because that we mean we were doing something we condemned the Russians for only a generation ago and would be no better than they were: worse, really, since we objected. This would be to suggest that we were colossal hypocrites of the first order!

    To put it more candidly: to say that the Russians had justifications is unjustified, whereas to it's unjustified to suggest we have no justifications. That should be obvious.

    . . .

    You might also reflect that in his speech at Temple University in 1965, Pearson effectively rejected the paradigm of unilateralism, even collective unilateralism (as, after all, the US did have the support of some allies in Vietnam), in favour of a negotiated settlement, and he did so bravely and boldly in the very belly of the beast. At the same time, he was becoming disillusioned with the ineffectiveness of the UN due to the rigged Security Council, and preferred solutions where there was no party predisposed to having a veto, such as the ICC, with which the US refused to cooperate or even recognize. Unfortunately, we still live in such a world; indeed, lately, we've cynically acceded to it.

    Now do you mean to suggest that Pearson, having gone on the record against such policies, and having withstood years of pressure from the US on Vietnam (to the point of the suggestion of CIA "interest" in Canadian federal elections in the 1960s), would be content to see Canada follow a similar policy itself; one that daily costs the lives of non-combatants, one that stains our international reputation as a trustworthy peace broker, sees the weekly return home of coffins draped in the Canadian flag in an undeclared war and the militarization of casual, everyday civilian institutions like the 401? I'm not convinced this is what he intended for our future. Neither his work in the Suez Crisis nor the course he steered for this country during Vietnam suggest that to me.

    . . . .

    Mark, why do you keep coming back to Korea? Western troops where there to remove the presence of the Japanese imperial administration and oversee the return to a governance by the people of Korea themselves. Unfortunately, the country was divided, and that was eventually the signal for civil war.

    None of this is true in the case of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, we gave ourselves license to send over troops, uninvited and, from all evidence (bombings and six years of insurrection as opposed to a few flowery, cherry-picked spot polls), unwelcome. We invaded a country that had spent a decade getting its act back together after enduring a previous trial under the Soviets. The very same people who managed this were the ones we were championing and training when they were fighting our ideological enemies. When they were sending Russian boys home legless or in caskets, they were "freedom fighters". Why are they something different when the invading troops they send home likewise are our own? And why are our troops something different from the Russian ones when they're doing all the same things?

    Do you really mean to suggest that the grown-up, educated people of this country (or Afghanistan, for that matter) can't identify an invasion for what it is when they see it? Do you really mean to insist on that level of intellectual arrogance? Very well... let me give you a hypothetical case and you can tell us if it feels like an invasion to you.

    Let's run the clock forward, say, 25 years, after China has finished hollowing out North America of its wealth, manufacturing base, and technical knowledge, all with our willing acquiescence, making them the dominant economic, political, and (for the sake of argument) military power in the world. Suppose we interfere with some interests of theirs in, say, South America (our "own" back yard), imperiling some raw material they need, and they announce they have to draw the line on our 'imperialistic mistreatment and enslavement of the downtrodden in Latin America". Using their new oomph on the Security Council, or even just a vote in the General Assembly, they get themselves the mandate to act...

    When their troops land in Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton... will that be an "intervention", as I'm sure they'll characterize it... or will it be an invasion?

    When they have overthrown our system of government, replaced our constitution with one more to their tastes, and imprisoned or hanged the "class traitors" who lead our country, will that be an "intervention"?

    When you can't flush your toilet in Kanata or Gatineau because the "liberation" of Canada has caused the destruction of the infrastructure to allow for even that; when your granddaughter has no school to go to because some Chinese "smart" bomb has leveled it instead of some military target; when you're jobless because the company or agency for which you work has been seized and restaffed, or even destroyed, will that be an "intervention"?

    When it's young men named Bob, Mike, Scott, Serge, and Marc being slaughtered in the hills of this country because they dared to fight back, labeled as terrorists because they did so without the sanction of uniforms or the authority of a government the "intervening" power didn't recognize in the first place, but simply out of love for the country they knew growing up before the "liberators" came, what will we call that then, Mark?

    More to the point, what will you call it? Will you smile, shake their hands, and agree they are wiser about what our own country should be than we are? When you call it an "intervention", will you be sincere? When they do all this and more, will you thank them?

    Now tell us again that what we're doing is not an invasion. Tell us again that the people of Afghanistan owe us gratitude and fealty. Try to convince us that we would be wrong to feel as they obviously do, if it were happening to us. Or maybe reflect on this as an ordinary, mortal human being with things you treasure and people you love all around you to lose at the whim of someone else, and then get back to us.

    . . . .

    [A link to the cost of interventions.]

    . . . .

    I think the Environics poll is indeed interesting. Mark and his friends are using it... selectively... as supposed proof that Canadians are invited — nay, morally obliged — by the good opinion of the people of Afghanistan to stay.

    And yet, the very same poll informs us that only 46%, less than half, of the people of Afghanistan are even aware Canadians are in the country.

    Now, I admit, math was never my best subject... but it strikes me a little odd to suggest that more than 50% of the people in a given sample can approve of something of which less than 50% of that same set of people is even aware. How do you square the circle on that one, Mark? I'm curious.

    And I think another telling point, if our lives are going to be ruled by Environics polls, is that they also point out that "that fewer than half (45%) of Canadians support the current mission, only one in three believe it is very (8%) or somewhat (24%) likely to be successful in the end, and a plurality (43%) want to see our troops return home before the mission is scheduled to end in 2009."

    I think this begs the question: whom do the Canadian Armed Forces serve, and two whose will do they answer; the people of Afghanistan, or the people of Canada?

    . . . .

    Here's an interesting poll. Zogby International discovered, in December of 2002, that "58% of Mexicans believe that the southwest US belongs to Mexico. That probably explains why 60% of Mexicans also believe there should be no border control."

    I put the question to you, Mark: is the United States, therefore, morally compelled by the majority opinion of Mexicans to cede the US Southwest, and/or to eliminate border controls with Mexico? It seems to me that in order to be logically consistent with your stand that Canada is bound by the results of a poll in Afghanistan, you would have to concur. Might I suggest you begin your email campaign to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice forthwith? She may be ignorant of her obligations as indicated by the cited poll.

    . . . .

    Oh, this Environics poll gets better and better. It's really a gripping read. Now, I had been led to believe that the people of Afghanistan were falling all over themselves in recognition of our contribution there, aware of its inestimable value, and that's the reason they were supposedly begging us to stay... but I noticed this:

    "Who, top of mind, is fighting the Taliban? Nationwide, it is almost exclusively the United States (89%) that is seen as playing this role. Few mention any other country, including Germany (4%) and, the U.K. (3%), with virtually no mention of Canada. Even in Kandahar (where our forces have lost 71 soldiers and counting), it is the U.S. who is seen as the military presence (90%), with only two percent naming Canada. This result is in sharp contrast to the perspective within Canada, where the public is painfully aware of our troop casualties, the highest proportion of any foreign country."

    Two percent, wow... And that's not in Afghanistan in general, that's in Kandahar, where our troops are on the ground and supposedly making the world safe for McDonald's. You know, I think all those "Highway of Heroes" folks ought to all get together and stand on the bridges over the 401 as massacred Canadian soldiers pass beneath them in hearses and wave big placards reading "2%!" I'm sure that would really warm the hearts of the parents, spouses, and children they've left behind forever.

    It just keeps coming. The poll goes on to tell us that only 25% of the people of Kandahar mention Canada as a country involved in reconstructing the nation, way more than the 4% of Afghans generally who know that... And that only 23% of the people of Kandahar mention Canada as a country training their army and police (again, more than the 14% of Afghans who know this). Nationwide, 20% of Afghans mention Canada as "doing a good job helping Afghanistan" (whatever that empty phrase is supposed to actually mean)... but at least a whopping 37% of the people of Kandahar feel the same way.

    Sorry, I'm just starting to question where the idea the people of Afghanistan are clinging to the legs of Canadian soldiers and tearfully begging them to stay is coming from. I admit, it's a little hard for me to form that impression from these numbers.

    . . . .

    No no no; again, Mark Kent's got a point. After all, we all know Taiwan ran China from 1949 to 1971; it was, after all, the officially recognized government and held China's seat at the UN till the passage of resolution 2758. Where these commies got the idea they were running China just because they were... well, y'know... running China... is beyond me.

    Now, Mark Kent has been all over the place with this. The Taliban were defeated before we even got there. The Taliban weren't the government, in spite of running the place. They're gone, a thing of the past, on the run, without a friend in the universe. And yet... aren't these the same chaps who are on the verge of negotiating their way back into government with the blessing of the Mayor of Greater Kabul, Hamid Karzai (AKA the President of Afghanistan, or at least the parts of it coalition troops have pinned down at any given moment)? Not bad for a bunch of guys Mark holds were wiped out before the first doughboy made a boot print in the country, don't you think?

    . . . .

    You know what? I'm actually going to step up the plate here. I honestly don't think Mark has the guts to answer the questions I put to him, because he's already realized what they imply for his thesis. In effect, I've already answered him. But he's made the pitch and I'm going to swing.

    Marks asks:

    "What is wrong with a mission repeatedly authorized by the United Nations Security Council and effected with the full agreement of the legitimate, elected and internationally-recognized government of Afstan?"

    So many things, Mark. So many things. First of all, the invasion was predicated on capturing Osama bin Laden. Do you remember that? I do. It was undertaken in October of 2001, roughly a month after 9/11. It began on October 7. I objected to it at the time because it was an exercise in military triumphalism; to wit: if Osama bin Laden had been resident in a country that was either pro-Western, or had strategic value to the West, or was of a military capacity that precluded its being invaded (i.e., it had the Bomb), there never would have been an invasion. Due process in international law would have been followed. I do recall that the government of Afghanistan at the time maintained that they did not know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, but that even if they did know, in order to legally extradite him, they would have to be presented with the evidence against him. The United States refused, openly, to honour that request, though it was actually a requirement of international law. Due process, in the practical sense, is for white folks (or their proxies). Afghans aren’t sufficiently white. They got bombed and invaded instead. Part of the justification was that they were hiding, shielding, abetting, protecting bin Laden. After six years of war and invasion, when the coalition forces still don’t have the man, it seems not that hard to credit they probably didn’t know where he was any more than we do. So part of my concern is for the people of Afghanistan. They didn’t do anything to us. I know of no Canadians lying dead in their ruined homes because of the actions of Afghan soldiers. Sadly, they can’t make that same claim of ours.

    But another concern is a selfish one. It’s for us. Arrogantly certain of our ascendancy and its permanence, we have done as we pleased, blithely disregarding the precedents we have set, time and time again. I was not being facetious when I used China in my challenge to you — one that you've cowardly ignored for most of a week now while proficiently directing us to reading material. . . No, I meant it in earnest. The time is approaching when Western preeminence will be a thing of the past, when our word will not be law, when we will come to sleepless nights over the opinions of others and their judgements on how we live and what we do, just as they live now. And what we have basically done for the past fifty years is demonstrate that so long as you get all the cynical, bureaucratic paperwork done, you have license to do what you please. And I do fear that we will live to regret the example we’ve set. But people like you will have left us with no moral defense. You’ve made a hollow joke of the protections the UN Charter and international law were meant to furnish; in the words Robert Bolt put in the mouth of Sir Thomas More, "And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned on you, where would you hide, Roper, all the laws being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, man's laws not God's, and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — do you really think that you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety sake." [Ed note: I love this passage, and have used it on this blog more than once.]

    And, finally, there’s another matter of principle. Democracy cannot be transplanted; it must grow from native soil. Even in Japan, it succeeded only because the people were ready for it. Consider that no one forced it on Britain. The French Revolution, and the ideals it inaugurated that took so long to finally grow roots, was initiated, sustained, and prosecuted by none by the French themselves. No one fired a shot at Lexington on behalf of the Patriots or threw the tea into Boston Harbor on behalf of American liberty but those people themselves. Of Russia itself, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said just a few days ago:

    "...it takes time to build the institutions of democracy. Just having an election doesn't mean you have a democracy. So these institutions have to grow. And you're looking at a country in Russia that in a thousand years of its history has not had a democracy. So my view is, I think we need to encourage the development of freedom in Russia, we need to encourage the development of democratic institutions, but also think we need to understand that those things take time."

    But of course, again, such generosity of spirit flows only to countries sufficiently white, or sufficiently armed (and Russia fits the bill on both scores in spades), to preclude any possibility of ungenerosity of spirit… Not so, countries like Iraq, or Afghanistan, or, increasingly, Iran — a country, it should be pointed out, that did have an elected government until the United States and United Kingdom dispensed with it in 1953 for nationalizing the oil industry… leading directly to the government that exists there now, which is again threatened with invasion and disruption; another nail in the coffins of self-determination and sovereignty… perhaps, one day, our own. But the point is, we cannot force democracy, or our beliefs, or our values, onto Afghanistan, or any other nation. They must themselves become convinced of their merits, and, if necessary, struggle to establish them. They may not succeed. Indeed, they may never try — never becoming convinced of the wisdom of our ways; they are not obliged to, simply because those ways suit us; neither are they obliged to give us any explanation or apology. It’s their country, their culture, their destiny. It is for them to decide, over time, what they will or will not be as a people; what they will, and will not risk, or choose to establish — just as it was for us, and still is. We cannot do it for them. Any attempt to instill our ways by force will be resented, and our values will be viewed as a foreign imposition; such an effort must fail because of it. We are on a fool’s errand there, costing scores of Canadian lives, hundreds or thousands of Afghan lives, and imperiling our own security in the future with the bellicose example we set today.

    . . . .

    I thought I'd read up a little on the history of Afghanistan, in the hopes of understanding why all the myriad attacks on it from outside over the centuries constitute "invasions" historically, and yet, according to Mark, the most recent, our own, does not. Here's what I found out.

    In modern times, Afghanistan was a kingdom. For many years, it was under the thumb of the British, but it regained its independence in 1919.

    This changed in 1973 when Sardar Daoud Khan, the brother-in-law of the king at the time, Zahir Shah, overthrew the kingdom and established a republic with, of course, himself as president. Obsessed with a border dispute with Pakistan, he militarized the country, bringing it to financial ruin. What little democracy had existed under the monarchy dried up and resistance to the regime was suppressed. When the riots finally started in 1977, they were brutally crushed. The murder of Mir Akbar Khyber in 1978 served as a rallying point, and the Communists overthrew Khan, murdering him and most of his family.

    It's interesting to note that the Communists, once in power, moved to find stability by recognizing the ethnic balance in the country, and in furtherance of goals we would have found laudable, had they only been undertaken by a party with a different name:

    "...the initial cabinet appeared to be carefully constructed to alternate ranking positions between Khalqis and Parchamis. Taraki was Prime Minister, Karmal was senior Deputy Prime Minister, and Hafizullah Amin of Khalq was foreign minister.

    Once in power, the party moved to permit freedom of religion and place agricultural resources under state control. They also made a number of ambitious statements on women's rights and waived the farmers debts countrywide. The majority of people in the cities including Kabul either welcomed it or were ambivalent to these policies. However, the secular nature of the government made it unpopular with religiously conservative Afghans in the villages and the countryside, who favored traditional Islamic restrictions on women's rights and in daily life. Their opposition became particularly pronounced after the Soviet Union occupied the country in late December of 1979, fearing it was in danger of being toppled by mujahideen forces."


    ...these "religiously conservative Afghans in the villages and the countryside" are the main reason the Taliban are, six years into the invasion, still a force to be reckoned with in Afghanistan. We love to represent them as maniacs without support; the truth of the matter is, they have lots of it... it just comes from people whose attitudes we find tragically backward and lacking in compassion for others (not unlike the attitudes of Westerners like Mark, for that matter).

    It's also interesting to note that Soviet forces where invited into the country by the government of the day, something Mark has assured us is a key pillar to the legitimization of our own invasion this time around. And yet, we objected to just such an action in 1979 regardless of that fact, so such a consideration would seem mooted for the sake of defending our own actions if we were to avoid hypocrisy. Now Mark, I'm sure, will be eager to spring up and tell us that the General Assembly of the United Nations voted to oppose the presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, but I think it's more important yet to relate exactly what they were calling for when they did so:

    "total withdrawal of foreign troops [from Afghanistan] as to enable its people to determine their own destiny and without outside interference or coercion."

    Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that the mujahideen who fought the Communists with our support all those years were trying to return Afghanistan to a culture of Islamic exclusivity and the denial of the rights of women. They factionalized after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union; one group became the Taliban, and one the Northern Alliance (that is, Mark's heroes of modernity and all that's right and fair and just). So in effect, we're in Afghanistan to champion the cause of one group of anti-democratic arch-conservatives against another group of anti-democratic arch-conservatives. Meanwhile, we objected to the invasion of the country 30 years ago in aid of a society we would at least identify as politically more progressive because it had the wrong label and the support of people we considered our own enemies; the better angels of our nature be damned.

    When you look at this history, and consider it in light of the remarks Robert Gates recently made about the nature of the progress of democracy (in that case, in Russia), I have to ask where people like Mark get the idea we can simply parachute into a society like this, which demonstrates no general cultural readiness to embrace values very similar to our own, and simply stuff it with democracy as one might stuff a bag with potatoes. Better we had continued to set an example for that country's own progressives from a distance, as we did for South Africa, as we did for Czechoslovakia, as we did for Poland, Hungary, Latvia... After all, it must be a little hard for people see the light when the message is "be peaceful and respectful of one another and treat each other as equals, otherwise we're going to come over there and beat it into your little brown heads". This mission is a malicious farce exacerbating a tragedy already centuries in duration that anyone with a sense of history beyond the purchase of his latest cell phone could recognize, and I am — and we all ought to be — ashamed of our country's support for and involvement in it.

    canada out of afghanistan: our day in the streets

    Now that I've attended my first public demonstration in Canada, I thought you all might like a report on it.

    Our day started out with the Peace-Labor Breakfast at the United Steelworkers. The Steelworkers Union is a friend to the peace movement, and especially to the War Resisters Support Campaign.

    There were a few speakers, and some war resisters news was announced. (More on that to follow.) Peggy Nash, MP for Parkdale-High Park, and a strong supporter the Support Campaign, came to stand in solidarity and wish us well - even though one of her sons was getting married later in the day. Many US resisters happen to live in Nash's riding, and she stands firmly beside them. Thank you, NDP!

    Among other things, Nash spoke about the lunacy of Canada refusing entry to US peace activists Ann Wright and Medea Benjamin, validating and echoing the crackdown of liberties in the US. She emphasized there is more than one way to lose our liberties: it can happen in one fell swoop, in an invasion, and it can happen in a slow creep.

    At breakfast, I saw a man sitting by himself, and, not inclined to sit with a large, talkative group, I sat across from him and introduced myself. His name sounded familiar... Was he a war resister? No, he said, he moved from the US to Canada and wanted to get involved. What a coincidence, so did we....

    Turns out his name is Tom Kertes, and he was on the same Vancouver radio program I was on in August. Talk about small world! I haven't been attending meetings because of baseball, and in my absence, he joined the Campaign. He does wonderful work; I recommend his website.

    From the Steelworkers building, we marched up to the US consulate, and there joined other peace and justice groups. I staffed the Support Campaign's table for a while, my first hands-on work for the group, and it felt great. Super great. I was in my element.

    From the consulate, we marched and chanted through the streets of downtown Toronto to the Moss Park Amoury. Marching felt great, too. More than a rally, a march builds those feelings of strength and unity that makes you feel part of something larger than yourself.

    In recent years, marching has been difficult in New York City; we were denied permits, herded into pens, hassled, abused, illegally detained. I will grant that the massive crowds that have gathered in New York and Washington are a greater challenge than the crowds that demonstrate in Canada, but the harassment was never justified. In Toronto on Saturday, it felt great to just march, safely and freely.

    I have no idea how many people attended. A news report said 300, so shall we say 1,000? I noticed there were also demos in nearby Kitchener and London. In the US, that would not be the case; a local demo in proximity to a large city would be channeled there.

    When the march reached Moss Park, we said goodbye to some of the group and made our way home. As we were leaving, we met a very young war resister who has been in Canada for only two weeks. Still, they are coming.

    it was...

    ...INEVITABLE!



    Congratulations to the 2007 Boston Red Sox. Congratulations to US!!!

    God I love this team.

    10.28.2007

    research question

    You all had some great ideas for questions to ask Steven Fletcher. What would you like me to ask Chantal Petitclerc?

    Petitclerc, in case you don't know her, is a Canadian wheelchair racer. She holds a huge pile of Paralympic and Olympic medals; this year alone she broke three world records on the track.

    New Mobility has asked me to write about Petitclerc for a very special story. What would you like to know?

    toronto-area question

    I do have more interesting things to post, but they will have to wait awhile. For now, a question.

    Does anyone know of a large, international newsstand in Toronto, where you can get newspapers from all over the world? With such an international populace, I think one must exist.

    In the old, pre-internet days, when the Red Sox were in the playoffs, Allan used to trek to Hotalings, then still near Times Square, to pick up the Boston Globe. The internet turned Hotalings into an anachronism; it closed its retail doors in 1999. (Which makes me question my assumption that such a place exists in Toronto...)

    But even now, with access to everything online, my partner the historian (and packrat) would like to get the Boston newspapers when they win this year's World Series.

    WHICH THEY ARE ONE WIN AWAY FROM DOING!!!!

    Oh, am I shouting? Excuse me.

    Does anyone know where one can find a large assortment of out-of-town, physical newspapers in the Toronto area?

    10.26.2007

    reminder: peace demo tomorrow

    Tomorrow, October 27, there will be anti-war demonstrations throughout the US and Canada.

    US out of Iraq!

    Canada out of Afghanistan!

    Join us if you can.

    "from the get-go, i was going to die because i didn't have insurance"

    Is this the Greatest Nation on the Face of the Earth?

    Go to the link, then choose "Local Woman's Fight With Breast Cancer". There's an ad you can't skip, but please wait and watch the video.

    This was sent to us by a member of our Red Sox community at Joy of Sox.

    Just among our little group, one person is losing his wife to cancer because they could not afford adequate treatment and cannot afford to keep her alive any longer. Another lost his child because an HMO did not approve treatment, and sent the family home from the emergency room. Their two-year-old daughter died that night.

    And those are just two people who have disclosed their tragedies to us. I can almost guarantee there are others.

    It doesn't have to be this way.

    * * * *

    Cathy Baskin, a million thank yous for your courage, for your strength, for choosing to be public to try to help others. I'm sorry we are losing you.

    24 seconds

    Is 24 seconds enough time to try to calm an agitated person before killing him?
    Dazed and confused after more than 15 hours of travel, unable to communicate in English and scared because he couldn't find his mother, Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski was jolted by a taser just 24 seconds after being confronted by police in Vancouver International Airport.

    That allegation was made Thursday by a lawyer for Mr. Dziekanski's family who says video evidence will show that the RCMP took him down with a taser jolt moments after approaching him.

    "I've been in touch with witnesses. I have viewed a video, which was taken by a bystander, which is not going to be released until at least the time of the inquest. From my observation, the interaction between the police and this individual, who didn't appear to me to be posing a danger to anybody at the time . . . was 24 seconds, roughly, before he was tasered," Walter Kosteckyj said, adding the airport surveillance videos also won't likely be released until an inquest is held.

    A CTV News report Thursday night, based on emergency radio logs, shows police arrived at the scene at 1:28 a.m. and, two minutes later, it was reported a "male has been tasered."

    The radio log does not indicate when police first approached Mr. Dziekanski, just that he was down two minutes after they arrived — and that by 1:32 he had lost consciousness.

    CTV reported there was a 12-minute delay before medical help arrived. Mr. Dziekanski died shortly after being tasered — only 10 hours after arriving in the country that was to be his new home.

    Asked to describe what he saw on the video, Mr. Kosteckyj replied: "I would describe it as something that will be shown to police academies around North America as not the way to intervene in this kind of situation."

    Canada must learn from this tragedy crime and make sure it never happens again.

    10.25.2007

    pupdate: love at first sight

    There's a dog in our neighbourhood that I call Tala's Boyfriend. He's a magnificent collie, very Lassie-like. Tala behaves differently to him than she does to any other dog.

    At the dog park, Tala's not especially interested in playing with other dogs. She still bullies smaller dogs that act afraid of her, although not as badly as she used to. We can easily distract her by throwing her ball, or just getting her to run in another area of the park. If the dog stands up for itself and gives it back to her, she likes it and she'll play. But she doesn't show much interest in romping around with other dogs, except when she's home with Cody.

    We see other dogs on our walk, and Tala either ignores them or barks once a little bit. She hates the dog next door, obviously a territory thing.

    But with this collie, she's totally different. She adores him.

    We only see Tala's Boyfriend on our morning walk, and not every day. Tala senses him before we can even see him, and she starts whining - a sad, pathetic-sounding whine that she never uses in any other context. When the Boyfriend is in view, Tala starts jumping in circles (her I'm-very-excited behaviour) and pulling to get over to him.

    When we get to Boyfriend, Tala hunkers down, lower than him, and touches Boyfriend's face with her snout - textbook canine submissive behaviour.

    Then Tala goes into full play mode - front legs splayed out, rump in the air, tail up - and dances around him, trying to get him to play.

    Boyfriend tolerates her, seems mildly bemused to receive Tala's worship. Also standard canine dominance-friendly behaviour.

    While this is going on, Cody is sidling up to the Boyfriend's human, giving him her best flirty eyes and trying to get her head stroked.

    Tala's Boyfriend's human is not especially friendly. It took him a good eight meetings before he appeared to remember us. He used to just march on by, leaving Tala standing on the sidewalk, whining pathetically. Now he finally stops and waits for us, and gives them a few seconds together.

    This whole dynamic is so interesting to me. Why this dog? Why only this dog? There's no explanation that a human can perceive or understand.

    In one of Elizabeth Marshall's dog books - I'm not sure if it's The Hidden Life of Dogs or The Social Lives of Dogs - she tells a story about an instant love between one of her dogs and the dog of a contractor who was doing some work on her house. The two dogs had an instant bond, immediately running off to play together, tussling, jumping all over each other ecstatically. Her dog would wait at the window for the truck, and mope on the days the other dog couldn't be there.

    If I recall correctly, her dog never displayed this kind of affection for any other dog, either before or since. She tried everything she could to keep the other dog in her dog's life, even trying to buy the man's dog from him!

    (If you are interested in dogs and canine behaviour and haven't read The Hidden Life of Dogs, it's a must - fascinating and very readable.)

    If Tala's Boyfriend's human was more friendly, I'd ask him if the dogs could have a playdate. Maybe eventually I will anyway.

    10.24.2007

    pronunciation question

    We are watching "Corner Gas" while we wait for our game to start. We heard a word that we barely recognized, and deciphered from context.

    How do you pronounce "decal"? You know, a transfer, a little plastic or paper thingy with a picture that you can move to another surface? Like a sticker, but more permanent?

    Also, do you remember my observation that Canadians shorten many words to one syllable? Cash (in the US, it's check-out or cashier), and names like Cath and Barb? I thought of another one. Chevrolet. In the US it's Chevy. Folks here call it a Chev.

    Anyway, let me know how you pronounce the word "decal," meaning some type of non-removable sticker.

    joy of sox is blog of note

    Joy of Sox, written by my esteemed partner Allan Wood, is the first blog listed in Blogger's Blogs of Note.

    This is huge publicity for a blogger. You can see the listing on your Blogger dashboard, or here.

    Allan just came upstairs to tell me. Let's just say my reaction would be bleeped on American TV. Family-friendly version: wow.

    Not bad for the first game of the World Series, eh?

    sox vs rocks

    The World Series starts today! We're pretty much freaking out.

    There's a Canadian angle to this one: Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis hails from BC. (He's also on my girls' team.)

    This story in the Star says Francis is "in awe" of the Series opener at Boston's Fenway Park. That's good, Jeff. Be in awe. I remember when the Padres were in awe of my 1998 Yankees. It didn't go so well for them.

    old friends

    A dear friend of mine, a former roommate - the one who got me hooked on Dallas - is in Toronto for a few days. She's an arts consultant and is working with a program here that helps former dancers resettle into non-dance employment.

    KK left New York many years ago, and we've seen each other every some-odd years when our paths cross. She's living in Utah now, and I was so happy to hear she would be in Toronto. Allan and I picked her up at the airport, hung out at our place a little, then had dinner in Mississauga, and drove her downtown to her hotel.

    Like my friend AWE who I visited in the spring, I've known KK longer than I've known Allan. KK was the first real friend I made after graduating university. We were roommates for a couple of years, and also close friends. She helped me find the work that became the key to leaving full-time employment and dedicating more time to writing. A friend and colleague of hers was looking for a nanny, and that's how my first Big Life Change began.

    I can remember when KK was a new friend, when we had known each other only a short time and were catching up on each other's pasts. Now we go back nearly 25 years. It's a strange feeling, being able to know someone for such a long time - not someone I grew up with, but someone I met in my early 20s.

    When I look back on those days - living in Brooklyn, working in the theatre, dating, navigating a new life as an independent adult - it feels like I was a different person entirely. I never imagined what shape my life would take or where it would take me. I like that. I hope I still can't imagine it.

    As I get older, I feel more and more that these friendships are the glue that binds us to the world.

    gary mason: rcmp must answer for taser death

    Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason writes:
    I feel sick today for Zofia Cisowski.

    Ms. Cisowski is the mother of Robert Dziekanski, the 40-year-old Polish man who died in the early morning hours last Sunday, shortly after RCMP fired barbed hooks into his body, along with 50,000 volts of electricity.

    I watched an interview with Ms. Cisowski this week on Global BC and it was one of the saddest things I've ever seen. She talked about how she'd worked two jobs for several years to save enough money for her son to move to Canada. Last Sunday he was finally making the long trek from Pieszyce, Poland, to start a new life in Canada with his mother.

    Ms. Cisowski drove four hours from her home in Kamloops to meet her son's flight at the airport. He was scheduled to touch down around 3:30 in the afternoon. But 3:30 came and went without any sign of him, then 4:30 and 5:30 and 6:30.

    She appealed to airport officials to look for him. She was concerned he'd become lost and wouldn't be able to ask for help because he didn't speak English. By 10 o'clock, she gave up hope that her son would emerge from behind the glass doors of the international arrival area and returned home.

    The next day she would learn he was dead.

    "I want to be with him now," Ms. Cisowski cried in broken English. "He must be here, not in God's room.

    "Very soon I was going to realize my son's hug. I was smiling nicely because I would meet my son soon. My boy, my boy, how does this happen? I was there waiting for him. He was waiting, too, but he wait too many hours alone by himself. No language, no English, no food, no water.

    "He didn't see me," Ms. Cisowski said, continuing to sob. "I didn't see him. I'm so sad."

    No one can be unmoved by Ms. Cisowski's lament. Her grief is so palpable. Here is a woman whose nesting instinct compelled her to make enormous personal sacrifice to help out her child, now having to deal with an unimaginable loss, one made even more tragic and heartbreaking by the senseless circumstances surrounding it.

    Almost a week after the fact, I still don't understand, or accept, the decisions made by the RCMP to bring Ms. Cisowski's son down in the manner in which it did.

    Here is what we know: For some reason Mr. Dziekanski was wandering around the Vancouver International Airport at one o'clock in the morning, apparently lost and visibly upset. He began throwing things, hitting windows and yelling in Polish. Someone called the police.

    Three RCMP officers arrived at 1:30 a.m., encountered the distraught man and quickly tasered him. He would die minutes later.

    Witness accounts of what happened are at odds with the RCMP's version of events. For instance, the police have said they fired their stun guns twice, while a woman standing nearby distinctly recalls the sound of four taser blasts hitting the man. The RCMP has said its officers didn't use mace or pepper spray to subdue the man because the airport was too crowded. However, Lorne Meltzer, a corporate valet who called the RCMP in the first place, said that's not true. Mr. Meltzer told an interviewer the "place was empty" - which wouldn't be a surprise given what time it was.

    Mr. Meltzer, who witnessed the incident, has come to the same conclusion many of us have: The police were too hasty in using their tasers. He'd told police the man didn't speak English and yet the officers evidently only twice issued a quick command in English - "put your hands on the desk" - before using their stun guns.

    Mr. Meltzer says Mr. Dziekanski was waving a stapler around in a threatening manner - a stapler. And yet three RCMP officers and airport security couldn't subdue him without using a taser gun? Come on. With the help of a couple of my old high school buddies from Sarnia, I could have subdued this guy - without mace or a baton.

    Given the potentially deadly consequences of taser use, why would the RCMP officers in this case spend so little time trying to figure out what Mr. Dziekanski's problem was? In some cases, police will spend hours and hours negotiating with someone holed up in a home threatening suicide, and yet in this case RCMP didn't spend more than two minutes negotiating with a clearly distraught foreigner brandishing nothing more than a stapler.

    Of course, this being an in-custody death, the RCMP will once again be investigating themselves. I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict the officers who tasered Mr. Dziekanski will be exonerated. Just following procedure and all that.

    My heart breaks for Zofia Cisowski.

    medea benjamin: canada, don't forsake the peacemakers

    You may recall that two American peace activists, Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright, were refused entry into Canada, because they are on an FBI list. (Like who isn't?) Benjamin and Wright will try again tomorrow.

    Benjamin has an essay in today's Globe and Mail (online only). It's worth reading, and I copy it here in its entirety.
    As a U.S. peace activist trying to change the aggressive foreign policies of my government, I have often looked to Canada for inspiration. While Canada's involvement in the fighting in Afghanistan marks a more militaristic turn, we in the United States still envy Canada's commitment to civil liberties and international law.

    But my image of a tolerant, rational Canada came crashing down on Oct. 3. Along with Ann Wright, a retired U.S. army colonel and career diplomat who resigned in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I was crossing the Rainbow Bridge to attend a meeting with the Toronto Stop the War Coalition. Both Ms. Wright and I were told by the border guards that our names appeared on an FBI criminal database and we were therefore "inadmissible."

    I was shown a two-sheet printout that had three convictions: one for unlawful assembly at the White House on International Women's Day 2002; one for speaking out during a congressional hearing in 2003; and one for trespassing when a group of us tried to deliver 152,000 anti-war signatures to the U.S. Mission to the UN in March 2005. Ms. Wright was also questioned about her arrests, all of which were minor misdemeanours — the equivalent of parking tickets — for which she had paid fines.

    This FBI database, called the National Crime Information Center, was created to assist U.S. law enforcement agencies in finding fugitives, convicted sex offenders, missing persons, and members of terrorist organizations and violent gangs. It is outrageous that the FBI is placing peace activists on an international criminal database — a blatant political intimidation of U.S. citizens opposed to Bush administration policies. But it is also outrageous that the Canada Border Services Agency is using this FBI database to determine who can enter the country.

    It is hard to believe Canada, the country that had welcomed Vietnam war resisters with open arms, is closing its doors to peacemakers protesting another unpopular war. Fortunately, the grassroots response to our ordeal has been heartwarming. We posted a petition on our website, www.codepinkalert.org, and thousands of people on both sides of the border have been signing and posting comments expressing their outrage.

    Members of Parliament contacted us to apologize, and MP Alexa McDonough went even further: She invited us to return and speak before Parliament tomorrow on the need to change this policy. We are hoping this time the border agents allow us in.

    The Canadian government must realize that non-violence civil disobedience is part of the hallowed tradition of social activism. It is a tactic that has been successfully used in the U.S. by the civil rights movement, suffragists, gay rights activists, the disability movement, environmentalists, animal rights folks. It's a critical part of our heritage, our culture, our social change toolbox.

    If Canada's policy of excluding those who have committed non-violent civil disobedience were truly enforced, the results would be absurd. It would block 14 members of the United States Congress, including Holocaust survivor Rep. Tom Lantos for his arrest outside the Sudanese Embassy in 2006 protesting genocide in Darfur. The list of banned Americans would be populated by Nobel Prize-winners, members of clergy, writers, scholars, actors, musicians, activists and the thousands of Americans who have been arrested protesting the Iraq war.

    As the founder, 20 years ago, of a group called Global Exchange that is dedicated to building people-to-people ties, I pictured a world moving beyond nationalist divisions to a world of global citizenship. I never imagined I would find myself barred from meeting with our neighbours to the north. And while Canada is now the only foreign country using this FBI database, if this policy goes unchallenged, other countries, under U.S. pressure, may follow suit. We peacemakers might well see our world becoming smaller and smaller.

    With the U.S. gripped by fear and overwhelmed by militarism, we — U.S. peace activists — need Canada. We need Canada to be a bastion of tolerance and common sense. We need Canada to counterbalance our nation's hysteria. We need Canada to inspire us. We need Canada to open its borders and embrace us.

    See you Saturday?

    10.23.2007

    on using polls to support foreign policy

    There's a debate going on in this post, as I knew there would be when a Canadian who supports Canada's presence in Afghanistan (which he calls "Afstan") showed up.

    Here are some letters to the editor that ran recently in the Globe and Mail.
    Are we really so naive as to trust a poll taken in an occupied, war-torn country? What Afghan is going to identify themselves as a Taliban supporter when a bombed-out home could be the imagined result?
    --Earl B. Morris, Coquitlam, BC

    If 46 per cent of the people of Afghanistan are aware of Canada's presence in their country, shouldn't the headline on your editorial Glad You're Here, Say The Afghans have read: Know You're Here, Say Fewer Than Half The Afghans?
    --Charles Tilder, Victoria, BC

    Imagine you're an Afghan. You've spent your whole life living under totalitarian regimes: the Taliban, the mujahedeen warlords they grew out of, and the Soviet-backed government before that. None have hesitated to use secret police or violence to deal with dissenters. Perhaps you know someone who spoke out and was arrested or disappeared.

    Let's say you are one of those who views the Western presence in Afghanistan with skepticism. Perhaps you sympathize with the Taliban. More likely, you simply see foreign soldiers in your country as an army of occupation. You've heard all this talk about bringing freedom to your people before.

    Someone knocks at your door. He's an Afghan like you, but he says he works for a Canadian company. He wants to ask you a few questions about how you feel about the presence of foreign troops in the country. He tells you he doesn't represent any military, government or insurgent group, so there's no need to feel intimidated.

    Do you take his word for it? Or will you tell him what you think he wants to hear, just to be safe?

    Afghans cannot be accurately polled for their opinions in the midst of a of a civil war.
    --Stephen Cudmore, Vancouver, BC

    Three good letters. (And all from BC!)

    Mark from Ottawa et al., please keep the debate in its current thread. Thank you.

    what are you doing this saturday? come out and stand for peace

    This Saturday, October 27, there will be demonstrations across Canada and the US, demanding the troops be brought home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Allan and I will be taking the day off to stand with the War Resisters Support Campaign and voice our disapproval of both these wars.

    Go here to find events in Canada.

    Go here to find events in the US. There will be 11 regional demonstrations in the US, plus a growing list of solidarity actions in the US and elsewhere.

    10.22.2007

    wearing orange

    In Canada, orange is the colour of the New Democratic Party. (One more year til we can vote!)

    In the US right now, orange is the colour of resistance.

    Some readers will find this video a little over-the-top, but fighting fascism requires more than writing letters to Congress. World Can't Wait is helping students and other young people to organize and to speak out.

    If you haven't heard about David Horowitz's "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week," here's an introduction.




    US readers, wear orange, and spread the word.

    two recent taser deaths in canada

    Last week, a 40-year-old man in British Columbia died after being tasered by police. A few days later, we learned that in Montreal, on the same day, a man died after being tasered while in police custody.

    This is madness, and it must stop.

    I appreciate that there are times when the police need to subdue people who are out of control and dangerous. But taser guns are clearly not an acceptable method. They are not being controlled and treated as the lethal weapons that they clearly are.

    Looking for links, I found this blog dedicated to Robert Bagnell: "In memory of our brother and son, Robert Bagnell, who died after being tasered by police in Vancouver, British Columbia on June 23, 2004". It looks like an excellent source. My heart goes out to the people who write it.

    Amnesty International cites inappropriate use of tasers as a persistent human rights abuse in Canada, including the use of tasers against children, mentally ill people - and people already unconscious or otherwise subdued.

    This is shameful.

    canada post, please save trees and leave me alone

    I've long been in the habit of reducing the amount of paper junk mail that comes to our home. This benefits both the environment and me personally, as I strongly dislike unnecessary clutter and paper waste.

    In the past, I would send postcards to companies and organizations asking to be removed from their paper mailing lists. (Pre-postaged postcards were a great activist tool, now largely replaced by email.) These days it's even easier, as you can generally find a website and send a quick email. Sometimes there's a specific "remove me from your paper mailing list" link.

    Since moving to Ontario, however, it hasn't been so easy. The Canada Post letter carrier deposits a portfolio of ads, coupons and other pointless crap in our mailbox nearly every day. I can't ask the companies to remove me from their mailing lists, because most of the mail is not addressed.

    In our home, it all goes straight from the mailbox to the recycling bin without even a stop in the kitchen.

    How can I get this to stop? What's more, how can we get Canada Post to reduce the amount of paper waste it is shuffling around?

    I assume that since paper mail has become increasingly irrelevant, Canada Post is raising revenue by delivering unaddressed commercial mail to everyone in Canada, whether we want it or not. (A quick news search confirmed this.) At the Canada Post website, I found information on how to get your junk mail carried by Canada Post (Unaddressed Admail TM, donchaknow), but nothing on how to get it to stop coming.

    I know some people post signs on their mailboxes, requesting no unsolicited mail. That seems like a good idea, but do the carriers have a choice? Are they allowed to skip a houses?

    Some people suggest sending the ads back, depositing it in a Canada Post box. I don't see how this helps at all. It might make the recipient feel better, but does it actually reduce paper waste?

    What do you do? What can we all do?

    boston red sox win 2007 american league pennant

    Down three games to one? No problem!

    It looks like you all will have a few more posts to skip, because the Boston Red Sox are going to the World Series!

    What a night, what a week, what a team.

    I can't say it was "incredible," because I believed it with all my heart, every pitch, every game, every moment of this great season.

    To the naysayers out there, to the gloom-and-doomers, to everyone scared of the supposedly mighty Yankees who chased us all year, to those who said Allan and I would create bad karma by being too happy, to the fans who believe in ghosts and goblins and curses, I would like to say:

    I TOLD YOU SO


    I've been waiting to do that for months!

    I got a congratulatory email from M@ this morning, and friend of wmtc M Yass showed up in our game thread last night, so maybe some of you have caught the fever, or at least a sneeze.

    The World Series starts Wednesday. It's Mason's nightmare: his Rox vs his Sox.

    10.19.2007

    canada out of afghanistan, and a "poll" doesn't matter

    A new poll supposedly shows that the majority of people in Afghanistan want Canadian forces to remain in the country.
    A new poll of nearly 1,600 Afghans shows the majority feel safer than they did five years ago, and approve of the direction their country is taking, thanks to the presence of international security forces from countries such as Canada.

    Results from the Environics Research poll, conducted in partnership with the CBC, show 60 per cent of Afghans surveyed believe the presence of foreign troops has been good for their country.

    As well, 51 per cent said they feel their country is headed in the right direction, compared to 28 per cent who responded that it's headed in the wrong direction. The remaining interviewees saw no change or didn't know.

    Most Afghans said they believe their lives are better than they were five years ago, citing increased security, as well as better roads and schools because of reconstruction efforts. Those who feel they are worse off say they don't feel safe in the face of continuing violence.

    "There's no consensus. It's not everyone [who] has a positive view," said Keith Neuman of Environics. "But more often than not, people feel that things are better than they were."

    I don't know a lot about Afghanistan, but I've had a few Afghan friends, and I read an incredible little book called The Places In Between by Rory Stewart. The author walks across Afghanistan, alone or accompanied by a dog he befriends along the way. He brings only what he can carry, travels only on foot, and relies on the kindness and hospitality of strangers to house, feed and protect him.

    From both my friends and this book, I have the distinct impression that no western-based poll of Afghanistan could possibly represent anything meaningful. People live mostly in remote regions, disconnected from any form of central government or national identity. In some areas, women are not seen at all. In others, there is great equality. Literacy is rare. Voting, rarer.

    If the figures in the poll are true, and accurately represent the opinions of Afghans, what are those opinions based on? Why do people in Kandahar "have a somewhat or very positive attitude toward Canada's soldiers"? Because Canadian forces are keeping them safe? Because Canadians are not blowing them up and torturing them like US troops are doing in Iraqis? Or because they met a nice Canadian soldier and he did them no harm, so why not?

    I have many questions about a poll like this, and I'm inclined to not believe its results. However, there's one much more important question.

    Why should a poll taken in Afghanistan have any effect on Canada's foreign policy??

    Since when does a country determine policy based on a poll taken in a foreign country?

    How about the CBC does a poll in the US: Should Canada send troops to Iraq? Let's ask Americans! Can you imagine Canadians' reaction?

    I generally like CBC, but when it comes to the "mission" (that is, war) in Afghanistan, it demeans itself by playing cheerleader. Usually they're kissing Rick Hillier's ass or asking individual soldiers whether they support the mission - as if that matters! But this poll of Afghans is really over the top.

    A reminder: October 27, a pan-Canadian demonstration: troops out of Afghanistan, troops out of Iraq.

    the power of linkage

    Wmtc usually has around 250 visitors a day. That feels like a lot to me, as I watched the numbers climb from zero, and as I don't have an existing interest group from which to draw readers, like a certain person who blogs from the basement. (Joy of Sox has thousands of visitors, and rightly so.) A heavy day at wmtc might be around 320 visitors and 400 page loads.

    Yesterday wmtc was linked at Crooks And Liars. I had 820 visitors and 1,510 page loads.

    Michael Stickings, who blogs at The Reaction, linked to my post about Doris Lessing's Nobel Prize in a blog round-up. I didn't know Michael was part of C&L, and I don't know why he chose that post to highlight, but I certainly did enjoy seeing this blog linked at such an excellent site.

    One of the advantages to getting rid of the URL forwarding with frames is that I have access to stats again. I missed obsessively checking how many visitors I have, where they come from, the bizarre search strings people use. On Statcounter's "visitor paths," I can see how many people went to only the Doris Lessing post, and how many stayed a bit and looked around. Many people clicked on some of the posts linked in the sidebar.

    Sometimes when I've linked to another blog, the blogger will tell me there was a huge increase in visitors. People will say something like, "Uh-oh, now I have to actually write something interesting!" That's how I feel today. Here I am babbling about Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar and 800 people are visiting. It's like I'm eating ramen noodles and guests show up for Thanksgiving dinner.

    10.18.2007

    jamie kennedy wine bar

    We celebrated Allan's birthday with lunch at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, near the St Lawrence Market in Toronto. We've been there a few times, thanks to (former?) wmtc reader Genet, who recommended it way back when.

    If you ever looking for a place to enjoy something simple and delicious, without having a large formal meal - and if you like good wine and good food in a stylish atmosphere - you can't do better than Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar.

    They offer a small-plate menu, similar to tapas; every plate has a suggested wine pairing, which you can order in a small tasting size or a regular six-ounce glass. The menu changes very frequently, depending on the season and what's best in the market.

    Allan and I both love tasting menus or small-plate menus, where you can eat small amounts of several different things. We both love wine, and we appreciate really good service. The service here is impeccable - friendly, attentive, helpful and unpretentious. Until you've experienced that, you can't imagine what a difference it makes in your enjoyment of a meal.

    Our experience yesterday really illustrated that. There was a small mistake - you couldn't even call it a screw-up - with one of our orders. It turns out they recently renumbered a few tables, so our frites - these amazing Yukon Gold fries, you can't believe how perfect they are - went to a different table. So there was a slightly longer interlude between dishes than there might have been. You could hardly call it a wait, it was so slight.

    Later, as we're starting to order dessert, the host brought us a dessert plate - three desserts, beautifully dressed and arranged - with a small candle, compliments of the house, to apologize. Not one dessert, three.

    Then the sommelier, Jamie Drummond, who apparently is well known in the Toronto restaurant world, brought us each a glass of a new wine he had just bought, also complimentary. This was also supposed to be an apology, because he was doing business with a winery representative at a table nearby, and might have disturbed us. (We were not disturbed, but we were interested.)

    Since leaving New York City and adopting our new suburban lifestyle, we care a lot less about restaurants than we used to. We eat home a lot more, and when we go out, we usually stay in Mississauga. But once in a while, it's nice to refresh our memories of what a really good restaurant does.

    Many cheers for Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar. I hope to try his other restaurants as well.

    we saw mason on tv last night

    Last night we saw our dear friend Mason on national television. It was such fun!

    I'm so sorry I didn't blog about this before the program aired. But perhaps it will be re-run, so keep an eye out: No Opportunity Wasted on CBC, the episode on fear of public speaking.

    I read about this on Nick and Mason's blog, Life Without Borders: here's the post that explains why Mason was on the show.

    I read the post, then promptly forgot to write it down, check the TV schedule, or in any way attempt to remember that my friend would be appearing on national television. Very nice of me.

    There was no playoff game last night, and we spent the day eating and drinking for Allan's birthday, and then were crashed in front of the TV. I wanted to see if "Little Mosque on the Prairie" is funny this season. During Little Mosque, we kept seeing commercials for "No Opportunity Wasted" - but we always mute commercials, and I didn't make the connection between the title and Mason's post.

    When I put the sound on, I heard something about singing the national anthem at a soccer game. And I immediately started shouting, "Mason is on this show! Mason is going to be on this!!"

    When Little Mosque ended (answer: mildly amusing, not worth scheduling life around), we started "No Opportunity Wasted". We could see that Mason, if he made it past the cutting room floor, would be on at the very end.

    And yes indeed, there he was! They showed him on three separate camera shots, for a decent amount of time. He sounded fantastic - with his deep, sonorous voice and professional-announcer cadence. As Allan said, "very announcery". It was so much fun to see him.

    I am totally kicking myself for not announcing this earlier, but maybe interested folks saw the post at LWB.

    I thought the show itself was pretty lame. Participants confront their greatest fears, and that is supposed to change their lives forever. I am very into confronting fears - forcing myself to do things I am afraid of - so in general I think that's a great idea. But I don't think the 30-minute format lends itself to life-changing experiences. But hey, these so-called reality shows are not created with me in mind.

    We did watch "Notes On A Scandal," which we both loved. Tonight it's back to baseball. The Sox are on the brink, but they will push back. Tonight is the first win of the comeback.

    10.17.2007

    "we don't measure the blood we've drawn anymore, we just stack the bodies outside the door"

    We took the highway till the road went black
    We'd marked, Truth or Consequences on our map
    A voice drifted up from the radio
    And I thought of a voice from long ago

    Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
    The last to die for a mistake
    Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
    Who'll be the last to die, for a mistake

    Kids asleep in the backseat
    We're just counting the miles, you and me
    We don't measure the blood we've drawn anymore
    We just stack the bodies outside the door

    Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
    The last to die for a mistake
    Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
    Who'll be the last to die, for a mistake

    The wise men were all fools, what to do

    The sun sets in flames as the city burns
    Another day gone down as the night turns
    And I hold you here in my heart
    As things fall apart

    A downtown window flushed with light
    Faces of the dead at five
    Our martyr's silent eyes
    Petition the drivers as we pass by

    Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
    The last to die for a mistake
    Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
    Who'll be the last to die

    Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
    The last to die for a mistake
    Will Darlin' tyrants and kings fall to the same fate
    Strung up at your city gates
    Who'll be the last to die for a mistake

    -- Bruce Springsteen, "Last To Die"

    bruce in toronto (contains set-list spoilers)

    We saw Bruce Springsteen at the Air Canada Centre two nights ago. It was a terrific show. I've seen Bruce in concert maybe eight or ten times - although not since 1988 - and he never disappoints.

    First, there's Springsteen, an incredibly charismatic performer.

    In his younger days he was nonstop energy, a skinny, sweaty whirling dervish. He talked about giving his absolute all at every show, because kids spend their hard-earned money to see him and deserve his absolute most and best every single night. You'd leave one of those four-hour shows exhausted, and wondering how he managed to do it night after night.

    It was more than just raw energy: it was the way it felt so genuine. Springsteen's obvious pleasure in what he was doing, his total absorption in the moment, his seeming complete lack of artifice, goofing around onstage like a kid singing in front of his mirror with a comb-microphone, was infectious.

    Although his music with the E Street Band has a big sound, and he was playing in arena venues, Springsteen's stage presence was still garage-band size.

    The great front-people of rock are all riveting to watch. But generally, the better they are, the greater the distance between you and them. You're not seeing the person: you're seeing a mask.

    The greatest rock front-man of all time, Mick Jagger, is all mask. Same for David Bowie. I love them, and I've been completely mesmerized, entranced by them - but you know you're watching a performance. You never think you're with the real Mick Jagger or David Bowie.

    Not so with Springsteen. You feel as though this is Bruce, the man.

    Today, Bruce, pushing 60, is obviously not the skinny guy who clambered up on amps and slid across the stage to sing at The Big Man's feet. He is slower and more deliberate. He doesn't move around that much on stage; when he thrashes around, you can hear him struggling for breath while he sings.

    Yet somehow Springsteen today is as charismatic as he has always been. You still believe he is there - a man, not an actor. He is still riveting to watch.

    * * * *

    Then, there's the E Street Band. Their backbone is a hard-driving, propulsive, anthemic sound, but the sax and acoustic piano add an earthiness and intimacy. Now, the addition of Soozie Tyrell's fiddle accentuates that quality even more. I adore the use of violin in rock and jazz; I love music built around fiddle, like Cajun and Irish music. When Springsteen added fiddle to the E Street sound, I was in heaven.

    * * * *

    Springsteen didn't talk a lot during this show - none of his famous storytelling, the band just ripped through song after song. He dedicated a few surprises to some lucky people, and made some brief political remarks before two songs.

    Introducing "Magic," he said (paraphrasing), "We live in Orwellian times, where the truth is made to be lies and lies are made to be truth. So this song isn't about magic - it's about tricks. And their consequences."

    More often, he used the juxtapositions of songs to lend extra meaning, an old Springsteen device. After "Livin' In The Future," about the crumbling of democracy and the rise of fascism in the US, he sang "The Promised Land," a song of hope and faith. After "The Rising," about September 11th, he sang "Last To Die" - "Who'll be the last to die for a mistake?", then "Long Walk Home," about the possibility of putting the country back together.

    Bruce also gave a lengthy plug to Food Share Toronto. He is highlighting a local food bank in every city of the tour.

    * * * *

    Allan likes to know set-lists in advance, and to follow the sets as they evolve on tours. I like to go in completely cold. I don't want to know a thing. I want the show to unfold fresh; I want to be completely in the moment. I asked Allan not to tell me anything about the show unless I asked. It was difficult for him to resist, but he did it - and thank goodness!

    The highlight of the show for me - "highlight" doesn't even begin to describe it, it was otherworldly - came during an encore.

    Springsteen said, "This next one, we're gonna go way back, way way waaaay back. When we wrote this song, all around here, it was still woods." I wondered what it could be, as he had already played a song from his first album ("For You") without that type of intro.

    When I heard the first notes of "Thundercrack," I thought: it can't be.

    "Thundercrack" is legendary among Bruce fans. He never recorded it on a studio album; we've only heard it on bootlegs or seen it on live clips. He used to perform the number in bars and clubs, before my time. By the time I starting seeing Springsteen live in 1978, he was no longer doing it. But be still my pounding heart, there it was: Thundercrack.

    It didn't get a huge audience response, I think most people didn't know what it was. But the people who did know were going nuts. When the band ripped into the opening chords of "Born To Run" next, the crowd went crazy, but I had already peaked.

    He closed with what sounded like a traditional Irish song, but we knew couldn't be that. Danny Federici and Roy Bittan, the two keyboard players, strapped on accordions and came to the front of the stage, along with Soozie Tyrell on her fiddle. The E Street Band banged out a reel fit for any pub in County Claire. Well, better. If I had seen a band like that in Ireland, I'd be talking about it still.

    The lyrics were scrolling on the video screens, so we knew the song was "American Land," about a nation of immigrants trying to keep other immigrants out of the country. The next day, Allan learned this was an outtake from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Springsteen's tribute to the great American songwriter and activist Pete Seeger. What a song to close with, eh?

    The full set lists for the tour are here.

    * * * *

    There are many writers and musicians whose work I love and admire, but feeling a deep personal connection with an artist is a different - and inexplicable - thing. When we're kids or teenagers, alienated and searching for connection, we form those bonds more easily, but they generally fade or break as we get older.

    Two artists from my earliest musical days have aged with me, and I with them: Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen.

    In Bruce's case, when he became wildly commercially successful, his music went off the rails for a time ("Born In The USA," "Hungry Heart"). I hung on, hoping it was only a brief interlude, and the artist I loved would return intact. My faith was rewarded.

    Now here I am, nearly 50, watching a performer nearly 60, and I still hear him speaking for me, and singing about our lives.

    steven fletcher in new mobility

    If anyone is interested in reading my profile of Canadian MP Steven Fletcher, which ran in the September issue of New Mobility magazine, here it is.

    I'm not thrilled with some of the editing - I think the piece I turned in was a bit livelier - but other than that, I'm happy with it. I very much enjoyed interviewing Fletcher. Although I don't agree with his politics, I fully admire the man.

    I very rarely feel sorry for the people with disabilities I interview. They lead full lives, and their burdens are not necessarily greater than those of non-disabled people, just different. I've gone beyond disability rights; I subscribe to disability pride.

    Fletcher, however - like Brooke Ellison, who I've written about several times - evokes different feelings for me.

    Being unable to walk does not seem particularly tragic to me, and to many wheelchair-users. The circumstances that result in disability are often traumatic, but life itself may be very ordinary. In a fully accessible world, wheeling is a perfectly good way to get around. (That's a central tenet of the independent living movement: it's the barriers that need fixing, not us.)

    But imagine not being able to move any part of your body - not an arm, not a hand, not a finger. Imagine being a fully functioning head on an inert body. Someone like Rick Hansen - or even Sam Sullivan, who is fully independent - is in a very different position than Fletcher or Ellison. But Fletcher and Ellison have forged rich and meaningful lives for themselves, and they want to help others do the same. I deeply admire them both.

    So here it is. You might be interested in how a profile like this is written for a disability audience. NM is written for - and mostly by, but not in my case - people who use wheelchairs.

    enough already! call an election!

    The Liberal Party is like a bunch of spoiled brats, in reverse. If things don't go their way, they don't stomp out of the room, they stay in it. Hey Liberals, I got an idea: do what's best for Canada for a change, instead of what's best for yourselves.

    The NDP knows this Conservative government is not worth propping up; so does the Bloc. It's time for the Liberals to stop staring at themselves in the mirror and get to work.

    If non-Canadian readers are wondering what I'm referring to, last night was the Throne Speech. The Governor General, the Queen's representative in Canada, read the Speech from the Throne, which outlines the Government's agenda and goals. In Britain, Canada and other other parliamentary countries that retain a link to a monarchy, the Throne Speech is read by the Head of State, who is neutral, but it is the Government's (think: administration) agenda.

    Canada's current Governor General is Michaëlle Jean, who I love.

    Canada's current Government, on the other hand, has got to go. Many progressive Canadians seem to criticize the Harper government without mentioning that they're a minority - they need the consent of the other parties to stay in power. In this case, the only thing standing between Canadians and a federal election are the Liberals.

    The Liberals will announce today whether or not they will support the Throne Speech. Some political analysts think that "the Liberal front bench - Dion and his shadow cabinet — will vote against the throne speech and that the backbenchers will either abstain or not show up, which would allow the throne speech to pass." I hope we don't see such craven politicking. Canada deserves better than that.

    There were several objectionable items in last night's Throne Speech. What Canada doesn't need:
    - the war in Afghanistan extended until 2011,
    - tax cuts,
    - trashing Kyoto goals and letting environmental priorities slide for another 15 years,
    - conservative so-called "tough on crime" legislation, and
    - the Liberals supporting all this.

    Enough already: it's election time.

    10.16.2007

    "our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name"

    Frank Rich in the New York Times:
    "Bush lies" doesn't cut it anymore. It's time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.

    Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: "This government does not torture people." Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of "torture" is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.

    By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America's "enhanced interrogation" techniques have a grotesque provenance: "Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the 'third degree.' It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation."

    Still, the drill remains the same. The administration gives its alibi (Abu Ghraib was just a few bad apples). A few members of Congress squawk. The debate is labeled "politics." We turn the page.

    There has been scarcely more response to the similarly recurrent story of apparent war crimes committed by our contractors in Iraq. Call me cynical, but when Laura Bush spoke up last week about the human rights atrocities in Burma, it seemed less an act of selfless humanitarianism than another administration maneuver to change the subject from its own abuses.

    As Mrs. Bush spoke, two women, both Armenian Christians, were gunned down in Baghdad by contractors underwritten by American taxpayers. On this matter, the White House has been silent. That incident followed the Sept. 16 massacre in Baghdad's Nisour Square, where 17 Iraqis were killed by security forces from Blackwater USA, which had already been implicated in nearly 200 other shooting incidents since 2005. There has been no accountability. The State Department, Blackwater's sugar daddy for most of its billion dollars in contracts, won't even share its investigative findings with the United States military and the Iraqi government, both of which have deemed the killings criminal.

    The gunmen who mowed down the two Christian women worked for a Dubai-based company managed by Australians, registered in Singapore and enlisted as a subcontractor by an American contractor headquartered in North Carolina. This is a plot out of "Syriana" by way of "Chinatown." There will be no trial. We will never find out what happened. A new bill passed by the House to regulate contractor behavior will have little effect, even if it becomes law in its current form.

    We can continue to blame the Bush administration for the horrors of Iraq — and should. Paul Bremer, our post-invasion viceroy and the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts, issued the order that allows contractors to elude Iraqi law, a folly second only to his disbanding of the Iraqi Army. But we must also examine our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name in a war where we have now fought longer than we did in the one that put Verschärfte Vernehmung on the map.

    Full column, plus quotes, here.