3.31.2008

heading south for a few days

I'm off for my annual early-April New York/New Jersey visit. My mom is back from Florida, and I'll also hang out with siblings and some friends, including my old friend New York City.

If I have anything to say, you can be sure you'll see it here. Have a great week. I'm back on Thursday.

3.30.2008

we movie to canada

Welcome to the first wmtc movie awards!

I'm going to rate the movies I have seen this Movie Season (late October to April), and while I'm at it, last Movie Season, too. Instead of a star rating (5 stars, 4 stars...), I'll assign each movie a Famous Canadian. 2007-08 will be rated by musicians; 2006-07 will be rated with comedians. My rating system is bound to get me in more trouble than my opinions on movies.

I'm very discriminating about what movies I see. I only see movies that I think will interest me, I never see movies just to see them or because they're popular or because I'm bored. So if the list is top-heavy, it's not because I'm an easy critic.

Also, I'm trying to rate each movie on its own terms. So if, say, "The Simpsons Movie" gets a higher rating than "The Journals of Knud Rasmussen", it's not that I think The Simpsons movie is a more important than the Inuit film. But the filmmakers behind those movies have totally different intentions and goals. How well did they succeed on their own terms? That's how I want to judge the results.

As always, there were dozens more movies I wanted to see, but I ran out of time - and occasionally Zip left me stranded. But we did see many on my top list, and many others, and now I'm happy Baseball Season is here.

[I'm not providing links to all these movies, but you can look them all up on IMDB, Zip or Netflix.]

2007-08 Movie Season

The Joni. This is five stars, the highest rating, the greatest excellence, the must-sees.

In the Valley of Elah
This is England
Away From Her
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)
Volver
The Son (Le Fils)
Superbad


The Band. These are very good movies that I highly recommend. They didn't rise quite to the level of A Joni, but four stars is pretty damn good.

Into The Wild
Rendition
Michael Clayton
Tsotsi
Hot Fuzz
The Simpsons Movie
Shaun of the Dead
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Notes on a Scandal


The Tragically Hip. Three stars. Not outstanding, but a very decent effort. Worth seeing.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (somewhere between The Hip and The Band)
The Hoax (same)
The History Boys (same)
Amazing Grace (now we're back to solid Hips)
Futurama: Bender's Big Score
Half Nelson
Shattered Glass
Silver City
Kinky Boots
Little Miss Sunshine
Lila Says
The Queen


The Lightfoot. Two stars, below average. These movies don't completely suck, but, like Gordon Lightfoot, they were wildly over-rated. Nothing special.

Year of the Dog (borderline Lightfoot/Hip)
The Darjeeling Limited
James Bond 21: Casino Royale
Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family
Paris, J'taime (worth seeing only for Paris)


The Celine. Hated it!

Redacted
The Squid and the Whale
The Journals of Knud Rasmussen
Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing
Severance
Brick


2006-07 Movie Season


Kids In The Hall. My pinnacle of Canadian comedy.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
An Inconvenient Truth
Why We Fight


The Short. Honestly, it was a toss-up for who would be five stars and who would be four, The Short or The Kids. The man is hilarious, and tremendously talented. In the end, a four-star rating is nothing to sneeze at.

Keeping Mum
The U.S. vs. John Lennon
The Departed
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise And Fall Of Jack Johnson
Inside Man
Transamerica
Owning Mahoney
Syriana
Mysterious Skin
Nine Queens


The Catherine O'Hara. A solidly good movie. She's even in one of these.

City Of God (halfway to a Short)
Highway 61 (same)
Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine
For Your Consideration
Thank You for Smoking
Scoop
Wordplay
Gaz Bar Blues
Whole New Thing
Munich
Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story
Seducing Doctor Lewis (La grande seduction)


The Rick Mercer. Why do so many people love this man? I'll never know. I didn't make him last place, because there is someone I like even less.

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
Hard Candy
Neil Young: Heart of Gold
How To Irritate People
Eight Below (and only because the dogs are so cute, other than that, it's even lower)


The Howie Mandel. Do us all a favour and go away!

Rent
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (which we only saw because I knew someone in it)

And Special Bonus Awards...

The Pierre Berton for the best historical movie:
Why We Fight
[Runner up: The Wind That Shakes The Barley]

The Tommy Douglas for the most inspiring:
An Inconvenient Truth

Rick Mercer gets his own award, for most over-rated:
Redacted
[Runner up: Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing]

The Corner Gas for biggest surprise:
This Is England

The Neil Young "Living With War" Award for best intentions with a poor execution:
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
[Runner up: Redacted]

three canadian women take on china - and the world watches

From yesterday's Globe and Mail, I learned that the organizers behind pro-Tibet protest at the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony were three Canadian women. Doug Saunders wrote a good, lengthy piece on how they did it. Worth reading.
This was supposed to be China's week. The launch of the longest Olympic torch relay in history was heralded in the Chinese press as a spectacle that would bring the nation glory, until Monday, when editors of Beijing's newspapers struggled to edit blood-covered Tibetan protesters out of photos of the torch-lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece.

China's week has become Tibet's moment. Tibetans and their supporters are being driven by the belief that this Olympic year and its vast media attention are a last opportunity to challenge Beijing's rule. It now looks like activists have succeeded in making China's 57-year occupation of the territory the dominant issue of the 2008 Olympic Games.

Behind this dramatic capture of the world's attention are three young women from British Columbia, who have spent much of the seven years since China won the Games organizing thousands of international volunteers and hundreds of Tibet-related organizations into a six-month campaign of stealth activism intended to humiliate China before an international audience.

Standing just to the edge of the TV cameras in Greece on Monday was Kate Woznow, a 28-year-old Vancouverite who organized the day's attention-grabbing interventions — blood-covered Tibetans lay down in front of the torch carrier during the lighting ceremony — from the offices of Students for a Free Tibet in New York, where she runs the Olympic-related campaign:

We realized seven years ago, when China got the Olympics, what an incredible opportunity this would be to shine a spotlight on the terrible treatment of Tibet," she said as she arrived in London to organize a day of demonstrations to coincide with the torch's arrival in Beijing on Monday.

The Tibet cause has been popular on campuses for years, and has attracted celebrities such as actor Richard Gere, but it has long had the somewhat passive image typified by bumper stickers and drum circles. The runup to the Olympics has changed that, as have the events in Tibet this month, which have reportedly seen more than 100 Tibetans killed by Chinese authorities in nationwide uprisings that seem to have been spurred by the Olympics protests.

"Young people really got it; they've been signing up and telling us that they have a real determination to push the bar, to make this the year when there's some change for Tibet. They know that every media organization in the world is going to be focused on the Olympics, so for years we've realized that what we have to do is to be creative and find ways to insert the Tibet issue into that frame."

As Ms. Woznow was bailing the Tibetan students out of Greek jail (the two who appeared most prominently on TV were Swiss citizens), another B.C. woman, 28-year-old Freya Putt, was in her office in Washington, preparing documents that would be sent to 150 Tibet support groups around the world giving them detailed notes on how to behave when organizing similar disruptions as the torch makes its six-month trip around the world.

Story here.

"i felt like I was being treated like a terrorist"

One of the many ridiculous, antiquated, unnecessary laws designed to "protect" the United States from scary ferriners is a travel ban on people who are HIV-positive. One Canadian man's efforts may help to change that.
A harrowing encounter between an HIV-positive Canadian travelling to the United States and a U.S. border guard has helped thrust a long-standing but little-known law back into the political ring.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote next month on a bill proposed by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry that would lift what he calls a Draconian travel ban that has caused thousands of Canadians and other foreigners to be refused entry to the United States because they have the virus that causes AIDS.

Martin Rooney is among them.

The Surrey, B.C., man was on his way to Bellingham, Wash., for the Remembrance Day long weekend last November to shop, with the Canadian dollar trading at about $1.07 against the greenback. After lining up for four hours to reach the U.S. customs booth, he was asked where he worked.

"I said I was on disability. He said what's my disability. I said I have HIV," said the 47-year-old, who was diagnosed in 1989.

The customs officer told him he needed a special visa waiver to enter the country, even though Canadians do not require a visa to travel to the United States.

"He hauled me into a backroom. ... He put on a set of rubber gloves to hold each of my fingers. Nobody else wore rubber gloves. Then he fingerprinted me, photographed me, ran me through the FBI's most-wanted list and told me to go back to Canada and not return until I came back with a waiver," Mr. Rooney said. "I felt like I was being treated like a terrorist."

He went public with his story soon after, winning the support of several B.C. members of Parliament, including Hedy Fry, Penny Priddy and Bill Siksay.

The United States is one of 13 nations, including China, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, that still ban HIV-positive visitors and immigrants.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, in place since 1987, the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services has the authority to determine what constitutes "communicable diseases of public health significance" that would prevent non-U.S. citizens from entering the country. HIV is the only medical condition singled out as a basis for inadmissibility under the law.

"This law was written when little was known about the disease and destructive stigmas often won the day," Mr. Kerry, a Democrat, wrote in an e-mailed statement to The Globe and Mail. "With new knowledge about the disease, we must make it clear that this discriminatory, Draconian law will no longer be tolerated."

His bill, inserted as an amendment to President George W. Bush's $50-billion global AIDS relief package, was approved this month by the Senate foreign relations committee.

It is now up for a full vote on the Senate floor before it can move to the House of Representatives, where California Democratic congresswoman Barbara Lee has championed it.

"People shouldn't have to worry, [they] shouldn't have to live in the shadows of any disease," she said in an interview yesterday, praising Mr. Rooney for making his story public. "It's very courageous of him to do what he did and I just hope that we can get rid of this ban so that people don't have to worry about it."

The U.S. consul-general in Ottawa, Keith Powell, confirmed that while Canadians do not require a visa to travel to the United States, the law requires those with HIV to apply for a visa waiver of ineligibility.

But critics say the process is expensive, time-consuming and bogged down in red tape. Mr. Powell conceded it can take two weeks or longer, because documentation from a doctor stating the traveller's medical condition must be forwarded to an adjudication committee.

Although the U.S. Department of State said statistics are not available on how many Canadians have been turned away at the border for being HIV-positive, the number is likely in the thousands because the ban has been in place for more than two decades, said Helen Kennedy, executive director of gay-rights organization Égale Canada.

She is co-ordinating a campaign to encourage Canadian politicians to press their U.S. counterparts to ensure Mr. Bush signs Mr. Kerry's bill.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier has not got involved. On Jan. 18, he wrote that while he regretted Mr. Rooney's "unpleasant" border experience, "as a sovereign state, the United States retains the prerogative to determine the screening procedures for the entry of foreign nationals into the country."

Meanwhile, public-health officials and human-rights activists on both sides of the border have long been calling on the U.S. government to lift the ban.

"As a person that treats people with HIV, this legislation has no scientific validity or foundation," said Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and president-elect of the International AIDS Society.

Did you catch this: "The United States is one of 13 nations, including China, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, that still ban HIV-positive visitors and immigrants." As in its clinging to the death penalty, the US is always in such good company.

3.29.2008

the anti-earth hour

At Progressive Bloggers, I've been reading about how some wingnuts are spending Earth Hour using as much energy as they possible can. Very conserve-ative, eh?

It's beyond bizarre. Deny human-made climate change, deny global warming. Fine. (Well, not fine, but for argument's sake, fine.) There's no denying there's a finite amount of non-renewable resources, right? By definition. Why would anyone want to purposely waste resources? Would they cook a big Thanksgiving feast, then throw it in the trash? Would they fill the giant tanks of their Hummers, then idle on the driveway for hours? How could people think that wasting is good and conserving is bad? And how could people who think such a thing call themselves conservatives???

Of course they are not conservative, and they wouldn't know true conservativism if they sat next to it at a Klan meeting.

I think it's a sickness. I really do.

I know they make me sick!

why earth hour is not stupid

People for whom activism is a way of life have a tendency to scoff at one-off efforts like Earth Hour. These sorts of events can seem so paltry, and short lived, and gimmicky. And perhaps they are all those things.

But when you know a lot of people who are not activists, and who never talk about the environment, and freely admit that they never think about energy conservation, and then you see how a one-time event make them do all those things - that is, how an event raises their awareness - it seems a lot less stupid.

And when you take into account how helpless and overwhelmed most people feel about any efforts to make change - the fatalistic "nothing can be done" refrain - and then you see how a one-time event gets them involved, it starts to seem pretty clever.

Plus this morning I saw Rex Murphy hates it. So I thought, they must be on to something.

taser use up and rising. accountability down and sinking.

Last week, the RCMP released statistics showing a dramatic increase in taser use by their forces: in 2007, tasers were used (or threatened) more than twice as often as they were in 2005. At the same time, the records kept on incidents involving tasers decreased and became less accessible.
The number of incidents involving RCMP stun guns has more than doubled since 2005, according to records obtained by CBC News.

Statistics prepared by RCMP officers on the use of stun guns, or Tasers, show Mounties across the country drew or threatened to draw their Tasers more than 1,400 times last year — a dramatic rise in incidents, compared with 597 in 2005.

The spike was greatest in jurisdictions such as British Columbia, where the number of Taser incidents rose from 218 in 2005 to 496 in 2007, and in Alberta, where it grew from 89 to 371 over the same period.

But while reliance on stun guns has increased sharply since the force began using them in 2001, documents obtained under the federal Access to Information Act indicate that record-keeping about Taser incidents has either become less comprehensive or that the RCMP is unwilling to share all the details of the cases with the public.

More than 2,800 Tasers are in use across the country by the 9,100-plus RCMP officers trained to use them. The RCMP forms that are supposed to be filled out every time an officer even threatens to use a Taser formerly included details such as whether the person encountered by police was armed or suffering from a mental illness. That data was previously disclosed under the Access to Information Act in RCMP Taser reports from 2002 to 2005.

But records recently released to the CBC and the Canadian Press have been stripped of this information, as well as the precise date of each incident, actions taken by the officer before resorting to the Taser, and whether the stun gun caused any injuries — leading some to criticize the RCMP for a lack of transparency.

We need to keep this issue in the forefront. It's vital to our civil liberties, to our freedom to live without fear of being brutalized by authorities. Never forget poor Robert Dziekanski, and the 19 other Canadians whose names we might not know, who died after being tasered by police or RCMP (since 2003).

In North America, 74 people were killed by tasers in 2007, five of them Canadian. My source - and the best site for information about and advocacy against Taser use - is Truth Not Tasers. The site is maintained by the family of Robert Bagnell, who died after being tasered by police in Vancouver in 2004.

3.28.2008

just how different is this harper government?

Wmtc reader Lisa sent me this scathing piece from Paul Wells, which I also saw at Idealistic Pragmatist. I've had some trouble following the Federal Government Hates Ontario campaign, and even more difficulty understanding why Harper wants to go this route. To my mind, alienating Ontario can only backfire. Voters will not remember the details. They will just remember that the Harper government dissed us.

In our emails, Lisa had this to say about what we've been witnessing, reprinted here with her permission.
...I think Harper's style is finally wearing thin. Thank god. His pettiness, intense focus on partisanship rather than focusing on governing, permanent negative campaigning, and utter disregard of the conventions of cdn federal political culture were/are driving me slowly insane. I've NEVER seen a federal govt like this one. He's completely debasing the political discourse. It used to be different...really! You know, the major political parties used to actually get along. They really did.

And later:
[Paul Wells' piece is] also sort of a "demonstration" that Harper et al is not politics as usual here in Canada (which I imagine you've gathered), esp the way he treats the media at such arms length. And it's pissing people off. . . . Their approach to governing is really at odds with how things are usually done. Slipping immigration bills through by attaching them to other ones, federal ministers interfering in provincial affairs (in a really partisan way), the micromanaging of Cabinet ministers, picking partisan fights with civil servants, the constant negative ads about the Liberals outside of election time etc. It's just not the way things are done here.

Reporters in Ottawa, who've been following govts for years are definitely noticing this.

You (like me and everyone else) probably have no sense at of the Harper cabinet for example (other than Flaherty), because they're never in the media. This is really really unusual. In the past, even if you only followed federal politics in passing, you'de be able to name and visualize most Cabinet ministers.

This is really interesting to me! I am sick to death of Stephen Harper and can't wait to see the end of this government. (And I'm sick of the Liberals for handing him a de facto majority!)

But Lisa's email made me think: perhaps I don't realize just how different this Government is from previous Governments, because I have nothing to compare it to. We moved here at the end of August, 2005; the Martin government fell in late November, and Harper was elected in January 2006.

Your thoughts and observations are welcome.

pronunciation observation

My Canadian journey continues.

Through the Harper Government's attacks on Ontario, I have learned that I've been mispronouncing the word premier, the head of provincial governments, analogous to a governor in the US. I've been saying pruh-MEER, like the opening of a movie. Now I realize it's PREE-mere.

It's tough to say PREE-mere. I feel like Cletus. Does the PREE-mere put a decal on VEE-hickle?

3.27.2008

let them stay: war resisters story on global national news

We had some good coverage on Global tonight. To watch, click here, then choose "Global National Stories" and "Resisters Debate".

Take a moment to click on the Global National main page. There's a poll about deporting war resisters: please click. (Meaningless, I know, but it can't hurt.)

Careful on that wording. The correct answer is NO.

Update: see comments for a better idea.

question for people who say they hate u.s. campaigns

I have heard numerous people say they hate the US election campaigns, and that watching campaign coverage makes them angry, depressed, and disgusted. They decry the superficial media coverage, the lack of substantial issues, the mudslinging, the nitpicking, the lying... what have you.

Yet they continue to follow the campaigns.

When I say that I pay no attention to the US campaigns, folks are amazed - sometimes appalled, sometimes impressed, but always amazed. Supposedly this is a difficult state to achieve.

But it's not. It's been very easy.

So why do you continue doing something you hate?

Is it because you think the campaigns are important events, and it's your responsibility to follow them? I don't think the campaign itself is what's important. If you know how each candidate stands on any given issue, and his or her past voting record, the campaigns aren't going to tell you a whole lot more than that. Do you see it differently?

Is it because you want to know how the candidate stands with the public, what his or her chances are? Will that effect how you vote, or are you insatiably curious? And do you think you really learn that through the mainstream media?

Is it because you watch a lot of American television, so it's hard to avoid? You can make better choices with your time. Watch a movie. Read a book. Change the channel. If you get your news mainly through print or internet sources, it's even easier to avoid. You don't read every article anyway. Just put campaign coverage in the parts you filter.

If you enjoy political campaigns, that's a totally different story. Some people live for this stuff. That's cool. But if you hate it, why not just ignore it?

If you have an answer, please put it in comments, not email. Thanks!

the first "canadian" president?

Remember "Canadian" as a new racist code word?

Keith Knight of "The K Chronicles" asks "Is America Ready for a Canadian President?"

Just some random Canadosity, thanks to James.

immigration reform, harper style

It occurs to me that I haven't blogged about the Harper Government's proposed immigration reform. Since I am an immigrant myself, and since I regularly encourage others interested in emigrating to Canada, I really should.

For this, I'll take the easy way out and quote some other writers who have summed up my thoughts on this issue.

First, a letter to the editor in the Globe and Mail:
According to your article Liberals Urged To Fight Immigration Proposals (March 24), Immigration Minister Diane Finley says changes to the immigration law are absolutely necessary to clear up the massive backlog. But the minister's own website says, "Those who applied prior to February 27, 2008, will not be subject to the new measures and will be dealt with fairly under the existing rules." And Federal Court jurisprudence already recognizes the power of the minister to set priorities.

Given this, it is clear the changes have nothing to do with the backlog. Rather, they represent a major policy shift. Until the introduction of the points system in 1967, immigration was a matter of discretion. But the points system introduced objective criteria to determine who gets into Canada. The new proposals will mean the end of that era.

Although the objective criteria will remain in place, the amendments will allow the minister to override them. Applications for visas will not have to be accepted. Applications for visas that are accepted will not have to be processed. And applicants whose applications are processed will not have to be given visas.

Yes, there are significant challenges in our immigration system. But the answer isn't to reduce accountability by centralizing power further.

Lorne Waldman
Toronto

Idealistic Pragmatist posed a question for Tory supporters:
Now, the Conservatives are proposing to change that system. The changes would give new powers to the Minister of Immigration, allowing that office to do three things:

a) accelerate applications
b) reject applicants who otherwise meet all immigration criteria
and
c) discard applications from specific countries.

The current Immigration Minister, Diane Finley, is claiming that these changes are necessary in order to "make it easier to get more people here faster." But the thing is, only the first provision--the one allowing the minister to accelerate applications--could actually result in more people coming to Canada, more quickly. The other two new provisions must therefore have different aims. Supporters, such as this commenter at the Globe and Mail site, are saying that these changes would give preference to "those with the skills we need right now." But this is the very thing the existing points system already does. It's the whole idea behind it.

So, to supporters of this proposed legislation, I ask: what is the purpose of provisions b and c above, i.e., granting the minister the ability to reject applicants who otherwise meet all immigration criteria and discard applications from specific countries? And how would the new system help Canada reach its goals better than the current, points-based one?

See her post for full linkage plus comments. No one has answered the question yet.

And finally, a G&M editorial on the Tories' "needless stealth" and "Americanized politics". I disagree with the editors about the "sensible and measured" proposed reforms, but I certainly agree with their main issue.
The Conservatives' proposed immigration reforms are sensible and measured. Without reducing the number of newcomers allowed into the country, they could both ease the backlog of applications and allow governments to give priority to economic migrants - a shift that would be strongly in Canada's interests. So why are the Tories acting as though they had something to hide?

The best way to ease public concerns - stoked in this case by the immigration lobby and opposition MPs, who falsely claim the government wants to "shut the door" on immigrants - is through full and open debate. It should not be difficult for the Conservatives to defend changes allowing the immigration minister to limit the number of applications processed each year and to prioritize those applications by category. But the Conservatives have gone the opposite route. Rather than introducing their reforms as separate legislation, and then making their case for them in the House of Commons and outside it, the Tories have tucked it away inside budget implementation legislation - a 136-page bill that is by its nature a confidence vote.

The accusation of "American-style" politics is hurled too often in this country, and rarely appropriately. But in this instance it fits. It has long been a practice in the U.S. Congress to sneak contentious measures into unrelated omnibus legislation in order to avoid close scrutiny. Considering that the immigration initiatives are much more about structural reform than about funding changes, it is difficult to see their inclusion in a budget bill any other way.

The government is doing itself and its legislation a disservice. True, the Liberals' unwillingness to plunge the country into an election means that anything included in a confidence bill is likely to pass. But by rushing its reforms through Parliament, the Tories are giving licence to conspiracy theorists to level wild charges about the party returning to its Reform-era anti-immigration roots.

If only the Conservatives brought forward their reforms in the normal manner, such fear-mongering could easily be disproven. But despite having been elected on a promise of more accountable government, the Tories now seem determined to hide even their good works from public view.

I also believe the "Americanization" accusation is thrown around ignorantly and far too frequently in Canada. Often the people using the expression don't seem to have a clue about what American-style politics are, and are only using a quick cliche to mean "anything I don't like". It's no more accurate than wingnuts calling Canada "Soviet Canuckistan" (although that's funnier).

But in this case, the Harper government is truly acting American. Note they are acting like American politicians and legislators - not Republicans. Don't think for a minute the Democrats don't do the same thing.

miss bimbo: because you're never too young to think about breast implants

Starvation diets, breast implants and huge mobile phone bills. Sounds about right for a nine-year-old, eh?

Parents in the UK, France, Australia and New Zealand are horrified at an online game being marketed to their pre-teen daughters: Miss Bimbo.
Parents' groups have condemned a new internet game in which girls as young as nine are encouraged to "buy" their virtual dolls breast operations and facelifts.

The aim of the Miss Bimbo beauty contest game, which was launched in Britain last month, is to become the "hottest, coolest, most famous bimbo in the whole world", and contestants who compete against each other are told to "stop at nothing", even "meds or plastic surgery", to ensure their dolls win.

Children are given a naked virtual character to look after. They compete against other players to earn "bimbo" dollars so they can dress her in sexy outfits and take her clubbing. They are given missions, including securing plastic surgery at the game's clinic to give their dolls bigger breasts, and they have to keep her at her target weight with diet pills.

Although it is free to play, when the contestants run out of virtual cash they have to send text messages costing £1.50 each or use PayPal to top up their accounts.

But fear not, plastic surgery and dieting are not only about self-absorption and mindless consumerism. They are vital weapons in service of that all-important goal: getting a man. Some of the targets:
Level 7
After you broke up with your boyfriend you went on an eating binge! Now it's time to diet... Your goal weight is...

Level 9
Have a nip and tuck operation for a brand new face. You've found work as a plus-size model. To gain those vivacious curves, you need to weigh...

Level 10
Summertime is coming up and bikini weather is upon us. You want to turn heads on the beach don't you?

Level 11
Bigger is better! Have a breast operation

Level 17
There is a billionaire on vacation... You must catch his eye and his love!

Are you nauseated yet?

A few quick Google News searches revealed a lot of parental outrage, which is good news. Meanwhile, telecom regulators are investigating the website, because it appears that children are being encouraged to call premium-rate numbers, and the game may "exploit or provide content that parents are likely to think unacceptable", which is inconsistent with the Phonepayplus ethical code.

I wonder, how many years from now will the name "Miss Bimbo" surface in eating-disorder support groups? The game will long since have disappeared, but its effects may be felt every time a malnourished young woman looks in the mirror and believes she is too fat.

Thanks to Mara for turning me on to this.

update on war resister james burmeister

James Burmeister is the Iraq War resister who recently surrendered to the military and is being held in a military prison at Ft. Knox, Kentucky.

After 25 days in a heavy-security holding facility, James will now be transferred to a more "casual" facility, where detainees are given more freedom as they await court martial. James' family believes this is a direct result of public pressure on the military and through James' Congressperson.

The base still has not given the family an address through which James can receive mail. James' many supporters want to contact him... but the military isn't so keen on his receiving that mail. We're told that is coming soon.

let them stay: sprinting to the finish line. we hope.

Here's an update on the War Resisters Support Campaign.

We expect the resolution to go before the House of Commons sometime in April. We don't know what the outcome will be, because we don't know how the Liberals will vote.

If you are new around here, this the English text of the resolution we need to see passed. It was passed by a united opposition in the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in December.
In accordance with its mandate pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), your Committee has considered the issue of Iraq
war resisters.

The Committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.

In these final weeks before the vote, we are leafletting and lobbying and trying to drum up more positive media attention.

This story in the New York Times Magazine was very honest and positive, and has been picked up by the International Herald Tribune and many local papers.

This CTV piece was also very good, please check it out. There have been positive op-eds in several local Canadian newspapers, such as the Kingston Whig-Standard and the Sudbury Star.

We also saw our first negative editorial, from the Calgary Sun. I'm linking to it because it might help if you are talking to anyone about war resisters in Canada. The editorial is based on two misconceptions: that the Vietnam War resisters who came to Canada were all avoiding the draft, and that service in the Iraq War is voluntary. Neither is true. Many Vietnam veterans who came to Canada had enlisted, then deserted. And, while initially enlisting in the US military is now (technically) voluntary, service in Iraq is not. Ask Phil McDowell.

The movie "Stop-Loss" opens this weekend, and Campaigners will be leafletting outside the theatre in Toronto. The release of this movie is very good timing for us, as it will highlight how very involuntary serving in the Iraq War is.

If you're in Toronto and would like to see some testimony from Winter Soldier, as well as some live testimony from war resisters in Canada, join us at Winter Soldier II on Monday, April 7. It's taking place on the University of Toronto campus; email me for details.

I also have a special shout-out. If you live in Montreal and want to help Iraq War resisters stay in Canada, please email me. There is something very short-term and fairly painless you can do, that will help our movement in a very concrete way.

I have an update on war resister James Burmeister, but I'll put that in a separate post.

3.26.2008

a little about my acupuncture experience (updated)

Several people asked to hear about my recent experience with acupuncture. I was delaying, because I couldn't figure out how to write about it without going into my whole medical history, my fibromyalgia, my years of mis-diagnosis, what medications and treatments I use, and so on.

I don't mind sharing any of that information, but on the other hand, I don't feel a need to write about it, either. There's a lot of health and wellness blogging, and that's great if it helps you, but it's not for me.

My approach to my health is to do what I need to do, and not focus on it any more than I have to. This is not to minimize my own issues or anyone else's. I just don't want my health issues to define me. Through my writing, I've known so many people with significant, permanent disabilities who don't let their limitations define their lives. They are models for me; I strive to do the same.

So here's the quickie version. I have fibromyalgia, which causes, among other things, tenderness, sensitivity and pain at "pressure points" or "trigger points" all over the body. It can be thought of as a cross between arthritis (which I also have in many joints) and chronic fatigue syndrome, although it's not quite either of those.

A physiotherapist (physical therapist for US readers) suggested acupuncture to "release" the trigger points. Trigger points are spots that are not receiving oxygen or blood circulation, so the muscle is shortening up, kind of like a permanent cramp. It's like a thumb-sized dead zone. The acupuncture needle would stimulate the muscle, blood would flow to the area, and the body could begin to heal that spot.

Some people get a lot of relief from this, some do not. I thought it was worth a try, especially since I have some limited insurance reimbursement for acupuncture.

I'm open to various treatments. I neither accept nor reject a potential treatment because it's called alternative or because it's called Western. I've used a variety of both Western and alternative treatments, and I'll go with whatever works. Acupuncture certainly can't hurt you, so why not try it.

I've had four sessions so far. The treatment is not always easy. Having these trigger points stimulated is... uncomfortable. I wouldn't call it painful, but it's not nothing. The needles cause involuntary movement, like twitches, but deep in the muscle. It's a strange feeling, and unpleasant.

The process is time consuming, too. You know how that goes. You have to go there, then wait, then have the treatment, then drive home. Then I need a hot epsom-salt bath for the after-effects of the treatment. So it's a big chunk of day gone.

After the bath, voila! The tenderness and pain is gone.

Then in a few days, it returns.

The therapist says that because this is a chronic condition, which I have had for many, many years, it could take a lot of intensive treatment to get long-term results. For example, if I could commit to two or three treatments a week for a few weeks, I might then be able to cut back to weekly, then monthly, then a few times a year.

But I can't afford that, and I'm not willing to commit the time. If I was really debilitated by the fibro, I would be more apt to consider it. But I've had the condition under control for many years, and in this case the treatment would seem worse than the symptoms themselves.

So that's that. I hope it's useful information for some readers. If you have or think you have fibromyalgia, I urge you to not just suck it up and live with it. Proper medication, supplements, and lifestyle changes can make an enormous difference. They have for me. And acupuncture might be worth trying.

Update. Judging from comments, I was unclear about something important. The uncomfortable part of the acupuncture is from the fibromyalgia, not the acupuncture itself.

Fibro trigger points are hyper-sensitive; the slightest pressure on them causes pain. So a direct touch by a needle is going to hurt. But the acupuncture itself wouldn't usually be painful. You don't feel the needle being inserted, and if I didn't have these trigger points, I wouldn't feel it at all.

dog lovers, take note

James has posted a visual version of my story here, about our Good Dog Friday. Enjoy!

obama can't win if they don't count the votes

As you may know, I am completely ignoring the US election campaigns, at least as much as I possibly can. What little seeps through my filter, either from our daily newspaper or from headlines at Progressive Bloggers and Common Dreams, really disturbs me.

Too many people - people who ought to know better - are putting too much stock in Barack Obama. The man is a good candidate and a gifted orator, but he is not going to fix what ails the United States. Any man or woman who would propose to fix what's wrong with the United States could not possibly get elected, or get nominated, or even be taken seriously as a candidate.

Progressive people's reactions to Obama remind me of exactly how I felt in 1992.

After twelve years of Reagan and Bush, a man from a humble background, with great charisma and a silver tongue, wowed the Democrats. It may be hard to remember the Bill Clinton of 1992, given what we came to know of him, but people wept at the Democratic National Convention that year. A Man From Hope was riding into town, and don't stop thinking about tomorrow.

I was hopeful, too. I didn't think of myself as naive (who ever does?), but I had cut my activist teeth during the Reagan years, and I was very focused on removing that stink from Washington. After the election, friends of mine from my reproductive rights group - mostly ten years older than me - were relieved, but not impressed. I remember a friend saying, Sure, I'm glad Bush is out of a job. I just don't expect things to change very much.

She was right.

The minute Clinton took office, he betrayed the left. First it was Haitian refugees, then it was gays in the military, then the courts needed "balance" instead of "ideology". (No matter that the courts had had nothing but ideology for 12 years, and counter-ideology would have brought some balance.) And on it went. This was not because Bill Clinton couldn't be trusted to keep his promises. It was because the Democrats are not so very different from the Republicans. The two parties differ mainly in rhetoric. In actions, they differ very little.

Four years later, I voted for Ralph Nader. Katha Pollitt wrote a piece that became famous: "Why I'm Not Voting for Clinton". I circulated as widely as I could.

For me it was an epiphany moment. I was raised in a very progressive household. My parents voted for the Democrat candidate furthest left in the primaries, then in the general election, it was "hold your nose and vote Democrat, because anything else is throwing your vote away". I believed that, and I followed suit.

Bill Clinton's first term changed my mind. That was the end of my belief in voting for the lesser of two evils, the end of contributing to the Democrats' rightward drift, however unintentionally. From now on the Democrats were going to have to earn my vote, and if they didn't, I was going to help build an alternative on the left.

You can imagine how I bristle when partisan Liberals in Canada call for the NDP to merge with the Liberals. One only need look at the US's dysfunctional two-party system to see what would happen. Without the NDP, what reason would the Liberals have to even be liberal?

I have no wish to debate the relative merits of voting for a third-party candidate: you go your way and I'll go mine. Regardless of whether you would vote for them or not, the Democrats will not possibly fix the system that they themselves help to create and maintain every single day. Has everyone forgotten the 2006 midterm elections? The Democrats won a majority in Congress with a strong mandate to get out of Iraq. And?

The problems are structural. Barack Obama is not going to break the incestuous relationship between government and corporate money. He is not going to restructure campaign financing, or institute a fair tax system, or force US employers to deal fairly with their workers, or fix the education system. He is not going to bring universal health insurance. He is not even going to end the US occupation of Iraq.

* * * *

And will he be allowed to win?

Here's another brief history reminder. During the Democratic primaries in 2000, everyone was talking about how important the nomination was, because whoever the Democrats ran would soon be President. After all, the Republicans were running George W. Bush. What a joke! He couldn't possibly be elected.

Today there's that same assumption, only people are even more excited, because we will soon supposedly see the first person of colour in the White House.

The 2000 election was stolen.

The 2004 election was stolen.

There were huge questions about the validity of both the 2002 and 2006 midterm elections.

And nothing has changed. As all problems left untended will, it has only gotten worse. There is evidence voting machines were tampered with in the primaries.

So why is everyone assuming the 2008 election will be fair? I'm still not convinced there will even be a 2008 election in the US. I'm not making a prediction; I'm not in that line of work. But let's put it this way: if the election goes ahead as it's supposed to, I'll be relieved. If it doesn't, I won't be surprised.

But if it's more expedient for the Cheney junta to hold elections, but keep them rigged, then they will.

(Regarding election fraud, please don't get hung up on any one link I've posted here. No one story is definitive; each is part of a much larger picture. As always, I recommend Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis, and Bev Harris' Black Box Voting, as excellent sources. You can also click on the "election fraud" category on this blog for more links.)

* * * *

Recently I overheard two Canadians chatting about the US campaigns. One of them brought up McCain. The other said, "McCain won't win, but not because of him. Just because people are so fed-up with Bush, they don't want to elect another government like that."

The other person replied, "I know. What I can't believe is that they elected him twice!"

Inside, I was screaming, "They didn't! They didn't!" It's very frustrating.

I know millions of Americans did actually vote for the Resident, and I'm not forgetting or excusing them.

Nor am I excusing the media's complicity in this: thoroughly trashing two consecutive Democrat candidates while giving the Republicans a free ride.

All that happened, and it's real.

But the bottom line is: the elections are rigged. Everyone - not just the mainstream media, but a huge portion of the blogosphere and the alternative media, too - is reacting to the campaigns as if these elections are for real.

They are not.

3.25.2008

uk teachers kick military propaganda out of schools

A reader sent me this encouraging story from BBC News:
Teachers [in England and Wales] have voted to oppose military recruitment activities in schools if they employ "misleading propaganda".

Young people must be given a true picture of Army life, not a "marketised version", the National Union of Teachers conference heard.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) denies actively recruiting in schools but says it does visit to raise awareness when invited in by head teachers.

Some teachers complain the Army uses sophisticated methods of recruitment.

Paul McGarr, a teacher from east London, said only when recruiting materials gave a true picture of war would he welcome them into his school.

These would have to say: "Join the Army and we will send you to carry out the imperialist occupation of other people's countries," Mr McGarr said.

"Join the Army and we will send you to bomb, shoot and possibly torture fellow human beings in other countries.

"Join the Army and we will send you probably poorly equipped into situations where people will try to shoot or kill you because you are occupying other people's countries.

"Join the Army, and if you survive and come home, possibly injured or mentally damaged, you and your family will be shabbily treated."

Delegate from Lambeth, south London, Chris Kelly, said he was offered free teaching materials, which he only later discovered were from the MoD.

In the UK, the Ministry of Defence recruits surreptitiously. In the US, it's much more blatant.

Military recruitment on college campuses is a condition of receiving federal funds. The notoriously misnamed "No Child Left Behind Act" requires high schools to turn over students' private information to military recruiters. Families can opt-out, but do they even know the data collection is taking place?

And, as my war-resister friends always point out, you don't find military recruiters in high-income high schools. No one with a promising future needs the US military.

Groups like Leave My Child Alone, the Coalition Against Militarism in Schools and the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors are trying to stem the tide.

Here is an excellent interview from "Democracy Now!" with John Cervantes, an organizer from Veterans for Peace who focuses on military recruitment in schools, and here is a recruitment-in-schools FAQ from the ACLU.

Canadian schools also see military recruitment, and Canadians are organizing against it.

The teachers' movement in the UK (through their union, of course) is an important development. There may be some similar teachers' movements on a local level in the US, but I haven't found any.

From everything I hear, American teachers can barely teach any more. All they can do is spoon-feed test-prep, as NCLB locks everyone into a ridiculous test-for-funds cycle. American schools are so pathetically underfunded, and American teachers so horribly overworked and underpaid, that if anyone had time for activism - especially activism that might jeopardize funds - it would be heroic indeed.

Thank you to Jessica for inspiring this post (and for reading this blog).

newsflash (not): dick cheney does not believe in democracy

OK, OK, I give up! So many people have sent me articles and videos relating to Dick Cheney's "So?" comment, that I am obliged to post it. Thank you to everyone who thought of wmtc.

Here it is, via the always-excellent Think Progress.

I maintain that the only way to understand the Cheney Administration's refusal to get out of Iraq is to realize that, for them, Iraq has been a smashing success. Their interests are being advanced. The death and destruction is somebody else's problem.

happy opening day!

Yes, it's Opening Day, and we're waking up at 5:00 a.m. to make coffee and eat breakfast before the game. Today the Boston Red Sox - that's the World Champion Boston Red Sox - play the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo. The first two games of the season will be played in Japan, then the teams come back to California, finish spring training, and resume the same series in Oakland.

The Red Sox have two Japanese players, one of them very high-profile, so there's some extra appeal for legions of Japanese baseball fans. The Sox played a few exhibition games against Japanese teams this week.

Many Boston-area bars are opening early and serving breakfast. Pretty cool.

I'm happy Opening Day is early this year, because it doesn't coincide with my annual early-April trip to New York and New Jersey. Plus these 6:00 a.m. starts extend movie season by one week. (And we should be glad we're not in Oakland, where hometown fans have a 3:00 a.m. start.)

Play Ball!

3.24.2008

"even the pope calls for peace"

Much is being made of the fact that the US has now lost 4,000 troops in Iraq, and that this terrible milestone was reached on Easter.

Since I'm not Christian, and since most of the people being killed in Iraq are not Christian, I can't say I find the Easter date very significant. And the 4,000 number, though awful, is deceptive, when there's at least 90,000, possibly more than 1,000,000, Iraqi dead (and they're all civilians!), around 60,000 Americans wounded, who knows how many Iraqis wounded, along with untold physical and psychological destruction.

But if Easter helps people think about peace, then Easter it is. Why not.

Here are some people who want us to think about peace. This protest took place during an Easter morning mass at Holy Name Cathedral, said to be Chicago's most prominent Catholic church, and the home of arch-conservative Cardinal Francis George.



I love protests that disrupt big ceremonies. They're great attention-getters, especially now that the protests enjoy an extended after-life on YouTube. Some Tibetan protesters disrupted today's Olympic torch ceremony in Greece.



That's Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee, at the microphone. Other Tibetan protesters lay in the road in the path of the torch-bearers.

IOC head Jacques Rogge was on hand to say that the 2008 Games are advancing human rights in China. (It would be nice to have some other source besides China corroborate that.) In fact, Rogge suggested that the military crackdown in Tibet is only world news because of the Olympics.
He said the current violence in Tibet is an example of how the Games have brought human rights issues in the region to the fore.

"Tibet, rightfully so, is on the front page. But it would not be on the front page if the Games were not being organized in China."

By that logic, the Olympic Games should be held only in countries with the worst human-rights records.

But I got news for Jacques Rogge. The world is watching Tibet, and we would be watching anyway.

3.23.2008

pharyngula is expelled from expelled

This is hilarious! A must-read for a good laugh.

Many thanks to Zoe at A Complicated Salvation.

pupdate part 3

This post now has a link to photos!

is it bad blog etiquette to re-run an old post?

Attention ignorant Canadians: it is better to have publicly-financed health care than to buy cheap shoes. Shoes that are made in China and will fall apart in 2 months anyway.

Attention ignorant Americans: see above.

Cheap shopping vs. health care. (If you click, check out the comments, too.)

Sorry for the re-run. It was post or explode.

statcounter curiosity

Could someone who is visiting wmtc from here please tell me why? What are you? Who linked to me there? I am curious! I must know!

justice, american style

No child left behind. Except the ones we leave behind. That's family values for you. From Reuters, via Common Dreams:
Underage criminals cannot face the death penalty in the United States but dozens of offenders imprisoned for crimes committed when they were young teenagers will still die behind bars.

The U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for minors in 2005 but 19 states permit "life-means-life" sentences for those under 18, according to a study by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).

In all, 2,225 people are sentenced to die in U.S. prisons for crimes they committed as minors and 73 of them were aged 13 and 14 at the time of the crime, according to the group, which is based in Montgomery, Alabama.

Elsewhere in the world, life sentences with no chance of parole are rare for underage offenders. Human Rights Watch estimates that only 12 people outside the United States face such sentences.

Judicial reform advocates say the U.S. provision is an example of how harsh sentences have helped cause a jump in incarceration rates since the 1970s. The United States jails a higher percentage of its population than anywhere else in the industrialized world, these advocates say.

"These kids have been swept up in this tide of carceral control that is unparalleled in American history," said Bryan Stevenson, director of the EJI. "We have become quite comfortable about throwing people away," he said.

Full story here.

This article doesn't say, but what percentage of these incarcerated young people come from impoverished backgrounds, do you think? Should we hazard a guess?

What percentage do you think are people of colour?

Do you think there's a kid from a wealthy background among them? Do you think if a family has money to hire a decent lawyer, or pay off a judge, or donate to their community, their child gets a life sentence?

Here's the EJI report the story is based on. Take a look. Bring your outrage, and a tissue.

pupdate part 2: training update

For wmtc readers interested in dog training, here's an update on our wonderful maniac.

In the fall, I blogged about Tala's crazy behaviour on-leash and in the car.
When we walk on-leash, Tala goes wild for passing cars and bicycles. The bigger and louder the vehicle, the crazier she goes. It's clear that if she weren't on the leash, she'd be a car chaser - among the most dangerous habits a dog can have.

If we can anticipate the coming car and put her into a sit-stay, she can hold steady as the car goes past. But how many times on a walk can you do that? And you can't always anticipate the cars.

The other area is her in-car behaviour. In a word: insane. We have her in the hatchback, behind a dog barrier. She barks at every passing car - three times at each car - ruff-ruff-ruff, ruff-ruff-ruff, ruff-ruff-ruff - while running back and forth between the side windows, turning in circles, clawing at the windows...

We can't talk, we can't listen to music, we can't do anything. Telling her "no" or "leave it" doesn't make any difference. We might as well not be in the car.

We tried applying the general principles of positive dog training that we've learned so well over the years. I sat in the back seat with treats, rewarding her for sitting quietly. It worked while sitting on the driveway. Once we drove off, it's like I wasn't there. I'm dangling roast beef - roast beef! - through the barrier and she's ignoring it. Amazing.

We had a session with a trainer, and some time later, I posted this update:
We were on the right track, but we were asking too much of Tala, not breaking down the training into small enough steps. The trainer gave us a game plan and some new ideas.

The early stages went beautifully. Tala learns fast, and she does great in the house or in the backyard. And that's where it ends. So far we've made no progress either on the leash or in the car.

The trainer also told us something I hadn't thought of before: barking at cars and bicycles is "self-reinforcing". Dog barks, car drives by, dog thinks, I did it, I chased it away!

If Tala was just barking once or twice at passing cars, I wouldn't mind. But flying into a frenzy, running in circles, pulling wildly on the leash trying to get the car - while I'm walking two dogs, often while I'm trying to clean up after them - not good. The behaviour is pretty extreme. If Tala wasn't on-leash, she'd definitely be chasing the car. That is, until she was killed.

Shortly after this, we got lazy or busy or frustrated (or all three), and gave up on the training for a while. Then we took a deep breath and started again. We re-committed to working with Tala every day we're available - four days a week - and to generally being more strict.

Every on-leash walk is a training opportunity - and also an opportunity to go wild and bark, i.e., for negative training. It was too difficult for me to walk both dogs and do training, especially in the winter. So every morning, Tala had her negative behaviour reinforced. So after 20+ years of morning dog-walks, I stopped walking them in the morning. Now they have morning backyard outdoor play time instead. And from now, any walk on the leash will be done correctly, with training.

We also decided to be stricter in the house. Like most dogs and cats, Tala loves to stare out the window, and she has great views both up- and downstairs. But when a cat or a squirrel would get too close, she would go wild - not just barking, but throwing herself at the window. After she pulled down the curtains, we realized we had become a bit too lax.

The trainer very rightly pointed out that this wild window behaviour was contributing to all her other wildness, on the leash and in the car. Now Allan and I each keep a small container of training treats on our desks. When we hear Tala flipping out, we call out the command - "Good Quiet!" - and (usually) she runs over to get a treat, at which point we can refocus her and calm her down.

But the biggest problem is definitely the car, and we decided to really focus on that.

The principle is simple: reward calm behaviour. Tala earns praise and treats when she pays attention to mommy, instead of to passing cars. Allan drives, and I get in the hatchback with Tala, and give commands, and praise her, and give rewards. She's wearing her harness and lead, which helps keep her still. At least theoretically.

We started out super slowly, just sitting on the driveway, giving her the feel for being in the car and being calm. Then we drove slowly down the street. Then around the block. Tiny, gradual steps. And slowly, slowly, she progressed. We got up to the point where we could drive around our neighbourhood - quiet streets, with a few passing cars, also moving slowly - and she could mostly pay attention to me, listen to commands, get rewards, and be relaxed. This took weeks, but we could really see progress.

Before each training session, we have some backyard play, throwing the ball for Tala to get her to run, to help get some energy out. Then it's back in the hatch with my container of treats. I end up covered in white fur, and often smelling like whatever treats we're using. Note to self: never use sardines again.

We did this religiously, four days a week.

Then one day we went to the dog park - which involves driving on major roads with lots of traffic. She went wild in the car, and the whole thing came undone. Three weeks' worth of work gone in one morning. It took four training sessions to get back to where we were before the trip to the dog park.

But we can't stop going to the dog park until Tala's training is complete. She needs the socialization with other dogs. Plus it's just so much fun for both dogs. And will her training ever be complete? We don't know.

It was very discouraging.

I had another phone consult with the trainer, got some extra pointers, and we started again.

Now we're trying to make a bigger leap, drive at least a short way on a major road with more traffic. She did all right once, then had a big backslide. And when she loses it - once she's barking and going wild at every passing car - she can't calm down and get back under control. (That's very typical for all animal training.) But at that point, we're out in traffic, and even the shortest route home gives her way too much reinforcement for her negative behaviour.

We were talking about this on Friday with James and Lori, and they suggested making an audio tape of passing traffic. We might be able to use the noise to desensitize Tala to the sound, or possibly for more controlled training, since we would be able to switch the sound off at will. It's certainly worth a try.

Meanwhile, I am discouraged. Looking back, I see we have made a lot of progress. But looking ahead, it's hard to imagine a time when I'll be able to sit in the back seat and do the training, never mind sit in the front and Tala will just be quiet in the back.

I know I have to follow the advice I recently posted about emigrating to Canada: one step at a time. Don't look too far ahead, just keep plugging away. But a big part of me just wants to say, this is how she is, we'll just put up with it. One day she'll outgrow it.

dogs in the sun 10

Good thing she's so cute.

pupdate part 1: doggie play date (now with photos!)

Last Friday was a statutory holiday in Canada, and a weekday day off is one way we see friends who work more normal schedules than ours. James and Lori came over with Cobalt and Cobalt's new sister, Denim. James photographed the proceedings.

We were all curious to see how all four dogs would get along. The first time Tala met Cobalt, Tala was really obnoxious - she picked on Cobalt all day. Not much fun for the little one. The next time they met, Cobalt figured out how to stand up to Tala - and Tala loved it! (Unfortunately, Tala is a bit of a bully.)

By the third time Tala and Cobalt saw each other, they were great friends. I knew that that friendship is now cemented, but I didn't know how Tala would do with a very small puppy. And I forgot what Cody what do!

Tala was happy and excited to see Cobalt. She was mildly intrigued by Denim, but she never focused on the puppy and didn't harass her the way she did with Cobalt on their early meetings. She was too distracted by wanting to play with Cobalt.

Cody adored Denim. She was smitten by her. Cody followed the puppy around all day. You've got to picture this: Cody is a 60-pound (27 kg) dog, and the puppy is around 14 weeks old, and will be about 25 pounds (11 kg) full grown. So imagine this big dog trailing after this tiny puppy, as if she's being led on a leash. Once in a while, if Denim wasn't paying enough attention to her, Cody would bat Denim with a paw. Denim would yelp, but it was so obvious that all Cody wanted was to be noticed.

I had completely forgotten that Cody loves small dogs. In our old neighbourhood in New York City, there was a dachshund she used to see on walks. Cody would lie down on the sidewalk to nuzzle the dachshund's face, and I swear, she would try to wriggle under the dachshund.

So here's the scene in our backyard last Friday. Cobalt is chasing after a tennis ball or running around the yard. Tala is following Cobalt, because she wants to play with her. Denim, the puppy, is following her big sister, and also wants to see what all the fuss is about. And Cody is magnetically attracted to Denim and is following her. It's a doggie parade!

Two sides of our yard is fenced in with a good chain-link fence. But on one side, there's an old wooden slat fence, mostly camouflaged with big cedars. When the neighbours are in their yard, Cody and Tala sometimes stick their heads through the slats to say hi. But being used to big dogs, I never thought that those slats might actually be too wide...

We were sitting around chatting, when Lori looked up and said, "Denim is next door!" Denim had simply wandered off, through the slats. After some persuasion, she came back (the value of early training, right there!) - and then Cobalt decided to inspect the neighbour's yard. I was wondering if I'd have to ring their doorbell, but Cobalt came back. And Denim left again. At this point, the dogs had been running around for hours, so it was a good time to go in, and remove temptation.

One thing about always adopting rescue dogs, Allan and I have never had a puppy, and we probably never will. I very rarely have an opportunity to be around and play with puppies, so spending time with Denim was a real treat. Seeing Cody with Denim was just hilarious.

3.22.2008

let them stay: new york times magazine on iraq war resisters in canada

A long-awaited story about the War Resisters Support Campaign is finally out in the New York Times Magazine. It's written by Ben Ehrenreich (who is Barbara Ehrenreich's son).
Next month, the Canadian House of Commons is slated to debate a resolution that would allow conscientious objectors "who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations" to apply for residency in Canada. The phrasing is vague but the intent is not. The war in question is the Iraq war, and the resolution represents the culmination of a four-year debate about what to do with the small but steady stream of American soldiers who have fled across our northern border to avoid fighting in Iraq.

It all began in Jan. 2004, when a young American with a long, serious face walked into the Toronto law office of Jeffry House to ask for help with what was at the time a highly unusual immigration case. The American turned out to be a soldier named Jeremy Hinzman, an infantryman in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He told House that his petition for conscientious-objector status was denied while he was stationed in Afghanistan. He crossed the border into Canada just days before his unit was to be deployed to Iraq. Of the more than 25,000 American soldiers who, according to the United States Department of Defense, have deserted since 2003, the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign estimates that 225 have fled to Canada. (The D.O.D defines a deserter as anyone who has been AWOL for 30 consecutive days or who seeks asylum in a foreign country; desertion carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.)

The majority of the deserters in Canada have chosen not to make the authorities aware of their presence. Like any other illegal immigrants, they have settled for invisibility. A few dozen, though, followed Hinzman's lead. Most found their way to Jeffry House. One young Army medic named Justin Colby read an AOL news posting about Hinzman's case while stationed in Iraq. He telephoned House from Ramadi and showed up in his office a few months later.

House would eventually represent between 30 and 35 American deserters. Most of them, like Colby, say they joined the military in part out of patriotism. "I thought Iraq had something to do with 9/11," Colby says, "that they were the bad guys that attacked our country." But unlike Hinzman, most did not apply for conscientious-objector status. They tend to say they aren't opposed to all wars in principle — just to the one they were ordered to fight. It wasn't until Colby arrived in Iraq that he started to see the conflict as "a war of aggression, totally unprovoked," he says. "I was, like, 'This is what my buddies are dying for?'" Midway through his tour, he decided: "I'm never going to do this again." He went AWOL the day before his unit left to train for a second deployment. House says that more than two-thirds of his clients have been deployed to Iraq at least once. "One is resisting a third deployment."

Tens of thousands of American draft dodgers and deserters took refuge in Canada in the late 1960s and early '70s. ...

I'm reading the story now. It seems to be an honest and generally positive view of the resisters and the Campaign.

peter roget, a man who made lists

If you love words, as I do, you might enjoy this review of a book called The Man Who Made Lists - Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus, by Joshua Kendall. It's a biography of Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869), creator of the first thesaurus.

I was very surprised to learn that Roget never intended the thesaurus as a book of synonyms. He didn't believe there was such a thing as synonyms, since every word has a distinct meaning. But he was mentally ill, or at least mentally unstable, and one of his compulsive coping mechanisms was making lists.

I was also surprised - amazed, startled, astonished, shocked? - to learn that the thesaurus was not Roget's life work.
The Thesaurus, a retirement venture carried out when Roget was in his 70s, may have been prompted by a reissuing, in 1849, of "British Synonymy," a handbook of definitional equivalents first published a half-century earlier by Hester Lynch Piozzi, known to devotees of Dr. Johnson as his friend Mrs. Thrale. Freshly exasperated by the volume's haphazardness, Roget soon set to work in earnest on his own production.

Never quite intended as a book of synonyms (Roget thought there "really was no such thing," given the unique meaning of every word), the Thesaurus was constructed as a crystal palace of abstraction, each of whose 1,000 lists pushes a reader, often antonymically, to the next, "certainty" leading to "uncertainty" leading to "reasoning" leading to "sophistry." The truth is that most users of the Thesaurus have never made head nor tail of the system and have just availed themselves of the index — added by Roget almost as an afterthought — to find what they are looking for.

The book was a hit with the English public from the moment it appeared in 1852; a bowdlerized American edition — dropping such objectionable exciters as "aria" and "the ups and downs of life" — appeared two years later. Roget continued revisions and updates until his death at 90, and his heirs kept the book going as a kind of family concern for a full century, before the name, like Webster's, passed into the public domain. Since 1852, Roget's has, Kendall explains, "lost 10 concepts — it's down to 990 — but it has gained a couple hundred thousand new words."

I love thesauri, although I rarely use one anymore. I like to keep my writing simple and straightforward; I'm more likely to use a dictionary to clarify a word's meaning. But I love looking at the vast array of somewhat synonymic words. When I open a thesaurus, I get lost, the way I get hypnotized by reading place-names on a map.

My mother bought me a hardcover thesaurus when I was in junior high school. A hardcover book was a big deal in our house, and her gift was an affirmation of me as a writer. The edition itself is now a bit archaic, and not the thesaurus I reach for, but I'll never part with it.

3.21.2008

advice, part 4

There's been a sharp increase in the number of emails I've been receiving from Americans who want to emigrate to Canada. There's no way to know (yet) if this means more people are actually applying, or simply that more people are finding this blog. In any case, people have been very appreciative of wmtc, and that is very gratifying for me.

My earlier "advice" posts are here, here and here. In this fourth advice post, I want to address some general concerns about moving to Canada.

Writer "RB" speaks for many when he says:
I have one question though: what is this business about "Canadian experience" for jobs? I've read a few internet sites that had tirades on how hard it is for immigrant workers to get jobs due to lack of this "Canadian experience" business. Some of the sites were run by South Asian immigrants and it sounded like they ran into some racist employers. Did you have any issues with this? Or heard of this?

Also I heard this same bit from a woman who is an American in the GTA ... [who wrote this essay] ... about how Canada is not the answer and that Canadians hate Americans and I shouldn't plan on getting a job since they want this "Canadian experience". I emailed her and she told me that straight up: "Oh, they hate Americans and you won't get a job". . . .

I've never had issues visiting there. I work with a half dozen Canadians at the hospital where I work, they're just like anybody else, just less bull-headed about their country I think.

RB's email brings up several points that I can address.

  • I think it's best to avoid the immigrant forums on the internet. I know that many people disagree with this, and some in our moving-to-Canada blogging family became very connected to the communities there. This is purely my personal opinion.

    In my experience, the information on these forums can be highly suspect, and is often flat-out wrong. And like many sites all over the internet, the immigrant forums tend to be places where people vent and complain about negative experiences. I would never deny anyone's experience, but when you hear someone vent, you're only hearing their version of events, you don't know what they contributed to the experience, what their expectations were, or even their general truthfulness.

    I found that the version of Canada presented on the immigrant forums to be so totally different from the Canada I live in that I didn't even recognize it.

    If you know you want something, and you believe it is right for you, I think it's best to go with your own feelings and not be too influenced by people for whom that same choice did not work out.

  • When Americans in Canada - often conservative Americans who are here on business, not necessarily by their choice - say Canadians are anti-American, they usually mean that Canadians don't approve of everything the US does, and are openly critical of the US.

    But Canadians are also openly critical of Canada. In general, in Canada, you're not expected to shut up and salute. In general, Canadians are not defensive about Canada as Americans are about the US. But most Americans don't even realize they are defensive. They defend the US by reflex, and they regard criticism of the US as a personal insult. If that's your attitude, then of course you're going to hear anti-Americanism everywhere.

    What's more, most people easily distinguish between the US government and individual Americans - especially if you've moved to Canada to get away from that government!

  • I don't think there is a lot of anti-immigrant prejudice here, at least not in the GTA. I'm not saying there's no racism here. That would be absurd. But in general, Canada - especially the GTA and (from what I hear) the Vancouver area - is so heavily dependent on immigration, and immigrants are so much a part of the fabric of society, that it's hard for people simply to be anti-immigrant.

    One thing is certain, no one will hate you because you're American. Some Canadians might worship you a bit because of that, some might jokingly say, "Sorry to hear that". Most won't care. And no one will treat you any differently.

  • So far I have not heard of one American immigrant who has had trouble finding work because they lacked Canadian experience.

    My partner and I both found employment right away, and so did almost every other US-to-Canada immigrant we know. One person did have trouble finding work; I don't think that was because he lacked Canadian experience, he just had some employment trouble. Depending on your field, you may have to get re-credentialed, and that can be an issue, so you certainly want to investigate that in advance.

    But most of the US-to-Canada immigrants we know have been very successful. These include people who are lawyers, nurses, social workers, in the telecom industry, secretaries, teachers, IT professionals... in other words, a whole range of jobs and professions. If anything, our US experience is looked on as worthwhile and important.

    * * * *

    The other concern is more general, about the lengthy application process, and my advice is more general life advice. It might not work for you, but it did work for me, so for what it's worth, I will share it.

    I know the application process is very daunting, even overwhelming. There were certainly times I felt overwhelmed - and everyone I know who has emigrated here felt the same way. Try to remember, as with any process: one step at a time. Make it your mantra.

    While we were going through the application process, and certainly during the transition itself, I found it very useful to think in small chunks of time.

    I would take one step, and try not to think too far past that stage. Then that stage would be accomplished and I'd move on to the next. If I thought too far into the future, I would feel the anxiety creeping in. So I would pull myself back to the task at hand.

    First, read everything on the CIC site, finding what pertains to you and digesting that material. Only that. Not too much more.

    Then, print out the application, read through it, make lists of what documents you'll need to assemble.

    Then, start to assemble those documents. That takes time, so get the process going, and while you're waiting, continue investigating Canada.

    Make lists and lists and lists, and keep plugging away. One step at a time.

    This is how you write a book, or go to law school, or accomplish almost anything. One step at a time.

    Remember: if you meet the qualifications, if you can come up with the money, if you have never been convicted of a felony - and if you jump through all the hoops, one at a time - you will get here.

    It takes time, but what Big Life Change doesn't? If you went back to school or changed careers, that would take time to accomplish. Leaving the US for Canada is the same thing. (But better!)

    In 2006, almost 11,000 Americans made the move. When the numbers come in for 2007, I think it will be even higher. We all did it and so can you.
  • 3.20.2008

    mountaintop removal and other heartbreaks

    When I think about the collapse of the United States - all the events and phenomena I throw into the wmtc category "US regression" - the piece that makes me saddest is the destruction of the country's immense physical beauty.

    Destroying the environment is nothing new, of course, but as resources become more scarce, the pace of the destruction will pick up. And since all the agencies that are supposed to protect the country actually represent industry, it would take a full scale overhaul of the government to reverse the trends. (Did I say overhaul? Perhaps I meant revolution.)

    I grew up visiting National Parks on family vacations. Those trips triggered my lifelong hunger for travel, and also instilled in me a deep appreciation of natural beauty. I'm not a backwoods hiker and I don't even like camping, but being around natural beauty - mountains, coastline, forest, desert, rock formations, anything - is, for me, one of life's great gifts.

    Both the US and Canada are such huge land masses, with so many different kinds of terrains and landscapes. (That's what happens when you take over a whole continent!) Both contain such an incredible wealth and diversity of natural beauty. I hope to see as much of Canada as I can, but I'm not yet done exploring the United States, either.

    I have often imagined what the US might be like if its great natural wonders had not been preserved from commercial use, if people like Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir and Oswald West hadn't been successful. Grand Canyon Condos? Redwood Golf Course? Or would all the giant Sequoias have been pulped?

    It's no surprise that the US's great physical legacy is being eroded by the same forces destroying its democracy.

    There are snowmobiles in Yellowstone Park, creating a haze over pollution Old Faithful, frightening bison and elk into ditches as they flee in terror. Supposedly we have to "balance" the concerns of the snowmobile industry against the intent and purpose of the park itself, along with its wildlife, human visitors and rangers. Yellowstone Park Rangers need respirators to breathe during snowmobile season.

    If you visit the Grand Canyon, you can buy a book that says the magnificent sight was created by the biblical flood of Noah fame. I blogged about that way back here. (And looking back, I see I was writing this same post.)

    Right now, the British mining company Vane Minerals has uranium-mining rights right outside the Grand Canyon. How did they get those rights? From the US Forest Service. Several large environmental organizations have joined together to fight this. Whether or not they succeed, it is clear that the battle lines have changed. I fear we will only hold back the tide for so long. (Which doesn't mean we should stop fighting.)

    Among the many environmental horrors being perpetrated in the United States, one of the most sickening - as well as permanent and irreversible - is mountaintop removal. This is a radical form of coal mining in which entire mountains are blasted out of existence. Local water is polluted, forests permanently destroyed (with all the subsequent flooding and mudslides that brings), landscapes altered forever.

    In 2002, the Environmental Protection [sic] Agency reclassified the waste product of coal mines as "fill". And because it is now fill, it does not have to be replaced. In short, the EPA gutted the Clean Water Act of 1970, which was the result of so much activism, and which led to the rehabilitation of formerly polluted waters throughout the US.

    Mountaintop removal is taking place in 23 states, but it is particularly devastating to the Appalachian region.

    People from Appalachia are often the butt of jokes; poverty and isolation will do that. But it is an area with an old, distinct culture, from which some of America's greatest music - and great labour organizing and radical activism - was born. It is also supposed to be distinctly beautiful. (On a purely selfish note, this is one area of the US I have barely seen, and its beauty may be gone before I get a chance to.)

    Mountaintop removal mining has been going on for decades, but its use has recently expanded. And so has the activism against it.

    One approach local residents are taking is to try to raise awareness in other areas that our energy use contributes to mountaintop renewal. For example, witness what took place at a recent town meeting in Massachusetts. This from the Boston Globe:
    At hearings last week on the Cape Wind project, some of the witnesses spoke in a mountain twang that had no hint of Yarmouth to it. They hailed from coal-mining country in West Virginia and had come north to plead with New Englanders to find a renewable energy alternative to mountaintop-removal coal mining - a practice that is making a moonscape out of their countryside.

    Each week, coal companies use explosives equal to the Hiroshima bomb to turn mountaintops into rubble and expose coal seams. The consequences are ghastly. Often, the blasts destroy wells or allow them to be poisoned by contaminants that decades of surface and underground mining have created. Residents say the earth-moving has also caused more flooding. And in 2004, a boulder dislodged by coal company blasting killed a 3-year-old Virginia boy in his bed.

    Coal accounts for just 15 percent of New England's electricity, so even Cape Wind, which would use offshore wind turbines to supply power equal to three-quarters of Cape Cod's demand, would not stop much of the devastation of Appalachia. But activists such as Janet Keating and Chuck Nelson of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition hope that Cape Wind will usher in a whole new era of energy production that lessens the nation's dependence on coal. The country gets 50 percent of its power from coal, the biggest carbon emitter among fossil fuels.

    Short of a nationwide shift away from coal and toward renewable sources, the Appalachia activists would like to see Congress pass the Clean Water Protection Act. This bill would reverse one of the Bush administration's most damaging concessions to industry on the environmental front.

    For more information about the fight against mountaintop removal, and how you can help, try the End Mountaintop Removal Action and Resource Center (cool URL!), the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, a West Virginia group with sickening high-resolution photos of the devastation, Mountain Justice Summer, and Appalachian Voices.

    All the large US environmental groups are also fighting this, but I thought I would highlight local, grassroots activism. I wonder when they will start to throw themselves on the gears of the machine.

    I don't know what I can do from here, but I'm going to find out. Although I have felt alienated from the US for a very long time, the most radical part of me will always be American, a country that was born of revolution. My parents taught me that this was the true national anthem, and they were right: "This land is my land. This land is your land."