happy new year and updates

For those who follow the personal side of this blog, here are some updates.

  • I'm writing this on my new netbook! It's this one, a Lenovo IdeaPad S10, in black. I don't know if another used ThinkPad would have been a better buy, but I really need something small and light, and I'll just have to see how long it lasts. The screen is excellent and the keyboard is almost full size (about 80%). My typing is a little clumsy right now but I'm sure I'll adjust in no time.

  • We bought a six-year-old dryer from a friend. It works great, and I feel a whole lot better about all the energy I'm not using.

  • I stopped looking for new gloves, and resigned myself to wearing old ones that I don't like. Then, in the supermarket, out of the corner of my eye, I saw some cheap imitations of the ones I loved and lost. Only $9.00! I snapped them up, and am happy. I also made a note to myself to order the real thing from L.L. Bean before next winter, when there's still a selection.

    Those are all the updates I can think of, at least until I get my grades.

    Happy New Year, friends of wmtc! Thanks for being here. I don't know what I'd do without you all. I wish us all peace of mind, good health and strong community for 2010.

    This time next year, may all the US war resisters be living safely in Canada.
  • canadians to break gaza blockade, please call egyptian embassy

    I have two updates on the Gaza Freedom March, one from Sandra Ruch of the Canadian delegation to the Gaza Freedom March, and one from CODEPINK. After the updates, there is a call to action from the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War. We're asked to make a couple of phone calls. Let's do it.

    From Sandra Ruch:
    Later this morning, Thursday, December 31, beginning at 10 am, more than 50 Canadians will be participating in an illegal march from Cairo to Gaza to break the blockade of Gaza.

    The Canadian government has said they will not provide assistance should marchers face prosecution or arrest.

    The Canadians are part of the Gaza Freedom March brings over 1300 people from more than 43 countries to join Palestinians of Gaza in a non-violent mass march to the Israeli border.

    From CODEPINK:
    The Gaza Freedom March continues - in Cairo, we hope in Gaza, and around the world. Because of all your emails and the determination of the almost 1,400 people who came to Cairo to be a part of the March, including 300 French nationals who have been camped out in front of their embassy for three nights, we secured a meeting with Madame Mubarak, the president's wife. Madame Mubarak arranged for 100 marchers to enter Gaza to deliver the humanitarian aid we had brought with us, under the umbrella of her organization The Red Crescent. This was considered a success until we began the difficult task of figuring out which 100 of the 1,400 would go.

    To make matters more complicated, the Foreign Minister, who had not wanted ANY of us to be allowed in and was angry he had been overruled by Mrs. Mubarak, decided to fan the flames by saying in a press conference that the 100 seats were for the "good people"; and the rest of us were bad "hooligans" who were being left behind. Some of the country representatives declined their seats, and some delegations decided they would prefer not to send anyone if the whole group was not allowed to go. Those who boarded the buses towards Rafah included journalists who had come to report on the conditions in Gaza, Palestinians who would be reunited with family they had not seen in years, and some members of the team who were committed to delivering the aid that had been collected.

    One of the desired results of the march was to focus world attention on the continuing and devastating effects of the blockade on Gaza. The outpouring of support from around the world for the Palestinians in Gaza has been amazing. Twenty-two marchers began a hunger strike in Cairo, including 85-year-old Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor, who has been interviewed by journalists from around the world. This morning's New York Times piece on the march and the hunger strike was a huge success in getting the story of Gaza to a wider audience, and reflected the passion of those who had traveled so far to be a part of this historic movement.

    The hunger strikers ask that sometime during the period marking the Operation Cast Lead invasion anniversary -- December 27-January 18 -- you join them in remembrance by skipping a meal, or fasting for a day or a week. Sign up here.

    And please be a part of the international solidarity movement for the Palestinians of Gaza by doing what you can to spread the story, tweet or Facebook the NY Times story and keep up with the ever changing tides of the march on the PINKtank.

    You can find up to the minute information on our Twitter page. Follow us on twitter and march with us virtually!

    Solidarity actions for the Gaza Freedom March began taking place December 27th to mark the one year assault on Gaza, with more actions scheduled through January 1, 2010. The massive mobilization includes candlelight vigils, concerts, processions, marches, demonstrations, art installations, house parties and movie screenings all over the world. View solidarity actions worldwide and visit our Flickr slide show.

    Not attending a March or Solidarity Action? Join us in Solidarity Online.

    The Gaza Freedom March site is being updated almost hourly, so check it out, share the photos, videos and articles with your friends!


    So here's a toast to our power and our passion -- we have our work cut out for us in 2010!

    Medea Benjamin and the CODEPINK Team
    (Dana, Emily, Farida, Gael, Gayle, Janet, Jodie, Kitty, Marina, Nancy, Paris, Rae, Suzanne, and Whitney)

    From Toronto Coalition To Stop The War:
    URGENT: Support the Gaza Freedom March! Please call the Egyptian Embassy in Ottawa and the Egyptian Consulate in Montreal.

    This is a call to all Canadians of conscience.

    As many of you may know, Egypt has placed a ban on the Gaza Freedom March (GFM), a group of 1,362 people representing 42 different countries, and the conscience of humanity. They aim to end the siege of Gaza, which imprisons a population of 1.5 million innocent civilians who suffer in despicable ways, and they wish to bring to Gaza desperately needed humanitarian supplies including winter coats for children and specialized baby formula for infants with digestive problems, which Israel has banned from entering Gaza.

    Currently in Cairo there are 57 Canadians as part of the GFM including two MPs, a professor from the University of Western Ontario, a young man from Gaza who has not met his father in eight years, students, and ordinary citizens. Five of them have joined an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor on a Hunger Strike to protest the Egyptian government's decision to ban this desperately needed humanitarian initiative.

    They are being faced by riot police, detained in hotel rooms, prevented from even leaving Cairo!

    We are calling on all Canadians of conscience to make two phone calls on the morning of December 31st, 2009.

    Please call:

    1) The Egyptian Embassy in Ottawa at 613.234.4931

    2) The Egyptian Consulate in Montreal at: 514.866.8455

    We ask that you express your support for the 57 Canadians in Cairo and of the entire Gaza Freedom March delegation, and its noble intentions.

    We ask that you request and insist that the Egyptian Embassy and the Egyptian Consulate, in Ottawa and Montreal respectively, on behalf of all Canadians of conscience, take action immediately and urge the Egyptian government to allow all members of the Gaza Freedom March to proceed.

    For those in Ottawa on December 31, at 11 am, we will assemble outside the Egyptian Embassy located at 454 Laurier Avenue East, for an hour.

    For those in Montreal on December 31, at 11 am, we will assemble outside the Egyptian Consulate located at 1000 rue De La Gauchetiere O., Suite 3320, for an hour.

    Please use the last day of your year to help humanity, help this historic march proceed, help end the siege of Gaza, help an imprisoned innocent people be free.

    Make all phone calls starting at 9 am all the way until noon! Keep calling! Keep the pressure up!

    Thank you, sincerely,

    From Canadian supporters of the Gaza Freedom March


    opposition m.p.s should refuse to prorogue

    Via this excellent post by Section 15, I've learned that Andrew Coyne and I agree on something.

    Parliament - minus the Tories, of course - should meet anyway. I'd love to see all three Opposition parties refuse to prorogue. "Conservatives, you don't want to work? Then don't. We were elected to do a job and we're going to do it. We're meeting without you!"

    After all, they are the majority! Freals, it's true. I know you can't tell but they are!

    As Canadian democracy spirals further down the drain:

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper will prorogue Parliament Wednesday for a two-month break.

    The House of Commons and the Senate will come back in March, after the Vancouver Olympics, for a Speech from the Throne and a budget. The move will have the effect of stalling all bills currently in Parliament, including crime bills that the government had said were being delayed by the opposition.

    A post-Olympic return would also shut down government committees, which would stop MPs from pursuing the Afghan detainee controversy until Parliament returned.

    Question: In what other democracy is it permissible for the government of the day to hide from the legislature for months at a time? To ignore explicit parliamentary votes demanding the production of documents? To stonewall independent inquiries? Perhaps the rules allow it elsewhere, but is it the practice? Does convention not still forbid it? Is it not viewed in other countries as dictatorial behaviour, and therefore, you know … not done?

    So, rather than submit himself to the inquiries of elected parliamentarians, the King will dismiss Parliament, in the grand tradition of kings past. The question is: what will Parliament do now? If historical precedent is any guide, it should meet anyway. Let those MPs who wish to do the people's business convene on the usual timetable, and let those with other loyalties disport themselves as they may.

    If MPs are barred at the doors to Parliament — and wouldn't that be an interesting scene — let them meet somewhere else. A tennis court would do nicely.

    update from gaza freedom march, and how you can help

    As you know, the international delegation known as the Gaza Freedom March has been stranded at the border with Egypt, unable to bring food, supplies and hope to the Palestinians caught in the Gaza siege.

    The Egyptian government, negotiating with the Marchers, said it would allow 100 of the 1,300 delegates over the border into Gaza. The Canadian delegation, along with delegations from France, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden and New York State, rejected the offer.

    "We flatly reject Egypt's offer of a token gesture. We refuse to whitewash the siege of Gaza. Our group will continue working to get all 1362 marchers into Gaza as one step towards the ultimate goal for the complete end of the siege and the liberation of Palestine," said Ziyaad Lunat a member of the march Coordinating Committee.

    Here's an update - and what you can do - from Sandra Ruch :
    Using the pretext of escalating tensions on the Gaza-Egypt border, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry informed us yesterday that the Rafah border will be closed over the coming weeks, into January. We responded that there is always tension at the border because of the siege, that we do not feel threatened, and that if there are any risks, they are risks we are willing to take. We also said that it was too late for over 1,300 delegates coming from over 42 countries to change their plans now. We both agreed to continue our exchanges.

    Although we consider this as a setback, it is something we've encountered - and overcome - before. No delegation, large or small, that entered Gaza over the past 12 months has ever received a final OK before arriving at the Rafah border. Most delegations were discouraged from even heading out of Cairo to Rafah. Some had their buses stopped on the way. Some have been told outright that they could not go into Gaza. But after public and political pressure, the Egyptian government changed its position and let them pass.

    Our efforts and plans will not be altered at this point. We have set out to break the siege of Gaza and march on December 31 against the Israeli blockade. We are continuing in the same direction.

    We will keep urging the Egyptian representatives in Canada through our rally and by making constant phone calls, flooding them with emails, and sending faxes, to PRESSURE THE EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT and PUT AN END TO THIS INJUSTICE ON THE PEOPLE OF GAZA.

    The Gaza Freedom March was organized to focus attention on the one-year mark since Israel's 22-day assault, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and injured more than 5,000. The invasion ended, but the aftermath has only worsened. No re-building materials have been allowed in and more than 80 percent of Gazans now depend on charity for basic survival.

    The marchers had planned to enter Gaza on December 27, crossing at Egypt's Rafah Crossing, then joining with 50,000 Palestinian residents in a march to the Erez Crossing, into Israel, to peacefully demand an end to the siege.

    Just days before hundreds of delegates began arriving in Cairo, Hosni Mubarak's government announced that the march would not be allowed to go forward, citing ongoing tensions at the border.

    When marchers peacefully demonstrated against the decision, the government cracked down, using heavily armed riot police to intimidate, beat and arrest the nonviolent marchers.

    Here's how you can help. Please click and add your voice to the global movement calling for an end to the siege.

    stephen harper: enemy of democracy

    Once again, he runs and hides from the people. Parliament will resume on March 3. Democracy be damned.

    P.S. Least surprising headline of the year: Ignatieff Shelves Election Talk.

    Don't tell me how an election will give Harper his majority. He's had a de facto majority for years!


    malalai joya: rise like a storm that brings the truth

    My first opportunity to travel to the West to tell the story of my suffering people came in 2002, when I was regional director of OPAWC. Soon after we had set up Hamoon Clinic and the orphanage, I was invited by women's rights groups to speak in Germany. I was only 24 years old at the time, so I was very honored by the invitation. . . .

    I remember clearly that some Germans in the audience cried when we described the conditions of life in Afghanistan. I also met a Russian woman at this conference who came up to us and said how ashamed she was that her country had caused so many problems in Afghanistan. It was very impressive to me. It was on this first trip abroad that I really began to realize the universal humanity that unites everyone who is working for a better world.

    These Westerners were human just as we Afghans are human. We are all flesh and bone, we all live and die, and we all have hopes and dreams for our families and friends. Westerners and Afghans both have women and young generations that want something better - all of this unites us despite just how different our conditions of day-to-day life are.

    . . . .

    ... I am speechless to describe my gratitude and warm solidarity. I am convinced that it does not matter in what part of the world we find ourselves. If we share ideas and we carry out a struggle for justice, then we are united together by strong bonds.

    . . .

    My goal abroad has always been the same as when I am inside Afghanistan: to unite people and to build power to destroy the domination of the warlords and the Taliban, and to end the occupation of my country. My wish is that this international solidarity will build strength and unity, and that when people become aware, they will rise like a storm that brings the truth. One voice - or even many isolated voices - is powerless. But when we weave our voices and our efforts together, we can become unbreakable.

    This movement we are weaving must come from struggles in every corner of the world: our voice of resistance in Afghanistan; the cries of agony of the children of Palestine; the tears for democracy denied in Burma; the young freedom-loving students of Iran; the struggle of men and women in Turkey from whom I hear inspiring stories of bravery and courage in the face of horrible torture and killings in the Turkish prisons; the endeavors of Venezuela, Chile, Cuba, Bolivia, and progressive movements in other American nations; the fight of African people for just and free societies.

    Our sufferings - and enemies - are the same. And our happiness is the same.

    Malalai Joya, A Woman Among Warlords

    More on the book in a bit.

    not watching the olympics at the mark

    The Mark is running a slightly edited version of a recent wmtc post: "Why I Can't Stand the Olympics". Please click.

    security theatre redux: when all else fails, blame unions

    Yesterday I blogged about the "security theatre" being acted out in airports all over North America right now. In comments, I learned that same stage is presenting another tired old standard: union bashing.

    Raw Story:
    Republican senator Jim DeMint used the attempted attack on a airplane bound for Detroit as an excuse to voice opposition to unions.

    Absent any other television guests interested in countering Senator DeMint's assertions, Fox News provided him a national forum for a broad attack on labor. He warned, "The administration is intent on unionizing and submitting our airport security to union bosses' collective bargaining."

    The senator from South Carolina told Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace that unionization is a threat to airport security because collective bargaining prevents flexibility.

    "We have to out-think the terrorists and when we formed the airport security system, we realized we could not use collective bargaining and unionization because of that need to be flexible," DeMint said.

    Who's running the TSA? No one, thanks to Sen. Jim DeMint

    An attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration — if there were one.

    The post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has held up President Barack Obama's nominee in opposition to the prospect of TSA workers joining a labor union.

    Which made me think of posts like this, by Anonymous Is A Woman, reminding us of all the "everyday heroes" whose union training and standards have saved lives, and this one by emptywheel reminding us that "the miracle on the Hudson" was a union-made product.

    Jim DeMint's brand of obstructionism tries to divide us into two camps: the people waiting in long lines to board airplanes, and the people whose job it is to move those lines along. He wants us to hate and resent the TSA workers for trying to get a decent contract. Hell, he wants us to hate them for having a contract at all! Who are they to deserve decent jobs? They're lucky just to have jobs at all! Let them shut up and be grateful!

    Who benefits if workers stay divided? Employers.

    Who benefits if workers have the right to collective bargaining? Everyone.

    From Oot and Aboot with Some Canadian Skeptic:
    Do your children have to work anymore? Thank a union.
    Does your workweek cap at 40 hours? Thank a union.
    Do you get health benefits? Thank a union.
    Do you get maternity leave? Thank a union.
    Do you get sick leave? Thank a union.
    Does your workplace have safety-precautions? Thank a union.
    Have a weekend? Thank a union.
    Do you have more time off than time at work? Thank a union.
    Do you get to retire one day? Thank a union.
    Ever have a paid holiday? Thank a union.
    Take a day off and not been fired? Thank a union.
    Not been fired for being gay, black, or a woman? Thank a union.
    Do you get overtime pay? Thank a union.
    Have a minimum wage? Thank a union.
    Has that minimum wage risen since the 1970's? Thank a union.

    [The whole post is excellent.]

    I have a few questions for Jim DeMint.

    Which do you think will make us safer - minimum wage jobs with no benefits, no paid time off, and a high turnover, or living-wage jobs with good benefits and moderate stability?

    If TSA workers are the "thin blue line" keeping the skies safe from shoebombers, which is more important - preventing them from bargaining collectively for better working conditions, or having a strong, secure workforce?

    DeMint said President Obama should "put the interests of American travelers ahead of organized labor". But he interests of labour are the interests of American travelers. Labour and those travelers are the same people, and good jobs will benefit all of them. How about we put the interests of people ahead of anti-union corporations?


    security theatre exposed: we're taking off our shoes while people on terror-watch lists travel freely

    In one of my courses last term, "Knowledge and Information in Society," one of the topics explored was surveillance and control.

    The professor, Andrew Clement, has amassed a huge body of research with practical, real-life applications. One lecture that made a big impression on me summarized his work on Ontario's plans for the so-called enhanced driver's license, an identity document permitting travel to and from the United States in lieu of a passport.

    Ontario planned and implemented the licenses without public input or oversight, and a group at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information tried to participate. After numerous Access to Information requests and other attempts were stalled or ignored, they held their own hearings. (This was part of a graduate student's PhD thesis.)

    My interpretation of their findings: the enhanced driver's license is a frightening intrusion into citizen privacy and offers no greater security or time-savings than any other document.

    Dr Clement used the term "security theatre": a presentation from the state giving only the appearance of increased security. The methods of security theatre are often an invasion of the state into our lives and onto our very bodies.

    This struck Allan and I as a perfect expression of what we've seen at airports since September, 2001. Many of us realize that the ridiculous rituals now being carried out at airports all over the world do nothing but delay, frustrate and harass us, and in some cases - those of us with brown skin and/or Arabic-sounding last names - humiliate and harm us. And they don't make us one hair safer.

    This week the masks fell off the ongoing performance of security theatre, when a man boarded a plane despite: [sources below]

  • being on terrorist watch lists both in the UK and the US (but not on the no-fly list!),

  • having been seen trying to board the Amsterdam-Detroit flight without a passport,

  • having been refused a UK student visa following an application to study at a fake university (he then obtained a US visa, issued in London),

  • his own father having warned security services in both Nigeria and the US about his extremist views,

  • buying a one-way ticket, and

  • paying cash.

    Meanwhile, we are taking off our shoes, throwing out water bottles, putting hand lotion in special packaging and submitting to all manner of intrusions and humiliations, causing us hours and hours of travel delays, or worse.

    I can't help but wonder if Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was allowed to fly not because of incompetence, but by intent. Either way, the incident exposes the complete sham we've been forced to live with for the past eight years.

    If you're interested in the research into enhanced driver's licenses and other surveillance, you might want to check out The Surveillance Project of Queen's Univeristy and The Identity, Privacy and Security Institute (IPSI) at the U of T. IPSI "is dedicated to developing new approaches to security that maintain the privacy, freedom and safety of the individual and the broader community".


    Sources: The Age (Australia), CBS, ABC, New York Times, Daily Mail (UK).
  • government support for the arts, 17th century edition

    Catching up on my Pepys reading, I see this, from the entry dated 19 December 1666.
    Thence going away met Mr. Hingston the organist (my old acquaintance) in the Court, and I took him to the Dog Taverne and got him to set me a bass to my "It is decreed," [a song Pepys had composed] which I think will go well . . . Then to talk of the King's family. He says many of the musique are ready to starve, they being five years behindhand for their wages; nay, Evens, the famous man upon the Harp having not his equal in the world, did the other day die for mere want, and was fain to be buried at the almes of the parish, and carried to his grave in the dark at night without one linke, but that Mr. Hingston met it by chance, and did give 12d. to buy two or three links. He says all must come to ruin at this rate, and I believe him.

    A "link" or "linke" is torch used to light the way on dark streets; a "link boy" is a person paid to carry such a torch. Here's a link about links.

    The musicians hired by the court have not been paid in five years. All are on the brink of starvation, and one great talent has already succumbed, killed by poverty and neglect.

    first term report card

    I was waiting to post this until I got my first term grades, not realizing that wouldn't happen until the first week of January. So I'll post it now and fill in the grades later. After all, the grades are the least important part of this whole enterprise.

    I am now one-eighth of the way to being a Master of Information. Here's my first term report card.

    Courses completed: 2 of 16

    Number of papers written: 5

    Number of presentations made: 2

    Orders of french fries consumed: 1

    Friends and acquaintances made: several

    Chances of staying in touch with any of them (all full-time students): almost zero

    Interesting material learned: much more than I expected

    Boring material suffered through: plenty

    Grades by frequency (two grades still outstanding):
    A+   1
    A 0
    A- 3
    B+ 3
    B 1
    B- 0
    FZ 0
    Expected grades in both classes: B+

    Actual grades for both classes: A-, and either A or A-

    I originally thought I'd take courses every summer, in order to finish the program sooner. But now I see that most summer courses are given at night - and giving up my summer evenings is too great a sacrifice. I'd actually rather stay in school another year than do that. There's also reason to believe the current job crunch in the Mississauga Library System will improve during that time.

    Right now the best thing about school is that I'm not dreading the next term. I'm having a great winter break - both relaxing and very productive, my favourite combination - and I expected to be sad and anxious about school starting next week. But I'm not. I'm fine. This is a very good sign.

    My improved attitude is largely because I've changed my courses for next term. I had been enrolled in two required library courses, thinking I'd get them out of the way. But the topics sounded so dry, and it's not necessary to front-load all the requirements. Why not inject a little interest?

    To keep my motivation up and make my schedule easier, I scrapped the requireds and enrolled in two electives (out of seven available to me). Both sound really interesting: Intellectual Freedom and Libraries, and the History of Books and Printing. Hopefully this will make my winter easier.

    My other electives will likely focus on my library areas of interest: youth and disability/accessibility. But both of these electives are meaningful to me, and intellectual freedom is particularly relevant to librarians.

    One more week of my own intellectual freedom before my brain wears the bit again.

    gaza freedom march still stranded at egyptian border, harassment intensifies, holocaust survivor begins hunger strike

    The Gaza Freedom March, an international delegation bringing aid and hope for peace and freedom to the people of Gaza, is still stranded at the Egyptian border, unable to cross into Gaza. One member, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor named Hedy Epstein, has begun a hunger strike in protest.

    Here are two updates from the Canadian contingent. First, from Dave Bleakney of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers:
    Thirteen hundred people are stranded in Cairo seeking to bring humanitarian aid and build people to people relationships with those in Palestine seeking peace, reconciliation and respect.

    The Canadian and other western governments appear complicit and accomplices in preventing civil society exchanges involving students, seniors, trade unionists, and women's organizations. Supporting and aiding the building of direct links outside the political structures of Hamas and the Israeli government seems an undesirable act by our governments and those that purport to represent us. The Canadian government has a poor track record in protecting Canadians abroad.

    In the last days the intensity of police response, both undercover and overt has increased. Frequently plainclothes officers visit hotels after groups have left obtaining personal and confidential information about the marchers.

    The Gaza Freedom March and other international groups have been denied entry to Gaza and face ongoing police harassment.

    The French solidarity movement that camped out on the street in front of their embassy last night were given assurances that they would receive buses and passage that never occurred. At last report (a few hours ago) they were surrounded by riot police in front of their embassy. Internationalists who joined them from around the world were eventually released. The Italian delegation that was to leave from Giza, a suburb of Cairo, at 5 am this morning was stuck after their chartered transportation did not arrive. They are currently marching several kilometres to the Italian embassy. One Australian women who was abducted from her hotel over night and taken to a police station near the Gaza-Egypt border was eventually released.

    There are false reports that Egypt is allowing small groups to pass. None of the humanitarian groups have been permitted passage.

    Egyptian supporters have been badly beaten.

    Currently hundreds are meeting in front of UNESCO here in Cairo in hopes that the world will awaken, in spite of mainstream media omission and disinformation to the injustices occurring in this region.

    What is wrong with bringing aid and recognition that Palestinians are human beings under siege and deserving of peace and justice?

    Please contact your political representatives and reiterate what is needed here is less, not more violence.

    And from Sandra Ruch, Canadian delegate:
    Hedy Epstein, the 85 year old Holocaust survivor and peace activist, announced that she will begin a hunger strike today as a response to the Egyptian government’s refusal to allow the Gaza Freedom March participants into Gaza.

    Ms. Epstein was part of a delegation with participants from 43 countries that were to join Palestinians in a non-violent march from Northern Gaza towards the Erez border with Israel calling for the end of the illegal siege. Egypt is preventing the marchers from leaving Cairo, forcing them to search for alternative ways to make their voices heard.

    Ms. Epstein will remain outside the UN building at the World Trade Center (Cairo) - 1191 Cornish al-Nil, throughout today, accompanied by other hunger strikers. "It is important to let the besieged Gazan people know they are not alone. I want to tell the people I meet in Gaza that I am a representative of many people in my city and in other places in the US who are outraged at what the US, Israeli and European governments are doing to the Palestinians and that our numbers are growing," Epstein said.

    In 1939, when Epstein was just 14, her parents found a way for her to escape the persecution, sending her on the Kindertransport to England. Epstein never saw her parents again; they perished in Auschwitz in 1942. After World War II, Epstein worked as a research analyst at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi doctors who performed medical experiments on concentration camp inmates.

    After moving to the US, Epstein became an activist for peace and social justice causes. Unlike most Holocaust survivors, one of the causes she has taken up is that of the Palestinian people. She has traveled to the West Bank, collected material aid and now she hopes to enter Gaza.

    My friend David Heap says (on Facebook): "We are blocked but we will not be stopped!" Twitterites can follow his updates on twitter.com/DavidHeap.


    on becoming a writer, part three

    Part One here.

    Part Two here.

    So I wrote, and I did activism, and I worked. By the mid-late 1990s, I had started doing document production in corporate law firms, which fit well with my writing. Doc-pro is not mind-numbingly boring, it requires some technical skills which I enjoy, but it uses no creative energy and leaves my brain and creative self free for what really matters. I focused on jockeying my way into increasingly better positions, where I would be paid more for fewer hours.

    (While I was a nanny, Allan had been waiting tables at a local cafe. When we left Brooklyn for Washington Heights - and I left my position as a nanny after four and a half years - I taught Allan word-processing and he started work as a legal secretary. Eventually he also moved into legal doc-pro work, and that is what we both still do today.)

    When I look back on this time of my life, I see myself as frenetically busy, always juggling a packed calendar of writing, work and activism, and within writing, juggling as many projects as I could. I needed to be writing one assignment and following up on two queries, with another two ideas on deck, to be happy. I kept a log of pitches I had out and when I had last followed up on them. (This was pre-fibromyalgia, and reminds me of how difficult it was for me to adjust to a calmer, more restful schedule.)

    Challenges arose daily and in forms I would not have imagined. Learning how to write the same story in three different lengths for three different magazines and audiences. Learning how to write on word-length, as opposed to writing twice as much as necessary and then cutting the story into shape. Becoming a good interviwer. Then becoming a great interviewer. Writing sparkling query letters that editors would take seriously. Learning what to fight for in a story and what to let an editor change.

    I wrote for New Mobility regularly, as a contributing editor, a columnist and feature writer, and edited chapters in some of their books. My work appeared in a dozen different magazines and newspapers. I wrote a number of educational videos and nonfiction self-help books for teens who are struggling readers. I had a few personal essays published. I loved being a working writer.

    I wrote some lengthy features for Seventeen magazine, which was a bit of a dream come true, as I had subscribed to the magazine as a girl and dreamt about seeing my name in it. (I used to enter their teen fiction contest every year. On one rejection card, an editor had hand-written a note of encouragement and praise. I kept it on my bulletin board for years.) Not only did those stories pay very well and I traveled on assignment (my favourite thing!), but other editors contacted me, and I was able to re-purpose my research into a book, more than once.

    I learned that I loved writing nonfiction features. It's possible that I enjoy this more than any other writing - the entire process, from finding the topic, interviewing, finding the themes within the interviews, and crafting the story. I wanted to do this as much as possible... but found very limited opportunity.

    I learned a lot of other things, too. I learned the writing business is gruesome. Writers are grossly underpaid and treated like crap. I joined the National Writers Union, and became active fighting for my own rights and the rights of other freelancers. I learned that the kind of publishing I wanted to do was shrinking and disappearing.

    I'll summarize two incidents that illustrate the dark side of this experience. (There's a third, early-learning incident related here in comments.)

    While I was finishing my first story for Seventeen, the magazine's parent company was taken over by another media group. The chief editor was fired, and a new editor brought in - someone who would "refresh" the magazine by making it celebrity-driven. Fiction would be published three times a year instead of monthly. Serious features would be half the length, and in the back, in black and white.

    The entire senior staff resigned in protest. I had a story in the works, and my editor very thoughtfully made sure my contract was secure and I would be paid. My unfinished story - a long, intense piece about girls who had survived eating disorders - was now in the hands of a young, male editor who thought the whole topic was silly and mildly disgusting, and wanted to cut it to a quarter of its assigned length. I had become heavily emotionally invested in the story and in my subjects' lives, and I fought for it as if it was a living thing. The full story ran, albeit with the editor's clumsy fingerprints all over it, and I was paid, but it ended my relationship with the magazine.

    When that editor left, I pitched other ideas, but new editors come in with their old contacts, and even though you've written for the publication, it's like starting completely cold. Because of the volatile nature of the current publishing industry, this would happen to me on a regular basis.

    Then there was New York magazine. While writing a story for Seventeen, about adopted teens searching for their biological roots, I came upon an amazing story idea. It was perfect for New York - a very hot magazine at the time - and I pitched it to them. An editor expressed interest, but wouldn't commit. I followed up for months. He kept me dangling, so I kept at it. Eventually he gave me a contract.

    I did months of in-depth interviews. My editor gave me pointers on how to turn the story from a good but pedestrian feature into something with real depth and sparkle. I crafted the best story I had ever written, and I loved doing it.

    After a full year of pitching, follow-up, research, writing and re-writing, New York did a photo shoot. The story was slated to come out in the next issue, on a Tuesday. On Friday afternoon, my editor called. His boss had killed the story.

    I later learned through the NWU that New York was notorious for this. They would regularly assign a dozen stories, writers would produce, then they'd choose one or two for publication and pay kill-fees for the rest. The stories would often be topical, so it was too late for the writer to sell them elsewhere. (A Christmas-related story, for example, may be assigned in June and finished by September.) Thus New York had a steady supply of finished stories to choose from and kept the competition from getting these juicy pieces.

    A kill-fee is a controversial clause in a writing contract that specifies what the publisher will pay the writer if it decides not to publish the piece. Before you're in the business, a kill-fee sounds sweet, like money for nothing. In reality, it's doing your job for one-third of your already small fee.

    Imagine you want a new kitchen. You hire a contractor, and agree on specs. The contractor gives you exactly what you asked for, and unlike the stereotypical contractor, delivers on time. When the last screw has been turned, you say, "You know what, I don't really want pine. I know we agreed on pine, and that's what you gave me, but now I've changed my mind. I want oak. So I'm not going to pay you for this pine kitchen. I'll just pay you a third of our agreed-upon price for your troubles." That's a kill-fee. Assignments should be paid for on acceptance - when the writer and editor agree the assignment has been completed. The publisher's decision whether or not to run the story is a separate consideration, and the writer's fee shouldn't be attached to it.

    With the NWU's help, I got my full fee. But now my relationship with New York was over. I had plenty of company there, but there were plenty more hungry freelancers waiting to be similarly screwed - and fewer and fewer places to try to sell my ideas.

    The business was awful in so many ways. The industry standard per-word fee hadn't gone up in 20 years. (Since then it's actually gone down.) The NWU was fighting for an expansion of electronic rights, while real-world contracts were moving in the opposite direction: no rights, everything work-for-hire.

    I loved magazine feature writing when it worked, but it worked too seldomly. If my work had been in great demand, or if I had found a lot of excellent opportunities, I might have seen a different equation. But as it stood, the frustration-to-success ratio was all out of whack.

    I loved writing the nonfiction YA books, but the pay was beyond low, it was insulting. The only way it made sense to write those books was if I had already done the research for another work. Other than that, you'd be working for Reagan-era minimum wage, flat fee, no royalties, no rights to future use. No thank you.

    Eventually I needed a break from banging my head against the wall. That came in two forms.

    Allan had - after a huge amount of angst - finished writing his book. I had edited it and was very invested in it, both because of my own work on it, and how much it had meant in our lives. Once it was published, we needed someone to do the publicity, and I volunteered. Who would care about that book as much as I did? Who would work as hard to get it out there?

    I also heard that the young-adult market had picked up again, more books were being published, and it might be a good time to re-try my novel. I had nothing to lose. When I first tried to sell that book, it was my whole heart and soul. My entire value as a writer was embedded in those pages. Now the heavy emotional overtone had dissipated. I thought, the book can't be any less published than it is now. Why not?

    I did a re-write and immediately fixed a problem that had plagued the book from the start. So that was the answer - put it down for ten years! Again, an agent snapped it up immediately. Unlike my first agent, this one worked quickly. And within six months, she was done. No go.

    And now I was done, too. People frequently tell me I should try again, but the book is from another place and time. It's in the past. I think it's a really good YA novel, but I've moved on.

    * * * *

    Around this time, Allan and I took a vacation to Ireland. I had had a fascination with Irish history and had been reading about it for more than ten years, I love Irish music, and it was time to go. In Ireland, I had a revelation about my writing. I've already written about this in an earlier post, but it was buried, and I don't know if anyone actually saw it. So here it is again, from a post about a Judy Chicago exhibit I saw at the Textile Museum of Canada with my mom.
    Resolutions reminded me of all the talented people, everywhere, who work at their crafts because they want to and need to, and the seemingly infinite variety of ways that creativity is expressed.

    * * * *

    There was a time when all my writing energy was focused on trying to be published in as many places as possible, trying to see as many of my ideas in print as possible. I thought this way for many years.

    Coincidentally to this, in 2001, Allan and I were planning a trip to Ireland. I had a long-standing fascination with Irish history and culture, and going to Ireland was the culmination of ten years of reading and dreaming.

    A big part of the trip was hearing Irish music, which I adore. Every town we visited had at least one pub where traditional Irish music was played. We would drive into a town, ask at the B&B or in a shop where traditional music could be heard, and get the name of the pub, then we'd stop by that pub to ask what time music would start. In this way, we heard music every night of the trip, nearly 3 weeks.

    This was not in tourist season, and we were usually the only non-locals in the pub. The music was played by whoever showed up. One night it might be two guitars, a pipe and a bodhrán, the next perhaps a guitar, a fiddle and a pipe, or any other combination.

    The musicians sat at a table - no stage - and played whatever they wanted. Patrons would make requests, and sing along. Sometimes everyone in the pub would sing. Imagine this, a community of people hanging out at night together, raising their voices in song.

    These musicians made music because they were musicians. They played for the joy of it, for their craft, and to keep their tradition alive. Undoubtedly they all had jobs and did this after work. You could say they made music because it gave their lives meaning.

    I returned home from that trip with a new understanding of my own craft. I wasn't sorry I had spent so much time and energy trying to be published. That was something I needed to do, and it was important that I did it. But whatever I had needed to prove to myself was now proven.

    I decided to stop applying pressure on myself, stop viewing publication as the necessary end of any writing. I still wanted an audience, of course, but I would get back in touch with the writer within, and not focus on the external affirmation.

    So that ended a certain chapter in my writing life. But what next?

    The fourth and final chapter coming soon.


    christmastime for the jews, and other hilarity

    This is the third holiday season I've wanted to post the same great video, but can't because of Canadian copyright restrictions. "Christmastime for the Jews" was one of Robert Smigel's brilliant cartoons for SNL, featuring a perfect Phil Spector-style Darlene Love singing over the animation.

    We have it on a Smigel DVD which we watched yesterday - completely coincidentally to Christmas. US readers and Canadians with fake IP addresses can watch it here. Canadians without a workaround have to settle for audio here; there's a still from the video here.

    However... searching for the video, we learned that TV Funhouse - the Comedy Central show, not the SNL shorts - is finally out on DVD! Yay! This is a must-buy for us. The short-lived, little-seen, late-night comedy was our secret obsession in the winter of 2000. It's a totally irreverent, hilarious cartoon spoof, in the style of those low-budget Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the 1970s and 80s. You might be able to see some clips here, and the trailer for the DVD is here. But I can't find audio of the theme song!
    Everyone stay up and play
    For the last cartoon show of the day
    TV Funhouse comin' through
    With animals that pee and poo
    Ani-pals adventuring
    Out in space or playin' with string
    You did your homework, thereby earning
    One last show before you turn in
    Last chance to be entertained
    Sleep is good but TV helps your brain
    TV Funhouse!

    Since I can't post the Smigel videos, I'll go with something more serious: "The Profit," by Dwayne Booth, better known as the cartoonist Mr. Fish.

    irish women challenge their country's abortion ban

    News from my friend Mara Clarke, founder of the Abortion Support Network in the UK.
    Yesterday it was announced that three women, known as A, B, and C, have begun their challenge to Ireland's ban on abortion in the European Court of Human Rights. The three women travelled to Britain to have abortions and claim that the Irish anti-abortion laws caused health risk, trauma and humiliation. Although the case has garnered significant international attention, a decision is not expected for some time.

    In the meantime, women in Ireland are still forced to travel to obtain safe, legal abortions. These women are travelling not only from Ireland, the focus of this court case, but also from Northern Ireland, where, despite being part of the United Kingdom, abortion is illegal in almost all situations.

    Women need help. While all advocates of reproductive choice anticipate the outcome of the ABC case, the Abortion Support Network (ASN) is here to help these women – with housing for women who come to London for abortions and need a place to stay overnight, and with funding to help offset the costs of travel and procedure, which can range from £400 - £2000 depending on stage of pregnancy and other circumstances. Last year almost 6,000 Irish women made this journey.

    Help now. While other organisations campaign for law reform, we will exist to help women access safe abortions by providing practical support, in the form of accommodation and financial assistance. 100% of any donation made to ASN will be used to help a woman travelling from Ireland to offset the cost of her abortion. Please visit this link to make a donation through PayPal or to set up a standing order. Your donation will make a direct difference to a woman.

    In the meantime, following is some information about the challenge to the law, including a SkyNews interview with author, activist, and ASN host Ann Rossiter.

    BBC News: Ireland's abortion law challenged in European court

    Sky News: London-Based Author Ann Rossiter Warns Credit Crunch Could Force Women Into Illegal Abortions

    Irish Times: Legal Challenge to Abortion Law a "momentous day'

    Irish Times: Government defends abortion law

    chomsky: give them a sensible answer: take over your factories

    Last spring, I attended a talk given by the International Socialists called "Recession, Resistance and Revolution"; I wrote a summary here and here.

    This talk was excellent historical and political background as I read this interview with Noam Chomsky on ZNet. Diane Krauthamer sat down with the famous leftist thinker in October. Here's an excerpt.
    The Second World War ended with a radicalization of the population in the United States and everywhere else, and called for all kinds of things like popular takeovers, government intervention, and worker takeovers of factories. Business propagated a tremendous propaganda offensive. The scale surprised me when I read the scholarship—it's enormous, and it's been very effective. There were two major targets: one is unions, the other is democracy. . . .

    . . . it's a tremendous victory for the opponents of democracy, and, of course, any privileged sector is going to hate democracy. You can see it in the healthcare debate.

    The majority of the population thinks that if the government runs healthcare, they're going to take away your freedom. At the same time, the public favors a national healthcare program. The contradiction is somehow unresolved.

    In the case of the business propaganda, it's particularly ironic because while business wants the population to hate the government, they want the population to love the government. Namely, they're in favor of a very powerful state which works in their interest.

    So you have to love that government, but hate the government that might work in your interest and that you could control. That's an interesting propaganda task, but it's been carried out very well. You can see it in the worship of Reagan, which portrays him as somebody who saved us from government. Actually he was an apostle of big government.

    . . .

    I get a lot of letters from people. When I go home tonight I'll have 15 letters today from mostly young kids who don't like what's going on and want to do something about it, and [they ask me] if I can give them some advice as to what they should do, or can I tell them what to read or something.

    It doesn't work like that. I mean, everything depends very much on who you are, what your values are, what your commitments are, what circumstances you live in and what options you're willing to undertake, and that determines what you ought to be doing. There are some very general ideas that people can keep in mind; they're kind of truisms. It's only worth mentioning them because they're always denied.

    First of all, don't believe anything you hear from power systems. So if Obama or the boss or the newspapers or anyone else tells you they're doing this, that, or the other thing, dismiss it or assume the opposite is true, which it often is.

    You have to rely on yourself and your associates — gifts don't come from above; you're going to win them, or you won't have them, and you win by struggle, and that requires understanding and serious analysis of the options and the circumstances, and then you can do a lot.

    So take right now, for example, there is a right-wing populist uprising. It's very common, even on the left, to just ridicule them, but that's not the right reaction. If you look at those people and listen to them on talk radio, these are people with real grievances.

    I listen to talk radio a lot and it's kind of interesting. If you can sort of suspend your knowledge of the world and just enter into the world of the people who are calling in, you can understand them. I've never seen a study, but my sense is that these are people who feel really aggrieved. These people think, "I've done everything right all my life, I'm a god-fearing Christian, I'm white, I'm male, I've worked hard, and I carry a gun. I do everything I'm supposed to do. And I'm getting shafted."

    And in fact they are getting shafted. For 30 years their wages have stagnated or declined, the social conditions have worsened, the children are going crazy, there are no schools, there's nothing, so somebody must be doing something to them, and they want to know who it is. Well Rush Limbaugh has answered - it's the rich liberals who own the banks and run the government, and of course run the media, and they don't care about you—they just want to give everything away to illegal immigrants and gays and communists and so on.

    Well, you know, the reaction we should be having to them is not ridicule, but rather self-criticism. Why aren't we organizing them? I mean, we are the ones that ought to be organizing them, not Rush Limbaugh.

    There are historical analogs, which are not exact, of course, but are close enough to be worrisome. This is a whiff of early Nazi Germany. Hitler was appealing to groups with similar grievances, and giving them crazy answers, but at least they were answers; these groups weren't getting them anywhere else. It was the Jews and the Bolsheviks [that were the problem].

    I mean, the liberal democrats aren't going to tell the average American, "Yeah, you're being shafted because of the policies that we've established over the years that we're maintaining now." That's not going to be an answer.

    And they're not getting answers from the left. So, there's an internal coherence and logic to what they get from Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the rest of these guys. And they sound very convincing, they're very self-confident, and they have an answer to everything — a crazy answer, but it's an answer. And it's our fault if that goes on. So one thing to be done is don't ridicule these people, join them, and talk about their real grievances and give them a sensible answer, like, "Take over your factories."

    This also reminded me of my friend Tom Kertes' piece, "Let's not get organized by Barack Obama". Kertes' informative and inspiring website is here.


    on becoming a writer, part two

    Part One here.

    I wrote a young-adult novel, and then another. Allan moved to New York, and continued writing about music, as he had been doing in Vermont. Free music! Free tickets to shows! Interviews with bands we loved! We both wrote, and both edited each other's work, and learned more about writing and about working together.

    My first book was more like an exercise; I was learning how to write a book. The great success was having writen it at all, and completing it. It would have been a huge long shot if it had been published, and when it wasn't, it wasn't a big deal.

    My second book was - is - very good. A literary agent agreed to represent it, and I thought I was on my way. I was not. At least not in the way I envisioned.

    Part of the creative process - and part of being happy in our own lives - is figuring out how to define success. Is success making a lot of money? Is it acceptance within our field? Critical acclaim? Being able to quit our day-jobs?

    When I first quit my theatre career in order to focus on writing, success was simply writing. In my very brief experience with yoga and meditation, I remember the instructor saying that a successful yoga practice meant showing up. That's what my first writing goal was: showing up. Sitting down to write. Writing.

    Next, success became finishing a project. Writing a book.

    Everyone told me that was a triumph of sorts, and it was. But as we grow, we want new challenges. And I wanted this book published.

    When that didn't happen, I had to re-define my goals. I had to separate what I could control from what I couldn't. Being published was out of my control. Being published depended on so many things other than the quality of my work. It especially depended on market forces, and the market and my writing were not in sync.

    I had some near-misses. An editor told my agent, "Fifteen years ago, we would have snapped this up. We used to publish 30 young-adult titles a year. Now we publish three."

    Editors no longer edited. They simply acquired. Publishing houses would no longer find a good but flawed book and invest the resources into shaping it into a finished product. Books were expected to appear on editors' desks in finished form. Writers were expected to pay "book doctors" - what was once called an editor - to make that happen.

    But in earlier times, when editors edited manuscripts, there was an understanding - a contract - that the book would be published. The house invested the time and then published the book. Paying a so-called book doctor comes with no such understanding. We didn't have the resources to gamble.

    As the rejection letters rolled in, I breezed right along. I didn't take it personally, and I thought I could take it endlessly. I'd tell myself, "It doesn't matter how many rejection letters I get - as long as I get one acceptance."

    I was working on the first draft of my next book, when my agent dumped me. I was heartsick.

    There was a terrible moment in the young-adult section of Barnes & Noble, when I broke down crying. "All these books, and where is mine? Why is there no room for me?" It might seem comic now, but at the time there was no humour in it. I felt my dream was curling up and dying.

    If I was going to keep writing, I would need to figure out how to define success on my own terms. Otherwise it was just too painful.

    Meanwhile, I was working. I worked at a huge variety of jobs to support my writing. I loved the diversity of experience, and it was a huge confidence builder. As you know, I was a nanny. I was also: a proofreader, a textbook editor, a personal assistant to a crazy art dealer, an assistant to the director of a March on Washington, a data entry operator, a legal secretary, and probably half a dozen more that I can't even remember.

    I had been volunteering for a long time at an amazing youth centre and community called The Door, and when a teacher went on maternity leave, I was offered a temporary position. From there I got a job at another alternative young-adult school. I gained invaluable experience as a teacher of, and support for, inner-city youth who had dropped out of high school. I loved it.

    But teaching and writing was not a good mix. I always felt torn in two, being neither as good a teacher nor as a good a writer as I felt I could be. When the school was shut down because of budget cuts, I didn't look for another job, and stopped teaching.

    While working with Osborn Elliott at the Citizens Committee for New York City, I wrote a personal essay about my recovery from rape. I gave it to Oz to read. He pronounced it "very moving," and showed me how to take my story and craft it into a finished piece. It was the first time I had ever worked with a professional editor, and I learned more about writing from that single lesson than I did in four years of university.

    Oz helped me get the story read at his former magazine, Newsweek, and the editor enthusiastically published it. Thus my first publication was: in a national magazine, paid very well, and was about an extremely personal topic. A strange experience! You can read it here.

    Among the letters I received about that essay, there were two offers: one from Reader's Digest, and one from an educational video producer. Reader's Digest wanted story ideas. They sent me a contract... and that eventually turned into one of the worst experiences of my writing life.

    The video producer said, "We need writers who can speak to youth. We don't care about TV or video experience, we'll teach you that." They promised I could write about sexual assault from a strong, feminist, progressive perspective.

    I jumped in.

    So as I was losing all motivation and hope to continue writing fiction, I discovered there were other ways to define and meet my writing goals. I could write about the same topics, for the same youth audience, in different forms. And I loved it.

    I had loved writing fiction. I found it tremendously challenging and satisfying. But other than personal essays, I had never really tried anything else. Now I found that nonfiction was also hugely satisfying. What's more, being published was so much more fun than not being published! Maybe in a perfect world, I'd rather write fiction than anything else, but if the choice was between writing fiction that no one reads and writing nonfiction that reached an audience... audience, please!

    For Reader's Digest, I was (supposedly) writing about a wheelchair athlete, an idea spun off from my book. As that crazy deal was souring, I looked for another place to sell the story. I connected with New Mobility, at the time - and to this day - the best disability-lifestyle magazine. They didn't have much money, but they had scads of talent and great ideas, and an amazing editor named Barry Corbet took a chance on me. Now my writing career was born.

    So what was success at this time? One, writing about subjects that I cared deeply about. Two, educating mainstream audiences, while also entertaining. Three, challenging myself as a writer and increasing my understanding of my craft.

    This became my three-pronged requirement, and my goal was being published. Everywhere, all the time, as much as I possibly could.

    Part Three coming soon.

    it's not a wonderful movie

    Here we are on December 24, and I haven't written the annual wmtc I Hate Christmas post!

    I haven't found the season too oppressive this year, mainly because I'm so happy to be on my winter break from school, and have had very little contact with the so-called holiday spirit. I did have to hear the dreaded seasonal muzak while doing some errands, but mostly I've been in my own lovely Christmas-free bubble.

    It helps that I don't turn on the TV. Back in the days before we could watch whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, my least favourite part of the Christmas season was the endless repetition of my least favourite movie in the world, "It's A Wonderful Life".

    My loathing for this movie is partly fed by my extreme dislike of Jimmy Stewart. I grew up watching old movies, and I've had a nearly visceral disgust for Stewart probably since age 8 or 9. He's been in some excellent films, but for me any movie is marred by his ridiculous voice and pitiful, one-note acting.

    But my hatred of "It's A Wonderful Life" goes way beyond Jimmy Stewart's irritating drawl. It's supposed to be the classic "one man can make a difference" movie, illustrating that we touch people lives in ways we will never know. If the world is a better place because of our presence, then everything we do does matter. Nice message, right? Sounds like something I should get behind.

    But why does George Bailey want to end his life? Why is he so despondent, and what if an angel hadn't visited him? Because they usually don't, you know. When people tumble into the abyss of despair, seldom does an angel appear to pull them out. When dreams die, as George Bailey's dreams did, either we painfully construct new dreams, or live without dreams, or give up. When life sucks, some outsider telling us that really our lives are just peachy and wonderful does not usually brighten our day.

    Beyond the saccharine and the treacle, the plot has holes wide enough to drive a Hummer through. Come on, am I the only person who thought Pottersville - the alternate-reality town that would have existed if Bailey had never been born - was a cooler, more fun place than Bedford Falls? No! Turns out I was not. Wendell Jamieson, who wrote this essay, loves the movie, but insists it's a different movie than most people know.
    "It's a Wonderful Life" is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

    I haven't seen it on a movie screen since that first time, but on Friday it begins its annual pre-Christmas run at the IFC Cinema in Greenwich Village. I plan to take my 9-year-old son and my father, who has never seen it the whole way through because he thinks it's too corny.

    How wrong he is.

    I'm no movie critic, and I'll leave to others any erudite evaluation of the film as cinematic art, but to examine it closely is to experience "It's a Wonderful Life" on several different levels.

    Many are pulling the movie out of the archives lately because of its prescience on the perils of trusting bankers. I’ve found, after repeated viewings, that the film turns upside down and inside out, and some glaring — and often funny — flaws become apparent. These flaws have somehow deepened my affection for it over the years.

    Take the extended sequence in which George Bailey (James Stewart), having repeatedly tried and failed to escape Bedford Falls, N.Y., sees what it would be like had he never been born. The bucolic small town is replaced by a smoky, nightclub-filled, boogie-woogie-driven haven for showgirls and gamblers, who spill raucously out into the crowded sidewalks on Christmas Eve. It's been renamed Pottersville, after the villainous Mr. Potter, Lionel Barrymore's scheming financier.

    Here's the thing about Pottersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If anything, Pottersville captures just the type of excitement George had long been seeking.

    And what about that banking issue? When he returns to the "real" Bedford Falls, George is saved by his friends, who open their wallets to cover an $8,000 shortfall at his savings and loan brought about when the evil Mr. Potter snatched a deposit mislaid by George's idiot uncle, Billy (Thomas Mitchell).

    But isn't George still liable for the missing funds, even if he has made restitution? I mean, if someone robs a bank, and then gives the money back, that person still robbed the bank, right?

    There's only one good thing about "It's A Wonderful Life". Bing Crosby isn't in it. As my grandmother used to say, things can always get worse.

    oram: "none of us are secure until we are all safe"

    What could be more terrible than being persecuted or discriminated against for the basic, immutable facts of who you are or what you believe in?

    Not being allowed to vote, or get an education. Fearing your home will be burned down, or your children beaten, or being thrown in jail. Because you are female, or have dark skin, or were born into a Jewish family. Or a Muslim family. Or a Catholic family. Or are gay. Or believe in peace.

    To most of us it seems so obvious. It seems incredible, almost beyond belief, that in so many places in the world, people are still persecuted because of who they are. There is still discrimination here, of course, and there is still violence against women and LGBT people and Muslims. But state-sanctioned violence, institutional persecution - to me that is something far worse.

    If my boss discriminates against me because I am female, I can take action. I have recourse. It might be very difficult, it might turn my life upside down, but the laws are on my side. Who do you turn to for recourse when the government itself is condoning for, even calling for, the discrimination? What if, for example, you are female in Afghanistan? What if you happen to be gay and Ugandan?

    One thing you do, if you can: you try to leave.

    ORAM International, the Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration, advocates for people fleeing sexual or gender based violence.

    Among their work, they've created an innovative "adopt a refugee" program. It requires a substantial financial commitment - at least $500 - but on the other hand, that's not a fortune for a well-employed person over the course of a year.

    From their website:
    ORAM is a voice for vulnerable refugees who face compelling survival challenges. We are an international network locking arms across traditional divides. Like you, we are impassioned champions of human dignity and security.

    We are able-bodied and disabled. Older and younger. Men, women, transgendered. Spiritual and atheist. Straight, gay and bisexual. Rich and poor. Geographically secure and displaced.

    Those of us who are safe today may become refugees tomorrow. Our mission to protect one another is our greatest calling – none of us can be secure until we are all safe.

    I love this statement. It seems like ORAM has great potential to change lives. Their Facebook page is here.

    rodney watson: "honour your country's great traditions"

    Rodney Watson writes in the Toronto Star:

    I am from Kansas City, Kansas, and I joined the U.S. Army for financial reasons in 2004 after my steady job of seven years ended.

    I enlisted for a three-year contract with the intention of being a cook and not in a combat role. I wanted to support the troops in some way without being involved in any combat operations.

    A recruiter promised that I could do this.

    In 2005 I was deployed to Iraq just north of Mosul where I was told that my duties as a cook would be to supervise and ensure that the local nationals in the dining facility were preparing meals according to military standards.

    But instead of supervising in the dining facility, I was performing vehicle searches for explosives, contraband and weapons. I also operated a mobile X-ray machine that scanned vehicles and civilians for any possible explosives that could enter the base.

    I had to keep the peace within an area that held 100 to 200 Iraqi civilian men who would be waiting for security clearances, and shoot warning shots at Iraqi children who were trying to set up mortars to fire at the base.

    In Iraq I witnessed racism and physical abuse from soldiers toward the civilians.

    On one occasion a soldier was beating an Iraqi civilian, called him a "sand nigger," threw his Qur'an on the ground and spat on it. The civilian man was unarmed and was just looking for work on our base. He posed no type of threat and was beaten because soldiers brought their personal racist hatred to Iraq.

    This was not what I had signed up for.

    After all the wrongs I witnessed in Iraq, I decided that once my one-year tour of duty was over I would never again be part of this unnecessary war.

    When I returned home, my unit was informed that we would be redeployed within four months. This would put me beyond the term I signed up for. I was going to be stop-lossed and forced to serve past my contract.

    While on two-week leave I made my decision to come to Canada and not return to my base at Fort Hood, Texas.

    I have been here in Vancouver since early 2007. I have been self-sufficient. I have fathered a beautiful son whose mother is Canadian. I plan to marry her and to provide our son with a loving and caring family unit.

    I have made many friends and I have built a peaceful life here.

    My son and my wife-to-be are my heart and soul and it would be a great tragedy for my family and for me personally if I were deported and torn away from them.

    I think being punished as a prisoner of conscience for doing what I felt morally obligated to do is a great injustice.

    This Christmas I hope and pray that people will open their hearts and minds to give peace and love a chance.

    I appeal to the Canadian government to honour your country's great traditions of being a place of refuge from militarism and a place that respects human rights by supporting my decision, and the decisions taken by my fellow resisters to refuse any further participation in this unjust war.

    I ask that you urge your government to respect the will of the majority of Canadians by acting on the direction it has been given twice by Parliament to immediately stop deporting Iraq War resisters like me and to let us become permanent residents here.

    My heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones in this unnecessary war.

    Rodney Watson is an Iraq War veteran who was ordered deported by the Harper government this fall. On Sept. 18 he took refuge in Vancouver's First United Church. Dec. 27 will be his 100th day in sanctuary. Watson's request to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds remains outstanding.


    mfso: charley richardson legacy fund

    In late 2003, Allan and I attended a peace rally and meeting at Judson Church, on Washington Square Park in New York City. The church was packed to the rafters, full of anger and energy and the power of determination. A man spoke whose son was in Iraq, and who opposed the war. I wish I knew who that man was. All I know is that he was with Military Families Speak Out.

    That night, I decided I would join the movement to support war resisters. I didn't know how or when I would do that, but I knew I had to be part of it.

    In Canada, I've learned how vital MFSO has been to the peace movement, and about the unstinting support they've given military members and their families - the real meaning of "support our troops". Now MFSO needs a different kind of support.
    When Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) began in November, 2002, co-founders Charley Richardson and Nancy Lessin’s son was being deployed to Iraq. They shared with other military families a deep fear and worry about those who would be in harm's way for no good reason. They also share your deep commitment to bringing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to an end.

    With their leadership, vision and hard work, combined with the support and involvement of a growing number of military families, MFSO grew to a powerful organization of more than 4,000 members, speaking out to end the wars in Iraq and now Afghanistan. It is the largest organization of military families speaking out against wars in the history of the country. MFSO helped to change the definition of what it meant to "support the troops," as MFSO's mantra "Support Our Troops – Bring Them Home NOW!" caught on across the country.

    MFSO co-founders Charley Richardson and Nancy Lessin now face a very personal struggle. Charley has been battling an advanced, aggressive cancer and the prognosis is poor.

    After working tirelessly to amplify the voices of military families in the larger movement to end the wars, this tragic personal situation is curtailing their continued leadership in the organization. Their need to pull back, combined with the economic recession, has put Military Families Speak Out in financial jeopardy.

    In Charley's honor, MFSO is establishing the Charley Richardson Legacy Fund. And we need your help to make it a success. We have a donor who has committed to matching contributions dollar for dollar, up to $15,000.

    This Fund will celebrate the work that he and Nancy have contributed to MFSO and will provide the core support for MFSO to continue building a movement to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The voice of military families opposing these wars makes a difference. Support Military Families Speak Out and build a legacy to honor Charley.

    Click here to make a donation | Click here to read more about Charley & Nancy's story

    This is from Charley Richardson and Nancy Lessin:
    We, Charley and Nancy, are asking those who know and support the work of Military Families Speak Out to help solidify this vital organization that we have helped to build. The love and support of so many of you has kept us going, even as Charley’s battle with cancer has intensified. We are now asking that you help keep Military Families Speak Out going.

    As we step back, we ask that you step up.

    Many friends have asked us how they can help Charley and our family. This is how you can help. Your contributions to MFSO, and your words of support, will help build a legacy for Charley, and allow Military Families Speak Out to continue to be a leader in the movement to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

    Charley Richardson and Nancy Lessin
    Co-founders, Military Families Speak Out

    Charley Richardson Legacy Fund.

    somebody's child, a short film about peace

    Please watch this wonderful film, featuring my dear friend, war resister Kim Rivera, and someone else, who is no friend of Kim's.

    The whole thing is about 13 minutes. Please watch.

    Part I:

    Part II:

    Support Bill C-440

    to be young, criminal and from florida

    In the entire world, as far as we know, there are slightly more than 100 people serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles in which no one was killed.

    All are in the United States.

    Seventy-seven of them are in Florida.

    In November, the US Supreme Court heard appeals from two such convicted offenders. From the New York Times:
    Several factors in combination -- some legal, some historical, some cultural -- help account for the disproportionate number of juvenile lifers in Florida.

    The state's attorney general, Bill McCollum, explained the roots of the state's approach in the first paragraph of his brief in Mr. Graham's case.

    "By the 1990s, violent juvenile crime rates had reached unprecedented high levels throughout the nation," Mr. McCollum wrote. "Florida's problem was particularly dire, compromising the safety of residents, visitors and international tourists, and threatening the state's bedrock tourism industry." Nine foreign tourists were killed over 11 months in 1992 and 1993, one of them by a 14-year-old.

    Mr. Snyder, the state legislator, put it this way: "Instead of the Sunshine State, it was the Gun-shine State."

    In response, the state moved more juveniles into adult courts, increased sentences and eliminated parole for capital crimes.

    Thomas K. Petersen, a semi-retired judge in Miami who spent a decade hearing cases in juvenile court, said that the state's reaction was out of proportion to the problem and that it has lately failed to take account of changed circumstances.

    "Back in the 1990s, there were dire predictions about teenage super-predators, particularly in Florida," Judge Petersen said. "Florida, probably more than other places because of that rash of crimes, overreacted. It was a hysterical reaction."

    "People still go around saying things have never been worse," he added. "But violent juvenile crime has gone down even as the juvenile population has grown."

    The state's brief in Mr. Graham's case said juvenile crime fell 30 percent in the decade ended in 2004. It attributed the drop to its tough approach to the problem.

    Shay Bilchik, who served as a state prosecutor in Miami from 1977 to 1993 and is now the director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown, said the state took a wrong turn.

    "We were pretty aggressive in those years in transferring kids into criminal court," Mr. Bilchik said. "There was a feeling that we needed to protect our streets."

    He said later research convinced him that his office's approach was much too aggressive and had not served to deter crime.

    "My biggest regret," Mr. Bilchik said, "is that during the time I was in the prosecutor's office, we were under the false impression that we were insuring greater public safety when we were not."

    obama & supreme court agree: detainees are not "persons" and torture is logical consequence of detention

    [redsock guest post]

    In the ever-growing list of ideologies shared by both Barack Obama and the Cheney administration - not to mention some of the most brutal dictators in history - we can add this:
    The Obama administration had asked the [U.S. Supreme] court ... [to] let stand an earlier opinion by the D.C. Circuit Court, which found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act -– a statute that applies by its terms to all "persons" -– did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law. ...

    Channeling their predecessors in the George W. Bush administration, Obama Justice Department lawyers argued in this case that there is no constitutional right not to be tortured or otherwise abused in a U.S. prison abroad. ...

    The circuit court ruled that "torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military's detention of suspected enemy combatants."

    The United States Supreme Court agreed with Obama's Justice [sic] Department lawyers and agreed not to hear the case, which had been brought by four British former Guantanamo prisoners against former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others.

    Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights found the decision more than a little similar to the Dred Scott decision of 1857. In Dred Scott, the Supreme Court answered what it believed to be a key question
    ... can a negro whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as slaves become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen, one of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the Constitution?

    with a "No".

    Chris Floyd, who writes the Empire Burlesque blog, noted that the current Supreme Court let stand a ruling that
    anyone who is arbitrarily declared a "suspected enemy combatant" by the president or his designated minions is no longer a "person." They will simply cease to exist as a legal entity. They will have no inherent rights, no human rights, no legal standing whatsoever ...

    The Constitution is clear: no person can be held without due process; no person can be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. And the U.S. law on torture of any kind is crystal clear: it is forbidden, categorically, even in time of "national emergency." ...

    And yet this is what Barack Obama -- who, we are told incessantly, is a super-brilliant Constitutional lawyer -- has been arguing in case after case since becoming president: Torturers are immune from prosecution; those who ordered torture are immune from prosecution. ... ... What's more, in championing the lower court ruling, Barack Obama is now on record as believing -- insisting -- that torture is an ordinary, "foreseeable consequence" of military detention ...

    And still further: Barack Obama has now declared, openly, of his own free will, that he does not consider these captives to be "persons." They are, literally, sub-humans. ...

    This is President Barack Obama believes -- believes so strongly that he has put the full weight of the government behind a relentless series of court actions to preserve, protect and defend these arbitrary powers. ...

    Barack Obama has had the audacity to declare himself the heir and embodiment of the lifework of Martin Luther King. Can this declaration of a whole new principle of universal slavery really be what King was dreaming of? Is this the vision he saw on the other side of the mountain? Or is not the nightmarish inversion of the ideal of a better, more just, more humane world that so many have died for, in so many places, down through the centuries?

    new court martial offense for u.s. troops: pregnancy

    A U.S. Army general in northern Iraq has added pregnancy to the list of reasons a soldier under his command could be court-martialed.

    The new policy, outlined last month by Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo and released Friday by the Army, would apply to both female soldiers who become pregnant on the battlefield and the male soldiers who impregnate them.

    Civilians reporting to Cucolo also could face criminal prosecution under the new guidelines.

    Army spokesman George Wright said the service typically sends home from the battlefield soldiers who become pregnant. But it is not an Army-wide policy to punish them under the military's legal code, he said.

    However, division commanders like Cucolo have the authority to impose these type of restrictions to personnel operating under their command, Wright said.

    At the same time, women in the military face great restrictions in terminating pregnancy. The Hyde Amendment makes it impossible to use federal funds for abortion services, which includes military hospitals at home or abroad. President Clinton reversed this ban, but Congress reversed the reversal - and cemented that as permanent in 1995.


    more blog from gaza

    In yesterday's post about David Heap and Wendy Goldsmith's blog from Gaza, I linked to their first post. Here's a better link to the whole blog. Today's entries are about the obstacles they're facing from Egypt.

    is there anything the u.s. army won't do to its troops?

    Jailed for performing a song, forced to go AWOL to get help for PTSD, separated from an infant baby... is there anything the US military won't do its troops?

    I don't know if many of you get email updates from Courage To Resist. Courage is one of the principal organizations supporting military resisters in the US, and lately they've sent some really interesting information.

  • Marc Hall, an Army Specialist who was stop-lossed, was put in jail for speaking out against the policy that involuntarily re-upped him. As hip-hop artist Marc Watercus, Hall has written an angry and explicit song about stop-loss (listen here). Military personnel are not supposed to forfeit their First Amendment rights - and certainly not while off-duty.

  • Erick Jasinski was forced to go AWOL - to get treatment for his Iraq-related PTSD.
    "In late 2008 they stop-lossed me, and that pushed me over the edge," Jasinski told IPS, "They were going to send me back to Iraq the next month."

    During his pre-deployment processing "they gave me a 90-day supply of meds to get me over to Iraq, and I saw a counsellor during that period, and I told him "I don't know what I'm going to do if I go back to Iraq."

    "He asked if I was suicidal," Jasinski explained, "and I said not right now, I'm not planning on going home and blowing my brains out. He said, 'well, you're good to go then.' And he sent me on my way. I knew at that moment, when they finalised my paperwork for Iraq, that there was no way I could go back with my untreated PTSD. I needed more help."

  • Alexis Hutchinson, a 21-year-old Specialist from Oakland, California, continues to live under restriction, and still faces court martial for choosing her infant over deployment. Alexis was not refusing to deploy. She was not speaking out against the war. She was asking for more time to find someone to care for her 11-month old son Kamani. Within a few days, however, the Army had tossed Alexis in the stockade and turned Kamani over to the Chatham County (Georgia) foster care system.

    After the case garnered some media attention and a few congressional inquiries, the Army backed off - a little. But she's still in restricted custody and she still may be court martialed and forced to deploy.

    You can read more about these soldiers, and what you can do to support them here.