what i'm (still) reading

You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since - on the river, on the sails of ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made, are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be. Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but to remain part of my character, part of the little good, part of the evil.

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, 1860-61

This must be one of the most beautiful passages ever written in the English language.

have you hugged a man today?

Here are some expressions I dislike. "Man love," "man purse," "man hug," "man date" - and this weekend I became aware of the most bizarre phrase of them all: "man tears". I'd like to rid our language of this collective homophobia, but these constructions only seem to be growing and spreading.

Some heterosexual men, fearing that any display of affection might compromise how others perceive their sexual orientation, now label any action regarding other men with the prefix man. Because if they say man, they're not gay! They can hug their friend without needing a cootie shot.

Apparently the world has advanced to the point where male friends, both heterosexuals, can have a nice dinner together. Yes, men have decided that it's all right to do something other than crack open a beer and eat fast food together. As long as when you go out to dinner, you let it be known that it's a man date. Because if you just go out to dinner together, without the man prefix, you might be gay!!

Many hetero men have also decided that it's ok to do more than shake hands with another man who is not their son or father. It's ok to - gasp! - hug! But only if you're not really hugging! Because real men don't hug! Thus, the man hug.

My personal favourite is the "man crush". When a hetero guy loves a famous man - an athlete, an actor, a singer - he now has a man crush. Look. Just say you love the guy. We won't make you leave your wife.

Newsflash to the boys: hugging your friend does not make you gay. Carrying a bag or organizer does not make you gay. Eating dinner with your friend does not make you gay. Only being gay makes you gay. So if you're not gay, get over it!

Inevitably, someone will try to explain the fine distinction between a hug, just any hug, and a man hug. How a man date differs from two guys hanging out, having a nice meal together. How man love is not just a big fat crush on a man. I've heard all the supposedly subtle distinctions. The more you explain, the more homophobic you sound.

This weekend I heard the expression "man tears" for the first time, and it just put me over the top.

Men, you may have been socialized from the earliest age to withhold tears. From playpen to locker room to board room, you may have learned that tears are for girls, for babies, for sissies, for pussies, for wimps, for faggots. You may have so conditioned yourself to never cry - especially to never cry in public - that you have forgotten that crying is human. Tears are tears. When men cry, they shed tears. When women cry, they shed tears. If you cry, it doesn't make you a woman, and it doesn't make you gay. It just means you're crying.

* * * *

The victims of sexism, homophobia and gender stereotyping aren't only the obvious ones.

If a boy grows up seeing his father or stepfather hit his mother, he is much more likely to hit his own partner later in life. Indeed, the single biggest predictor of intimate-partner violence is growing up in a home where that was the norm.

We know the abused mom is a victim. We know the girl who grows up in that home, then gravitates towards abusive relationships, is a victim. But the boy who grows up to hit his partner is a victim, too. His capacity for healthy relationships has been poisoned. He may be feared, but he's not respected. Somewhere deep down, he's lost a piece of his self-respect and his dignity. He's lost some of his ability to love and be loved.

I've thought and written about this a lot in the context of war, and of torture. I've come to see that every act of torture has two victims, the tortured and the torturer. I would never equate the two. I would never say that someone who perpetrates torture suffers "as much as" his victim. But every person who tortures has lost a piece of their humanity, and they will suffer for it. They may drown the suffering in substance abuse, or mask it under a lifetime of violence, or sink it in depression, or end it with suicide. But a human being will not torture another human being without suffering consequences.

That's the extreme example. On a more mundane level, this is what sexism, homophobia and gender stereotyping do all the time.

When I was younger, I only saw the damage sexism and gender stereotyping did to girls - the opportunities girls were denied, the narrow pigeonholes they were placed in. As I got older, I saw the damage sexism does all around, to everyone. As boys are moulded into men, their choices are also limited - along with a piece of their humanity, as they're taught to deny and repress parts of themselves.

It's easier to see the damage that's done when boys don't fit the mould. That's the obvious stuff. But what about the guys who learn all the right lessons, who grow up heterosexual and conventionally manly? What happens to the rest of them, the part that they learned to repress?

I would never equate queer victims of homophobia and the pain they suffer with the heterosexual world that oppresses them. But in every act of bigotry, and in every stereotype, both sides lose. Sexism hurts men, and homophobia hurts heterosexuals, too. As boys learn how they must behave in order to become "real men" - that is, in order to constantly prove their heterosexuality - they lose a piece of themselves. Many pieces of themselves, filtered out as too girly, too womanly, not manly enough.

[I've spent half my morning searching the internet for a great quote I remember from "King of the Hill"... if I find it, I'll fill in.]

I dream of a world where boys play dolls with their sisters, just as girls play trucks with their brothers. A world where men can hug each other, and love each other, and cry when they want to. No qualifiers needed.


the world according to (most) americans

A little humour in honour of wmtc day.


But is that supposed to be Sri Lanka? I question whether most USians could find that island nation on a map, despite the evildoers.

I guess this adds to our growing collection of world maps. You'll all remember this one from 2004.


Thanks to Mike from Veterans for Peace for sending.

wmtc day: four years of canada

It's wmtc day! Allan and I moved to Canada four years ago today. I looked up what I wrote last year at this time, and not much has changed.
When I think back to August 30, 2005 - driving through western New York State in the world's fullest minivan, Buster between us, Cody in a cave of boxes - it feels like a lifetime ago. And yet these three years have flown by, as time seems to move alarmingly fast, the older I get.

Not a day goes by that I am not happy and grateful that we left the US for Canada. Canada has turned out to be exactly what I thought it was: not a perfect world, just a better place.

And now, it is my home.

Next up: citizenship! We've got the forms ready to fill out. More on that as it happens.

This is all still true. Leaving the US for Canada was one of the best things we will ever do with our lives.

Not much has changed on the citizenship front, either. We applied in November 2008; in March 2009 we received notification from CIC that our application has been received and is in queue. It was a bit disappointing to see how long that one step took.

The queue letter said processing time is 8-12 months. With our immigration applications, the estimated times were longer than reality, for whatever that's worth.

I'd like to think the delay is down to an understaffed CIC and a slow-moving bureaucracy, rather than something more sinister. (CIC staffer, what do you think??)

In the 1980s, many of my activist friends - who, at the time, were all older than me - were paranoid about being spied on, even though nothing we were doing was even marginally illegal. They wouldn't talk our activities on the phone, and were always suspicious when a new person joined the group. My attitude was: Don't flatter yourself, we're not that important. Not that I knew we weren't being spied on. I just chose to proceed without fear, and not catch their paranoia, even if it might be justified.

Those friends had lived through the 1960s and early 70s, and they had seen ample proof that the US government did spy on activists - regularly and for no reason. And now I've lived through the early 21st Century, and I know it doesn't matter if my activism is legal or not. The government might take an interest anyway. No government can be considered free of that possibility.

It follows, then, that some wmtc readers have wondered if my writing critically about the Harper government, especially about Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney, could reduce our chances of getting citizenship, or at least delay the process. Especially since we know the CIC does read this blog.

I'd certainly like to think that's not the case. I've done nothing illegal. In fact, I might be considered a model citizen, as I'm actively engaged in society. In my work on behalf of US war resisters in Canada, I stand beside the mainstream of Canadian society, including many Members of Parliament. But of course, I do actively oppose the current Government.

Is there something going on? We really don't know. Maybe our citizenship applications are taking the slow route through CIC channels because of my outspoken opposition to the head of that ministry. Or maybe "don't flatter yourself" is a more appropriate thought.

To be honest, I'm not worried either way. I want to be a Canadian citizen. I'd like to be able to vote one day. Meanwhile, we're here, living our lives. When it happens, it happens.


dave zirin and sherry wolf: the idiocy of sex testing

If you click on the wmtc category "activism in sports," you'll find a disproportionate number of stories by Dave Zirin. Zirin, author of A People's History of Sports in the United States, and now sports editor of The Nation, writes a beat of which I am frankly envious.

He co-authored this very good story with Sherry Wolf, author of Sexuality and Socialism.
Caster Semenya and the Idiocy of Sex Testing
By Dave Zirin & Sherry Wolf

World-class South African athlete Caster Semenya, age 18, won the 800 meters in the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships on August 19. But her victory was all the more remarkable in that she was forced to run amid a controversy that reveals the twisted way international track and field views gender.

The sports world has been buzzing for some time over the rumor that Semenya may be a man, or more specifically, not "entirely female." According to the newspaper The Age, her "physique and powerful style have sparked speculation in recent months that she may not be entirely female." From all accounts an arduous process of "gender testing" on Semenya has already begun. The idea that an 18-year-old who has just experienced the greatest athletic victory of her life is being subjecting to this very public humiliation is shameful to say the least.

Her own coach Michael Seme contributed to the disgrace when he said, "We understand that people will ask questions because she looks like a man. It's a natural reaction and it's only human to be curious. People probably have the right to ask such questions if they are in doubt. But I can give you the telephone numbers of her roommates in Berlin. They have already seen her naked in the showers and she has nothing to hide."

The people with something to hide are the powers that be in track and field, as well as in international sport. As long as there have been womens' sports, the characterization of the best female athletes as "looking like men" or "mannish" has consistently been used to degrade them. When Martina Navratilova dominated women's tennis and proudly exposed her chiseled biceps years before Hollywood gave its imprimatur to gals with "guns," players complained that she "must have a chromosome loose somewhere."

This minefield of sexism and homophobia has long pushed female athletes into magazines like Maxim to prove their "hotness"—and implicitly their heterosexuality. Track and field in particular has always had this preoccupation with gender, particularly when it crosses paths with racism. Fifty years ago, Olympic official Norman Cox proposed that in the case of black women, "the International Olympic Committee should create a special category of competition for them--the unfairly advantaged 'hermaphrodites.'"

For years, women athletes had to parade naked in front of Olympic officials. This has now given way to more "sophisticated" "gender testing" to determine if athletes like Semenya have what officials still perceive as the ultimate advantage--being a man. Let's leave aside that being male is not the be-all, end-all of athletic success. A country's wealth, coaching facilities, nutrition and opportunity determine the creation of a world-class athlete far more than a Y chromosome or a penis ever could.

What these officials still don't understand, or will not confront, is that gender--that is, how we comport and conceive of ourselves--is a remarkably fluid social construction. Even our physical sex is far more ambiguous and fluid than is often imagined or taught. Medical science has long acknowledged the existence of millions of people whose bodies combine anatomical features that are conventionally associated with either men or women and/or have chromosomal variations from the XX or XY of women or men. Many of these "intersex" individuals, estimated at one birth in every 1,666 in the United States alone, are legally operated on by surgeons who force traditional norms of genitalia on newborn infants. In what some doctors consider a psychosocial emergency, thousands of healthy babies are effectively subject to clitorectomies if a clitoris is "too large" or castrations if a penis is "too small" (evidently penises are never considered "too big").

The physical reality of intersex people calls into question the fixed notions we are taught to accept about men and women in general, and men and women athletes in sex-segregated sports like track and field in particular. The heretical bodies of intersex people challenge the traditional understanding of gender as a strict male/female phenomenon. While we are never encouraged to conceive of bodies this way, male and female bodies are more similar than they are distinguishable from each other. When training and nutrition are equal, it is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between some of the best-trained male and female Olympic swimmers wearing state-of-the-art one-piece speed suits. Title IX, the 1972 law imposing equal funding for girls' and boys' sports in schools, has radically altered not only women's fitness and emotional well-being, but their bodies as well. Obviously, there are some physical differences between men and women, but it is largely our culture and not biology that gives them their meaning.

In 1986 Spanish hurdler Maria José Martínez-Patiño was stripped of her first-place winnings when discovered to have an XY chromosome, instead of the female's XX, which shattered her athletic career and upended her personal life. "I lost friends, my fiancé, hope and energy," said Martínez-Patiño in a 2005 editorial in the journal The Lancet.

Whatever track and field tells us Caster Semenya's gender is--and as of this writing there is zero evidence she is intersex--it's time we all break free from the notion that you are either "one or the other." It's antiquated, stigmatizing and says far more about those doing the testing than about the athletes tested. The only thing suspicious is the gender and sex bias in professional sports. We should continue to debate the pros and cons of gender segregation in sport. But right here, right now, we must end sex testing and acknowledge the fluidity of gender and sex in sports and beyond.

southern poverty law center special report: return of the militias

In late 1995, I heard Morris Dees speak in New York City. Dees is the co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights and social justice organization that has its roots in the early days of the US civil rights movement.

Dees was speaking about the rise of right-wing extremism in the US. The SPLC had been sounding the alarm for years about the rise of dangerous militia groups, and now, at last, the public was listening. Dees described his reaction, earlier that year, when he heard about the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City: "Where's Tim McVeigh?"

Immediately after that bombing, which killed 168 people and injured almost 700 more, US media pundits declared the incident carried all the hallmarks of Middle East terrorism. Of course once the white, homegrown McVeigh was produced as a suspect, that talk was quietly dropped and forgotten. And after September 11, 2001, Oklahoma City was itself forgotten.

While US wingnuts raise the spectre of a socialist in the White House, many of us know that the US has never been in danger of a takeover from the left, either in ideology or in practice. The real danger to US democracy has always been from the right.

The America I grew up in has an authoritarian streak as wide as the land west of the Hudson and east of Las Vegas. Its love affair with violence shocks the world on a regular basis. Its citizens are largely ignorant, and easily led. Its good people are battered and struggling, or fractured and disorganized, or overwhelmed with helplessness, or all of the above.

And it houses within its borders a small army of angry revolutionaries. Although they purport to be anti-government, they are also confused and ignorant. It's not difficult to imagine "patriot militias" being harnessed into service of something much bigger, more powerful and more dangerous than they are.

From the SPLC.
The 1990s saw the rise and fall of the virulently antigovernment "Patriot" movement, made up of paramilitary militias, tax defiers and so-called "sovereign citizens." Sparked by a combination of anger at the federal government and the deaths of political dissenters at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, the movement took off in the middle of the decade and continued to grow even after 168 people were left dead by the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City's federal building — an attack, the deadliest ever by domestic U.S. terrorists, carried out by men steeped in the rhetoric and conspiracy theories of the militias. In the years that followed, a truly remarkable number of criminal plots came out of the movement. But by early this century, the Patriots had largely faded, weakened by systematic prosecutions, aversion to growing violence, and a new, highly conservative president.

They're back. Almost a decade after largely disappearing from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers around the country. "Paper terrorism" — the use of property liens and citizens' "courts" to harass enemies — is on the rise. And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to "reconquer" the American Southwest. One law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training groups — one of them made up of present and former police officers and soldiers. Authorities around the country are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda. "This is the most significant growth we've seen in 10 to 12 years," says one. "All it's lacking is a spark. I think it's only a matter of time before you see threats and violence."

A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate. One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama. At the same time, ostensibly mainstream politicians and media pundits have helped to spread Patriot and related propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps to wholly unsubstantiated claims about the president's country of birth.

Fifteen years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote then-Attorney General Janet Reno to warn about extremists in the militia movement, saying that the "mixture of armed groups and those who hate" was "a recipe for disaster." Just six months later, Oklahoma City's federal building was bombed. Today, the Patriot movement may not have the white-hot fury that it did in the 1990s. But the movement clearly is growing again, and Americans, in particular law enforcement officers, need to take the dangers it presents seriously. That is equally true for the politicians, pundits and preachers who, through pandering or ignorance, abet the growth of a movement marked by a proven predilection for violence.

Part Two: The Second Wave

Part Three: Nativists to 'Patriots'

Did they ever go away? 75 plots, conspiracies and racist rampages since Oklahoma City

Download the report (pdf).

christian crusaders and neo-nazis welcome in u.s. military; jews and gays, not so much

A while back, I blogged about the Christianization of the United States military, where evangelical soldiers are "hunting people for Jesus". Their hunting ground is Afghanistan. This is easily dismissed as aberration, until you realize that Donald Rumsfeld felt much the same way.

Much has been written about evangelicals in the US Army, most notably by Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family. His story "Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military" is eye-opening - and scary.

I thought of that Harper's story when James sent me this first-person account of anti-Semitism in that same institution.
During my second year at the West Point, my Squad Leader for summer training expressed disapproval on numerous occasions with my being Jewish, and, during one mission, he grabbed my MRE (a military meal) as we sat down for lunch and handed me another. He ordered me to eat the pork chop and I reminded him that I refrain from pork for religious reasons. He told me that I could eat the pork or eat nothing. . . . The next day, my cadet Platoon Leader presented me with a written counseling statement detailing my signs of "anorexia" and a "troubling" refusal to eat which was detrimental to my health and indicative of "incapacity for leadership". . . . When I explained the events in detail, he told me that my Cadet Chain of Command was right to be concerned, and spoke words I will never forget: "the Army is not in the business of catering to people like you"...

You can read more of this at Unreasonable Faith, and here on Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton's ScienceBlog page.

Alongside fundamentalists, another brand of extremist is becoming increasingly comfortable in the US military: neo-Nazis. One would think the US government shy away from training people who advocate violence against it, preferring to let them get their weapons and explosive training, and their military discipline, elsehwere. But while the country wages two separate resource wars, even the poverty draft and stop-loss doesn't yield enough body supply. Everyone on board.

Unless, of course, you're gay. As my friend Ish said recently, So it's not ok to be in the military if you love a certain person. But it is ok to be in the military if you hate a certain person.

Last month on Truthout:
The Southern Poverty Law Center today urged Congress to investigate growing evidence that racial extremists are infiltrating the US military in order to ensure that the armed forces are not inadvertently training future domestic terrorists.

In a letter to committee chairmen with oversight over homeland security and the armed services, the SPLC said it recently found dozens of personal profiles on a neo-Nazi website where individuals listed "military" as their occupation - the latest evidence of extremist infiltration gathered by the SPLC. It also cites FBI and Department of Homeland Security reports supporting the SPLC's concerns.

"Evidence continues to mount that current Pentagon policies are inadequate to prevent racial extremists from joining and serving in the armed forces," SPLC founder Morris Dees wrote. He added, "Because the presence of extremists in the armed forces is a serious threat to the safety of the American public, we believe Congressional action is warranted."

The letter was sent to the chairmen of the House and Senate committees on Homeland Security and Armed Services. The SPLC has raised its concerns with Pentagon officials since publishing a report in 2006, but no apparent action has been taken.

. . .

The SPLC letter notes that since 1994 the military has discharged more than 12,500 servicemembers simply because of their homosexuality. "It seems quite anomalous that the Pentagon would consider homosexuals more of a threat to the good order of the military than neo-Nazis and other white supremacists who reject our Constitution's most cherished principles," said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, which monitors extremist activity.

The letter also says that "the overwhelming majority of U.S. servicemembers reject extremism and are dedicated to serving and protecting the highest ideals of our country" and notes that there will never be a fail-safe system to weed out all extremists. "But we owe it to our courageous men and women in uniform, and the American public, to remain vigilant to ensure that the ranks are as free of extremists as possible," Dees wrote.

I used to belong to the Southern Poverty Law Center, especially while I was teaching, and subscribed to their "Teaching Tolerance" program. They've done some amazing work tracking right-wing extremists in the US. More on that shortly.

undocumented punishment for resisting war: the warehousing of u.s. troops

Courage To Resist recently exposed the shameful treatment of dozens of US soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In response, the US Army charged the most outspoken soldier, Dustin Stevens, with desertion.

Stevens is one of about 50 soldiers being held at the 82nd Holdover Unit awaiting charges, probably of AWOL and desertion. They live in disgusting conditions and are subject to constant abuse and arbitrary punishments - all while waiting to be actually charged and court martialed.

Add this to the list of punishment that war resisters in Canada will likely receive if the Harper Government continues to deport them back to the US.

From Sarah Lazare and Dahr Jamail of Courage to Resist.
Echo Platoon is part of the 82nd Replacement Detachment of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Soldiers in the platoon are relegated to living quarters in a set of dimly lit concrete rooms. Pipes peep out of missing ceiling tiles and a musty smell permeates beds placed on cracked linoleum floors.

For soldiers who have gone AWOL (Absent Without Leave) and then voluntarily turned themselves in or were forcibly returned, the detention conditions here in Echo Platoon only serve to reinforce the inescapability of their situation. They remain suspended in a legal limbo of forced uncertainty that can extend from several months to a year or more, while the military takes its time deciding their fate. Some of them, however, are offered a free pass out of this military half-life -- but only if they agree to deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Specialist Kevin McCormick, 21, who was held in Echo Platoon for more than seven months on AWOL and desertion charges, was typically offered release, subject to accepting deployment to Iraq, despite being suicidal. "Echo is like jail," he says, "with some privileges. [You are] just stuck there with horrible living conditions. There's black mold on the building [and] when I first got there, there were five or six people to a room, which is like a cell block with cement brick walls. The piping and electricals are above the tiles, so if anything leaks or bursts, it goes right down into the room. "

Specialist Michael St. Clair went AWOL because he could not obtain treatment from the military for his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). On turning himself in, he ended up consigned to Echo Platoon. As he recalls it, "The number fluctuates all the time, but on an average you have 50 people sharing two functioning toilets and a single shower… Except for a couple of rooms none have doors, and there is minimal privacy with four or more people to a room. It's stressful not knowing what's going to happen to you."

Former military recruiter Staff Sargeant Jeffrey Nelbach went AWOL in 2004 in hopes of salvaging his family life. (It is not uncommon for soldiers to remain AWOL for years at a time.) Now, he's paying for it with a stint in Echo. He confirms the awful conditions. "It is an old, moldy building with bad ventilation. Fifty-plus people use the same latrine. And more and more people are going there."

. . . .

Assigned to Echo Platoon in January 2009, Dustin Stevens continues to bide his time awaiting charges that might still be months away. "[It's] horrible here. We are treated like animals. We're all so lost and wanting to go home. Some of us are going crazy, some are sick. And the way I see it, I did nothing wrong. By reading or talking to people all of the time I try to stay out of this place in my mind… There are people here who should be in mental hospitals."

James Branum, Stevens' civilian lawyer, is also the legal adviser to the G.I. Rights Hotline of Oklahoma and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force (MLTF) which offers training to the legal community and information about G.I. Rights and military law to service members and their families. He says AWOL troops make up three-quarters of Echo platoon and that medical cases are the bulk of the remainder. Accustomed to inordinate delays from the military, he says, "People are in this unit for months and months. The [authorities] take forever to do anything. You are going to be there six months if you're lucky, twelve if you're not."

. . . .

Chuck Fager, the director of the Fayetteville Quaker House (the town of Fayetteville adjoins Fort Bragg) claims that the military is primarily focused on "making numbers" for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Orders from the Pentagon say you have to send X [number of] troops," he points out. "The military does not have them and is constantly looking around for where to get them. One potential pool is the mass of soldiers gone AWOL. Eventually they either go back or get picked up... We are guessing [military officials] think they can persuade a significant number of these AWOL soldiers to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. "

The U.S. still maintains more than 130,000 soldiers in Iraq and, by year's end, will have at least 68,000 in Afghanistan, a figure likely to rise in the years to come.

Think of Echo and other platoons like it as grim yardsticks for measuring the desperation in which a military under immense strain is now operating. Looking up at that military from Echo's airless limbo, from a world of soldiers who have fallen through the cracks of a system under great stress, you can see just how devastating America's two ongoing wars have been for the military itself. The walking wounded, the troubled, and the broken are now being pressured to reenter the fray.

If Chuck Fager is right, the future is bleak for the members of Echo Platoon who endure deplorable conditions with little idea about whether their future involves charges, trial, deployment, or medical release. It is a painful irony that some of those who volunteered to serve and defend our nation are now left particularly defenseless and vulnerable as a direct consequence of its ill advised foreign adventures.

You can sign a petition to support Dustin Stevens and the "Fort Bragg 50" here on Courage To Resist.


what i'm reading

It was clear that I must repair to our town next day, and in the first flow of my repentance it was equally clear that I must stay at Joe's. But, when I had secured my box-place in tomorrow's coach and had been down to Mr Pocket's and back, I was not by any means convinced on the last point, and began to invent reasons and make excuses for not putting up at the Blue Boar. I should be an inconvenience at Joe's; I was not expected, and my bed would not be ready; I should be too far from Miss Havisham's, and she was exacting and mightn't like it.

All the swindlers upon earth are nothing to the self-swindlers, and with such pretences did I cheat myself. Surely a curious thing. That I should innocently take a bad half-crown of somebody else's manufacture, is reasonable enough; but that I should knowingly reckon the spurious coin of my own make, as good money! An obliging stranger, under pretence of compactly folding up my bank-notes for security's sake, abstracts the notes and gives me nutshells; but what is his sleight of hand to mine, when I fold up my own nutshells and pass them on myself as notes!

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, 1860-61

In my last "what i'm reading" post, I blogged about the novel Mister Pip, a very good book, and announced an impending Dickens mini-binge. Then there was a flood, and a dogwalker crisis, and the book sat on my desk unopened.

But I finally did begin Great Expectations, the brilliant novel by Charles Dickens that inspired Mister Pip, and I am devouring it. I've been trying to make time to read every day, to finish the book before our trip to New Mexico. On the long travel day back and forth from Santa Fe, I'm hoping to read Open Veins of Latin America by Edward Galeano, and A Mercy by Toni Morrison.

Great Expectations is a miracle of a novel. It is Dickens at his best, and his most accessible. I thought I was re-reading it, but it's possible I'm reading it for the first time. My mental imagery from the book are really all from the 1946 movie adaptation, featuring the young Alec Guinness is a supporting role. Rats scuttling through the wedding cake.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to read, other than school work, while in school; it's possible I'll only read when school is not in session. But if possible, I'd like to get to Dickens' Little Dorrit for the first time.


access and attitudes

One of the very few areas, perhaps the only area, where the US is more advanced than Canada is access for people with disabilities.

In the US, the hard work of generations of activists with disabilities brought about the Americans with Disabilities Act, civil-rights legislation that became federal law in 1990. Now that the changes mandated by the ADA have percolated through society, equal access is no longer a dream or an idea on paper. It is overwhelmingly the norm.

Although the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically includes people with physical and mental disabilities, accessiblity codes are determined at a provincial and municipal level - and are often considered optional.

(Obviously, the US's grossly inadequate health care non-system creates major obstacles for people with disabilites. Indeed, it even creates more people with disabilities, as treatable conditions worsen and cause permanent damage.)

* * * *

For people with physical disabilities, access isn't just about using a ramp to get into a building. It's about getting into that building to be out in public - to work, go to school, and participate in every aspect of society. The idea has always been that greater access would bring greater participation, and greater participation would bring greater acceptance. Eradicating physical barriers would begin to diminish the attitudinal barriers.

In my 20-some-odd years of interviewing people with disabilities, I've learned that attitudinal barriers are the far more enduring of the two.

Even though physical access lags in Canada, I think attitudes towards disability are more advanced here. The Paralympics, for example, are so much more well known and understood in Canada than in the US. I have been long tracking and documenting the shameful treatment of US Paralympic athletes by the United States Olympic Committee, and it never improves. The higher profile of the Paralympics in Canada may be an effect of better attitudes - or it may be part of the cause. Seeing top-level athletes with disabilities compete in the international arena goes a long way to normalizing disability.

Access and attitudes don't necessary align. Many people with disabilities who have traveled extensively observe that in places with less physical access, they have found greater acceptance and willingness to help, relative to the US. Many people have told me that when they were in Athens, or Rome, or Paris - old cities where uniform accessibility is a pipe dream - strangers went out of their way to help them, and to find a way to get them where they wanted to go. The help wasn't offered in a pitying or condescending way, but in a warm and welcoming way: we have a person who wants to participate, let's see how we can make that happen.

This can't compensate for lack of access on a daily basis - I'd hate to live constantly dependent on the kindness of strangers - but the Americans I spoke to were still very impressed by this difference.

And there are societies where full accessibility and enlightened attitudes seem to be the norm. A woman I've interviewed for several stories - a Canadian who is an international water skiing champion - raved about traveling in Australia. A wheelchair-user, she traveled on her own by train, and everything was completely accessible. She said it was paradise, both in access and attitudes. In her experience, nothing in the US or Canada came close.

* * * *

In the US, a whole generation of people with disabilities has grown up with the American with Disabilities act, completely mainstreamed in a mostly accessible world. But attitudes are slower to change than we had hoped or imagined. As in so many people's equality movements, it's much better, but there's such a long, long way to go.

Check out this story by Josie Byzeck, managing editor of New Mobility magazine. Josie interviewed wheelchair-using 20-somethings to see what issues they face. Some excerpts.
Romanik says he's never really been discriminated against: "Well, except sometimes by people I ask out on a date." He typically meets prospective partners over the Internet. "When they find out about my disability, often they don't even want to meet. So I don't tell them ahead of time. Some flip out — 'You should tell people,' and 'I just don't feel comfortable.' The disability image needs to change — this idea that disabled people can't have sex, and so on."

Although it's painful to be rejected, Romanik recognizes it's not personal. "People slighting me used to make me feel like I'm not worthy," Romanik says. "Lately my attitude is more, 'Too bad, your loss!"

. . . .

"Things are accessible now, we can get around and do things, but there's still this barrier. I don't know, it's kind of like we still aren't being treated like normal people," Wilk says, explaining how even though physical barriers may be melting away, the interpersonal obstacles left behind are just as daunting.

Wilk doesn't date much. "There is a certain etiquette that we miss out on, as people with disabilities," she says. "I've had guys in wheelchairs come up to me and ask if I want to get married when they first meet me — that's not the best way to get to know someone. They don't know you have to take things step by step, and ask someone out on a date. I guess they don't get the whole courtship thing."

And forget nondisabled guys. "I can get them as friends but as far as dating, it's really hard," Wilk says. "I wish it weren't like that, and one day it probably won't be. People will become more educated and realize it's OK to date us, it's not something to be ashamed of ... hopefully the attitudinal barriers will go away."

. . . .

"My biggest thing is not physical access, it's definitely the stigma and attitudes attached to what others think we can do," says Ayers, who has osteogenesis imperfecta. "Society and professionals, whether colleagues or employers, are supportive of certain things I want to do in my career, like my writing, but if I want to work directly with children or adolescents, I encounter a lot more hesitancy and discrimination."

Once, a supervisor actually told her to just stick to research. "I asked, 'Am I terrible as a clinician?' No, I was told, it would just be easier for me," says Ayers. "For her it was a huge issue for me to work around kids with emotional disturbances. All of a sudden she was very protective, even though she didn't know me."

A newlywed, Ayers is thinking about babies these days. She and her husband both have OI, which means they'd most likely pass it on to their children. This bothers some people, especially parents of others with OI. "I try to address it with them, that their views send their children the message that, 'We love you but we don't want more people like you in the world.' And some say, 'Why would you go through all that trouble, just adopt.' People are oblivious to how difficult it is for people with disabilities to adopt."

Barriers to career goals and parenting are Ayers' biggest access issues. But the little ones, too, can sting. "In the world people don't make eye contact, and sit two or three chairs away from you. They quickly put together a plan to go to lunch and don't invite you even though they invited two or three others," she says. "Some people are not consciously aware they're excluding us. It's even harder when people building those walls don't know they're there."

On the same page, you'll see a piece by Allison Cameron Gray. As a teenager, Ally used to write an advice column for Kids On Wheels, the groundbreaking magazine for wheelchair-using kids that I wrote and helped edit for several years (now defunct). Ally is one of the people who talked to me about traveling in Europe, the mix of bad access and good attitudes. Her piece about "Helicopter Parents" is a good read.


why i love the internet today

Today's installment of Why I Love The Internet is brought to you by tofu.

Tonight we made a tofu stir-fry for dinner. Stir-frys are easy to make, but I've never learned how to make tofu very well. I usually just let it sizzle in whatever marinade we make, and it stays soft and a bit mushy. Some people hate that, but we like it enough.

I was wondering what else I could throw in the marinade, so I Googled "marinated tofu". The first site that came up was this: How to Cook Tofu Like The Pros: Dry-Fry and Marinate Method. Simple instructions, but nothing I could have figured out on my own.

So instead of doing anything different with the marinade, I decided to try the dry-fry method. Now we know how to make really good tofu - firm, crispy and golden. It was a big improvement!

As an extra bonus, when I went to that website, I saw this great typo.

Sulekha is a site for Indian people living in North America. They should hire a proofreader.

By the way, it was tofu, broccoli, portobello mushrooms and carrots. The marinade was garlic, shallots, soy sauce, vinegar and honey (what we had in the house). We ate it without rice.

back to school

I just bought this.

I've been using the same backpack for 10 years, and have no good way to carry my laptop. This one is also supposed to be easier on your back, which I need.

This makes no rational sense, but somehow buying this new backpack has made me more excited about starting school. My inner student might be waking up.

It turns out I won't miss any actual classes while we're in New Mexico. The "core courses" for incoming students aren't starting til the following week, when we're back. The only thing I'm missing are some meet-and-greets and assemblies. I'm awful at meeting people at those things; I generally just mill around feeling uncomfortable. I'll have plenty of time to meet people in classes, if I'm so inclined. So I'm missing nothing. Yay.

more insanity at fake u.s. town hall meetings

When I posted the video clip of Barney Frank ripping the astroturf town hall protestor - "On what planet do you spend most of your time?" - I thought everyone had already seen it. But of course, that's never the case, and several people thanked me for the post.

So in that spirit, try this. Rather than link to YouTube with all the lovely YouTubian screamers, I'll go with HuffPo: Woman Shouts 'Heil Hitler' at Jewish Man Praising Israel's Health Care System.

are my hands clean, and can i stand to get them a little cleaner

Making ethical choices is easy when it's easy. But what do we do when ethical choices demands real sacrifice? What happens when principles meet wallet, or enjoyment, or convenience?

The name Whole Foods has been in the blogosphere recently, and not because bloggers are praising the store's beautiful produce and delicious prepared food. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote a ridiculous Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing against health care reform. He doesn't believe equal access to health care is a right, and, astoundingly, claims that if everyone ate healthfully, we wouldn't even need health care.

In the face of massive outcry from WF employees ("team members"), suppliers and customers, the store backpedaled like crazy, trying to say Mackey didn't say what he very clearly said.

WF is also notoriously anti-union. In concert with Starbucks, they are actively trying to handcuff the Employee Free Choice Act, the US legislation that is organized labour best hope for renewing any of its long-lost strength, by seeking to strip it of its most important provision.

My niece who works in the organic food community tells me WF mercilessly squeezes farmers and producers, wielding its giant buying power as a blunt weapon, leaving small businesses helpless to compete.

The store is criticized for being "corporate" and "elitist" (two frequently misused words). In some ways, WF has become the Wal-Mart of the green world. But... there's a but.

* * * *

Whole Foods brings organic, locally-produced food to huge numbers of people, more than any local store ever could. In the US, they've normalized organic and healthy eating. They offer an unmatched selection of foods and products for special needs, such as gluten-free food, grass-fed beef and cruelty-free personal care products.

They've also put their huge buying power to some excellent uses. The chain stopped carrying live lobsters after conducting an investigation and concluding there is no ethical way to cook it. (After community protest, they made an exception for a store in Portland, Maine.) A decision like that can have a major impact. As I also stopped eating lobster because of the live-cooking issue, this made a difference to me.

All this is true, and for me, it helps mitigate the other, less attractive facts. But... none of this is the real but.

The real but is: I love Whole Foods.

USians are much more familiar with WF than Canadians. In Canada, there are a few WF locations in Vancouver, plus one in Toronto and one in Oakville. In the UK, there are a few in London. But there are almost 300 WF locations in the US.

WF is an overgrown version of what used to be called a "health food store", selling organic and healthy products. They're as large as supermarkets, but organized like a marketplace, with specialty counters for cheese, meat, fish, bakery, sushi, and so on. The quality is uniformly high. Their prices can be outrageous - the joke is "Whole Paycheque" - but they also have great bargains on their own line of organic products.

The real draw of WF, however, is the shopping experience. A good parallel is the world-class restaurant. You think you know what a fine dining experience is until you eat a really high-end restaurant. Whether or not you choose to spend your money that way is another story, but once you have, you understand great restaurants are not just a difference of degree, they're a difference of kind.

I hate to shop, and I never shop for recreation. But I freely admit that I love to shop at Whole Foods.

Now, I don't live close enough to a Whole Foods to shop there all the time, and I couldn't possibly afford it if I did. But ever since they opened their enormous location in New York City's Columbus Circle, WF has been a "treat shop" for me - someplace to shop for a special dinner, or find things I can't get in our regular supermarket, or a great place to have lunch if I'm in the area.

Now, after John Mackey's WSJ spew, many US progressives are swearing never to shop there again. This raised some questions for me.

Did the people vowing not to shop at WF actually shop there in the first place? Many progressive people don't like WF anyway (corporate, elitist, etc.). Will people who enjoy WF actually eschew it because the CEO is a selfish pig? Presumably they've known about WF's bad labour practices - which directly affect more people than that Op-Ed - and still continued to shop there. And: will I continue shopping there?

* * * *

Boycotts are easy when they're easy. For me, not eating at McDonald's is the easiest thing in the world. (On our way home from Boston, I succumbed to the Egg McMuffin urge, and gave McDonald's my money for the first time in at least 10 years. Hopefully another 10 years will pass until the next Egg McMuffin.) Not shopping at Wal-Mart is even easier - I've never been in one, ever. I don't know if the plastic chair I bought at Canadian Tire is $3.00 cheaper at Wal-Mart, and I don't care. Getting the absolute lowest price is not important to me. I know those artificially low prices come at a very high price, and I don't want to support Wal-Mart's unconscionable practices.

Boycotting Whole Foods... that's different, because I'd miss it.

How many of us live by our principles when it inconveniences us or costs more money? Or if there's something we just plain like, that we want to keep?

An activist friend of mine mentioned in passing that she doesn't fly Porter, the short-haul airline based in Toronto's City Centre Airport. Although she's not wealthy, she spends more money to fly with Air Canada, because she's lived on the Toronto Islands and she doesn't think there should be an airport there.

I admire that, but when I recently bought a ticket for my mom to visit us, I used Porter. My friend used to live on the islands; she knows how badly the airport affects island life. I can more easily look the other way.

Certainly I don't only act on principle when it's convenient to do so. I've made huge financial sacrifices to attend peace marches and other protests on weekends, when I earn most of my living. Allan and I made the big switch to locally-produced, organic, ethically-raised meat. It's very expensive, and our finances are very tight, but I'm clinging to this decision if at all possible. I don't want to return to contributing to the cruelty of factory farming. (I'm already doing that when I go out to dinner, and I have to live with that.) Those are just a few examples. I have many, and I'm sure you do, too.

But we all also make selfish choices, choices for our own comfort and convenience. The greenest among us use electricity, drive (or at least accept rides in cars) and fly. If we didn't buy products produced through harmful labour practices, we'd all go naked. We pay taxes that support war. Sweet Honey in the Rock asks, "Are my hands clean?"

Some choices are very clear. When a company's - or a country's - policies are blatantly revolting, the choice is easier. There are lines we can't cross.

But most decisions are not simple. We rationalize, ignore and try to make peace with ourselves: "I only shop at Whole Foods once in a while."

Most people live with the cognitive dissoance of loving some animals and eating others. Those who can't or don't want to become vegans or vegetarians. I didn't like either choice - that's how I ended up with Beretta Farms. But it's not a perfect system. I know that. In Philip Roth's novel American Pastoral, there's a horrifying portrait of a young woman who is dying because she will not compromise her principles. She cannot bathe because there are living organisms in the water she would use. She slowly starves to death rather than consume any living thing.

On the other extreme, some people use the mere existence of such compromises and paradoxes as an excuse to surrender all ethics. Oppose the Canadian seal hunt, or bullfighting, or dog fighting, or commercial fur, and someone is sure to ask - snidely, angrily - if you are a vegan, or wear leather. But the choice is not between all cruelty and no cruelty. I eat animal flesh. How does that excuse the torture of living creatures for sport? It does not.

None of our hands are completely clean, but we don't have to purposely wallow in mud.

if you are still fighting for u.s. democracy, read sara robinson

Sara Robinson holds a mirror to the slackened mouth of US democracy, and still sees a trace of fog.
All through the dark years of the Bush Administration, progressives watched in horror as Constitutional protections vanished, nativist rhetoric ratcheted up, hate speech turned into intimidation and violence, and the president of the United States seized for himself powers only demanded by history's worst dictators. With each new outrage, the small handful of us who'd made ourselves experts on right-wing culture and politics would hear once again from worried readers: Is this it? Have we finally become a fascist state? Are we there yet?

And every time this question got asked, people like Chip Berlet and Dave Neiwert and Fred Clarkson and yours truly would look up from our maps like a parent on a long drive, and smile a wan smile of reassurance. "Wellll...we're on a bad road, and if we don't change course, we could end up there soon enough. But there's also still plenty of time and opportunity to turn back. Watch, but don't worry. As bad as this looks: no -- we are not there yet."

In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world's pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist. In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn't by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together. According to our reading of Paxton's stages, we weren't there yet. There were certain signs -- one in particular -- we were keeping an eye out for, and we just weren't seeing it.

And now we are. In fact, if you know what you're looking for, it's suddenly everywhere. It's odd that I haven't been asked for quite a while; but if you asked me today, I'd tell you that if we're not there right now, we've certainly taken that last turn into the parking lot and are now looking for a space. Either way, our fascist American future now looms very large in the front windshield -- and those of us who value American democracy need to understand how we got here, what's changing now, and what's at stake in the very near future if these people are allowed to win -- or even hold their ground.

For my money, after two fraudulent US presidential elections, added to everything else, I decided there must be a new kind of fascism, one disguised as a democracy. If it's not wholly new, if there's historical precedent, then at the very least it's not the face of fascism most USians would immediately recognize.

Later, I used Naomi Wolf's Fascist America, in 10 easy steps, and I knew the US was there.

Sara Robinson and Dave Neiwert, and the others Sara mentions, have far more expertise in this area than I do (also more invested in the US, I believe). I don't dispute their analysis. It just doesn't work for me. As I read it, I find myself responding, "Too late... won't happen with enough strength... not organized enough... too late... too beaten down...". Not to mention, "What? You're expecting help from the Democrats?"

But just because I don't have any hope for the US, doesn't mean I'm right and Sara's wrong. Those of you who are still fighting, perhaps this follow-up will help.
In the previous post, I pointed out that the most insidious part of fascism is that by the time it's finally obvious to absolutely everyone that these people are dangerously out of control, it's too late to do anything about it. Early warnings are even more valuable here than they are in most domains. And since futurists are -- more than anything -- in the business of early warnings, it falls to me to step up there and point out that according to at least a few of the more reputable atlases in the glove box, this looks a lot like the last turn into the parking lot of downtown Fascist Hell.

The good news is: we're not yet parked and locked, let alone committed to entering the building. (Which is good, because the doors appear to be all one way, just like in the Hotel California.) We've still got a few minutes left to change our minds, back out of this, and go spend our future somewhere else. But we are now actively in the process of choosing, whether we're aware of it or not. Things are happening quickly now that could set us on a course we will soon regret.

How do we turn back? Here are some basic principles to guide our action.

First: The teabaggers must not win this one. Back in elementary school, most of us learned that when a bully learns that intimidation and threats work, he'll will keep doing more of it. In fact, the longer he goes without comeuppance, the bolder and badder he becomes, and the harder it is to make him stop. Every success teaches him something new about how to use terror for maximum effect, and tempts him to push the envelope and see what else he can get away with. Do nothing, and he'll soon take over the whole playground. . . .

Read: Fascist America: Are We There Yet? and Fascist America II: The Last Turnoff.


stress update

Short version: much calmer. What felt like overload a few weeks ago is suddenly very manageable. Nothing like total overload to change your perspective on your burdens!

  • Dogs. We have a new dogwalker, and she's also house- and dog-sitting while we're in New Mexico. She has a lot of experience with dogs and good references, and seems like a good find. Fingers crossed.

  • Flood. Renovation hasn't started on the basement. This is actually good, as every time it rains, we can check for leaks. Everything is stripped bare - paneling and drywall removed, floor down to the concrete. If everything stays dry until the reno begins, we'll be happy to stay in this house and not have to move.

    It's very inconvenient not having the basement, especially for Allan, who has lost his wonderful office and lair.

    I'm considering asking for a break on the rent, but I'm also reluctant. We've lost one-third of our living area, and I do think we deserve something off one month.

    But our landlord has a lot on his plate right now; his own residence flooded, too. He's not a big management company; this is his only rental property, and he does take good care of it. I don't want to create bad feelings. So I'm still mulling it over.

  • RSI. Physio and exercise for my repetitive stress injuries seem to be going well, although I have a long way to go. My employer is not bothering me about it, and there's plenty of other work without doing the tasks that were causing me problems.

  • Travel. With the flood and dog crises fading, I'm actually starting to relax enough to look forward to our trip. During three days of family gatherings - rehearsal dinner, wedding, brunch - we'll also have some time to see some of Santa Fe. Then we have three and a half days in New Mexico.

    We'll probably focus on the north and northwest part of the state, which seems to be rich with ancient Native American sites and other things that interest us. Bandelier National Monument and Chaco Culture National Historic Site are good possibilities. There are also several scenic by-ways to choose from in that area. I must go horseback riding. I love it and haven't been in a very long time.

    I've ruled out Carlsbad Caverns, a National Park in the southeast corner of the state. I'd love to go there, but it's too far away given the limited time we have. This frees us for more fun stuff closer to Santa Fe.

  • Me. I feel sad about having to pull back from the Campaign. I am deeply committed to seeing this fight through to the end, and once I get settled in a new routine, I hope I can still contribute. But at least for September, my contribution will be limited to blogging.

    I considered putting off school until the Campaign ends - that is, until we win - but the school has only September enrolment, and I don't want to wait a full year to get started on a multi-year project.

    My class and work schedule has fallen into place. I had a major concern about getting the class sections I needed in order to make my busy schedule work. I was waitlisted for everything, and I got them all. Big relief!

    The only thing not yet in place is a small part-time job with the Mississauga Library System. I need more income, and since I hope eventually to be a librarian in Mississauga, a job there makes sense. Plus they have very part-time jobs, for only a handful of hours a week. I don't know yet if the Library will work around my crowded schedule.
  • help wanted

    A friend of mine needs to find a new place to live by October 1.

    She works and volunteers in Oakville, so in or near Oakville would be most convenient. The apartment must be animal friendly.

    This person is extremely reliable and conscientious, and would make a great tenant or housemate. Unfortunately, her current housemate has decided she doesn't want to live with pets.

    If you have any leads or ideas, email me and I'll put you in touch. Thanks.


    muriel duckworth, woman of peace

    A great Canadian has died. Muriel Duckworth lived to be 100 years old, and she used her time on earth well.
    Muriel Duckworth, a Nova Scotian peace activist best known as one of the founding members of the national peace group Voice of Women, died early Saturday at the age of 100.

    Duckworth fell and broke her hip while at her Quebec cottage. She passed away at a hospital in Magog, Que.

    Duckworth co-founded a variety of social action groups and played crucial roles in several humanitarian organizations, including Oxfam Canada, where she served on the board of directors in the 1970s.

    She holds numerous honourary degrees from universities across Canada, including Mount Saint Vincent University and Dalhousie University. In 1983, Duckworth was made a companion of the Order of Canada and won the Pearson Peace Medal less than a decade later.

    In her final days, Duckworth connected with many friends, including Marian Douglas Kerans, who wrote a biography about the activist that was published in 1996. Kerans said Duckworth was busy living "right up 'till the very end." The two last spoke over the phone on Aug. 17.

    'She was fearless'

    "Her way of speaking so simply, so plainly and right to the point was really quite phenomenal," Kernas said. "She was fearless."

    Of Duckworth's tireless involvement in different organizations, Kerans said the centenarian saw needs everywhere and moved to fill them. "She always knew who the disadvantaged were," Kerans said. "Whose corner you needed to be in. Who you should advocate for."

    Duckworth was one of five children born in Austin, Que., to Anna Westover and Ezra Ball. In 1947, she and her late husband, Jack, moved to Halifax. They were pacifists and their vocal opposition to the Second World War drew much ridicule at the time.

    During the Vietnam War, Muriel and other Voice of Women members were instrumental in arranging a tour to Canada for Vietnamese women directly affected by the war.

    Became a Quaker

    She quit the United Church of Canada when it refused to condemn the conflict, and joined the Quakers, a religious faith deeply committed to non-violence.

    Kerans said she believes Duckworth was saddened by Canada's role in the Afghanistan war.

    "Her regret was that wars are not lessening, and wars have not disappeared. The greatest hope of her life was to see movement towards the creation of peace on earth," Kerans said. Duckworth is survived by her three children, 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

    crime and punishment

    I saw this yesterday and ignored it. Not intentionally. I was hiding. It hits home in a very profound way.

    Please go here: Contempt of Court, Fernando Alves Rape Walk, Dawg's Blog

    And here: Action Time, Dammit Janet!

    And here: Crime of impunity, Broadsides

    Thanks to Dr Dawg, Fern and Antonia - and to all of you who get involved.

    I give this post the label "bigotry" for both the crime and the punishment. Both demonstrate an utter contempt for women.

    abortion, privatization and health care in quebec

    From the Globe and Mail, August 13.
    We need fewer barriers to abortion, not more
    By Andre Picard

    In recent days, a number of private clinics in Quebec – including the legendary Morgentaler clinic – have said they will stop performing abortions.

    That access to abortion should be threatened, after decades of battles in the courts, is a shocking development.

    It is also a reminder that the battle for reproductive rights is never done because there are a cruelly endless number of ways to undermine access. Prince Edward Island still offers no abortion services at all. New Brunswick requires referrals from two doctors. Women in rural areas of the country often have to travel hundreds of kilometres for care. Some provinces cover only the cost of abortions performed in hospitals, creating a financial barrier.

    In the case of Quebec, the private clinics are reacting to provisions contained in Bill 34, sweeping new legislation whose scope and importance has largely been overlooked outside Quebec.

    The new law dramatically expands the number and type of surgical procedures that can be contracted out from hospitals to centres médicaux spécialisés (specialized clinics) – to 56 from three. In addition to hip and knee replacements and cataracts, private clinics will be able to do a wide range of procedures, including mastectomies, hysterectomies and bariatric surgery.

    There are, quite appropriately, new oversight measures that will be implemented to ensure these operations are done safely. These include having sterile operating rooms.

    There were 96,815 abortions performed in Canada in 2005, the last year for which data are available from Statistics Canada.

    Abortions are not done in hospital-like operating rooms. The instruments used are sterile, but the procedure, as with other minor surgery, can be done in a physician's office. Even when abortions are performed in hospitals, they are not done in the operating room; they are done in what is essentially an exam room.

    Building a sterile operating room is costly, too costly for the Morgentaler clinic, Fémina and Alternative, the three Montreal clinics that have said publicly they will stop offering abortions if the rules remain. About one-third of the 30,000 abortions performed in Quebec each year are done in private clinics.

    The good news is that Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc, after initially defending the rules, now appears ready to back down, creating an exemption for abortion clinics so that the status quo remains.

    One can only puzzle at why it came to this. But then again, there is nothing quite as strange in this country as Quebec's health politics.

    Conspiracy theorists will say that the provincial government was trying to pull a fast one, to limit access to abortion using a back-handed method. A more likely explanation is that Mr. Bolduc got horrible advice from bureaucrats who drafted the regulations, and even worse advice from his political advisers when he tried to defend the indefensible.

    Nonetheless, the flip-flopping provided another opportunity for Gaétan Barrette, president of the Quebec Federation of Medical Specialists, to take a few pot shots at the minister.

    He called Mr. Bolduc a liar (for saying he was following the advice of doctors in implementing new rules for abortion clinics), and an incompetent, and called for the minister's resignation.

    The unfortunate thing is that, amid the insults and confusion about the state of abortion services in the province, there was little real discussion about the role of private clinics in our health system.

    Under medicare, the state-financed health insurance program, health care delivery is largely publicly administered. But the services themselves are provided by a mixture of non-profit institutions (hospitals), private providers (physicians) and, increasingly, for-profit providers (stand-alone surgical and diagnostic imaging centres).

    With Bill 34, Quebec has gone further than any other province in what is essentially the contracting out of medically necessary care to the private sector.

    It remains to be seen what benefits this will provide, but the public-private split is not as black and white as it is often made out to be in political debates.

    There is ample evidence that specialization results in better outcomes, from cost-efficiency through to fewer medical errors. But, at the same time, when relatively easy, profitable procedures are contracted out to the private sector, it gives the mistaken impression that public institutions are less efficient.

    Abortion clinics are a perfect example of private clinics providing excellent and necessary service. Too often, women who sought abortions in the public system were faced with long waits, lack of privacy and unacceptably moralistic and cumbersome rules.

    What private clinics should not do, however, is create a financial barrier. In Quebec, medicare pays for abortions regardless of where they are performed, and it will do so with other procedures as well.

    What is essential, though, is having appropriate standards so that the quality of care is as good in private surgical clinics as in hospitals.

    With abortion clinics, Quebec imposed regulations that were unnecessary and that created a new barrier to care.

    That problem seems to have been resolved, although messily. What is not clear yet is if there will be similar problems with some of the other 55 procedures. In particular, clinics that do biopsies for breast cancer may balk at the regulations, and that would bounce that service back to hospitals.

    As it is in the provision of most health care services, the challenge is getting the balance right.


    you can't find inner peace in a bottle (of iced tea)

    One of my least favourite marketing techniques is the co-opting of language of people's movements and of higher meaning - decidedly non-capitalist, non-consumerist pursuits - to sell products.

    It's not a new technique by any means. If you're old enough, you know Coca-Cola taught the world to sing "in-per-fect-harmony", and liberated women "had come a long way" because they had their own cigarette now, baby. But new or old, every time I encounter it, it irritates me.

    The highway between Mississauga and downtown Toronto is littered with billboards, and these days one is exhorting me to "release the goodness" by buying a sugar-laden drink that is supposedly "enhanced" with "goodness".

    Another billboard tells me to "Join the Revolution". Since it's a telecommunications ad, I assume that means the digital revolution. But some of us dream of a better world, and seeing that language in service of a giant telecom is depressing.

    Even with my TV on mute, I know that using a certain brand of soap will bring me inner harmony. Using products that artificially scent the air - known perversely as air "fresheners" - also leads to inner peace. Shaving with a certain kind of razor unlocks my inner goddess. (Women only! Men who shave with such a razor will surely turn gay!)

    Cars, apparently, are very nurturing. A few years back, one was "fuel for the soul". Another sold "the power of dreams," while its competitor brought you a "state of independence". Cars also deliver those most cherished of values, freedom and liberty. One vehicle is an American Revolution.

    Heroes are great for business, too - especially those admired by young people with disposable income and only a vague understanding of what they stood for. More than one corporation has appropriated images of Cesar Chavez, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela to score marketing points. There's something particularly galling about that, given that each of those men understood the brutality of unchecked capitalism. Worse still, some of those images are owned by big media. So, for example, Apple might have to pay Getty or Corbis to use a clip of a civil rights march in an iPod ad.

    We know that marketers stop at nothing to influence our purchases. Who would ever walk into a McDonald's if McDonald's told us what's really for sale? "Come buy industrially manufactured empty calories that will raise your blood pressure and cholesterol and make you gain weight! Contribute to animal cruelty and the destruction of the environment! Help kill local businesses and create lousy jobs in your community!"

    That might entice the anti-earth-hour crew to eat McDonald's three meals a day. But in general, it's more effective for McDonald's to remind you that if you want to be hip, young and beautiful, you'll eat their product. Or if you want your children to be adorable and happy, you'll buy their product. Or if you like to support worthy causes, you'll buy their product. Or, most incredibly of all, if you want to eat healthy food, their product actually qualifies.

    I know all that. I see it every day. I live with it. I complain about it daily.

    But seeing the language of human connection and personal well-being used to sell crap... well, that just puts me over the top.

    * * * *

    I try to give generously to causes that matter to me, but I make it a point never to donate anything through corporate sales campaigns. There are enough holes for your money to fall into between your act of giving and your intended cause, without adding a corporate middleman. But more importantly, we shouldn't confuse consumerism with generosity. The two have nothing to do with each other. We shouldn't buy into the idea that buying products somehow benefits the world, or that corporations sell products for anything but profit. Corporate giving is important - especially when governments abdicate their responsibilities - but corporations should donate their own profits, not yours.

    These corporate charity add-ons are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid, as companies clamour to demonstrate their so-called corporate good citizenship. I don't shop much, but this week I had several errands to run. Buying a charger for my phone, I was asked if I wanted to donate to cancer research. Buying sneakers, to Canada's Olympic team. Buying a map in a bookstore in Boston, the cashier asked, "Would you like to send a pound of [brand] coffee to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan?" I said, "No, I'd like them all to come back and drink coffee at home, where they belong. I'd also like the military to buy the troops decent coffee." Don't worry, I was polite and friendly. I know it's not the cashier's fault.

    Nowhere is this linking of consumerism and charitable giving more corrupt than in the campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer. The phenomenon is so rampant that it has its own name: pinkwashing. Think Before You Pink defines a pinkwasher as "a company that purports to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon campaign, but manufactures products that are linked to the disease."
    Yoplait, for example, asks women to support the breast cancer cause by eating yogurt. But the yogurt is made with dairy from cows that have been treated with the artificial growth hormone rBGH. There are numerous health concerns surrounding the use of rBGH, and breast cancer is one of them. [Thanks to the pinkwash campaign, Yoplait no longer contains rBGH! Also note: Bovine Growth Hormone is not used in Canada.]

    Car companies that encourage consumers to buy and drive cars in the name of breast cancer are also pinkwashers, as car exhaust contains chemicals that are linked to the disease. And, cosmetics companies that make products with parabens, phthalates, or other ingredients linked to breast cancer are pinkwashing when they put the pink ribbon on their products.

    Of course, we all know about greenwashing. I always think of a line from Ab Fab. Saffy accuses Edina's "pop specs" - cheap plastic novelty eyeglasses - of being future landfill.
    [Eddy points to her bag of "Pop-specs".]
    Saffy: It's a sticker with a green tree on it.
    Edina: Yes.
    Saffy: What does that mean?
    Edina: Kind to trees, sweetie.
    Saffy: How are they kind to trees?
    Edina: Well they ain't made of wood, how kind do you want!?

    harper as bush via rick mercer

    Did you catch any photos of Action Figure Stephen Harper dressed up in his helicopter suit? It may remind you of a former Resident of the White House. It reminds me of Rick Mercer. And you know how I feel about Rick.

    The photos are here, numbers 17, 18 and 19. Click at your own risk.

    Letters in today's Globe and Mail:
    You've got to hand it to those PR types in the PMO, eh? From Stephen Harper's cuddly blue sweater in the last election campaign to his jet-jockey outfit on your front page - all that's missing, à la George Bush, is the aircraft carrier and the banner Mission Accomplished.

    Jim Sinclair, North Bay, ON

    Wow, what a shot of our Prime Minister in flight helmet, goggles and vest (In The North, On The Hustings - front page, Aug. 20)! He's certainly ready to take on our northern invaders. All he needs now is a few shots of him riding bare-chested on a horse and he'll really be ready to take on Vladimir Putin.

    Arthur Krause, Toronto, ON


    "a cheap-shot artist and cynic of the highest order"

    Perusing through Maclean's on an unrelated search, I found this: a perfect description of Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney and their Conservative party. The quote is from Daniel Veniez, a once Conservative and possibly future Liberal MP.
    The Conservative party and its leader are permanently angry. That's an ingrained part of who they are and what they represent. On a visceral level, they remain a protest party and have turned themselves into a protest government. They manage by negatives and are genetically incapable of inspiring hope or thinking big. They attack, assassinate character, tell lies, lower the bar on public discourse, and engage in tactical and divisive wedge politics and governance. The tone, strategy, and culture for this government are established by Harper, a cheap-shot artist and cynic of the highest order.

    tom ridge reveals more u.s. lies

    From Huffington Post:
    In a new book, former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge reveals new details on politicization under President Bush, reports US News & World Report's Paul Bedard. Among other things, Ridge admits that he was pressured to raise the terror alert to help Bush win re-election in 2004.

    Ridge was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings; was "blindsided" by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him; found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored; and was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush's re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.

    Dave Weigel, writing for the Washington Independent, notes that in the past, Ridge has denied manipulating security information for political reasons. In 2004, for example, he said, "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security."

    The Bush administration was forced to admit in the days after the 2004 alert that it was based on intelligence three or four years old. Officials then claimed there was a previously unmentioned "separate stream of intelligence" that justified the warning -- but offered little tangible information to support their new story..

    ThinkProgress recalls, the AP reported that "even 'some senior Republicans' privately questioned Ridge's timing of a terror alert that came just three days after the Democratic National Convention."

    Go here for links.

    Recently one of my anti-war posts was noticed and belittled by a pro-war Canadian blogger - not a Conservative, but a Green voter. (Underscoring that the Greens are not necessarily progressive.) When I succumbed to the temptation to comment, he asked (paraphrasing), "If we didn't invade Afghanistan, then how would we retaliate for 9/11?"

    There was obviously no question in his mind that the US and Canada should retaliate, that they must retaliate. The only question was how best to retaliate. He called the idea of not retaliating "masochistic". I believe he said masochistic didn't come close to describing such an idea. He was flabbergasted at the idea that the attacks of September 11th might themselves have been retaliation.

    The same blogger was also aghast to hear that the war in Afghanistan has nothing to do with democracy or women's rights.

    So here is Tom Ridge with some new information - only unsurprising as to its source - about the phony terror alerts. Every day we learn more about the lies and propaganda that were used to sell the invasion of Iraq, the so-called War on Terror, the unlawful imprisonment of Afghans and Iraqis, the clampdown on civil liberties at home.

    Yet people cling to the simplistic fantasy that 19 guys with a couple of box cutters caught the mighty United States napping, and that the current wars - in coincidentally oil-rich and pipeline-laden countries - are saving Western civilization.

    thoughts from an abortion provider

    A while back, James sent me this excellent post, written by an abortion provider in the US. Her name has been withheld because of potential violence to herself and her family.

    I have only one quibble with the doctor's statement. She writes, "The decision to have an abortion is an agonizing decision, that few women choose lightly." I don't agree with this, at least not the way the sentence implies. While no woman looks lightly on an unwanted pregnancy, the decision to terminate a pregnancy can be very clear cut, easily the best of the few available options.

    In other words, it's the pregnancy that's agonizing, not the termination. The abortion itself may be a huge relief. If you work in the reproductive rights field, or read and watch women speaking about their own abortions, that's the word you'll hear again and again: relief.

    I was glad to come across this post; it deserves to be shared. An excerpt:
    Did you know that half of the abortions done in this country are done because of birth control failure?

    . . . .

    Did you know that 1/3 of women who have abortions had a partner who sabotaged their birth control method? This is true - domestic violence.

    Women who have abortions come from all walks of life. This is not a phenomenon of only the inner city. Many are educated, and most of them are just plain middle class people.

    The 1st trimester and early 2nd trimester abortions are most frequently done as elective abortions for unwanted pregnancies. I don't like to do elective terminations after 22 weeks because of the viability issue. Late 2nd trimester pregnancies are very different.

    Virtually all of the late 2nd trimester abortions I do are for fetal anomalies, fetal deaths, and for maternal health reasons. These poor souls really wanted their babies. They are in deep mourning because of the loss of their children. They come in deep grief, many times feeling guilty because they are "killing" their loved and wanted children. They worry if the baby will feel the abortion, and they don't want their child to suffer.

    . . . .

    I would be the happiest person in the world to never do another abortion again. So why do I do them? Because pregnant women with unwanted pregnancies are willing to risk just about anything, including almost killing themselves, in order to try to end unwanted pregnancies.

    I remember reading some statistics comparing abortions in the U.S. and Mexico, before they were legal there. About the same number of abortions were done in each country, just over 1 million abortions a year. In the U.S. about 10 women died as a result of legal abortion. In Mexico, about 10,000 women per year died as a result of illegal abortions. 10,000 women who were mothers, sisters, daughters, wives. Not pre-viable fetuses.

    Read it here. Needless to say, best experienced comment-free.

    "it is shameful that canadian governments have supported these policies"

    Letter in yesterday's Globe and Mail:
    It is no surprise the presidential election in Afghanistan is characterized by political alliances with warlords, drug lords and well known human-rights abusers (Free And Fair Elections In Afghanistan? Don’t Hold Your Breath – Aug. 18). In 2001, most Afghans wanted the re-establishment of their democratic 1964 constitution, but this was blocked by the U.S. government, which had its own plans for the country.

    There are more than 80 registered political parties in Afghanistan. Many, strongly committed to democracy, have formed coalitions and want to create a unified country across ethnic, linguistic and religious divisions. They have been blocked from participation in Afghan elections by the U.S. government and its ally, Hamid Karzai. It is shameful that Canadian governments have supported these policies.

    John W. Warnock, author, Creating a Failed State: The U.S. and Canada in Afghanistan, Regina

    on what what planet does she spend her time? that's the good old u s of a

    When I heard there were protesters parading around an Obama event carrying assault weapons, I immediately thought of a search string I recently saw in my Statcounter.
    why isnt obama dead yet

    Chilling words. I saved it, but couldn't bear to turn the words into humour as I usually do.

    By now I assume you've all seen the video of a town hall participant comparing - in apparent seriousness - Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler, and referring to health care reform as a "Nazi policy". Of course we all love Senator Barney Frank's reply, but there is something very dangerous and sinister going on.

    When a moderate centrist like Barack Obama is publicly vilified as a Nazi, we are reminded that, despite the anti-Communist rhetoric we all grew up with, the US has never been in any serious danger of revolution from the left. The danger in the US is, as it has always been, from the right. The presence of a Democrat in the White House does not mean the danger has passed. In fact, Obama's election might have been the spark the fascists need.

    [About US fascism, Sara Robinson asks, "Are We There Yet?". With everything that's been going on with me personally, I haven't yet read this post fully, but it looks very good.]

    Perhaps the people who - incredibly, ridiculously, ignorantly - asked if Allan and I were moving back to the US because of Obama's election have got a clue by now. While I'm actively engaged in the project of improving Canada - the ongoing work of every society - there's never been a question in my mind as to which country I'd rather live in. The Harper Government always disappoints and sometimes disgusts me, but they are temporary. Harper does not equal Canada. And I'm still grateful every day to be here.

    So many USians wish they could join me. There's been no let up of emails from Americans desperate to leave TGNOTFOTE. I receive at least a few each week.

    Andrew from Pennsylvania writes:
    I am Gay and I am an Atheist. I don't parade both around nor shove it in anyone's face. But, everyone in this country seems to feel the need (even today) to shove their evangelical homophobia in my face (through law, commercials, social engineering, etc).

    I have never liked America since I started learning more about it. It is nice, yes, to walk down the street without getting bombed. But, being Gay and Atheist, some streets I can't walk down without getting stabbed or shot (unless I play the straight Christian). Beyond the religion and politics, the general attitude of these people is just mindbogglingly narrow-minded and selfish.

    I want to move to Canada because I do not believe that America will ever have its act together. ...

    [In Canada] I don't think there will be the kind of BS we have to deal with on a daily basis. No wars to worry about, no right-wing Christian using his Bible to make law. Not having to pay an additional 150$ [per month] to get insured SIMPLY because we're a same-sex couple.

    I don't want to have to go on marches, or go to protests, or hold rallies just so I get equal treatment. . . . I also am tired of constant War.

    R from Florida writes:
    ...very disenchanted with the direction my country is moving. I'm not patriotic; I've never seen a reason to be. Even with the election of Obama, the situation seems to simply be swinging back deeply towards the irrational. Sadly, unless I have a job secured, I don't meet the points necessary to immigrate, and for me that's heartbreaking.

    R sent me a link to his blog, and when I told him how much I enjoyed one entry, he said:
    It has been months since I've done any serious writing; I'm simply too depressed watching my country implode, as well as dealing with my own issues. I will press on.

    I well remember that feeling.

    I wish everyone who wanted to move to Canada could do so. It's considerably more difficult now than it was when we applied in 2003. But it's still possible, either with pre-arranged employment, or if you have experience in one of these fields listed by the CIC. And, there is still hope that if the Liberals can form a government, immigration restrictions will ease up.

    And in case you've spent the last 24 hours in a cave, here's Barney Frank.