9.30.2009

people make libraries work

The librarians of the Toronto Public Library, CUPE local 4948, are currently in negotiations with the City. Toronto wants to keep branch libraries open longer, at the expense of paid professional staff. From People Make Libraries Work:
Libraries are more than just bricks and mortar. They're the heart and soul of the communities they serve. Our libraries are places where people go to discover, learn and improve, where knowledgeable and skilled staff help their neighbours in so many different ways.

Toronto offers the best and busiest free library service in the world, with a wonderful reputation for being community-based and providing innovative services to users.

Better libraries mean better service. Better does not mean more open hours with reductions in full-time staff.

That's what the Toronto Public Library Board wants to do — stay open to midnight with no professional librarians and many more part-time staff (with few or no benefits), get rid of reference desks and drastically reduce the many important services we provide to the community.

We are the women and men of TPLWU Local 4948, and we want to ensure that you continue to receive the outstanding service our library is known for the world over.

But we need your help.

The Library Board wants to move to a 'Made-in-America' library model that considers it more important to simply be open than to keep providing world-class service. That means extending hours, but reducing skilled full-time staff and using deskilled part-time staff to pick up the slack.

A library that sacrifices decent service just to remain open is a late-night warehouse, but it's not a world-class library. Our communities deserve better!

Help us keep Toronto's public libraries world-class!

The Library Board's Vision

* Longer hours, without librarians and skilled full-time staff
* Fewer reference desks
* More deskilled part-time staff with few or new benefits
* A world-class library system transformed into a late-night warehouse

Our Vision

* Well-trained staff that are connected to the neighbourhoods they serve
* More services attuned to the community
* Good jobs and decent benefits for library staff that get reinvested in our communities

Here's how you can help make our vision a reality

Call, write or e-mail your city councilor and tell them you support a world-class library system for Toronto.

Let the TPL Board know: My neighbourhood deserves a world-class library, not a 'Made-in-America' warehouse system.

Jane Pyper, City Librarian: citylibrarian@torontopubliclibrary.ca
Matthew Church, chair of the Toronto Public Library Board, care of the Board's Secretary, Nancy Marshall: nmarshall@torontopubliclibrary.ca

The Mississauga Public Library - where I one day hope to start my library career - is moving towards an automated, self-service system, eliminating non-professional, lower-skilled jobs through attrition, but maintaining the same level of professional library staff. Another area in which it gets more difficult to work without an advanced professional degree.

If you live in Toronto, take a moment to speak out about the planned changes to the Toronto Public Library.

9.29.2009

jack layton is a disgrace

From the Things I Thought I'd Never See Department, I am depressed and disgusted that Jack Layton and the New Democrats will prop up the Harper Government. At long, long last, the normally spineless Liberals finally decide they're ready to pull the trigger, and the NDP takes the gun out of their hands.

"Canadians don't want another election" doesn't play for me. Canadians don't need Stephen Harper as Prime Minister, and need every opportunity to attempt to oust him.

For reasons wmtc readers articulated before the last election, I feel strongly that our present government is bad for Canada. I'm not overjoyed at the prospect of an Ignatieff-led government, but at least I'd be hopeful for an improvement.

If Jack Layton is trying to prove that his party is not obstructionist, or that the Liberals don't lead them by the nose, he does so at the expense of his party's principles. And since principles are all the NDP has, Layton is a disgrace.

It pains me to say that. But there it is.

For my thoughts on what the NDP should be doing, see here.

what is "rape-rape"?

The spectacle surrounding celebrated filmmaker and convicted rapist Roman Polanski is truly disgusting. Somehow the fact that he committed his crime 30 years ago is supposed to mitigate the fact of the crime itself. In other words, if you can successfully evade justice for long enough, it's as if you didn't commit a crime at all!

His victim's opinions are interesting, but irrelevant. Apparently she has healed, and that's as it should be. But this wasn't a civil suit. In a criminal action, the accused is prosecuted by the state.

If you drug and rape a 13-year-old girl, and you are actually arrested, prosecuted and convicted, your status as an artist - or anything else - should also be irrelevant.

Perhaps we can't blame Polanski for trying to dodge prison, but Debra Winger et al. defending him is unconscionable. And yet again, Whoopi Goldberg shows herself to be a tool for the patriarchy, defending male cruelty: "it wasn't rape-rape".

Listen up, Whoopi. The victim was 13 years old. She was drugged. I don't know what the hell "rape-rape" is. This was just plain rape.

9.28.2009

best thing i've learned so far

Without a doubt, the coolest thing I've learned at school so far is RefWorks.

RefWorks is an application you can use to create citations and bibliographies, and it's available (free) to all University of Toronto students. It's quite amazing. The RefWorks website describes the software this way:
RefWorks -- an online research management, writing and collaboration tool -- is designed to help researchers easily gather, manage, store and share all types of information, as well as generate citations and bibliographies.

If you need to manage information for any reason -- whether it be for writing, research or collaboration -- RefWorks is the perfect tool.

Wmtc readers who are university professors or more recent graduates probably know all about this, but to me it's an incredible revelation.

To understand why I am so enthusiastic, journey back with me to Ye Olden Days, when we typed a little numeral 1 - manually moving the roller on our typewriters to make it superscript.

Then, if we were lucky, we collected all those notes and - painstakingly following the preferred citation method - typed them all up on an endnote page.

If we were less lucky, our teachers were sticklers for footnotes, meaning notes at the foot of the page. In those cases we had to calculate how much space the footnote would use at the bottom of each page, stop typing the body of the text, type the footnote, and continue the body text on the next page. And if the footnote itself had to continue to the next page? Oy.

My mother did her Master's thesis this way; I remember because I helped her. That was what prompted the purchase of our family's first electric typewriter, which I later took with me to university. And this was the way I wrote papers all through my university years.

Some years later, when I started using a computer, and discovered the footnote function (first on WordPerfect, later on Word), I could fully appreciate how wonderful that was.

But RefWorks! RefWorks is an entirely different dimension of wonderful. For those who are as innocent of citation management software as I was last week, here's how it works.

First I created an account through U of T. If you're working through any online database, most include a RefWorks button. One click, and the cite goes into your account. You can create folders, organized by course, or paper, or subject, and put cites in more than one folder for easy cross-referencing.

No more index cards, no more endless lists of sources, no more panic and frustration when you're going into your final draft and you have no idea where a quote came from. One click.

If you're working from printed material and don't want to find the online source or there is none, you can input the basic information yourself into a RefWorks form.

You choose which citation style you want. RefWorks has hundreds of styles, and you can use different styles for different papers.

And there's a plug-in for your word-processing software, so your web-based RefWorks account and your paper can talk to each other. As you're working, you click "cite" on the plug-in, and RefWorks inserts a cite placeholder in your text.

When you're ready, it generates a bibliography or endnote page, using whatever style you choose.

This is an unbelievable time-saver and headache-saver.

I wasn't able to attend any of the iSchool workshops on how to use RefWorks, so I used an online tutorial. It was beautifully clear and straightforward, and divided into well-labeled sections, so I could focus on what I needed.

I know this officially makes me an Olde Phart, but wow. So far, this is without a doubt the best thing I've learned at school.

9.27.2009

i am iggy hear me roar

Have you seen Bionic Liberal? It's a blog not written by Michael Ignatieff.

Go. Enjoy. Don't miss the FAQ on the sidebar.

gerard kennedy, hero for peace

tala the youtube star

While we were in New Mexico, our dogsitter made this video of Tala. She is howling at Huskies howling on YouTube!

there's a shocking headline: free stuff draws crowds

Thousands of Albertans line up for free potatoes

Winnipeggers drive around city looking for free stuff

In Edmonton, organizers sought to highlight locally grown food. In Winnipeg, the City encouraged a "freecycle" fest, where residents left unused items on the curb for others to grab.

Both great ideas, both good causes. But man oh man, is this ever Canadian.

Don't get me wrong. People from the US love free stuff, too. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a New Yorker who has never picked up something from the curb to call their own.

But the first thing I thought of when I read these stories was my co-worker who, after working all day, drove to three different grocery stores to shop for dinner, because "the peppers are a little less" in one place, and the tomatoes are a little cheaper in the other.

Posts like these inevitably draw some defensive comments from readers explaining the joys of frugality. So let me emphasize that I'm not disparaging this tendency. I am merely noting it as a cultural trend that I do not share.

Also, whenever free food is involved, we have to wonder how many people are there not from cheapness, but from need.

9.26.2009

"the pioneers of a warless world"

Two letters from the Toronto Star, both answering a disgusting, ignorant letter writer.
I am proud to live in a city full of "bleeding hearts" who support U.S. Iraq war resisters. Thankfully, support is widespread across the country. That is because we all watched in horror as George W. Bush launched an illegal war of aggression based on lies – no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed, maimed or sent fleeing as refugees. More than 4,000 U.S. soldiers died in a war that a majority of the world opposed.

For us to deport U.S. soldiers of conscience to jail for speaking out against the Iraq war is an affront to freedom of speech we claim to cherish.

For Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to continue to ignore two majority motions passed in Parliament is a threat to democracy and Gerard Kennedy's bill seeks to remedy this injustice. This bill tells the world that Canada still does not support the illegal and immoral war in Iraq.

Jonathon Hodge
Toronto


Outraged that many Canadians favour offering sanctuary to U.S. military deserters, letter writer Paul A. Philcox likens refugees from America's martial adventures to "pedophiles, rapists, embezzlers and scum of all kinds."

He is surely entitled to his fury, but he should know that his loathing for war resisters puts him at odds with not only his fellow countrymen, but one of the greatest minds of the 20th century.

"The pioneers of a warless world," Albert Einstein said, "are the young men and women who refuse military service."

Perhaps it is right that, as it has in the past, Canada treats more humanely these "pioneers."

Richard van Abbe
Toronto

I'm reading that line over and over, my new favourite quote.

"The pioneers of a warless world are the young men and women who refuse military service."

Lovely, Mr. Einstein. And thank you, Richard van Abbe and Jonathon Hodge.

9.25.2009

joshua key speaking tour

War resister Joshua Key - co-author, with Lawrence Hill, of The Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq - is on a speaking tour of 13 western Canadian cities.

The excellent writer, thinker and activist Paul S. Graham has posted video of Josh's first talk: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

I regard The Deserter's Tale as the single best way to learn about Iraq War resisters: why people join the US military, what they find in Iraq, what happens when they try to leave. It's also an excellent read: you won't be able to put it down.

Many thanks to Paul for producing these videos and making them available. Paul has also posted the itinerary for Josh's tour.

war resisters: two ways you can help

In light of Bill C-440 in support of US war resisters in Canada, there's a letters-to-the-editor battle raging in several newspapers from BC to St. John's. I've been receiving the letters by email, and let me tell you, the other side is out in full force with mouths foaming.

If you support Bill C-440, and believe people who refused to participate in the US invasion and occupation of Iraq should be welcome in Canada, please take a few minutes and write to your local newspaper.

Since the right-wing's main talking point amounts to "...but they volunteered," you might want to address that non-issue.

One, soldiers volunteer to protect and defend their country, not to invade and kill a civilian population, and not to blindly follow illegal orders. International law recognizes that it is not only a soldier's right to refuse illegal orders, but his or her responsibility.

Two, many of the war resisters volunteered, served, and have no legal way to leave the military. They didn't volunteer to be owned for the rest of their lives.

And finally, why is conscription vs volunteer even an issue? It wasn't in the Vietnam era. Thousands of the war resisters Canada welcomed in the 1960s and 1970s had volunteered for service. When they saw what was really happening in Vietnam, they changed their minds, but the US military wouldn't let them leave. Canada let them in - and let them stay.

Another theme is that allowing war resisters to stay in Canada is somehow an insult to Canadian troops. But Canada refused to participate in the invasion of Iraq. The vast majority of Canadians oppose the US war against Iraq. Canada didn't force its troops to fight that war. Welcoming Iraq War resisters to Canada has no bearing on the Canadian forces - or on any other soldier who serves willingly.

Please take five minutes and write a letter to the editor of your local paper. If you don't know the address, look on the website. Small-town newspapers are as important as their big city cousins.

The other thing you can do to help is to either donate $10 or $20, and/or circulate the link for our new Fundable campaign. Please post it on your own blog, on Facebook, Twitter, to email lists you're on. So far the Fundable campaign is going nowhere. We need the money to pay our legal bills, so war resisters won't be deported.

Supporting war resisters is a concrete way you can support peace.

9.24.2009

becoming a survivor

An email about Survivor Corps has been sitting in my inbox for almost a full year. I've wanted to highlight it but somehow never found an occasion to do so.

So during a week when I can think of nothing but graduate school and war resisters - everything fighting for space in my frazzled little brain - the old posts in my inbox come to my rescue. (And I to theirs!)

Survivor Corps is an organization that helps people heal - helps people make the necessary leap from victim to survivor, so they can begin to heal themselves, and so they can become part of the solution for others who have been through similar traumas.

I have no personal experience with Survivor Corps, but the idea of the organization resonates with me. Over years of interviewing people for stories and writing projects, I've come to see that all trauma is related in certain ways. Each person's story is unique, and lived by only that person, but all our stories are related in certain ways.

I've listened to stories of soldiering, sexual assault, relationship violence, spinal cord injury, amputation, and other kinds of personal trauma. The patterns of recovery and healing are usually very similar. And one aspect of recovery is always present: the movement from victim to survivor. Once the person who has been victimized identifies herself as a survivor, and decides to reach out to other survivors, the world is never the same.

Some of the most powerful experiences in my life have come from that movement from victim to survivor: training to be a rape-crisis counselor, public speaking on "survivor panels" for medical school students and emergency room staff, training for Model Mugging. Some of the rewards may be obvious: solidarity and sisterhood with others who have survived similar experiences, reaching out to others who still feel alone with their pain, helping to ease the experience for future victims.

But there's another reward - deeper, more satisfying, and perhaps invisible: the strength that comes from owning your own story enough to be public. When this thing that was done to you, over which you had no control, becomes something you can use for yourself and others, you've transformed your pain into action. That alone is healing beyond measure.

From Survivor Corps:
Survivorship is a positive and pragmatic approach to quality living even after a traumatic experience of affliction, adversity or loss. This philosophy is shared by survivors of all kinds of trauma, from genocide and torture to breast cancer and bereavement; from war and disability to addiction and human betrayal.

There are three major types of threats to our well being.

1. Disease and injury
2. Natural disaster and accidents
3. Man-made violence - victimization and abuse

The last one — man-made violence — is particularly vexing, because it is about the pain and cruelty we humans inflict on each other. Survivorship requires not just forgiving a sometimes cruel universe, but also each other.

Every one of us will experience moments when life "explodes" and is never quite the same again. There is no going back to how things were before the event, the crisis, the moment, the terrible news. The challenge is deciding what to do next. How can we go on to not only survive, but thrive? Survivorship is an ongoing invitation for each of us to grow stronger by reaffirming life's meaning and seeking to fulfill our potential.

Survivor Corps works on three fronts:
Survivor Corps works to break cycles of victimization and violence, individual by individual, country by country. At our core is a survivor-centered approach for victims of war to recover, rebuild their communities and change the world.

Rise Above

Through our signature peer support program, survivors help each other recover from the injuries and trauma of war. Survivor role models offer encouragement and motivation crucial to helping new survivors find hope, get jobs, and get on with their lives.

Learn More about Peer Support

Reach Out

Survivor Corps works through an ever-growing network of partners all around the world to ensure that our services reach as many survivors as possible.

Learn More about Survivor Corps Partners

Give Back

Survivors have the power to rebuild broken communities by engaging diverse groups and former enemies in collective action. We equip survivors with the tools and experience to become leaders in their communities and advocates for change.

Learn More about Survivor Advocacy

Many of you have read my essay "My September 10th," relating my recovery from rape to New York City's recovery from September 11, 2001. But it occurs to me that my best writing about the healing process has never been online. This was also my first publication - a strange experience, having my first publication be something so personal, and also national.

The original title, before Newsweek changed it, was "Coming Out of a Different Closet". Also, I disown the statistic in the first paragraph: one-in-eight is an FBI statistic, and doesn't account for the millions of unreported rapes and sexual assaults. It's believed the figure in the US is closer to one-in-three. Plus the photo is pretty good and it's in colour. (I think I'll make a better pdf and swap it over the weekend.)

So here it is: My Turn: An Angry Cry for Mute Voices.

9.22.2009

tonight in toronto: emergency monologues to support war resisters

If you're in Toronto tonight, please join the War Resisters Support Campaign for a special performance of "The Emergency Monologues". This one-man show is supposed to be funny, dark and very entertaining.

Tickets are $20, or $10 with valid student ID. There'll be a cash bar, and all proceeds will go to the War Resisters Support Campaign, for legal and other emergency expenses.

* * * *

MORGAN JONES PHILLIPS presents:

THE EMERGENCY MONOLOGUES: Tales of the bizarre, ridiculous and irksome side of being a paramedic in an unidentified urban city

"If you've ever heard a siren in the night and wondered where it was going, The Emergency Monologues is your answer... Fascinating, gruesome, and laugh-out-loud funny." -Chris Earle (Second City)

WHEN: Tuesday, September 22, 8:00 p.m. / Doors open 7:00 p.m.

WHERE: The Steelworkers Union Hall, 25 Cecil Street, Toronto (parking available)

HOW MUCH: $20 or $10.00 with valid student ID

WHY: LET THEM STAY!

9.21.2009

updates and pupdates

Ankle. I saw the doctor today about my ankle. (Called on Friday, saw her on Monday. Damn Canadian health care system!)

She says an MRI is unnecessary, since it's clearly not a torn ligament or other condition requiring surgery. She'd like me to get an x-ray, just in case there's a hairline fracture, which is an outside possibility.

Other than that, she recommends a good brace plus balance exercises - but exercises only after the ankle is strong enough for me to stand on one foot. The physiotherapist I'm seeing for my repetitive stress injuries might be able to recommend a brace.

Basement. Nothing. Our landlord is using the basement renovations as an excuse to upgrade the bathroom, and we're waiting for the new fixtures to come in. We'll hit the two-month mark before it does.

I asked about a rent rebate, and the longer this goes on, the more convinced I am that we deserve one. Landlord said he would talk to his insurance, and if they pay, he'll pass it to us. I'm thinking we should get a rebate regardless of his insurance coverage.

We renew our lease on October 1, and I'm going to push for it. I don't look forward to that.

Cody. Good news! We think the DAP collar is having a positive effect! While we were away, our dogsitter told us there was a thunderstorm. Cody woke her up, but was content to lie down beside the bed and sleep - which was unthinkable before. We think it must be the collar.

In general, Cody seems happier and more lively. She's even eating better. The only difference we can think of is the collar.

Thank you, Dharma Seeker!!

And speaking of which... Dogwalker. She's great. She loves animals, she's reliable, and she doesn't have a massively busy life that she's trying to squeeze our dogs into. She and her friend had a great time with Tala and Cody while we were gone. Is it too much to hope that she sticks around? Probably! But I'm hoping.

School. I start my second week of school quite overwhelmed. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking, I have until November 4 to drop one class. But how long do I want to take to finish this program?

Allan reminds me that I haven't been through a normal week yet. I have to give it more time. He's right, and I will. At the moment, I'm not optimistic. But I'm withholding judgement.

Random weirdness. Late last night, I heard Allan urgently and repeatedly calling Tala to come in the house. When I came downstairs, she was inside, looking a bit shook up and subdued. There was an animal in the backyard, and Tala had been tangling with it! Amazingly, she responded to Allan and came when called, I think partly because she was afraid.

The animal was still on the lawn, frozen in fear. We could see its triangular face and big eyes, but couldn't make out what it was. It took a few limping steps, then ran off, seemingly unhurt.

We have no idea what it was, and it happened too fast - and was too dark - to get a picture. It wasn't a woodchuck or hedgehog, definitely not a skunk, not a ferret or some similar-looking creature. Any ideas?

I think we've finally learned our lesson about letting the dogs out late at night. They've been skunked twice, and now Tala could have been seriously hurt, or hurt or even killed another animal. It's leashes at night from now on.

femin-ally: sexual assault prevention tips guaranteed to work

From Femin-Ally:
Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!

1. Don't put drugs in people's drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON'T ASSAULT THEM!

6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8. Always be honest with people! Don't pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don't communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9. Don't forget: you can't have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone "on accident" you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn't ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are commiting a crime - no matter how "into it" others appear to be.

Some years back, I wrote a few books for a series called "Everything You Need To Know About...", written for teens who are struggling readers. The publisher wanted to finish the title with "...Preventing Sexual Assault," but I couldn't live with that. Fortunately my editor backed me up and we went with "Everything You Need To Know About... Dealing with Sexual Assault".

Thanks to James for sending the Femin-Ally link. If your computer is at all unstable, I advise against clicking through.

toronto star letters say let them stay

From today's Toronto Star:
Bravo to Gerard Kennedy and Bill Siksay for introducing and seconding Bill C-440, the private member's bill in support of U.S. war resisters in Canada. Those MPs stand on the side of justice, peace and Canadian values. The majority of the Canadian public believes U.S. war resisters should be allowed to stay in Canada. Let's do the Canadian thing and let them stay.

Laura Kaminker, Mississauga


A generation ago, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared Canada a "refuge from militarism" and welcomed Vietnam War resisters, both volunteers and conscripts alike. Now we have a Prime Minister who admitted the Iraq War was "absolutely an error," but who deports Iraq war resisters to jail against the will of Parliament.

The war resisters bill offers a historic opportunity to reaffirm Canadian tradition and democracy, and to keep the Prime Minister to his word. Canadians anxiously await the passage of this bill, which will again make Canada a beacon of hope and a refuge from militarism.

Jesse McLaren, Toronto


In view of Gerard Kennedy's bill, all deportations of resisters should stop until the vote takes place.

Janet Goodfellow, Toronto


[plus one negative letter not reproduced here]

war resister legal defense: the return of fundable

Fundable is back!

Earlier this year, our Fundable campaign for war resister legal defense was so successful that we're trying again.

You know the drill. We have 25 days to raise a certain amount of money. If we don't meet the goal by the time the clock runs out, the pledges are wiped out, and the Campaign gets nothing. If we meet our goal, your pledge turns into a donation to the War Resisters Support Campaign.

We've set the same modest goal of $2500. Last time we raised about $4800! Who knows what will happen this time.

Even if you can't make a pledge, you can still help. You can grab the URL from the Fundable page and circulate it: through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, email lists and your own personal contacts.

Donors can pledge as little as $10 - or as much as they like! - and they can use either credit card or PayPal. If the pledge becomes a donation, it is converted to US funds.

We have 25 days... starting now!

War Resister Legal Defense Fund September 2009

9.20.2009

canada's afghan mission is "useless"

[redsock guest post]

CBC:
Fallen soldier thought Afghan mission 'useless': family

Family members of the latest Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan told a Quebec City newspaper that the young soldier considered the mission "a bit useless."

Nicolas Couturier, brother of Pte. Jonathan Couturier, told Le Soleil that the 23-year-old soldier had mixed emotions about being in Afghanistan.

"That war, he thought it was a bit useless, that they were wasting their time there," he was quoted telling Le Soleil.

"He didn't talk about it," Nicolas told the newspaper. "He was positive, but at certain moments, let's just say he was fed up."

useless: "not serving ... any purpose ... futile ... of no practical good"

A note to the CBC: This 23-year-old soldier did not "fall".

He cannot "get up". He was killed. He is dead. And no one will ever touch his hair or call him Dad or be told in his voice that they are loved.

9.19.2009

the world is full of unexpected challenges

My biggest challenge in attaining my Master of Information degree will not be keeping up on the assigned reading.

My biggest challenge will not be writing cogent critical papers.

It will not be class participation, on which I will be graded.

These factors are all important, but they are trivial when compared to my most formidable challenge.

My biggest challenge? Not eating french fries every day!

There are no french fries at home, where I normally spend my days. Driving around Mississauga for appointments and errands, there are no french fries. I'd have to go well out of way to find french fries, and I don't.

There are no french fries at work. I would have to seek out fast food restaurants, and I don't, and even if I did, the fries there aren't very good. They are easily avoidable.

But these trucks. These chip trucks, or fries trucks, or whatever you want to call them. They sell sizzling hot, salty fries, freshly made from real potatoes. Gravy, cheese, poutine, is freely ladled. I eat mine plain, but somehow the idea is still so appealing.

A small size is huge. And cheap. And so tempting.

There are several trucks. And I have to walk past them every day.

Of this there can be no doubt. The biggest challenge facing me in my graduate school career will be not eating french fries every day.

bad ankles, bad balance and a possible cure

This episode of Why I Love The Internet is brought to you by my sprained ankle. Cara, an off-and-on wmtc reader and former librarian - and someone I've never heard from before - sent me this story. She's had serious ankle problems, and these exercises helped her a lot.

This article makes a connection between poor balance and ankle injuries. This is very interesting, as I do have balance issues. I'm seeing my doctor on Monday about the ankle, and I will ask about doing these exercises while we go for a diagnosis.

See original story for a video of the exercises.
How to Fix Bad Ankles
By Gretchen Reynolds

Ankles provide a rare opportunity to recreate a seminal medical study in the comfort of your own home. Back in the mid-1960s, a physician, wondering why, after one ankle sprain, his patients so often suffered another, asked the affected patients to stand on their injured leg (after it was no longer sore). Almost invariably, they wobbled badly, flailing out with their arms and having to put their foot down much sooner than people who’d never sprained an ankle. With this simple experiment, the doctor made a critical, if in retrospect, seemingly self-evident discovery. People with bad ankles have bad balance.

Remarkably, that conclusion, published more than 40 years ago, is only now making its way into the treatment of chronically unstable ankles. “I’m not really sure why it’s taken so long,” says Patrick McKeon, an assistant professor in the Division of Athletic Training at the University of Kentucky. “Maybe because ankles don’t get much respect or research money. They’re the neglected stepchild of body parts.”

At the same time, in sports they’re the most commonly injured body part — each year approximately eight million people sprain an ankle. Millions of those will then go on to sprain that same ankle, or their other ankle, in the future. “The recurrence rate for ankle sprains is at least 30 percent,” McKeon says, “and depending on what numbers you use, it may be high as 80 percent.”

A growing body of research suggests that many of those second (and often third and fourth) sprains could be avoided with an easy course of treatment. Stand on one leg. Try not to wobble. Hold for a minute. Repeat.

This is the essence of balance training, a supremely low-tech but increasingly well-documented approach to dealing with unstable ankles. A number of studies published since last year have shown that the treatment, simple as it is, can be quite beneficial.

In one of the best-controlled studies to date, 31 young adults with a history of multiple ankle sprains completed four weeks of supervised balance training. So did a control group with healthy ankles. The injured started out much shakier than the controls during the exercises. But by the end of the month, those with wobbly ankles had improved dramatically on all measures of balance. They also reported, subjectively, that their ankles felt much less likely to give way at any moment. The control group had improved their balance, too, but only slightly. Similarly, a major review published last year found that six weeks of balance training, begun soon after a first ankle sprain, substantially reduced the risk of a recurrence. The training also lessened, at least somewhat, the chances of suffering a first sprain at all.

Why should balance training prevent ankle sprains? The reasons are both obvious and quite subtle. Until recently, clinicians thought that ankle sprains were primarily a matter of overstretched, traumatized ligaments. Tape or brace the joint, relieve pressure on the sore tissue, and a person should heal fully, they thought. But that approach ignored the role of the central nervous system, which is intimately tied in to every joint. “There are neural receptors in ligaments,” says Jay Hertel, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Virginia and an expert on the ankle. When you damage the ligament, “you damage the neuro-receptors as well. Your brain no longer receives reliable signals” from the ankle about how your ankle and foot are positioned in relation to the ground. Your proprioception — your sense of your body’s position in space — is impaired. You’re less stable and more prone to falling over and re-injuring yourself.

For some people, that wobbliness, virtually inevitable for at least a month after an initial ankle sprain, eventually dissipates; for others it’s abiding, perhaps even permanent. Researchers don’t yet know why some people don’t recover. But they do believe that balance training can return the joint and its neuro-receptor function almost to normal.

Best of all, if you don’t mind your spouse sniggering, you can implement state-of-the-art balance training at home. “We have lots of equipment here in our lab” for patients to test, stress, and improve their balance, Hertel says. “But all you really need is some space, a table or wall nearby to steady yourself if needed, and a pillow.” (If you’ve recently sprained your ankle, wait until you comfortably can bear weight on the joint before starting balance training.) Begin by testing the limits of your equilibrium. If you can stand sturdily on one leg for a minute, cross your arms over your chest. If even that’s undemanding, close your eyes. Hop. Or attempt all of these exercises on the pillow, so that the surface beneath you is unstable. “One of the take-home exercises we give people is to stand on one leg while brushing your teeth, and to close your eyes if it’s too easy,” Hertel says. “It may sound ridiculous, but if you do that for two or three minutes a day, you’re working your balance really well.”

"i'm not doing this to be funny"

This might be well known in both hockey and vegan circles, but since I don't travel in either of those, it was interesting news to me. Georges Laraque, a forward for the Montreal Canadiens, is a vegan. He also practices yoga.

Although I'm not a vegetarian (I was for a time, but went back to omnivorous eating after a couple of years), I admire this man embracing his moral and ethical concerns, and his willingness to live them, completely against the grain of his majority culture. In men's sports, that culture is intense.

I can't help but wonder if being a person of colour playing hockey - already a tiny minority - figures into the picture at all. Perhaps Laraque has been going his own way his whole life. Or does being Canadian cancel out the black-person-playing-hockey factor?

I really appreciate Laraque's reference to puppy mills in his home nation of Quebec.
No dairy, no poultry, no fish, no more leather shoes or animal byproducts, Laraque has been on a strict diet of vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes since June 1.

While he says he was partly motivated to improve his health for the hockey season, Laraque insists the decision was made primarily for political, rather than nutritional, reasons.

Everything changed, Laraque said, after he saw Earthlings, a 2006 documentary that is widely celebrated in animal-rights circles.

“It’s unconscionable what’s happening to animals in this country and the way we treat animals we eat....I realized I had to make some big changes,” Laraque said.

Though Laraque said he will no longer buy leather of any kind, he hasn’t rid his closet or hockey bag of previously purchased leather products because, “that would be a further waste. And this way I don’t forget.”

Laraque, who also does yoga daily, an activity he picked up as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, said he’s never felt better and reported for training camp at a comparatively svelte 245 pounds.

“I’ve lost some weight, but I’ve been working with a really great nutritionist and I’ve never had this much energy,” he said.

“I think it’s also important to break the stereotype that all vegans are skinny people with long hair,” added Laraque, as unlikely a supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as the NHL has ever seen. (This summer he sent a letter on the group’s behalf to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, protesting the Canadian seal hunt.)

Laraque couldn’t think of any other vegan NHLers off the top of his head.

But the burly winger finds himself among a vanguard of current and former pro athletes who are eschewing most meats.

Laraque cites Major League Baseball player Prince Fielder, former Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis, NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez and retired NBA player John Salley as vegetarians who inspired him.

. . .

So in a tough-guy, famously hidebound culture like pro hockey, Laraque remains a curiosity, but he’s resolved to carry on spreading the word.

“People still think it’s kind of funny, but I’m not doing this to be funny,” he said. “There are more puppy mills in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada, and no laws to shut them down. People get slapped with a fine and six months later they reopen. Do you think that’s funny?”

9.18.2009

random notes on my first week of school

I've already mentioned that a long-time wmtc reader, Lisa N, is in the same program as me. She's also going part-time and we're in one class together.

In addition to this, on the first day - in a combined introductory lecture for all four core courses - I saw someone else I recognized, but couldn't think of where I knew her from. The following day, she showed up in my "tutorial" section - the discussion and debate class that follows the lecture - and we must have both remembered the connection at the same time. During introductions, we turned to each other - she said, "I know you!" - and I said, "War resisters!" She is the partner of one of our war resisters!

In my other tutorial, I identified myself as a "writer, blogger and activist". The professor asked me what activism I was involved with, and after I explained, he said he recognized my name: he's a supporter and has housed a resister! Suddenly I realized why his name was familiar to me: from the Campaign mailing list. After class, I stayed to chat for a minute, and learned he and his wife housed a guy I'm friends with, who is also from New York.

Wow! I'm part of a community! I know people here! Very cool!

(When will I stop saying this? Probably never. I now accept that feeling like an outsider and a loner, and being positively joyous every time I realize I'm not, is part of my psyche. And really, it's not a bad thing, because it brings me so many occasions for joy, in situations that I might otherwise take for granted.)

* * * *

Just as there's a broad range of educational and professional backgrounds and goals among my classmates, there's also a very broad range of ethnic backgrounds, as you would expect to find in Toronto, and a decent age range. Although the majority of the students are either recent university graduates or have been working for only a few years, there's a good representation of older students, too.

But of all my various fears and anxieties about graduate school, age was not one of them. I've always been involved in multi-generational pursuits. In my pro-choice activism, I was once the youngest member of a group, then years later worked alongside women 15, 20 years younger than me. In the war resisters campaign, there's a spectrum from the older generation of Vietnam-era activists to guys just out of high school. I really enjoy that diversity.

* * * *

In this first week, I sorted some logistical issues, like where the accessible entrances are (for my ankle), whether I want to have my laptop with me (lectures yes, tutorials no), where to have lunch, where I can get work done between classes, and other boring but important things like that.

I commuted by car (I have a secret free parking space), but the traffic was hellish. Allan and I only drive into Toronto during non-peak hours. I'm not used to the stress and bother of constant traffic, and I don't want to be. However, if I take the bus or train, that creates a huge barrier to staying in town for war resisters meetings on Wednesdays. So I'll probably settle on some combination of transit (what I used to call "public transportation") and driving. The traffic won't be so brutal if I only do it once a week.

All the faculty and administrators at the iSchool are super friendly and helpful. And during lectures, I see that so far the professors are all coming from a left-progressive point of view. This is not surprising, but it is very welcome.

Also, non-school update: basement renovations begin next week, and I'm seeing my doctor about my ankle on Monday.

the i-school and me

I'm not really in library school. Not yet, anyway.

The Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto calls itself an "iSchool," and claims to be the only such school in Canada. There are other graduate schools for library science, but an iSchool purports to have a broader focus. It's true, but it's also a marketing position.

The iSchool offers a PhD program, a Master of Museum Science, and a Master of Information (MI), which is my degree goal. (There are some other programs, like a combined MI/JD, and various other obscure combinations.) Within the Master of Information, there are a few different areas of concentrations, or paths: Library and Information Science, Archives and Records Management, Critical Information Studies, Information Systems and Design and Knowledge Management and Information Management.

They've introduced a new core curriculum required for all MI students regardless of path: Knowledge and Information in Society; Representation, Organization, Classification, and Meaning-Making; Information Systems, Services and Design; and Information Workshop, that integrates the other three. The core curriculum is supposed to give a thematic framework and provide context for future study.

About half the students in my classes are taking the library sciences path, and the other half is a mix of the other disciplines. The professors in both my classes asked us to introduce ourselves and say a few words about our background and goals; it was interesting to hear where people are coming from and what they want to do. There are IT professionals, systems designers, historians, artists, folklorists, and on and on - a very broad range of interests and perspectives.

Yesterday and today, I read several articles - as I will continue to do throughout the term - examining society's relationship to technology on a very theoretical and abstract level: how can humans' relationship to technology be seen, analyzed and discussed?

Perhaps a look at the weekly topics of the two courses I'm taking will give a better idea. These are the topic titles and my brief note as the prof went through each one.
Knowledge and Information in Society: course topic overview

Week 2: Myths and Imaginaries of Information Age
language, metaphors, images, maps representing information age

Week 3: Information Ethnography
apply social science concepts/frameworks/vocabulary to information age

Week 4: Political Economy of Information
who’s running the show? who exercises political and economic power in information field?

Week 5: Information as Property and as Common Resource
who owns information on social networking sites, on mmorpgs, forums; copyright laws as they apply or might apply to information

Week 6: Internet Governance
what’s at stake, who governs, how do they govern [not only internet – all our info]

Week 7: Sovereignty, Citizenship & Consumerism
where does social change happen?

Week 8: ICT4D
Information & Communication Technologies for Development - is such a thing really possible, what is commonly believed, what might work

Week 9: Surveillance & Control
who gets to see your information and what can they do with that information, what power do they have over you – asymmetry of surveillance
can surveillance be imagined in a more benign or more accountable way?

Week 10: Policy Issues: Privacy, Identity & Access
privacy: our ability to retain control of our information [ID card, enhanced driver’s licence, r’ship btn you & your ID dox]
access: your access to information about yourself
[see Ipsi, Identity, Privacy, Security Institute, lectures archived online]

Week 11: Sociology of Knowledge
Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour – most prominent in field

Week 12: Information Education & Professionalism
what binds us together w/in multidisciplinary field; how to define information professionals; codes of conduct w/in field

Week 13: Integrative Round Table

I feel a bit strange about the whole thing. A bit resentful. A bit like I'm in the wrong place.

I love learning, and I'm interested in a very broad range of topics. So it's not that these topics are uninteresting. As a writer, blogger and activist, someone concerned with freedom of expression and access to information, I'll probably find at least some of it relevant to my interests.

But none of it is what I would choose to be doing right now.

For me, this program is a means to an end. I need a career change. I need it financially, and I'm increasingly realizing that I need it physically. (As I get older, the repetitive stress injuries will become more severe and more frequent.) I think I'll make a great librarian. I think it's meaningful work that I will enjoy, and will help me live a more comfortable life.

But do I really need this Master of Information program to become a good librarian? I doubt it. But some combination of academic and professional gatekeepers have decided that I do. So here I am reading about "the social constructions of technological systems" and "technology and heterogeneous engineering".

And I resent it because it's not want I want to read (even though I might find the reading interesting). The list of things I want to read is very long and always growing, and I have so little time to read. And now I'm spending precious reading time reading this other stuff, taking me off my plan.

That's how I feel about the whole program. Like it's a great big detour taking me out of what I want to do. But I also know I need to do this and it's the right thing to do. A contradiction, but there you go.

This is similar to how I felt about going to New Mexico for my nephew's wedding. I love my nephew so much, and it was an honour and a joy to attend his wedding. I had a great time with my family, and a terrific time driving, hiking and exploring with Allan. But... there are so many places I want to go, so many trips I want to make and can't afford. And on some level, I disliked and somewhat resented having to spend my scarce travel dollars on a trip not of my own choosing.

I live with a constant and profound sense of time moving very quickly, and being finite. My active time is further limited by my health issues. This is what underlies my need to be organized and not waste time, my need to have a game plan or defined approach to almost everything I do: my deep need to experience as much of life as I can. Anything that takes me off my game plan annoys me.

Of course, changing careers is part of my game plan right now, so this is what I have to do. Yet I can't help but think that I could become a qualified librarian through a one-year training course followed by on-the-job training, the latter being the way I've learned how to do almost everything.

On the positive side, this process feels very concrete and circumscribed. I have to complete 16 courses. I can check them off as I go, and after 16 check marks, I'll have my Master of Information degree. The process is much more clearly defined than so many things I've done. How does one become a writer? There's no clear path to that goal, it's mostly self-defined, and the standards are all subjective. By contrast, school will be easy.

And as I said, I do think it will be interesting. I just wish I didn't have to do it.

More banal thoughts on my first days of classes coming next.

9.17.2009

support bill c-440: first steps

We have a bill!

Bill C-440, a bill in support of US Iraq War resisters, was introduced in the House of Commons today. MP Gerard Kennedy (Parkdale-High Park) introduced the bill, seconded by Bill Siksay (Burnaby-Douglas).

This is a private member's bill, and for those of you who, like me, are new to the Canadian political system, private member's bills don't often become law. But some do, and this one might. And regardless of the ultimate outcome, Bill C-440 is a critical tool to help us advocate for basic Canadian values: welcoming good people of conscience who have refused to participate in an unjust war, and seek haven in this country.

Bill C-440 gives legal weight to the motion already passed twice in Parliament. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney has refused to implement the will of Parliament and has continued to deport, and threaten to deport, war resisters, saying the motions are "non-binding". Passing C-440 will force the minority Conservative government to respect the majority view - to respect democracy - and let war resisters stay.

Now we face yet another enormous task. We need to ensure that Bill C-440 moves along, in order to prevent any more deportations. I can tell you this in all sincerity: every action in support will make a difference.

In the coming days and weeks, I'll have more information about how you can support C-440. There'll be a website, a petition, and more. But now, today, there is something you can do.

Please take a moment to send an email of thanks and support. Here's why:
- to thank MPs Kennedy and Siksay for introducing this important bill
- to thank the Opposition Members for their efforts in passing two motions in the House of Commons in support of U.S. Iraq War resisters,
- to remind them that several Iraq war resisters are under imminent threat of deportation to the United States, where they face court-martial and jail time, and
- to call on all Members of the Opposition to help move the bill forward as quickly as possible, and to work hard alongside thousands of Canadians to stop any impending deportations.

Here's how:
Gerard Kennedy: Kennedy.G@parl.gc.ca
Bill Siksay: siksay.b@parl.gc.ca

With cc's to the Opposition Leaders and Immigration Critics:
Jack Layton: laytoj@parl.gc.ca
Michael Ignatieff: Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca
Gilles Duceppe: duceppe.g@parl.gc.ca
Thierry St-Cyr: st-cyr.t@parl.gc.ca
Olivia Chow: chow.o@parl.gc.ca
Maurizio Bevilacqua: bevilm0@parl.gc.ca

MP Bill Siksay is a long-time champion of US war resisters in Canada. He was the first MP to introduce a motion in support of war resisters, many years ago. That motion didn't pass, but it helped blaze our trail. Mr Siksay is a person of conscience, and he deserves our thanks.

In the last election, Gerard Kennedy inherited the Toronto riding with the highest concentration of war resisters. (Parkdale-High Park was formerly represented by NDP Member Peggy Nash, an stalwart supporter of our cause.) Mr Kennedy has shown himself to be committed to helping his war resister constituents. He sees allowing US war resisters to stay in Canada as completely consistent with mainstream Canadian values, and believes the Conservative minority government is not only wrong, but out of step with Canada. You can see video of some remarks Kennedy made in Parkdale, in support of Kim Rivera and other war resisters, and more recently in support of Rodney Watson.

Also: thank you. I lift this from an email from Michelle Roubidoux, coordinator of the War Resister Support Campaign.
And finally, this Bill would not have seen the light of day without the tireless efforts of thousands of volunteers, MPs, and of course the courageous Iraq war resisters themselves who continue to speak out against the war. Thanks – and most important, don’t let up the pressure!

exciting war resister news! private member's bill being introduced today

This morning in the House of Commons, Gerard Kennedy, Member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park, will introduce a private member's bill, to be seconded by Bill Siksay, MP for Burnaby-Douglas. The text reads as follows:
BILL C-[to come]
An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (war resisters)

SUMMARY
This enactment allows foreign nationals who, based on a sincere moral, political or religious objection, left the armed forces of another country to avoid participating in an armed conflict not sanctioned by the United Nations or refused compulsory military service for that reason, and who are in Canada, to remain in this country through humanitarian and compassionate consideration.

Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:

1. Section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (1):

(1.1) A foreign national in Canada shall be deemed to be in a situation in which humanitarian and compassionate considerations justify the granting of permanent resident status to that foreign national — and his or her immediate family — or shall be exempted by the Minister from any legal obligation applicable to that foreign national — or his or her immediate family — that would prevent them from being allowed to remain in Canada, if that foreign national

(a) left the armed forces of his or her former country of habitual residence or refused obligatory military service in that country because of a moral, political or religious objection to avoid participating in an armed conflict not sanctioned by the United Nations; or

(b) is subject to stop-loss orders to report for active duty; or

(c) upon return to the former country of his or her habitual residence, could be compelled to return to service.

[encore, en fran├žais]

I'll blog more about this private member's bill, and our campaign to support it, later today, after I see that it did indeed go forward. You should be able to watch the House of Commons proceedings by going to CPAC and clicking on "watch now".

* * * *

Media release from War Resisters Support Campaign:
Private Member’s bill to be introduced in support of U.S. Iraq War resisters

OTTAWA—On Thursday, September 17, Toronto Member of Parliament Gerard Kennedy (Parkdale—High Park), is expected to introduce a private Member’s bill in the House of Commons that, if passed, would allow U.S. Iraq War resisters to stay in Canada. The war resisters are U.S. military personnel who have refused to participate in the illegal and immoral Iraq War.

The bill, which will be seconded by Vancouver Member of Parliament Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas), will make binding on the government the direction that Parliament has already given twice (on June 3, 2008 and March 30, 2009) by way of motions that resulted from studies of the issue by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM).

“It’s time that the current government of Canada reflected Canadians’ desire to allow war resisters to stay and contribute to our country,” said Gerard Kennedy, MP. “This law will simply compel them to do what they haven’t had the good graces or the good sense to do on their own – and recognise the special circumstances that strike a chord with the majority of Canadians.”

“Canada’s Parliament has already voted twice to allow these principled men and women to stay,” said Bill Siksay, MP. “Canadians have never supported the Iraq War. This bill reflects the significant support for Iraq War resisters that can be found in every part of our country.”

The introduction of this private Member’s bill comes at a time when several U.S. Iraq War resisters are threatened with deportation. Two others, Robin Long and Cliff Cornell who both lived in British Columbia, have already been deported to the U.S. where they were court-martialed and jailed as prisoners of conscience for their opposition to the Iraq War. The felony-equivalent convictions given to Iraq War resisters who have been sent back to the U.S. by the Canadian government will result in life-long punishment such as the loss of the right to vote in many states and severely limited chances for employment.

“We are hopeful that this bill will succeed in achieving what should have been done a long time ago,” said Michelle Robidoux, spokesperson for the War Resisters Support Campaign. “Iraq War resisters have done the right thing, and Canadians have welcomed them with open arms. The Conservative government is out of step with the majority sentiment in this country, intent on imposing its own minority view. Canadians want to have their voices heard through this very important bill.”

A public opinion poll conducted by Angus Reid Strategies in June 2008 found widespread approval (64 per cent) for Parliament’s initial vote directing the minority Harper government to immediately stop deporting Iraq War resisters and create a program to facilitate the resisters’ requests for permanent resident status.

9.15.2009

in which i survive my first day of school

Well, I did it, and lived to tell the tale.

The good news is it was easy, a little fun, and mostly no big deal.

More good news is I met Lisa, the wmtc reader who is in the same program. She picked me out immediately, and we sat next to each other for the introductory lecture. We had fun! Turns out she's a lot closer to my age than I realized. This is fun, too.

The bad news is that as soon as I got into Toronto, I took three steps, and my ankle turned again. It was not nearly as severe as last week in Santa Fe, but bad enough that I had to lean against a building to keep from falling. You can imagine my delight!

After a few minutes I was able to walk, and continued walking through the day, including way more stairs than I wanted. (There must be an accessible entrance to the Faculty of Information building. I will ask.) I was worried about it all day. Allan met me for dinner, and by the time we got home, I was in pain. I spent the rest of the night doing the elevation-and-ice thing.

I'm sure it's time to see a doctor about my ankle. But I know that probably means a long round of appointments - initial visit, MRI, MRI results, probably physio - and I'm loathe to wade in. Maybe the wait for MRIs is a good thing after all. (USians: yes, we do wait for certain high-demand procedures. But we do get them eventually. And they're free.)

But other than the ankle, so far so good - although I haven't had actual classes yet. That starts today and tomorrow.

On Tuesdays I'll have two hours between classes, and on Wednesdays I'll have three hours. I'm hoping that's when I'll do most of my schoolwork.

Continued thanks for your continued good wishes. It means a lot.

reminder: next tuesday, september 22, fundraiser for war resister support campaign

Next Tuesday, September 22, come see a special performance of The Emergency Monologues, to benefit the War Resisters Support Campaign.

Details here.

yes we can, yes we did




James sent me a link to great baseball-related t-shirt, which I passed to Allan. At the T-shirt Hell website, Allan found this wmtc-themed shirt, above. Maybe we should get one for Wendy.

I also liked the baby t-shirt "Kickin' Ass & Takin' Naps".

If your computer is prone to freezing up from too much animation, I advise staying clear of T-Shirt Hell.

and it's not even a good restaurant

Did you see this? A Manitoba bike courier found $20,000 sitting on top of ATM.

He returned the money.

The Assiniboine Credit Union, where the money was to have been deposited, gave the honest messenger a "reward": a $50 gift certificate for Boston Pizza.

Thank you for returning $20,000. Take a friend out for dinner on us.

I commend Matt Magura for doing the right thing. It would have been easy to do the wrong thing. But the bank should be ashamed of themselves!

jack layton cannot be serious

CBC: "Layton signals NDP could support Tory EI plan"

This must be political posturing. Must be an attempt to not appear to want an election for the sake of election. To differentiate the NDP from the Liberals. To appear to be more concerned with getting things done than with in getting power. So many layers there: posturing in order to not look like you're posturing.

The NDP cannot possibly want to be perceived as the party that props up the Harper Government. Hardcore NDP voters will be disgusted, and Liberal/NDP swing voters will vote Liberal.

So this must be political posturing.

Yet most pundits - including most bloggers - take it at face value.

9.14.2009

here i go!

School starts today!

I won't normally have classes on Monday; since I work all weekend, I didn't schedule any classes on Mondays or Fridays. But this week there are a bunch of special workshops and orientations, plus a combined lecture for all incoming iSchool students. The combined lecture is great for me - it means I didn't miss classes while we were in New Mexico, as I originally was going to.

So this is a bit of a hell week for me, but it's only one week.

Here's a cool bit. A long-time wmtc reader and blog-friend, Lisa, will be my classmate! Lisa, also changing career directions, did a college course to become a library tech. Now she's working at the University of Toronto library and getting her Master's degree to become a librarian. We've never met in person, but soon will. Small, small world.

I'm pleased to report that I'm a lot less nervous than I thought I'd be. I'm nervous, for sure. I mean, how could I not be? I'm anxious about the time factor - how I'm going to handle the increased work load, and get enough rest for my health, and still enjoy my life. And right now, my stomach is in knots.

But I'm not crazy-anxious, not sick-anxious. Deep down, I know that I'll take it as it comes, and figure it out as I go along. Ah, the joys of age. I'm also so fortunate to have a great support network, from my partner, from my family via long-distance, from Campaign friends, and from you all (with some overlap there).

So here I go.

9.13.2009

ssod

Search string of the day:
married indian boy reach canada and once again married to canadian girl for citizenship-canadian govt.help

No comment. I mean, what more can one say?

spam, trolls and back-channelers

One of the best aspects of blogging is the creation of communities. When I first started blogging, the community that formed around wmtc came as a complete surprise. It amazed me, and I loved it. I still do.

Not everyone who reads blogs wants to be part of a community, at least not on every blog they read. Most people read without commenting. But there are those who try to have it both ways - they want to comment without being part of the conversation. These people irritate the hell out of me.

The first kind of commenter who wants to comment but not have dialogue is the hit-and-run poster. Most of us, at times, read a blog post, leave a non-controversial comment, and don't return to the post. We forget, we're busy, or it's just not very important to us. No big deal.

But many people purposely post controversial or provocative comments, then disappear. They want to have their say - they want everyone to read what they have to say - but they don't want to defend their position. They don't want to deal with reaction. They want to make sure they get The Last Word.

For my money, the worst kind of hit-and-run poster is the copy-paster. Every so often, I'll find a comment waiting in moderation from someone I've never heard of. The comment arrives very soon after the post goes up, sometimes immediately after - a clue that the commenter has an email alert set up for that topic.

Another clue that it's a hit-and-run-copy-paste is that the comment doesn't respond specifically to the post. Nothing from the post is quoted or even referenced. It's just on the same general topic.

I immediately suspect this person looks for posts on this topic, has a pre-written comment ready to paste in, and moves on.

If I'm reasonably certain that's what's happening, I reject the comment.

Recently I posted something about the Southern Poverty Law Center. A few minutes later, I received a comment from someone who hates that organization, making accusations and directing readers to his blog that purports to expose the organization's perfidy.

Now, this guy might have something interesting to say. Maybe there's an issue we should know about. I don't care. I reject the comment. He's not reading wmtc to read it. He's using my blog to promote his own. To my mind, that's little better than spam.

And sure enough, the commenter never returns. Never asks where his comment is, or why it didn't go through. Never tries again. Because he's not coming back. He's hit-and-run.

I can't always be certain if a comment is hit-and-run-copy-paste. But these days I'm so sick of trolls and of spam that I'd rather err on the side of caution. If some random comment doesn't get posted, it's not a big deal. But if I let someone use wmtc as a billboard, it annoys me too much.

But the commenters that annoy me the most don't even leave their comments - they email them to me.

Before I increase anyone's paranoia, I'm not referring to regular commenters who occasionally want to tell me something in private - off-list or back-channel, as we said in list-serv days. No problem there. And I'm not talking about "this may interest you" emails with links to stories that I might want to read and/or post about. Those are always welcome.

These are people who don't comment, who won't comment, as a personal rule, instead choosing to email me the comment they would have left. I've been trying to figure out why this annoys me so much. I may not be able to articulate it fully, but let me tell you, it drives me around the bend.

Some of these email commenters say they don't want to have a public presence on the internet. They think it's dangerous, or they think it might damage their careers, or they think it's unseemly, unprofessional.

Frankly, I think this is stupid. I understand that some people's professional lives demand a low profile, or that a playful or outspoken internet presence might cause conflict and embarrassment, depending on your lifestyle and line of work. And some people are simply paranoid. That's fine. Simply register any name in the world, don't connect it to a profile, and that's that. Don't reveal personal information, and no one will know who you are.

But is this fear of internet exposure real, or just an excuse? Other people are more revealing. They say, "I don't like to leave comments, because I don't want to have a discussion." And, "I don't want to argue." But they do want to express an opinion, or they wouldn't email me.

So these email-commenters want to have their say, but they don't want anyone else to challenge or comment on their views. They don't want to engage in dialogue, don't want to be part of the community.

You don't want to get into a discussion? That's fine. Then don't comment. But if you're not going to comment, don't email me what you would have posted.

First of all, email-commenting seems disrespectful of my time. I'm as busy as anyone else. I'm juggling several different pursuits, and like all busy people, I have a lot of email to sort through. If every wmtc reader emailed me her/his comments separately, and I had to respond to each one, that's all I would do all day.

It also seems self-important. If you want to comment, why not join the conversation like everyone else? Why is your comment so special that it must be delivered privately? (Again, I'm not referring to specific information that someone wants to share privately with me.) Some of the email-commenters don't seem like arrogant or self-important people, so I very well may be misinterpreting them. But damn! They drive me nuts.

Imagine you're at a party, or a meeting, or some other group setting, and someone insists on speaking quietly and confidentially to you - on the same topic that everyone else is discussing. You have to come out of the general conversation to attend separately to this person. Now you're not enjoying the gathering, you're off whispering in a corner.

Maybe that's what bothers me: it's high maintenance. I don't do that anymore.

I really have trouble articulating what is so friggin annoying about this. I have a feeling that some regular commenter is going to nail it.

9.12.2009

post-labour day tribute to the value of organized labour

James sent me this tribute to labour unions, written by Some Canadian Skeptic, in honour of Labour Day. I don't usually note Labour Day, as I was taught that the end-of-summer weekend is the US Congress' appreciation of labour. The real Labour Day is May 1, which of course can't be officially celebrated in the US because of it is a reminder of scaaaaary socialism.

This excellent post by steveisgood is worth reading on any day. An excerpt:
I hear it all the time: Unions were fine once, but now they're corrupt, all of them! All they do is make business more difficult than it needs to be, and companies are closing because of Unions!"

I call epic bullshit.

Do your children have to work anymore? Thank a union.

Does your workweek cap at 40 hours? Thank a union.

Do you get health benefits? Thank a union.

Do you get maternity leave? Thank a union.

Do you get sick leave? Thank a union.

Does your workplace have safety-precautions? Thank a union.

Have a weekend? Thank a union.

Do you have more time off than time at work? Thank a union.

Do you get to retire one day? Thank a union.

Ever have a paid holiday? Thank a union.

Take a day off and not been fired? Thank a union.

Not been fired for being gay, black, or a woman? Thank a union.

Do you get overtime pay? Thank a union.

Have a minimum wage? Thank a union.

Has that minimum wage risen since the 1970's? Thank a union.

The "unions are bad because they are corrupt" angle doesn't hold a lot of water, and not because I deny that unions can be corrupt.

Unions are comprised of humans. Humans will be corrupt. Every human entity under the sun is prone to corruption. Few people call for the abolition of all co-op boards, student assemblies, or local softball leagues and curling clubs, although I guarantee corruption has been found at some of those at various times. Every human endeavour needs oversight, penalties, whistleblowers, changings of the guard, and other mechanisms to keep them honest. Proving those entities unnecessary or unworthy of our respect is another story.

I work in a notoriously non-unionized sector, and because of this, my co-workers and I have no rights.

The person sitting at the next desk may have more experience and better skills than me, but she is paid less than me, because the pay scale is arbitrary, subjective and dependent on good self-advocacy skills, even though such advocacy is not a job requirement.

When my employer protects its profit margin by dumping payroll - cutting staff, cutting benefits, and spreading the same workload among fewer people - I have two choices: comply or be unemployed.

These conditions could only be changed by one thing: collective bargaining. By employees joining together with a common representative. That is, by being a union.

Working as a professional writer is no better. In fact, I'd say it's worse because there are no objective standards. Unless one has a household-name to trade on (and even that rarity is no guarantee), writers have no rights. Fees, rights, payment schedules - all standards are tossed aside as publishers tumble ass-over-teakettle in a race for the bottom.

The only way I learned what my work is worth on the market, what to shoot for, how to negotiate, what to watch out for, was through my union. "This is the going rate!" "All our writers sign this contract. No one has ever complained before!" Too bad for them I knew that wasn't true. And I knew it because I was a union writer.

The next time you hear the old refrain - "Unions used to be necessary, but they're an outdated concept, they're no longer needed" - ask yourself: If unions are so unnecessary, why do the giant corporations fight them so? Why would Wal-Mart rather close a store than negotiate with a union?

Because unions help workers. A little less for shareholders, a better deal for workers.

Some Canadian Skeptic on "What Labour means to me"

"a diminution of the protection responsibility of canada"

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, with no warning, slapped visa restrictions on people from Mexico and the Czech Republic entering Canada, in an attempt to reduce refugee claims from those countries, they won praise from xenophobic right-wingers who ignorantly believe Canada's refugee system to be too lax or too generous. That's a gimme. Tough talk about refugees and immigrants scores easy points with the Me First crowd.

But the Conservatives' visa ploy ran athwart of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and tarnished Canada's reputation in the process.

The Conservatives claim the refugee system needs to be changed, and they point to the large backlog of cases as proof. But the backlog is of their own making, a direct result of funding cuts and the failure to replace Immigration and Refugee Board decision-makers when their terms expire.

This very good article from Embassy magazine, "Canada's foreign policy newspaper," explains. Emphasis mine.
UN Refugee Agency Cries Foul on Mexican, Czech Visas
By Jeff Davis

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has serious concerns about the government's decision to impose visas on Czech and Mexican nationals in an effort to reduce refugee claims.

In an interview with Embassy last week, Abraham Abraham, the UNHCR's top representative in Canada, said such actions go against the spirit of refugee protection, and that Canada's actions could create a negative precedent, and weaken the foundation of global refugee protection regime.

"Visas are a prerogative of states," Mr. Abraham said. "But imposing a visa that will lead to, basically, reduction in the capacity of people to access protection or asylum is something that is inconsistent with a commitment...to protect refugees.

"Restricting the arrival of people is in a way tantamount to excluding them from the possibility of being able to seek asylum. That to us is disturbing because the commitment of states to refugee protection is the core of the entire protection regime, and if that is diminished in any way, it can affect the protection of refugees at a much, much larger scale elsewhere."

In recent months, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have alleged that many Mexican and Czech citizens — as well as US war resisters — are making "bogus" refugee claims. They say the claims have bogged down the refugee system and created a crisis that can only be solved with visa requirements.

But Mr. Abraham said individual rights lie at the very heart of international refugee protection, and that generalizations cannot be made about groups of people. About 10 per cent of Mexican asylum seekers, he reminds, are legitimate refugee claimants. And while these may be vastly outnumbered by incorrect or fraudulent claims, the legitimate claims must be recognized as such.


"Refugee status determination is an individual rights-based approach," he said. "You cannot generalize that a particular nationality, or a group of people, are all refugees or are not refugees. You can't do that because it's an individual rights-based approach, and determinations are made on the basis of individual persons."

Mr. Abraham lamented the fact legitimate Czech and Mexican refugee claimants will be negatively affected by the visa requirements and won't find the protection they need.

"It makes us a little bit sad, or rather a little fearful, to think that...those in the future will not be able to gain asylum and protection," he said. "To me, that is certainly a diminution of the protection responsibility [of Canada]."

Messrs. Harper and Kenney have also said in recent weeks that Canada's refugee system and laws are "broken."

Mr. Abraham disagreed, however, and said that Canada's refugee determination system is perhaps the best in the world, due to its objectivity and insulation from outside interference. He added that the UNHCR routinely calls on countries around the world to emulate the Canadian example.


"For us in UNHCR, we consider the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to be a paragon of excellence," he said. "Canada is a good model to emulate. Canada is best practice."

Due to its track record of just treatment for refugees, Mr. Abraham said, Canada belongs to a small group of nations who are looked to to lead by example.

"We are talking about these countries being the guardians of the very fundamental principles of refugee protection," he said. "And there is an expectation that they will abide by the [1951 UN] Convention [on Refugees]."

'Unusually Outspoken'

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said the UNHCR is known as a very cautious and diplomatic organization when it comes to criticizing nations like Canada, which accepts large numbers of refugees.

She said Mr. Abraham's "unusually outspoken" comments indicate the UNHCR is very worried the government is "backing away" from a commitment to refugee protection.

She said the government's casual generalizations about the legitimacy of claims made by groups such as Mexicans and Czech Roma betray a lack of understanding and commitment to the core principles of refugee protection.


"Anyone who knows anything about refugee determination knows you cannot talk about a whole group not being refugees," she said. "You have to hear the individual claims and make an individual determination based on the facts of the individual case.

"I think that Mr. Abraham was right in suggesting that it points towards Canada moving away from a traditional commitment to refugee protection," Ms. Dench said. "It looks like we're turning out backs on refugees."

NDP Immigration Critic Olivia Chow said the Conservative government has manufactured a crisis at the IRB, and is now using it to impose a "two-tier" refugee system where citizens from so-called safe countries are treated differently. Mr. Kenney has been alluding to a two-tier system for months, while Canwest News Service reported this week the government will move to introduce such a system when Parliament resumes.

Ms. Chow said a move towards a two-tier refugee system would fail to protect many vulnerable individuals who come from developed, democratic nations but face persecution nonetheless. She cited gays and lesbians, who face the death penalty in some countries, and women fleeing domestic abuse as examples.

"Those individuals that are most vulnerable, not necessarily because of their nationality but because of who they are, will get rejected out of hand because they come from a 'safe country,'" she said. "That's a huge step backward on individual rights-based refugees determination process, for which Canada is proud and internationally known."

Ms. Chow said fixing the problem of IRB backlogs is not "rocket science," and requires simply more resources and more judges.

Mr. Abraham seemed to agree.

"What's important is that no asylum seeker should be turned away because we have a duty and a responsibility to listen to the person and determine that person's status," he said. "And that of course may require resources, but we must remember this is a humanitarian and a compassionate act, to listen to them and be able to provide that protection they are seeking."

9.11.2009

shut up and vote

During my first year or so in Canada, I was repeatedly mystified by hearing, over and over, how the populace did not want an election. We don't want a Christmas election, we're too busy with the holidays. We don't want a summer election, we're all at the cottage. We don't want a winter election, it's too cold to go out and vote. We don't want another election, we just had one 18 months ago.

For the life of me, I could not understand it. I once asked readers what this meant. Were people really so busy with Christmas plans that they couldn't spare a few minutes to vote?

Readers told me, no, that wasn't it. It's that their minds are elsewhere. They don't want their family celebrations interrupted. They are out of the country, in warmer climes. They will punish the party that calls an unnecessary election. (If only that had happened in 2008!) They cannot focus on the important issues at hand, can't study their ballots and decide who to vote for. (You can see the answers on this old post.)

The answers did nothing to clarify the issue for me.

You know where you stand on various issues, right? Which party comes the closest to your point of view? Vote for them. No?

It took me a while to realize that Canadians complain about elections. Period. It doesn't matter when they happen or why. Canadians and the media that purport to reflect their views whine about elections. I still don't know why, but I no longer attempt to figure it out.

A corollary to this are the Liberal partisans who defend their party's spinelessness and lack of principles by declaring that an election is unnecessary "at this time". Whenever I would cry out in frustration over Dion or Ignatieff playing coalition partner to the Harper Conservatives, inevitably, a Liberal blogger would stop by to deliver the familiar refrain: "There's no point in having an election just for the sake of an election. It's not the right time. When it's the right time, the Liberals will bring down the Government."

But three crucial words were always omitted. "When it's the right time for the Liberals."

I liked Rick Salutin's take, especially regarding the media's complicity and the transparent hypocrisy of "making Parliament work".

Come on, Canadians. Just shut up and vote.
Suck it up, Canada: What are we – shoppers or citizens? A portion of each, I suppose. But it's fatal to confuse the roles, as seems to be happening with all the whinging and whining over "another" election that "nobody" wants.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the first to moan in, right after Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced his intention to pull the plug on the Conservatives' minority government. Iggy had a list of plausible enough reasons that would more likely lead you to ask him Why did you wait so long? than What for? The PM's response was that he hasn't met "a single Canadian" who wants an election, which may only reveal the limited range of his contacts.

Yet many in the news media echoed it. I think at random of Suhana Meharchand on CBC Radio's phone-in last Sunday, chortling over the silliness of another election. I may have gone humourless, but I don't really get it.

In a vital democracy, like ancient Athens or the Iroquois confederacy, people were involved in politics continually. Under our system, politics more or less equals elections, so you could call frequent elections our form of participatory democracy. It keeps citizens engaged and parties on their toes. Under a stable majority, everyone goes to sleep for four years. Do you think we'd have had even the minimal action we've seen from Mr. Harper on the economy or on withdrawal from Afghanistan if he'd had a majority?

But everything turns upside down if you treat politics as a shopping trip – I don't waaant an election – rather than the ongoing duty of each citizen. It's like newscasters saying, "Thanks for watching," as if we tune in to do them a favour, rather than from our need as citizens to be informed. Citizenship isn't a consumer choice that you may or may not make. People can opt out of it, but then they lose the right to complain, and it's a mingy choice to make if you think of kids and others affected by actions taken in the name of us all.

Besides, if these whiners really don't want an election and prefer Parliament "to work," why did so many of them object to a coalition last winter? It was the very definition of making Parliament work in a minority situation. I don't think minority governments are inherently unstable; I'd call them inherently alert. The current one has indeed been unstable since it's so distant from the majority of members in the House and voters in the country. But, say, a Liberal minority could well find enough common ground with the Bloc and NDP to enact many things that most citizens would value.

It's the snickering and eye-rolling among media opiners that I find most offensive, as if their stance is so sophisticated. In fact, they function as dupes for a rotten status quo, helping to keep power in the hands of those who can afford to pay for it by getting others, like the party bosses, to fulfill their wishes. There is wreckage to be dealt with out there, lives are still being destroyed, although the recession is supposed to be all but over. My little strip of College Street in Toronto now has a solid row of abandoned small businesses such as we've not seen in previous crises. It's become a street of broken dreams. Add the fact that voting numbers are declining, which the pseudo-wit of the moaners tends to glamorize. The downward trend reduces the constituencies to which politicians must attend, and ratchets up the electoral clout of the resolute pressure groups, such as evangelicals and gun owners.

If there is a problem with another election, it's that voting is all we're ever offered to satisfy our political impulses, and it is a repetitive and intrinsically shallow exercise. But this implies that we should vote for those ready to expand the arena of democratic participation so that we need not shoehorn the entire human political drive into the narrowness of elections.