silver linings in gold medals

I haven't been watching the Olympics, and I don't follow hockey, and I don't care about medal counts.

But it's still pretty cool that Canada beat the US for the gold medal in both men's and women's hockey. Beating the US is always sweet!

walkom: the art of reverse class war: if i don't have something, neither should you

Impudent Strumpet recently asked the David Byrne-esque question, "How did we get here?", later noting that her grandmother, who is probably around my mother's age, could choose not to have a pension because her husband's employment and retirement was so secure. Now, only a generation later, I am probably looking at working as long as I am physically able, then living in drastically reduced and possibly very scary circumstances in my old age.

How, indeed, did we get here?

How the economic prospects for working people deteriorated so much in so little time is a complicated story of globalization, conglomeration, deregulation and monetization of industry on the one hand, with its concurrent deskilling and devaluing of labour on the other.

How we got here is unchecked capitalism: the Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney/Chicago School revolution that has not been reversed or stopped or even slowed.

Thomas Walkom talks a little about how we got here. Thanks to Accidental Deliberations for posting.
Class resentment used to be the preserve of the left. That workers were too poor could be blamed on the fact that bosses were too wealthy. If governments needed money, the preferred solution – rhetorically at least – was to make the rich pay.

These old-style resentments encouraged both Marxist economics (based on the notion that profit is by definition theft) and the progressive income tax system.

Indeed, the entire post-war welfare state was designed to better the conditions of the poor, thereby ensuring that these class resentments didn't get out of hand.

Today, class resentments have been turned on their head. The focus of anger is not the silk-hatted capitalist but his unionized workers, with their job protection guarantees, their pension plans and their good wages.

Increasingly, in the world of media and popular culture, it is not the rich who are blamed for their excesses but the poor – the undeserving welfare recipient, the shiftless single mother, the employment insurance cheat. Resentment has become a potent tool of the right.

This is the context in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government is hinting at plans to roll back federal public service pensions.

Forty years ago, the unionization of public servants was generally seen as a good thing.

Unions were on the rise. They had made great gains for their members after World War II and, in terms of pensions, benefits and wages, were setting the standard for the entire workforce.

In that context, and given the growing importance of government workers like nurses, it seemed sensible to encourage public sector unions.

Even if public sector benefits might, at times, appear more generous than those of other workers, the general assumption was that this was temporary, that over time everyone would catch up.

. . . .

The new resentment is based on the presumption that if I don't have something, neither should you. Its aim is not to improve anyone's lot but to cut down to a common level of misery those uppity enough to think they deserve better.

It is pessimistic, antithetical to any kind of common action and angrily passive. It rarely focuses on the bigger questions because it assumes that, at high levels of state and economy, nothing can be done, that the best anyone can hope for is to protect his tiny bit of turf from a marauding neighbour.

It is a form of resentment that suits those in charge. For Stephen Harper's Conservatives, it is a most useful passion. [More here.]


is this blog falling apart? am i falling apart?

I feel like I should apologize to wmtc readers. I've had a marked up-tick in readership lately, for reasons unknown, and I especially feel I should apologize to those folks.

Trust me, new readers. I used to write more. I used to write better. I used to have more interesting observations and things to say and stories I kept track of.

Now I just struggle to keep up.

That's how it feels, anyway.

Before I started graduate school, I already lived with that constant feeling of a rush of information blowing by me, barely keeping up with the news stories and social issues that I care about, not to mention friends' lives and reading for pleasure, and my minimum daily requirement of brainless down-time. You know the feeling. There's too much of everything - too much information, too many options. I always feel like I'm only skimming the surface.

I have my escapes. Baseball, movies, time with friends. Then baseball became another thing to do in front of the computer screen, another time to talk and exchange ideas. Don't get me wrong, I love our Red Sox community and our game threads. But baseball used to be a time to get away from the computer and turn off that part of my brain. No longer. If I'm on the gamethread, I don't get the relaxation and down-time. If I don't thread, I miss my friends. Last season I did some of each. It wasn't much of a solution.

Swimming is another refuge, and now at least I'm back in the pool a couple of times a week. Hiking or walking in the woods is another. Even reading a book or a long article, uninterrupted, and not for school, works. But there's not enough of any of it.

Now school has just exacerbated all of this. Too many events I can't attend, blogs I don't have time to read, organizations I don't have time to join. The constant feeling of not enough time, of not enough depth. Maybe this is why people live on Facebook and Twitter. Life reduced to headlines. For me this news-feed version of life is just not satisfying.

I can't live without this blog, but I'm not doing it justice these days.

I'm not fishing for compliments, either. If you still like wmtc, I'm grateful, if a bit mystified.


on becoming a writer, the prequel

Some colleagues at my school put together an exhibit called "The First Time: The Book(s) That Turned You On To Reading". They asked students and faculty to name a book that that began their lifelong love of reading.

I didn't submit anything, mostly because I was too busy, but also because I could never choose one book. It will not surprise you to learn that I read constantly when I was a child, and preferred reading to almost anything else kids could do. I don't know what book started me reading, because I can't remember life before reading.

Here, I'm stealing appropriating re-purposing their idea, and thinking of a few books that meant the world to me as a young person, books that I loved and believed in the way only a young reader can. These books did more than make me reader: they made me want to write.

The first has to be Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck, the book that opened my mind to my two greatest passions, or compulsions, or curses: writing and travel. I guess if I had chosen one book for the exhibit, this would have been it, although I was already a confirmed reader before picking it up.

Number two, which I could list first in many respects, is The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, the book I spent sixth grade with, whose characters felt so real to me that I fantasized about living their lives, yet were so wonderfully foreign and exotic.

It was trying to write like S. E. Hinton that caused me to write for young adults, although I didn't understand I was writing YA until a writing teacher characterized my stories that way. I was in university when I learned S. E. Hinton was a woman. She wrote The Outsiders when she was 17 years old. That Is Not Fair.

Third on the list is A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle, who I wrote about when she died a few years ago. I read this book so many times, I could practically recite it from memory. Certain mental images from the story remain in my mind to this day.

Next must be Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. "It is not often that someone comes along who is both a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both." This is my pick for greatest children's book ever, and one of the greatest books in English, period.

As I think about this, I have to stop at four. I can name dozens more books that I read as a child and young adult, books I loved and would recommend to young readers. But I can't credit any of them with the kind of impact I'm thinking of here. So Beverly Cleary and Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume and Paul Zindel, Eloise and the From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Black Stallion and Julie of the Wolves, and so many more, I thank you and I love you all.

Your list? Doesn't have to be children's books. Maybe you discovered your love of reading as an adult, or through a magazine, or by hunting down a book after loving the movie. Name your top three, or five, or one.

intellectual freedom in the library, part 2

A few people suggested I post my recent paper for Intellectual Freedom and the Library. I feel a little weird sharing an academic paper, but this atypical assignment does seem appropriate here.

In the first part of the course, we read various articles about the legal and philosophical underpinnings of freedom of expression. We were each assigned one article or book chapter, which we summarized and presented to the class for discussion.

Next, we used those discussions in a paper, where we were asked to "develop an overall philosophical approach to intellectual freedom and freedom of speech", and specifically applied that approach to some situations that typically bring challenges in the library. A "challenge" in this case is a library user questioning the appropriateness of certain material for the library, and asking for its removal.

Unlike most academic assignments, this paper could be written in the first person, as long as it developed a coherent philosophical response to the assigned readings. The goal was to "begin to clarify in your own mind the premises of a personal philosophy of intellectual freedom and freedom of speech, with supporting reasons and arguments".

A central theme of this class is the difference between the US legal and Constitutional approach to freedom of expression and that of other Western democracies, and the inherent conflict that creates for Canadian librarians - another reason it seems appropriate for wmtc. (I explained this a bit further in part one of this post.)

Our second-half assignments are group projects, in which groups of three people research specific areas of library challenges, lead a seminar and discussion on the topic (an entire class worth), then write a paper. My group is pornography, erotica, and obscenity. The other topics are racist hate speech, defamation of religion, sexual orientation, and intelligent design and the scientific process.

So, here's my paper. I've removed the citations or turned them into links where possible.

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Freedom of Expression as a Human Right and a Social Need

My philosophical approach to freedom of expression reflects the so-called absolutist view of the United States. I oppose curtailing freedom of expression in almost all circumstances, including hate speech and pornography. In a public library, however, I believe restraints on pornography are justified, not based on obscenity or morality, but for the comfort of the public.

I believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and that it is most important to uphold that right when it feels the least comfortable to do so.

Individuals need freedom of expression

The need for self-expression is an integral part of being human. Freedom of expression is necessary to individual human development, to the development of societies, and to the continuing evolution of human civilization. Although freedom of expression sometimes must be restricted, such as prohibitions against incitement to violence, any restriction should meet strict tests and be applied as infrequently as possible.

On the individual level, I offer my own experience. In Is There a Right to Freedom of Expression? Alexander defines freedom of expression as a right of the listener or reader, as opposed to the speaker or author. My own worldview has been formed by having full access to anything I wanted to read or hear. Sometimes the ideas I encountered confirmed beliefs I already held, and helped me articulate and defend them. In other instances, encountering new ideas changed my beliefs, although not always in the manner the author intended. Without access to those ideas, my growth as a person would have been stunted.

Alexander creates and applies certain theoretical tests which supposedly define human rights, and concludes that freedom of expression is not a human right. Alexander’s view strikes me as intellectual gymnastics that serve more to obfuscate than illuminate. Human rights extend beyond bodily integrity and personal security; they include the freedom to be wholly human. Being human includes the freedom to think and express our own ideas, and to freely encounter the ideas of others. This is only possible if society maintains as full a conception of freedom of expression as possible.

In prisons, police states, or other circumstances under which freedom of expression is severely restricted, people risk sanctions, imprisonment, and even death in order to express themselves and access the expressions of others. In all civilizations, ancient or modern, one finds evidence of the need to create and share artistic expression. The need for self-expression is universal, part of what defines us as human beings. Anything that is so intrinsic to being human must, I believe, be a human right.

Societies need freedom of expression

Unfettered freedom of expression is a positive force for society. Had my own access to ideas been abbreviated, my capacity to contribute to society also would have been curtailed. Yet many of the ideas that have informed my own beliefs were considered subversive and a threat to the social order at some time in history (and, in some communities, still are).

Had Martin Luther King, Jr. not had access to the teachings of Gandhi, would his own commitment to nonviolence and civil disobedience been as strong? If I had not read King’s words for myself (as opposed to hearing selected excerpts tailored for mainstream audiences), would I understand the connection between social justice and peace as profoundly as I do today? Yet both Gandhi and King were considered by many to be enemies of the state, and were at times subject to censorship and sanction.

One could offer an almost infinite number of similar examples. Without the freedom to express all thoughts and viewpoints, and the right to access the vast storehouse of knowledge and thought, human societies could not progress. Everything from the abolition of slavery to equal rights for women, to action on climate change or an end to war, begins with the exchange of ideas. As one society progresses, it sets an example for others. Without freedom of expression, this is not possible.

Evaluative neutrality, or the "puppies are cute" test

Freedom of expression is most needed for ideas that are abhorrent to the majority and/or disturb the status quo. In fact, I would argue that it is only needed for those ideas. Once an idea is accepted as mainstream, expression of that idea likely needs no protection. The person who says, "Puppies are cute," doesn't need constitutional protection. The person who says, "Puppies make good stew," does. If I say, "The government is doing a great job," the government will not bother me. But if I can't criticize the government without fear of censure or punishment, I suffer as a person, and democracy suffers.

Social progress is made only when people push at the margins of acceptability with ideas that may shock or even repulse the majority. The abolition of slavery was once such an idea. My generation saw South African apartheid dismantled, a revolution brought about by radicals whose ideas the government fought to suppress.

Although I disagree with Alexander on many points, his test of evaluative neutrality is essential to my own view of freedom of expression. If we grant freedom of expression only to ideas with which we are comfortable, that freedom is meaningless.
Sunstein’s concept of reputational cascades, from Why Societies Need Dissent, speaks to this same necessity. Dissent is vital to a free society, yet even within a democracy, the pressure to conform can be very powerful. I will return to this theme when discussing hate speech, below.

Hate speech

If laws protecting freedom of expression exist for the benefit of unpopular speech, it follows that some unpopular speech will be unpopular for good reason. I believe laws that curtail the expression of hate speech are ill-advised in terms of both individual rights and social value.

Regarding individual rights, anti– hate speech laws can be seen as the dominant group’s attempt to limit expression of a minority viewpoint. One society may try to limit speech about socialism, another may try to limit speech about racism. Which strikes us as unjust and which as correct depends on our belief systems. Evaluative neutrality again must be invoked. If it’s wrong to censor peace activism, it's wrong to censor hate speech, and visa versa.

Under Canadian law, hate speech is said to violate the human rights of the offended party. Although I believe freedom of expression is a human right, I do not believe there is a human right to not be offended or insulted. We may wish to create a society where all people are free from insult and offense, but that cannot be mandated. The desire to create such a society does not override the human right of freedom of expression.

From the perspective of society as a whole, laws banning hate speech may have unintended negative consequences, while hate speech itself may indirectly produce beneficial effects. Sometimes unpopular ideas need to be heard because they can improve society – but sometimes they need to be heard because opposition to those ideas can improve society. We should allow even the most repugnant ideas equal access, in order to bring public discourse to bear on them. I believe we should, as the saying goes, combat hate speech with more speech. Fish, in There's No Such Thing as Freedom of Speech... and It's a Good Thing, Too, rejects this concept, but I see it as healthy, necessary, and productive.

Laws prohibiting hate speech are, in my opinion, grounded in wishful thinking, an attempt to deny the existence of reprehensible ideas. At best, these laws apply legal wallpaper over socially unacceptable ideas. The speech may be repressed, but the ideas cannot be, and worse, because of the prohibition, they may stand unchallenged. When hate speech becomes public, we can debate, counter, and denounce.

In "The European Court of Human Rights and Freedom of Expression," Flauss argues that there is no real way to ban such speech. Rosenfeld also points to the seeming impossibility of banning hate speech. In "Hate Speech in Constitutional Jurisprudence: a Comparative Analysis," he refers to coded messages – expressions intended to denigrate certain groups, disguised in more socially acceptable forms, such as anti-immigration rhetoric couched in concern for the economy, or pseudo-scientific inquiry intended to prove racial inferiority. If the definition of hate speech is too narrow, limiting only specific expressions, the law will be inconsequential. If the definition is too broad, it infringes on too many expressions and activities. This illustrates a central problem with hate speech laws: banning certain forms of racist speech will not eliminate racism.

Canadian hate-speech laws also serve to maintain a fiction that racism, homophobia, and other bigotry is nonexistent, or at least very rare, in Canada. In my opinion, this is not in the best interest of Canadian society. All change begins with awareness and recognition of a problem. How can racism in Canada be reduced, if Canadians don’t confront racist ideas? Further, the prohibition of the expression of certain ideas does not abolish the ideas themselves. Mahoney, in "Hate Speech, Equality, and the State of Canadian Law," links the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard to anti-gay propaganda. Are we to conclude that without homophobic writing and speaking, there would be no homophobia, and no anti-gay violence? This view seems to assume that the expression of a feeling gives rise to the feeling itself, rather than the reverse.

One unintended negative consequence of prohibiting hate speech is the effect such prohibition may have on members of the censored group. In Canada, some people whose views are considered bigoted by the dominant society identify themselves as persecuted, and claim a violation of their own rights. While this may stretch the word “persecuted” beyond reasonable limits, there may be a valid claim of infringement of freedom of expression. In a case like this, banning certain speech may create greater cohesion and group identity within the group. Sunstein’s analysis of ideological extremism, from his Why Societies Need Dissent, is relevant here. The marginalization of minority opinions, group polarization, rhetorical advantage of simplistic views, strong group identity, conflict with the larger society, and other factors Sunstein identifies as reinforcing extremist views may all be enhanced by laws that prohibit hate speech.

The most important argument for prohibiting hate speech is the claim that, historically, written and spoken propaganda have been implicated in conditions that gave rise to genocide. This is undeniably true, and if regulating freedom of expression could prevent the deaths of millions, it would be incumbent on us to enforce those limits. However, although the link between hate speech and genocide is real, basing laws on this association is problematic in the following ways.

- In any case where written and spoken hate speech is implicated in genocide, other conditions also prevailed. Although expression of hate was implicated, those expressions alone are insufficient explanation for ensuing violence.

- In many instances of genocide, the hate speech originated directly from those in power – the dominant group that was either creating law or selectively enforcing existing laws. In such an instance, laws governing hate speech would have had no effect.

- There is a difference between speech and action. Hate speech alone doesn't actually kill anyone. Speech intended to incite violence is already curtailed under "clear and present danger" laws.

- The notion that by outlawing hate speech we can prevent racist violence or genocide is an oversimplification. Banning the dissemination of ideas will not ban the ideas themselves, so the laws will be ineffective.

- Banning speech denigrating members of certain groups can be perceived as privileging those groups, leading to increased resentment of the very groups hate-speech laws seek to protect.

Here again, Sunstein's analysis of reputational cascades and groupthink is applicable. One potential antidote to hate speech is the cultivation of outsider viewpoints – the voice of reason that speaks above the mob. In Canada, we tend to equate hate speech with outlier voices. But when racist viewpoints gain enough traction to lead to violence, they are no longer outliers; the outliers may now be the dissenters. In order to fight the dangerous effects of hate speech, we must cultivate a society where people feel free to speak up.

In the U.S., some forms of hate speech emanate directly from the government. In the military, soldiers are trained to dehumanize and hate people who have been labeled as "the enemy", so that they can inflict damage without the intrusion of conscience and empathy. In my view, that constitutes real and dangerous hate speech, yet there is no possibility of its prohibition.

Further, in some circumstances, hate speech may lead to a positive backlash. Currently in the United States, hate speech directed at gay and lesbian Americans may be contributing to greater mainstream acceptance of sexual orientation, as people reject extremist views and seek a more tolerant position.

Banning certain expressions is an attempt to ban certain thoughts. If we are to live in a free society, we must maintain true intellectual freedom. Freedom of expression is most strongly implicated when applied to ideas distasteful to the majority. In other words, racists have as much right to free speech as people who say “puppies are cute”.

It follows, then, that I believe all ideas should and must be represented in a public library, and that patrons of a public library should have access to the broadest possible range of ideas.


Pornography in the library may be the one exception to my hands-off approach to freedom of expression.

For many years, I was involved in the movement against sexual assault and domestic violence. Movement orthodoxy teaches that pornography is a central component in a culture that perpetuates violence against women. I read MacKinnon, Dworkin, and other feminist theorists who oppose pornography. I was not entirely comfortable with these views, but there was little opportunity to challenge them (another example of Sunstein's reputational cascades).

Later in my activist career, I met feminists who regarded access to pornography as an issue of personal freedom and expression of individual sexuality, including for women, and especially for people whose sexual orientation and preferences fell outside the mainstream. While these feminists might agree that certain forms of pornography degraded women, they recognized both the impossibility and the danger of regulating some pornography and allowing others, and felt that a libertarian approach was not inconsistent with feminism. (The underlying theory for these views is often associated with Willis and Bright, but I do not cite either of them as a personal influence.)

Ultimately I came to see anti-pornography laws as a product of lingering Puritanism, and a Victorian view that women need to be sheltered and protected. I concluded that there is no compelling state interest in regulating pornography. I now regard pornography the way I regard any sexual activity between consenting adults: a private matter, not to be regulated by the state.

(It should not need to be said, but somehow must be, that pornography involving children is a special category, and there is a wide range of justifications for maintaining criminal censure against it.)

Despite my belief that the state should not regulate the use of pornography by consenting adults, I believe different rules apply in a public library. Whether a library is a public forum, a limited public forum, or some other designation, it is clearly not private space. The libertarian axiom "what we do in the privacy of our own homes is our own business" does not apply. Just as a public library would not subscribe to pornographic magazines, it should not allow patrons to view pornography on the internet in the library. Without rendering a moral judgement against people who view pornography on the internet, I believe the comfort of the majority of library patrons is more compelling than one person's right to view material better suited to a private setting. I liken this to a prohibition against playing loud music in the library.

Freedom of expression theory vs. practice

My U.S.-based philosophy of freedom of expression refers to the theoretical position articulated in the United States Constitution, not the actual practice of the country.

Supreme Court decisions and other case law cited in articles by Schauer, Zoller, and Rosenfeld attest to the re-affirmation of the absolutist position over many decades. However, having lived in the U.S. for the majority of my life, and standing in opposition to its policies for nearly as long, I am aware of a sizeable gap between the country's Constitution and the rights accorded citizens. Throughout U.S. history, freedom of expression has been curtailed to protect the government from criticism, to prevent citizens from knowing what the government is doing, and to prevent the dissemination of ideas that counter government interests.

While infringements of Constitutional rights such as the Sedition Act, leading to the imprisonment of labour organizer and socialist Eugene V. Debs, are well known, many less celebrated examples occur regularly. In recent years, United States citizens have been arrested for criticizing the Vice President, for flying the American flag upside down, for wearing t-shirt with the words "Give Peace A Chance" in a mall, for holding a sign reading “Honk if you want Bush out”, and dozens of similar examples. In most – although not all – of these cases, the arrested citizen was vindicated in court. However, arrests have an immediate and lasting chilling effect on potential dissent – dissent that is vital to a functioning democracy.

Knowledge of these cases and many similar events have profoundly informed my views on freedom of expression. It may be that my views differ from those of many Canadians because my relationship with government has been different from theirs. I am more concerned with how government might misuse laws that curtail freedom of expression than with any person's supposed right to not be offended.


My personal philosophy of freedom of expression is broad and inclusive. I believe a public library must take the most inclusive view of freedom of expression possible. Evaluative neutrality must apply, and all ideas, including ones we find reprehensible, should be represented.

One exception to which I assent is the viewing of internet pornography in a public library. As a public place, the library is an inappropriate forum, and the comfort of the majority must take priority. However, I do not support laws banning the making, sale, or distribution of pornography involving only consenting adults.

Freedom of expression is a right of all people, and essential of a society is to be just and democratic.

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guantanamo reunion links

A while back, I posted "army suicides, prisoner "suicides": suffering on both sides of the barbed wire".

In that post, I mentioned a former US guard at the Guantánamo Bay concentration camp who contacted two former prisoners, and the relationship that developed between them. I didn't have a link to the BBC story at the time, but a reader kindly sent it: Part One: The Guard's Story and Part Two: The Reunion.

Thank you, Frances!


a mantra

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

Albert Einstein

nato: murdering children may be ill-advised

Another redsock guest post, with thanks from me as I alternate between buried and exhausted. - L.

Just after New Year's, Laura posted a news article about troops in Afghanistan dragging innocent children from their beds, handcuffing some of them, and then murdering them at close range.

Eight of the 10 victims were between the ages of 11 and 17. Surviving members of the family talk about the night of the assault here.

At the time, "a senior NATO insider" claimed the night raid "was conducted against an IED cell that Afghan and US officials had been developing information against for some time". As soon as the story was reported, it was clear that the statement was horseshit -- and now NATO is admitting it was horseshit.

Does NATO actually say it was a mistake? They are not sure. It was probably a mistake.
Knowing what we know now, it would probably not have been a justifiable attack.

No words could lessen the rage and hate and fantasies of revenge that I imagine that family must have towards the invaders and destroyers of their country. But to actually bother making a statement, then say, in effect, "I suppose murdering those children was not the best idea we've ever had"... If that's the best you can do, then shut the fuck up.

NATO is keeping quiet about which country's (or countries) troops committed these murders. There has been no indication that Canadian soldiers were involved. But that really doesn't matter. The entire military occupation of Afghanistan is a crime against humanity -- and Canada is, at the very least, an accessory to ongoing war crimes.

Increasing numbers of Canadians know that. And Stephen Harper knows that the more Canadians learn the truth, the greater those numbers will be. That's why he shut down Parliament rather than let the truth come out.

It's time for every single soldier to get out of that country now.

two peace and war-resistance events in toronto

This Tuesday, March 2, Colonel Ann Wright will speak at "Resistance Across Borders," co-sponsored by Code Pink Toronto, The Council of Canadians, Science for Peace and Voice of Women. Also speaking will be Patrick Hart, a US Army veteran and Iraq War resister.

As you probably know, Ann Wright is a retired US Army colonel and US State Department official. After a distinguished military career, she publicly resigned her positions in protest of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. She now has a distinguished career as a peace activist.

You may also recall that Wright has been refused entry to Canada on more than one occasion. We hope to see her in Toronto on Tuesday night. If border control won't lower the drawbridge, Wright will speak to the gathering via video link.

Patrick Hart lives in Toronto with his wife Jill and their son. The Harts are one of several families at high risk for deportation if the the Harper Government continues to ignore the will of the people.

Where: International Student Centre, Cumberland House, Room 102, 33 St. George Street, University of Toronto

When: Tuesday, March 2, 2010, 7:00 p.m.

Also, on Friday, March 19, there will be a dinner and fundraiser for the War Resisters Support Campaign. More details to follow, but if you're a supporter in Toronto, please mark your calendar!

support bill c-440 postcard campaign: your help wanted

I've been quiet on wmtc about the War Resisters Support Campaign lately, because I wasn't ready to tell the CIC what we're up to. But now it's time to reveal our plans and enlist your help.

As you I hope you know, the current focus of our campaign is on Bill C-440, the private member's bill that would allow Iraq War resisters to apply for permanent residence in Canada. Private member's bills survive prorogation, and it's possible C-440 may get a second reading in the next session of Parliament.

Whether or not that happens, we want to make visible the very strong, broad support that exists clear across Canada for allowing US war resisters to stay in this country. To that end, we are on a massive postcard drive. (Find the typo!*)



Through our supporters all over the country, we've already distributed 4,500 of these cards. While we wait to receive the signed cards in return, we're doing a second printing.

Can you help? We're asking all our supporters to not just sign a card (very good) but also take responsibility for getting more cards signed (even better). Bring a small batch to an activist meeting, to school, work, your place of worship... your curling club, your next lunch date... wherever. Make a pitch, have people sign the cards on the spot, then collect the cards and return them to me or to the Campaign.

Every card counts. Can you take 10 cards? 5? 30? Let me know how many and where to send them. Email me or the campaign with your name, address and how many cards you want.

Dig in, folks. It's easy to do and it will make a difference.


* But don't tell me about it. I know where it is.


cool librarians and why we need them

I'm trying to focus on my school work, an endeavour at which I've had very little success for the past week or so. While I'm not creating original content writing, please read this librarian-related story from Salon. Jed Lipinski interviews Marilyn Johnson, the author of This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.
Behold the stereotypical librarian, with her cat’s-eye glasses, bun and pantyhose -- a creature whose desexualized persona and desire for us to be quiet has fueled generations of wild sexual fantasies. But there's bad news for those of you with a shushing fetish; as Marilyn Johnson explains in "This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All," the uptight librarian is a species that's rapidly approaching extinction.

A new generation of young, hip and occasionally tattooed librarians is driving them out. They call themselves guybrarians, cybrarians and "information specialists," and they blog at sites like The Free Range Librarian and The Lipstick Librarian. They can be found in droves on Second Life, but also outside the Republican National Convention, dodging tear gas canisters and tweeting the location of the police.

Johnson, a former staff writer for Life magazine, and author of "The Dead Beat," a book about the fascinating world of obituary writing, delights in refuting our assumptions about librarians, while making a rock-solid case for their indispensability at a time when library systems are losing an average of 50 librarians per year. Who else is going to help us formulate the questions Google doesn’t understand, or show non-English speakers how to apply for jobs online, or sympathize with your need to research the ancient origins of cockfighting? Librarians, Johnson argues, are one of our most underappreciated natural resources.

Salon talked to Johnson over the phone from her home in Westchester County, in New York, about the inadequacy of Google, why librarians have so many stalkers, and how a group of Connecticut librarians helped protect your privacy.

How did you know that librarians, not exactly known for their wild personalities, would make such riveting subjects?

My first book, "The Dead Beat," was about obituaries, and during my research I realized that the most engaging obits were about librarians. I once told a writer who was mentoring me that I wanted to write a book about them, and he threw back his head and howled, like, "Are you trying deliberately to stay off of the bestseller list?" But then he told me this great librarian story. That happened over and over. People would laugh, then tell me a fascinating story.

It's worth reading.


afghan war claims its first government

Hooray for progressives in the Netherlands! Canada's opposition parties, take note. You could learn a thing or three.
Worldwide political strains over the war in Afghanistan claimed their first national government this weekend as the Dutch ruling coalition collapsed over the question of whether to withdraw troops this year.

Conservative Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands phoned Queen Beatrix to dissolve parliament yesterday morning after his left-wing coalition partner withdrew from the government in the wake of an all-night debate over a NATO request to extend the presence of 1,600 troops beyond 2010.

Mr. Balkenende's Christian Democrats lost the support of the Labour Party, who have formed an awkward coalition for almost three years. The country's participation in Afghanistan has become an increasingly divisive issue in the coalition, and the Prime Minister's attempt to alter a promise to withdraw in 2010 became the last straw, opposition leaders said.

“Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together,” Mr. Balkenende said at a news conference after the debate collapsed. “There is no road left for this cabinet to walk.”

An election will be called before May. The result makes it almost certain that the Netherlands will be the first major participant in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization fighting coalition to withdraw from the war, almost a year ahead of Canada's promised withdrawal – a decision that will create a military vacuum in Afghanistan's war-ravaged south after the current surge of 30,000 extra U.S. troops ends.

Canada, over to you.

the personal is political: angie the anti-theist documenting abortion online

Angie the Anti-Theist talks about why she chose to terminate her pregnancy, and, perhaps more interestingly, why she decided to be public about it: here at The Friendly Atheist.

Here's Angie's own blog. She's documenting her medical (by pill) abortion on Twitter, Facebook and through her blog.

From the Friendly Atheist post:
I’m an atheist, children’s rights activist, and happy momma of a 4-year-old boy who makes my world go round. But this week, I’ve been getting called a “killer” a whole lot.

I found out I was pregnant on February 13th. It turned out the birth control I thought I was using didn’t quite work as planned (my IUD had apparently come out and we weren’t using condoms as regularly as I was pretending to myself we were). You can imagine how romantic our Valentine’s conversation was. (I think what I said was, “Let’s go for a twofer — I’ll get an abortion and you get a vasectomy.”)

. . .

When my son was born, I decided I didn’t want any more kids, in part because I’d learned during my pregnancy that I was a carrier for Cystic Fibrosis, a fatal and painful disease (of which my son was fortunately spared). I don’t regret that decision. My son is happiest when he’s getting one-on-one attention from an adult — he has even manipulated the system at school so that he gets to hang out with his teacher while she eats lunch and the other kids nap! I honestly don’t believe siblings are always a blessing, always friends, or always best for a family.

I know that I can be a damn good mom to the one special needs child I have — he had many health problems when he was younger and he is speech delayed and has a short attention span now — but I don’t know if I could be a good mom to two kids, one or both of whom would have special needs. I know my mom had more children than she could afford or care for, and I don’t want to make the same mistake. For his sake, my boyfriend has never wanted children of his own.

For me, getting an abortion was the best decision.

I went to the Planned Parenthood this past Thursday, on a day set aside (for security reasons) for patients having abortions. I found out that I was only four weeks and one day pregnant, meaning I caught this incredibly early — so early, in fact, that surgical abortion isn’t even an option yet. So I chose to have a medical abortion.

. . .

After I put my son to bed, I began #livetweetingabortion on Twitter. Why on earth would I choose to go through something so personal — and controversial — on Twitter? Have I no shame?

No, I don’t.

I don’t feel ashamed of having an abortion.

I believe in a woman’s right to choose, in general for others and in this case for me. Abortion doesn’t have to be justified and it doesn’t have to fit your neighbor’s or coworker’s opinions of a “good enough reason.”

I think “I don’t want to be pregnant” is one of the best reasons there is for having an abortion (along with “I don’t want to be a parent” and “I’ll probably die”).

Angie's project recalled for me Jennifer Baumgardner's I Had An Abortion campaign, but with even more immediacy. I applaud Angie's decision to be public! Brilliant stuff.

Many thanks to James for sending me this.


a quiz: who said this?

Can you guess what this is excerpted from?
We are proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs--expansion of social security--broadened coverage in unemployment insurance --improved housing--and better health protection for all our people.

We favor a comprehensive study of the effect upon wildlife of the drainage of our wetlands.

We recognize the need for maintaining isolated wilderness areas.

[We call for...]

A continuously vigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws

Legislation to enable closer Federal scrutiny of mergers which have a significant or potential monopolistic connotations;

Procedural changes in the antitrust laws to facilitate their enforcement.

Stimulate improved job safety of our workers, through assistance to the States, employees and employers;

Continue and further perfect its programs of assistance to the millions of workers with special employment problems, such as older workers, handicapped workers, members of minority groups, and migratory workers;

Strengthen and improve the Federal-State Employment Service and improve the effectiveness of the unemployment insurance system;...

Assure equal pay for equal work regardless of Sex;

Clarify and strengthen the eight-hour laws for the benefit of workers who are subject to federal wage standards on Federal and Federally-assisted construction, and maintain and continue the vigorous administration of the Federal prevailing minimum wage law for public supply contracts;

Extend the protection of the Federal minimum wage laws to as many more workers as is possible and practicable;

Continue to fight for the elimination of discrimination in employment because of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry or sex;

Provide assistance to improve the economic conditions of areas faced with persistent and substantial unemployment;

Revise and improve the Taft-Hartley Act so as to protect more effectively the rights of labor unions, management, the individual worker, and the public.

Was it...
A. The 2004 Democratic Party platform
B: The 2000 Green Party platform
C: The 1956 Republican Party platform
D: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

Yes, it's a trick, and you've probably guessed it by now. The answer is C. It's an excerpt from the 1956 Republican Party Platform.

This is the best illustration I've seen in a long, long time of just how far to the right the US centre has moved. Thanks to James, via Ed Brayton, via KOS.

across the great divide

Between the US health care debate fiasco and the Vancouver Olympics, Canada has been in the US news more than usual. Seldom does the US media really "get" Canada, and most Canadian mainstream sources don't know the US any better.

But there's a difference in the misunderstanding. Mainstream Canadian media is likely to take the US at face value, like they've swallowed a press release. Thus in the Bush era, the Democrats were the beleaguered liberal opposition, who would build a peaceful, liberal society if only someone would give them the chance. Now the country has solved its racial issues, abortion rights are safe and sound, and the only threat to this lovely liberal vision in Sarah Palin.

The mainstream US media, on the other hand, invents and re-uses its own stereotypes of Canadian society. So you're likely to see phrases like "slow-motion health care system" and "sky-high taxes," and lots of references to arctic, tundra, sled dogs and maple syrup.

Mike from Veterans for Peace (his chapter is here) sent me a piece that comes a little closer.

Timothy Egan, blogging for the New York Times, contrasts Canada's "modesty and humility" with the high-volume chest-thumping of his own country. Even at its Olympic own-the-podium worst, Canada is still a gentle soul compared with its southern neighbour.
Confession: When I was 17 one of my best friends, now a police officer, molded a few scraps of official-looking paper with camera-booth photos, and just like that we turned 21 — old enough to drink, and Canadians as well.

Our fake I.D. cards said we were from Saskatchewan, a province so distant we figured no one would ever catch us not knowing our prairie wheat from our Molson hops. Questions from clerks trying to talk Canadian seldom went any further than, “Pretty cold up there, eh?”

But my detour into fraud did force upon me an early education in all things Canadian. I not only learned the celebrity exports (Neil Young, Peter Jennings, the wicked talents of SCTV), but I developed a lifetime love for the Great White North, its subtle humor and its unknowable insecurities.

Now, with a global audience of several billion focused on one of the world’s most stunning cities, Canadians are presented with “the biggest branding opportunity a nation ever gets,” as Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff said of the 17-day Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

I was hoping Canadians would take their turn on the stage and step out of national character for a few weeks, losing their collective sense of modesty.

But the rough patches in the opening days of the games, and savaging from a snit-loving British press that has no athletic feats of its own to cover, have put Canadians on the defensive.

The death of Nodar Kumaritashvli, the Georgian luger, was a horrid blow. The weather, at a time when we in the Pacific Northwest and our Ecotopian neighbors just across the border are experiencing the warmest winter on record (note to East Coast global warming deniers who can’t see beyond their snow banks), has forced canceled tickets and delayed events. Breakdowns of ice resurfacing machines have been an embarrassment. Is there no workable Zamboni in all of British Columbia?

The biggest gaffe was imprisoning the Olympic torch, exiling the cauldron behind a hideous chain link barrier. After hearing calls to “tear down this fence,” Vancouver officials have done just that, losing the Cold-War-era prison look for more open access.

It seems like eons ago that the opening ceremony, a triumph complete with magical bears and sub-surface killer whales, prompted some Canadians to take a long overdue bow.

“It made me proud to be from here,” said Ian Brown, writing in The Globe and Mail, a Canadian national paper. But then he added, “I hesitate to say it. Such declarations are always unwise.”

No. Say it! Can you imagine an American being afraid to make such a simple declaration of national chauvinism? “Maybe for a while again,” Mr. Brown concluded, “we can feel alright about being Canadian.”

The prime minister, Stephen Harper, had to make a similar pitch last week in front of the British Columbia legislative assembly. He urged Canadians to show “an uncharacteristic outburst of patriotism and pride.”

Why the prodding? Why the lack of self-esteem? Canada — snap out of it! You’re gorgeous, baby, you’re sophisticated, you live well. No need for an apology.

There are more people in California, at 38 million, than in all of Canada, with about 34 million. But if Canada were the 51st state, they would be on the American medals podium nightly: Their murder rate is just a third that of the United States. They have universal health care, and while the system prompts much grumbling, it works for most people — without the death panel quality of America’s heartless private insurers.

And when our financial system caused the world economy to tank because of reckless deregulation, Canada’s banks were steady as they go, boring and mostly healthy. . . .

Perhaps not the most original observation, but not bad. Mike suggested I read some comments: numbers 3, 5, 40 and 42. Commenter #40 is a Canadian type I have heard from frequently and would enjoy never hearing from again:
How flattering it is some of you want to move to Canada as the last resort if you can't take your politics anymore. You get what you vote for. Deal with it or become pro-active. We are not interested in your faux religious values and violence. We don't want you. We're full. To the writer who fakes a birth certificate- you don't know Canada at all. Our 'modesty' is really our 'tolerance' and 'respect' of others. Believe me north of the border you get quite a view of the U.S.A. No thanks.

I guess she doesn't see the irony in referring to her own tolerance and respect while spitting out such obviously irritated snark. USians are all "faux religious values and violence," but Timothy Egan doesn't know Canada at all. I think he knows Canada better than this Canadian woman knows the US, since she thinks USians get what they vote for. Millions and millions of USians never come close to such a thing.

The second piece Mike from VFP sent is a nice bit of fun: It's Not Political, but More Canadians Are Lefties. Hint: he's not talking about the NDP. It's all about the national pasttime.

swimming through pudding

While combing through old posts for a "best of wmtc 2009," I came upon my reports on my acupuncture experience.

The first time I tried acupuncture, it was with a physiotherapist who was using it for deep-muscle trigger-point stimulation. The effects were good, but they were very localized - it only effected the one trigger point she stimulated. The treatment was very time-consuming and painful, and turned out to be too impractical for something as generalized as fibromyalgia.

But my second experience with acupuncture was very different. I saw a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, right in my own neighbourhood. Treatments were quick, painless - and very helpful.

Reading these old posts reminded me what excellent results I had. I didn't have a reduction in pain or tenderness, although the doctor thought I would eventually. But I did experience a huge increase in mental clarity and ability to concentrate. It was like having my old brain back again. (It also reminded me how much fibro effects my mental functioning.)

Now that I'm in school, I could really use those positive effects. I can get my work done, but it takes so much more effort to arrive at the same place. It feels like my brain is always fighting through fog. Like I'm mentally swimming through pudding, or walking through thick, wet clay.

Sometimes it's bad enough that I think about talking to my professors about a disability accommodation. I haven't done that, and probably won't... but that's how it feels. (Whine, whine, whine.)

Now with the start of a new calendar year, my supplement health coverage through Allan's job starts over. I could go for $400 worth of acupuncture treatments. If my experience is the same, just as the treatment begins to take effect, my coverage will run out. Or my school term will be ending. There's no way we can afford the treatments on our own. I get discouraged and think, why bother.

But perhaps it would take effect more quickly this time. Or perhaps... I don't know, something else. A bag of money falls on my head.


you may be pleased to know...

...that when I got home from work tonight, Cody was completely back to herself. She's up and down stairs, scampering in the backyard, the works. The bed is even rumpled and gritty where she was on it - lying cross-wise on our pillows, I believe. There's just no stopping this girl.

the things that statcounter reveals

Did you know Allan and I are ...
Fucking hippies, thinking they're so smart and all by being anti-everything except promiscuos sex, indie music and converse sneakers. oh and leftist lesbian poetry too.

I've never been much for poetry, but I do like leftist lesbians. Never owned a pair of Converse sneakers.

The author of this portrait of yours truly says:
I have never been so tempted to troll...but I am afraid of failing hard at it. I lack the antipathy.

Also the ability to comment here.

Sorry, I think it would be unwise to supply a link. You'll have to trust that I found this through Statcounter and am copy/pasting it verbatim.

who comes to canada and who does not, revisited

A fascist hatemonger crosses the border, a renowned Mexican chef cannot. That's Stephen Harper's and Jason Kenney's Canada for you.

Don't miss Dr. Dawg on Canada's selectively (im)permeable borders.

For added context, see this old wmtc post: who comes to canada and who does not.


pupdate: the patient is home

surgery 004

surgery 005

We are all home, happy and tired. Thanks for all your great love and support.

Hooray for great vets, hooray for Cody!

can you blame them? four-year-olds often hide bombs in their leg braces

Do you need any more proof that "security theatre" - the appearance of increased security measures, which do nothing to make us safer - is out of control? That airport security and border control are merely opportunities for power-mad brownshirts to have fun at our expense?
Philadelphia TSA screeners forced the developmentally delayed, four-year-old son of a Camden, PA police officer to remove his leg-braces and wobble through a checkpoint, despite the fact that their procedure calls for such a case to be handled through a swabbing in a private room. When the police officer complained, the supervising TSA screener turned around and walked away. Then a Philadelphia police officer asked what was wrong and "suggested he calm down and enjoy his vacation."

Ryan was taking his first flight, to Walt Disney World, for his fourth birthday.

The boy is developmentally delayed, one of the effects of being born 16 weeks prematurely. His ankles are malformed and his legs have low muscle tone. In March he was just starting to walk...

The screener told them to take off the boy's braces.

The Thomases were dumbfounded. "I told them he can't walk without them on his own," Bob Thomas said.

"He said, 'He'll need to take them off.' "

Ryan's mother offered to walk him through the detector after they removed the braces, which are custom-made of metal and hardened plastic.

No, the screener replied. The boy had to walk on his own.

According to MSNBC, the TSA apologized. BFD.

Many thanks to James for sending.

google may be its own worst buzz-kill

When I saw the new "Google Buzz" icon in my Gmail, I was curious, so I clicked. Much to my surprise, 13 people are already following me. (This is different than following wmtc. 61 people are now doing that, and 135 people have wmtc on their Google Reader feed.) All but one of my Buzz followers are either readers of this blog or "IRL" friends or both.

It seems harmless enough, but do I really need another social-networking tool? I bought into Facebook with great reluctance, and still don't (won't!) live there. I don't do Twitter. Or any others.

Yet... when you see people following your feed, it's tempting. We know that. They know that.

Here's something you might not know about Google Buzz: unless you change your default privacy settings, a list of your most-emailed Gmail contacts may be made public. Google in bed with the NSA, Google using invasive default privacy settings... it doesn't bode well.
The launch of Google Buzz has set various parts of the technology blogosphere afire -- and for all the right reasons: it does introduce a number of interesting social features that could make our email experience more social (whether it has to be more social is a different question).

However, what tech pundits have mostly overlooked is a peculiar privacy choice made by Google's designers: unless you tinker with Buzz's settings, a partial list of your most-emailed Gmail contacts might be automatically made public (see this post over at Silicon Alley Insider; it appears that contacts those who already had a Google Profile account before Buzz are at risk; also see this excellent and very angry post at CNet for additional background. UPDATE: Google has promised to fix some of these problems).

Yes, that's right: without you ever touching Google Buzz's privacy settings, the entire world may know who you correspond with (yes, including that secret lover of yours and that secret leaker at the White House).

This could be an extremely uncomfortable and tragic privacy disaster for Google, potentially of the same magnitude that Beacon was toFacebook. I certainly don't have many concerns about those who are cheating on their spouses or are leaking sensitive information to journalists-- they will survive (even though the future of whistle-blowing does not look very bright in our increasingly overexposed information environment).

Nevertheless, I am extremely concerned about hundreds of activists in authoritarian countries who would never want to reveal a list of their interlocutors to the outside world. Why so much secrecy? Simply because many of their contacts are other activists and often even various "democracy promoters" from Western governments and foundations. Many of those contacts would now inadvertently be made public.

If I were working for the Iranian or the Chinese government, I would immediately dispatch my Internet geek squads to check on Google Buzz accounts for political activists and see if they have any connections that were previously unknown to the government. They can then spend months on end drawing complex social circles on the shiny blackboards inside secret police headquarters.

But potential risk from disclosing such data extends far beyond just supplying authoritarian governments with better and more actionable intelligence. For example, most governments probably already suspect that some of their ardent opponents are connected to Western organizations but may lack the evidence to act on those suspicions. Now, thanks to Google's desire to make an extra buck off our data, they would finally have the ultimate proof they needed (if you think that this is unrealistic, consider this: the Iranian authorities have once used membership in an academic mailing list run out of Columbia as evidence of spying for the West).

It's business decisions like this that make me very suspicious of Google's highfalutin rhetoric about their commitment to defending the freedom of expression.

. . .

Otherwise, all their promises about their stance on freedom of expression is just empty talk. Their recent partnership with NSA does not make Google look any more trustworthy; Chris Soghoian, an expert on information security, made a hilarious point on Twitter: "How do I sign up for the Iranian government's new emailservice? At least they are not in bed with NSA."

Read more here.

Anyone want to tell me about following Buzz? Is it more useful than redudant? Am I expected to reciprocate?


pupdate: cody out of surgery, doing fine

Yay and hooray! The surgery went quickly and easily - they got the whole mass with the famed clean margins - and Cody is doing fine. Whoo-hoo!!

She's been moved from ICU to "wards" and is sleeping it off now. They've even given her extra meds in anticipation of pain as she wakes up. They have to manipulate the dog's body while they're under, and with arthritis and hip dysplasia, that can cause quite a bit of pain later. But they're very pro-active with pain management, and will do everything they can to keep her comfortable.

And now I can breathe again! Allan was confident that all would be well, but I was not.

Tala seems sad and subdued. But she'll be happy in a few days, too.


pupdate: excellent cody prognosis!

What a relief! Cody is having surgery tomorrow morning and her prognosis for a full recovery - cancer-free - is excellent. Here's what happened.

We went to Guelph this afternoon. For those not in this area, the University of Guelph has a huge veterinary college and teaching hospital with an excellent reputation. It's the kind of place people travel great distances to for; we're fortunate that it's only an hour or so away. We brought both dogs, as we always do, for everyone's comfort and moral support.

We met with doctors from the oncology service, who took a full history, did a physical, and also had the results from our own vet. They explained various options, and confirmed what we already knew: a lot would depend on whether or not the cancer had metastasized, and whether or not the tumour seemed operable. The first would be determined by blood work and chest x-rays, the second by a surgeon. They also said the surgeon would probably want to do an ultrasound and possibly a CT scan to get a better image of the tumour.

The great thing about a teaching hospital is that everything is there under one roof. All the different doctors and services can be consulted and results known on the spot. We left Cody for x-rays and blood work, and asked where we could take Tala for some play-time while we waited. We ended up on a snowy, windswept golf course. Tala looked like an arctic wolf out on the tundra!

When we met the doctor again, he was practically grinning. He said the prognosis could not be better. The chest x-rays were all clean. And the surgeon felt the tumour and almost instantly pronounced that she could get the whole thing, clean, no problem.

This surgeon is reputed to be one of the best. She did some aggressive handling of the tumour - far more than what a vet would normally do - and said she was able to get her fingers around the whole thing. This means that it should come out with "clean margins". She was so optimistic that she said ultrasound would be unnecessary. Also in our favour, the tumour is only on one side of the throat; about 60% of these cancers show up on both sides. The surgeon has done this exact surgery many times and, the doc said, she was excited about it because of the excellent prognosis.

Wow! We made the decision on the spot. There seemed to be no reason not to have the surgery, and every reason to do it.

The only question remaining was when, and after some discussion, we decided to move quickly. This crackshot surgeon is available tomorrow morning - Cody is already there - why prolong it.

The doctor assured us that he'll be personally taking care of Cody, seeing to her feeding and walking, making sure she's comfortable, visiting her many times a day. He seemed genuinely elated to give us good news and be able to help her.

So we left her there, not an easy thing to do, but we both feel it's the right thing. She was very groggy from the mild sedation they used for the chest x-ray, so she wasn't upset by our leaving. Tala was anxious to get the hell out of there already, so we did, got some dinner - and called my sister on the way home.

Oh my goodness! This is not what we were expecting. Personally, I was gearing myself up for the worst. We needed two big "ifs" to both come through, and that seemed like too much to hope for. In my mind, I was already preparing for the end of Cody's days. Whew.

Of course there are risks to any surgery. And doctors never really know the extent of any tumour until they're in there. We can't truly breathe easily until we hear that she's out of surgery and it went well. But for now, the future seems much brighter.

The doctor is calling us tomorrow morning, just to report how Cody did overnight (!), then we'll get another call after the surgery. Fingers and paws crossed!

Thank you all so much for your support. Thank you thank you.


intellectual freedom in the library, part 1

One of my classes this term is Intellectual Freedom and the Library. It's absolutely terrific, and I thought I'd share some of it with you.

The class is an elective, but I honestly think it should be required for the i-school's library stream. I think without it, I'd be missing a crucial part of my library education.

The purpose of the class is to build a well-defined, well-defended personal philosophy of freedom of expression in the library, so when there are challenges in your library - when outraged library customers want a book banned, or a film removed from the catalogue, or more filters on the internet - you know how to deal with it.

In Canada and other non-US countries, intellectual freedom in the library comes with a twist. The American Library Association bases its position on freedom of expression on the First Amendment of the US Constitution, a nearly absolutist position. (We're talking theory here, not practice.) The Canadian Library Association, Ontario Library Association, and all the other such organizations in Canada take their positions from the ALA.

However, freedom of expression has greater limits in Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia, South Africa, and other western democracies, based on prohibitions on hate speech and a more broadly defined concept of human rights. (Again, this is on the legal, theoretical level. Which country actually enjoys more freedom of expression is open to debate.)

In other words, the CLA's position actually contradicts parts of the Charter - which creates an inherent conflict for Canadian librarians. That's what the class is meant to explore.

* * * *

In the first half of the term, we read and discussed various legal and Constitutional analysis. The prof has a great system: each student studies one article and summarizes it for the class. So we each read one article in depth and prepared a summary and presentation, then read summaries of all the others, and participated in discussions. Much less work, plus an additional compelling reason to do a good job, as your colleagues are depending on you for the content.

This culminates with a paper outlining our personal philosophy of intellectual freedom in the library, especially as it relates to some of the contentious issues, like hate speech and pornography. I thought I might post the paper here, because it deals a lot with hate speech, something we've discussed on wmtc.

In the second half, we'll be examining and analyzing case studies, as a group project. Mine will be on pornography, erotica and obscenity.

* * * *

Our most recent class was amazing. I knew that a former public library board member was addressing the class about a challenge her library experienced - but I had no idea how intense it would be.

Right around the time we moved to Canada, Karla Homolka was released from prison. If it wasn't for that, I probably never would have heard of the Paul Bernardo case. And as I was new to the area, I had no idea where it occurred.

Bernardo is a serial rapist and murderer. Assisted by his wife, Homolka, he raped at least a dozen women and girls, and murdered at least three of them. One of the victims was from St Catharines, and the murder took place in Burlington - not far from where I live now.

The Burlington Public Library had included in its catalogue one of the many books about the case, which contained details that were not published in Canadian newspapers. The challenge came from the mother of one of the victims.

And how did the victim's mother learn the book was in the library? It had been included in the new books display! Ordering the book for the catalogue, fine. Including it in a lobby display? Very poor judgement, to put it mildly.

Obviously, this was no ordinary challenge.

Complicating it further, a library employee, acting on her own with no authority or consultation, pulled the book from the shelves and expunged the record from the catalogue. Media excoriated the library for censorship... the public excoriated the library for insensitivity... a massive, politicized, public campaign launched against the library. The town's mayor threatened its funding, which got the Canadian Civil Liberties Association involved, which further inflamed some members of the community.

Our guest speaker described something of what she experienced living in the eye of this firestorm, the personal accusations and attacks she suffered, the irrational nature of the arguments. For example, there were several other books about the murders, but the public campaign focused only on this one. The book was available in many other places - but no one was picketing Chapters, only this one library. More than 100 holds had been placed on the book by library customers, but the public campaign insisted that no one wanted to read such a book.

In the end, after a long and tangled process, all parties agreed to a compromise. The book remains in the Burlington Public Library and in its catalogue, but it's not in the stacks. Library customers have to request it.

The speaker described the compromise as "something she could live with". And that was the point of the class.

* * * *

Our prof says, "It's not enough to be aghast or outraged at a challenge. As the manager of the library, your role is to understand why the challenge exists and manage it."

We are urged to respectfully listen, to validate the patron's point of view, to situate the library within the community (not opposed to it), and above all, to take a professional approach to managing the situation. But our role is also to uphold freedom of expression, and not allow one person's sensibilities to override other people's access to information.

Challenges occur all the time. The two most recent challenges in Canadian libraries were both in 2009: one to To Kill A Mockingbird (although not for the usual reasons) and one to The Handmaid's Tale.

Right now, in places in the United States, communities are fighting against corporate-sponsored children's books, which teach things like learning to count... using name-brand breakfast cereal! Elsewhere, a citizens group is calling for content labels on books, warning readers about subversive ideas and so-called obscenity - but they skirt accusations of censorship by not calling for a ban. How does a librarian handle those challenges? Dismissing them as nuts is not enough!

The professor holds that it's necessary to understand the whole spectrum of the philosophy of free speech in order to respond to these challenges rationally, compassionately, and professionally. And the way you handle the challenges will partly determine how your community views the library.

Our guest speaker, the woman who lived through the firestorm in Burlington, urged us that every library must have a policy for challenges in place. The policy, she said, must be established when you least need it, in times of calm rationality, then periodically revisited and reviewed. Every staff member and volunteer must accept it: an understanding of intellectual freedom should be part of the interview and hiring process. There must be an appeals process, so the challenger feels she is receiving a full hearing. In other words, there has to be a framework already in place, not thought up on the fly during a whirlwind of protest.

As I said, this should be a required course!

reading week: my canadian acculuration continues

This is Reading Week. I have no idea what Reading Week is. I never heard of it before.

Last week, my profs announced there'd be no class next week because of Reading Week. Classmates asked me, What are you doing for Reading Week? I thought, What am I doing? I guess I'm not going to class.

It appears that Canadian universities and colleges give students a week off to catch up on studying, but most students - a lot of people, anyway - treat it as a vacation.

Both my classes are on the same day this term, so that means today I have one extra day to stay home. A nice little break. It's especially good timing since Allan and I worked a holiday overtime yesterday, and tomorrow is our appointment in Guelph with Cody. So I have a day in the middle to stay home and do schoolwork.

But everyone is making such a big fuss over it. I keep wondering if I'm missing something.


save a little outrage for the real criminals

Everyone gapes in shock and horror because some idiots in Vancouver broke some stuff. OMG destruction of personal property! I find it much more significant that a full 1,000 people - and that's the mainstream media's count, so you know the crowd was really much larger - cared enough to greet the Vancouver Olympics with protest.

B-b-but they broke stuff! They were running around screaming! Oh the humanity. Meanwhile our taxes have been used to torture human beings and are being used every day to occupy another country, for oil and drug profits. If I saw half, no, a quarter of the outrage over Afghanistan as I do about a bunch of anarchists in Vancouver, I'd know we were on our way to getting Canada out of the war. If Canadians were half as concerned about our Prime Minister shutting down democracy as they are that all the protests are peaceful - gotta be peaceful, don't wanna disrupt the lovely peace - we'd have a different government by now.

This disconnect reminds me of some questions Edward Galeano has been asking.
The shoe-thrower of Iraq, the man who hurled his shoes at Bush, was condemned to three years in prison. Doesn't he deserve, instead, a medal?

Who is the terrorist? The hurler of shoes or their recipient? Is not the real terrorist the serial killer who, lying, fabricated the Iraq war, massacred a multitude, and legalized and ordered torture?

Who are the guilty ones - the people of Atenco, in Mexico, the indigenous Mapuches of Chile, the Kekchies of Guatemala, the landless peasants of Brazil - all being accused of the crime of terrorism for defending their right to their own land? If the earth is sacred, even if the law does not say so, aren't its defenders sacred too?

According to Foreign Policy Magazine, Somalia is the most dangerous place in the world. But who are the pirates? The starving people who attack ships or the speculators of Wall Street who spent years attacking the world and who are now rewarded with many millions of dollars for their pains?

Why does the world reward its ransackers?

Why is justice a one-eyed blind woman? Wal-Mart, the most powerful corporation on earth, bans trade unions. McDonald's, too. Why do these corporations violate, with criminal impunity, international law? Is it because in this contemporary world of ours, work is valued as lower than trash and workers' rights are valued even less?

Who are the righteous and who are the villains? If international justice really exists, why are the powerful never judged? The masterminds of the worst butcheries are never sent to prison. Is it because it is these butchers themselves who hold the prison keys?

What makes the five nations with veto power in the United Nations inviolable? Is it of a divine origin, that veto power of theirs? Can you trust those who profit from war to guard the peace?

He has many more questions. Read them here.

We should worry less about orderly streets and more about deceitful government. Less about the conduct of protesters and more about what they're protesting.

this wanderlust, it rules my life

Many factors combined to send me to graduate school and a career change; I needed the change on many levels. But the biggest incentive has been my unsated wanderlust. With our current income and lifestyle, we don't have enough money to travel. And I just can't stand it.

You know that I consider myself extremely fortunate; I'm very aware of my privilege. In general, I have a very good life, and I know it. But...

But as much as I keep that perspective, we want what we want, and when we don't have something that feels integral to our happiness, it chafes. This doesn't feel like a want. It feels like a need.

Apart from the people and dogs in my life, there's nothing I love more than travel. And we simply can't afford to travel as I would like to. "As I would like to" doesn't mean a fantasy of a year-long trek around the world or my lifelong dream of cruising North America with no fixed address. All I mean is one good trip each year - a two- or three-week trip to someplace I've never been.

This year, like last year, we have an important family wedding to attend. Last year's took us to New Mexico; this one is in northern California. It's beautiful there and I'm sure we'll have a great time, but I've been there many times and at this point, it's not where I would choose to spend my incredibly scarce travel dollars. I'll go to New York and New Jersey to visit family and friends, once on my own and once with Allan. And we might squeeze out a short, local trip, like Stratford.

So we'll get away. I understand this would be sufficient for someone else. But for me, a few days away is great fun, but it doesn't scratch the itch.

I have this great hunger to see the world. Sometimes it obsesses me, makes my heart ache with longing. Each trip Allan and I have made together (as well as my travels before we met) has been a revelation. But looking back on where I've been never dampens my desire to see more. It only feeds it, like an addiction.

And as I get older, it gets worse.

In the past, there were many years when we didn't have money to travel. That was always a disappointment for me, but in those days time seemed endless. Now I live with a sense of my life being very finite, and rushing by at breakneck speed.

I fear that past a certain age, we won't have money to travel at all. We don't have a house to sell or big retirement income coming our way. It's realistic to think we'll be financially constrained in our senior years.

So, rightly or wrongly, I imagine I don't have that many years of real travel left. And too many places I want to go. And not the money to go there.

Friends older than me laugh at this. Why should I feel this way at 48? Because I do.

* * * *

I look at the balance in our so-called retirement savings, and I think... I could get five or six really good trips out of that. That would make me really happy. And isn't that what money is for? Who knows if we'll live long enough to spend that money on retirement... We should use it to get more out of our lives right now...

I drive myself crazy thinking along those lines. Fortunately Allan intervenes. He has loved our travels together, but he's not an addict like I am. So the money stays there. Taunting me.

* * * *

I drafted this post almost a full year ago, before I had any thoughts of graduate school. I wrote:
I'm not one to complain about a problem without trying to fix it. Is there something I could be doing differently? I've thought myself in circles about this.

I could get a full-time job in the field of my day-job. I'd be sacrificing the work that gives my life meaning, in essence making my day-to-day life miserable in exchange for two weeks a year. In my heart, I know that's not a wise trade-off, and I've resisted it.

We could cut our budget to the bone, have no entertainment, live like paupers, just to save all our money for travel. But again, it seems unwise to live your whole life for two weeks, and it's not like we spend that much money as it is.

I suppose we could forgo any smaller trips, and save the money we would have spent on those, and put it all towards travel. But we're long-distance from close friends and family now. How can I not see my mother, my siblings or my best friends?

The only other thing we spend money on is our dogs, and I can scarcely imagine life without them.

At the time, I saw no possibility of change on the horizon, just endless discontent and frustration. I was on the road to coming up with a solution, I just didn't know it yet.

But the benefits of my Big Life Change are still far off. It will be years until I get my degree and a start my new career. I have patience for the process. I just don't have patience for the trips I won't be taking until I get there.

* * * *

My family likes to say that travel is in our genes. My grandmother traveled all over the world, before travel was accessible or typical. Everyone wanted to know, Where is Dora going next? She and my grandfather went on group tours, and never ventured off the beaten track. She wore her status as an American like an armor. But she saw the world, and kept seeing it as long as she possibly could.

Her daughter - my mom - had it bad, too. My parents took us on great travel vacations when we were kids, and when my mother became single, she ticked off all the places my father hadn't wanted to go: Russia, Alaska, China. Now my brother clearly has The Bug, as do two of his three children.

When I went to Europe for the first time, with my great friend NN after we graduated from university, I announced my plans to my grandmother. I expected her to disapprove - as she generally did of everything. To my surprise, she lit up. She said, "It's so wonderful, what young girls can do on their own these days. I had to wait until I was married to see the world, but you can just go." For the rest of her coherent days, my Nana always wanted to hear about my travels, always asked if I was planning a trip. I think of her a lot when I travel.

* * * *

As part of this post, I started writing a list of where we've been and where I most want to go, but I'm purposely not including it. Feeling this way, the where is almost irrelevant. It's the go that matters.

I have a group of photos on the wall of Allan and I with various landmark backdrops: Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, the Golden Gate Bridge. Looking over the photos, a friend (someone I don't know well, the partner of an old friend) said, "You guys have traveled a lot!" I stuttered over an answer. "Well, I guess... not really..." Allan said definitively, "Yes, we have," then looked at me pointedly and said, "You have."

Maybe I have, maybe I haven't. But it's all I want. And I can't stop wanting it.


army suicides, prisoner "suicides": suffering on both sides of the barbed wire

Not long ago, I blogged about yet another disturbing statistic that illustrates how soldiers and former soldiers carry the burden of war: the increase in among 18-24-year-olds.

I later learned from a war-resister friend that soldiers who attempt suicide but survive can be charged with crimes and punished for the attempt. My friend said: "Kristofer Goldsmith, IVAW member, got in quite a bit of trouble for trying to kill himself, and from what I recall he didn't receive psychiatric help when he got out of the hospital either." He sent me this link from Winter Soldier II, where you can see video of Goldsmith's testimony.
Goldsmith saw the World Trade Center towers collapse on September 11, 2001. He enlisted in the Army and went to Iraq in 2005.

In Sadr City, he witnessed abuse of Iraqi civilians. He was assigned to take pictures of Iraqis found in a shallow grave, ostensibly for intelligence purposes, but they were only used as trophies by those who received them.

After repeated commendations, he was expecting to return to civilian life and college when President Bush announced the "surge," and the military adopted its stop-loss policy, essentially making Goldsmith a prisoner of war.

He tried to kill himself rather than return to Iraq, but survived. He was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, but then was discharged for misconduct as a malingerer. He now delivers pizzas and struggles to overcome his persisting symptoms with treatment through the VA.

Scott Horton, writing in this month's Harper's, uncovers a different kind of suicide. The kind that is really death by torture.
The Guantánamo "Suicides": A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle

When President Barack Obama took office last year, he promised to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great.” Toward that end, the president issued an executive order declaring that the extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantánamo Naval Base “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” Obama has failed to fulfill his promise. Some prisoners there are being charged with crimes, others released, but the date for closing the camp seems to recede steadily into the future. Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the George W. Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.

Late on the evening of June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. They were being held in a cell block, known as Alpha Block, reserved for particularly troublesome or high-value prisoners.

As news of the deaths emerged the following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown. The authorities ordered nearly all the reporters at Guantánamo to leave and those en route to turn back. The commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, then declared the deaths “suicides.” In an unusual move, he also used the announcement to attack the dead men. “I believe this was not an act of desperation,” he said, “but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” Reporters accepted the official account, and even lawyers for the prisoners appeared to believe that they had killed themselves. Only the prisoners’ families in Saudi Arabia and Yemen rejected the notion.

Two years later, the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which has primary investigative jurisdiction within the naval base, issued a report supporting the account originally advanced by Harris, now a vice-admiral in command of the Sixth Fleet. The Pentagon declined to make the NCIS report public, and only when pressed with Freedom of Information Act demands did it disclose parts of the report, some 1,700 pages of documents so heavily redacted as to be nearly incomprehensible. The NCIS documents were carefully cross-referenced and deciphered by students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and their findings, released in November 2009, made clear why the Pentagon had been unwilling to make its conclusions public. The official story of the prisoners’ deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report—a reconstruction of the events—was simply unbelievable.

Along with many other bloggers, I wrote about the reporting of this incident with shock and outrage. I look forward to reading what the Harper's investigation uncovered. Glenn Greenwald gives us a preview. (Click through for copious links.)
In early December, a report from Seton Hall University cast serious doubt on the government's claims regarding the alleged simultaneous "suicides" of three Guantanamo detainees in June, 2006. I wrote about that report here. Yesterday, Harper's Scott Horton published an extraordinary new article casting even further doubt on the official version of events, compiling new, stomach-turning evidence (much of it from Guantanamo guards) strongly suggesting (without proving or concluding) that those detainees were tortured to death, and those acts then covered-up by making their deaths appear to be suicides. Scott's article should be read in its entirety, though Andrew Sullivan has highlighted some of the critical revelations, including the motives of the whistle-blowing guards and the details of the torture to which these detainees were subjected.

I want to note two points from all of this:

(1) The single biggest lie in War on Terror revisionist history is that our torture was confined only to a handful of "high-value" prisoners. New credible reports of torture continuously emerge. That's because America implemented and maintained a systematic torture regime spread throughout our worldwide, due-process-free detention system. There have been at least 100 deaths of detainees in American custody who died during or as the result of interrogation.

. . . .

Despite all of this, our media persists in sustaining the lie that the torture controversy is about three cases of waterboarding and a few "high-value" detainees who were treated a bit harshly. That's why Horton's story received so little attention and was almost completely ignored by right-wing commentators: because it shatters the central myth that torture was used only in the most extreme cases -- virtual Ticking Time Bomb scenarios -- when there was simply no other choice. Leading American media outlets, as a matter of policy, won't even use the word "torture." This, despite the fact that the abuse was so brutal and inhumane that it led to the deaths of helpless captives -- including run-of-the-mill detainees, almost certainly ones guilty of absolutely nothing -- in numerous cases. These three detainee deaths -- like so many other similar cases -- illustrate how extreme is the myth that has taken root in order to obscure what was really done.

(2) Incidents like this dramatically underscore what can only be called the grotesque immorality of the "Look Forward, Not Backwards" consensus which our political class -- led by the President -- has embraced. During the Bush years, the United States government committed some of the most egregious crimes a government can commit. They plainly violated domestic law, international law, and multiple treaties to which the U.S. has long been a party. Despite that, not only has President Obama insisted that these crimes not be prosecuted, and not only has his Justice Department made clear that -- at most -- they will pursue a handful of low-level scapegoats, but far worse, the Obama administration has used every weapon it possesses to keep these crimes concealed, prevent any accountability for them, and even venerated them as important "state secrets," thus actively preserving the architecture of lawlessness and torture that gave rise to these crimes in the first place.

Every Obama-justifying excuse for Looking Forward, Not Backwards has been exposed as a sham (recall, for instance, the claim that we couldn't prosecute Bush war crimes because it would ruin bipartisanship and Republicans wouldn't support health care reform). But even if those excuses had been factually accurate, it wouldn't have mattered. There are no legitimate excuses for averting one's eyes from crimes of this magnitude and permitting them to go unexamined and unpunished. The real reason why "Looking Forward, Not Backwards" is so attractive to our political and media elites is precisely because they don't want to face what they enabled and supported. They want to continue to believe that it just involved the quick and necessary waterboarding of three detainees and a few slaps to a handful of the Worst of the Worst. Only a refusal to "Look Backwards" will enable the lies they have been telling (to the world and to themselves) to be sustained. But as Horton's story illustrates, there are real victims and genuine American criminals -- many of them -- and anyone who wants to keep that concealed and protected is, by definition, complicit in those crimes, not only the ones that were committed in the past, but similar ones that almost certainly, as a result of Not Looking Backwards, will be committed in the future.

Finally, another Gitmo item, this one a story of peace and reconciliation, a story of what is possible when love and forgiveness conquer distrust and fear. A war-resister friend of mine posted the link on Facebook; he said he would give anything for an opportunity like this. The story, by the way, was buried in the business section of the New York Times.
New to Facebook, Brandon Neely was searching the site for acquaintances in 2008 when he typed in the names of some of the detainees he had guarded during his tenure as a prison guard at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Neely, an Army veteran who spent six months at the prison in 2002, sent messages to one of the freed men, Shafiq Rasul, and was astonished when Mr. Rasul replied. Their exchanges sparked a face-to-face meeting, arranged by the BBC, which will be shown on Tuesday. Mr. Neely, who has served as the president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, says his time at Guantánamo now haunts him, and has granted confessional-style interviews about the abuses he says he witnessed there. In a message to Mr. Rasul, Mr. Neely apologized for his role in the imprisonment.

Gavin Lee, a BBC correspondent, learned about the Facebook messages from Mr. Rasul, who lives in Britain, and thought the situation was incredible. Mr. Lee tracked down Mr. Neely — on Facebook, naturally — and asked, “would you consider meeting face to face?”

“He thought about it and he said, ‘I would love to,’ ” Mr. Lee recalled last week. “I would love to apologize in person.”

I haven't found a link to the BBC story, but if you do, please post.

Update. A reader sent this link. Many thanks.