7.31.2010

"you can't be neutral on a moving train": special film night in support of war resisters support campaign

ZINN.handbill


Join us at The Bloor! Special guests filmmakers Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller, and war resister Jeremy Hinzman. Emceed by war resister Chuck Wiley.

windsor, sonoma county, california

Yesterday was a travel day, a short distance that took a long time.

If the Oakland Airport wants to be a viable alternative to San Francisco, they have to fix their rental car problem. And PS, don't ever rent from Payless out here. But after the BART to the "Air BART" (bus link between airport and BART), to the insane rental car shuttle, and almost to a second, nonexistent shuttle for Payless, we finally did get a car from National. If Payless wants to try and charge us for the reservation we didn't keep, bring it on.

We immediately drove to the nearest In-N-Out, which we had seen from the Air BART bus, and Allan had his first In-N-Out experience. By that time it was late and we were very hungry, and ate copious amounts of cheeseburgers and fries. I've already noted this on previous California posts, but it's amusing that there's a "double double" here, too. As we would say in a Joy of Sox gamethred: In-N-Out Double Double > Tim Hortons' Double Double.

After a few wrong turns, we joined a slow parade of traffic crawling northward from San Francisco, to the town of Windsor in Sonoma County. This is the heart of wine country, very near the hip, happening town of Healdsburg which everyone tells us to check out.

The cottage is so sweet - just perfect. It's a bed-and-breakfast cottage, so our hosts have stocked it with everything we need for breakfast. Last year in New Mexico, as soon as we put down our bags after a very long day of travel, we had to head out to a store for basics like coffee, tea and cereal. This is easier and more convenient.

We were late for the rehearsal dinner, but by coincidence it was being held at a golf club right down the road from where we're staying, so we were able to relax for a bit before getting ready for the party. Like last year, the best part of this trip is seeing our nieces and nephews, sibs and sibs-in-law, and some extended family (not necessarily related to us). We have a lot to catch up on with a lot of people, and it's great just to be around them.

Cue take 4,573 of how freaking amazing it is to enjoy family gatherings now. After half a lifetime of approaching these things with anxiety and dread, I now look forward to them with joy and excitement. And people think death and divorce are bad things! They've done wonders for us.

Our cottage are adjacent to a farm. We hear baby goats bleating and horses whinnying - and this morning we actually woke up to a rooster crowing. (Then went right back to sleep.) Next to the porch, there's a plum tree laden with ripe fruit. It's beautiful and quiet, and hearing the animals talk is so peaceful.

The wedding is this afternoon, so I'm not sure what, if anything, we'll do besides that.

7.30.2010

san francisco, day two

On Thursday I amazed myself by sleeping until 9:00 a.m., something I very rarely do on Eastern time, and never when my body thinks that means noon. Two consecutive nights of very little sleep plus a dark room and an extremely comfy bed worked wonders. By the time we finished breakfast, blogged and organized our day, the morning was over. But hey, it's vacation.

First thing, we headed down to the Ferry Building Market, new since the last time I was in San Francisco. The Ferry Building is a San Francisco landmark, more than 100 years old and the survivor of many earthquakes, including "the" quake of 1906. It's been lovingly and impeccably restored (and made accessible), and is now home to a beautiful market, along with commuter and travel ferries to dozens of towns across the Bay. We love markets and like to see them wherever we go, so this beautiful building right on the water was a must.

Three days a week there is a farmers' market and street food outside, which we saw briefly. We mostly wandered around inside, browsing through the permanent shops and restaurants. They're all independent and locally-based, but somewhat high-end, which is very easy to do out here. A shop selling only varieties of olive oil or organic mushrooms is not something you see in Toronto or New York, but it's not uncommon here. We had some delicious sandwiches from Boccalone - "tasty salty pig parts" - and gelato, and browsed through a nice bookstore.

Outside, from a huge array of tables, I found a pair of earrings, delicate hand-painting on shells. I told the artist I would link to her website, but at the moment her domain seems to be up for grabs. Rosa Moore and her husband Joso Vidal do beautiful work, and in case the site comes back, it's Clearlight Jewelry dot-com.

My Ice Hotel keychain died a few months ago, and yesterday I replaced it with a keychain made from a Susan B. Anthony dollar, showing that radical woman smoking a pipe. The artist creates figure-ground art by cutting out the backgrounds of coins, to leave only a face, or a buffalo, an eagle, and such. He's cut out several figures in such a way that has them smoking pipes - George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, for example. He said if I didn't want Susan B. Anthony to be a smoker, he could remove the pipe for me. But the pipe is great. I like to think if our hero Anthony had wanted to smoke a pipe, she damn well would have.

Leaving the area, we ran into some young canvassers from Equality California, wearing great t-shirts with the bright EQ CA logo. We let an enthusiastic young man named Oscar give us his whole pitch, proudly telling him we are from Canada, where we have full marriage equality. California activists, working towards a ballot initiative to repeal Prop 8 in 2012, are raising money to open more local offices throughout the state. We made a donation, wished them luck and got directions to our next stop.

On the streetcar, an incredibly friendly driver - an Ellen DeGeneres lookalike - directed us to a better bus route, and dropped us at the appropriate stop at no charge. When we said we were going to City Lights, she mentioned Vesuvio next door. She also asked where we were having dinner, and tipped us off on $1 oysters and half-price beers at Hog City Oyster bar, at the Ferry Building Market. It seems I exclaim, "These friendly Californians!" at least three times a day. I love New Yorkers and I will never badmouth my own breed. But I never understood why people find Easterners unfriendly until I spent time in California and the Pacific Northwest. I used to think the difference was urban versus rural, but SoCal, the Bay Area and Seattle are plenty dense, yet people are still incredibly friendly compared to New Yorkers, Bostonians, and others in the east. And whereas Canadians are extremely nice and friendly, they are still (stereotypically speaking) reserved, compared with the openness and warmth I feel here.

We took the bus up to North Beach, the old Italian neighbourhood that is still chock full of Italian restaurants and cafes. Maybe it's me, but I think the area still has a very authentic feel, despite the tourist interest. Our destination, though, wasn't Little Italy, but City Lights. City Lights is a landmark bookstore and publisher, founded by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It was the home and hangout for Beat Generation writers, and perhaps most famous for publishing Allen Ginsberg's "Howl".

But City Lights is no museum. It is still a vibrant bookstore, still publishing fiction, nonfiction and especially important political work, and still fanning the flames of free expression. There's an entire room of poetry upstairs - in which I confess I never get past Whitman and Ginsburg - and a whole floor of revolutionary politics downstairs. We love this place and go whenever we're here. Not least among my reasons for loving City Lights is my love for Allen Ginsberg - writer, New Yorker, early out queer, compassionate humanist, and literary descendant of another writing hero of mine, Walt Whitman.

City Lights has recently published The Bomb, a short monograph by Howard Zinn, taken from some of his earlier writings plus an new introduction Howard finished just a month before he died. It is a concise and painfully true treatise against war. It felt good to buy this from people who were so recently working with and publishing Howard Zinn. I also bought Hungry Planet: What The World Eats, which I blogged about when it was making the rounds in newspapers and magazines. The book is extraordinary: NPR feature about the project, website for What The World Eats, reviews on Amazon.

Allan also bought a 'zine - an actual old-fashioned, ink-on-paper 'zine - published by a woman in New York: The East Village Inky. He also found a cool magazine called Rejected Quarterly, dedicated to publishing fiction, poetry and art that other publishers have rejected, along with the rejection letters themselves. The inside cover says: "All fiction submissions must be accompanied by at least five rejection slips"!

I left Allan to continue browsing, and went across the alley to Vesuvio, a legendary cafe/bar/club/hangout of Beat fame. Although it's a famous spot that every tourist sticks their head into, it's also a thriving neighbourhood hangout. I came in expecting to have a coffee but ended up with a Guinness instead. Hey, it's vacation!

After Allan reappeared, we took the bus back to our hotel for the afternoon wine reception, then walked down to the Museum of Modern Art, or SF MOMA, half price on Thursday nights. Most of the museum is currently taken up with the newly acquired Fisher Collection, which had some limited interest to us. It seems like a nice museum and I'm glad we went - but also glad we went for half price.

Back at the hotel, Allan was having horrible foot pain, an ongoing issue that is worsening. I was so lucky to have solve my foot pain with orthotics two years ago, but his new orthotics are not yet doing the trick. We had more wine and tapas at the bar downstairs. The hotel's restaurant, Postrio, is top-notch, but the real attraction was only needing the elevator to get home.

Today, Friday, we go back to the Oakland Airport to pick up our rental car, then drive up to the cottage in Sonoma County. The rehearsal dinner is tonight. The only other thing on the agenda today is In-N-Out. Allan was exceedingly jealous of my In-N-Out fests on my last two trips to visit friends in California, so now he'll find out what all the fuss is about.

7.29.2010

san francisco, day one

If you're new around these parts, here's a quick note of explanation. I've kept a travel journal for every trip I've taken since 1982. Since 2006, with my trip to Peru, I began keeping these journals online, on this blog. I write it almost exactly as I would if I were writing for myself. So be warned!

* * * *

Tuesday was a long travel day, from Buffalo to JFK to Oakland and into San Francisco. Our four hour wait in JFK extended to five, then close to an hour wait on the plane for takeoff. We took public transit from the Oakland Airport into town. If you go to San Francisco, you should always check fares to Oakland. It's usually less expensive and always much easier.

So by the time we got into Oakland, with the time change working against us, we were tired and bedraggled. Imagine our surprise when the front-desk clerk told us he had no record of our reservation!

The hotel was completely booked, not one unreserved room, and Hotels.com - did you know that is an offshoot of Expedia.com? - had oversold them by 15 rooms. In chatting with him about it, we learned that this has been happening a lot. Recently when the San Francisco Marathon was on, the hotel had to send 50 people in cabs to a hotel in a nearby city. It's been something of a nightmare to them, but this person could not have been more gracious and unflappable.

He said he'd book us a room at a hotel around the corner, at their expense, and then there were plenty of rooms for the next two nights. But that hotel was oversold, too, as was the second one he called. Finally, the poor guy made what must have been a scary decision - there were six rooms that were reserved but for which guests hadn't shown up yet, so he gave us one of those.

There is nothing quite like sinking into a clean, fresh bed after a long day of travel. We were so tired and very relieved.

We're staying at The Prescott, a bit more luxurious than usual for us, but the online deal was very good - although of course that only works if the reservation service actually books the room! The front-desk clerk upgraded us to include breakfast (not always done in the nicer hotels) and an afternoon wine reception.

* * * *

Since we've been in San Francisco several times, we've done all the big tourist attractions, at least the ones that interest us. We just want to hit a few favourite spots, do a couple of new things, and soak up the atmosphere. San Francisco is a really special place. It's so beautiful, the houses rising on the hills, the Bay, the views, the bridges. It also has an energy and an excitement found in very few US cities.

We had a brief breakfast in the hotel, then took a bus to the Chestnut Street area, a fun neighbourhood not far from the Bay. The bus goes through Chinatown and North Beach, another cool SF neighbourhood, and provides a nice little tour. Time zone difference being what it is, by the time we got to Chestnut Street, we were hungry again, and stopped at a great cafe for coffee and breakfast burritos. Chestnut Street has been infiltrated by Starbucks and Gap, but for the most part it still has an independent feel.

From there we walked to the Bay, cutting through a piece of The Presidio to the Golden Gate Promenade or Crissy Field. This is a walking and bike path right on the bay, with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you walk the entire path, you can visit the historic fort at the base of the bridge. If I recall correctly, this fort was almost torn down when the Golden Gate Bridge was built, but preservationists were successful, and the bridge was designed to go over it. (On the Fort Point website you can get the whole story and see how the bridge now shelters the fort.) On our first trip to San Francisco together in 1988 (which was my third or fourth time here), Allan and I hiked down to the fort. We were fascinated with the Golden Gate Bridge and learned everything we could about it.

This time we strolled along the Bay, enjoying the perfect weather and the incredible view. Along with the cyclists and walkers, there were dozens of dogs romping on the sand and playing in the surf. Some were with their owners who were walking on the beach, but there were also many dogwalkers with six, eight or twelve dogs each. It seemed an ideal place for both dogs and people, such a beautiful and relaxing setting.

We're not taking photos here in San Francisco, as we already have hundreds of photos of these areas. But a Google image search will give you an idea.

We took the bus back to the hotel, had some tapas and wine at the bar, and headed to the ballpark. I really like the "new" (now ten years old) park in San Francisco, sadly named AT&T Park, but beautifully designed and situated on the East Bay overlooking the Oakland Bay Bridge. We've been to this park once before, and had also been to Candlestick, where the Giants used to play.

We met a friend from Joy of Sox, and a friend of his, for the game. It was a wild one: the Giants were up 9-2 after six innings, blew the entire lead, but came back to win 10-9 in ten innings. Unfortunately for us, I neglected to consider our seat locations and didn't use sunscreen. We sat in the blazing sun for eight innings and now have strangely-patterned sunburns.

After the game, our SF friend brought us to a great Chinese restaurant, very different than the Chinese food I eat in Toronto, and a real treat. Then we went to their neighbourhood bar hangout.

7.27.2010

in which all questions about our new canadian passports are answered

The good news is the US border guards didn't care about my Canadian passport.

The bad news is the US border guards didn't care about my Canadian passport.

Several people had warned me that as a dual Canadian-US citizen, I could be hassled, denied entry or - as one person put it - "face certain criminal prosecution" for entering the US without a US passport. I know many dual citizens who hold only Canadian passports, and who regularly travel back and forth to the US without the slightest hitch, so I knew this wasn't true. I understand it may technically be true, a law on the books, but it's obviously not enforced in any way.

The only unanswered question was whether my troubles at the border would continue - whether, without my US passport to scan, if I would be flagged. That question has now been definitively answered. Border hassles are now a way of life.

The border guard saw the US birthplace on our passports, typed in our names, and we were off to the races: surrender the keys, escort into the building, the long wait, the questions they already know the answers to. This one took about an hour and 15 minutes.

Once we were cleared, Allan asked the guard returning our passports, "Can you tell us why we were brought in here?"

The guard was clearly uncomfortable with the question. "Don't you know?"

We both said, "We have no idea. No one ever tells us anything. We just come in, answer questions, and they let us go."

Guard: "Have you ever been in trouble?"

Us: "No, never."

Guard: "I'm not at liberty to tell you." He said he could give us a paper explaining how to apply for more information. We said we'd like that, and he went off to get it. When he returned, he was downright chatty. "Here's the information, you fill this out, and you will get a response. I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to tell you more, but you can apply here, and they will respond. . . . "

Yeah thanks have a nice day.

So. I am flagged with the US state department, and that is that.

* * * *

We had dinner with our friends Bruce and Mary and Russell, great peace activists from Buffalo, then stayed up til all hours talking. Bruce Beyer is kind of a legendary figure in the peace movement, a Vietnam draft resister who turned in his draft card, lived in Sweden and then Toronto, returned to the US without amnesty, and continues to work tirelessly for peace and on behalf of military resisters. Bruce is a mainstay of the War Resisters Support Campaign. And becoming friends with him is one of my favourite benefits of this blog.

We had a really good time last night, and we're now groggy and sleep-deprived. (Those things often go together, eh.) Now we're in JFK Airport with about a five-hour wait for our flight to Oakland, equipped with music, netbook and plenty of reading material.

7.26.2010

new monument discovered at stonehenge

A team of archaeologists from the UK and Austria have discovered a major monument located less than a kilometre from Stonehenge. While there are standing stones, stone circles and henges throughout the UK and Ireland, it is very rare for such a large, impressive monument to be unearthed. That is was discovered less than one kilometre away from the most iconic of all stone circles is quite amazing.
History is set to be rewritten after an archaeology team led by the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria discovered a major ceremonial monument less than one kilometre away from the iconic Stonehenge.

The incredible find has been hailed by Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University’s IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre, as one of the most significant yet for those researching the UK’s most important prehistoric structure.

The new henge was uncovered this week, just two weeks into a three-year international study that forms part of the multi-million Euro international Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project.

The project aims to map 14 square kilometres of the Stonehenge Landscape using the latest geophysical imaging techniques, to recreate visually the iconic prehistoric monument and its surroundings and transform how we understand this unique landscape and its monuments.

“This finding is remarkable,” Professor Gaffney said. “It will completely change the way we think about the landscape around Stonehenge.

“People have tended to think that as Stonehenge reached its peak it was the paramount monument, existing in splendid isolation.

“This discovery is completely new and extremely important in how we understand Stonehenge and its landscape.”

The new “henge-like” Late Neolithic monument is believed to be contemporaneous to Stonehenge and appears to be on the same orientation as the World Heritage Site monument. It comprises a segmented ditch with opposed north-east/south-west entrances that are associated with internal pits that are up to one metre in diameter and could have held a free-standing, timber structure.

Oh man, I love this stuff. I've been to Stonehenge a few times, including when you were still able to walk among the stones. (It's good to be old.) We've also visited Avebury and other neolithic sites in the UK.

The best neolithic sites we've seen were in Ireland - Newgrange and others in the Boyne valley. Newgrange is a passage tomb and a solstice site, much older than Stonehenge, and you can walk inside. But standing stones and stone circles are everywhere in Ireland. We would pull off the road to check out a stone circle now in someone's front yard.

wikileaks exposes devastation in afghanistan. canada out now.

Guardian:
A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

The disclosures come from more than 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports about the conflict obtained by the whistleblowers' website Wikileaks in one of the biggest leaks in US military history. The files, which were made available to the Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel, give a blow-by-blow account of the fighting over the last six years. . .

Tons of links and videos at this Channel 4 (UK) News website:
The extraordinary leak made public by whistleblowers' website Wikileaks has lifted the lid on more than 90,000 US military documents involving classified information direct from the battlefield in Afghanistan. It is the US army's secret war diary - 200,000 pages of it - written by soldiers on the frontline.

The files reveal previously classified information about civilian deaths, a mysterious "assassinations squad" named Task Force 373, an alleged Pakistani plot to kill President Karzai, evidence of suspected foreign support for the Taliban and countless daily incidents in which Nato troops are engaged by Taliban forces.

Der Spiegel:
In an unprecedented development, close to 92,000 classified documents pertaining to the war in Afghanistan have been leaked. SPIEGEL, the New York Times and the Guardian have analyzed the raft of mostly classified documents. The war logs expose the true scale of the Western military deployment -- and the problems beleaguering Germany's Bundeswehr in the Hindu Kush.

A total of 91,731 reports from United States military databanks relating to the war in Afghanistan are to be made publicly available on the Internet. Never before has it been possible to compare the reality on the battlefield in such a detailed manner with what the US Army propaganda machinery is propagating. WikiLeaks plans to post the documents, most of which are classified, on its website.

Britain's Guardian newspaper, the New York Times and SPIEGEL have all vetted the material and compared the data with independent reports. All three media sources have concluded that the documents are authentic and provide an unvarnished image of the war in Afghanistan -- from the perspective of the soldiers who are fighting it.

New York Times:
A trove of military documents made public on Sunday by an organization called WikiLeaks reflects deep suspicions among American officials that Pakistan’s military spy service has for years guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants.

california bound

We're off today, first to spend the night with friends in Buffalo, then on Tuesday flying west. We'll be in San Francisco two days, then head up to Sonoma County for the weekend for wedding festivities, then down to Yosemite National Park for three days.

I wasn't very happy about this trip, being the second consecutive year we've had our destinations determined by weddings. It's not that we don't want to be there; we're close with our nephews and nieces and wouldn't miss their weddings for the world. But this is not the trip I would choose this year, and I can't afford two vacations. (I actually can't afford any.) At least I had never been to New Mexico, so last year's trip had that excitement. I've been to California many times.

So I was generally feeling grumpy about this vacation, until last week, when I started getting excited about it.

San Francisco - the second best city in the US - is one of my favourite places. For me the cool thing about going someplace you've been many times is how it frees your exploration. When we return to a city for the second or third (or more) time, we've already done all the big tourist sights. We'll just pick a few things to do, go at a leisurely pace, soak up the vibe.

This year on the San Francisco agenda: a Giants game with a friend from JoS, a walk on the esplanade to see the bay and the bridge we love so much, the Ferry Building Market (new to us), dim sum, and San Francisco MOMA (I have never been). And if possible, our usual pilgrimage to City Lights Books.

And when I thought of going to northern California, I immediately thought: Yosemite. Yosemite is a place where the word "awesome" applies in its forgotten meaning, a place of awe and wonder. Allan and I were there on our first big trip together, in 1988. I was also there as a child, probably in 1970.

This time, instead of staying in the Valley, the more typical and popular place to stay, I snagged us a spot in the White Wolf area, a more remote location. (To give an idea, there are accommodations for hundreds in the Valley, and less than 50 in White Wolf.) We'll be staying in a tent cabin, the closest we come to camping. Washrooms and meals are in a common area. I'm excited about staying in this area. I'm hoping there is still horseback riding in the High Sierra country.

Yosemite has a huge range of accommodation options, from backcountry camping passes to luxurious lodges. If you ever go, I highly recommend planning ahead so you can stay within the Park itself. If you don't, you will spend hours driving in and out of the Park every day, much of that in traffic. This is important in any US National Park, but in Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, it's essential.

In between San Francisco and Yosemite is the real reason for the trip, our nephew's wedding in Sonoma County. J is my oldest nephew, born on my 20th birthday, and I'm so happy for him and C. It's also another opportunity to see my mom, siblings, nephews and nieces, and some amazing friends of my brother and sister-in-law's.

Sonoma County is wine country, so we might do a winery tour. Some friends of the couple run a tour company of small, artisinal wineries, and are giving a half-price discount to wedding guests. We've never done a winery tour before, always preferring to explore on our own. But there are hundreds of wineries in the area, and it's way more fun if you don't have to drive. So we might work that in.

For the wedding, we're staying in one of these cottages.

Hey, this sounds like fun! Why wasn't I looking forward to this trip? I know. My insanely strong desire to see new places, combined with the sense of time ticking away and not going to those places. But putting that aside, this will be a great trip.

7.25.2010

"the national parks: america's best idea," a film by ken burns

In honour of the fact that I'll be in Yosemite National Park the week after next, I'm writing something that has been sitting on my to-write list since last winter: about the documentary film "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," by Ken Burns. This was mostly an excellent film, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in history and in conservation - with one big, fat caveat.

* * * *

Ken Burns is not as well known in Canada as he is in the US, so I'll give some background. Burns is a documentary filmmaker known for his long, multi-part films about different aspects of US history. His films debut on PBS (public television) and have become a staple for PBS viewers, beginning with "The Brooklyn Bridge" in 1981. But he became nationally recognized and achieved an unprecedented stardom with PBS fans with "The Civil War" in 1990, a nine-part series in which he pioneered the use of using sound and photography techniques to create an illusion of movement in still images, interspersed with actors reading first-person accounts of participants.

In a similar vein, he's done a nine-part series about baseball and a ten-part series about jazz, as well as shorter films about US historical figures such as Lewis and Clark and Frank Lloyd Wright. Burns looks at each of his subjects through the lenses that forged America: race, labour, the struggle for democracy. A full list of his films is here, on the website of his production company, Florentine Films.

Many people feel Burns' style has become a cliched, and he does use similar techniques in every film. But although his style may be easily parodied, to me it is truly outstanding and can be thrilling. Each film has a distinct point of view and emphasis, so students of the particular subject tend to be hypercritical. Amateur baseball historians picked apart "Baseball," and hardcore jazz aficionados decried "Jazz". But to my knowledge, Burns doesn't claim to be telling a definitive history. He's more interested with placing his subject in historical context - teasing out how it was shaped by the forces of its time and in turn changed those times - and with offering first-person accounts to make the history real.

* * * *

We rented "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," from Zip, and spent weeks engrossed in it. I traveled to many US national parks as a child with my family, and continue to try to visit national parks in both the US and Canada. Since travel is one of my greatest passions - and since I enormously value the beauty and majesty of nature - and since I really dig Ken Burns' films - this seemed like a natural for me. And in many respects it was.

But. There is one big but. "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" is shellacked with a nauseatingly thick layer of America-worship and American exceptionalism.

Every episode begins with a heavy-handed patriotic ode, connecting the very idea of nature conservation and parks for the average citizen to the core values of America itself, in purple prose dripping with hyperbole. Then the stories in the film go on to completely demolish the rhetoric, proving that the truth is exactly the opposite!

Every single story in the history of the US's vast and spectacular National Parks System is the story of ordinary people wresting a piece of their country from corporate interests, attempting to save and preserve it from certain destruction, privatization and profit-making enterprises. Every. Single. Story.

Left to their own American devices, industrial and corporate interests - mining, oil, lumber, sugar, railroad, real estate, you name it - would have destroyed, paved over or privatized every single scrap of natural beauty and historical significance in the the United States. There wouldn't be a tree standing, a river left undamned, a mountain not covered in billboards or a vista without a private company charging admission.

And the only reason this didn't happen, according to this film, is because individual visionaries dedicated their lives to fighting corporate interests. In every era and region, one person with vision, determination and tenacity marshaled public interest, found a friend in government, fought like hell, and managed to save at least a portion of the land that meant so much to them. The great John Muir was the first of these, but he is only the head of a long parade of men and women from all different backgrounds whose passions led to become crusaders for the land and the people's right to collectively preserve it. And even after the land was preserved, park superintendents in every era fought for even semi-adequate funding and against the constant intrusions of commercialism.

It may be possible to see this dynamic as very American, too - the individual hero as a force for change. But every episode begins with some gooey nonsense about the parks as America and America as the parks, freedom and coming home and rites of passage. Yet over and over, we see that the most American thing about the parks is that they almost didn't happen. They were almost lost to capitalist notions of "progress".

So if you love travel, history and nature, see this movie. But if you're less than keen on the US, don't say I didn't warn you.

* * * *

There were dozens of highlights in "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," but I want to mention one that was new to me: Adolph Murie, hero to wildlife, and especially to wolves.

Early conservation efforts viewed all predatory wildlife as pests that needed to be exterminated - especially, of course, wolves. Murie was the first person to study wolves in their natural habitat. He used facts to prove that not only were wolves not ruthless murderers, but that their extermination actually harmed the environment. Murie was instrumental in forming Denali National Park, one of the great treasures of the US that I've been fortunate enough to visit, as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

I also credit Ken Burns with portraying Depression-era CCC workers in a positive light - a rarity - and for a particular poignant take on the Japanese-American concentration camps. Burns never glosses over the racism and labour struggles that are so much a part of US history.

The movie is about the formation and history of the parks, but also about how they were used or enjoyed in various eras. One thread was particularly meaningful to me. In episode four, we meet a couple who traveled alone and independently long before this was the norm - just them and their dog, actually a series of dogs as they grew old together.

They traveled first by train, and then by car, the man taking photographs and the woman keeping a travel journal. Starting from their home in Nebraska, they criss-crossed the country, and eventually visited every park that existed at the time, more than 30 in all, some several times. When the man died, the woman made one last trip without him before hanging up her traveling shoes for good.

Much of their story is told through her journal, which is the kind of work Ken Burns does best. I trust it isn't difficult to see why this story moved me so: Margaret and Edward Gehrke.

we must continue to demand a public inquiry into g20 police response



Call your MP. Email the party leaders. Speak out in the media. We must continue to cry out against the violation of our rights that took place in Toronto at the end of June.

In case the enormity of this crisis has faded from your memory, read this. Read the whole thing, and click through for the photos.
A 20-year-old environmental activist from B.C. is suing the Toronto Police Service, claiming she was hit by two rubber bullets during a G20 summit protest.

"I hit the ground. It's hard to describe how it feels getting shot," said Natalie Gray of Maple Ridge, B.C., about 40 kilometres east of Vancouver.

Gray was one of about 150 protesters who marched on a police-approved route to a former Toronto film studio that was converted into a temporary detention centre on June 28, the final day of the G20 meetings.

The protest and police reaction were captured on video by the media.

Half an hour after protesters arrived at the jail, police moved in. As the demonstrators were shouting their slogans, a pair of unmarked vans suddenly appeared and screeched to a stop.

A picture of Natalie Gray showing a wound on her elbow that she said was from a rubber bullet.A picture of Natalie Gray showing a wound on her elbow that she said was from a rubber bullet. (Submitted by Natalie Gray)Two squads of plain-clothed officers leaped out, moved into the crowd and pushed two young people to the ground.

Some demonstrators panicked and ran, while others got angry and tried to hold their ground. Then two more police groups rushed in.

Fearing for her safety, Gray backed away down Eastern Avenue. But she said she suddenly saw a police officer drop to one knee — holding the biggest gun she had ever seen.

"And my friend hears a cop order coming from the back: 'The girl with the blue hair, the girl with the blue hair.' And that was when I got shot," said Gray, who had two blue ponytails sprouting from the top of her head.

She said the first blast hit her in the chest, breaking the skin and knocking her to the ground. The second hit her in the left elbow, she said, tearing off a chunk of skin.Natalie Gray shows a wound to her chest that she said was also caused by a rubber bullet.

As she tried to get up, uniformed police moved in, slammed her face into the pavement and knelt on her back.

"I have never been so terrified in my life," she said. "I immediately lost control of my bladder and the officers are yelling at me, 'Stop resisting, stop resisting.' And I'm saying, 'I'm not resisting. Please be gentle. Please be careful.'"

Gray was later charged with obstructing a peace officer, one of nearly 1,000 people arrested before or during the G20 summit.

Police claimed the shots were "muzzle blasts" — harmless blanks meant to scare protesters, not hurt them. They deny using rubber bullets.

But photographs of Gray's wounds taken by an emergency room doctor show she was indeed injured in the chest and arm.

"It hurt so much when it first happened and then nothing. And I was just kind of paralyzed. But as soon as I got shot, there was an incredible amount of pain in my abdomen."

Gray has hired high-profile human rights lawyer Clayton Ruby, who said he's launching a lawsuit against the police department.

Toronto lawyer David Midanik also said he has a client who is suing, claiming he was shot in the face by a rubber bullet. There is also reported be a class-action suit in the works.

The police are advising anyone with an abuse allegation to file a report with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.

daniel schorr, city college and a brilliant concept we should revive

Daniel Schorr, esteemed journalist, died last Friday at the age of 93. Schorr built his career on truth-telling and risk-taking. When the institutions that he worked for no longer employed real journalists, he traded in the mainstream for NPR, where he worked for the last 25 years of his career.

There are two excellent pieces about Schorr at NPR, which I'll link to below. But I first want to acknowledge something I noticed in Schorr's obituary in the New York Times: that Schorr was a graduate of City College.

City College - technically the City College of the City University of New York, sometimes called CCNY - was the first free public institution of higher learning in the US. In the days when Ivy League schools were the gated playgrounds of wealthy white Protestants, thousands of New Yorkers whose heritages excluded them from those institutions attended City College. This includes people you may now think of as white: Jewish Americans, Italian Americans, Irish Americans. In truth, they had no other option, but they turned City College into "Harvard on the Hudson". They also turned it into a locus of radical political thought and debate. The list of New Yorkers who attended City College and went on to become notable in their fields is eye-popping. Many of the political figures are familiar only to New Yorkers, but keep scrolling through entertainment, arts and sciences.

Free quality higher education. Think of the investment. Think of the rewards. Thousands of intelligent, hard-working young people earning a university degree unburdened by debt - and so, able to seek meaningful work or create their own niches without being driven by finances.

We could afford it, too. If the banks and big corporations paid their fair share. And if our government wasn't spending our money on useless military toys.

Daniel Schorr, from NPR:
He wasn't the most handsome, nor the most famous, of the dashing "Murrow Boys" of CBS News, the ones who defined ambitious broadcast journalism in the middle of the last century.

Nor was Daniel Schorr among the first. It took years of freelancing abroad, and even a brief try-out at The New York Times, before Schorr caught the attention of Edward R. Murrow and was hired by CBS in 1953.

But Schorr, who died Friday at 93, left two unquestionable journalistic legacies all his own.

First, he exemplified the mission of bearing active witness to history, in his case, the decades that chronicled America's rise after World War II. His reporting and interpretation of developments provided important insights for generations of readers, viewers and listeners.

He covered the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954; a few years later, as Moscow bureau chief for CBS, Schorr won the first sit-down television interview with Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev — the first by a television news outlet from any country, including the U.S.S.R. He covered the Cold War from West Germany, too; and the Johnson administration's anti-poverty efforts when he returned to the U.S.; and, perhaps most famously, Watergate and the ensuing revelation of CIA abuses.

Schorr took a pride in his name's appearance on President Nixon's infamous "enemies list" that could not be underestimated. It served as a verbal talisman during his later appearances on NPR, particularly as he observed some parallels between the pushes for secrecy in the Nixon years and in the administration of President George W. Bush (especially as embodied by then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney).

Then, there is his second legacy: He uncompromisingly stood up to power. [More here.]

There's also a lovely tribute from Scott Simon. If you don't know the connection between Daniel Schorr and Frank Zappa, take a look.

7.24.2010

national peace conference in albany this weekend

I've been remiss in not posting about the National Peace Conference taking place in Albany, New York, this weekend. It began last night and continues through Sunday. Representatives from the War Resisters Support Campaign will be there, meeting with US peace activists, especially those who work with military resisters, discussing ways we can support each other's work on both sides of the border.

The full program is listed here, and you can watch live video of most sessions through this page.

7.23.2010

the definition of a police state depends on where you live - what country, and what postal code

Some people get upset when progressive activists use words like "police state" and "fascism" to describe law enforcement overkill in North American society. I understand the argument. We don't want to exaggerate conditions in our own society and thus minimize the conditions of people who live under extreme conditions, as the Palestinians, Iraqis, and others in occupied or highly repressive regimes.

But I often find these and similar words appropriate for several reason.

First, fascism, like democracy, is a process. Neither is an on-off, all-or-nothing state. I often borrow Naomi Wolf's concept of the "fascist shift," which describes a process of change through which a democratic state becomes an undemocratic state. There are many historical precedents.

Second, I think many people subscribe to an overly narrow definition of these words, leading them to minimize some very grave dangers. If the word "fascism" conjures images only of Nazis - if we decide this is the litmus test of fascism - then we may miss a whole lot of fascist tendencies that don't pass this narrow test. I'm sure you've seen this poster? As a commenter on my Flickr page put it, by the time you're at that point, it's too late.

There's a third and very important consideration: not everyone who lives within the same geographic boundaries lives in the same state. Israel is said to be a democracy. Apartheid-era South Africa was said to be a democracy, too. It was, for some. As Israel is, for some. Canada has a great health care system and excellent quality-of-life statistics - unless you're Native. The US is a land of opportunity - except for all the people who don't have any. And so on.

Right now, in my hometown of New York City, millions of people live in what I will unapologetically term a police state. Columnist Bob Herbert calls it "Jim Crow policing".

You might think Jim Crow was about whites-only water fountains and other public facilities, but it was much worse than that. Jim Crow was a reign of terror, not perpetrated by the state but enabled by it. This morning I interviewed a South African activist and historian for an upcoming post (one I'm really looking forward to). He said Jim Crow in the US South was worse than South African apartheid.

So what is "Jim Crow policing", also known as "stop-and-frisk"? It is when police stop people of colour on the streets in their own community, interrogate them, force them to submit to body checks and searches, and collect their personal information, to be stored in a giant police database. There is no warrant. There is no probable cause for arrest. There are no charges. There is only skin colour and zip code.

Millions of New Yorkers have been subjected to stop-and-frisk. The New York Civil Liberties Union conducted a multiyear study of police practices. Here's what they found.
An analysis by the NYCLU revealed that more than 2 million innocent New Yorkers were subjected to police stops and street interrogations from 2004 through 2010, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports:
* In 2004, 315,483 New Yorkers were stopped by the police. [See numbers here.]

From the NYCLU's Stop and Frisk Fact Sheet:
NYPD’s Over-reliance on Stop and Frisk

* The NYPD stopped, questioned and/or frisked over 508,540 people in 2006, an increase from just 97,296 in 2002.

* Even using "the most liberal assumptions" about the national average when it comes to the rate of the public's contact with police officers, the Rand Corporation’s study notes, New York should have had "roughly 250,000 to 330,000 stops rather than the 500,000 stops actually recorded."

* Only 10 percent of stops led to summonses or arrests. The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers questioned and frisked by the NYPD were engaged in no criminal wrongdoing.

* As compared to a 1999 study by then Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, which reported that police stopped nine people for each arrest they made, twice as many people now are being stopped for each arrest.

Disproportionate Stops of People of Color

* 89 percent of those stopped in 2006 were people of color. 55 percent of the stops were of black people – more than double their percentage of the population – and 30 percent were of Latinos.

* Stops of whites, who number about 3.6 million according to recent census estimates, amounted to only 2.6 percent of the white population. By contrast, stops of blacks, who number about 2.2 million people, represented 21.1 percent of the entire black population.

* Residents of Brownsville's 73rd Precinct and Harlem's 28th Precinct had a 30 to 36 percent chance of being stopped and questioned by police in 2006. Citywide, the average was about 6 percent.

* A total of 2,756 cops filed 54 percent, or approximately 274,000, of all stop-and-frisk reports in 2006. Of that group, 15 percent, or about 413 officers, stopped no whites.

Disproportionate Outcomes of Stops for People of Color

* In 2006, 21.5 blacks were stopped for each arrest of a black person as opposed to only 18.2 whites stopped for each white arrest.

* Cops found guns, drugs, or stolen property on whites about twice as often as they did on black suspects.

* Whites were stopped on suspicion of possessing a weapon at a rate lower than their weapon-possession arrest rate. Blacks were stopped on suspicion of possessing a weapon at a rate greater than their weapon-possession arrest rate. These findings indicate that cops were more often unjustified in stopping black people on suspicion of having weapons.

Disproportionate Use of Force on People of Color

* Police used force – i.e. handcuffing, frisking, drawing weapon, restraining – about 50 percent more often on blacks than on whites in 2006.

* 45 percent of blacks and Latinos who were stopped were also frisked, compared with only 29 percent of whites.

In addition to these class- and colour-based indignities, the NYPD has been storing all the personal information they collected indefinitely in a giant database. In other words, the NYPD turned more than 1 million innocent African American and Latino New Yorkers into criminal suspects, even though they had not even been legally accused of wrong-doing!

The New York State legislature recently passed a bill, signed by Governor David Paterson, preventing the NYPD from storing this data. It passed over the heated opposition of both New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. (New York Post: "Mayor Bloomberg, cops fume as gov purges frisk list".)

However, the law only speaks to data collection and storage practices. To my knowledge, it does nothing to curtail the stop-and-frisk practice itself.

Why can police stop and search citizens without a warrant, without evidence or suspicion of wrong-doing? Doesn't the US Constitution forbid that?

If you were among the millions of people subjected to this practice, would you feel you lived in a police state?

An Op-Ed in the New York Times by Heather Mac Donald defended the practice of using stop-and-frisk in low-income neighbourhoods because "that's where the crime is," and decried the "predictable chorus of criticism from civil rights groups" against the stop-and-frisk database. Here are five articulate soloists from that chorus.
The best crime-stopping policies actually deal with criminals. Yet Heather Mac Donald wants the New York Police Department to continue a stop-and-frisk policy with a 90 percent failure rate. Nearly nine out of every 10 people stopped and interrogated on our streets are let go without a citation or summons — and certainly without an arrest.

Last year, N.Y.P.D. officers stopped New Yorkers 575,000 times. A gun — the ostensible reason for the stop-and-frisk regime — was found in slightly more than 0.1 percent of those stops. That is an unbelievably poor yield rate for such an intrusive, wasteful and humiliating police action.

I agree with Ms. Mac Donald that vulnerable communities need better police protection — but a policy that is both ineffective and hurts the long-term relationship between the police and the community is not the way to provide that protection.

Donna Lieberman
Executive Director
New York Civil Liberties Union
New York, June 28, 2010



Heather Mac Donald misses two key points. Critics of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics do not accuse individual officers of racial bias, but question the practice itself because of how it focuses almost entirely on minority neighborhoods.

Also, Ms. Mac Donald writes as if stop-and-frisk methods were the only effective response to unlawful acts in high-crime areas. Other police departments in the nation, like those in San Diego and Boston, have engaged in community policing strategies that have been successful in reducing crime in designated areas.

And by contrast, those approaches have helped build positive relationships between the community and the police, rather than create the kind of antagonistic and hostile attitudes in local residents that stop-and-frisk has often fostered.

It is time to cease defending the racially biased stop-and-frisk practices of the city’s Police Department and to consider other proven crime-fighting approaches.

Robert Gangi
Executive Director
Correctional Association of New York
New York, June 28, 2010



Apart from the Fourth Amendment protection against warrantless searches and seizures, the alarming 575,000 “pedestrian stops” chalked up last year by New York’s Finest are flagrantly contrary to law.

Section 140.50(1) of the state’s Criminal Procedure Law provides that “a police officer may stop a person in a public place ... when he reasonably suspects that such person is committing, has committed or is about to commit” a crime.

Absent the Constitution’s prerequisite of “probable cause” and the statutory requirement of reasonable suspicion, each of these arbitrary stops flouts the law, makes a travesty of the right to privacy and breeds contempt for law enforcement.

Eighty years ago, Justice Louis Brandeis observed: “The makers of our Constitution . . . conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone — the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.”

Roger Brandwein
Scarsdale, N.Y., June 26, 2010

The writer is a lawyer.



Heather Mac Donald’s ringing endorsement of Compstat policing and the more than half a million New York Police Department stop-and-frisk street encounters in just one year brushes aside the consequences that so many adverse interactions have on the relationship the police enjoy with the community.

For too many minority New Yorkers, the sight of a passing police car brings a sense of dread and angst, the terrible feeling that they do not yet enjoy the full liberties the Constitution promises or the rights of redress that many New Yorkers take as a given. It ignores, too, the fact that many street cops bristle at the constant pressure to produce higher year-on-year “numbers,” pressure that coarsens a profession that is overwhelmingly rooted in service.

The N.Y.P.D. should be proud that it takes crime and disorder seriously — something that sadly cannot be said for many big city police departments — but people of good conscience should beseech the deservedly much-respected Commissioner Raymond Kelly to look again at whether this level of adversarial interaction is really required.

Eugene O’Donnell
Chicago, June 26, 2010

The writer, a lecturer in the department of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is a former N.Y.P.D. officer and New York City prosecutor.



Heather Mac Donald argues that the racial disparities with respect to the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices are justified because of higher crime rates in black and Latino communities. While she cites many statistics regarding violent crime, she minimizes the fact that of the 575,000 stops in 2009, only 12 percent led to arrest or summons, and completely ignores that guns and other weapons were recovered in slightly more than 1 percent of the stops.

To Ms. Mac Donald, and perhaps many New Yorkers, the police’s singling out of “suspicious-looking” people for questioning because they live in “high crime” neighborhoods may seem like a low-cost, intuitively compelling approach to crime prevention. To the hundreds of thousands of innocent people stopped walking to school or work, running an errand for their families or simply visiting friends, these practices have the effect of undermining communities, damaging self-esteem and corroding trust.

Practices that yield so little and cause such harm demand critical examination.

Leonard E. Noisette
Director, Criminal Justice Fund
Open Society Institute, U.S. Programs
New York, June 28, 2010

7.22.2010

old spice library guy

important news about bill c-440; info on hinzman decision

This week we learned that Bill C-440 will have its second hour of debate on September 27. Shortly after that, probably a few days later, the House of Commons will vote on the bill. If it passes, the bill will then be referred to the Citizenship and Immigration Committee, on which the opposition still holds a majority.

We know that all three opposition parties support Bill C-440. That much is not in question. But we also know that the Conservative government, especially the office of Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, will do what it can to thwart its passage. We can assume that every Conservative Member of Parliament - that is, every "no" vote - will be in her and his seat on the day of the vote. Our margin for passage is slim, so we'll need every one of our "yes" votes in their seats as well.

We'll be calling on our supporters to help make this happen.

Of course we know an election may be called before September 27. Since we can do nothing about that, we have to just proceed with our plans and hope for the best.

* * * *

Last night's event - Dinner and a Movie in Support of the War Resisters Support Campaign - was a huge success. We were counting on 40 to 50 guests and had 70. The food was good, the dessert was spectacular, and the company was the best. I think everyone appreciated our new film, "War Resisters Speak Out," an hour-long version of an event Andy Barrie hosted in 2008. And I know everyone appreciated hearing from lawyer Alyssa Manning - she received a standing ovation!

Alyssa spoke briefly about the significance of the recent decision in the case of war resister Jeremy Hinzman and his partner Nga Nguyen.

As you may recall, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that the Hinzmans' application to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was not reviewed fairly, and ordered that it be re-decided by a different H&C officer.

Not only that, Alyssa said: the H&C must be reviewed and judged through a different lens. The justices on the Federal Court of Appeal agreed with Alyssa that the H&C officer had not taken into account Jeremy Hinzman's sincerely held moral and religious beliefs, and that these beliefs are essential to Jeremy's case. They ordered that the new H&C consider those beliefs.

This is a very exciting development. The right to conscientious objection to war is an emerging issue in human rights law, and this decision speaks to that cutting-edge work. When we conceiving of the right to conscientious objection to war as a human right, we make no distinction between a soldier who volunteered and one who was conscripted. That human right allows for selective objection - in other words, a soldier need not meet the onerous test engineered by the US military of objecting to all wars, all the time, for any reason. The human right of conscientious objection simply recognizes the right of any human to not participate in a war she or he finds repugnant for moral and/or religious reasons.

Alyssa went on to say that the recent Hinzman decision has the potential to impact other war resisters whose deeply held beliefs also were not taken into account in their H&C applications.

And, she said, the decision can help the Campaign overall, as it shows judicial support - institutional support, if you will - for the bill that we are trying to pass. It adds yet more proof that that there is a legal foundation for allowing US war resisters to remain in Canada, which may help bolster the resolve of some fence-sitting Members of Parliament.

Boyd Reimer - steadfast friend of war resisters and friend of wmtc - asked Alyssa about the significance of the unanimous decision. Alyssa said it is potentially very significant. The government can appeal this decision - we don't yet know if they will - and the fact that there was no dissenting opinion gives them very little room to maneuver.

The Hinzman decision also has potential significance beyond our specific campaign: beyond US objectors to the Iraq War. For me, this fight is about the lives of good people, the lives of my friends. But for all of us, this fight is about human rights - about saying no to war. That is why this fight matters.

7.21.2010

tonight in toronto: dinner and a movie in support of war resisters support campaign

It's a very busy week for me as we get ready for our vacation. But I have been remiss: there's a War Resisters Support Campaign fundraiser tonight, and I've only posted about it on Facebook! Oops.

If you're in Toronto and don't have plans tonight, please come by. There'll be dinner, a screening of our new film "War Resisters Speak Out," and a legal update from Alyssa Manning, who will speak about the recent court ruling in favour of Jeremy Hinzman and its implications for the Campaign. Plus, of course, socializing with cool people. Dinner will feature a delectable dessert treat from our friends at Sweet Creamery. For a suggested donation of $20, how can you go wrong?

WHAT: Dinner, movie, campaign update, fun

WHEN: Tonight, July 21, doors open 6:00, program begins 7:00

WHERE: United Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street, Toronto

WHY: Support Bill C-440! Let Them Stay!

7.20.2010

july 20 1985

This post is for Amy, as promised.

In a Joy of Sox gamethread way back when, Amy asked how Allan and I met. I gave the short version - "on the street in New York City" - and said the long version was too long for comments. Amy asked if I would write it, and I promised I would.

Herewith, the detailed version of How We Met.

* * * *

It was the summer of 1985. I was 24 years old, and I was miserable.

In the winter and spring, I had been seeing two men... until they both dumped me at the same time.

I hated my job. It was supposed to be a big career move, a step towards being the managing director of an off-Broadway theatre company, which is what I thought I wanted to do. But it was miserable in every possible way.

I was spending the summer apartment-sitting in Manhattan, living in an unrenovated walk-up across Central Park from the theatre where I worked. Back in Brooklyn, my roommate wanted to go back to living alone, so even my incredibly inexpensive place in Brooklyn was becoming insecure.

Things weren't going well and I knew I needed to make changes, but I didn't yet know what to do.

* * * *

Allan was 21, living in Vermont, not far from where he grew up. Traveling wasn't part of his life at all; he had only been outside of New England a few times. A friend of his was in New York City for the summer, attending film school at New York University, and he invited his friends down for a visit.

So Allan and Ray hopped on a plane and ended up in New York's Greenwich Village. This was - to put it mildly - out of the ordinary.

* * * *

I was on the phone with NN, complaining. "We have to get out of this funk. Let's go dancing! Let's put on something cute and go meet some guys." We chose Danceteria, near her apartment in Chelsea, and I would stay over afterwards. In those days, we went out looking like extras from "Desperately Seeking Susan".

We were waiting on line - it's New York City, you wait on line - outside Danceteria, when a guy came up to us, and said the immortal words:

"Hey, you girls got dates?"

Let me tell you, it sounded as suave as it reads.

I turned away and continued talking with Nancy.

But he persisted. "No, no, it's not that, it's not what you think. My friend and I are trying to get into this club, but they're not letting in single guys, just couples and single girls. Could we just stand next to you and pretend you're our dates? We just want to go in and hear this band."

I looked to where he was indicating his friend was waiting. There was a cute, skinny guy with long hair leaning against a car. Hmm. I asked, "Is that your friend over there?"

He said it was.

"Yeah sure, come on over."

"Hey you girls got dates" was Ray. The cute skinny guy with long hair was Allan.

We all made small talk as the line inched towards the door. When we reached the bouncer, two things happened at the same time. I suddenly realized that if the club was only admitting couples and single women, what were Nancy and I going to do? And the bouncer recognized Allan and Ray.

Tugging on Nancy's sleeve, I said, "Get out of line!" Naturally, she didn't know what I was talking about. "Come on come on, I'll explain later, just get out of line." We jumped out of line and the guys got kicked off the line at the same time.

So now the four of us were just standing on the sidewalk. They may have asked us about music, thinking we were at Danceteria to hear a band. (We didn't even know who was playing there.) I suggested we all go somewhere else to hear music, and we started walking downtown to The Ritz, then on East 11th Street.

Ray, a Red Sox fan wearing a Mets cap, asked me if I liked the Mets. The next thing I knew he was walking backwards in front of me, yelling. "You like the Yankees? How could you like the Yankees?" This in New York City. "You like George Steinbrenner? How could you like a team owned by George Steinbrenner?" We argued the whole way there, and continued arguing for the next 20 years. (As Ray notes, it's just not the same now that I'm a Sox fan.)

Allan and Nancy, both quiet and on the shy side, weren't saying much.

At The Ritz - and we don't know how this happened - we switched. Nancy and Ray went off somewhere, and Allan and I started talking at the bar. Within five minutes, we knew we were both writers, and that neither of us were writing. I remember Allan's face brightening. "A writer, really? I used to write..."

We danced - possibly the first and last time Allan ever voluntarily danced with me - and spent the rest of the evening together.

Much later that night, they walked us back to Nancy's place, and I was scheming to see them the following day. I floated the idea of doing the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan, and Allan seemed interested.

Allan got a splinter ("sliver" in Vermont) in his finger. I followed him into Nancy's bathroom so I could kiss him. The actual existence of said sliver is the subject of debate.

I gave them Nancy's number and we kicked them out.

* * * *

The next day, Allan called Nancy's place and I arranged for the four of us to meet at the Circle Line.

We saw New York City from a boat. We drank vodka. We went to Little Italy for dinner. Allan got sick but recovered. We sat in Washington Square Park. I thought it would be fun and bold to directly ask Allan to come home with me, back to where I was apartment-sitting, but the words didn't quite come out. Instead I dropped the world's largest hint - large enough that even a farmboy from Vermont got it. (He wasn't really a farmboy, it only seemed that way to me.)

We took a wild cab ride. That cab hurtling its way uptown was as New York as anything we saw from the boat. I'll keep this PG-13: we had a lot of fun.

Allan called the next night, and suggested we go to the movies or to another club. I wanted to see him, but I didn't want to go out. He brought a pizza. We sat on the bed in that little walk-up at East 82nd Street, and we talked. For hours. It was intense.

He was supposed to go back to Vermont the next day, but changed his flight to stay two days longer. I called in sick. We spent the rest of his time in New York together.

By the time he flew back, we were in the tenative beginnings of a long-distance relationship.

* * * *

I was freaked out.

The men I had been dating were all much older than me, by around 15 years. This guy was two years younger than me. These men were professionals, with careers. This guy had a boring job and was a college-radio DJ. He wasn't "the kind of guy" I went out with.

On the other hand, the kind of guys I went out with weren't making me happy. (I only dated guys in those days.) Maybe I was barking up the wrong tree. Maybe totally different was a good thing.

Allan and I started writing to each other. Writing, on paper, sending letters through the mail! He drew cartoons for me, and sent me tapes of his radio show. We missed each other a lot.

On Labor Day weekend, feeling a bit surreal, I flew to Vermont to see this long-haired skinny guy. Whatever we had was still there.

* * * *

Within a few months, I had quit my job, and quit my plans for a career in theatre. I became a nanny in exchange for my own apartment, and picked up some work as a freelance proofreader. I turned my life upside down so I could devote more time to writing.

Allan contacted his local newspaper - where he had written professionally during high school - about reviewing local concerts.

When he came to New York for Thanksgiving, the long-distance thing was on in earnest.

We wrote letters. We had huge phone bills. We watched for special fares on People Express. Often we would plan our visits to coincide with what bands were in town. We went to clubs and concerts, and ran around New York City together, and were always really sad to say goodbye.

* * * *

At some point I couldn't stand the long-distance thing anymore. I asked Allan to move to New York. We made a plan. Allan drew two calendars so we could both count down the days.

On January 2, 1987, in the middle of a blizzard, I caught the last flight into Burlington, Vermont before the airport shut down. The plane was rocking back and forth like a seesaw; people cheered when we landed.

The next morning, January 3, it took us three hours - and a tow truck - to dig the U-Haul out of the driveway, and another 12 hours to get to Brooklyn, including getting hit by a skidding car.

* * * *

We celebrate January 3, 1987 as our anniversary, but we always mark the day of July 20, too. (For a while, we took the Circle Line every July 20. But that got old after a few years.)

A few weeks after Allan moved to New York, People Express went out of business. Coincidence?

7.18.2010

whose park? not their park. canada geese slaughtered in brooklyn's prospect park

I just found out that while I was photographing waterfowl in Stratford, hundreds of their kind were being slaughtered near my former home.

New York Times: Second, and Third, Thoughts Over Killing of Prospect Park Geese

Globe and Mail: The Cleansing of Prospect Park

I understand that geese can overrun areas that humans want for themselves. But there's got to be a better way to deal with it than this.

drew taylor harden: "do i need a passport or a ouija board?"

On this post about my new Canadian passport, a friend left a link about the Iroquois lacrosse team that was refused entry to the UK because they carry passports from their Iroquois nation, not Canada.

A few days earlier, I blogged about Oka.

And everyone here knows about my troubles at the US border.

This excellent Op-Ed in the Globe and Mail pulls it all together.
Do I need a passport or a Ouija board?

I have a theory, though I can't prove it, based on several recent visits to the United States. Specifically, it's based on going through American customs as you get ready to board a plane for that country. And I wonder if the Iroquois lacrosse team that was stranded at the airport in New York this week is thinking the same thing.

On their way to England to play at the Lacrosse World Championships – a game the Iroquois invented, by the way – the 23 members of the team were prevented from boarding the plane because they insisted (as always) on using a passport by the Iroquois Confederacy. English officials were afraid the team would not be allowed back into America afterward, now that the airports have much stricter immigration rules. After some swift negotiations with the State Department and in particular Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an agreement for this particular event was worked out. Still, it was not enough. They missed their plane, and their chance to play. Getting in and out of America can be such a pain.

Ever since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, crossing that imaginary border between our two countries has become increasingly difficult. Contrary to popular jurisprudence, at the border you are now assumed to be guilty until you can prove yourself innocent. Everybody now needs an official passport to go south. Even the Canadian Indian status card – I never left Canada or home without it – is no longer accepted to cross the 49th parallel, one customs agent informed me. Native people on their own continent must whip out their Canadian passports to prove who they are, in order to travel to Turtle Island.

I never knew Canadian native terrorists were such a threat down there, Tyendinaga's Shawn Brant notwithstanding. His claim to fame, if you remember, was blocking the 401 several years back, thus making a thousand or so white people late for work. Hardly an Osama bin Brant. . . .

Read it here.

7.17.2010

demand public inquiry into g20: rallies across canada today


Rallies, demonstrations and other creative protest events are taking place in many Canadian cities today, as we continue to demand a full public inquiry into the government and police response to the G20 protests.

There are events planned in: Bancroft (Ontario), London, Montreal, Nelson, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Peterborough, Quebec City, St. John's, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Information about local events is here on the Facebook page. Let's not let this fade away. It's too important.

white house leads the way on anti-choice funding regulations

From the ACLU:
We need you to act immediately to undo a disturbing decision from the Obama administration. Remember all the hard work you and other ACLU activists did to defeat Rep. Stupak's draconian abortion coverage ban during the health care debate?

Well now, the White House has decided to voluntarily impose the ban for all women in the newly-created high risk insurance pools. What is disappointing is that there is nothing in the law that requires the Obama administration to impose this broad and highly restrictive abortion ban. It doesn't allow states to choose to cover abortion and it doesn't even give women the option to buy abortion coverage using their own money. [ACLU info and action here.]

Oh yes, but all we need is a Democrat in the White House, and reproductive rights will be protected. And I have some pristine beachfront property on the Gulf of Mexico to sell you.

The New York Times Magazine has a long feature about the new breed of abortion providers, doctors who went to medical school specifically to address the lack of abortion services, who are militantly pro-choice, and determined to offer abortion as the routine medical procedure it should be.
There’s another side of the story, however — a deliberate and concerted counteroffensive that has gone largely unremarked. Over the last decade, abortion-rights advocates have quietly worked to reverse the marginalization encouraged by activists like Randall Terry. Abortion-rights proponents are fighting back on precisely the same turf that Terry demarcated: the place of abortion within mainstream medicine. This abortion-rights campaign, led by physicians themselves, is trying to recast doctors, changing them from a weak link of abortion to a strong one. Its leaders have built residency programs and fellowships at university hospitals, with the hope that, eventually, more and more doctors will use their training to bring abortion into their practices. The bold idea at the heart of this effort is to integrate abortion so that it’s a seamless part of health care for women — embraced rather than shunned.

This is the future. Or rather, one possible future. There’s a long way to go from here to there.

Read it here. Thanks to mkk for sending.

7.16.2010

video: even the soldiers are waking up

As Stephen Harper announces plans to spend $16 billion on a bunch of fighter jets that Canada doesn't need, we must refuse and resist this growing militarism.

Refuse and resist. It's our duty.



Thanks to IVAW and my resister friends.

open letter to g20 survivor: there is such a thing as being a victim

After watching this, please read my thoughts, below.


What happened to Lacy MacAuley was horrific and inexcusable - and criminal. But she says some things are potentially very painful to other survivors. I imagine MacAuley's intentions are good, but nonetheless, it pains me to see these dangerous statements stand unchallenged.

Lacy MacAuley was a victim. She had no control over the situation and things were done and said to her without her consent. That's what it means to be victimized.

Now she is speaks out as a strong survivor. That is excellent. It will undoubtedly help her healing. But her inner strength doesn't mean she wasn't victimized. It doesn't mean another G20 protester who was similarly victimized and is now depressed or otherwise traumatized is weak or somehow "let" someone into their head.

The idea that no one can hurt you without your consent is both false and dangerous. It is a form of victim-blaming.

If no one can hurt you without your consent, then rape doesn't exist. Torture doesn't exist. Bullying doesn't exist. Abuse doesn't exist. But all these things do exist. Both women and men are tortured, raped, abused, bullied to the point of psychological torture. Not because they are weak. Not because someone "got into their head", but because we do not always have control over what happens to us.

We might not want to believe that, because it makes us feel unsafe. We want to believe if we walk with confidence or carry pepper spray - or, in MacAuley's case, have love in our hearts - that we will not be victims. That's fine if it gives us an illusion of safety so we can get on with our lives. But it's not fine if we negate other people's experience.

I understand that MacAuley is not saying that rape or torture does not exist. She knows what happened to her was abuse and assault. I get that. But, however unintentionally, she is assigning blame to anyone who doesn't share her strong and buoyant attitude. Not only don't we have control over being victimized, we don't get to choose how we feel and react afterwards, either.

MacAuley says she was lucky to escape sexual assault. She was. Other women in the G20 arrests were not as lucky. If any of them are now traumatized from that experience - or if MacAuley develops trauma symptoms later, which is not uncommon - it's not because they let anyone into their head. It's only because they are human.

18th century ship excavated at world trade center site

An amazing find in my hometown.
In the middle of tomorrow, a great ribbed ghost has emerged from a distant yesterday.

On Tuesday morning, workers excavating the site of the underground vehicle security center for the future World Trade Center hit a row of sturdy, upright wood timbers, regularly spaced, sticking out of a briny gray muck flecked with oyster shells.

Obviously, these were more than just remnants of the wooden cribbing used in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to extend the shoreline of Manhattan Island ever farther into the Hudson River. (Lower Manhattan real estate was a precious commodity even then.)

“They were so perfectly contoured that they were clearly part of a ship,” said A. Michael Pappalardo, an archaeologist with the firm AKRF, which is working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to document historical material uncovered during construction.

By Wednesday, the outlines made it plain: a 30-foot length of a wood-hulled vessel had been discovered about 20 to 30 feet below street level on the World Trade Center site, the first such large-scale archaeological find along the Manhattan waterfront since 1982, when an 18th-century cargo ship came to light at 175 Water Street.

The area under excavation, between Liberty and Cedar Streets, had not been dug out for the original trade center. The vessel, presumably dating from the mid- to late 1700s, was evidently undisturbed more than 200 years.

News of the find spread quickly. Archaeologists and officials hurried to the site, not only because of the magnitude of the discovery but because construction work could not be interrupted and because the timber, no longer safe in its cocoon of ooze, began deteriorating as soon as it was exposed to air.

For that reason, Doug Mackey, the chief regional archaeologist for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, was grateful for the rainfall. “If the sun had been out,” he said, “the wood would already have started to fall apart.”

Story and slide show here.

7.15.2010

second annual all-star-break stratford trip

We had a nice, relaxing trip to Stratford, maybe less exciting than last year, but only because my first time was a revelation, and this year I knew what to expect.

Stratford is a lovely little tourist town, and I highly recommend the Across the Bridge B&B owned by our friends Eric and Kelly. It's a beautiful old renovated house in a great location; you can leave your car at their place and walk everywhere. But the real reason to stay there is Eric's incredible breakfasts, which will keep you going til dinnertime.

Besides theatre, none of our other plans worked out. We didn't meet our friends for dinner and didn't go to St. Jacobs. But we hung out with Eric and Kelly, walked along the Avon River and took photos of birds, browsed in bookstores and generally decompressed.

Neither of us particularly liked the production of As You Like It, but The Tempest was excellent, a real treat. The productions couldn't be more different. AYLI was crammed full of gimmicks, most of which struck me as superfluous, a bunch of meaningless clutter. The Tempest was spare and stripped down, highlighted by a few brilliant costumes - most notably for Ariel and Caliban - and a handful of light and sound effects that, because they weren't overused, were very effective.

AYLI, unfortunately, featured performances that weren't up to the high standards of a world-class Shakespeare festival; I wondered if the busy production values were supposed to compensate for that. The performances in the Tempest were so good that I heard the whole play anew.

Christopher Plummer was brilliant, living up to expectations, fully inhabiting the role. But the real show-stealer was Julyana Soelistyo, playing Ariel. Her performance was breathtaking. Scenes between the heavy, powerful, aging magician Prospero and the delicate, nimble spirit-servant Ariel were mesmerizing. At the breakfast table in our B&B the following morning, everyone was buzzing about Ariel.

I don't want to say too much, because some of you may still catch this show. If you can, it's worth it.

Also in Stratford, lovely swans and some baby ducks.


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These swans are big!


More here.

we move to canadian passports

Look what came in the mail while we were in Stratford!

cdnpassports 005


Whoo-hoo! This is very exciting.

We're going to California at the end of this month, flying out of Buffalo. I've heard many different opinions on whether or not our troubles at the border will continue now that we are traveling on a Canadian passport. No one seems to know for sure. But we shall soon find out!

welcome argentina to the land of marriage equality

Argentina has become the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. Way cool! The same law also allows same-sex couples to adopt children. BBC story here.

7.13.2010

when there's no baseball, there's shakespeare

Today we are off to Stratford, Ontario for two Shakespeare productions and two nights in a bed-and-breakfast. We did this last year during the baseball All Star break, and I liked it so much, I thought it should be an annual tradition.

We're staying at Across The Bridge B&B, owned by two great US ex-pats. Last year they contacted me through this blog and we stayed there as their guests, amazingly enough. Now we are regular customers - and friends.

I have met the best people through wmtc. In fact, before I got back into activism and met people through the War Resisters Support Campaign and the peace movement, everyone I knew in Canada, I had met through this blog. So while I might write more about wmtc's persistent trolls, the real payoff from wmtc has been an amazing network of friends.

We've met great friends through Allan's blog, too, and there's a small subset of folks who read both, or at least read Joy of Sox and are not strangers to wmtc. One of those is a Canadian Red Sox fan living in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and we're meeting him and his partner tonight for dinner in Stratford.

These are the kinds of things that make me really appreciate my life.

Tomorrow we may drive over to St. Jacobs, the Mennonite community outside K-W, known for its glassworks, quilting and a great farmer's market. (Also known for outlet shopping, but we will avoid that.) I've actually been planning on going to St. Jacobs on one of my mother's visits, as she's mad for handcrafts of all kinds, especially glass and textiles. This might be a preview, then I'll do more in-depth exploring with my mom later in the summer.

Tonight we're seeing As You Like It, and tomorrow night, Christopher Plummer in The Tempest. This is my theatre fix for the year! Plus a break from political and social concerns, which I could really use right now.