my police complaint saga comes to a close

In light of the new scathing report on G20 police abuse, and continued calls for an independent inquiry, this seems like a good time to post an update on my own relatively minor police complaint.

I've just written the final chapter in the saga. For those just tuning in:

Part I: What happened.

Part II: My complaint is "withdrawn".

Part III: The OIPRD calls me.

Part IV: I feel I have no choice; the complaint becomes an investigation.

* * * *

A few weeks ago I received the finding of the investigation, the gist of which is summarized in this paragraph.
Taking into consideration all the information we have received to date, I am of the view that based on reasonable grounds the allegations cannot be substantiated. There is insufficient reason to conclude misconduct was committed by the officer.

There is an opportunity to request a review by the OIPRD. I did not do so, but I did write this letter.

* * * *
I am writing in response to the findings in the above-referenced complaint. I have received the Investigative Report and the letter of review of the OIPRD Liaison Officer, copies of which are attached. While I believe a formal review by the OIPRD will not change the outcome of this decision, I wish to comment on the complaints process and to reply to some of the findings of the investigation.

The complaint process

When I originally met with Detective Smith [not her real name] on November 17, 2010 to make my complaint, Detective Smith informed me that I had three options – informal resolution, withdrawal and investigation. She explained both informal resolution and investigation in very negative terms, and made those options seem inappropriate for my complaint. She took great pains to explain that “withdrawal” of the complaint would not mean the complaint is withdrawn, insisting that it was poorly named, and that the complaint would remain on the officer’s record. I signed a withdrawal, and noted that I was signing it with the understanding that the complaint was not actually being withdrawn, but would remain in the officer’s personnel file for accountability.

On November 29, 2010 I received a call from someone at the OIPRD informing me that a withdrawn complaint is indeed withdrawn. The OIPRD representative told me that the complaint would remain in a database with the notation “withdrawn”, but no other details would be on record, nor would the complaint remain on the officer’s record. Based on this new information, I felt I had been intentionally misled, and withdrew the withdrawal of my complaint.

When Detective Smith received notice that I had withdrawn my withdrawal, she called me, and I met with her for a second time, on December 6, 2010, intending to enter into an Informal Resolution. At that meeting, Detective Smith read to me the statements by the other police officers who witnessed the incident. While I fully expected them to corroborate their colleague’s version of events, and never expected them to agree with a civilian’s complaint, hearing their blatant lies was upsetting. I was angry at their conveniently edited version of the incident, and because of this, I decided to pursue the investigation.

The findings of the investigation

As stated above, I had no expectations that this investigation would substantiate my allegations. This was a case of my word against the word of three police officers (the Respondent Officer plus two Witness Officers). At least 10 civilians also witnessed the incident, but I have no way of identifying or contacting any of them. I did not sustain permanent injuries or nor did I require medical attention, so there is no physical evidence of the pain and fear I experienced. One would have to be extremely naïve to believe any other outcome was possible.

Despite this, I ask the OIPRD to consider these points.

1. In the “Analysis” section of the Investigative Report, it is noted that I was unsure of the exact words the officer used and said, “Don’t quote me on that”. I wish to be extremely clear on this point.

When I filed my complaint online on December 28, and when I spoke to Detective Smith on November 17, I quoted the exact words the officer used. Immediately following the incident, on the bus on the way home from Toronto, I wrote down the details so I could remember them.

When I met with Detective Smith the second time, on December 6, I had no notes in front of me and no longer remembered the exact words that the officer used. I worked as a journalist for many years, and I do not quote people unless I am certain of their exact words. When I said, “Don’t quote me on that,” I was speaking literally. At that moment, more than two months after the incident, I did not remember if the officer had yelled “Stay the hell out of the street!” or “Stay the f - - k out of the street!” or “Get the hell out of the street!” or some other similar phrase. I was in no way implying that I couldn’t remember the tone and general meaning of her statement. Checking my notes, I can attest that the Respondent Officer’s exact words were, “Do you want me to arrest you? You stay the hell out of the street.”

2. In the “Analysis” section of the Investigative Report, it is stated:
There was no question about the identity of the person being a police officer; however, at the end of her interview she [the Complainant] stated that the Respondent Officer should have told her that she was a police officer.
This is taken out of context. In my interview, I said that had the officer approached me in a normal fashion, identified herself as a police officer and asked me to move aside, I would absolutely have done so, as I would submit to her authority, as opposed to the production assistant’s request. But the Respondent Officer never asked me to move. Instead, she charged at me with her arms extended, pushed me against a barricade and pinned me there for several seconds while screaming at me.

My complaint had nothing to do with the Respondent Officer failing to identify herself. My point was that she never asked or told me to move, nor gave me the opportunity to respond to such a request or demand. Her first and only reaction was the use of physical and verbal force.

3. In the statement read to me by Detective Smith, one of the Witness Officers claims that during the entire film shoot, I was the only civilian to complain about the blocked intersection or to attempt to cross the intersection. However, when I arrived at the intersection, several people were already loudly complaining. People were insisting that they be allowed to cross the street, asking how much longer they would be delayed, and so forth. One officer yelled at the crowd, “Just use the subway!”, and several people shouted back that the subway had also been closed. The Witness Officer has mischaracterized the entire scene, including the incident in question.

4. The Respondent Officer does not deny making physical contact with me, but says this was necessary to prevent me from entering traffic. If this is the case, I must wonder why the Respondent Officer continued to pin my arms against the metal barricade with great force, why she leaned into my face and yelled at me, and threatened me with arrest. Surely she could not have believed she was protecting me at that point. Cars from the film shoot were speeding down the street, and there was no reason to imagine I would run into moving traffic. I was not resisting the Respondent Officer, speaking to her or even making eye contact with her. Her actions, words and demeanor contradict her statement that she was acting to protect me from harm.


Finally, I appeal to simple logic and reason. I am a 50-year-old woman. I have never been arrested. I have never sued anyone or lodged a formal complaint against anyone. If this incident never took place – if the Respondent Officer had not charged at me, pushed me into the barricade, leaned into my face and yelled forcefully at me – why would I go to all this trouble? Why would I (1) file a complaint online, (2) meet with Detective Smith on November 17, (3) meet with Detective Smith again on December 6 (both meetings necessitating a trip from Mississauga to Toronto), (4) give a taped interview and (5) write this letter? Why would anyone go to all this trouble if it hadn’t happened?

I took the trouble to report this incident because I was mildly assaulted by a police officer using inappropriately excessive physical and verbal force. If the Respondent Officer reacted this strongly to a verbal argument between two people on the street, what will she do in a more extreme and potentially dangerous situation? I felt her actions were unwarranted, frightening, even unstable, and that they should be reported.

Further, during the complaints process itself, I was encouraged to withdraw my complaint. If I was given incorrect information by the OIPRD – if a withdrawn complaint means something other than a withdrawn complaint – then perhaps the Toronto Police Service should re-name the “withdrawal” option to something more readily understood. However, if the information I was given by the OIPRD was correct – which I strongly suspect is the case – then I must wonder how many civilian complaints against the Toronto Police Service are withdrawn under the same conditions, thus burying a potentially substantial portion of actual civilian complaints.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Sincerely, etc. etc., with copies to the Detective "Smith" and the investigator.

The end.


disunion: when they say states' rights, you say slavery

I spent a fair amount of Reading Week reading, but not a word of it was for school. I did not achieve my goal of getting caught up to the current post of Disunion, but I did start at the beginning and make it through early January.

But it doesn't matter how far I got, because now I am totally hooked. I can't believe I got myself into another long-term reading commitment, with at least two years of overlap between the Pepys Diary and Disunion! But it's too late to turn back now. I am absolutely loving Disunion. If you enjoy reading and thinking about history, you can't do much better than this.

Did you know there was almost a state called Franklin? Did you know that the state of West Virginia was created when people in the western end of Virginia chose not to secede with the rest of their state? (They weren't anti-slavery, but were more economically tied to the North.) Allan and I have come to the conclusion that we were taught just about nothing.

Perhaps that's why so many people in the southern US still believe myths and lies about the Civil War. Or perhaps there's another reason.

December 20, 2010 marked 150 years since South Carolina seceded from the United States of America, the first state to do so. Some white South Carolinians celebrated with antebellum-style balls, while others, mostly African Americas, protested outside.

Naturally, Confederacy-lovers claim that their celebration has nothing to do with slavery. Indeed, they claim that the southern states' secession and the bloodiest war in US history were not about slavery. According to them, it was all about states' rights. States' rights, states' rights, states' rights. Limiting the power of the federal government to tell local governments what to do. This is the mantra.

I don't know whether the people who cling to this talking point are actually ignorant of the truth, or if they know they are lying. Given the train wreck that is public education in the US, my guess is that a fair percentage of them believe this lie to be true. But about this there is no question: it's a lie.

Secession was not about states' rights, plural. It was about one state "right": the "right" to own human property and control a supply of forced, free labour.

Edward Ball is the author of the book Slaves in the Family, which chronicles his journey to find and meet the people who are descendants from the slaves owned by his own ancestors. (Great interview with Ball here.) On the anniversary of South Carolina's secession, he wrote an essay, "Gone With The Myths" for the New York Times. Here's an excerpt.
I can testify about the South under oath. I was born and raised there, and 12 men in my family fought for the Confederacy; two of them were killed. And since I was a boy, the answer I’ve heard to this question, from Virginia to Louisiana (from whites, never from blacks), is this: “The War Between the States was about states’ rights. It was not about slavery.”

I’ve heard it from women and from men, from sober people and from people liquored up on anti-Washington talk. The North wouldn’t let us govern ourselves, they say, and Congress laid on tariffs that hurt the South. So we rebelled. Secession and the Civil War, in other words, were about small government, limited federal powers and states’ rights.

But a look through the declaration of causes written by South Carolina and four of the 10 states that followed it out of the Union — which, taken together, paint a kind of self-portrait of the Confederacy — reveals a different story. From Georgia to Texas, each state said the reason it was getting out was that the awful Northern states were threatening to do away with slavery.

South Carolina: “The non-slaveholding states ... have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery” and “have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes.”

Mississippi: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. ... There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union.”

Georgia: “A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia.”

Several states single out a special culprit, Abraham Lincoln, “an obscure and illiterate man” whose “opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.” Lincoln’s election to the White House meant, for South Carolina, that “the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.”

In other words, the only state right the Confederate founders were interested in was the rich man’s “right” to own slaves.

It’s peculiar, because “states’ rights” has become a popular refrain in Republican circles lately. Last year Gov. Rick Perry of Texas wondered aloud whether secession was his state’s right in the aftermath of laws out of Congress that he disliked.

In part because of this renewed rhetoric, in the coming remembrances we will likely hear more from folks who cling to the whitewash explanation for secession and the Civil War. But you have only to look at the honest words of the secessionists to see why all those men put on uniforms.

This Disunion entry, "Dancing Around History", also puts the lie to the states' rights myth, and counters the usual rationalizations in more detail.
The citizenry, poised to tear a nation apart, was planning a grand party. The following afternoon, Palmer and other delegates who had assembled in the South Carolina city voted 169 to 0 for secession. That evening thousands flocked to Institute Hall in downtown Charleston to witness the formal signing of the “Ordinance of Secession.” Afterward “cannon were fired,” reported the Charleston Mercury, “and bright triumph was depicted on every countenance.”

On Monday, exactly 150 years later, Confederate enthusiasts sought to relive the festivities with an elaborate Secession Gala. Three hundred celebrants—dozens decked out like cavalier planters and Lady South Carolina—packed Charleston’s Gaillard Auditorium to celebrate the fateful vote. One could almost be forgiven for thinking the whole town had gone back in time.

Outside the ball, though, more than a hundred people staged a downtown march, capping off an afternoon of protest that included police-guarded demonstrations at local hotels and a candlelight vigil. The protesters, mostly black, carried signs reading “Don’t Celebrate Slavery and Terrorism” and “It’s not About Heritage.” “Slavery is what you defend when you have a party, a celebration, get drunk, holler loud, act like a rebel, and talk about how you’re celebrating your heritage,” said NAACP leader Reverend Nelson B. Rivers III. “No matter how you dress it up, it is still slavery.” As darkness fell around Gaillard Auditorium, they lit candles and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

Inside, the white gala attendees, nearly half of whom were dressed in period costume, belted out a rousing rendition of Dixie. The mood was festive and defiant. Slavery, many insisted, had nothing to do with their decision to buy the $100 ticket to attend the ball. “We’re not celebrating slavery,” maintained Sons of Confederate Veterans Commander-in-Chief Michael Givens. “We’re looking at the bravery and tenacity of the people who rose up.” When pressed, he and others admitted that the institution was an abomination. But they also took pains to emphasize that secession was about high tariffs or states’ rights. Anything but slavery.

Attendees at Monday’s ball would like to believe that the unanimity of slaveowners and non-slaveowners during the crisis proves that slavery wasn’t the driving issue behind secession. But a closer study of the contentious debate over secession in late 1860 shows how “fire-eaters” used fear of emancipation to coerce and persuade whites of all classes into ultimately supporting secession. (Needless to say, the state’s black majority likely didn’t support secession either—though no one bothered to ask them.) [Read more here.]

Also: Creative Loafing: It's the slavery, stupid.

ivaw urges national guard to refuse to move against organizing workers

From IVAW, on Common Dreams:
Iraq Veterans Against the War to Troops: “We Are Public Employees Too!”

Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) calls on all U.S. military service members to refuse and resist any mobilization against workers organizing to protect their basic rights. IVAW stands in solidarity with the multitude gathered in Madison, Wisconsin and many other cities to defend their unions.

by Iraq Veterans Against the War

We believe military service members are public employees too. It is dishonorable to suggest that military personnel should be deployed against teachers, health care providers, firefighters, police officers, and other government employees, many of whom are themselves serving in the National Guard.

Workers with prior military service often seek jobs in the public sector because government agencies are the only employers that follow hiring preferences for veterans as a matter of law. According to the Army Times, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed at a rate of 15.2%, higher than the national average. The picture is even worse for African American veterans who face nearly double the rate of unemployment. Protecting the rights of workers in public sector unions ensures that veterans have a chance to secure a decent job, earning a living wage and good benefits.

Madison, WI is ground zero for a fight that will likely define the relationship between public sector unions and the governments that employ them for decades to come. Similar to the federal government's defeat of the 1980 Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike, which signaled the beginning of a thirty-year decline of real wages, benefits, and union membership for private sector workers, what happens in Madison today is likely to affect whether governments across the country can destroy a decent standard of living for public sector workers in the future.

Governor Scott Walker recently stated that he was preparing the National Guard to respond to “labor unrest” following the introduction of union-busting legislation in Wisconsin. Governor Walker has attempted to justify this attack on collective bargaining by pointing to state budget shortfalls. Missing from this explanation is an acknowledgment that these deficits have been created and exacerbated by the ongoing trillion dollar wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, federal and local governments across the U.S. are cutting back on the public sector.

Troops have been called out in the past against worker strikes, campus protests, and urban uprisings. However, recent events in Egypt and numerous examples from U.S. history have shown that service members have the power to side with the people and refuse to use violence against their fellow citizens. Troops activated for duty in Madison, WI will have to decide if public sector workers are really the enemy. IVAW says they are not and that troops should support workers fighting for decent jobs, wages, and benefits.

We know firsthand that the U.S. military is already overextended from a decade at war. Through our Operation Recovery campaign, we have been fighting for the right of our troops to heal, rather than being involuntarily redeployed with severe physical and psychological injuries. Adding another mission to an already overburdened military for the purposes of suppressing the rights of workers is irresponsible and not worthy of our service.

If you are a service member facing mobilization or know someone in the military who is you can contact IVAW via email at ivaw@ivaw.org or by phone at (646) 723-0989, M-F 10am-6pm EST.

james loney: "we have been possessed by the demon of war" [updated]

In January, as part of Let Them Stay Week 2011, there was a Day of Action in Toronto in support of US war resisters in Canada. I neglected to post an audio report by John Bonnar, posted at Rabble, along with an excellent photo album.

The audio is a bit under 20 minutes. I'm listening to it right now. It's Jim Loney, first reading from the Bible, with an interpretation that may surprise you, then reading from Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale.

Loney, of Christian Peacemaker Teams, says, "We have been possessed by the demon of war. We are spending up to a trillion and a half dollars every year on weapons, on death, on occupation, on blood. We have to stop this."

Listen here.

Update: John also wrote this excellent report on Ashlea Brockway's talk. Listening to Ashlea speak about her husband Jeremy's ordeal is heartbreaking. And realizing the Canadian government is refusing to admit the Brockways - and other families like them - to Canada is enraging.

Supporting military resistance to war is a concrete way to support peace.


democracy now: inside the wisconsin state capitol

Here's a brilliant and inspiring video from "Democracy Now!", bringing you inside the Wisconsin State Capitol.

These are thrilling times, watching people all over the world discover their voices and their power.

How 'bout it, Canada?

wisconsin police say "we are workers, too"

Last night's news from Wisconsin was the best yet. Governor Scott Walker ordered the capitol building cleared of sleeping bags, saying he would close the building for the weekend. Police said: No.

The union representing Wisconsin's police officers issued this statement (click to enlarge):

Law enforcement officers know the difference between right and wrong, and Governor Walker's attempt to eliminate the collective voice of Wisconsin's devoted public employees is wrong. That is why we have stood with our fellow employees each day and why we will be sleeping among them tonight.

When police officers recognize that they have more in common with other workers than with the state whose edicts they are asked to carry out, we are really onto something. These cops are the civilian equivalent of war resisters. More power to them!


gopnik: how the internet gets inside us and why this is really ok

This is a tangent to my previous post, but it deserves an entry of its own. I want to point out this excellent article by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker: "How the Internet gets inside us".

Gopnik reviews a pile of recent books about the internet and society, dividing them into three themes: technology is our saviour, technology is our demise, and technology has always been met with these same two responses. Gopnik calls them "the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers". It's a perceptive and entertaining assessment of how we conceive of technology in our lives.

Here are a few bits I especially enjoyed.
One of the things that John Brockman’s collection on the Internet and the mind illustrates is that when people struggle to describe the state that the Internet puts them in they arrive at a remarkably familiar picture of disassociation and fragmentation. Life was once whole, continuous, stable; now it is fragmented, multi-part, shimmering around us, unstable and impossible to fix. The world becomes Keats’s “waking dream,” as the writer Kevin Kelly puts it.

The odd thing is that this complaint, though deeply felt by our contemporary Better-Nevers, is identical to Baudelaire’s perception about modern Paris in 1855, or Walter Benjamin’s about Berlin in 1930, or Marshall McLuhan’s in the face of three-channel television (and Canadian television, at that) in 1965. When department stores had Christmas windows with clockwork puppets, the world was going to pieces; when the city streets were filled with horse-drawn carriages running by bright-colored posters, you could no longer tell the real from the simulated; when people were listening to shellac 78s and looking at color newspaper supplements, the world had become a kaleidoscope of disassociated imagery; and when the broadcast air was filled with droning black-and-white images of men in suits reading news, all of life had become indistinguishable from your fantasies of it. It was Marx, not Steve Jobs, who said that the character of modern life is that everything falls apart.

We must, at some level, need this to be true, since we think it’s true about so many different kinds of things. We experience this sense of fracture so deeply that we ascribe it to machines that, viewed with retrospective detachment, don’t seem remotely capable of producing it. If all you have is a hammer, the saying goes, everything looks like a nail; and, if you think the world is broken, every machine looks like the hammer that broke it.

It is an intuition of this kind that moves the final school, the Ever-Wasers, when they consider the new digital age. A sense of vertiginous overload is the central experience of modernity, they say; at every moment, machines make new circuits for connection and circulation, as obvious-seeming as the postage stamps that let eighteenth-century scientists collaborate by mail, or as newfangled as the Wi-Fi connection that lets a sixteen-year-old in New York consult a tutor in Bangalore. Our new confusion is just the same old confusion.

Naturally, I love this historical perspective. One of my minor academic triumphs in grad school has been a paper arguing that the print revolution of the 1600s was a greater communications shift - a more significant information explosion relative to what preceded it, and a more cataclysmic cultural shift by far - than the one we are living through now. (Thank you, Elizabeth Eisenstein!)

This bit on how our perception of television, relative to the internet, has changed made me chuckle. I loved Gopnik's resolution, suggesting we back away from all-or-nothing thinking and, if technology is bothering us, perhaps a few small changes are in order.
It is the wraparound presence, not the specific evils, of the machine that oppresses us. Simply reducing the machine’s presence will go a long way toward alleviating the disorder. Which points, in turn, to a dog-not-barking-in-the-nighttime detail that may be significant. In the Better-Never books, television isn’t scanted or ignored; it’s celebrated. When William Powers, in “Hamlet’s BlackBerry,” describes the deal his family makes to have an Unplugged Sunday, he tells us that the No Screens agreement doesn’t include television: “For us, television had always been a mostly communal experience, a way of coming together rather than pulling apart.” (“Can you please turn off your damn computer and come watch television with the rest of the family,” the dad now cries to the teen-ager.)

Yet everything that is said about the Internet’s destruction of “interiority” was said for decades about television, and just as loudly. Jerry Mander’s “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television,” in the nineteen-seventies, turned on television’s addictive nature and its destruction of viewers’ inner lives; a little later, George Trow proposed that television produced the absence of context, the disintegration of the frame — the very things, in short, that the Internet is doing now. And Bill McKibben ended his book on television by comparing watching TV to watching ducks on a pond (advantage: ducks), in the same spirit in which Nicholas Carr leaves his computer screen to read “Walden.”

Now television is the harmless little fireplace over in the corner, where the family gathers to watch “Entourage.” TV isn’t just docile; it’s positively benevolent. This makes you think that what made television so evil back when it was evil was not its essence but its omnipresence. Once it is not everything, it can be merely something. The real demon in the machine is the tirelessness of the user. A meatless Monday has advantages over enforced vegetarianism, because it helps release the pressure on the food system without making undue demands on the eaters. In the same way, an unplugged Sunday is a better idea than turning off the Internet completely, since it demonstrates that we can get along just fine without the screens, if only for a day.

You can read the whole thing here. It's the same New Yorker issue with the much-talked about story about Paul Haggis and Scientology. I haven't read this one yet, but several people we know have recommended it and it sounds great. Why not thank a tree and print them both?

towards a freer internet: eben moglen and the freedom box

One of the more interesting ideas I've encountered at the iSchool is questioning why internet access is controlled through private corporations.

Broadband internet access is now a necessity, but we must pay private, for-profit services for access. From the start, internet access could have been fashioned as a public utility, much the way access to water and electricity is, or - depending on where you live - should be. If our governments were more interested in public access (democracy) than in corporate access (free-market capitalism), it might be. Much as been written and said about this (a sample of the issues can be heard in this debate on NPR); I mention it only to note that the concept was new to me, and immediately made perfect sense.

Expensive monthly fees for broadband access is only one of many roots of the digital divide, the chasm that separates the internet-literate haves from the internet-illiterate have-nots, but it's an important one. The digital divide is often conceived of solely in terms of access, such as in the Wikipedia definition, but many other issues factor into confidence in a digital environment - age, education, job status, gender, language skills, and others.

The idea that internet access should be free from dovetails with our desire to free the internet of censorship and either government or corporate control. Many of us use free platforms like Blogger or Facebook without a second thought as to who controls these applications. When we do think about it, we generally shudder or shake our heads, then go back to the same platforms. That's what we know and that's where our friends - and our information - are. Again, this is a huge topic that I'm not tackling here. But I do want to highlight what one person is suggesting as an alternative.

Meet The Freedom Box.
Decentralizing the Internet So Big Brother Can’t Find You

By Jim Dwyer [ed note: hooray for Jim Dwyer, excellent progressive writer]

On Tuesday afternoon, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke in Washington about the Internet and human liberty, a Columbia law professor in Manhattan, Eben Moglen, was putting together a shopping list to rebuild the Internet — this time, without governments and big companies able to watch every twitch of our fingers.

The list begins with “cheap, small, low-power plug servers,” Mr. Moglen said. “A small device the size of a cellphone charger, running on a low-power chip. You plug it into the wall and forget about it.”

Almost anyone could have one of these tiny servers, which are now produced for limited purposes but could be adapted to a full range of Internet applications, he said.

“They will get very cheap, very quick,” Mr. Moglen said. “They’re $99; they will go to $69. Once everyone is getting them, they will cost $29.”

The missing ingredients are software packages, which are available at no cost but have to be made easy to use. “You would have a whole system with privacy and security built in for the civil world we are living in,” he said. “It stores everything you care about.”

Put free software into the little plug server in the wall, and you would have a Freedom Box that would decentralize information and power, Mr. Moglen said. This month, he created the Freedom Box Foundation to organize the software.

“We have to aim our engineering more directly at politics now,” he said. “What has happened in Egypt is enormously inspiring, but the Egyptian state was late to the attempt to control the Net and not ready to be as remorseless as it could have been.”

. . .

In the first days of the personal computer era, many scoffed at the idea that free software could have an important place in the modern world. Today, it is the digital genome for millions of phones, printers, cameras, MP3 players, televisions, the Pentagon, the New York Stock Exchange and the computers that underpin Google’s empire.

This month, Mr. Moglen, who now runs the Software Freedom Law Center, spoke to a convention of 2,000 free-software programmers in Brussels, urging them to get to work on the Freedom Box.

Social networking has changed the balance of political power, he said, “but everything we know about technology tells us that the current forms of social network communication, despite their enormous current value for politics, are also intensely dangerous to use. They are too centralized; they are too vulnerable to state retaliation and control.”

In January, investors were said to have put a value of about $50 billion on Facebook, the social network founded by Mark Zuckerberg. If revolutions for freedom rest on the shoulders of Facebook, Mr. Moglen said, the revolutionaries will have to count on individuals who have huge stakes in keeping the powerful happy.

“It is not hard, when everybody is just in one big database controlled by Mr. Zuckerberg, to decapitate a revolution by sending an order to Mr. Zuckerberg that he cannot afford to refuse,” Mr. Moglen said.

By contrast, with tens of thousands of individual encrypted servers, there would be no one place where a repressive government could find out who was publishing or reading “subversive” material. . . .

The decentralized social network platform Diaspora was conceived in response to an earlier talk by Moglen. Now he's trying to raise half a million dollars to get The Freedom Box off the ground. Read it here.

when is oatmeal not really oatmeal, or, why mcdonald's is always crap, no matter what they claim

Q. How do you take a nutritious, pure, easy-to-prepare food and turn it into garbage?

A. Ask the experts: McDonald's.

In this excellent little piece, Mark Bittman deconstructs McDonald's self-described "bowl full of wholesome", which in reality contains 11 not-food ingredients, more sugar than a candy bar, and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald's cheeseburger.

This is a perfect example of so much that's wrong with the industrial food chain, how advertising lies, and why fast food should be avoided. And if you need some ideas for quick, nutritious breakfasts, Bittman has those, too.
How To Make Oatmeal... Wrong

by Mark Bittman

There’s a feeling of inevitability in writing about McDonald’s latest offering, their “bowl full of wholesome” — also known as oatmeal. The leading fast-food multinational, with sales over $16.5 billion a year (just under the GDP of Afghanistan), represents a great deal of what is wrong with American food today. From a marketing perspective, they can do almost nothing wrong; from a nutritional perspective, they can do almost nothing right, as the oatmeal fiasco demonstrates.

One “positive” often raised about McDonald’s is that it sells calories cheap. But since many of these calories are in forms detrimental rather than beneficial to our health and to the environment, they’re actually quite expensive — the costs aren’t seen at the cash register but in the form of high health care bills and environmental degradation.

Oatmeal is on the other end of the food spectrum. Real oatmeal contains no ingredients; rather, it is an ingredient. As such, it’s a promising lifesaver: oats are easy to grow in almost any non-extreme climate and, minimally processed, they’re profoundly nourishing, inexpensive and ridiculously easy to cook. They can even be eaten raw, but more on that in a moment.

Like so many other venerable foods, oatmeal has been roundly abused by food marketers for more than 40 years. Take, for example, Quaker Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal, which contains no strawberries, no cream, 12 times the sugars of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats and only half of the fiber. At least it’s inexpensive, less than 50 cents a packet on average. (A serving of cooked rolled oats will set you back half that at most, plus the cost of condiments; of course, it’ll be much better in every respect.)

The oatmeal and McDonald’s story broke late last year, when Mickey D’s, in its ongoing effort to tell us that it’s offering “a selection of balanced choices” (and to keep in step with arch-rival Starbucks) began to sell the cereal. Yet in typical McDonald’s fashion, the company is doing everything it can to turn oatmeal into yet another bad choice. (Not only that, they’ve made it more expensive than a double-cheeseburger: $2.38 per serving in New York.) “Cream” (which contains seven ingredients, two of them actual dairy) is automatically added. . .

. . . Here’s the thing: McDonald’s wants to get people in the store. Once a day, once a week, once a month, the more the better, of course, but routinely. And if you buy oatmeal, they’re o.k. with that. But they know that, once inside, you’ll probably opt for a sausage biscuit anyway.

And you won’t be much worse off.

Read it here. And don't ever buy what they're selling - not just the products, but the lies behind them.


in these times: jason kenney cracks down on war resisters to kiss up to u.s.

Here's a tough, somber look at the situation facing US war resisters in Canada. The writer is quite pessimistic, but I still believe that we can do this. Canada, it's up to you.

Sanctuary Denied: America’s war deserters face deportation from Canada — and then prison, from In These Times.

zibwawe activists arrested, charged with capital offence for discussing world events: your help needed

On Saturday, February 19, Zimbabwean police raided a meeting of the International Socialist Organisation. 52 people were arrested - students, union members and workers - and are still being detained at Harare Central prison. Please see below for how you can help.

The Central Intelligence Organisation infiltrated the meeting, where people were discussing the events in the Middle East and the fall of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Munyaradzi Gwisai, the director of the Labour Law Center, is among those detained.

The most recent report is that none have been released and that they are being charged with treason. This is a very serious charge that carries the death penalty.

This directly from Ashley Fataar, Claire Ceruti and Shone Igene of the group Keep Left, South Africa:
Our contact went to court this afternoon. All 52 were at court an hour before the Magistrate arrived. The prosecutor looked surprised that the Magistrate – and the lawyers for the accused – wanted the comrades to appear in the court. It took ages before everyone was brought in, and named, and accounted for.

Meanwhile, the prosecution had sprung new charges on the accused at the last minute – the lawyers for the accused weren’t even aware of them until they all got to court. The extra charge is Treason. The first charge of "Plotting to subvert the government through unconstitutional means" is now just the back-up charge.

Having had all the charges read out to them, at least five did not understand what they were being charged for, understandably. So the Magistrate ordered all the 52 to report back tomorrow (Thursday). They are now spending their fifth night in jail.

After the case was adjourned, the women prisoners were then handcuffed and had leg irons placed on them. They have been taken to the maximum security jail called Chikurubi on the outskirts of Harare. Lawyers have still been denied access to them to explain what they are being charged for.

These are simply delaying tactics to deny the comrades their freedom. What they are being charged for means that the case will have to go to the High Court - a further delay as more papers get prepared.

We are asking comrades to also organise protests outside their nearest Zimbabwean embassy as a matter of urgency, where possible.

What you can do:

1. Call the Zimbabwe Embassy in Ottawa. It doesn’t matter what time of day; leave a message). 613.421.2824 For speaking notes, see sample letter, below.

2. Send an email.

Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe in Ottawa, Ontario: visa@zimottawa.com
Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe in London, England: zimlondon@yahoo.co.uk
Please cc: ashley_fataar@yahoo.co.uk, shanthabloemen@gmail.com, socialismfrombelow@gmail.com

Please also cc your own Member of Parliament.

Here's a sample letter, to modify as you see fit:

To: The Ambassadors of the Republic of Zimbabwe in Ottawa, Canada & London, England
Ms. Florence Zano Chideya
Mr. Gabriel Mharadze Machinga

I am writing to demand that your government drop the charges of "treason" against those who met to discuss current events in Northern Africa. It is appalling that on February 20, over 50 people who were participating in an academic debate were arrested, beaten, and charged with treason. This form of repression is unacceptable in any democracy. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are fundamental human rights that must be respected.

I understand that those arrested are being held in Harare Central prison. I also understand that among those arrested is Munyaradzi Gwisai, the director of the Labour Law Center and a former elected Member of Parliament. I am calling on your government to drop all charges and release all detainees immediately.

I have copied my own Member of Parliament, [add the name of your MP here].

Canadians are demanding that all charges are dropped immediately, and that every person arrested on Saturday is released quickly, without further harm and without retribution.


[your name, your city], Canada

For more information:

Socialist Worker UK

New York Times

Toronto Sun


In Ottawa, there will be a small picket at the Zimbabwe Embassy. More details to follow. You can email me for information.


scott walker reveals himself to not-david koch; indiana official reveals his fascism on twitter, calls for protesters to be shot

Scott Walker, the embattled union-busting Governor of Wisconsin, had a little chat with his favourite ultra-rightwing financier, David Koch. Or so he thought. From AMERICAblog:
Last night, the Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, delivered an address to the people of his state. But, yesterday, Walker also got on the phone with someone who really matters to him - billionaire GOP activist David Koch, who is behind much of what is happening in Wisconsin, but also funds far-right GOP activism nationwide. Well, that's who Walker thought he was talking to. . . . .

Ian Murphy, a blogger at Buffalo Beast, managed to talk to Governor Scott Walker by pretending to be Koch. . . . [Ed note: the Buffalo Beast site is down. The post, called "Koch Whore", should be here. The call has been confirmed by the governor's office.]

More details from the call are emerging - Greg Sargent at the Washington Post has a few:

* Walker doesn't bat an eye when Koch describes the opposition as "Democrat bastards."

* Walker reveals that he and other Republicans are looking at whether they can charge an "ethics code violation if not an outright felony" if unions are paying for food or lodging for any of the Dem state senators.

* Walker says he's sending out notices next week to some five or six thousand state workers letting them know that they are "at risk" of layoffs. "Beautiful, beautiful," the Koch impersonator replies. "You gotta crush that union."

Listen so you'll know that Walker really is one of Koch's minions. And, this is about crushing unions and workers. In fact, you'll hear Governor Walker admit that he "thought about" it when fake Koch suggested the idea of "planting some troublemakers" among the protesters in Madison. Were they going to come in on horses and camels?

AMERICAblog has the audio and the transcript: here, and scroll down.

Walker's frank talk is small potatoes compared to the deputy attorney general of Indiana calling for the Wisconsion protesters to be massacred. From Mother Jones:
On Saturday night, when Mother Jones staffers tweeted a report that riot police might soon sweep demonstrators out of the Wisconsin capitol building­ - something that didn't end up happening­ - one Twitter user sent out a chilling public response: "Use live ammunition."

From my own Twitter account, I confronted the user, JCCentCom. He tweeted back that the demonstrators were "political enemies" and "thugs" who were "physically threatening legally elected officials." In response to such behavior, he said, "You're damned right I advocate deadly force." He later called me a "typical leftist," adding, "liberals hate police."

Only later did we realize that JCCentCom was [Jeff Cox], a deputy attorney general for the state of Indiana.

Cox says liberals hate police, but it looks like this legal eagle isn't too keen on the US Constitution, with all those guarantees of free speech, the right to peaceably assemble, and all that silly stuff. And a man advocating the use of deadly force against peaceful protesters is calling those protesters "thugs". Project much?

Update from Mother Jones:
Update: The Indiana attorney general's office has confirmed to Mother Jones that Jeff Cox was terminated Wednesday. The full statement and screen captures of the now-defunct blog re posted here.

Both items with thanks to James.

ted rall on the limits of leftist humour

I meant to include this in my earlier post about Ted Rall's new book. Just as well, it's worth reading on its own.
Advo­cate: Speak­ing of the Left: in your book you are pretty harsh on some very well liked and admired fig­ures on the Left. Michael Moore, for instance, and the Yes Men, whom I think are really hilar­i­ous...

TR: They are hilarious.

Advo­cate: So, what’s up with that? What’s the prob­lem with what they do? Aren’t they allies in your cause?

TR: I would say the rea­son I picked them is because they are so good. They are the best that the offi­cial Amer­i­can Left has to offer, in the same way that Obama is the best, in terms of the main­stream polit­i­cal sys­tem, that the sys­tem has to offer.

Michael Moore has got this immense audi­ence of tens of mil­lions of peo­ple, his movies can open up in hun­dreds of the­atres, he can talk about things that no one else can talk about, he’s got this great Mid­west­ern folksy sen­si­bil­ity, he has a gen­tle deliv­ery; he’s really kind of a genius. And his TV show was even bet­ter than his movies I think. And the Yes Men are great too.

And I am sure you’re ask­ing your­self, ok what are you talk­ing about, why are you down on these guys so much, and it’s because they don’t go there. Like Jon Stew­art and Col­bert, this kind of dis­sent val­i­dates the offi­cial sys­tem by say­ing “look at the Amer­i­can polit­i­cal sys­tem; it’s so big and open minded that it even allows a guy like Michael Moore or the Yes Men or John Stew­art to oper­ate.” And the impli­ca­tion is, it’s not that bad.

But you notice that they mar­gin­al­ize peo­ple who actu­ally call for rad­i­cal change, like Howard Zinn or Ralph Nader. Those peo­ple are not allowed to get their mes­sage out. So you’re allowed to go up to the edge of ridi­cul­ing, but you can’t call for real change; all you can do is poke gen­tle fun, or not so gen­tle fun, but it’s got to be all in fun. You can’t call for the actual sys­tem to be replaced, and that was really the argu­ment I was try­ing to make there.

I would argue that Michael Moore has indeed called for the system to be replaced, but as Rall says, he has couched these demands in humour. People like Moore, Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock and others function like court jesters: they are given freedom to ridicule leaders and speak truths others can't get away with, but no one in power takes them seriously. Stewart, with his softball interviews with right-wing celebrities and obeisance to some false notion of balance, is especially jester-like.

ted rall, tunisia, egypt, wisconsin and revolution

I've been meaning to post this interview with cartoonist and activist Ted Rall ever since Allan said, "You must read this - he sounds exactly like us."

Rall's new book is The Anti-American Manifesto; this interview is in the CUNY [City University of New York] Graduate School Advocate.
Reluctant Revolutionary: An Interview With Ted Rall

Advo­cate: . . . In your new book you explic­itly advo­cate the use of rev­o­lu­tion­ary vio­lence. It’s hard to get any more rad­i­cal than that and I can’t imag­ine the deci­sion to write such a book was an easy one to make. Indeed, in con­ver­sa­tions with friends about the book I’ve found that even the men­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary vio­lence is almost uni­ver­sally greeted with dis­dain, shock, or dis­be­lief. I am really inter­ested in how you came to this deci­sion to write the book, the events or ideas that led you to this argu­ment, and why you felt com­pelled to write this book now?

Ted Rall: Well, it was a very dif­fi­cult deci­sion, from a career stand­point as well as from the stand­point of being a sim­ple Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. As a stu­dent of his­tory I am well aware of the fact that rev­o­lu­tion is dan­ger­ous and vio­lent and bru­tal and can make things worse before they make things bet­ter, so it’s not a deci­sion to be taken lightly. I want to be very clear that even though the book is a call to arms and a call to get rid of the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, and it does def­i­nitely defend the use of vio­lence (I would say that there is no such thing as non-violent rev­o­lu­tion; no rad­i­cal change has ever taken place with­out vio­lence or the cred­i­ble threat of vio­lence), but I think there is a ten­dency to sen­sa­tion­al­ize the vio­lent aspect of the book. Most rev­o­lu­tion­ary activ­ity is inher­ently non-violent actu­ally. It’s just that vio­lence is part of the revolutionist’s tool­box; it has to be, oth­er­wise there is no way to cred­i­bly remove the state. The rich and the pow­er­ful don’t give up wealth and power vol­un­tar­ily so you can’t fight it non­vi­o­lently with­out effec­tively tying one hand behind your back.

In terms of the deci­sion to write the book I kind of fol­lowed a sim­ple, log­i­cal process, which is to ask myself and many other peo­ple whether there was any pos­si­bil­ity that this sys­tem, the Democ­rats and the Repub­li­cans and the cor­po­ratist cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem that they sup­port, could or would address any of the really seri­ous press­ing prob­lems that are faced by the Unites States today  —  whether those are income inequal­ity or the envi­ron­ment and cli­mate change, or sky­rock­et­ing deficits, or war and mil­i­tarism, or health­care  —  and I don’t think so.

. . . When Obama refused to be the new FDR I knew that, Obama being about the best most pro­gres­sive, smartest pres­i­dent we were gonna get out of this sys­tem, I knew that the time had arrived to call for rev­o­lu­tion. Now I wish that other peo­ple were doing it, I wish that I could join some­one else’s move­ment. I don’t want to stick my neck out; it’s not fun to attract all of this heat, but no one else is doing it. There’s no Left what­so­ever in the United States. All there is is wimpy lib­er­als. So, I wrote this book in order to start a con­ver­sa­tion. This is not rev­o­lu­tion for dum­mies, this is not a how-to guide, this is not the anar­chists’ cook­book. If you are pick­ing this up look­ing for how to over­throw the US gov­ern­ment buy another book; this is not that book. This is a book that cre­ates the space to have a dis­cus­sion that is just not even part of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Amer­i­can pol­i­tics occurs strictly between the Ds and the Rs. We don’t even talk about the Greens and the Lib­er­tar­i­ans, much less the pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting rid of the sys­tem entirely.

Advo­cate: Along those same lines, how has your life changed since the pub­li­ca­tion of the book? What’s the last month been like for Ted Rall? What have you learned about Amer­ica, par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing the sub­ject of this book?

TR: I guess many things did not come as a sur­prise. The fact that the media and the polit­i­cal sys­tem are so deeply entrenched and unwill­ing to con­sider actual change came as no sur­prise. The fact that there are many very reac­tionary, hate­ful peo­ple who defend the sta­tus quo no mat­ter what came as no sur­prise either. But what did come as a sur­prise were the huge crowds that came out to my book sign­ings, which indi­cated to me that there is a thirst for talk­ing about these sorts of options. Many, many peo­ple have been over the sys­tem for a long time, but that con­ver­sa­tion doesn’t take place, so I pro­vided a forum for that kind of dia­logue to hap­pen. What I’ve learned, and it’s kind of what I sus­pected, is that there are a lot of peo­ple out there like me. I wouldn’t have writ­ten the book if I thought I was alone. I don’t think I’m such a unique thinker. A lot of peo­ple can look at the same set of cir­cum­stances and draw sim­i­lar con­clu­sions, and they have. So in terms of how my life has changed, I mean, it hasn’t really, except for being very, very busy doing inter­views, but that’s about it.

I've always said that, despite the persistent, ignorant and usually imaginary fear of socialism and communism that runs through US history, the real danger to US democracy has always been from forces on the right. I've blathered about this ad nauseum on wmtc, no need to flog the "fascist shift" theme here. Now, events in the Middle East, the successful leftist movements transforming South America, and the sudden spark of progressive engagement emanating from Wisconsin and rippling through other states, are combining to give me new hope. These events are reminders that none of us can predict the future.

No people's movement, no matter how successful, has ever known the outcome of their struggle in advance. All we can do is keep on keepin' on.

in case you missed it: historic bill supporting rights of transgendered people passes second reading

From the definitely better late than never department, I neglected to mention a historic victory in the Canadian House of Commons. Bill C-389, Bill Siksay's private member's bill that would give transgendered people explicit rights under both the Human Rights Act and the hate-crimes provision of the Criminal Code, passed second reading in the House of Commons.
Nearly all opposition members stood up to cheer and applaud when the results were announced. While the entire NDP and Bloc caucuses voted for the bill, five Liberals abstained and seven voted against. Six Conservatives voted for the bill, including four cabinet ministers, while one minister abstained.
Most of us watching this bill were pretty surprised to see six Conservative MPs - John Baird, Lawrence Cannon, Shelly Glover, Gerald Keddy, John Moore and Lisa Raitt - vote in favour. While everyone points out that Baird is an openly closeted gay man, I'm not sure that's ever caused him to do the right thing before.

Some observers speculate that individual Conservative MPs now feel more free to vote their consciences, because nothing progressive will get through the Conservative-controlled Senate. This may be so, but the passage of Bill C-389 through the House of Commons is historic nonetheless. I believe it signals that the rights of transgendered people will eventually be written into Canada's law, whether or not it happens through this particular bill.

From Xtra:
“When I first ran in 1993, I ran on the issue of LGBT rights,” [MP Hedy] Fry says. “We just got sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act [back then], and now that ‘T’ that I said was missing got put in.”

Fry says she is proud to have been in the House for votes on issues of sexual orientation, same-sex marriage and now trans rights, which she hopes will get swift passage in the Senate.

“Hopefully we’ll see things change in society,” Fry says. “When something becomes normalized and legal in a country, society begins to change its attitude toward those persons, and hopefully we’ll see some of those suicide rates dropping for transgendered persons.”

Bloc MP Nicole Demers, who spoke in support of the bill during second reading, expressed a mixture of joy and disappointment after the vote.

“I’m always shocked when I see people getting up and voting against human rights,” Demers says. “That shocks me. That angers me – I don’t know how, in 2011, we still have to teach people about those things, and when I see people from Quebec, like Christian Paradis and Jacques Gourde, getting up and voting against that – I’m saying to myself, my God, where have we gone wrong?”

I must mention that Bill Siksay, the bill's sponsor, is also personal and political supporter of US war resisters in Canada. He's one of the MPs that make me proud of Canada and of the NDP.

reading list redux: taibbi in rolling stone, elliott in mother jones

A few weeks ago, I highlighted three long magazine articles that, taken together, demonstrate so much of what is wrong with the profit-driven system that dominates our world. They document how capitalism is destroying the environment, health care, and in general, people's lives.

Well, I'm back to repeat myself. This story by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone is a brilliant piece of investigative journalism almost guaranteed to amaze you. The depth and breadth of corruption - in both financial and legal systems designed to increase the wealth and power of giant banks while destroying low- and middle-income Americans - are simply mind-boggling. Do yourself a favour and read this: "Invasion of the Home Snatchers: How the courts are helping bankers screw over homeowners and get away with fraud".

If you are interested in health care, and why it needs to be publicly financed, why profit needs to be removed from the system, don't miss "Making A Killing," by Carl Elliott in Mother Jones. An excerpt and links to important sidebars are in my post here.

And the third story I had highlighted is really a series of articles and analysis about the BP disaster, also in Mother Jones. It may be the definitive investigation of how BP is burying the evidence of their crimes against our planet.

I will try to post about these stories again, but I can't guarantee anything.

"plotting a city" exhibit at harbourfront centre (featuring a friend of wmtc)

Many of you may know James from comments on wmtc, or if you've been to a wmtc party, you know him, his partner L and their wonderful pups. Our two-person, two-canine families are all friends.

James is an avid cyclist, as well as a techie guy, and he combined those two passions in this video. It's a time-lapse animation of five years worth of cycling in the GTA, totalling almost 8100 kilometres.

As you watch, the red path represents five minutes of cycling.

A version of this video - updated to include 2010 for a total of almost 12,000 kilometres - is included in an art installation currently running at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. The exhibit is called "Plotting A City": "Eight artists document the city through an active plotting by creative activities such as photography, painting, sound, walking and installation."

I'm going to this today, and it's also the first time I've been to Harbourfront, so I'm looking forward to that, too. If you're in the area, the exhibit runs through April 3.


the uterus police: georgia politican wants every pregnancy loss investigated by law enforcement

[allan guest post]

There are far too many US politicians - on both sides of the aisle - who despise equality, hate women, and have no shame in pushing legislation that would sound right at home in any of the world's worst dictatorships. Here are what two of them are doing.

Georgia Representative Bobby Franklin wants abortion classified as murder (of course), but he also wants to force the police to investigate all "miscarriages" (the antiquated term for a spontaneous abortion) to make sure that they were indeed spontaneous. From Daily Kos:
Franklin wants to create a Uterus Police to investigate miscarriages, and requires that any time a miscarriage occurs, whether in a hospital or without medical assistance, it must be reported and a fetal death certificate issued. If the cause of death is unknown, it must be investigated. If the woman can't tell how it happened, than those Uterus Police can ask family members and friends how it happened. Hospitals are required to keep records of anyone who has a spontaneous abortion and report it. ... Needless to say, there are no exceptions allowed. Not for rape victims. Not for incest victims. Not to save the life and health of the mother ...
(I first saw this at Care2.)

Two weeks ago, it was reported that Franklin has filed a bill that would remove the term "victim" from rape, stalking, and domestic violence cases and replace it with "accuser". A post at Creative Loafing notes that Franklin once actually
conjured the phrase "My body, My choice" while discussing a piece of legislation he introduced that would prevent the government from making vaccinations compulsory in the event of a pandemic. Irony at its worst.
Franklin is also not keen on having homosexuals in the military:
The Bible says it's a capital offense. You want someone with unrepentant criminal behavior? And it's not just that, neither should adulterers, neither should thieves, neither should a lot of things.
Well, I actually agree with this. Let's have the US military conduct a rigorous weeding out of its troops by strictly applying the 10 Commandments.

Have you ever said "goddamn it"? Out! Have you ever worked on Sunday? Out! Did you ever disobey your parents? Out! Have you ever stolen anything, ever? Out! Have you ever looked at anyone else in the world who was not your wife/husband and had a sexual thought? Out! Have you ever wished you had the same cool gadget as that guy over there? Out! And even if you somehow passed the test and were sent off to fight in a war, as soon as you killed one person ... Out!

Get 'er done, Congress!

Mother Jones reports that the South Dakota GOP-dominated House of Representatives will soon vote on House Bill 1171, which is sponsored by Representative Phil Jensen. The bill would
expand the definition of "justifiable homicide" to include killings that are intended to prevent harm to a fetus - a move that could make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions. ...

[The bill seeks to alter] the state's legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person "while resisting an attempt to harm" that person's unborn child or the unborn child of that person's spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman's father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion - even if she wanted one.
The bill has already passed out of committee on a 9-3 party-line vote.

Sara Rosenbaum, a law professor at George Washington University: "It takes my breath away. Constitutionally, a state cannot make it a crime to perform a constitutionally lawful act."

The magazine continues:
South Dakota already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, and one of the lowest abortion rates. Since 1994, there have been no providers in the state. Planned Parenthood flies a doctor in from out-of-state once a week to see patients at a Sioux Falls clinic. Women from the more remote parts of the large, rural state drive up to six hours to reach this lone clinic. And under state law women are then required to receive counseling and wait 24 hours before undergoing the procedure. [There are ongoing attempts to increase this to 72 hours. - ed.]

Before performing an abortion, a South Dakota doctor must offer the woman the opportunity to view a sonogram. And under a law passed in 2005, doctors are required to read a script meant to discourage women from proceeding with the abortion: "The abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being." Until recently, doctors also had to tell a woman seeking an abortion that she had "an existing relationship with that unborn human being" that was protected under the Constitution and state law and that abortion poses a "known medical risk" and "increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide." In August 2009, a US District Court Judge threw out those portions of the script, finding them "untruthful and misleading." The state has appealed the decision.
But, remember: the procedure is still legal -- even though the state has not had anyone able to perform the procedure practicing in the state in almost 20 years. (Also, see this Common Dreams article from 2005.)

An update to the story states that Jensen is considering adding specific protections for abortion providers to the bill. "There's no way in the world that I or any other representatives wish to see abortion doctors murdered," Jensen told the Washington Post.

Oh, my goodness gracious, no.

from egypt to wisconsin: solidarity pizzas

Have you seen this? I love it! From Slate, via Politico:
In an act of intercontinental solidarity, an Egyptian has ordered a pizza for Wisconsin protesters, reports Politico. The call from Africa is just one of many streaming into the Madison, Wisc., pizza parlor Ian's from all over the world. So far, people from 12 countries and 38 states have rung up looking to help get free pizza to the Wisconsin protesters clustered in the Capitol. On Saturday, Ian's distributed more than 1,000 free slices and sent 300 pizzas to the Capitol. The trend continued on Sunday, as staff member fielded calls from as far away as Turkey, Korea, Finland, China, and Australia. The trend began when a mother of a University of Wisconsin student called in offering to donate $200 to feed the people occupying the Capitol. The pizza chain's postings on Twitter and Facebook soon led to so many donations that they had to shut down on Saturday night.

Also: Libya! What atrocity. What courage. (War resisters there, too.) Fight on, Libya.


orenstein, porter and the disneyfication of (very) little girls

Last year, I highlighted a story about a study proving that "almost nothing we do with our brains that is hard-wired. Every skill, attribute and personality trait is moulded by experience." This inspired one of my better posts, "science proves that men and women are from the same planet", relating the belief that so-called traditional gender roles are innate to to a right-wing worldview, especially anti-intellectualism and anti-feminism.

I thought of those ideas when I read a column about Peggy Orenstein's recent book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. I haven't read the book yet, but I have read Orenstein's superb 1994 book Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap. I was working with teens at the time, and this book was so powerful, I wrote to the author - on paper, pre-email! - to thank her. So when I see Orenstein's name, I pay attention.

This column by Catherine Porter in the Toronto Star sums up the ideas from Cinderella Ate My Daughter.
In her new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein of the New York Times examines the hypergenderized world of little girls, who by age 3 are taught — through their Cinderella tiaras and Belle ball gowns, and mostly by our “oohs” and “ahhhs” over them — that being pretty in a Disney way is what matters most.

That’s the first glass-slippered step on the shimmery slope of objectification, she argues, that leads to black camies and knee-high boots at Hannah Montana concerts by 10, no undies Britney Spears-style by 13, and carefully posed photographs of themselves sent to all 622 Facebook friends. . .

The lesson our daughters are learning, starting with that Disney gown: their lives are performances; they are consumers and marketers.

“Rather than raising a generation of Cinderellas, we may actually be cultivating a legion of step-sisters — spoiled, self-centred materialists, superficially charming but without the depth or means for authentic transformation,” Orenstein writes.

. . . .

• Nearly half the girls surveyed in Grades 1 to 3 want to be thinner.

• Nearly 43,000 children under 18 had “surgically altered their appearance” in 2008, over twice as many as a decade earlier. In 2009, American teenagers had received 12,000 injections of Botox.

• Two-thirds of college students tested by psychologists scored high on the “Narcissistic Personality Inventory,” meaning they are excessively self-involved.

• Close to half of 6- to 9-year-olds girls regularly use lipstick or gloss. Almost one in five girls, aged 8 to 12, wear mascara.

This was before Walmart released its makeup line for 8-year-olds.

These trends are not natural. Our kids aren’t growing up faster, Darwin-like. They’re being pushed by marketers — who created the toddler and tween categories — and we are letting them. We think they are just expressing themselves, the same way we express ourselves by squeezing into skinny jeans and paying $30 to get our eyebrows “weaved.” They’ve just stepped onto the beauty machine earlier than we did.

. . . .

Disney announced this month a deal to enter 580 maternity hospitals in the U.S. to give new mothers a free Disney onesie if they signed up for DisneyBaby.com email alerts.

This is painful to read, its implications monstrous to consider. Among other things, it sickens me how something as elemental as giving birth becomes just another marketing opportunity. Among other things, I wonder how anyone could read this and still believe gender roles are innate.

Porter uses an excellent analogy - one close to my heart - to describe Orenstein's advice to parents:
Orenstein hopes her book is to processed girldom what The Omnivore’s Dilemma was to processed food — a call to action. Her message isn’t to ban all princesses. It’s for parents to chaperone their daughters through that world consciously.

“It is strategic then, absolutely vital — to think through our own values and limits early, to consider what we approve or disapprove of and why,” she writes. “I refuse to believe that parents are helpless.”

Parents are not helpless, I agree. But they are often overwhelmed. And they must first believe these trends are harmful before deciding to consciously help their daughters navigate these minefields. What happens to the girls whose parents are oblivious - or cheerfully complicit?

in which another world makes itself known to me, and i wish it would go away

My filter is malfunctioning.

My trusty filter, the one that makes possible my total ignorance of celebrity relationships, reality TV and big-budget science fiction movies, appears to be broken. This filter is the reason I can honestly claim total ignorance of Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Lindsay Lohan. I guess if my mental shield were invincible, I wouldn't even know those names. But come on, this filter blocked out the entire 2008 US presidential election campaign, so you know it has superhero powers.

But clearly, my filter is malfunctioning.

I have become aware that two people from the UK are getting married. Once married, they will Visit Canada, and some Canadians care. Some Canadians care quite a bit.

Luckily, plans for this Visit do not include Toronto, so we in the GTA won't have to deal with traffic and security and other annoyances, such as enthralled co-workers.

But still. The fact that some Canadians care so much about this impending Visit is depressing. I try not to be judgemental. We each have our own distractions, and some of mine are not exactly Mensa material. But for so many people, there's nothing but distraction - distraction and consumption. Work, watch, shop, repeat.

I can't help but think that a fascination with celebrity gossip somehow correlates with widespread cultural apathy and complacency. And if there's a more vacuous pasttime than celebrity worship, it's worshipping people whose fame is based on genetic lineage. I simply cannot understand why some people are thought to be inherently interesting solely because of where and to whom they were born.

I don't buy the "it's cultural" excuse. Plenty of Brits have no use for the monarchy, and plenty of Americans, whose country has no monarchist tradition, flip over anything royal. If you've got a reason we should care about the Visit, you'll have to do better than that.

For my part, I need to get my filter repaired. I don't care how many pictures of the Queen Jason Kenney puts in the Citizenship guide, I just Do. Not. Care.


jim crow and resistance in olde new york

I will try not to overdo the Disunion posts, but I can't promise anything. This entry is worthy of Howard Zinn: "Jim Crow on West Broadway". There was always resistance! Meet Charles Sanders and Elizabeth Jennings, 19th Century forerunners of Rosa Parks, along with the organizing efforts of black New Yorkers, and a Georgia man who refused to chop wood, declaring that since Lincoln had been elected, he was now free.

Go read. Try not to get distracted by that house for sale on West 9th Street. At one time that would have topped my lottery list.

disunion: celebrating my own freedom to read with history online

I don't know if Freedom To Read Week is purposely timed to coincide with Reading Week, the mid-winter break for university students, but I'm celebrating my own freedom to read by diving headlong into "Disunion". I'm starting at the beginning, with the goal of being caught up with the current post by the time classes resume next week.

My friend Alan With One L should be happy to read this: he learned about Disunion through my post here, and like me, he couldn't just pick up in progress, he had to start with the first post. I have to thank him, too. I thought I was too far behind to get caught up, but his enthusiasm convinced me otherwise. Now we can gush about this together in April.

So far, this blog is amazing, a must-read for history lovers, especially if you're into the 19th Century, as I am. It was no surprise to me to read that political life in mid-1800s America was louder, more divisive and more violent than it is today.
Hurled brickbats, smashed glass and howled curses were the soundtrack of American electoral politics a century and a half ago. The oratorical eloquence that most people today associate with the 19th century — those resonant fanfares of prose carved upon monuments, enshrined in history textbooks, hammered into the brains of 10th graders — often provided little more than the faintest melodic line, drowned out amid the percussive din. Last week’s notorious “head-stomping” incident outside a Senate debate in Kentucky, footage of which has drawn nationwide condemnation and half a million views on YouTube, seems almost gentle in comparison.

On the last Friday night before the 1860 election, Senator William H. Seward delivered a rousing Republican campaign address to a large outdoor gathering on 14th Street in Manhattan. Afterward, crowds of pro-Lincoln “Wide Awakes” fanned out through the surrounding area. Wide Awakes, members of an organization with strong paramilitary overtones, could be a menacing sight: they wore military-style caps and shrouded themselves in long black capes made of a shiny fabric that reflected the flames of the torches they carried. Some strapped axes to their backs, in tribute to their rail-splitting hero.

According to the next day’s Times and other papers, things began to spin out of control when supporters of a rival presidential contender, John Bell, charged toward the Lincoln men, “calling them ‘negro stealers,’ ‘sons of b____s,’ &c.” At the corner of 12th Street and Fourth Avenue, several dozen volunteer firemen — members of Engine Company 23 — joined the fray, swinging roundhouse blows with clubs and heavy iron wrenches that the Wide Awakes tried to parry with their torches. But the tide of battle turned when the young Republicans brought their Lincoln axes into play. They chased the enemy back into the company firehouse and promptly began smashing down its barricaded doors, as other idealistic marchers flung bricks and cobblestones. (News reports are vague about what finally ended the fracas.)

Similar disturbances happened almost daily in various East Coast cities. In Baltimore the previous night, Republican marchers had been pelted with stones and rotten eggs. (That city was justly known as “Mobtown”; dozens sometimes died in a single campaign season there.) In Washington on Election Day itself, pro-slavery forces stormed a Wide Awake clubhouse a block or two from the Capitol. The attackers practically demolished the building and were only narrowly prevented from burning the ruin — along with several Wide Awakes trapped on the third floor — by the timely arrival of police.

There was little talk of bipartisan civility during that particular election cycle.

Right away, we see how all of the US - not only the southern states - was complicit in the slave trade...
If you had risen early on that Sunday morning, you probably would have ventured out to marvel at the wreckage left by the past night’s storm. Trees had toppled; shop signs lay smashed on the cobblestones. All along the wharves of lower Manhattan, ships had lost spars and rigging.

And on the harbor’s restless water, a three-masted merchant vessel tossed and bucked at her mooring lines. If you drew close, you might still have caught a whiff of the distinctive stench that every well-traveled mariner in that day and age knew: the reek of close-packed bodies, of human misery, of captivity and death.

She was the slaver Erie, and she had recently come to New York as a captive herself. A U.S. naval vessel, patrolling for ships engaged in the illicit trade, had seized her off the mouth of the Congo River. Flinging open the hatches to the cargo hold, the officers saw a dim tangle of bodies moving in the darkness, packed so tightly that they seemed almost a single tormented soul. Nearly 900 Africans — half of them children — had been stripped naked and forced below decks at the height of equatorial summer, aboard a vessel barely more than 100 feet long. Just a few days into their weeks-long voyage, a witness later recalled, “their sufferings were really agonizing, and . . . the stench arising from their unchecked filthiness was absolutely startling.” Even after their rescue, dozens died in a matter of days.

It might seem odd today that the American government was freeing slaves across the Atlantic while zealously protecting the “property rights” of slaveholders closer to home. Not long after Congress abolished slave importation in 1808, however, U.S. and British naval vessels had begun policing the African coasts and the waters of the Caribbean, occasionally even bringing the captains and crews back to stand trial under federal law. (The freed captives, no matter where in Africa they had come from, were set ashore in Liberia, often to be set to work there in conditions little better than slavery.) It was one of many such hypocrisies, born of political compromise, that most Americans in 1860 took for granted.

Like the majority of slavers at the time, the Erie had been bound for Cuba, where importation was still legal. Her human “cargo” might have fetched somewhere between half a million and a million dollars there — depending, of course, on how many captives perished during the crossing. A mortality rate of one in five or so was taken for granted in the trade, but the Erie’s record on past voyages had been even worse than this horrific average. Still, enormous profits were to be made. The slaver’s New England-born captain, Nathaniel Gordon, had purchased the Africans with kegs of whiskey. He was now a prisoner in the Eldridge Street jail.

The Erie was no stranger to New York. It was, indeed, her home port, as it was of many such vessels. Nearly 100 clandestine — or barely clandestine — slaving voyages had set out from the city over the past 18 months alone. Notorious traders in human flesh hung out their shingles in front of offices on Pearl and Beaver Streets downtown, scarcely bothering to camouflage themselves as legitimate shipping merchants.

Slavery was in the lifeblood of the metropolis. An editorial in that same Sunday’s New York Herald warned local citizens against electing a candidate like Lincoln who might interfere with the institution in the American South. Slave-grown cotton was one of the greatest sources of the city’s wealth, the paper pointed out. Rashly frightening the slave states out of the Union would be “like killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.”

...and how slavery came to be abolished in the US. Even in the first few posts, I see glimpses of how the people's abolition movement pushed leaders in that direction. Older generations of USians learned that "Lincoln freed the slaves," while younger students in more progressive areas learned that Lincoln would have been content to preserve slavery if he could still preserve the Union. Neither is correct.
Throughout most of the nation’s history, it had taken weeks for votes to be counted and for Americans to find out who their new president was. But by 1860, telegraph lines – more than 50,000 miles of them – had spread so far and wide across the country that the results were in the morning editions of the next day’s papers.

In Boston that night, Wendell Phillips strode onstage to address a large audience of abolitionists in the Tremont Theatre, just off the Common. Phillips, one of the nation’s most prominent antislavery leaders, had been skeptical of Abraham Lincoln from the beginning. To him, the unknown Midwesterner – born in Kentucky to Virginian parents, he must have noted with alarm – was going to be just one more mediocre politician to warm the presidential chair for another four years, while black Americans continued to languish in bondage. Addressing an anti-slavery meeting that summer, just after the Republicans announced their nominee, Phillips had sneered: “Who is this huckster in politics? Who is this county court advocate? . . . What is his recommendation? It is that nobody knows anything good or bad of him. . . His recommendation is that his past is a blank.” In an article he wrote for The Liberator, the leading abolitionist newspaper, a month later, Phillips went further still: he turned in a manuscript headlined “ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SLAVE-HOUND OF ILLINOIS.”

But by November, his feelings had changed. It wasn’t anything the candidate had said – for he had said almost nothing. Rather, it was how Americans had rallied around Lincoln with an outpouring of antislavery feeling. A few weeks earlier, Phillips had watched Republicans parade through Boston carrying banners reading “No More Slave Territory” and “The Pilgrims Did Not Found an Empire for Slavery.” But the most welcome sight of all was the company of “West Boston Wide Awakes”: two hundred black men marching proudly in uniform, keeping stride in perfect tempo with their white comrades, under a banner that said “God Never Made a Tyrant or a Slave.”

So now, less than 24 hours after Lincoln’s election, it was a chastened Phillips who addressed the crowd at the Tremont Theatre. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he intoned as the hall fell momentarily quiet, “if the telegraph speaks truth, for the first time in our history, the slave has chosen a President of the United States.”

So now my reading will take me to 17th Century London and 19th Century America along with 21st Century Canada.

celebrating freedom to read week: liberate a challenged book!

This week is Freedom To Read Week, the Canadian cousin of the ALA's Banned Books Week. FTRW is sponsored by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council. They say:
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of all Canadians, and freedom to read is part of that precious heritage. Our Committee, representing member organizations and associations of the Book and Periodical Council, reaffirms its support of this vital principle and opposes all efforts to suppress writing and silence writers. Words and images in their myriad configurations are the substance of free expression.

The freedom to choose what we read does not, however, include the freedom to choose for others. We accept that courts alone have the authority to restrict reading material, a prerogative that cannot be delegated or appropriated. Prior restraint demeans individual responsibility; it is anathema to freedom and democracy.

As writers, editors, publishers, book manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and librarians, we abhor arbitrary interpretations of the law and other attempts to limit freedom of expression. We recognize court judgments; otherwise, we oppose the detention, seizure, destruction, or banning of books and periodicals – indeed, any effort to deny, repress, or sanitize. Censorship does not protect society; it smothers creativity and precludes open debate of controversial issues.

This year, FTRW has teamed up with BookCrossing to create Free A Challenged Book.

I hope you're familiar with BookCrossing, the amazing website that helps you share books and connect with book lovers all over the world. If you don't, please go here and read about it right now!

Free A Challenged Book is a special kind of BookCrossing.
Most Canadians probably don't even realize that on their own shelves sit challenged books. During Freedom to Read Week, your mission is to release challenged books all across Canada — on park benches, in coffee shops and in schools — as a way to mimic how challenged books are passed around, and to spread the word about challenged and banned books in Canada.

The Freedom of Expression Committee invites you to find a title you care about from our list of challenged literature and release it into your community. Perhaps your book will be picked up by someone in your community or maybe even by a foreign exchange student who will release it in another country — that's the beauty of this project and our hope for your freed book.

Interested? Here's how to get started...

1. Find a title from your own bookshelf that appears on our list of Challenged Books.

Here are just a few examples of books that have been challenged in Canada:
* Margaret Laurence, The Diviners
* J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
* Rosamund Elwin, Asha's Mums
* Alice Munro, Lives of Girls and Women
* Elizabeth Laird, A Little Piece of Ground
* Mordecai Richler, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
* John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
* Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
* J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter
* Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
* Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
* more books...

2. Tag it with our handy book label.

3. Follow the link to BookCrossing.com and register the book.

4. Release the book into your community.

5. Log on to the BookCrossing website often to see who finds your book and what they think about freedom of expression.

More about my own Freedom To Read Week soon.