why i support the canadian union of postal workers and why you should, too

Earlier today, we put a sticker on our mailbox.

It's meant to be a message for our letter carrier, to show support for her cause.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has filed notice to strike at one minute before midnight on June 2. The overwhelming majority of its membership wants to strike, and from what I hear, have been pushing leadership to reject concessions and authorize the walkout.

The posties' fight is not only about their own right to decent working conditions. It's for our rights, too: our right to good public services that put people before profits, our right to decent jobs that raise our standard of living, rather than force us to work ever harder just to stay afloat. Indeed, the posties' fight has echoes for our entire society, because as the income gap widens, our world becomes scarier, less safe, and less civil.

During the Toronto municipal workers strike, many of us were horrified at the anti-labour, anti-human spew emanating from most of the media and many of our co-workers and neighbours. Yet when activists marched in the Pride parade holding signs aloft reading "We support Toronto's striking workers!" they were greeted with huge cheers throughout the parade route. Could it be that most people understand what's at stake?

We must not be afraid to reject the politics of envy, to reject the mindset that says, "I don't have it so good, why should that guy have it better than me?" As good jobs disappear - jobs with salaries that can stave off poverty, benefits that can bring a bit of comfort and security, and (have we forgotten the concept?) pensions that provide a dignified retirement - as those jobs disappear, we will all suffer. The closer we are to the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder, the greater that suffering will be, but increasing numbers of us will slide closer to that bottom rung.

On the other hand, the more those jobs do exist - even if they're not our jobs - the greater the possibility that more of us will have decent jobs. If unions had not raised the standard of living for their own members through decades of struggle, the prospects for all of us would have been very grim indeed.

This, it seems, is what so many people do not understand.

Were it not for the battles of the auto workers, miners, steelworkers, teachers, nurses, textile workers, sanitation workers, and all other union workers, none of us - none of us whose parents and grandparents were not born into wealth - would have been able to enjoy a middle-class standard of living.

You may have heard the expression, "Enjoy your weekend? Thank a union." That's only part of the story. I once posted this from Oot and Aboot with Some Canadian Skeptic:
Do your children have to work anymore? Thank a union.
Does your workweek cap at 40 hours? Thank a union.
Do you get health benefits? Thank a union.
Do you get maternity leave? Thank a union.
Do you get sick leave? Thank a union.
Does your workplace have safety-precautions? Thank a union.
Have a weekend? Thank a union.
Do you have more time off than time at work? Thank a union.
Do you get to retire one day? Thank a union.
Ever have a paid holiday? Thank a union.
Take a day off and not been fired? Thank a union.
Not been fired for being gay, black, or a woman? Thank a union.
Do you get overtime pay? Thank a union.
Have a minimum wage? Thank a union.
Has that minimum wage risen since the 1970's? Thank a union.

You can visit CUPW's website to send a letter to Canada Post in support of postal workers. And when you see your letter carrier, you can show her your support. If you don't see the letter carrier for your house or building, consider leaving a note in your mailbox or a sign in your window. Tape a sign to your nearest red or gray Canada Post box:


For another take on the importance of the coming postal strike, please read my friend and comrade Dr J: 5 reasons to support postal workers.

land of the free, home of the expanding police state: adam kokesh arrest video

In case you haven't seen it yet.
On May 28, 2011 Television host Adam Kokesh and several other activists participating in a flash-mob were arrested at the publicly-funded Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Their crime? Silently dancing, in celebration of the first amendment's champion; a clear violation of their right to free-expression. In an excessive use of force, video was captured of Adam being body slammed and placed in a choke for his non-crime.

Lest the expression "flash mob" bring to mind some action that could possibly deserve warning or arrest, please watch the video before judging the so-called crime.

Adam Kokesh body slammed, choked, police brutality at Jefferson Memorial


marxism 2011 in brief, with more to follow, i hope

Thirty-five talks (total), seven talks (attended), three panel discussions, three amazing short films. Several pints of beer, countless interesting ideas, dozens of thought-provoking comments, not enough sleep. Twice brought to tears of inspiration and joy. Chaired two meetings, and met one wmtc reader!

About 200 attendees; eight new IS members - including Allan! Reports from Wisconsin, Egypt, Bahrain, Venezuela, Bolivia, Afghanistan; reports from Hamilton, Toronto, Quebec and Ottawa. Women, men, and at least one baby; a spectrum of colours, languages, traditions and backgrounds; ages 90s to 20s; union, nonunion, students, unwaged; questioning, learning, teaching, organizing. Learning learning learning.

I'm exhausted, overwhelmed and deeply inspired. I feel - as I did last year when I attended my first Marxism Conference - that I have come home. That I have found my people.

I want so badly to transmit what I learned and convey my excitement and hope, but it feels beyond me. But over the next few weeks, a little at a time, I will give it a go.

"just another cog in the machine" or maybe not

Please enjoy three minutes of inspired filmmaking.

"Just another cog in the machine," produced and directed by John Wood (UK, 2009). Thanks to Kim_in_TO and CLiFF for showing us this.


secret trial 5: crowd-funded canadian documentary-to-be

Last night's Marxism Conference programme ended with three excellent short films from the Canadian Labour International Film Festival (CLiFF). More about CLiFF when I write about Marxism. Meanwhile, please watch this outstanding video. Perhaps you'd like to become a producer of this important project.


updates on baseball and the border

We had a wonderful little getaway, despite some crazy weather.

It was great to re-connect with our Windsor friends, now not only married but Canadian citizens. We had dinner at a terrific little Salvadorean joint; if you find yourself in Windsor, it's worth looking up.

Driving out to Windsor, we hit rain so intense, we had to pull off the highway to wait it out. But the following day, when the game started, we actually needed sunscreen. The storm clouds rolled in, but not as quickly as Boston's runs. By the time the raindrops started falling, the Red Sox had a 7-run lead.

We quickly snagged two seats under the overhang - cushioned seats with extra leg-room and a little bench for your drinks - so when the downpour started, we were cozy and happy. By the 8th inning, the Red Sox lead was 14-2. The tarp came out and the fans streamed out. It was neat to be in a nearly empty ballpark, and great to see a big win in our only live Sox game this year. We had a lot of fun.

* * * *

This marked my third border crossing without the hassles stemming from the war resister passport incident. However, the crossing was not without its charms.

This time we experienced what we've been hearing about from many other dual US-Canadian citizens who use a Canadian passport. The US border is now sporadically enforcing a law that requires US citizens with dual citizenship to travel with a US passport. People get hassled, asked many questions, and are then allowed to enter the country.

According to the ACLU, if you're an American citizen and have not been deported, they have to let you in. In addition, Allan and I have both entered the US with our Canadian passports without one extra question. So it's meaningless harassment, as far as I can tell.

Yesterday, the guard said, "If you are US citizens, you are expected to travel with US travel documents. Since you are not using US passports, I will have to treat you as Canadians." (Us: OK.) His questions included:

- "Why did you become Canadian citizens?" (Because we live in Canada now, so we wanted to be citizens.)

- "Why did you move to Canada?" (Because we wanted to.)

- "But why? For work? For school? Just for fun?" (Because we wanted to.)

- "How are you US citizens?" (Because we were born in the US. Because our parents were in the US when we were born.)

- "Your parents, really? They were there?" (Just nods for this. Too strange to answer.)

- "Why do you use a Canadian passport?" (Because we live in Canada now, so we thought we should use a US passport.)

He looked at our tickets for the game and looked in the car, and sent us on our way.

I was actually pretty pleased, as this was another trip without the "surrender your keys and come with us" armed escort and detention. This was merely a five-minute annoyance that many other dual citizens are experiencing.

* * * *

At the game, the crowd was asked to stand not only for the national anthem, but for a "military salute" to a member of the National Guard. The crowd's applause only grew louder when they heard the man had served 30 months in Iraq, performing more than 15 missions. The applause extended to a representative of a private company that supplies military missions.

We were seated, of course, wondering how many dead Iraqis those 15 missions represent.

It's always so good to come home to Canada. Now off to the Marxism Conference!

further proof that nothing is stronger than a dog's loyalty and love

...not even a tornado. Dog crawls home on broken legs, three weeks after tornado. Wow.

gq feature on stop-lossed iraq war resister phil mcdowell, and canadian press reaction

For several months, Wil Hylton, an excellent writer from GQ magazine, has been interviewing Phil McDowell, an Iraq War resister living in Canada, along with many other war resisters and their supporters and detractors. The resulting article is now online:
Just Deserts: Osama bin Laden is dead, but the wars he provoked rage on, claiming lives in all kinds of ways. Consider the bizarre case of Phil McDowell, a decorated American soldier who completed his four-year tour of duty but now may be deported from Canada and court-martialed as a deserter. How can you go AWOL when you're not even in the army anymore? On the eve of our first Memorial Day since we killed the guy Phil enlisted to fight, Wil S. Hylton investigates. [Read it here.]
And from Canadian Press:
A high-profile U.S. war resister facing deportation from Canada was illegally ordered to do a second tour of duty in Iraq, according to an investigative piece in an American magazine.

GQ Magazine writes that the U.S. Army had no legal basis to force Phil McDowell into a second tour under its "stop loss" program after it had formally discharged him from service in July 2006.

McDowell, who currently lives and works in Toronto, initially returned to duty before fleeing to Canada to avoid participating in a war he could no longer support.

Five years later, McDowell says he's astonished by the latest turn of events.

"It clearly defines how the United States military deals with its personnel, in the sense that there wasn't much of an appeal or recourse in my situation," he told The Canadian Press in an interview.

"There isn't an appeal process to deal with 'stop loss' or even conscientious objection."

McDowell is one of the leading voices in the War Resisters Support Campaign which represents deserters who Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has called "bogus refugee claimants."

Kenney ordered a crackdown last summer on American military deserters seeking asylum in Canada after the courts made several rulings in their favour.

The Conservatives have argued that unlike Vietnam draft dodgers from the 1960s, the Americans coming to Canada to avoid service in Iraq are all volunteers who deserted their posts.

The GQ article adds a new wrinkle, detailing the "stop loss" program that allowed the U.S. Army to summarily extend more than 10,000 soldiers beyond their initial, voluntary commitment.

Known to the troops as the "back door draft," the program was ended by the administration of President Barack Obama, which called it a breach of faith for a voluntary army.

McDowell served a year in Iraq and was formally discharged on July 23, 2006, according to GQ Magazine, only to receive a "stop loss" order a week later on Aug. 1.

The magazine spent more than a month, without success, trying to get a legal explanation from the U.S. Army as to how a fully discharged individual could be subject to a "stop loss" order - which only applied to soldiers on active duty.

Former military lawyers told GQ the U.S. Army has no case.

"I still don't know if I actually believe it. I don't know what to say," McDowell says of the legal limbo that's had him on the lam for half a decade.

"At the end of the day, I want to stay here - regardless of whether I'm clear in the States or not. I feel like this is my home and I want to stay here."

A spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada said privacy laws prevented her from discussing McDowell's situation.

"As a general rule, military deserters from the United States are not genuine refugees under the internationally accepted meaning of the term," said Nancy Caron, adding that all files are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and "all individuals have the right to due process."

As for the "stop loss" provisions that re-enlisted thousands of American soldiers without their consent, "we don't track this program," said the departmental spokeswoman.

Don Davies, the NDP critic for citizenship and immigration, said he doesn't buy the distinction between draft dodgers and war defectors, saying all are conscientious objectors and should be treated as such.

But Davies said the "stop loss" program makes McDowell's case particularly problematic.

In testimony before a House of Commons committee in the last Parliament, McDowell noted the U.S. Army began the program after he'd volunteered, meaning he didn't enlist in the knowledge he could be forced to extend his commitment.

"The bottom line is a 'stop loss' kind of approach is a form of draft," said Davies.

"In that sense, if there were any force to the volunteer argument (used by the government) - which I'm not convinced there is - then it's not applicable in a 'stop loss' situation, which is in essence a draft."


in lieu of travel, baseball and socialism

I'll be spending the next few days with several things I am passionate about: baseball, socialism, good friends - and Allan.

Today we're heading to Windsor, having dinner with "Gito and Mrtew", then tomorrow seeing the Red Sox in Detroit. Hooray, a day game! This is our only live baseball game of the season, so good weather and a win would be much appreciated.

When we return, this weekend is the annual Marxism conference in Toronto. Last year I managed to attend Friday, Friday night and Saturday night. Since I had such a great time - and since we have no money to travel this year - we're taking the weekend off to attend the whole thing. I'm also helping out a (very) little at the conference, by chairing two talks. I'm really looking forward to both the socialism and the socializing.

I won't be blogging much for a few days, then I'll be completely overloaded with material to write about and no time to write.


another (canadian) athlete speaks out for equal marriage

It comes as no surprise that NBA great - and peace-loving Canadian - Steve Nash supports same-sex marriage. But it's damn great to hear him say it.

Does anyone know of a list or compilation of all the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality videos? Human Rights Campaign, the organization that's producing the videos, doesn't seem to have them archived. I've Googled the daylights out of it and can't find anything.

we movie to canada: annual wmtc movie awards, 2010-11 edition

My annual Movie Season post is appearing later and later every year, but at long last, I've carved out the time to write it.

We started out with TV serieses and comedies this year, especially a massive Larry Sanders Show binge. But once baseball spring training started, we sprinted through a flurry of movies. There were many excellent late additions to our Zip list, thanks to Roger Ebert. I wish we had discovered his year-end best-of list sooner, and I hope he's with us to write many more.

As you know, every Movie Season wrap-up comes with a different rating system. For past wmtc movie rating schemes: 2009-10, 2008-09, 2007-08 and 2006-07.

These days I'm spending so much time doing what I must, and not enough time doing the things that make me happy. In keeping with that, this year's wmtc movie ratings are based on places - places that represent both a physical location and I would like (or not like) to be, and my state of mind when I'm in each place.

This year I'm also including blurbs on most movies. I don't want to write full reviews, but since questions always come up in the thread, a bullet-point explanation seems like a good idea.

As always, if it seems that my ratings are overly generous - too many excellents and very goods - that's because we try to select films we are likely to enjoy.

So here is a look at Movie Season 2010-11 at the Kaminker-Wood home.

This year, the top movie category goes to Paris, France, the City of Light. Paris is one of my favourite places in the world. Here, Paris is also a stand-in for my most preferred state of mind: traveling. These movies are the crème de la crème, the absolute best of what we saw this past movie season. And they're not all movies!

The Larry Sanders Show
-- Smart, often poignant, comedy with outstanding writing and acting; one of the best things that's ever been on television. Our lives changed the day we heard this series was finally out on DVD.

Slings and Arrows, seasons 1 and 2
-- Smart, funny, and often poignant and profound, with the added bonus of bits of killer Shakespeare. (There are interesting parallels between this and Larry Sanders.) I thank everyone who insisted I see this Canadian comedy (2003-2006), and that's a lot of people.

Looking for Eric
-- If you have ever experienced the joy and pain of deeply loving a sports team, don't miss this movie by the great team of Ken Loach and Paul Laverty. I believe even non-sports fans will appreciate this intelligent, feel-good comedy. Although it's an English film, you might want to watch with English subtitles!

Easy A
-- A as in the Scarlet Letter. Hilarious, feel-good, sweet but not saccharine, romantic and smart. The best teenage comedy I have seen in years.

Get Low
-- Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray? It's true. The enduring power of love, the deadly echo of secrets, and the redemptive power of coming clean. This blew me away.

Winter's Bone
-- A teenage girl struggles to keep her family together against some gruesome adversaries. This is both a quiet portrait of grinding rural poverty and a suspense thriller. Amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence.

Fish Tank
-- Another incredible young female actor, this one plucked off the street to star in this movie. Katie Jarvis plays a beautiful teenage girl who'd be better off alone than with the adults around her. She yearns to get out, and she might be devastated in the struggle. Very sad, and very good.

Crazy Heart
-- Excellent writing, excellent acting, and a beautifully unfolding story that avoids the easy answers and Hollywood ending. You've all probably seen this one, and thanks for suggesting it.

Second only to traveling, the place in which I feel best is walking in the woods. It's not Paris, but what is? These are all excellent movies, among the best we saw this season.

-- The tar sands, the people whose lives they ruin, and the struggle to put our health and the health of the planet ahead of profit. Chilling and important.

Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos)
-- Almodovar creates a noir-ish romantic thriller and pays homage to some of the great noir films of the past. Utterly absorbing, visually intoxicating, and a bit confusing. It's also a film about filmmaking, movies within movies within movies.

Happy Tears
-- Parker Posey and Demi Moore are wildly different sisters with different versions of their past; Rip Torn is their bizarre, unstable father. This is a terrific, funny and unlikely movie, and would have been a Paris if Demi Moore was a better actor.

Slings and Arrows, season 3
-- Maintaining the level of excellence of the first two seasons would be nearly impossible. The final season was still brilliant.

Exit Through the Gift Shop
-- This is often referred to as "the Banksy movie," but the real story is not that secretive British street artist - it's the Los Angeles man who wants to cash in on Banksy's fame. The film takes a sudden, sharp turn midway through, and gives new meaning to what you think you're seeing. Fascinating.

Baseball: The Tenth Inning
-- The follow-up to Ken Burns nine-part Baseball documentary. Burns rounds up a cadre of intelligent, articulate, passionate minds to offer a sane view of the steroid era. He also uses the modern-day miracle known as the 2004 Boston Red Sox to illustrate the enduring promise of the greatest game on earth.

-- Michael Fassbender is IRA leader Bobby Sands in this incredibly gripping true story of resistance. (Fassbender also plays a lead role in Fish Tank.) Grueling, heartwrenching, brilliant.

-- This was one of my favourite movies when it came out in 1981, and it turns out it still is. Great acting and writing, a view of history, plus the stirring vision of the IWW, One Big Union.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
-- Funny, adorable, sweet, feel-good. An adaptation of the graphic novel by Jeff Kinney. I loved it.

This is our patio, looking out onto our lawn, and our respective wine glasses. I love it here. Whether I have the luxury of an entire afternoon or a quick 15-minute breather, this is where I unwind. (It's also something I longed for and didn't have until moving to Canada.) So even though I'm not in Paris or in the woods, I'm happy and content. This level of happiness is much more attainable. And in that spirit, these are very good movies that won't change your life, but are worth seeing.

Please Give
-- The inner conflicts of Upper West Side New Yorkers, struggling to break out of their shells and connect. Very funny and very touching. I'm not sure how I missed director Nicole Holofcener's earlier films, but now I'll get caught up.

The Trotsky
-- Another terrific teenage movie and a vision of possibility. Borderline Woods/Patio.

-- Crazy, inventive fun with an anti-war message. Visually beautiful, hilarious, chaotic.

In the Loop
-- How do diplomats, bureaucrats and the media start wars? Funny and chilling.

Leaves of Grass
-- Edward Norton playing twin brothers with different life paths. Not a perfect movie but see it for Edward Norton. Almost a Woods.

It's Complicated
-- It's been a long time since I agreed that a popular romantic comedy was both romantic and comedic. This was a lovely, happy movie with wonderful acting. My only gripe was wanting to tell Meryl Streep's adult children to grow up.

The City of Your Final Destination
-- A complicated plot and too much backstory gum this up, but it's an interesting, engrossing film about history, biography, writing, and a bunch of other things.

Becoming Human
-- A documentary from the PBS "Nova" series about the evolution of hominids, and the sub-sub-specialists who uncover the evidence. Our prehistoric past is so complex! If you enjoy science documentaries and aren't an anthropologist or paleontologist yourself, you'll probably enjoy this.

Grey Gardens
-- We finally see this legendary film by the legendary Albert and David Maysles. The reclusive mother and daughter it chronicles are interesting, but most interesting are the issues the film raises about performance, voyeurism, filmmaking, biography, the unreliable narrator, and how the lines between these shift and blur.

Brother's Keeper
-- A documentary inspired by the work of the Maysles brothers. Two eccentric, reclusive brothers live together on a dilapidated farm. One of them dies. Was it murder? Euthanasia? Or are the police scapegoating poor Delbert Ward? Interesting film.

South of the Border
-- Oliver Stone documentary about the democratically-supported, bottom-up, leftist revolutions percolating through Latin America, how the US tried to scuttle them, and how the mainstream US media distorts the truth lies about them. I didn't need to see Hugo Chavez tossing a baseball with a child - you could show the same about the former Resident, it proves nothing - but that was the only sour note.

127 Hours
-- The incredible act of courage and desperation for which this film is famous lasts only a matter of seconds, but anticipating it creates almost unbearable tension. The director made several very strange choices, but the story itself is so inherently suspenseful, the mistakes are neutralized. I highly recommend this movie, even if you have to close your eyes for a few seconds in the middle.

The Other Guys
-- It's not every day a Will Ferrell spoof takes on an anti-capitalist message, but this is a slyly subversive comedy. The spoof is dead-on, and what a great vehicle for the message. Borderline Woods/Patio.

-- More Edward Norton, this time playing a convicted killer; Robert DeNiro is his parole officer moments away from retirement. Tense, suspenseful, full of manipulations and double-crossings. The motivations get a little blurry, but maybe we're being deceived, too.

With A Friend Like Harry...
-- If you can accept a premise or two that doesn't quite wash, this is a very suspenseful movie with multiple twists and multiple murders. (It's not violent; the murders are the kind found in detective or murder mysteries.) Really good, and I did not guess the ending.

Cold Souls
-- A strange fantasy comedy about selling your soul - literally. Paul Giamatti makes it worth seeing.

A Serious Man
-- A man's life unravels, and he is helpless to stop events from snowballing, or thinks he is. Maybe if he compromises his ethics just this once, he can fix things up. Or not? Much of this Coen Brothers movie didn't work for me, but I wasn't sorry I saw it.

-- A kind of "House of Games" in outer space. Interesting, thought-provoking and a somewhat suspenseful. Obligatory mention that the director, Duncan Jones, is David Bowie's son. Borderline Patio/Cubicle.

An Education
-- Growing up female in 1960s suburban England. Even a white, pretty, smart, talented girl faces limited options, but rebellion can mean losing everything. A nice coming-of-age story.

The Cubicle: the sterile, dehumanized environment in which many of us earn our living. It doesn't kill us, but no one does it by choice. These movies weren't complete wastes, there might have been some redeeming moment or two, but on the whole, thumbs down.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
-- For the first time in decades, I disliked a Woody Allen movie. This film had all the requisite parts, like a paint-by-number Woody Allen Movie Kit. It lacked the lightness - the magical, lyrical quality - that make his movies so special to me. Even masters hit sour notes, even for their biggest fans.

St. Ives
-- Richard E. Grant and Miranda Richardson was irresistible, but didn't pay off. Good acting and some scattered good lines, but on the whole, meh.

Passenger Side
-- I wanted to like this movie. In my 20s I would have loved it. But driving around with two brothers who substitute sniping and quipping for meaningful connection was just annoying. The soundtrack needs to get over itself.

The Town
-- Surely I'm the only Red Sox fan who didn't like this movie, which is really a TV show with a bigger budget. Cliched, contrived and predictable.

-- This movie was sad - far too sad to be a children's movie - but not much else. Maybe I just don't care about Pixar. I promised friends I'd see the original Toy Story, but after that, I'm done.

C'est pas moi, je le jure! (It's Not Me, I Swear!)
-- A little boy misbehaves as his family disintegrates. It's hard to care about a movie when you don't like any of the characters.

The Ghost Writer
-- A mess of a movie that should be suspenseful but has plot holes you can drive Roman Polanski's ego through.

Flight of the Conchords Season 2
-- How sad! One great season, then crap. The first few episodes are at least watchable, then it's downhill from there.

The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town
-- If this wasn't Kids, you'd never watch it.

Jesus Camp
-- The subject is interesting: a summer camp for evangelical Christian children, where they train to preach, so they can "take back America for Christ." Unfortunately, we never get below the surface. In one scene, a camp director reveals her sinister motives; outside of that, it's just a curiosity.

-- Coming of age on the steppes of central Asia. This might have been interesting if it wasn't so repetitious.

I love the ocean when the weather is cool and the beach is empty. But a hot, crowded beach in summer is close to my idea of hell. At least in the cubicle I'm earning a living. These movies had no redeeming value.

Our Daily Bread (Unser täglich Brot)
-- This is a nearly silent documentary showing images of the industrial food chain. There's no narration or commentary, so you often don't know what you're seeing. Images without context: I couldn't connect.

Soul Power
-- What a disappointment! This movie should be the companion to the excellent documentary "When We Were Kings," about the 1974 Ali-Fraser fight in Zaire. A huge soul music festival took place at the same time, starring James Brown, Celia Cruz, a very young Miriam Makeba, and many other performers. Sounds great, how could you go wrong? By focusing on minutiae of how the concert was produced and small talk among the roadies instead of showing the music! Horrible.

Days of Darkness (L'Age des Ténèbres)
-- Long ago, we loved Denys Arcand's "The Barbarian Invasions," and "The Decline of the American Empire". But this... no. A man's life sucks and it's everybody else's fault. Especially women. Those selfish, greedy, controlling, emasculating women.

The Good Night
-- A man's life sucks, so a man decides to live in his dreams. I could not sit through this.

Due Date
-- I was expecting a lot of laughs. I got none. Beyond awful.

-- If this movie was funny, the homophobia might be tolerable.

-- This was meant to be funny and profound. It was neither.

The Beales of Grey Gardens
-- Apparently many people are obsessed with "Grey Gardens" (see above) and wanted to see footage that didn't make it into the movie. Apparently some of the people who are obsessed with Grey Gardens talk about the movie and someone thought we might want to see that. Stick with the original.


coyotes and other creatures: education vs ignorance, coexistence vs extermination

Photo: Lianne Howie, Lucky Mutt Pet Photography

In April, I blogged about a proposal in Ontario to legalize coyote-killing contests. This excellent article from a small, local newspaper explains why such plans simply do not work, and describes the best approach for dealing with urban and suburban coyote populations. As with so many things, a "zero tolerance" approach will only make things worse. Public education and coexistence is the way forward.

Personally, I don't buy the evolutionary psychology theory about people's misplaced fear of coyotes, as humans have misplaced fears about so many things, and evolutionary theories strike me as cherry-picking at best. (Evolutionary psychology is often used as an excuse for sexism.) But I do know that fear and ignorance drive so many terrible ideas, whether its a ban on dog breeds or headscarves, or recent celebrations of a murder.

From Inside Halton:
"Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so we may fear less." - Marie Curie

A North Oakville woman walking the paths of 14 Mile Creek is suddenly face to face with a coyote, its head slightly bowed, in all appearances waiting for an opportunity to attack. In the blink of an eye, the predator is gone.

From the window of a Glen Abbey home, a resident sees a flash of movement in the backyard. But the movement is much too large and swift to belong the family’s pet Chihuahua. The resident opens the back door to investigate and sees the tiny family pet in the grasp of a coyote. The sound of the door opening frightens the coyote who drops the dog and escapes over the fence and into the ravine.

The terrifying stories of coyotes in North Oakville are plentiful. These carnivores appear as suddenly as they disappear. They hunt in backyards, stalk the pathways and leave residents with an ominous feeling.

We are afraid. But should we be?

Fear of coyotes

"When there's something with the potential to hurt us, we're afraid," offered Michael Runtz, a professor at Carleton University and renowned Ontario wildlife expert. "It's part of our psyche. Consider the safety of driving on the QEW; it is far more dangerous, yet we shrug that off because we accept that we're safe in a car. But if you mention there's a pack of coyotes around the corner, we're reminded of that fear."

Runtz explained that while cars weren't part of our history thousands of years ago, large carnivores, like coyotes, certainly were.

Evolutionary psychology, the explanation of psychological traits which are functional products of natural selection, verifies Runtz's belief.

"A child that requires attack or injury to learn that an animal is dangerous is unlikely to survive for long," wrote David M. Buss in Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. "For this reason, we might expect natural selection to have created a specialized learning system."

In his book, Buss points to studies indicating that nonhuman primates (apes, gorillas, etc.) are able to "culturally transmit" learned knowledge such as fear of predators and "pre-specified cues to dangerousness" (sharp teeth, large size, etc.). He theorizes that this is likely common in human evolution as well.

Human fear is a driving force behind the request for management of coyotes, noted top urban carnivore scientist Stanley Gehrt in Oxford Press' Urban Carnivores: Ecology, Conflict and Conservation.

"Fear often dictates the public's response to the presence of carnivores in developed areas," he wrote.

North Oakville is home to many natural predators – red-tailed hawks, red foxes and domestic cats – all who compete with coyotes for many of the same food groups. Though according to Gehrt, "coyotes differ from most other urban wildlife in that they can be deemed worthy of removal simply by being seen, rather than after they have caused some damage or inconvenience for human residents." . . .
Read this excellent story here. Many thanks to writer Michael Howie and to Dharma Seeker for sending this to me.

frank lindh: bin laden's gone. can my son come home?

Frank Lindh, father of John Walker Lindh, asks, "Bin Laden's Gone. Can My Son Come Home?"

Can everyone's son and daughter come home? John Walker Lindh and Omar Khadr? Those in Afghanistan, those in Guantanamo, those in Iraq? Everyone who hasn't been blown to bits. Everyone who survived their torture. Everyone who still lives and breathes.

Now that the meaningless death of one man has laid the groundwork, can we please get the US and Canada out of Afghanistan, and let the Afghans rebuild and recover? How much more liberation must they endure?

On the evening of May 1, we learned that Osama bin Laden had been killed. The following dawn, I left my house in the Bay Area to catch a bus to Oakland International Airport. I flew to Indianapolis for a scheduled visit with my son, John Walker Lindh, at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

I love my son. I enjoy our periodic visits and our weekly telephone calls, but this visit felt different. “If Bin Laden is dead,” I kept thinking, “why can’t John come home?”

A convert to Islam, John was found, unarmed and wounded, in a warlord’s fortress in northern Afghanistan in December 2001. He was subjected to physical and psychological abuse — a precursor to the mistreatment of many prisoners, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, by the American military during the George W. Bush era. Marines took a photograph of John, blindfolded, bound and naked. It was published and broadcast worldwide.

In post-9/11 America, John became a symbol of “the other.” He was called the American Taliban. A traitor. Detainee No. 1 in the war on terrorism.

President George W. Bush called John a “Qaeda fighter.” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, inaccurately, that he had been captured “with an AK-47.” Attorney General John Ashcroft said John had “turned his back on our country and our values.” Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani suggested that John be put to death for treason; polls showed that many Americans agreed.

. . . .

But John’s case was never about evidence. It was based purely on emotion — shock and anger over 9/11, compounded with a deep frustration that Bin Laden was able to escape from American forces. During the prison raid in which John was captured, another young American, a C.I.A. officer named Johnny Micheal Spann, was fatally shot. Mr. Spann’s father has pushed for harsh punishment. I respect his grief, and his son’s heroism. But his belief that John somehow was responsible for, or could have prevented, the death of his son is mistaken.

In fact, in a plea deal in October 2002, the government dropped its most serious accusations against John, including terrorism and conspiracy to kill Americans. John acknowledged only that he had aided the Taliban and carried weapons. For this, he accepted a term of 20 years’ imprisonment. He turned 30 in February.

On May 2 and 3, I had two long visits with John. He remains idealistic and spiritual, and a practicing Muslim. He once told me he thought Bin Laden had done more harm to Islam than anyone in history. As I said farewell, we both felt a sense of closure. I saw grief in his eyes over the pain he has caused himself and his family.

John was a scapegoat, wrongly accused of terrorism at a moment when our grieving country needed someone to blame because the real terrorist had gotten away. Now that Bin Laden is dead, I hope President Obama, and the American people, can find it in their hearts to release John, and let him come home. Ten years is enough.


the empire writes back, or, in which the u.s. govt lies to us on paper

You all remember when my border-crossing troubles began: "the gray area": in which i am detained, harassed and threatened at the border. And then continued: border crossing take 2. And so on. The routine - surrender the keys, armed escort into the waiting area, pointless detention, release - continued for just under a year.

Allan filed a request for information about an "adverse border crossing experience". Then, after almost a year of hassles every time we crossed the border, we had one normal crossing last US Thanksgiving, and I recently had another, on my own in Pearson Airport.

Imagine my surprise at checking the mailbox - paper mail, our home address - and seeing the Department of Homeland Security in the return address! For your entertainment, here it is.

Your experience was most likely caused by a misidentification against a government record or by random selection. ...or because you used your passport to help a friend who had deserted from the US military, about which we interrogated you in November 2009.

Were the two hassle-free crossings flukes, or has the flag been lifted? Next week we're seeing the Red Sox in Detroit, so we'll take the letter and the other paperwork, and hope for the best.


wikileaks: canada almost went to iraq, still in bed with the u.s. war of terror

How close it came: WikiLeaks memo suggests Canada offered to aid Iraq invasion.

And how it still goes on: WikiLeaks shows CSIS continues to secretly pass names to US watchlist.

books on books, part 2: contested will by james shapiro

The second of the three "books on books" on my spring-summer reading list was Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare, by James Shapiro.

Contested Will is not an examination of who wrote Shakespeare's plays and poems, but rather of the Shakespeare authorship controversy itself. Shapiro looks at why, about 230 years after the death of William Shakespeare, a belief arose that he was not, in fact, the author of the plays and poems that bear his name – and why that belief persists to this day, supported by a thriving cottage industry. Contested Will is not so much about what people think – although some of the claims are necessarily woven in – as why they think it.

James Shapiro casts a keen, critical, and always skeptical eye at all claims both for and against Shakespeare's authorship. A Shakespeare scholar, he dislikes that the authorship question has been "walled off from serious study", as he puts it, within the scholarly community. In the excellent introduction – worth reading whether or not you read the whole book – Shapiro writes of an experience in his graduate school days that "taught me the value of revisiting truths universally acknowledged".

Shapiro also believes that the refusal of most Shakespeare scholars to even engage with the authorship question has been a mistake.
I became interested in why this subject remains virtually taboo in academic circles, as well as the consequences of this collective silence. One thing is certain: the decision by professors to all but ignore the authorship question hasn't made it disappear. If anything, more people are drawn to it than ever. And because prominent Shakespeareans [with some exceptions] have all but surrendered the field, general readers curious about the subject typically learn about it through books and websites of those convinced that Shakespeare could never have written the plays.
Although I don't doubt this, I may understand why Shakespeare scholars have preferred to close their eyes and stop up their ears. When one knows something to be true, it can be incredibly frustrating to be forced to defend facts, and to debate people who are heavily invested in fantasy. More power to people who can debate evolution with creationists, or who methodically prove that the Holocaust did indeed occur. I couldn't do it, and perhaps Shakespearean scholars have similar feelings.

The authorship question began in around 1850, about 230 years after William Shakespeare died. By 1884, there were 255 published works on the subject. By 1949, there were 4,500. At this point, Shapiro tells us, a running count would be impossible. It seems whole forests have been downed in attempts to disprove Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Famous adherents have included Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Derek Jacobi, Orson Welles, Sigmund Freud, Malcolm X and Charlie Chaplin.

As the number of works on the subject have multiplied, so has the number of candidates proposed as the true author of the plays and poems. Shapiro writes in the introduction: "A complete list is pointless, as it would soon be outdated. During the time I've been working on this book, four more names have been put forward." He focuses on Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (usually referred to as Oxford), not because he thinks those cases are stronger, but because "they can be taken as representative".

* * * *

Several factors gave rise to the Shakespeare authorship question. It's not a coincidence that the controversy appeared at the same literary moment as the detective novel. Also at that time, "Higher Criticism" biblical studies were rocking received literary wisdom. Philology scholars, painstakingly studying manuscripts, had proven that the Christian Bible was written hundreds of years after the death of Jesus. Similar study had demonstrated that the epics attributed to Homer were the "the products of different hands and different historical moments".

By Victorian times, Shakespeare had been deified nearly to the same degree as the writers of the Gospels, and many skeptics wanted to see a third literary god toppled. But authorship of the Scriptures and Homer had been proven through meticulous and extensive historical analysis. With Shakespeare, Shapiro writes, people were "content to insist, rather than demonstrate, that Shakespeare was as much a myth as Homer or Jesus".

Once set in motion, the authorship question has been fueled by two engines. One is anachronistic thinking – an ignorance of historical context – that projects modern modes of thought onto the past. Despite popular sayings such as "the more things change, the more they stay the same", other eras were radically different from our own. People had different expectations and so behaved differently; they asked different questions of their world and accepted different answers. This is not to say there are no historical parallels, or that we cannot empathize with people from earlier eras. But history can only be properly understood in context. (More about anachronistic thinking in a bit.)

The other fuel that feeds the authorship question are lies transmitted as fact. Shapiro writes, "More than any subject I've ever studied, the history of the authorship question is rife with forgeries and deceptions." He relates an early episode in the history of the controversy that illustrates this pattern, retracing a path that is seen again and again, full of "fabricated documents, embellished lives, concealed identity, pseudonymous authorship, contested evidence, bald-faced deception, and a failure to grasp what could not be imagined".

* * * *

The belief that Shakespeare of Stratford didn't write the plays and poems that bear his name hinges on three inter-related, incorrect assumptions.

Assumption #1: The autobiographical nature of authorship: the belief that all fiction is actually disguised autobiography, an idea that was born in Victorian times, but did not exist in Shakespeare's time.

Assumption #2: Since all fiction is autobiographical, authors can only write about what they themselves have personally experienced.

Assumption #3: Since authors can only write from personal experience, only a man of "good breeding", one with an aristocratic background and a high-quality formal education, could have produced works of such genius.

For me, this last assumption is particularly telling. Again and again, the authorship question makes assumptions about class. How could a commoner, a mere "glover's son" – as if genius is inherited through social status – have penned these works? Clearly only a member of the aristocracy could have done so. I find the assumption about fiction as autobiography bizarre, but the classist assumptions are downright offensive.

Shakespeare's sonnets, too, are read as autobiography:
The lists of Elizabethan Dark Ladies, Young Men and those with the initials W.H., H.W., W.S., or some similar combination. . . would take pages to list them all, the equivalent of an Elizabethan census. The most innocent and metaphorical utterances of the fictive speakers of Shakespeare's poems were interpreted as biographical fact.
Again and again, the same pattern appears. Mark Twain, who said his own work was always autobiographical, assumed all other writers' work was, too. Twain was also fascinated with themes of concealed and dual identities; his work is full of examples, including his own pseudonym. He was very keen to apply these fascinations to the Shakespeare plays and poems – if only someone would find the evidence. Referring to Twain, Shapiro writes:
Underlying his reasoning here was the presumption that Shakespeare could only write about what he had felt or done rather than heard about, read about, borrowed from other writers, or imagined.
Shapiro points out the sad irony of Helen Keller – often accused of merely lending her name to a ghostwriter's work, since a woman with her disabilities could not have authored best-selling books – joining a
movement committed to the belief that literature was ultimately confessional. Yet Keller was living evidence that a great writer didn't need to see or hear things herself to write about them. Though she knew this, she remained unable to accept that it was Shakespeare's ability to imagine things that mattered - and that what he found in books, as much as or more than what he experienced firsthand, stimulated his imagination, as it had hers.
The view that fiction was always autobiographical led authorship detectives on some bizarre trails. People pored through the plays, seizing on characters' actions as "clues" to who wrote them.
When desire outpaced what scholars could turn up, there remained only a few ways forward: forgery, reliance on anecdote, or turning to the works for fresh evidence about the author's life.
Yes, they turned to the work for evidence of the life. For example, if a character in a play had knowledge of falconry, it was assumed that the playwright had direct, personal experience with falconry. Therefore, only a gentleman who was a falconer could have written the play. But these techniques were only applied to certain elements of the plays. (For some reason, after seeing Macbeth, nobody claimed the playwright was a murderer.)

For decades – beginning, not coincidentally, around the time Morse code was invented – authorship detectives believed there were codes embedded in the plays, which, if properly deciphered, would prove the plays were written by [insert candidate's name here]. Untold hours and energy were consumed trying to "crack the Shakespeare code". Usually these imagined codes were the kind that can be made to reveal whatever one wants to discover. What's more, they would have been impossible to implant using Elizabethan typesetting practices.

* * * *

As far as I have seen, all the authorship claims follow a similar recipe. Begin with the premise that Shakespeare of Stratford couldn't have written the plays, because his "common" background precludes it. This premise is supported by a variety of falsehoods and aided by ignorance of Jacobean and Elizabethan England.

Add a second incorrect premise: that all the characters in the plays were based on actual historical individuals, who the playwright knew and disguised, a dramatic roman à clef.

Next, decide who each character represents. And since Shakespeare couldn't personally have known those people, therefore he couldn't have written the plays. (Never mind that there's no evidence to support any of this.)

Now that you've decided – not established or determined, just decided – that Shakespeare didn't write the plays, look for someone who more closely fits your idea of who could have written them – someone with the proper background, education, interests and personal history.

And finally, after you've settled on someone as the true author of the plays, search for scraps of information that you can claim as evidence.

You will need to massage – squeeze, pinch, pull and twist – the facts in order to make them fit your theory. Don't be shy about ignoring historical evidence and explaining away facts.

For example, Oxford, one of the most popular authorship candidates, died in 1604, before many of the plays were written; the plays contain topical references and allusions to events that took place after his death. These inconvenient details do not deter Oxfordians. They simply say that Oxford either wrote the plays before he died to be released posthumously (a claim for which they have no evidence), or the plays have been dated wrong (also no evidence), or that later writers added posthumous references to purposely plant false clues (also no evidence).

Shapiro quotes an exchange between Shakespearean scholar James Boyle and the writer James Lardner, who was covering the controversy for The New Yorker:
"The Oxfordians have constructed an interpretative framework that has an infinite capacity to explain away information. . . . All the evidence that fits the theory is accepted, and the rest rejected." When Boyle added that it was "impossible to imagine a piece of evidence that could disprove the theory to its adherents", Lardner asked, "What about a letter in Oxford's hand...congratulating William Shakespeare of Stratford on his achievements as a playwright?" Boyle didn't skip a beat, mimicking an Oxfordian response: "What an unlikely communication between an earl and a common player! Obviously, something designed to carry on the conspiracy of concealment. The very fact that he wrote such a letter presents the strongest proof we could possibly have!"
Two of the most commonly heard arguments against Shakespeare are perfect examples of the anachronistic thinking that permeates the debate. It is said that William Shakespeare of Stratford could not have written the plays and poems because he was illiterate. Supposed evidence for this is twofold: Shakespeare "couldn't even spell his own name" and he owned no books, as no books were mentioned in his will. However, during Shakespeare's lifetime, English spelling had not yet been standardized. I read the Diary of Samuel Pepys online, a work written by an educated bibliophile a half-century after Shakespeare's death. Pepys' spelling, especially of proper names, varies widely, even within the same entry. In fact, Oxford and Bacon both spelled their names several different ways. Regarding the absence of books in the Shakespeare will, Elizabethan wills didn't enumerate most household possessions. Those were found an "inventory of the testator's household effects," that is, a list of possessions. (Shakespeare's inventory has not been found, although it is referenced as having existed.) The wills of many other Elizabethans who were highly literate also contain no mention of books.

I also think the popularity of this phony "controversy" is yet another example of widespread confusion about the difference between fact and belief. Not all ideas are facts. Everyone should have equal access to ideas – but not all ideas are of equal value. This is the confusion that leads people to believe that creationism should be taught in school, or that Holocaust denial deserves serious scholarly debate. Obviously there are other motivations at work by the proponents of those ideas – religious fundamentalism, bigotry – but many people without those motivations will listen to "both sides" and weigh anything as potential evidence.

* * * *

After unpacking the themes of the authorship detectives, Shapiro makes an elegant and, to my mind, unassailable case for Shakespeare the playwright. This includes a wealth of references to Shakespeare and his work by his contemporaries, memorial tributes and other written historical evidence.

It's now known that Shakespeare co-authored five plays with other playwrights, a fairly common practice at the time. (This was brand new to me, and very interesting.) It's even known with some degree of certainty who wrote which parts. This fairly demolishes the Oxfordian theory; Shapiro notes that the Oxford crew has been silent on this topic.

In addition, the theories on how such a massive hoax - 36 plays, 154 sonnets, a hugely popular theatre company, fierce competition, thousands of copies of the work circulated, and more than 230 years without a single mention - could have been perpetrated simply do not hold up.

Finally, in a brilliant epilogue, Shapiro discusses many modern readers' tendency to assume that fiction is autobiographical. He feels that many Shakespeare scholars unwittingly feed the authorship debate by going the same route. In Shakespeare's time, Shapiro writes,
The evidence strongly suggests that imaginative literature in general and plays in particular . . . were rarely if ever a vehicle for self-revelation. . . . Even if Shakespeare occasionally drew in his poems and plays on personal experiences, and I don't doubt that he did, I don't see how anyone can known with any confidence if or when or where he does so. Surely he was too accomplished a writer to recycle them in the often clumsy and undigested way that critics in search of autobiographical traces – advocates and skeptics of his authorship alike – would have us believe. . . .

You would think that the endless alternatives proposed by those reading his life out of the works – good husband or bad, crypto-Catholic or committed Protestants, gay or straight, misogynist or feminist, or, for that matter, that the works were really written by Bacon, Oxford, Marlowe and so on – would cancel each other out and lead to the conclusion that the plays and poems are not transparently autobiographical. . . .

What I find most disheartening about the claim that Shakespeare of Stratford lacked the life experience to have written the plays is that it diminishes the very thing that makes him so exceptional: his imagination.
Shapiro paints a picture of an imaginative, curious man, a gifted poet and playwright, living in multi-ethnic, polyglot London, reading voraciously, and absorbing a wealth of information about all sorts of things for which he had no personal experience. Examples from our own times are everywhere. One of my favourite novels is Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. The narrator is an abused woman; Doyle was neither. I wrote a novel in the voice of a teenage girl who uses a wheelchair. Of the various criticisms of that book, no one – including all the wheelchair users who read it – ever thought the narrator's voice was inauthentic.

It is said that the person who wrote the Shakespeare plays must have travelled to Italy, and needed an intimate knowledge of falconry. Does that mean the playwright was also a murderer? A thief? A witch? Here's a candidate for King Lear authorship because he had three daughters! Was he also a king? Did he go insane?
The plays are not an a la carte menu, from which we pick characters who will satisfy our appetite for Shakespeare's personality while passing over less appetizing choices. He imagined them all.


carlos santana: "the people of arizona and the people of atlanta, georgia, you should be ashamed of yourselves"

For the past five years, Major League Baseball has held an annual "Civil Rights Game," in which the sport congratulates itself on becoming integrated, despite its massive efforts to remain whites-only.

At this year's Civil Rights Game, somebody actually talked about civil rights in the present tense. And he was booed.

Joy of Sox: Civil Rights Speech Booed At Civil Rights Game

"the great untold truth of libraries is that they're about about connection"

Charles Dickens' letter opener
The handle is the preserved paw of one of his beloved cats.

I can think of few things sadder, scarier, and stupider than public libraries being destroyed by government "austerity" measures. This desperate budget-slashing would be unnecessary in a more rational economic system - and would be unthinkable in a more just one.

This moving piece in The Guardian describes what is being lost in the UK (as bank CEOs get multi-million dollar payouts).
As local authority budgets are reduced by the government's cuts, up to 500 libraries around the country will have to close. Librarians – traditionally seen as a mild, herbivorous breed – are up in arms. Partly because public libraries are often seen as a soft target; partly because they say local authorities consistently undervalue the breadth of what they do; and partly because the cutting will be done during a recession, which is exactly when everyone starts going to the library again.

But the cuts also underscore a deeper confusion about what libraries are: what they do, who they serve, and – in an age where the notion of books itself seems mortally flawed – why we still need them. What's the point of buildings filled with print? Isn't all our wisdom electronic now? Shouldn't libraries die at their appointed time, like workhouses and temperance halls?. . . .

The great untold truth of libraries is that people need them not because they're about study and solitude, but because they're about connection. Some sense of their emotional value is given by the writer Mavis Cheek, who ran workshops within both Holloway and Erlestoke prisons. At Erlestoke she had groups of eight men who so enjoyed the freedom and contact of the writing groups they ended up breaking into the prison library when they found it shut one day. Which authors did they like best? "Graham Greene," says Cheek. "All that adventure and penance. His stuff moves fast, it's spare and it's direct."

Greene might seem a surprising choice, but then what people choose to read in extremis often is. In London during the Second World War, some authorities established small collections of books in air-raid shelters. The unused Tube station at Bethnal Green had a library of 4,000 volumes and a nightly clientele of 6,000 people. And what those wartime readers chose were not practical how-to manuals on sewing or home repairs, but philosophy. Plato and his Republic experienced a sudden surge in popularity, as did Schopenhauer, Bertrand Russell, Bunyan and Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.

Ian Stringer worked in Barnsley just after the 1980s miners' strike. "Library issues doubled during the strike, they were the highest they've ever been. A lot of ex-miners wanted books on law because they wanted to challenge the legality of what the government was doing. Or they needed practical self-help stuff like books on growing your own, or just pure escapism." The same thing is happening now.

From Salon, a similar defense of libraries in the digital age, this one grounded in New York City.
Public libraries across the nation and the globe now face drastic funding cuts from politicians and administrators who often claim that they're obsolete. For months, Britain has been rumbling with protests against plans to close as many as 400 local branches. Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he was cutting all state funding to California's libraries, leaving cities to pick up the slack. Defenders of such cutbacks typically ask why, in the age of Google and e-reader devices, anybody needs libraries.

Let's set aside the obvious rejoinder that many citizens can't afford e-readers and, furthermore, can only access Google via a library computer. The anniversary of the NYPL's main building is an occasion to talk about why the library needs to be a place as well as an ethereal mass of data residing somewhere in "the cloud." Not everything we need or want to know about the world can be transmitted via a screen, and not every experience can be digitized.

Also, not everything a library collects is a scannable book or document. The NYPL's anniversary exhibit includes such treasures of print culture as a Gutenberg Bible, a copy of the Declaration of Independence written in Thomas Jefferson's hand, and a first quarto edition of "King Lear." It also features the personal effects of writers, such as Jack Kerouac's rolling papers, harmonica and Valium box (with notes scribbled on it): [Click through for photos of this and other treasures, like the one pictured above.]

I've always found the material presence of such objects quietly thrilling. [Ed note: Me, too!!]

Today, those oak tables have power outlets and more than half the patrons are tapping on laptops. Yes, they have laptops and yet they've come to the library. Librarians (who are of course the most invaluable feature of any library) tend to bristle at the stereotype of their profession as a glorified shush patrol, and typically respond by pointing out the many, many community services libraries provide, from storytelling for children to multimedia resource centers for job seekers to gathering places for seniors. But let's not totally discount the shushing, because a good library can also give its patrons something that's getting harder and harder to find: quiet.
In Los Angeles, librarians are being interrogated, not about the Patriot Act, but to discover if they are eligible for employment. California school districts are eliminating school libraries and city attorneys are trying to determine if school librarians should lose their jobs completely or be moved to teaching positions.

I've heard horror stories about the state of school libraries in Canada, so reports about Ontario's desperate school libraries did not surprise me. Canada is supposedly preparing citizens for a "knowledge society". Is shredding or eliminating school libraries a good way to start? The Ontario Coalition for School Libraries is fighting back.

So far, when it comes to public libraries, Canada is holding fast. How long that will last?

And on a lighter note, this cool librarian t-shirt. Order yours here.

Many thanks to James, M@, David H, and (of course) Allan for sending me library stories. Quite the research team!


congratulations to nba executive rick welts for coming out as gay

There is a beautiful snowball effect going on. In light of my recent posts about NHL player Sean Avery's public support of marriage equality - and two non-gay male athletes taking lead roles in anti-homophobia campaigns - when I see this, I can't help but think we are approaching a tipping point.

From yesterday's New York Times, an excellent story by Dan Barry: A Sports Executive Leaves the Safety of His Shadow Life. The photo caption reads: "Rick Welts, the president of the Phoenix Suns, hopes his coming out can break the silence surrounding homosexuality in men's team sports."

Someone - some high-profile male athlete in a professional team sport - has to take the lead on this. We know you're out there. Come out so we can support you!


celebrate international day of conscientious objectors with a few clicks

If you have not done so already, please click here to send a message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, calling on them to rescind Operational Bulletin 202.

Today, May 15, is the International Day of Conscientious Objectors, originally organized by War Resisters’ International. On May 15, 2011, the War Resisters Support Campaign calls on the Canadian government to honour the human right to conscience by rescinding “Operational Bulletin 202”.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won a majority with only a small increase in popular support – under 40% of the vote. US Iraq War resisters in Canada have always had the support of two-thirds of Canadians, and the recent federal election has not changed that. Parliament voted twice to let US war resisters stay, and the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that war resisters’ beliefs must be taken into account when their refugee claims are heard.

Yet, in July 2010, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney issued Operational Bulletin 202. This directive instructs immigration officers to flag all US war resisters and label them as potentially inadmissible – before even hearing their cases.

In an open letter to the Government of Canada, Amnesty International Canada said: "Operational Bulletin 202 misstates the law and seeks to intrude on the independence of both IRB members and Immigration Officers. To be consistent with Canada’s international obligations under both human rights and refugee law, Amnesty International urges you immediately to withdraw the bulletin."

Former Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) Chair Peter Showler wrote a sternly worded open letter to Minister Kenney. Mr. Showler said that Operational Bulletin 202 “sets a basic principle of refugee law on its head”, and he reminded Minister Kenney that “conscientious objection to military service, whether by draft resisters or deserters, is a widely recognized ground for granting refugee protection, both in Canada and internationally. . . It is fundamentally wrong-headed and a violation of the UN Refugee Convention to suggest that deserters are automatically inadmissible to Canada before hearing their claim because desertion is an offence in their own country.”

You can read Peter Showler's letter here.

Click here to send a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the government, calling on them to rescind Operational Bulletin 202.

Please share widely!


"in a lot of people’s minds, it’s not a straight person’s issue. that’s an obstacle that has to be overcome."

Millions of non-queer people support full LGBT equality, just as millions of white people supported the civil rights movement, and millions of men support feminism. But straight men who embrace anti-bullying and anti-homophobia as a mission - from within the homophobic world of professional sports - are truly heroes.

Following up on my recent post about NHL player Steve Avery's support for marriage equality, meet Ben Cohen and Hudson Taylor, straight male athletes who take support for equality take support for equal rights a step further.

From OutSports:
Ben Cohen and Hudson Taylor, the two strongest straight allies in the fight against homophobia in sports, met in New York this weekend and will work together on their joint passion.  Wrote Cohen on his Facebook page:
Met Hudson Taylor last night what a great guy. We share the same passion on homophobia in sport and life in general. We also support the same charit[ies] which are GLSEN and It Gets Better campaign. This guy is a wrestler and is well on the way to being a Olympic champion.
GLSEN is the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, designed to fight homophobia in schools. It has started a program geared to sports, and Taylor is a board member.

. . . .

Cohen lives in England and is visiting the U.S. to kick off what he’s calling the Ben Cohen Acceptance Tour 2011. Taylor lives in New Jersey and is an assistant wrestling coach at Columbia University. We need more networking like this. We run across people all the time who are doing their own thing to fight homophobia, but teaming up can expand resources and clout. There are no better supporters to have in this cause than Cohen and Taylor.
Reported in the New York Times:
Ben Cohen is a world-class English rugby star, and Hudson Taylor is a three-time college all-American wrestler. They live on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. They barely know each other.

But they have something quite unusual in common. They may be the only two high-profile heterosexual athletes dedicating their lives to the issues of bullying and homophobia in sports.

The question that each one frequently gets — besides “Are you gay?” — is why are they involved in something that does not directly impact them, or so it would seem.

That is just the point, they said. In much the same way that the hockey player Sean Avery’s recent endorsement of gay marriage resonated in large part because it came from an unexpected source, their sexual orientation helps the message cross to broader audiences, Cohen and Taylor said.

“It’s massively important,” Cohen said Friday in New York, a stopover on a cross-country campaign for his fledgling Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation. “Massively. Of course it is. I’m the other side of that bridge.”

Gay slurs have emerged into the public consciousness recently. The Los Angeles Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant used one against an N.B.A. referee and was fined $100,000. The Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was said to have made homophobic gestures and remarks to fans in San Francisco, and was suspended by Major League Baseball for two weeks. Widespread criticism of both men was seen as cultural progress by gay-rights supporters.

But in a world where no active American athletes in a major male team sport has declared his homosexuality, it remains rare for athletes to chime in on the issue of gay rights. Recent exceptions, beyond Avery, include Grant Hill and Jared Dudley of the Phoenix Suns, who recorded a public-service announcement decrying gay slurs in sports.

Cohen and Taylor are going much further.

Cohen, 32, just retired from a rugby career that included a World Cup title for England in 2003 and more than a decade with the Northampton Saints. Despite being married with 3-1/2-year-old twin daughters, he has long had a huge following among gay fans.

“They probably see me as a sex object, I suppose,” he said. His shirtless photographs have done little to squelch his popularity.

With the surge in the use of social media in recent years, Cohen — whose Facebook page has been “liked” by more than 150,000 people — began hearing more and more personal accounts from fans who have felt ostracized for being gay. Some said they quit sports because of the harassment, or had been shamed into staying closeted, unable to find support from friends, family and teammates.

“It brings me to bloody tears,” he said, as he read a few e-mails aloud. He wore a T-shirt that read, “I stand up with Ben Cohen,” and included his silhouette as a logo.

But his quest to get involved is even more personal. In 2000, Cohen’s father, Peter, was attacked by several young men outside the nightclub he owned. He sustained severe injuries, including bite marks to his face, and died a few weeks later.

With those experiences as a backdrop, Cohen started this year what he believes is the first anti-bullying organization led by a straight athlete aimed at helping the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. After a couple recent stops in England, he is promoting the campaign in Washington, Atlanta, Seattle and New York in the next two weeks. Beyond raising his family on his English farm, he plans on making the foundation his postcareer priority.

“I can say something, and it can be so little for me,” said Cohen, scheduled to be a celebrity presenter at Saturday’s Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation awards in San Francisco. “But it can be so powerful for tens of thousands of people.”

Taylor, 24, finished a decorated wrestling career at Maryland last year and is an assistant coach at Columbia. In college, he said, he was struck by the disparity in how gay students in his theater classes were so warmly accepted and how easily gay slurs were tossed around the wrestling mats.

He attracted national attention when he wore a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his headgear. Earlier this year, he launched Athlete Ally, asking athletes of all ages to sign a pledge to help end homophobia in sports. Several thousand have made the pledge. Taylor suspended plans for law school and spends much of his time speaking at schools, mostly colleges.

He usually asks his audiences if they have recently heard someone or something derided as “gay.” Almost always, everyone raises his or her hand, he said.

Most raise their hands when asked if they have heard the term, used as an insult, in the past day, Taylor said.

“In a lot of people’s minds, it’s not a straight person’s issue,” said Taylor, who will marry his longtime girlfriend in September. “That’s an obstacle that has to be overcome.” . . .

bin laden, security theatre and the lying lies of stephen harper

I've avoided any mention of the sickening spectacle of the GNOTFOTE thumping its collective chest because it (supposedly) took 10 years to assassinate one middle aged man with failing kidneys. Talk about security theatre! Surely this must be The Office of Security Theatre's Greatest Show on Earth.

I do want to share a few items, though, related to this nonsense.

One, Joy of Sox: The National Anthem and the Idea Of Respect.

And two, Chomsky: We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush's compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.

Each coming from a different angle, and both well worth reading.

Plus a bonus, in case you missed it, or didn't see proof: Fox "News".

The only positive is that bin Laden's death gives us all an opening to talk about getting the hell out of Afghanistan. Which Canada was supposed to do this year, a pledge the Conservatives had no intentions of honouring. In the words of Ralph Kramden, oooooh, what a surprise!

new yorkers - including at least one nhl player - support same-sex marriage

Thank you to this Canadian for taking this public stand!
Since September, advocates for same-sex marriage in New York have released 30-second videos of celebrities endorsing their cause. More than 30 have taken part, including the actors Julianne Moore and Sam Waterston, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the former first daughter Barbara Bush. On Thursday, former President Bill Clinton released a written statement of support, too.

Until now, supporters have come mostly from the worlds of politics, entertainment, theater and fashion. One type of New York celebrity was conspicuously absent: the athlete.

Enter Rangers forward Sean Avery.

He recently recorded a video, becoming one of only a few active athletes in American team sports to voice support for gay rights, and is believed to be the first in New York to publicly advocate for same-sex marriage. No active male player in a major American team sport has declared his homosexuality, and homosexual slurs remain in use to insult opponents and officials.

Avery, a 31-year-old from Pickering, Ontario, has played nine seasons in the N.H.L. Known as a fashion-conscious, on-ice agitator, he has never been afraid of what others think of him.

“The places I’ve played and lived the longest have been in West Hollywood, Calif., when I played for the L.A. Kings, and when I moved to New York, I lived in Chelsea for the first four years,” Avery said in a phone interview. “I certainly have been surrounded by the gay community. And living in New York and when you live in L.A., you certainly have a lot of gay friends.”

Avery, who lives in the SoHo section of Manhattan and keeps a home in Los Angeles, said some of those friends had wanted to marry, and he saw no reason they should not.

“I’m certainly open to it,” he said. “Maybe I can help, and I jumped at this opportunity.”
Avery's homophobic agent doesn't like it, but that's his problem. Many, many thanks to Avery for helping to blaze this trail in the world of sport.

celebrate international day of conscientious objectors by calling for operational bulletin 202 to be rescinded

May 15 is the International Day of Conscientious Objectors, originally organized by War Resisters’ International, and now recognized by anti-war groups around the globe.

On May 15, 2011, the War Resisters Support Campaign calls on the Canadian government to honour the human right to conscience by rescinding “Operational Bulletin 202”.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won a majority with only a small increase in popular support – under 40% of the vote. U.S. Iraq War resisters in Canada have always had the support of two-thirds of Canadians, and the recent federal election has not changed that. Parliament voted twice to let U.S. war resisters stay, and the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that war resisters’ beliefs must be taken into account when their refugee claims are heard.

Yet, in July 2010, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney issued Operational Bulletin 202. This directive instructs immigration officers to flag all U.S. war resisters and label them as potentially inadmissible – before even hearing their cases.

Click here to send a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the government, calling on them to rescind Operational Bulletin 202.

In an open letter to the Government of Canada, Amnesty International Canada said: “Operational Bulletin 202 misstates the law and seeks to intrude on the independence of both IRB members and Immigration Officers. To be consistent with Canada’s international obligations under both human rights and refugee law, Amnesty International urges you immediately to withdraw the bulletin.”

Former Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) Chair Peter Showler wrote a sternly worded open letter to Minister Kenney. Mr. Showler said that Operational Bulletin 202 “sets a basic principle of refugee law on its head”, and he reminded Minister Kenney that “conscientious objection to military service, whether by draft resisters or deserters, is a widely recognized ground for granting refugee protection, both in Canada and internationally. . . It is fundamentally wrong-headed and a violation of the UN Refugee Convention to suggest that deserters are automatically inadmissible to Canada before hearing their claim because desertion is an offence in their own country.”

Please read Mr. Showler's letter here.

Please join us as we celebrate the International Day of Conscientious Objectors by calling on the Canadian government to rescind Operational Bulletin 202 and to let U.S. Iraq War resisters stay in Canada.

Click here to send a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the government, calling on them to rescind Operational Bulletin 202.

And please share this post!


"a significant reduction in accountability and transparency", or why we may never know which cic staffer is paid to read wmtc

Emphasis mine, in more ways than one.
The federal Information Commissioner and other access-to-information experts say a Supreme Court ruling denying the release of ministerial documents marks a significant reduction in government accountability and transparency.

Critics said Friday the ruling will allow the government to withhold any information simply by taking it out of the hands of a department and placing it in the closed confines of a ministerial office.

Some of the records the Supreme Court said could not be disclosed “were the only records of very important meetings that occurred between the Minister of Defence and the deputy minister of the Department of National Defence,” Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault told a news conference Friday.

“I think Canadians should be seriously concerned that these meetings take place and that in this instance the only records of some of those records are no longer accessible.”

Madame Justice Louise Charron said in a ruling released Friday that requesters have the right to be given “any record under the control of a government institution,” which includes the Privy Council Office and all government departments.

But the Prime Minister’s Office and other ministers’ offices are not government institutions and documents held within them are not meant to be open to the same public scrutiny, the court ruled. Judge Charron said she was convinced a two-step test set up by the courts will provide a screening mechanism to ensure the government does not place documents in an inaccessible “black hole.”

. . . .

Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin, who is one of the country’s top access-to-information experts, said: “As a long time observer, and one who has been in court [to challenge ATI decisions], it means that this country, unless we actually drastically change the legislation, is in for even greater secrecy.”

The ruling, he said, “just sets the bar lower for all kinds of records” that can now be denied because the government does not want them to be released. “If you want to avoid releasing things,” Mr. Rubin said, “you just intertwine things and label them political.”

The War Resisters Support Campaign has been trying for two years to use access laws to find out the name and work contact information of a government employee, possibly in a minister’s office, who was monitoring the online communications of Canadian supporters of U.S. Iraq War resisters. This ruling make that quests even more difficult, Ken Marciniec said, a spokesman for the campaign.

“If ministers are able to withhold any information they choose simply by saying it belongs to their offices,” Mr. Marciniec said, “it will be even harder to find out why Canadians' legal and legitimate online communications are being monitored or to determine if political staff are interfering in supposedly impartial, arms-length decisions like those that are made by immigration officials who depend on the Immigration Minister for their jobs.”
Those online communications? That would be wmtc: internal documents show harper govt obsessed with war resisters, and hello cic, nice to see you're still reading wmtc.

This marks the first Canada-related post I tag as "fascist shift".