mcquaig: lewis’s masterful eulogy a stirring reminder that we will not go quietly

Linda McQuaig's appraisal of Stephen Lewis's beautiful eulogy of Jack Layton is worth reading.
It will probably be a while before a Canadian prime minister again offers a state funeral to someone on the left.

Of course, there aren’t many political leaders of any stripe who could pull at the country’s collective heartstrings quite the way Jack Layton did, especially with his stunning political achievement snatched so cruelly from him before he even got to locate all the bathrooms at Stornoway.

Allowing Layton a state funeral was probably Stephen Harper’s most generous prime ministerial act. But it led to a nationally televised scene that will likely haunt him and surely inspire progressives for years to come: Stephen Lewis, the iconic elder statesman of Canada’s social democratic movement, standing in front of Canada’s most right-wing prime minister ever, speaking truth to power.

Determined that the event be more than just a tribute to the goodness of one man, Lewis used the heft of the occasion, as Layton would have wanted, to drive home Layton’s social democratic vision for the country.

With the Conservatives’ new hammerlock on power — accomplished with a mere 40 per cent of the national vote — here at least was one joyous moment in which we could watch the country’s most powerful orator confront a prime minister who had no choice but to stand every time the rest of the room rose in rapturous pleasure at Lewis’s inspiring call for a more equal and generous Canada.

That message is exactly what those on the right have been trying to deny — that there is an alternative to the grim, slash-and-burn policies of austerity they want to foist on us, making this an ever more unequal society.

To cite just one example, an award-winning Toronto nursery school, Bond Child and Family Development, which has served poor and special-needs children in Regent Park since 1937, will soon close due to lack of funding.

Does this make any sense? Could there be anything more self-defeating for us as a society than to deny a chance for the most vulnerable preschoolers to overcome the enormous obstacles already in their path?

Research overwhelmingly suggests that early childhood education leads to improved academic performance, higher adult productivity and better social functioning. The World Bank calls it a “cost-effective means” of ensuring all members of society “live up to their full potential.”

Yet one of Harper’s first acts upon taking power in 2006 was cancelling the fledgling early childhood education program finally put in place by the Liberals. The savings now help finance the Conservatives’ expanded prison program, which may prove necessary as neglected kids from the Harper era reach adolescence.

Allowing that Regent Park nursery school to close for lack of funding only makes sense if we take the position we can no longer afford to educate all children in our society.

That, by the way, is an ideological position, not a statement of economic realities. The economic reality is that we get richer every year as a country; our GDP has grown massively since 1937.

Yet, as Lewis noted, we now have “an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth.”

It’s not that we don’t have enough collective wealth — our cup overfloweth — it’s that we’ve accepted a rigid and illogical ideology, preached by conservatives, that teaches us we can no longer afford what we plainly managed to afford when we had less money.

The events of the past week remind us that the social democratic vision remains potent in the land.

Harper, who once dissed Canada as “second-tier socialistic country,” desperately wants to replace that vision with a different national vision — one based on military fighting power, loyalty to the British crown and an economic system where the strongest survive while the rest (even in nursery school) are on their own.

The well-financed Conservative machine appears increasingly dominant at all levels of government in Canada. Still, Lewis’s masterful eulogy was a stirring reminder that Canada’s social democratic forces may be on the ropes but — like Layton brandishing his cane — are not willing to go gentle into that good night.
In case you haven't seen Lewis's remarks, or just need to be inspired again, you can watch the eulogy here and a few hundred other places.

canada and u.s.: join to speak out against tar sands pipeline

Environmental activists in the US see an opportunity for real action against the tar sands pipeline. Since the oil-friendly and environment-hating Harper government won't listen to us on this issue, we owe it to North America to do whatever we can to try to stop this nightmare. See below for two important action links. They're separate petitions; please sign both.

From NRDC:
The [US] State Department is still rushing toward approval of the disastrous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would enrich oil companies by transporting the world's dirtiest oil 2,000 miles from Canada to Texas.

Please send a message to President Obama asking him to order Secretary Clinton to kill this dangerous project.

The pipeline will drive horrific destruction of songbird habitat in the Boreal forest ... rev up excessive global warming pollution ... and threaten the drinking water of millions of Americans with toxic spills.

The Keystone XL is a fossil fuel nightmare -- NOT the clean energy future that President Obama promised America.

The President told the American people we’d get a “robust review” of the tar sands pipeline, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not delivered it.

We’re not surprised. A robust review would reveal that this entire scheme is a boon to Big Oil and a disaster-in-the-making for everyone else. It would destroy the myth that America needs this pipeline to ensure a supply of “friendly” oil from Canada.

Bringing more of this “friendly” oil to the U.S. will destroy millions of migratory birds and their ancient forest habitat ... turbo-charge global warming ... raise gas prices in the Midwest ... and stands to poison wildlife habitats and drinking water in the American heartland.

With friends like that, who needs enemies?

What’s worse, the tar sands pipeline will practically slam the door on a clean energy future for America. It will lock us into the dirtiest, riskiest, most destructive oil on the planet -- for decades to come.

Help us prevail on President Obama before it’s too late. Ask him to order Secretary of State Clinton to deliver the full review we were promised and to reject a project that is so clearly against our national interest.
From Avaaz:
Canada mines deadly oil that creates toxic sludge lakes and destroys forests in Alberta -- and Harper needs Obama's help to sell it. Our own government is captured by powerful oil interests, but Obama is wavering on building a new cross-border pipeline. If enough Canadians ask him to protect the world from our deadly oil, we could tip the balance away from pollution.

Within days, President Obama could decide whether to allow a massive tar sands pipeline right through the middle of the U.S. -- boosting tar sands production and risking the contamination of major fresh water sources in his own country. PM Harper and his oil cronies have tarnished Canada's beauty and reputation, but Obama has the ultimate say on pipeline approval and he’s keen to strengthen his green credentials. He could override Harper's stubborn support for deadly oil.

Harper stopped listening to Canadians about climate a long time ago. Now, we have the chance to lobby the US and cut-off deadly oil for good. When we reach 50,000 signatures, we'll deliver our call directly to the White House. Let’s save Canada’s tarred image -- sign now and forward to everyone you know.

Tar sands oil creates huge tailing ponds so toxic that animals, including migrating birds, die if they touch the water. Teams of people are employed just to scrape the dead animals from the sludge ponds each day. Refining tar sands spreads cancerous heavy metals and sulphur through Canada’s rivers, and many indigenous communities in the area report an increase in rare cancers.

Our government’s push for increased deadly oil production has been relentless. Just weeks ago, when Europe considered applying pollution standards to tar sands oil, the entire Canadian government launched a ferocious counter-attack, even threatening trade sanctions. However, the US has a powerful green-friendly leader who is eager to win approval from environmental groups -- and his rejection of the tar sands pipeline would, according to one Alberta politician, permanently land-lock deadly oil, gutting the industry and limiting pollution.

Many of Obama’s green bills have faced fierce opposition in Congress, but approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a decision he makes alone. Let’s join our friends in the US and around the world to place the spotlight on Obama with our Canadian petition to reject deadly oil. It will be delivered to the White House on Friday. Sign now and forward to everyone.

Canada is repeatedly named the worst country in the world on climate. Still, it is unlikely that our domestic politics will change overnight. Today though, we can still fight to keep deadly oil in the ground and secure a safer climate future. Avaaz members in Britain helped push their government to support a EU initiative to keep tar sands oil out of Europe this summer and we can build on their momentum -- together, we can win a North American victory against deadly oil.
Sign NRDC letter here.

Sign Avaaz petition here.

Also from Avaaz:

Globe and Mail: Without Keystone XL, Oil Sands face Choke Point

CBC: Margot Kidder and Tantoo Carinal arrested at Keystone XL protest

The Nation: Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben Call for Civil Disobedience on Tar Sands

Tar Sands Background Information


celebrating jack: "one should always have a dream that is larger than a lifetime"


Nothing remains to be said about Jack Layton, the man and the leader. I certainly can't say anything that hasn't been said so many times already. I can only continue to miss him, and to pledge my determination to his cause - to our cause. But I thought I would tell you about my day. The photos were taken by Allan on Friday, August 26 and by me on Saturday, August 27.

Allan went to Nathan Phillips Square on Friday. He was amazed and impressed and moved, noting that it reminded him of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Allan and I saw the AIDS Quilt displayed on the National Mall during a huge LGBT-AIDS demo, and it's a fitting analogy to the outpouring of love and remembrance for Jack Layton.

I got to Nathan Phillips Square around 8:30 on Saturday, August 27. There were already several hundred people waiting to pay respects to Jack. I normally find coffin visitations a bit strange. This time, however, I found the action very meaningful and moving, especially the shared experience of paying my respects with others - strangers, but all connected - who were also similarly affected by Jack's life. It was very, very sad. Is there anything more final than the coffin?

I signed the condolence books, then wandered through Nathan Phillips Square reading and photographing memorials. Throughout the morning, the square was filling up with people, many wearing various shades of orange. I wore orange, too.






At around 11:00, a circular area around The Archer, the Henry Moore sculpture near City Hall, was barricaded off for the hearse and limos, and people began to gather around the barricades. I found a spot near the door, so I was under the overhang; most people were standing in the broiling sun. Over a period of two hours, there was various activity in and out of City Hall - the TTC Honour Guard assembling, the lead bagpiper attending to business, limo drivers receiving instructions.

Finally the escort cars drove off, then returned. The crowd erupted in applause as Olivia, Michael Layton, Sarah Layton, Olivia's mother, and other family members emerged. Olivia walked walked by herself from the car into City Hall, the others following in small groups. Not long after, the bagpipers began to play, and the RCMP pallbearers carried the flag-draped coffin to the hearse. The crowd began a spontaneous chant of "Thank You Jack" that went on for a very long time. Olivia walked, alone, behind the coffin. It was heartbreaking. I was directly behind the media platform, and as the hearse drove off, I saw many reporters and camerapeople brush tears from their eyes.


When the cars drove off, I joined the "People's Procession" and (by texting) quickly found my friends from the War Resisters Support Campaign, who had also been at City Hall. Michelle Robidoux, the Campaign's lead organizer and spokesperson was already in Roy Thompson Hall, by invitation. A few other members had been invited through through their labour unions or their personal connections to Jack and Olivia, but Michelle was there to represent the War Resisters campaign. Think of what that says about Jack and Olivia. It fills me with pride and joy and hope.

The Procession was amazing! Samba Elegua was clanking and shaking, New Orleans horns were blaring, hundreds of cyclists were ringing their bells. Orange was everywhere! I ran into several IS comrades and other activist friends. It was one of the biggest crowds I've ever seen in Toronto.

By the time we passed St. Andrew's Church on King and University, set up to accommodate overflow crowds, the church was filled. I heard that the CBC lobby was also filled. The crowd packed into Picaud Square (the new name of Metro Square). I maneuvered into some shade (I have no tolerance for sun and was already overheated) and watched and listened to the funeral from there.

I assume every Canadian reading this watched the funeral, but if you are not from Canada and are curious about the man Canadians are mourning and celebrating, this page at CBC.ca has video of the entire funeral, and especially shorter videos of three important eulogies: from his adult children, Michael Layton and Sarah Layton, and the central eulogy from Stephen Lewis.

Michael Layton's and Sarah Latyon's remarks were especially beautiful, and Stephen Lewis was brilliant. Some conservative Canadians are miffed that Lewis's remarks were so blatantly political, but how could one possibly speak about Jack Layton in any other way? Jack's life and his politics were inseparable. What's more, this was clearly what Jack wanted; he planned the service himself. As for "our tax dollars" paying for an event with political content, the G20 says hi. It must be endlessly irritating for the right-wingers to see social justice and inclusion publicly celebrated for almost an entire week.

I also enjoyed the sermon by Reverend Brent Hawkes, even though I did not relate to it personally. Hawkes said that in his one of their final talks, he asked Jack "how churchy" the sermon could be, and Jack said, "Go for it." It was indeed a religious or spiritual sermon, which I gather was in keeping with Layton's own spirituality. As an atheist who doesn't believe in an eternal soul or any sort of life after death (except in the sense that our bodies decompose and remain part of the organic matter of the planet), the idea of reuniting with loved ones in the great beyond is completely bizarre. But one line from the sermon stays with me. Reverend Hawkes said, quoting Jack:
One should always have a dream that is larger than one's lifetime.
More than an aphorism, this speaks of an entire orientation towards life - a life of altruism, of unfinished struggle, of collective action. If you dream something bigger than your own lifetime, that dream is more important than you. It transcends personal reward or credit. Your dream can only be accomplished by passing the torch to others. Jack Layton picked up the torch of public service and social justice, and he ran with it as long as he could. Now he's passed the torch to us.










Our photos of the memorials on Flickr: to jack, with love and thanks.


celebrating jack: rise up

I missed this song in the 80s, along with the video, filmed on the streets of Toronto. Perhaps it was a Canadian thing that didn't cross the border very much, but I only know "Rise Up" from the 2011 NDP election campaign.

Yesterday, like most of you, I found Lorraine Segato's rendition powerful and moving. I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of other progressive people who had packed Picaud (Metro) Square to celebrate the life of Jack Layton. Stephen Harper and other dignitaries inside Roy Thomson Hall were awkwardly swaying and clapping, but I've heard that many people in the balconies - and certainly many of us outside - were punching our fists in the air. Rise Up! Rise Up!

By the way, Rob Ford didn't clap, and he didn't rise up. We saw him leaving the funeral, walking down King Street with an eight-person police escort.

I hope to write about my day celebrating and mourning Jack later today or tomorrow, with our photos of the memorials.


follow-up: cuisinart honours its warranty

This earlier post - "we work to buy things that are built to die so that we must work to buy more things that will break" - was not meant to be about the trials and tribulations of my coffee maker, but I do want to finish that part of the story.

Although the damn thing broke after only 13 months of use - and although I was very annoyed at having to ship it at my own expense to the service centre - and although I was even more annoyed that the warranty also required me to pay the return postage - a new Cuisinart electric percolator has just arrived on my doorstep, 14 days after we mailed off the broken one. The new one still includes Cuisinart's three-year warranty. Perhaps if they have to replace enough of them, they'll start making them more durable.

Also, I did not have the receipt for the broken percolator. It seemed like I had every receipt for every item I've ever purchased, except that one. The coffee maker itself has a serial number, and from that the company can tell when it shipped to the store. You just have to hope it wasn't sitting in the store for two years before you purchased it.

The cheapo Proctor-Silex drip machine we bought to keep me caffeinated in between electric percs did survive the two weeks. I'll now put it back in its box and keep it in the basement for the next coffee emergency.

as 2012 draws near, u.s. states ramp up voter suppression

Way back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a lot about voter suppression and election fraud in the US, posts under the general category election fraud - fraud in the general sense of "fraudulent democracy". Since then, a few states have passed a few laws mandating oversight of electronic voting, but other than that, little has changed. Voter suppression, voter intimidation, election disinformation campaigns, vote stealing, vote switching and other purposeful, malevolent attempts to undermine what's left of democracy in the US remains rampant.

Right now, a wave of voter suppression laws are being passed all over the US — laws designed to keep huge numbers of voters away from the polls in 2012. And what a surprise, these laws disproportionately affect African-Americans, seniors, students and people with disabilities. The ACLU counts 18 states that have either passed or or are threatening to pass restrictive voter ID bills in this legislative session alone. These laws could block the votes of a combined 21 million Americans who do not have government-issued photo ID, a disproportionate number of whom are low-income, people of colour, and elderly.

You may have heard about a case in 2008 in which 12 nuns were prevented from voting in Indiana. The women were in their 80s, had a history of voting in past elections, and did not drive; limited mobility made it difficult for them to obtain ID. They were turned away from the polls. This is a typical scenario. Multiply it by hundreds, thousands, millions. It amounts to a widespread, coordinated effort by governors and state legislators to prevent people from voting.

In some (although not all) states, if Attorney General Eric Holder determines that these laws violate the Voting Rights Act, he can deny the approval needed before they can take effect. If you live in the US, please go here to send a letter to Holder and help the ACLU's work. If you don't... consider yourself lucky.

Excerpts from the ACLU's fact sheet on voter ID laws:

* There is no credible evidence that in-person impersonation voter fraud -- the only type of fraud that photo IDs could prevent – is even a minor problem.

* Proponents of voter ID laws have failed to demonstrate that individual, in -person voter fraud is even a minor problem anywhere in the country.

* Multiple studies have found that almost all cases of in-person impersonation voter "fraud" are the result of a voter making an honest mistake, and that even these mistakes are extremely infrequent.

* It is important, instead, to focus on both expanding the franchise and ending practices which actually threaten the integrity of the elections, such as improper purges of voters, voter harassment, and distribution of false information about when and where to vote. None of these issues, however, are addressed or can be resolved with a photo ID requirement.

* Requiring voters to obtain an ID in order to vote is tantamount to a poll tax. Although some states issue IDs for free, the birth certificates, passports, or other documents required to obtain a government-issued ID cost money, and many Americans simply cannot afford to pay for them.

* In addition, states incur sizable costs when providing IDs to voters who do not have them. Given the financial strain many states already are experiencing, this is an unnecessary allocation of taxpayer dollars.

* Voter ID laws have a disproportionate and unfair impact on low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minority voters, students, senior citizens, voters with disabilities and others who do not have a government-issued ID or the money to acquire one.

* The Supreme Court has held that a state cannot value one person’s vote over another and that is exactly what these laws do.

* Research shows that 11% of US citizens – or more than 21 million Americans -- do not have government-issued photo identification.

* As many as 25% of African American citizens of voting age do not have a government-issued photo ID, compared to only 8% of their white counterparts.

* 18% of Americans over the age of 65 (or 6 million senior citizens) do not have a government-issued photo ID.

* Any requirement that citizens show government-issued photo ID at the polls reintroduces an enormous amount of discretion into the balloting process, thus creating opportunities for discrimination at the polls against racial, ethnic and language minority voters.

* Most polling places rely on volunteers or poll workers with minimal training to check in voters and answer questions. There is a risk that inadequately trained workers could turn away and disfranchise even properly documented voters.

* Voter ID requirements are a dangerous and misguided step backwards in our ongoing quest for a more democratic society.

* Elected officials should be seeking ways to encourage more voters, not inventing excuses to deny voters the ability to cast their ballots. Photo ID requirements present substantial barriers to voting and negatively effect voter participation.

* Today, 30 states have enacted discriminatory voter ID laws that prevent citizens from voting, and more states are considering such restrictive and discriminatory laws.

* The history of [the US] is characterized by a gradual expansion of voting rights. As our democracy continued to evolve with the right to vote has been expanded to include most Americans.


why my library matters to me: win lunch and a walking tour with atwood or ondaatje

Some of you may have recently received this somewhat cryptic email from Maureen O’Reilly of the campaign to save Toronto Public Library.
In a few days, I will be announcing an exciting new contest called My Library Matters to Me. . . . Some of the biggest names on the Canadian literary scene are involved.

Famous novelists and story tellers are stepping up to defend the Toronto Public Library, donating their time to raise awareness of the great importance of our libraries and to stimulate public discussion on this vital issue.

Each author will take a group of contest winners on a tour of some of the locations in Toronto that are set in their books or have other literary significance, followed by lunch at their fave restaurant.

Imagine. You could spend a few hours strolling and chatting over lunch with a celebrated author about their latest work!

For a chance to win, you must submit to www.OurPublicLibrary.to/contest a short written statement on the topic of “Why My Library Matters to Me”. We are also accepting short videos on the same topic. There’s even a chance for children 12 years and under to participate by sending in a drawn picture or a short written essay.

There will be 50 winners!
Today the unnamed "celebrated authors" were announced. The two biggest names on the list may be no surprise, but it's an exciting contest. I'm imagining an In the Skin of a Lion walking tour with Michael Ondaatje. Very cool.
A hang-out session with Margaret Atwood or lunch with Michael Ondaatje are among the prizes in a new contest spearheaded by library supporters in Toronto.

A group of activists opposing proposed branch closures, service and program reductions for Toronto's library system — among a host of auditor-recommended cost-cutting measures for the city — joined a host of acclaimed writers in Toronto Thursday morning to announce details of the contest.

Prize-winning authors Atwood, Ondaatje, Vincent Lam, Linwood Barclay, and Susan Swan are just a few of the literary celebrities who are calling on the public to submit short essays and videos on the theme of "Why My Library Matters to Me." The competition is also open to children, who may submit drawings or short written pieces.

"The position that libraries hold in the hearts of people really cannot be overestimated," Atwood told CBC News.

"Messages were pouring in from all over the country and from other countries. People really got into it, not just via the [online] petition, but through story-sharing on Twitter and blog-sharing."

The contest was inspired in part by this sharing — Atwood said her Twitter account was flooded with people sharing "little, 140-character stories" about what libraries meant to them.

Altogether, 50 winners will be chosen to join one of the participating writers on a tour of Toronto sites that have inspired his or her work (or that have particular literary significance), followed by lunch with the author at a local restaurant.
This is a great opportunity to articulate your connection with the public library. It's also a stirring and brilliant example of creative library advocacy.

You can submit a written essay or a video, and kids can submit either writing or drawings in their own categories. Contest rules are here; submissions close on Sept 9 at 5:00 Eastern. Good luck!

jack layton memorials are more than grief: they're an affirmation of the ndp's vision

Remembering Jack Layton at Nathan Phillips Square

The enormous outpouring of emotion on Jack Layton's passing continues unabated. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians are leaving messages and flowers, and making donations to the Broadbent Institute. Millions more are writing tributes online, through the NDP website, Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.

The love and appreciation, the loss and grief that we're expressing and witnessing are not only for Layton the man. Jack was loved, we know that. For sure, we found him personally engaging - determined, hopeful, charismatic, sincere, caring. And for many Canadians, it was Jack's personality and style that first drew them in. But after that, it was Jack's vision - the NDP's ideas and platform - that kept them interested.

Let's reflect for a moment on the results of the election of May 2, 2011.

We know that 5,832,401 million Canadians voted for the Conservative Party, an increase of slightly less than two percent (1.96%) over the 2008 election. Support for the Conservative platform remains static, with about 24% of eligible voters choosing Stephen Harper's vision of Canada.

We know that 4,508,474 Canadians voted for the New Democrats, a surge that translated into the party's unprecedented gain of 67 seats and status as Official Opposition.

We also know that in 122 ridings won by either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party, the NDP came in second. In many of these ridings, the final tallies were very close: in 14 ridings won by the Conservatives with the NDP finishing second, the difference was a total only 6,000 votes. And the NDP finished below second in only five percent of ridings nationally.

The punditocracy, at a loss to explain their failure to predict, immediately declared that a vote for the NDP was really a vote for None Of The Above. Quebec voters, especially, were said to be suffering from mass ignorance. These voters apparently understood that they didn't like the Conservatives, the Liberals or the Bloc. And then, not knowing what else to do, they shrugged their collective shoulders: oh well, I don't know what this party's about, but Jack Layton seems like a good guy, I'll roll the dice on these unknowns. Along with Quebeckers, millions of young voters suffered from a similar ignorance.

What condescension. What bullshit. As I wrote when Parliament returned in June:
Why would voters understand they didn't want Liberals or Conservatives, but somehow not understand what the NDP stands for? Did Jack Layton not campaign his heart out? Did the NDP not run ads announcing its platform? Was Michael Ignatieff so much more visible than Jack Layton during the 2011 campaign? No, no, no.
The "none of the above" explanation was an attempt to dismiss the left alternative, to deny what had become blatantly obvious: millions of Canadians wanted change, and they wanted change from the left.

Right now, the ongoing display of love and grief for Jack Layton is a reminder of those four and a half million votes. Read the messages. We are not only missing and remembering Jack, we are thanking Jack - thanking him for his vision, for the NDP's vision of a more humane, just, equal, inclusive society.

Seems to me the best way to honour Jack Layton is to work for that vision.

[More links to Layton memorials are in comments here; more photos from Jackman Chiu here; thanks to Impudent Strumpet for the tip on Chiu.]


palestine 194: palestine must be recognized as a nation

The United Nations Security Council will soon meet for a second time to discuss Palestine's bid to become the world's 194th country. While I personally don't believe that "two states for two peoples" is a path to peace and reconciliation, I do know that Palestine must be recognized as a nation, no matter what.

Avaaz is circulating this petition, on which they hope to gather one million signatures.
We urge you to endorse the legitimate bid for recognition of the state of Palestine and the reaffirmation of the rights of the Palestinian people. It is time to turn the tide on decades of failed peace talks, end the occupation and move towards peace based on two states.
Sign here.


planet tala

These are Orbees, very special dog toys made by the excellent Planet Dog.

We call Orbees "Planets". Tala loves her Planet more than anything on the planet - except squirrels. Now that Tala can't chase squirrels, she likes to have the Planet with her at all times. When Diego runs off to chase squirrels, Tala grabs her Planet, and runs in little circles in her pen, squishing the ball in her jaws over and over.

Diego loves to steal Tala's Planet. He works at it, tearing off the continents one at a time. We would say, "Diego is destroying the Planet!"

To keep the peace, we ordered Diego his own Planet, and got a second one for Tala, too. I don't know what it is about these Orbees, but our dogs are crazy for them.

Even when Tala is just relaxing in her pen, she likes to have her Planets nearby.

If we let Diego in the pen, he immediately grabs Tala's toy.

Eventually we have to ask Diego to leave. He goes back to his own world.

But he's still got his eye on hers.

time lapse photography, garden-to-table edition

Corn and tomato salad:
tomatoes (our gardenette)
corn (Ontario)
lime juice

Friends over for dinner and baseball tonight. The menu is a little slice of summer:
- grilled lime-garlic-marinated chicken, local/organic/ethically raised from Beretta Farms,
- corn and tomato salad, see above,
- grilled asparagus, local... if you're Peruvian,
- sourdough bread, Whole Foods,
- pineapple/strawberries/cantaloupe/nectarines,
- and of course plenty of Ontario wine.

Our first gardening experience has left us completely amazed. We never thought these plants would grow so huge or yield so many tomatoes. We're keeping track of how many tomatoes we pick. (I know this would normally be done by the pound, but we have nothing to weigh them on, so we're just counting.) We've picked 35 so far, and there's a few dozen still on the vine.


open letter from jack layton: "love is better than anger. hope is better than fear. optimism is better than despair."

August 20, 2011, Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don't be discouraged that my own journey hasn't gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we've done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let's continue to move forward. Let's demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada's Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one - a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world's environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don't let them tell you it can't be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world.

All my very best,
Jack Layton

View pdf here.

jack layton 1950-2011, with love and thanks

I learned the terrible, shocking news of Jack Layton's death a bit late, and only because friends texted and emailed me. I tend to be in a news bubble on Monday mornings. I'm heartsick. We all are.

My heart breaks for Olivia and all of Jack's family, and for all of us, his extended family.

I'm also so happy he was able to lead his party to historic victory in his lifetime.

What a terrible loss.

dinner gets easier and our wallets get lighter: whole foods comes to mississauga

Hallelujah! A Whole Foods Market has opened in Mississauga, not five minutes from where I live. My life is complete.

Most Canadians don't know Whole Foods; there's one in Toronto, one in Oakville (just west of Mississauga) and a few in Vancouver. And now there's a one in Square One, Mississauga Central. I've never lived right near a Whole Foods, even in New York. I should just go over there and give them my credit card right now.

For the conscious consumer, Whole Foods is a decidedly mixed bag. The CEO, John Mackey, is notoriously anti-union and has actually spoken out against public health care. On the other hand, the company is a very good employer (which doesn't excuse union-organizing obstruction, but is still important), has almost single-handedly normalized the market for organically grown produce, and its huge buying power has made a real difference on issues like the sale of live lobsters and cruelty-free personal care products.

Whole Foods is one more thing: my favourite store. (There are only two stores I actually enjoy; the other is Ikea.) About a month ago, driving into the Square One area for something else, I was amazed to see the familiar green logo. I actually called Allan from the parking lot to tell him a Whole Foods was being built.

Shopping at WF, you have to be careful: sticker-shock at the cash (US: register) is always a danger. We couldn't afford to do all our shopping there. But if I'm cooking a special dinner, it's the first place I want to go.

The Big Thing about WF, for me, is their prepared food. It is the best - and where I live, it's the only. Mississauga has many quality supermarkets, but prepared food to take home for dinner is limited to rotisserie chickens and microwaveable spaghetti and meatballs. A good selection of healthy, quality, freshly prepared food has been nonexistent. This has led us to cook more (good), but it's also led us, when we're overly busy or stressed, to eat more processed and convenience foods (not good). A nearby WF solves that.

WF is also a great place to meet a friend for lunch or to eat healthfully while you're out and about. We pack ourselves a selection from the food bar before we hit the road for a long drive, like down to New York for US Thanksgiving. "Salad bar" doesn't begin to describe.

I wrote about the WF dilemma in more detail here: are my hands clean, and can i stand to get them a little cleaner. I've never been very good at store-focused boycotts, and in the end, this one went nowhere for me. That's just the honest truth.

Feel free to read the old essay and leave comments on this thread if you like. If we're all talked out on these issues, that's fine, too.


you can look it up

"Can anyone on Capital [sic] Hill read?” demanded a sign held by a protester at one of the first Tea Party rallies, back in February of 2009.

"If so read the Constitution
As Americans we do not have the right:
To a house
To a car
To an education
Americans have a right
to per sue [sic] happiness
not to have it given to them!"

The sign intrigued me, and so I took a picture of it as its author held it aloft. Nobody’s entitled to the good things in life, her sign seemed to be saying, and so presumably we should stop crafting policy to make home ownership, travel, and education affordable — a curious demand in the middle of an economic catastrophe.

But I was also taken by the surface-level irony: accusing others of cultural illiteracy while herself apparently mixing up the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence, the document that actually mentions the “pursuit of happiness.” I filed it away and eventually forgot about it.

Until a year and a half later, when I was reading Spread THIS Wealth (And Pass THIS Ammunition!), a book by one C. Jesse Duke, a Tea Party enthusiast who has actually designed and copyrighted his own version of the movement’s familiar snake flag. Mr. Duke writes as follows:
Benjamin Franklin said, “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
Here it was again, this time attributed to one of the few men who had a hand in drafting both the Declaration and the Constitution. Could Franklin really have got them confused?

I read on. After Mr. Duke’s next sentence — “By patronizing our fellow citizens under the guise of ‘helping’ them, we have taken away their fundamental dignity” — he included an endnote. I flipped to the back of the book and found this reference: “Proverbs 20:4.”

Now I was really intrigued. The wording of the quotation reminded me less of Franklin’s well-known style than of mid-twentieth-century self-help. “You have to catch it yourself,” I soon discovered, is an exceedingly popular bit of Frankliniana, complete with the awkward reference to the Constitution. It can be found on countless quote-compiling websites, the modern-day equivalent of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations minus the fact-checking. Authors associated with the latest right-wing revival routinely attribute great significance to this quotation. Bloggers love it, especially those bloggers partial to a strict, no-welfare-allowed interpretation of the founding documents.

The saying crops up in all sorts of curious places. In 2003, the president of Stanford University used a version of it to welcome new students to the groves of academe. According to an article last summer in the Dallas Morning News, it adorns the office of the economic adviser to the prime minister of Georgia (the former Soviet republic, that is). Ann Landers quoted it in a 1992 column. Nowhere, though, could I find anyone who sourced the phrase back to a primary work by or about Benjamin Franklin. It does not appear in Bartlett’s itself. A search of the authoritative database of Franklin’s writings yields no matches. Google Books assures us it does not come up in any of the major Franklin biographies. I contacted six different Franklin authorities; none had ever heard of it. A search of scholarly journals turned up exactly one instance of the saying, in a 1960 issue of a magazine for high school English teachers — again, without the benefit of mooring to any primary works by or about Franklin.

. . . .

Even the witty axioms of Benjamin Franklin fade to insignificance when a liberty-minded protester contemplates the mighty utterances of Thomas Jefferson, such as this one:
The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.
It is a beloved saying. Someone has made a YouTube video in which a cartoon Founder recites the quote and then dares us modern-day slackers to do something about it. It has been incanted by Michael Steele, Lou Dobbs, and Christine O’Donnell, the former Senate candidate from Delaware, who deployed it to bolster the victimology that characterized her campaign: “That is the question, isn’t it?” she said in a speech last September, according to The New York Times. “And the verdict is in. The small elite don’t get it. They call us wacky, they call us wing-nuts. We call us, ‘We the people.’ ”

I was at first mystified by the right’s enthusiasm for this quotation. After all, the “small elite” that rules us was installed in its privilege by none other than conservatives themselves, who have done so much to make America a land where the voice of money outshouts everyone else. When the Tea Party faithful talk about the “elite,” however, they mean the exact opposite of that: they know that “elitism” is what happens when bureaucrats interfere with the natural, democratic, freemarket order of things, and therefore they find the maxim to be a stirring call to rise up against the lash of Boss Obama and his gang of unelected czars.

As with the Franklin quote, “ruled by a small elite” cannot be traced to an actual primary work by the sage of Monticello. The online Papers of Thomas Jefferson contain nothing. I consulted Jefferson scholars and the nice people at Monticello; none had heard it. Jefferson biographies: zip. I looked up elite in the Oxford English Dictionary and found that the word was first used this way in 1823, just three years before Jefferson’s death. An assistant editor of Jefferson’s papers at Princeton University told me that “as far as I can tell, TJ never used the word.”
This is excerpted from a terrific little piece in Harper's, several months back: "Check It Yourself," by Thomas Frank. Frank traces potential sources for both quotes, and speculates on this particular historical ignorance from a faction that claims to care deeply about history and returning the US to its roots. Interested readers may email me for a pdf.

I've looked everywhere for an image of the sign Frank quotes, but I can't find one. Instead, please enjoy these images. You've probably seen most or all of them before, but it never hurts to be reminded. And while it's true there's a wmtc house rule against correcting other people's spelling and grammar, that applies to otherwise civil and well-meaning commenters. Ignorant, racist neofascists funded by billionaires are fair game.

Many people's favourite:

And for old-time's sake, the one and only, except no imatatons:

I'm laughing, but it's very, very sad. Ignorance plus anger is a dangerous combination. Throw in all those guns and their handlers' money and you have... That sentence is still up for grabs.

what i'm reading: life, by keith richards

I'm reading Life, Keith Richards's autobiography, written with journalist James Fox. I believe this is the first celebrity memoirs or autobiography I've ever read - or ever wanted to. I'd say I'm an unreptentant, unabashed Keef fan, but there ain't no other kind of Keith Richards fan. (Not coincidentally, Keith Richards was the first interest Allan and I learned we had in common, probably less than an hour after we met.)

The book is terrific - engrossing, entertaining, and revealing, not for the dirt and gossip, but for the man's mind and heart. You've probably heard how Keith wanted to be a librarian; turns out he was a Boy Scout, too. And he became a junkie because he was shy and uncomfortable with fame, and because he loathed the idea of being a pop star.

The crazy stories are fun, the birth and trajectory of the band from Keith's perspective is fascinating. Thinking about this teenager in a working-class British town hearing Elvis Presley sing "Heartbreak Hotel" for the first time - listening to Scotty Moore's guitar sound over and over and over, his horizons bursting open at that moment - is incredible. But what's most interesting are Keith's reflections on music history, on the collaborative process of music-making, on being a songwriter - on art and life and the interaction between the two. Of course there are the drugs, the name-dropping, the wild life, the music industry, the road, but more than any of that, Life is a musician's and an artist's memoirs. If you don't understand where Keith Richards came from musically - the musical stream he leapt into, and how he helped change and re-create it - you might be surprised at the depth of this book.

This New York Times review of Life really captures the spirit of the book. Michiko Kakutani calls it "electrifying," and says:
Mr. Richards's prose is like his guitar playing: intense, elemental, utterly distinctive and achingly, emotionally direct.
Here's a passage her review quotes:
I can’t untie the threads of how much I played up to the part that was written for me. . . . I mean the skull ring and the broken tooth and the kohl. Is it half and half? I think in a way your persona, your image, as it used to be known, is like a ball and chain. People think I’m still a goddamn junkie. It’s 30 years since I gave up the dope! Image is like a long shadow. Even when the sun goes down, you can see it.
This blogger's book review contains some excellent snippets that give you a feel for the book.

Now if only Joni Mitchell would write her memoirs...


"we work to buy things that are built to die so that we must work to buy more things that will break"

Two weeks ago, my coffee maker broke. It was a electric percolator (I wrote about my preference for it here), made by Cuisinart. It's the third such percolator I've had in a six-year span. One day they just stop working.

I purchased this particular coffee maker 13 months ago. After digging through my receipts and warranties and instruction booklets, I learned Cuisinart has an unusual three-year warranty. To access the warranty, we had pack up the coffee maker, ship it to a service centre, enclose a $10 cheque for return postage, and wait an estimated two weeks. Meanwhile, we had to buy another coffee maker, which, if it will last long enough, could be our back-up for the next time the electric percolator breaks - but is more likely to break well before it is needed again.

The broken percolator was inconvenient, and annoying, and wasteful. But at least I can - presumably - get a replacement from Cuisinart.
Last week, after inflating the Aerobed for my mother (we try to give her our bed, but she wouldn't take it), I heard the now-familiar hiss of escaping air. Not one hole, but several, all over the bed. We bought this Aerobed last year. And we bought it last year because, when we stayed at my mom's over US Thanksgiving, the previous Aerobed sprung a leak! We estimate this Aerobed has been used five times. And we've already learned that patching the leak is a waste of time. It's the third Aerobed we've purchased since August 2005.
You already know about my Heys backpack (overview with links to correspondence here). The mesh compartments normally used for an umbrella and a water bottle ripped after three weeks of use. Heys told me this was "normal wear and tear," not covered by the warranty. I complained strenuously and blogged about their bad customer service. They replaced the backpack. The replacement developed the same holes in less than a month.
We have purchased three patio umbrellas since 2005, and would have purchased a fourth, but some friends gave us one they no longer need.
We bought a weed trimmer. During the second season of use, it stopped charging. The warranty had run out.
A few years ago I purchased a food vacuum sealer. I wanted to cook more in batches - soups, stews and other one-pot dishes that can be frozen in portions - and better preserve the flavour and freshness of the dishes. We bought a Kenmore vacuum sealer from Sears, priced at $150. I estimate we used it no more than 15 times before the vacuum stopped working correctly.

Because a vacuum sealer isn't something one uses daily or even weekly, by the time I discovered it was broken, the warranty had run out - while the thing was sitting in the closet. (I tried to get Sears to replace it anyway, without success.) I wish I had put the warranty expiry date on my calendar, so I could have purposely used it prior to that date. It never occurred to me to do such a thing, but in the future, I will.

Now the vacuum sealer works somewhat - better than a plastic zipper bag, but not the way it's supposed to.

Things fall apart

I could go on. And I'm sure you could post your own lists, too. It's not like we're purposely buying the cheapest stuff, either; it's that quality and durability are nearly nonexistent. (When I bought my expensive ergoCentric chair, we discussed the often false value of the cheap price tag.) I find this enormously frustrating on so many levels. Really, it drives me crazy. It's a huge waste of money. It's a huge waste of global resources. It fills the world with trash. I've taken to calling everything I buy "future landfill".

Like most people who care about the planet, I try to minimize my consumption. I don't shop for recreation. I don't buy more than I need. But neither do I live an ascetic life of self-denial. Life is so very short, and I believe we should enjoy simple comforts and pleasures, whatever those may be for each of us.

Allan and I don't fill our lives with gadgets we won't use or clothes we won't wear, but we need computers, a cell phone, conveniences in the kitchen, tools for the yard, and so on. On the spectrum from total simple living to flagrant conspicuous consumption, I think we're closer to the former than the latter, but we're not extreme in either direction.

But however one would characterize our lifestyle, in order to maintain it, we must buy and re-buy and re-buy the same damn stuff.

It's scientific

This, of course, is the living embodiment of The Story of Stuff: planned obsolescence. We all know why it happens. A world filled with advertising trying to induce us to buy, buy, buy is not enough. We must be forced to buy, buy, buy, more, more, more.

Planned obsolescence has existed for nearly a century, but the cycle of buy-break-buy-break shortened tremendously with the advent of cheaply produced plastics in the 1950s (technology originally developed for military uses during World War II), then telescoped further with globalization. In the last decade, and even in the past few years, the product life cycle has shortened even further. AdBusters dug up a historical perspective on planned obsolescence.
"Planned obsolescence" may sound like a conspiracy theory but it was once openly discussed as a solution to the Great Depression. In fact, most scholars trace the origin of the term to Bernard London’s 1932 pamphlet, “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence”, in which London blames the global economic Depression on consumers who disobey “the law of obsolescence” by “using their old cars, their old tires, their old radios and their old clothing much longer than statisticians had expected”.

London’s sinister solution was to propose a government agency that would determine the lifespan of each manufactured object whether it is a building, a ship, a comb or a shoe. Those frugal consumers who insisted on using their products past the expiration date would be penalized. London explained his plan simply: “I propose that when a person continues to posses and use old clothing, automobiles and buildings, after they have passed their obsolescence date, as determined at the time they were created, he should be taxed for such continued use of what is legally ‘dead’.” While the regulatory specifics of London’s plan may not have been put into place the spirit of his proposal has been adopted by product designers whose objects are meant to break.

And so we grow old in a world surrounded by things whose disposability is prized above all else. Of course, the need to constantly replace the objects in our daily life has an added benefit as well: it keeps us locked into our overworked, over stimulated and under paid daily grind. We work to buy things that are built to die so that we must work to buy more things that will break. . . .

Only 15 copies of London's pamphlet remain in libraries around the world. No copy is available online. Adbusters has tracked down Bernard London's pamphlet and for the first time ever we are making it available online. [Read the 1932 pamphlet here.]
Researching this post, I learned of a book called Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America, by Giles Slade. In a review of the book in Grist, Terry Tamminen writes:
Among the eye-opening revelations of Made to Break is Slade's account of the anti-thrift campaigns launched in the wake of World War I. During the war, the U.S. Treasury Department initiated a frugality campaign opposed by wary merchants. In 1917, Slade recounts, "stores in every city began displaying signs reading, 'Business as Usual. Beware of Thrift and Unwise Economy.'" And a few years later, New York retailers "launched the National Prosperity Committee, with posters that read 'Full Speed Ahead!' 'Clear the Track for Prosperity!' 'Buy What You Need Now!'" (Those sentiments, I realized, were echoed 80 years later, in the grief-stricken days following Sept. 11, when President Bush exhorted Americans to "go shopping" - to show that our resolve and values had not been shaken.)

An entertaining historian with a conversational style, Slade explores the Depression-era development of marketing campaigns that encouraged rapid automobile replacement and resulted in products designed not to last - a concept called "death dating." By the end of World War II, Americans' self-image and esteem were entwined with the possession of the shiny and new as never before. Then, in the 1950s and '60s, the media began touting a plethora of products whose novelty outweighed their necessity, to a growing - and increasingly affluent - audience. To this day, says Slade, "We evaluate ourselves and those around us by what they display. It's a very hard cycle to break."
Evaluating ourselves "by what we display" reminds me of a wmtc essay: on raising consciousness and wanting a new cell phone. I was a bit shocked to realize that - like those idiots in the ads I mock - I actually felt embarrassment by my cell phone, which worked perfectly fine but looked outdated. No need to worry about that anymore. The phone breaks long before any embarrassment can kick in.

Here on this mountaintop

For some people, the response to the frustration of the constant breakdown of everything we buy - as well as the alienation and emptiness of consumerist culture - is DIY or Maker culture. In Maker culture, people eschew cheaply made products and painstakingly craft their own. Reading about this movement, one frequently encounters the idea that buying ready-made products, rather than making objects ourselves, is a function of mass production and the postmodern age. There's a nostalgia for an unspecified past in which everyone knew how to use tools and made whatever they needed. For example:
One of the results of the culture shift has been the fact that some of us have forgotten how to make hardly anything other than dinner and house plants, and a few of us have even forgotten how to do that much.

Maker culture represents the desire of individuals to return to a lifestyle that includes a person making their own life tools and understanding how the machines that we depend on operate.
If people enjoy a DIY life, then by all means they should pursue it. However, I believe there's a misreading of history going on. The lifestyle that people want to "return to" never existed.

Humans have been specializing in skills and crafts since the dawn of civilization. When I researched and wrote about ancient civilizations for young readers, I quickly identified specialization as one of the defining hallmarks of civilization itself.

In ancient civilizations, each family did not necessarily make their own clay pots. Someone who was particularly adept at pot-making would churn out large quantities of pots, or would make pots to order, and would trade her expertly crafted pottery for grain and other necessities and luxuries - items which the potter did not have time to make, because she was busy making pots. Some people were scribes, some were blacksmiths, some were engineers, some made glass objects. As new technologies developed, specialists emerged around each one.

In the past (and in the present in less developed areas) people generally made things themselves when they had no choice. Frontier women made clothes for their families, because they were isolated and had few resources. As villages and towns grew, a woman with better-than-average sewing skills would emerge as a clothesmaker. People gave her money or bartered goods in exchange for her expertise. She in turn bought fabric and sewing equipment from someone who made those. She might have baked her own bread, but if her eyes tired from long days plying a needle, she sought an optometrist. She didn't make eyeglasses herself.

As civilization evolved, specialists emerged who "made" intangible services. Teachers, lawyers, nurses, librarians, builders, doctors, engineers - each exchange expertise and services for money. In the hours not spent earning a living, they raise families, they garden, they make art, they write, they go to the movies. It is unlikely they have time to "make their own life tools and understand how the machines that we depend on operate". Their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents likely did not, either.

I'm not sure how the idea emerged that earlier generations worked with tools and crafted objects more than present generations, but I'm pretty sure it's nostalgia, postmodern alienation edition.

If "making your own" is an absorbing and enjoyable alternative for you, that's terrific. Go for it. But for most people, it's not a realistic alternative, and it won't solve the problem of a culture of disposability.

Check out Mr. Businessman

Most writing on disposability and sustainability exhorts us to buy and consume less - something most of us can and should do. Consuming less is important, but it's insufficient.

First, whatever we do buy is created to fall apart, and will fall apart, and will have to be replaced. And second, simple living will represent, at best, pockets of sustainability amid the dominant culture of consumption. Enough people will not voluntarily change their lifestyles drastically enough to make an appreciable difference.

The wasteful unsustainability of global capitalism will not be reversed by handfuls of people buying less stuff. The problem cannot be solved at the consumer end. It can only be solved at the production end.

You've seen those bumper stickers that say "Still have a job? Keep buying foreign!"? The sarcastic implication is if we had only done our duty to "Buy Canadian" or "Buy American," the manufacturing sector would have remained in North America. Rubbish. Corporations do business where it's most profitable and convenient for them to do. North American consumers generally have no choice but to "buy foreign," because that's what's in the store.

Our buying power does not control manufacturing; it's the other way around. We are not consulted, and our collective (but not organized) buying power cannot create wholesale change. As long as it's cheaper to manufacture goods in China and ship them around the globe, that's what corporations will do. Corporations, you will recall, have allegiance only to the bottom line and to their shareholders, not to job creation and certainly not to abstract concepts like patriotism.

And corporations have no incentive to conduct business sustainability or make durable products. They would have to be forced to by law, or induced to by cost.

Peace of mind, it's a piece of cake

It all comes down to oil.

The whole system that brings us ever cheaper, flimsier products is all built on petroleum - both to create the crappy plastic products and to ship that crap around the globe. Eventually there won't be any more petroleum, and if anything gets made, it will have to be made of something else, and closer to home. What will be left of the planet by that time, and how many millions will suffer until then, remains to be seen.

In the book review quoted above, author Giles Slade is quoted:
During the next few years, the overwhelming problem of waste of all kinds will, I believe, compel American manufacturers to modify industrial practices that feed upon a throwaway ethic. . . . The golden age of obsolescence - the heyday of nylons, tailfins, and transistor radios - will go the way of the buffalo.
I haven't read the book, and I don't mean to pick on Slade; I'm only using this statement as an example of something I often hear. Many people seem to believe that a dire need will somehow compel people and entire systems to change. This is magical thinking. Boards of directors will not reason, "This is too wasteful for the planet. We must start manufacturing cell phones that last 15 years." If corporations are seeing profits and laws do not compel them to do otherwise, they will not change.

What if products had to be made with quality materials, had to last for at least 10 years? What if businesses were compelled to employ sustainable practices? What if, along with wage, safety and environmental standards, there were durability standards? What if environmental standards extended to long-term production practices? What ho, government interference in business?! Markets must be free! (Except for bailouts, tax breaks, subsidies, no-bid contracts, rule changes...)

Why is the so-called free market, from which relatively few people profit, more important than the planet's resources, which every human and every creature needs and shares?

As long as global capitalism continues and intensifies - if the current system is not replaced with a more rational, just and sustainable one - that is, if we do not exchange capitalism for socialism - we will not see the end of this trend. We will "work to buy things that are built to die so that we must work to buy more things". Landfills will continue to grow. Oceans will continue to fill with carcinogenic plastics. Many people will consume more than they can ever need or use, while many more wither and starve. And things will continue to fall apart.

Subtitles by David Byrne

mini tala update

For any of you who are following the Tala saga in detail, I now have a clearer picture of the diagnosis. (I certainly don't expect the majority of wmtc readers to follow this closely, but since some friends are, it's easier to post it here.)

Tala does not have canine degenerative disc disease. She has a more specific condition - also chronic, progressive, and degenerative - called cauda equina syndrome, or lumbrosacral disease.

German Shepherds are prone to this. Although Tala's personality and her size run much more to her Husky side, she clearly has strong Shepherd genetics, too. Apparently her disinclination to climb stairs was a huge clue.

Our regular vets agree that our conservative approach is wise, at least for now. There are several different types of drugs we can try, which can be used in combination, with a possibly positive synergistic effect.

The folks at OVC in Guelph are incredibly skilled, caring, and thorough, and it's a state of the art facility. But they are often lacking in two areas.

One, like many specialists, they fail to see the whole dog. For example, after Cody's tumour was removed, they recommended chemotherapy. Cody was 13 years old, with arthritis, creeping dementia, and severe hip displaysia. No way we were taking her to Guleph every three weeks for chemotherapy! But they really pushed it. We had to use our own judgment and consult with our regular vet to chart a more rational and humane course. So when it comes to surgery, I wouldn't necessarily accept their guidance.

The other area where they are not always stellar is communication. The orthopedist we saw (Tala's first and second OVC appointments) was exceptional, and we came away understanding Tala's condition was probably a compressed nerve caused by cauda equina syndrome. But after meeting with the neurologist (the third appointment), I was dazed and confused. Now, however, he's given his report to our regular vet, and I had a long chat with her. And only now do I really understand what's going on.

Our vet also suggested we get a second opinion. There's an experienced person at the Mississauga-Oakville Animal Hospital. I think we should go for that, too.

It still sucks. But I'm now at least I feel I have a better handle on what's happening. Small comfort, but it helps me cope.

At wmtc5 in 2010, someone had moved some couch cushions. Late in the night, when all but a few guests had gone home, we found Tala in this little den. She had never been on the couch before and has never been since!


heroic white people, "i am not a racist," and other thoughts on some old news

I recently read a few unrelated items that dealt with racism, equality and civil rights in the US, which raised some thoughts I want to share. This time I'm purposely burying the lede, putting the easy stuff up front.

In this essay and review, author and filmmaker Nelson George reviews "The Help," the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's popular novel about a white woman from the US South and her two African American maids. I vowed long ago never to see another Hollywood movie putting a heroic, uplifting gloss on American racism, and I will have no trouble skipping this one. But George uses the release of "The Help" to look at how the civil rights movement has been portrayed in film.

In comments on an earlier movie-related post, we discussed the Hollywood trend of depicting white people as the agents of African American emancipation, allowing white audiences to feel good about themselves and their country's history. George writes:
To protect viewers, sometimes at profound damage to the historical record, white heroes are featured and sometimes concocted for these movies, giving blacks a supporting role in their own struggle for liberation. Films of this stripe are legion, though the most irritating example remains “Mississippi Burning,” in which two F.B.I. agents are at the center of an investigation into the murder of civil rights activists. It was a bitter pill for movement veterans to swallow since the agents’ boss, J. Edgar Hoover, was as vicious an opponent as any Southern Dixiecrat. Though not as egregious, both Rob Reiner’s “Ghosts of Mississippi” and the adaptation of John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill” fit this formula.
I was pleased to see "Mississippi Burning" highlighted, as I remember seeing that film and the reaction it. Much later, reading Taylor Branch, I learned that one of the white heroes of that film did exactly what was depicted: he de-escalated violence at great personal risk. Whether that detail justifies portraying the FBI as a friend to civil rights, evne part of The Struggle, is another story.

I was also pleased to see George name the late Henry Hampton's multi-part documentary "Eyes on the Prize" as the best film portrayal of the civil rights movement. George describes it as "a monumental 14-hour television series that wove news and documentary footage, photographs and first-person interviews into the most ambitious cinematic narrative of the movement to date." Allan and I watched it in the 1980s when it first ran on PBS, and we have the companion oral-history book. I highly recommend finding "Eyes on the Prize" on DVD. It's an education and a half.

* * * *

A new book by Randall Kennedy, The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency sounds interesting. The reviewer, Dwight Garner, writes:
Mr. Kennedy, who is African-American, has long been among the most incisive American commentators on race. His books, which include Race, Crime, and the Law (1997) and the best seller Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word (2002), tend to arrive in full academic dress (his new one has footnotes and endnotes) and seem to be carved from intellectual granite, yet they have human scale. When it suits him, he can deploy references to Stevie Wonder and Kanye West as well as to Thurgood Marshall, W. E. B. Du Bois, Mahalia Jackson and Malcolm X. He has the full panoply of the black experience in America at his fingertips.
I was particularly interested in these two brief excerpts:
"That the nation’s first black president defends separate but equal in the context of same-gender intimacy is bitterly ironic." . . .

During Justice Sotomayor's confirmation, Mr. Kennedy observes, Mr. Obama pretended not to care that his choice was a liberal. Here he contrasts Mr. Obama unfavorably with, of all people, George W. Bush. He writes: "George Bush openly said that he preferred conservative jurists. By doing so he reinforced the legitimacy of being a conservative in the public’s mind. Obama, by contrast, took care to avoid championing liberalism in the judiciary, thereby contributing to its continued marginalization and weakness."
* * * *

That book review referenced the incident in which Henry Louis Gates, the distinguished African-American scholar, writer and social critic, was arrested on suspicion of breaking and entering - his own home.

Refreshing my memory of the details of that incident, I followed a few links, and a few more, and the next thing I knew, I'm writing about something that happened two years ago. It's ancient history by internet standards, but that's one of the great things about blogging: we can write about whatever we want, and help keep our collective memory alive.

Three points came up for me.

First, I was struck by a few quotes from the emails sent by Justin Barrett. Barrett, you may recall, is the former Boston police officer and Massachusetts National Guard member who referred to Gates as "a banana-eating jungle monkey" and to a newspaper column critical of the incident as "jungle monkey gibberish". What struck me was Barrett's claim that he was not racist.
Barrett, in a television interview, said that he used "a poor choice of words" in the email. He added, "I did not mean to offend anyone." Barrett has also stated, "I have so many friends of every type of culture and race you can name. I am not a racist."
We've heard words like these so many times that they barely register. We scoff at them, and rightly so, but let's take a closer look. What does it mean when someone uses hateful, racist speech, then claims "I am not a racist"? Or, as is often the case, begins a sentence with "I'm not a racist, but...", followed by clear examples of their own racism?

One possibility is that the person is lying. In this scenario, Barrett knows perfectly well that he is racist. He hates black people, he knows he hates black people, and he knows that expressing his hatred can get him into trouble - said trouble generally blamed on over-sensitivity, "PC," and "these days". Barrett's "choice of words" was "poor" because it got him in trouble. (In fact, it cost him his job.) That is, it's not the hatred that's unacceptable, it's the expression of the hatred.

This theory raises the related possibility - probability, in my opinion - that Barrett does not, in fact, have "friends of every type of culture and race". Boston, like many US cities, is deeply divided by race, and police department culture is perhaps second only to fire department culture and Klan meetings as the last place one should look for enlightened attitudes. Beyond that, we live in a world where most people's friends - not acquaintances or co-workers, but friends - are from within their own culture. Factor in Barrett's attitudes - something made him call Gates a "banana-eating jungle monkey" - and I'd wager next month's rent that Barrett does not actually have friends from "every type of culture and race you can name". And he knows it. And he lied. This is the simplest possibility.

Another possibility is that Barrett is honestly voicing his own contradictory self-image: he does hate African American people, but in his mind, this doesn't make him a racist.

This makes me wonder: does anyone think they are racist? Or is racism is only something other people do? A racist ex-relative of mine (through marriage and, thankfully, divorce) claimed he wasn't a racist because, "Black people come in my store, and I treat them like any other customer." Mighty white of him to take the darkie's money! And this somehow cancelled out all the overtly hateful comments we heard from him, all the time. Perhaps if you're not actually grabbing a shotgun and attending a midnight lynching, you're not racist. And who knows, maybe not even then.

No one is free from all prejudice. We live in a racist, sexist (Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, homophobic, etc.) world and it exerts its lingering influence on all of us, to varying degrees. But, I believe, most of us who strongly value equality have consciously confronted our own racism, and tried to deal with it. And perhaps people who have never done so persist both in their racism and their belief that they are free of racism.

* * * *

By the way, if you've never read Barrett's email, you might want to; if you have, it's worth refreshing your memory (here). It's quite a bit more virulent than the media summaries acknowledged. The "jungle monkey" comments became the buzzword, but the entire email is crammed with racism and sexism, from the use of "ax" for "ask," to calling the Boston Globe writer a "hot little bird," and the repeated suggestion that she should be doing what Barrett clearly believes is the subservient job of serving him coffee and donuts. The sexism and racism is folded together in a rich stew of outsider resentment.
My last point counters your final 2 paragraphs, in which you state Gates is "this immensely famous expert on race" - you really have to be kidding me? Famous for what? Expert why and says who? What has he done for me and my family? What has he done for the law enforcement community or military veterans or to secure freedoms and our borders in this country? What has he done to help limit and reduce my income tax? . . . You mention Gates' charges were dropped but that it was too late to stop the damage? Damage? Still kidding? You need to serve a day with the infantry and get swarmed by black gnats while marking your sector. Or you just need to get slapped, look in the mirror and admit, "Wow. I am a failure. I am a follower. Who am I kidding?"
The word "entitled" is thrown around a lot these days, wielded against anyone suspected of being middle class, liberal, educated... or belonging to the general category of "people I disagree with and feel threatened by". But there's a kind of entitlement I haven't seen mentioned, as it treads on sacrosanct ground and turns the elitism card on its head: the entitlement of people who have served in the military or law enforcement to trump any one else's perspective. It translates roughly as: "I was in the military [or have worked in law enforcement, or both], I assume you never have, therefore you know nothing and your opinions are worthless. Only people who have served in the military actually know anything."

I've seen and heard this only from people who have been employed in these two fields. I grant that being in the military or in law enforcement could lead to experiences not likely to be encountered by those outside those fields. But this tendency to believe that experience endows special knowledge of all situations, and that knowledge renders them more worthy to opine than others with different experience reads like a huge chip on the shoulder, a menacing inferiority. And an entitlement.

* * * *

The second thought recalling Gates' arrest brought up is the persistent belief that every story needs "balance," and every point of view is equally legitimate. In the US, when more than a million people march on Washington to support abortion rights, the mainstream media will devote equal time to five anti-choice counter-demonstrators standing on a street corner. Reviewing some of the news coverage around this story, I noticed it was accepted wisdom that "both parties over-reacted". Police sergeant James Crowley may have over-reacted, but surely Professor Gates should have been less angry, less confrontational and more compliant.

But incidents don't occur in vacuums without context. Given the long, ugly history of law enforcement treatment of African Americans - given the rampant racist stereotyping in both law and practice - given everything from Howard Beach to the tea party - I don't know how Gates reasonably could have been expected to behave otherwise.

And lastly, another note about balance, facts, race, and the sanctity of law enforcement. After the Gates arrest, Barack Obama said this:
I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home. And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact.
This comment drew an outcry from law enforcement officials, and there was a lot of pressure on Obama to back off those statements. And of course he did. I remembered his later statement as more back-pedaling than it actually was. Obama said:
I want to make clear that in my choice of words I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically — and I could have calibrated those words differently. . . . I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station. I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well."
My point is not the pressures Obama faced in commenting on anything race-related. It's this: when he said "That's just a fact," he was correct. It is a fact. In my post the definition of a police state depends on where you live - what country, and what postal code, there are links to stories and statistics about "Jim Crow policing".
An analysis by the [New York Civil Liberties Union] revealed that more than 2 million innocent New Yorkers were subjected to police stops and street interrogations from 2004 through 2010, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports. . .

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

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

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

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

Disproportionate Stops of People of Color

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

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

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

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

Disproportionate Outcomes of Stops for People of Color

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

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

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

Disproportionate Use of Force on People of Color

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

* 45 percent of blacks and Latinos who were stopped were also frisked, compared with only 29 percent of whites.
The ACLU has a lot of info about racial profiling: in Arizona, in Georgia, in Chicago, at the border.