11.29.2011

soliciting quebec travel information

Last time I asked for Canadian travel advice was 2008 - too long ago! That ended up as 16 days exploring Newfoundland. This trip is more modest, but I am very excited. We haven't had a good holiday in so long.

In 2007, we spent our 20th anniversary at the Hotel de Glace, the Ice Hotel, which was then at the Auberge Duchesnay, about 30 minutes outside of Quebec City. (It's now built in Quebec City itself.) We didn't get to QC on that trip, and I've been talking about going ever since.

2012 marks 25 years of our domestic partnership, a stunning number that deserves a full-on celebration. So "a few days in Quebec City" grew into this: three nights at this B&B in QC, then dogsledding here, dinner and one night at Auberge Duchesnay, then three days in Montreal, staying at Le Petit Hotel. Then, if it's not snowing, we'll drive down to Vermont to visit some friends and family, spend the night there, then drive home.

We've never been in Quebec City, and although we've been to Montreal several times and we love it, we haven't done any real sightseeing there. And for some reason, we've never had a Montreal bagel! Shocking, I know, but we never heard of them until we moved to Canada. We've also only had poutine and smoked meat in Toronto, and of course Montrealers would say that means we've never had poutine or smoked meat. (I'm a New Yorker. I understand completely.)

So this thread is for your recommendations, ideas, must-sees, and musts-to-avoid. We like history, architecture, neighbourhood restaurants, markets (although it's January, so it would have to be an indoor market), bookstores, and general urban exploring. We're driving between cities, but expect to walk and take transit whenever possible. We don't ski, skate or snowboard, but we do like cold weather.

Your turn.

11.27.2011

naomi wolf: violent crackdowns on occupy are orchestrated at federal level

Naomi Wolf in The Guardian:
US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that "New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers" covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that "It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk."

In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on "how to suppress" Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors', city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? . . . .

. . . . .

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.
Read it here.

11.26.2011

polygamy ruling: why are the courts still trying to protect marriage?

The recent BC Supreme Court decision upholding Canadian laws criminalizing polygamy is disappointing and dangerous. The much-quoted summary paragraph of Chief Justice Robert Bauman's decision contained a surprising clause: the protection of marriage as an institution.
I have concluded that this case is essentially about harm; more specifically, Parliament's reasoned apprehension of harm arising out of the practice of polygamy. This includes harm to women, to children, to society and to the institution of monogamous marriage.
As we all know, harm to women and children has been the stated basis behind anti-polygamy laws, but in contemporary society, this makes no sense. Forced marriage, spousal abuse, child abuse, and child sexual abuse are already crimes, whether they occur in the context of legal marriage or any other context.

Laws curtailing women's freedom have always been rationalized as necessary for women's protection. Women weren't allowed to work, vote, smoke cigarettes, dress as they pleased, own property, and whatever else because, supposedly, they were weak and in need of protection. The anti-abortion-rights people still claim that anti-abortion laws protect women, when of course those laws do exactly the opposite.

Although it may be difficult for many people to believe, some women do freely choose to be in group marriages with several women and one man. Maybe most people don't understand this, but then, Charter rights exist to protect the minority against the dominant culture.

Children are in need of legal protection, and seldom receive enough of it. Having more than two parents doesn't inherently harm children any more than having two parents of the same gender does (i.e., not at all). If society is truly concerned about protecting children, it should strengthen and enforce existing child-protection laws. Dictating what types of relationships are sanctioned for child-raising is simply bigotry.

Beyond the usual excuses about women and children, protecting "the institution of monogamous marriage" is the same irrational, nonsensical excuse used for prohibiting same-sex marriage. Why does an institution need court protection? How do multiple-partner marriages threaten and harm monogamous marriages? What business do the courts have in siding with an institution over individual Charter rights?

Tabatha Southey, writing in the Globe and Mail, says it very clearly and succinctly:
A list of things that have been decried as threats to monogamous marriage: contraceptives, gay marriage, sex education, out-of-wedlock cohabitation, lewd dancing to rock 'n' roll, women in the work force, legal alcohol, naughty films, no-fault divorce and educating women.

Yet even though all these things came to pass – and several of them would be a fair trade for monogamous marriage – the institution is still here. Possibly monogamous marriage isn't the fragile flower it's made out to be.

But Parliament's chivalrousness toward it, as reaffirmed by Chief Justice Bauman's ruling, makes me nervous anyway.

It assigns an inherent moral value to a particular kind of union over other kinds of relationships entered into by consenting adults, and I hate that. What's more, upholding a law that violates our Charter right to religious freedom in the name of protecting women and children from trafficking, rape, abuse and forced marriage is just faulty logic: These are already crimes.
[Read her excellent column here.]

A surprising number of people in our society reject monogamy. This may be expressed in dozens of different models of relationships, from married couples who have casual sexual relationships outside the marriage with their partners' knowledge and consent, to polyfidelitous group common-law marriages. And, supposedly, as long as none of them tries to formalize these nontraditional relationships with legal marriage, it's nobody's business but their own. But if they want to be legally married, they're committing a crime. That is ridiculous.

I will never truly understand why people who choose to live outside societal norms still crave societal approval. Of course I support equal marriage; I just don't understand why so many people want to be married. But you know what? I don't have to understand. Just like the courts and Charles McVety and "Stop Polygamy in Canada" don't have to understand the people of Bountiful. They just have to let them be, because it's their right to live as they choose.

11.25.2011

new from wmtc: fibromyalgia info page

I decided to write about my experience with fibromyalgia, just to put it out there on the internet. I've met many people with fibromyalgia who don't actively try to reduce their symptoms, believing that there are no good treatments. While I have no idea if my experience is typical or common, I do know there are several things at least worth trying.

The new blog is only about my own experience. I won't be updating it unless I discover something new that either works or doesn't work for me.

It's here: my fibromyalgia info page.

my first days in the library

I love it. I love being in the library. I love being part of the public library, helping to make it work.

I've been placed in the children's department of Mississauga's Central Library. It's a huge department, and there's a surprising amount to learn. Unlike the general library, where materials would either be fiction or nonfiction, there are about 30 different areas where children's materials might be shelved - picture books, books adults read to children, then all the different reading levels, each with fiction and nonfiction, plus French materials (since all children learn some French here), serieses, graphic novels, "favourite characters" (Arthur, Berenstain Bears, and such) - on and on.

In addition, a cart that might hold 50 adult books holds several hundred children's books, and the call numbers wrap around the book, since the spines are so thin. And there are little people running around, and noisy programs like storytimes and puppet shows and whatnot. It's a challenging place to be a page, and that's good, as it will make a repetitive job more interesting.

My supervisor is friendly and patient, as is everyone I've met so far. Four other pages have started in the children's department at the same time, and we're all "mature" (euphemism for old).

It's a wonderful atmosphere, full of the joy of discovery, and the love of reading and books. And a humane work environment, something I haven't experienced in a very long time. More than ever, I am dying to get out of my private-sector job - which used to be well-paid in a decent environment and has deteriorated into an office sweatshop - and work in my community.

11.22.2011

in which i begin my first library job

It's finally happened: I've been placed as a page! I begin my training this Thursday at the Central Library in Mississauga. This is a huge, beautiful library, a five-minute drive from our house, and right next door to YMCA that Allan and I belong to.

I've been waiting for this job to open up for two years, as several branch libraries in the Mississauga system were closed for renovation. You may recall, over the summer I was practicing for a shelving test, which I then passed. That was in July, and since then I've continued to wait.

This is a minimum-wage job - which in Ontario is $10.25 per hour - and I will probably work 8 to 12 hours per week. But since my goal upon graduating is to work in the Mississauga Library System, the job is crucial. Every hour I log will be one hour closer to joining the union and having access to internal job postings. Of course, the additional income will be welcome, too.

I am somewhat anxious about adding another item to my crowded schedule. And I wish the call had come after my winter break. But I also know that somehow it will all work out.

11.21.2011

beyond occupy: out of the parks, into our lives

Shortly after the Occupy Movement began to make headlines, my friend and comrade Dr. J wrote this on his blog your heart's on the left:
Is occupation a tactic or a principle? Should the focus be on the internal procedures of those actively occupying, or outreach to broader communities and struggles? How do we build a movement of the 99%?

. . . As the temperature drops, it will become more unsustainable to maintain outdoor occupations, and prioritizing this over outreach beyond the occupation will cut the movement off from broader struggles. . . . As we’ve seen from Tahrir to Wisconsin, occupations are simply one tactic in a broader movement for change. The main strategy needs to be the active participation of masses of people—in the streets, campuses, and workplaces.
Dr. J. was ahead of the curve. Right now, as the Occupy Movement becomes immersed in struggles with city governments and abusive police, there is the risk of the act of occupation being fetishized, an end in itself, rather than a symbolic, strategic and tactical expression of a larger movement.

I'm not suggesting - not for a moment - that Occupy Wall Street walk away from The People's Library like nothing happened. Or that the students at UCal Davis - when their eyes and lungs heal - shrug their shoulders and quietly return to class. Or that Rob Ford win without a fight. I am concerned, however, that the central message of economic injustice - and everything that stems from it - is at risk of being lost amid battles for the right to protest in public spaces.

The impetus for this movement was not the right to sleep in parks. The rights of assembly, expression and protest are of paramount importance, and must be constantly defended. But we must not lose perspective. The message is "We are the 99%". And most of the 99% can't sleep in the park.

For the movement to continue, it needs to both broaden and deepen. Broaden to the thousands upon thousands of people who cannot join an occupation, but who support the same ideals and values, who believe people and our needs are more important than profit. And deepen, with a historical perspective on other anti-capitalist struggles, and building a more just society. To do this, the movement must build and strengthen connections with existing movements that are fighting for the same thing.

In my many years as an activist, I can't count how many times I've been buttonholed by a stranger here to tell me The Answer. "Do you know what you guys have to do?" is the usual opening line. This person doesn't come to meetings, doesn't understand the complexities of the situation, makes no effort to get involved. He sits on the sidelines and criticizes.

I never want to be one of those people. Only the Occupy Movement - the people creating it, day-to-day - can chart the movement's course. I fully respect that.

I write this only as a hope. I have thrilled to see this movement - to see, at long last, people in North America organize around economic justice. And I fear that the broader struggle may be lost in the specific battles over sleeping in parks.

Well, not quite. Even if the Occupy Movement as presently conceived were to fizzle out tomorrow, it would still have accomplished so much.

It focused the national and international conversation on the injustices of capitalism. Wow! That's something I thought I'd never see.

People organized themselves and created a grassroots, democratic, decentralized and leaderless culture.

People acted collectively, many for the first time.

Others saw their own values reflected in the protests and realized that they, too, could participate. They got a glimpse of their own potential to create change.

These gains are huge. They are nothing short of the discovery of an alternative model for society. So whatever happens next, I applaud the Occupiers with all my heart.

In addition, movements ebb and flow. Occupy Wall Street (and everywhere else) was related to the Arab Spring, and to the labour uprising in Wisconsin, and to countless smaller and less visible actions and protests taking place all the time. So if Occupy disappears tomorrow, that doesn't mean it has disappeared forever.

But it's time to talk about the future. How do we include everyone who supports this movement but could not physically occupy? How can Occupy link up with established and existing revolutionary movements?

How can we truly Occupy Everywhere?

men of the stacks: busting stereotypes one hunk at a time

If you like men, and you like libraries, you're sure to love Men of the Stacks. Proceeds from calendar sales support It Gets Better.

Here's a good story on Men of the Stacks in The Guardian. Plus I'm pretty sure Mr. June was my TA in Intro to Reference last year!

emergency rally to defend occupy toronto: 5:00 today

Message from Occupy Toronto:

OCCUPY TORONTO IS BEING EVICTED. Mayor Rob Ford has angrily taken to television, even gritting his teeth, to say he wants protesters "gone NOW". City Manager says by midnight force will be used, but mayor is pressing for even faster.

Ford and the judge point to upset neighbors as the ultimate cause of the eviction, but only eleven people in the neighborhood came out to a meeting to discuss plans to get rid of us, numerous neighbors and local businesses are in support (some because we brought them business, and some because they support our message).

In the meantime, Rob Ford has been our primary target because for Occupy Toronto, he is the local face of austerity, his cutback and privatization agenda are systematically destroying our city and we have been incredibly vocal in challenging him on it.

So, why are we being evicted? Because 11 neighbors are unhappy with us? Or because we've been a thorn in the side of Ford and he's attacking us for speaking out against him?

Defend our right to protest! Defend Occupy Toronto! Contact:
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford 416.397.FORD (3673)
mayor_ford@toronto.ca
Police Inspector Howie Page 416.808.5200

Lawyers are trying to get a timeline for when the actual eviction will happen. In the meantime, come to the park immediately if you have the time, or if you cannot, then come down for 11:00pm and help us during the 12:00 [midnight] eviction time.

Remember that our goal is to be non-violent! But we're not going without a fight. What that means is that we need to pack the park with people so that it becomes really hard to evict us! Those who absolutely don't want to risk arrest can still stand to the side and bear witness, since this is the best way to ensure the police are not violent.

You cannot evict an idea whose time has come!

library in a phone booth

I meant to include this in my recent library-related post, but I misplaced the link. So now this lovely little library has a post of its own. Please go here to see a beautiful old UK "phone box" recycled into a tiny lending library.

More and better photos of it here.

who would name a baseball team after a serial killer?

London, Ontario, that's who!

Team president and general manager David Martin says the name "The London Rippers", this logo, and cute marketing phrases like "Lurking in Labatt Park..." have nothing to do with Jack the Ripper. "Everybody has to be a little less sensitive," says Martin.

Yes, everyone has to be less sensitive. How about a team in Picton, Ontario called the Hog Butchers? And hey, doesn't Montreal need a baseball team? Maybe we can announce the formation of Les Lepines on December 6.

But those mass femicides are different, of course. They're more recent. Plus they happened to Canadians. If it happened more than 100 years ago, somewhere else, mass murder and mutilation are just "edgy".

constitution? never heard of it.


This and many others courtesy of BoingBoing, via the OWS Library blog.

11.18.2011

how not to ask a question: how q&a websites contribute to denialism

A little slice of the internet that irks me are Q&A websites like Wiki Answers and Yahoo! Answers, where people ask questions and any registered user can post an answer. A list of such sites is here. (That list includes Ask MetaFilter, which seems different, in that it encourages lengthy answers and discussion.)

You know I love the spirit of information-sharing that the internet has fostered. "Love" doesn't really describe it. Since I was in my 30s when the internet became widely used, I am both fully internet fluent and fully amazed by it. I adore that you can learn how to create, repair, cook, build, play - and a million other verbs - almost anything online. And I look up facts and jog my shoddy memory with Google and Wikipedia several times a day.

But these Q&A websites strike me as some of the worst the internet has to offer. Not only are the answers found there ridiculously unreliable, but it appears that people follow the sites without understanding how dubious they are. The crazy thing, to me, is that people ask questions of fact, the answers to which they could readily look up themselves. Someone comes along and answers the question, and that answer - regardless of accuracy or source - becomes The Answer. At Wiki Answers, an answer can be commented on or discussed, but not changed, and there can only be one answer per question. Yahoo! Answers asks users to rate answers with thumbs-up and thumbs-down, adding another layer of worthless opinions.

I recently saw a Wiki Answer (it turned up in a Google search) asking how many World Series rings a certain former baseball player has - meaning, how many championship teams he has played on or worked for. There was an answer posted. And it was wrong.

Now, why would someone go to Wiki Answers with that question, rather than check any number of baseball sites, or even the player's Wikipedia page?

I think I know the answer to that one: because they don't know how to get reliable information on the internet, and they don't recognize the difference between those two forms of information-seeking. (A bit of iSchool-speak there.) To that person, asking a question at a Q&A website is looking it up. I'm guessing the asker doesn't realize that a Q&A site isn't even as reliable as Wikipedia. Indeed, the asker may not even understand the concept of reliable sources.

Most net-savvy, educated people - and by that I emphatically include self-educated people - know that Wikipedia is to be used with a cautious and skeptical eye. It's great for a quick check of basic facts, such as a person's birth or death date, or the capital of a country, or the director of a film. For anything more in-depth, Wikipedia should be regarded as a jumping-off point at best. I often find it useful for finding sources, through an entry's footnotes.

But at least Wikipedia entries are written by someone who cared about a topic enough to do some research, however perfunctory, and write an entry. Wiki Answers and Yahoo Questions don't even require that minimal level of engagement.

There's a saying going around, attributed to Neil Gaiman: "Google can bring you 10,000 answers, but a librarian can bring you the right answer." Well, fine. But you can bring yourself the right answer, too - and good librarians want to teach you how. A lot of people clearly don't know how to find the right answer, and don't even realize their methods are not producing good results.

If any question can be answered by any person, and any answer can become The Answer, what are the implications for building a society based on ethics, justice and rational thought?

It seems to me that Q&A sites like Yahoo! Answers and Wiki Answers foster the mistaken, dangerous worldview that all points of view are equally valid, that expertise is "elitism", and that everything is "a matter of opinion". Even how many World Series rings a baseball player owns, or if climate change is caused by humans, or if the Earth is 5,000 years old.

libraries abound

Please enjoy these library-related thoughts and links.

  • I love these Little Free Libraries, which I discovered thanks to M@. These birdhouse-like structures sheltering books are like the domesticated version of Book Crossing, which wants books released "into the wild".

  • Here are some libraries changing lives on a scale Andrew Carnegie never dreamed of. Nicholas Kristof:
    One of the legendary triumphs of philanthropy was Andrew Carnegie’s construction of more than 2,500 libraries around the world. It’s renowned as a stimulus to learning that can never be matched — except that, numerically, it has already been surpassed several times over by an American man you’ve probably never heard of.

    I came here to Vietnam to see John Wood hand out his 10 millionth book at a library that his team founded in this village in the Mekong Delta — as hundreds of local children cheered and embraced the books he brought as if they were the rarest of treasures. Wood’s charity, Room to Read, has opened 12,000 of these libraries around the world, along with 1,500 schools.

    Yes, you read that right. He has opened nearly five times as many libraries as Carnegie, even if his are mostly single-room affairs that look nothing like the grand Carnegie libraries. Room to Read is one of America’s fastest-growing charities and is now opening new libraries at an astonishing clip of six a day. In contrast, McDonald’s opens one new outlet every 1.08 days.

  • In a fascinating post I'm still combing through, David Byrne writes about the rebirth of some barrios in Bogota, prominently including a spectacular new biblioteca.

  • And finally, I'm all but obsessed with the Occupy Wall Street Library blog. I read every post; it makes me ache for New York and thrill for this fledgling movement. Among other things, I learned that the ALA released a statement condemning the destruction of the People's Library. And despite what you might read in the mainstream media, the library was destroyed. Imagine someone gathers up all your stuff, without your permission or consent, throws a big chunk of it into a dumpster, then hauls off the rest of it to some undisclosed location. Would you feel your stuff had been destroyed? No irony about private property here: the People's Library was - and will be - collective property, free from all to all.
  • 11.17.2011

    saturday, november 19: evict ford: occupy toronto


    EVICT FORD. OCCUPY TORONTO!

    Rally and march
    Saturday, November 19 at 2:00 p.m.
    Assemble at St. James Park, King Street east between Church and Jarvis

    In just a few weeks, the Occupy movement has become a global phenomenon, with over 1,400 protests worldwide. In Toronto, a peaceful occupation has been underway at St. James Park, raising demands for economic and social justice for everyone. Polls in Canada show that a clear majority of people support the protests.

    But now Mayor Rob Ford is trying to evict the protesters. We think it's time to evict Rob Ford instead. Ford's attacks on good jobs, public transit and city services has turned public opinion against him - and in every ward of the city. While the millionaire mayor spends millions on high-priced consultants, he's trying to make ordinary people pay for the economic crisis.

    We won't let him do it. Please join us this Saturday to be part of a city-wide rally and march. Show your support for the Occupy movement, and its demands for a better world for everyone.

    "You can't evict an idea whose time has come!"

    Organized by Occupy Toronto: on the web, on Facebook and on Twitter.

    today: occupy everywhere


    Today, if you can, join an Occupy site for however long you are able.

    Today, if you cannot physically join an Occupy site, do something to stand in solidarity with the Occupy Movement: blog, Tweet*, Facebook, write a letter to a media outlet, put a sign in your window, put a sign in the rear window of your car, wear a button, make a donation.

    Do something to show that you stand with the 99% and you stand for justice.

    *
    #occupymap for actions
    #N17 is the tag of the day

    cindy blackstock, another victim of harper's "speak against us and we will hurt you" govt

    Our tax dollars at work. The head of an agency that provides services to First Nations children and families accuses the government of discrminating against that community. The agency head is then the subject of a spy campaign, as the Harper government monitors her Facebook page, digs up data on her past and her family, bars her from meetings. Her Access to Information request to see her own file was honoured... after 18 months.

    No one who knows this government could possibly be surprised by this. But these incidents deserve more than a sarcastic "So what else is new." We should not become numb to the fact that the present Canadian government is a band of ideological and political bullies.

    Tim Harper, Toronto Star:
    Why is the federal government spying on Cindy Blackstock?

    When does a life-long advocate for aboriginal children become an enemy of the state?

    The answer, it would seem, is when you file a human rights complaint accusing your government of willfully underfunding child welfare services to First Nations children on reserves.

    Accusing your government, in other words, of racial discrimination.

    That’s what Blackstock, as executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, did in 2007.

    Since that time, federal officials attended 75 to 100 meetings at which she spoke, then reported back to their bosses.

    They went on her Facebook page during work hours, then assigned a bureaucrat to sign on as himself after hours to check it again looking for testimony from the tribunal.

    On at least two occasions, they pulled her Status Indian file and its personal information, including data on her family.

    As first reported by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, it’s all there in a mountain of documents, measuring more than six inches high, which she recently received after waiting 1½ years for them to be released under access to information legislation. . . .

    Blackstock decided to seek her own file after she was denied access to a 2009 meeting with departmental officials on behalf of Ontario chiefs.

    Instead, she was made to wait in an anteroom, where she was watched by a burly security guard who towered above her.

    “I have never said anything that the auditor general hasn’t said,’’
    Blackstock says.

    Indeed, in 2008, then-auditor general Sheila Fraser confirmed that substantial shortfalls in federal child-welfare funding on reserves are jeopardizing children’s safety.

    Fraser also found First Nations children receive substantially less elementary and secondary school funding per capita than other Canadians enjoy.

    "I'm a common sense girl," Blackstock says. "I say rather than spend the money following me around, spend it on the children." . . .

    11.16.2011

    who wrote shakespeare? eric idle knows.

    A while back, wmtc had a discussion about the supposed controversy of the authorship of Shakespeare's plays, after I read the book Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare, by James Shapiro.

    Now a movie is out, telling a fictional, imaginative story of how Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays. For those of us who care about literature and history, this is frustrating, as much of the movie-going public is likely to receive the movie's story as fact.

    Here's a better take on the whole thing, by none other than Eric Idle. Or maybe Michael Palin.
    Who Wrote Shakespeare
    by Eric Idle*

    While it is perfectly obvious to everyone that Ben Jonson wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays, it is less known that Ben Jonson’s plays were written by a teen-age girl in Sunderland, who mysteriously disappeared, leaving no trace of her existence, which is clear proof that she wrote them. The plays of Marlowe were actually written by a chambermaid named Marlene, who faked her own orgasm, and then her own death in a Deptford tavern brawl. Queen Elizabeth, who was obviously a man, conspired to have Shakespeare named as the author of his plays, because how could a man who had only a grammar-school education and spoke Latin and a little Greek possibly have written something as bad as “All’s Well That Ends Well”? It makes no sense. It was obviously an upper-class twit who wished to disguise his identity so that Vanessa Redgrave could get a job in her old age.

    Many people believe that Richard III not only was a good man who would never hurt a fly but actually wrote “She Stoops to Conquer,” and that the so-called author, Oliver Goldsmith, found the play under a tree in 1773 while visiting Bosworth Field, now a multistory car park (clearly an attempt to cover up the evidence of the ruse).

    . . .

    Mere lack of evidence, of course, is no reason to denounce a theory. Look at intelligent design. The fact that it is bollocks hasn’t stopped a good many people from believing in it. Darwinism itself is only supported by tons of evidence, which is a clear indication that Darwin didn’t write his books himself. They were most likely written by Jack the Ripper, who was probably King Edward VII, since all evidence concerning this has been destroyed. . . . [More here.]

    11.15.2011

    message from ofl president sid ryan: occupy toronto tonight!

    This is a message from Sid Ryan, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour.
    Dear Sisters and Brothers,

    We have just learned that the Toronto Police have served eviction notices to Occupy Toronto protesters at St. James Park (Jarvis St. and King St.), ordering them to vacate the park between 12 midnight tonight and 5 a.m. tomorrow and threatening to remove them.

    It is important that labour come out in big numbers to support this camp. I encourage you to coordinate an urgent phone around to your activists and members, calling on them to begin rotational support at the occupation site as soon as possible and that every activist available join the camp tonight before 11pm and be prepared to stay as long as possible and even over night.

    In London, Police officers waited for labour leaders to leave and the crowd to thin out before they executed the eviction between 12:30 and 1:30 a.m.

    It is important that the labour movement link arms in solidarity with the occupiers to defend their right to free assembly and free speech. The Occupy Toronto protesters have shown great courage and dedication and are advocating for a more just society for us all. It is important that labour show its support for these ideals and back them up at this time of urgent need.

    In solidarity,
    Sid Ryan

    we are the many! video by makana (updated with fun link)


    If you can make it to any Occupy site today, please try. Your physical show of support and solidarity is needed. From the Occupy Wall Street Library:
    Tonight at 6:00 writers and readers from across New York City will gather in Liberty Plaza to reoccupy the space and rebuild the People's Library. Authors will bring their books, readers will bring their favorite books to donate and together we will rebuild to create the revolution this country needs.

    I invite those not in NYC to gather at their occupations, campuses, squares, and parks to read poetry and prose in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and the 99%. Literature is a revolutionary force. Let's unleash it against the forces who would divide and conquer us. Let's make the sound of democracy heard across this whole country. Share your poems, your dreams, and your stories with each other. Stand in solidarity together.

    Join us in NYC and across the world for a night of readings, poetry, and revolutionary ideas. Together we will change this country and reclaim our democracy for the 99%.

    Lyrics to the video above, with many, many thanks to wmtc reader Gunner for sending!

    Update: Apparently Makana is the USian Brigitte DePape! (Thank you Stephanie!)

    We Are The Many, by Makana

    Ye come here, gather 'round the stage
    The time has come for us to voice our rage
    Against the ones who've trapped us in a cage
    To steal from us the value of our wage

    From underneath the vestiture of law
    The lobbyists at Washington do gnaw
    At liberty, the bureaucrats guffaw
    And until they are purged, we won't withdraw

    We'll occupy the streets
    We'll occupy the courts
    We'll occupy the offices of you
    Till you do
    The bidding of the many, not the few

    Our nation was built upon the right
    Of every person to improve their plight
    But laws of this Republic they rewrite
    And now a few own everything in sight

    They own it free of liability
    They own, but they are not like you and me
    Their influence dictates legality
    And until they are stopped we are not free

    We'll occupy the streets
    We'll occupy the courts
    We'll occupy the offices of you
    Till you do
    The bidding of the many, not the few

    You enforce your monopolies with guns
    While sacrificing our daughters and sons
    But certain things belong to everyone
    Your thievery has left the people none

    So take heed of our notice to redress
    We have little to lose, we must confess
    Your empty words do leave us unimpressed
    A growing number join us in protest

    We occupy the streets
    We occupy the courts
    We occupy the offices of you
    Till you do
    The bidding of the many, not the few

    You can't divide us into sides
    And from our gaze, you cannot hide
    Denial serves to amplify
    And our allegiance you can't buy

    Our government is not for sale
    The banks do not deserve a bail
    We will not reward those who fail
    We will not move till we prevail

    We'll occupy the streets
    We'll occupy the courts
    We'll occupy the offices of you
    Till you do
    The bidding of the many, not the few

    We'll occupy the streets
    We'll occupy the courts
    We'll occupy the offices of you
    Till you do
    The bidding of the many, not the few

    We are the many
    You are the few

    occupy everywhere: you can destroy the tents in a park, but you can't kill an idea



    As I'm sure you know, city governments and police forces around the continent have been moving against Occupy camps, along with the accompanying unnecessary and expected police violence used against peaceful citizens. This overkill and intolerance will only strengthen the movement in the long run, but meanwhile, it's a tough road to go.

    I've been finding it heartening to follow the Occupy Wall Street through the People's Library blog. Recent posts:

    Raid of Occupy Wall Street, including much video footage:
    URGENT CALL FOR ACTION: The Occupation and the People’s Library are being destroyed right now by the NYPD. The Library and all the tents and equipment from the camp are being thrown in dumpsters.

    Eviction Notice & Property Removal:
    Here is a photo of the eviction notice from a photograph posted by twitter user @harrysiegel. Note that it says the property will be stored at the Department of Sanitation parking garage at 650 West 57th St. However, it was clear from the livestream and witnesses inside the park that the property was destroyed by police and DSNY workers before it was thrown in dumpsters.

    Today: Post-Raid Rally and General Assembly:
    New Yorkers! Meet at 9am at Canal and 6th Avenue. Spread the word...

    This movement can’t be contained in one square block in lower Manhattan. It is bigger than that. You can’t evict an idea whose time had come.

    Show your support. Turn out en masse. . .

    I think it's time to quote Howard Zinn again:
    There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

    11.14.2011

    dear mozilla: it's not me, it's you

    Dear Mozilla,

    First you tell me I need an upgrade. You nag and nag. Upgrade this, upgrade that.

    Finally, I can't stand your pleading, and I give in. I upgrade.

    As soon as I do, you tell me the upgrade is outdated! You say I need to install a whole new version. And you won't speak to me until I do.

    Not wanting to deal with any more of your immature tantrums, I quickly give in. I install your new version of Firefox. There. Happy now?

    No! You're not happy! You're never happy!

    After I install the new version, then you tell me that the new version is not compatible with the Google Toolbar!! You wait until after we've moved in together to tell me you're unemployed and can't pay the rent?

    Look Mozilla, I use my Google Toolbar about a million times a day. It's the only way I Google anything. Google Toolbar is a non-negotiable.

    If Google Toolbar isn't compatible with the new version of Firefox, you should have told me first, and given me a choice of whether or not to upgrade. It's Monday morning, I'm barely caffeinated, I have two papers to write, and I really don't need your passive-aggressive bullshit.

    I was trying to be kind, but now I'll just be blunt. I never loved you. I only switched to Firefox because Blogger behaved better with it.

    I hope you're happy now. You've ruined our relationship. I'm switching to Chrome.

    Goodbye.

    11.13.2011

    nyc reflections part 4: know the past, find the future, nypl centennial free book

    Roy Blount contemplates the original Winnie-the-Pooh


    I have one last snippet to share from our recent, brief trip to New York City. My friend NN, who writes this blog, surprised me with a wonderful gift.

    To celebrate its centennial, the New York Public Library has published a free book, Know the Past, Find the Future. A few thousand paper copies were distributed, and NN snagged one for me. (Lucky me!) The book is also available here, also free, in ebook form.

    Know the Past, Find the Future features people in all different fields writing about, and photographed with, their favourite item from the NYPL collection. As much as I enjoy "famous people choose a book" lists, this list takes the concept further, because the NYPL collection is so multifaceted and extensive. Maps, manuscripts, musical scores, first editions, photographs, letters - a massive amount of history lives in the NYPL vaults.

    Zadie Smith gazes at the first folio edition of Mr. William Shakespeare, Histories & Tragedies. Stephen Colbert holds J.D. Salinger's letters, and says as a young man he felt the Glass family stories had been written specifically for him. Mark Morris cradles photographs of Gertrude Stein, Lou Reed displays a manuscript page by Edgar Allen Poe. Frank Rich, who made his name as a very young chief theatre critic for the New York Times, chooses a set model for Follies, a theatre collaboration among composer Stephen Sondheim, choreographer Michael Bennett, and director Harold Prince.

    Every page is a gem. One that brought me special joy was novelist Philip Roth's choice of Saul Bellow's notebooks, manuscripts, typescripts and galley proofs for Mr. Sammler's Planet. Other people and their choices are bound to strike a chord with you, too.

    From the book's page at the NYPL:
    From Laurie Anderson to Vampire Weekend, Roy Blount Jr. to RenĂ©e Fleming, Stephen Colbert to Bill T. Jones — more than 100 luminaries reflect on the treasures of America’s favorite public library. Marking the Centennial of The New York Public Library’s Beaux-Arts landmark at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, now called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Know the Past, Find the Future harnesses the thoughts of an eclectic assortment of icons as they ponder an even more eclectic assortment of objects. From among the Library’s vast collections, these writers, artists, philosophers, scientists, musicians, athletes, architects, choreographers, and journalists — not to mention some of the curators who have preserved these riches — selected an item and describe what it means to them. The result, in words and photographs, is a glimpse of what a great library can be.
    A list of the people in the book is also on that page, scroll down to "Who's in the Book". Definitely worth a download.

    11.12.2011

    nyc reflections part 3: a new blog about books by a new yorker

    Every time I'm in New York, I see my dear friend NN. NN and I go back a long way, one of the most enduring friendships of my life. One of the many things we share is our mutual love of books - and bookstores, libraries, words, writers, and everything else associated with them. At dinner last week, NN surprised me by telling me she's been blogging! About books!

    NN has been supporting herself as as writer since we graduated university together - no small accomplishment. But like many people who write for a living, NN's work leaves some part of her writerly self unfulfilled. This blog about books is some work in that direction.

    Allow me to introduce: Stacked NYC: A blog about books, bookstores, and libraries.

    So far I've learned that St. Mark's Bookshop is not closing, at least not yet. (Yay!) And now I'm going back to the beginning to get caught up.

    aimee mann, just music for now

    I have to write something about Aimee Mann. While I'm working that out, please listen to a song of hers that I love.

    Red Vines by Aimee Mann on Grooveshark

    If you enjoyed that, perhaps you will listen to another favourite of mine, also from Mann's excellent "Bachelor No. 2".

    Susan by Aimee Mann on Grooveshark

    harper govt ignores science, puts environment at risk. yes, what else is new.

    Yesterday I received an update from the office of Senator Mac Harb, sponsor of the Harb Seal Bill. Here is the English-language portion. It's short, and I hope you will read the whole thing.
    Dear Friend,

    The Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has recently begun a study that could result in the killing of 70,000 grey seals off Canada’s East Coast.

    The Fisheries Minister is pushing federal scientists to justify the slaughter of seals through contrived studies and one-sided hearings for political reasons. He has decided to ignore factors such as the impact of uncontrolled foreign overfishing in the waters off our coast and the total lack of scientific proof that seals are affecting the cod's recovery.

    The committee is considering an irresponsible cull that could, in my view, have serious negative impact on the Atlantic ecosystem and the long term health of many species, including cod. This slaughter would also result in untold costs to taxpayers and to Canada’s international reputation.

    I have called on the committee to do due diligence and gather scientific evidence from all sides of this issue, not simply the studies that fit in with the unjustifiable goal of killing 70,000 seals. I urge you to write to the committee and its members who can be contacted through the Committee website [link].

    The government needs to know how Canadians and people around the world feel about this indefensible slaughter.

    Sincerely,

    Hon. Senator Mac Harb
    "...pushing federal scientists to justify...
    ...contrived studies and one-sided hearings for political reasons...
    ...ignore factors...
    ...total lack of scientific proof...
    ...serious negative impact on the ... ecosystem...
    ...untold costs to taxpayers and to Canada’s international reputation..."


    There you have it: the Harper government at work.

    Please email pofo@sen.parl.gc.ca and tell the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans how you feel about this. A quick copy/paste from Senator Harb's letter would work well.

    11.11.2011

    human rights activists back in canada, speaking out

    Press conference with David Heap and Ehab Lotayef, on their abduction, kidnapping and detention by Israeli forces: here.

    And a message from the Irish boat:

    best date i'll ever see in my whole entire life

    It's 11.11.11 !!! And I'm posting this at 11:11, of course.

    10.10.10 was cool, and 12.12.12 will be cool, too. And I love palindromes, so 12.22.21, if I'm around for it, will be totally kickass. But 11.11.11 is the best.

    What can I say? This is the kind of thing you either like or you don't. I like!

    remembrance on the other 364 days


    There's only one thing wrong with this cartoon: it shows an actual sticker, rather than a magnet. These folks usually don't "support the troops" enough to glue a piece of plastic to their vehicles.

    11.10.2011

    fisk: "heaven be thanked that the soldiers cannot return to discover how their sacrifice has been turned into fashion appendage"

    It's that time of year again, the week when no one dares show their face on Canadian television, or indeed in any public place in Canada, without a red poppy symbol dutifully stuck on his or her lapel. What was once (supposedly) a remembrance of the horrors of war drifted first into a celebration of war and finally into obligatory, reflexive display.

    Many of my friends are wearing a white poppy today, and I wish them good luck with their campaign. I myself have no wish to display a physical comment on a symbol that is meaningless to me. It would feel like wearing a Star of David to show that I am not Christian.

    There is only one symbol that can express my feelings about the war dead - the Canadians, the Americans, the Germans, the Japanese, the Vietnamese, the Guatemalans, the Africans, the Native Americans, the Iraqis, all my fellow human creatures - and the wounded, and the ruined, and the heartbroken, and the shattered witnesses - the millions of lives wasted - for conquest, for profit, for nationalism, for ideology, for imperialism, for nothing. That is the peace symbol I wear every day. And much importantly, inside, in my heart of hearts, there is my core belief that war is evil and we must oppose it.

    If I believed in a god, I would pray for peace. I would say, please, can you make this all stop? But I know that only humans can stop war. So I ask us all, can we do more than wear a poppy? Can we work for a world that stops creating veterans?

    Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent.
    Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapels know that they mock the war dead?
    Robert Fisk
    05 November 2011

    I turned on the television in my Damascus hotel room to witness a dreary sight: all the boys and girls of BBC World wearing their little poppies again.

    Bright red they were, with that particularly silly green leaf out of the top – it was never part of the original Lady Haig appeal – and not one dared to appear on screen without it. Do these pathetic men and women know how they mock the dead? I trust that Jon Snow has maintained his dignity by not wearing it.

    Now I've mentioned my Dad too many times in The Independent. He died almost 20 years ago so, after today, I think it's time he was allowed to rest in peace, and that readers should in future be spared his sometimes bald wisdom. This is the last time he will make an appearance. But he had strong views about wearing the poppy. He was a soldier of the Great War, Battle of Arras 1918 – often called the Third Battle of the Somme – and the liberation of Cambrai, along with many troops from Canada. The Kaiser Wilhelm's army had charitably set the whole place on fire and he was appalled by the scorched earth policy of the retreating Germans. But of course, year after year, he would go along to the local cenotaph in Birkenhead, and later in Maidstone, where I was born 28 years after the end of his Great War, and he always wore his huge black coat, his regimental tie – 12th Battalion, the King's Liverpool Regiment – and his poppy.

    In those days, it was – I recall this accurately, I think – a darker red, blood-red rather than BBC-red, larger than the sorrow-lite version I see on the BBC and without that ridiculous leaf. So my Dad would stand and I would be next to him in my Yardley Court School blazer at 10 years old and later, aged 16, in my Sutton Valence School blazer, with my very own Lady Haig poppy, its long black wire snaking through the material, sprouting from my lapel.

    My Dad gave me lots of books about the Great War, so I knew about the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo before I went to school – and 47 years before I stood, amid real shellfire, in the real Sarajevo and put my feet on the very pavement footprints where Gavrilo Princip fired the fatal shots.

    But as the years passed, old Bill Fisk became very ruminative about the Great War. He learned that Haig had lied, that he himself had fought for a world that betrayed him, that 20,000 British dead on the first day of the Somme – which he mercifully avoided because his first regiment, the Cheshires, sent him to Dublin and Cork to deal with another 1916 "problem" – was a trashing of human life. In hospital and recovering from cancer, I asked him once why the Great War was fought. "All I can tell you, fellah," he said, "was that it was a great waste." And he swept his hand from left to right. Then he stopped wearing his poppy. I asked him why, and he said that he didn't want to see "so many damn fools" wearing it – he was a provocative man and, sadly, I fell out with him in his old age. What he meant was that all kinds of people who had no idea of the suffering of the Great War – or the Second, for that matter – were now ostentatiously wearing a poppy for social or work-related reasons, to look patriotic and British when it suited them, to keep in with their friends and betters and employers. These people, he said to me once, had no idea what the trenches of France were like, what it felt like to have your friends die beside you and then to confront their brothers and wives and lovers and parents. At home, I still have a box of photographs of his mates, all of them killed in 1918.

    So like my Dad, I stopped wearing the poppy on the week before Remembrance Day, 11 November, when on the 11th hour of the 11 month of 1918, the armistice ended the war called Great. I didn't feel I deserved to wear it and I didn't think it represented my thoughts. The original idea came, of course, from the Toronto military surgeon and poet John McCrae and was inspired by the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, killed on 3 May 1915. "In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row." But it's a propaganda poem, urging readers to "take up the quarrel with the foe". Bill Fisk eventually understood this and turned against it. He was right.

    I've had my share of wars, and often return to the ancient Western Front. Three years ago, I was honoured to be invited to give the annual Armistice Day Western Front memorial speech at the rebuilt Cloth Hall in Ypres. The ghost of my long-dead 2nd Lieutenant Dad was, of course, in the audience. I quoted all my favourite Great War writers, along with the last words of Nurse Edith Cavell, and received, shortly afterwards, a wonderful and eloquent letter from the daughter of that fine Great War soldier Edmund Blunden. (Read his Undertones of War, if you do nothing else in life.) But I didn't wear a poppy. And I declined to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate. This was something of which I was not worthy. Instead, while they played the last post, I looked at the gravestones on the city walls.

    As a young boy, I also went to Ypres with my Dad, stayed at the "Old Tom Hotel" (it is still there, on the same side of the square as the Cloth Hall) and met many other "old soldiers", all now dead. I remember that they wanted to remember their dead comrades. But above all, they wanted an end to war. But now I see these pathetic creatures with their little sand-pit poppies – I notice that our masters in the House of Commons do the same – and I despise them. Heaven be thanked that the soldiers of the Great War cannot return today to discover how their sacrifice has been turned into a fashion appendage.

    11.09.2011

    some good occupy reading: moyers, hedges, rich

    Three pieces worth reading:

    Frank Rich: The Class War Has Begun.

    Bill Moyers: How Wall Street Occupied America.

    Chris Hedges: A Master Class in Occupation.

    canada causes cancer, cons are wrong on crime: two easy letters to send

    In case you haven't seen these yet:

    Through Avaaz, a letter to the premiers of all provinces to oppose the wrong-headed Conservative crime bill: here.

    Through the David Suzuki Foundation, a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec Premier Jean Charest, demanding an end to federal and Quebec subsidies of the asbestos industry with loan guarantees: here.

    david heap, freed from israeli prison, is coming home!

    Three days ago, I posted that David Heap, a Canadian professor and activist who was on the Tahrir, which was attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, was being held in an Israeli prison.

    Stephanie, his partner, writes with great news:
    DAVID IS COMING HOME!

    FINALLY, we are able to confirm that David will be released from GIVON prison this evening!!

    He should arrive in Toronto at 6:40 a.m. Thursday November 10th.

    nyc reflections part 2: the high line

    While in New York last week, I finally made it to The High Line. The High Line is a unique city park that opened in 2009. I've been meaning to go there ever since, but now I'm glad I waited: the second stage is open, so we were able to get the full effect. And it is spectacular.

    The High Line, in its original form, was an elevated freight railway on the west side of Manhattan. As transportation shifted from train to truck, it gradually fell out of use, and into a state of disrepair. By the 1970s, it was rarely used, and the last train ran on the High Line tracks in 1980.

    The rusting hulk of the High Line stood on the west side of Manhattan for decades. Every once in a while, you'd read about urban adventurers who had climbed up to the tracks. They'd report that grasses, wildflowers and trees were flourishing, that nature was reclaiming the space.

    As the far west side of Manhattan began to be gentrified, real estate developers wanted the structure torn down. Preservationists, railroad aficionados and neighbourhood activists challenged them. Then two men had an idea... and an amazing project was born. A more complete history of The High Line, with links to photos, can be found here. There's also an excellent FAQ.

    The dream was brought to reality, and beautifully so. Now The High Line is an elevated boardwalk, an aerial greenway, 10 metres (30 feet) over Manhattan. Its current length is 1.6 kilometres, or one mile, but there are plans to extend it further.

    The High Line is essentially a boardwalk, but it's been designed to be so much more. It's completely accessible, public, noncommercial space. It's quiet - you look down at the noise and bustle of the City, and the sounds gently float up. And it's beautiful - the landscaping is designed with a natural, wild feel, studded with public art, with design details to remind you it was once a railway.

    There's a huge amount of seating - always a premium in a New York City park - in many different forms. Some long benches are more public and communal, some tucked-away areas are better for private reflection or romance, and there's an ingenious areas with bleachers, for watching the City go by.

    Although the High Line is essentially just a straight path, smart design prevents it from feeling like you're merely walking on a track. There are flyovers where you can step off the main boardwalk for a view, and cut-outs where the original railway structure is visible.

    Bleachers face a huge window onto 10th Avenue. In another area, vines creeps up a huge wire fence, which will eventually become a wall of ivy. In another section, plants on either side of the walkway forms an arch, and you're walking through a secret garden.

    Some areas are a bit wider, opening into a small lawn. Some parts are closely surrounded by buildings, and feel like a narrow city street - except you're five floors up. At one point, you walk past the roof of an old church, almost parallel with its stained glass window.

    To the west there are views of the Hudson River, and if you time your visit, sunsets. To the east, you can look down busy New York avenues from a truly unique vantage point - removed from the hectic sound and pace of street level, but without the distorting distance of a skyscraper's observation deck.

    When I was walking on The High Line, it was full of people - tourists speaking many languages, New Yorkers meeting friends for coffee, people in wheelchairs, people wheeling baby carriages, photographers, a few runners. It was busy, but didn't feel crowded (although it might on Sundays).

    I walked the whole length (1.6 kilometres, one mile) and back. I didn't have a camera with me, but we intend to go back with a camera next time we're in the City. If you're interested in this kind of thing, I encourage you to peruse the the Friends of High Line Flickr group. Here are some standouts from that group:

    High Line View
    Photo: Philippa Phirefly
    This elegant bridge between buildings has always been a favourite NYC detail of mine. Now a whole new view of it is available. It seems to be a High Line favourite.



    High Line Lines
    Photo: Philippa Phirefly



    The High Line
    Photo: Letizav



    Wide Open Spaces
    Photo: Gamma Infinity



    The High Line
    Photo: Letizav
    This is looking into the bleacher viewing area - and this is in the bleachers themselves.

    More photos, worth a click:

    A flyover.

    A greeting.

    An underpass with a few vendors, above Chelsea Market.

    View of beautiful old building, plus balustrade.

    Another, plus bonus Empire State Building.

    Avenue view, including the billboard that helps create this illusion.

    A secret garden.

    A vista. That's not a building at the end of the avenue. It's a cruise ship on the Hudson.

    At the uptown end of the park, you can see some of the original structure; the park eventually will be extended to the full distance: here. Note how the balustrade design echoes the railway.

    In the same Flickr group, there are lots of photos of wildflowers in the park, and of graffiti on nearby buildings.

    Lots of good info and pics on The High Line's Wikipedia page.

    11.08.2011

    "she is my family" and other revelations of humanity: s. brian willson in toronto

    Guest post: Allan reports on "An Evening with S. Brian Willson", a benefit for the War Resisters Support Campaign, Monday, November 7, 2011.

    (Willson speaking at a church in San Francisco, July 2011)

    Brian Willson's life changed forever on one afternoon in mid-April 1969. Willson was a US Air Force captain in Vietnam. He had been instructed to visit some recently-bombed targets and assess how successful the South Vietnamese pilots (trained by the US) had been at hitting those targets. The first target they visited, in the Vinh Long Province, had been bombed only an hour or two before they arrived.

    Writing in his 2011 memoir, Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson:
    My first thought was that I was witnessing an egregious, horrendous mistake. The "target" was no more than a small fishing and rice farming community. The "village" was smaller than a baseball playing field. . . . As with most settlements, this one was undefended – we saw no antiaircraft guns, no visible small arms, no defenders of any kind. The pilots who bombed this small hamlet flew low . . . able to get close to the ground without fear of being shot down, thus increasing the accuracy of their strafing and bombing. They certainly would have been able to see the inhabitants, mostly women with children taking care of various farming and domestic chores. . . .

    I didn't see one person standing. Most were ripped apart from bomb shrapnel and machine gun wounds, many blackened by napalm beyond recognition; the majority were obviously children.

    I began sobbing and gagging. I couldn't fathom what I was seeing, smelling, thinking. I took a few faltering steps to my left, only to find my way blocked by the body of a young woman lying at my feet. . . . I bent down for a closer look and stared, aghast, at the woman's open eyes. The [three] children [near her] were motionless, blackened blood drying on their bullet and shrapnel-riddled bodies. Napalm had melted much of the woman's face including her eyelids, but as I focused on her face, it seemed that her eyes were staring at me.

    She was not alive. But at the moment her eyes met mine, it felt like a lightning bolt jolted through my entire being. Over the years I have thought of her so often I have given her the name "Mai Ly" [a rearranging of the letters in My Lai].

    I was startled when Bao [the lieutenant], who was several feet to my right, asked why I was crying. I remember struggling to answer. The words that came out astonished me. "She is my family," I said, or something to that effect. I don't know where those words came from. . . . From that moment on, nothing would ever be the same for me. . . .

    I now knew, viscerally, the evil nature of the war. But more than that, I knew that these bombings had deliberately targeted inhabited, undefended villages, and therefore murdered countless civilians. And those murders had been planned and carried out as part of a policy created by the U.S. government . . .

    During that same week in mid-April Bao and I went to four other . . . settlements, similarly destroyed. . . . I could not talk about this experience for twelve years, and the thought of it still creates tremors in my body. I often find myself crying at the thought of it, and at times feel a rage that nearly chokes me.

    After Viet Nam, I knew that my own government . . . was not only criminal but psychotic. Buried deeper inside me, however, was an even more radical epiphany, the truth Mai Ly offered me through her open eyes. She is my family. It would take me many years to understand the real meaning of this experience – that we are all one – a lesson that continues to deepen and expand as I grow older.

    His desire to understand why he had referred to those dead Vietnamese as "my family" was a key part of what Willson described as "my journey in recovering my humanity".

    Willson, now 70 years old, spoke for roughly 30 minutes last night, without notes, giving one of the most eloquent, coherent, emotional, and blunt talks about war and its far-reaching effects I have ever heard.

    His words were more philosophical than historical, though he did share some of his background. Willson grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York State before his family moved to a farming community near Chautauqua, New York. He was an all-conference athlete, a member of his student council, a regular churchgoer, and valedictorian of his class. Willson says he was
    very right-wing, like everyone in my family, and my town. It was during the McCarthy period and everyone felt the Communists were threatening our lives. . . . My father believed that killing a commie for Jesus was a person's highest calling.
    When he was 25 years old, Willson received his draft notice. "I was a total believer in the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War but I was what they called a 'chickenhawk' – a hawk on war, but too chicken to actually fight." He joined the Air Force, thinking it was a safer option than either the Army or Marines, and in early March 1969 was sent to Vietnam to oversee the protection of US air bases.

    Roughly six weeks after he arrived, Willson visited the decimated villages that his country had bombed. Afterwards, he continued to carry out his duties, but "I spoke out against the war every day, to maintain my sanity". He was far from alone. Anti-war sentiment was common among troops in Viet Nam. There were regular mutinies, and open refusals to follow orders. By 1971, there were no reliable ground units, and many pilots would dump their bombs in remote, uninhabited areas. Commanding officers had to stop issuing orders to kill and destroy, as their troops' refusal to carry out orders would have hurt the officers' military records.

    Willson was sent home several months later. On the day he left Vietnam, he was read a list of approximately 50 counts against him – sedition, insubordination, refusal to follow orders, the list went on and on – but the military did not prosecute him. When he returned home, his mindset radically changed, his family disowned him. Willson said: "So you could be disowned by your family for refusing to fight. And you could be disowned for serving and then coming back and saying, 'Fuck that.'"

    Willson explained how he studied the works of Carl Jung and came to believe in universal attributes – empathy, cooperation, mutual respect, fairness – that are deeply embedded in each of us, hard-wired in our DNA through tens of thousands of years of evolution. At one point, those qualities were essential for survival. Now, while those fundamental attributes can be covered over by greed and hatred and selfishness, they cannot be erased. And they will surface, eventually – and they must be reckoned with.

    Willson began a new life of political activism. In January 1986, he travelled to Nicaragua to see the destruction created by President Reagan's terrorist attacks in Central America. When he witnessed a caravan of open caskets on horse-drawn wagons – again mostly women and children – he realized,
    I have been here before. . . . At that moment there was a synthesis that occurred within my deepest being. My cognitive understanding of the history of U.S. arrogance and imperialism was being psychically integrated with the viscera throughout my body and heart-soul. There was an alignment of clarity and energy I had not experienced previously. Vietnam was not an aberration. Neither was Nicaragua. Nor the original Holocaust of Native Americans, nor the subsequent Holocaust of kidnapped Africans. Nor U.S. interventions and murders in countless other locations over time and regions, amounting to yet another Holocaust, this latter one being global in nature. They all represent the tragedies inevitably caused by the historic superior attitude of "Manifest Destiny" that has dominated and enabled our civilization from its origins. Genuine people's self-determination, i.e., democracy, simply is not tolerated. Such principle interferes with unfettered domination and exploitation. For me, there was no escaping this conclusion.
    In mid-1987, Willson was participating in a nonviolent protest of US government munitions trains at the Naval Weapons Station in Concord, California, which were carrying bombs and chemical weapons to be used against the people of Central America. On September 1, he and two other protesters sat on the tracks. Willson figured the sight of the men in front of the stopped train would make a excellent photo opportunity. However, the train did not stop.

    The other men were able to get out of the way, but Willson was knocked down. His right leg was completely severed a few inches below the knee and his left leg was mangled (and would be amputated later). A "lemon-sized" bone fragment was ripped from his skull and driven into his right frontal lobe. On the shaky video of the accident, a portion of Willson's brain is visible. The film was shown during a lengthy interview of Willson on Democracy Now!. (The interview and transcript are here).

    There are also several photos of the impact in Blood: Willson trying to get away approximately one second before being hit, and train rolling over his body and dragging it down the tracks. Willson said the train operators later testified they were under orders to not stop. The train was not authorized to travel at more than 5 mph, but it was going 17 mph when it hit him. It had not applied its brakes during the entire trip and, in fact, was accelerating at the time of impact. It was a clear case of attempted murder, but the US government labelled Willson a "terrorist", claiming he was trying to hijack the train.

    Much of what Willson talked about Monday night was spiritual in nature, though not religious. He spoke of honouring the integrity embedded in each of us, of respecting our own dignity and that of all other humans. "Dignity is important; longevity is not so important. Longevity without dignity is worthless."


    He also dug a bit into some core questions. Why is obedience so easy, and why is disobedience so difficult? Again, Willson feels that this relates to our deep archetypes. Compliance within the community assured our distant ancestors of safety; disobeying the group's decisions meant the threat of being cast out – which might mean death. In our modern times, few people are comfortable speaking out, of deliberately marking themselves as different and facing the ridicule or being ostracized for having a minority opinion.

    Willson is fascinated by the methods of propaganda used by governments to dehumanize and demonize a group of people, in order to get its populace to support - or at least acquiesce to - the murder of innocent people, and how the military induces recruits to overcome their natural reluctance to kill. Part of Willson's work in therapy was overcoming his shame, knowing that he was already 27 years old, with a Master's degree, before he realized he had been so duped.

    Willson insists that domination and brutality hurts not only the subjugated, but also the dominator, referring to himself as a "recovering white male". He said the idea that "we are more deserving" is
    an insidious sickness. In the case of the US, we stole the land, and murdered the people that had lived on it, with total impunity. And we built the country with stolen, slave labour. What does that do to our souls as a people?
    Willson mentioned On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (1995) a book written by former US Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, "an analysis of the physiological processes involved with killing another human being".

    Many of Willson's comments were blunt statements of truth:
    "The U.S. population is 4.6% of the planet's total and the U.S. consumes anywhere from 25-33% of the world's resources. That requires an imperial policy."

    "Industrial civilization is on a collision course with life itself."

    "Some people feel they can go into another country and simply start killing people. It's absurd."

    "Once you have seen the darkness of war, and worked it through with clarity that you cannot be a part of it, it's a powerful force, it's an energy force within you. I feel it do deeply, I have to resist."
    During the discussion portion of the evening, Willson spoke about the increasing numbers of veterans at the Occupy sites around the country.

    In Boston, a group of veterans got wind one night that the police planned to raid the Occupy site at 1:20 a.m. The vets stood in front of the site, locking arms. The cops moved in and knocked them down. Many vets were injured, but the next day, another two dozen Iraq veterans who had not previously identified themselves as vets joined Veterans for Peace, after being so disgusted at what they had seen. Similarly, scores of veterans joined Occupy Oakland after former Marine Scott Olsen was critically injured by a stun grenade or tear gas canister thrown at protesters by police.

    Willson mentioned another "occupy" event in April 1971, when he took part in a one-week occupation of the Mall in Washington, DC. Veterans, dressed in fatigues, went around to various government building during the day – Congress, the White House, Washington Monument, and so on – speaking out against the atrocities being committed in Vietnam. (John Kerry's famous "last man to die for a lie" speech was made at this time, when hundreds of veterans turned in their medals.)


    Willson said that the Occupy movement and other forms of resistance against war and empire are nothing less than a redefinition of what it means to be a human being. "It's so powerful because it wasn't planned. When change is ready to happen, it happens very quickly."

    When asked to gauge the potential power of an empire's population to resist, Willson said it was hard to tell, wryly noting that after being utterly certain that the 1987 munitions train would stop, he tends to avoid making predictions.

    At the end of the discussion, more than a dozen war resisters in the crowd – people who refused to fight in Iraq, Vietnam, and World War II – were invited to come up and stand with Willson. As people took photos, Willson thanked all the war resisters for their courage, and for refusing to participate in this "total criminal bullshit".

    in which a talking dog distracts us from boring schoolwork

    Ah, November. Along with its evil twin March, the worst months for university and grad students. The school term is almost over, yet so much work is still ahead of me. I'm counting weeks.

    I have so many things I want to blog about, and no time to write. I'm determined to get to as much of it as I can. Meanwhile, enjoy this video. I don't usually go for the talking animal routines, but this... melt.

    11.07.2011

    "no amount of violence, oppression and bullying can kill an idea whose time has come"

    David Heap and Ehab Lotayef, writing at Rabble, now in an Israeli prison.

    * * * *

    Keeping the Canadian Boat to Gaza’s promise: Freedom Waves are just beginning

    David Heap and Ehab Lotayef, November 4, 2011

    A few months ago, the Greek government acted at the behest of Israel to help enforce its illegal and unjust blockade of Gaza. Freedom Flotilla II was blocked, and the closure of Gaza was extended all the way to the shores of Europe.

    We promised then to look for other means and new opportunities to sail to Gaza. We promised not to be deterred by the heavy-handed ways that Israel maintains its blockade of Gaza. We promised to keep working, in memory of those who were massacred on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, and in solidarity with the Palestinians who suffer brutality and deprivation every single day.

    This week we have kept our promise, beginning the Freedom Waves to Gaza with a "surprise flotilla" consisting of the Tahrir, a Canadian boat with international partners, and the Saoirse from Ireland. To keep our promise we had to remain silent about our specific plans, to avoid Israeli sabotage and political interference.

    Whatever the Israeli Occupation Forces do to us, this flotilla marks the launching of the Freedom Waves. It is the continuation of many efforts over the years to bring the plight of Gaza and Palestine to the world's attention. We will keep coming again and again, until the closure of Gaza is ended and Palestinians have been able to achieve liberation and justice.

    No amount of violence, oppression and bullying can kill an idea and a cause whose time has come. And it is long past time already for liberation to come to Gaza and all of Palestine.

    Everything we have done, since the very beginning of the flotilla movement, has been in response to the wishes and calls for solidarity by the Palestinian people.

    Earlier this year, a number of civil society and popular organizations issued a statement to the world: "We the Palestinians of the besieged Gaza Strip, are calling on the world: enough inaction, enough discussion, enough waiting -- the illegal closure on the Gaza Strip must end. While attention is focused on the Palestinian bid for statehood in the UN, do not forget that the blockade and the suffering continue in Gaza."

    We, as the Canadian Boat to Gaza, are determined to continue our solidarity efforts with the people suffering under blockade and occupation. Our own governments and the so-called "international community" have failed Gaza and all of Palestine, and that is why we feel that we must act.

    We are not the first flotilla, and we will not be the last. No matter the massacres, the threats, the harassments and the propaganda that Israel deploys, Freedom Waves will continue until the blockade of Gaza is lifted.

    Whatever nonsensical lies Israel tries to tell, the whole world knows that this is a non-violent, people-to-people act of solidarity. Israel and its apologists fear us precisely because they know we are unarmed, or rather that we are armed only with medicine and letters of support.

    There can be no justification for the way our boats were boarded and we were detained. The Tahrir was intercepted in international waters
    -- this amounts to state piracy. Massive military might was deployed to attack our right to safe passage, denying the people of Palestine's right to control their own borders.

    We are now forcibly being held in Israel. What we are enduring -- detention and the denial of our right to freely travel -- is just a small taste of what Palestinians endure every day living under the blockade and occupation.

    Expect us. Again and again. The Freedom Waves are just beginning.

    David Heap and Ehab Lotayef are steering committee members of the Canadian Boat to Gaza, and are among the dozen delegates and journalists on board the Tahrir currently detained by Israel. Rallies are taking place across Canada today demanding their immediate safe release. For more information visit Tahrir.ca.