adrienne rich, 1929-2012

How did I fail to acknowledge the passing of Adrienne Rich? She gave the world so much - in politics and in art, and by example. Recognizing my own mind in Rich's prose was one way I realized I was a radical. From The Guardian:
Adrienne Rich, who has died aged 82 of complications arising from rheumatoid arthritis, was one of the most influential and political American poets of the last century. The author of more than 30 widely read books of poetry and prose over six decades, she believed that art and politics are indivisible. Her radical focus on feminism, sexuality, civil rights, Jewish identity and the anti-war movement positioned her as a leading activist as well as writer.

In her poem Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963) she described the drudgery of marriage and domesticity before feminism had properly found its feet: "Banging the coffee-pot into the sink / she hears the angels chiding, and looks out / past the raked gardens to the sloppy sky." Motherhood was another sacred cow tackled by Rich; her non-fiction book Of Woman Born (1976) is a brutally honest and personal examination of motherhood, and a classic feminist text.

Rich soon became one of the leading lights of the women's liberation movement. Tiny in stature, but with a big presence, she captivated audiences. I heard her read on several occasions and was always struck by the reverence she inspired in literary critics and feminists alike.

Coming out as a lesbian in 1976, at a time when it engendered extreme hostility, she began a relationship with the editor and writer Michelle Cliff, who was to become her lifelong companion. That year, Rich published Twenty-One Love Poems, her homage to lesbian passion: "Whatever happens with us, your body / will haunt mine – tender, delicate / your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond / of the fiddlehead fern in forests / just washed by sun."

In 1980, Rich published the essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, in which she argued that it was necessary to break the taboo about lesbianism and reject the heterosexuality routinely forced upon women. Prior to this, the almost universal assumption – even among the most radical of feminists – was that sexual preference was biologically determined as opposed to a social construction that benefited patriarchy. [More here.]
The New Yorker has gathered some of Rich's poetry: read it here.

texas anti-choice sonogram law: doonesbury cartoons and very real life

If you haven't seen the abortion-related Doonesbury cartoons that many US newspapers refused to run, you can read them here. Go Garry Go.

More importantly, if you would like to see what the Texas sonogram law means in real life to real women, you can read one woman's heartbreaking story here: 'We Have No Choice': One Woman's Ordeal with Texas' New Sonogram Law. Subtitle: "The painful decision to terminate a pregnancy is now — thanks to Texas' harsh new law — just the beginning of the torment."

Update. A doctor's resistance. Thanks to reader hhw for posting in comments.

the lessons in tpl's struggle

With the Toronto Public Library workers back at work after a ten-day strike, here is an assessment of their settlement, from a TPL librarian (my friend and comrade) who is active in the union.
The lesson is it's better to fight than to run away when you are a city-worker union dealing with the Tory assholes that dominate these days.

We got a better deal than anyone else in TO, with a host of concessions beaten back and even a couple of small improvements to benefits.

However, we still gave up too much on the job security provision. Partly, we were moving from a MUCH stronger clause than other city units, so to bring us closer to them would require a big loss. But the blunt truth is that the concession leaves many (as in, more than half) workers vulnerable.
I take two, related lessons from this. Jobs are becoming even less secure, which is scary, and terrible. And we must fight, fight, fight for our rights as workers, because we may win some battles, and we will certainly win more battles than those who surrender without a fight.

how to have a one-sided conversation, or how not to ask for a favour

A reader - or at least someone who stumbled on my blog at some point - emailed me with a request. When I replied, I received this auto-reply:
Your message to xxxxx was not delivered because this mailbox does not accept mail from the Gmail system. Gmail not only invades the privacy of its users, but of their correspondents. Please re-send using another service, or call or write.
This is an interesting approach to Google privacy issues. It assumes that other email systems don't glean information from users the way Google does. I'm not sure we know that to be true.

Unlike those old anti-spam systems that asked the sender to type a confirmation, this is just a block. Unless it's a simple auto-reply, written to appear to be a block, as a kind of protest against Google, while the email is actually received, and possibly kill-filed into trash.

Either way, this person isn't too concerned with receiving email. All my email accounts are through Gmail. I have email at both my workplaces, but I don't use them for personal matters. And I'm certainly not opening an email account from some other company to correspond with this person I don't even know.

The reader gave no phone number. Not that I would call, but her auto-reply suggests that option.

And she's asking me for a favour.



predictable ontario budget: formulated by the 1% for the 1%

Ontarians, already living so close to the bone, are being told we must sacrifice even more - because corporate tax hikes cannot even be discussed. Ask the 1% for a solution and you'll get a solution that satisfies the 1%.
Ten months ago, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty appointed former TD Bank Economist Don Drummond to head the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, to deal with a projected (and likely overestimated) debt of approximately $16 billion.

Ontario’s deficit was a result of the global economic crisis triggered by the gang of banking bandits to which Drummond belongs, but Dalton McGuinty asked the same gang to suggest remedies.

It is therefore not surprising that the Commission’s recommendations are heavily biased in favour of the 1%. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the pain will be absorbed by the most vulnerable in society and ordinary working people, because McGuinty directed Drummond not to keep revenue generation off the table, including increasing taxes for profitable corporations or for the 1%.

Instead, Drummond proposes a host of new or increased user fees, including post-secondary tuition fees, which would hit low- and modest-income earners hardest.

Drummond admits his recipe for balanced budgets in 2017-2018 entails sharper and deeper cuts than those meted out by former Conservative Premier Mike Harris in the mid-1990s — and for a much longer period of time.

Drummond estimates that spending cuts will be the equivalent of a permanent 16.2 per cent cut for every man, woman and child in Ontario. And of course, not every Ontarian relies on such services to the same extent, guaranteeing that those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy will experience the sharpest cuts.

But Ontario is already at the bottom of the heap in terms of provincial per capita spending on social programs, a fact even Drummond is forced to acknowledge. Clearly public sector workers and social programs are not “out of control” as the rest of the report would have us all believe. It is McGuinty’s huge tax giveaways that are out of control — $4.5 billion annually when fully phased-in. Drummond’s report is really proposing a way to pay for those tax cuts. . . .
Cross-reference Impudent Strumpet: A major flaw in mandate of the Drummond report.


shit men say to men who say shit to women on the street

A long time ago, when I was in my early 20s, I was once venting to my mom about some ongoing street harassment. There was a construction site near my workplace, and all the women in the area were forced to run a gauntlet of catcalls and obscene chatter, every single day.

My father overheard us and joined the conversation. He suggested that the women find a different route to work to "avoid that scene".

I explained that this wasn't a "scene" one could avoid. It was everywhere, every day, every place where men gather. I explained that women shouldn't have to inconvenience themselves and take different routes to work because men can't keep their mouths shut. But even if we wanted to, where we would walk? Where was the harassment-free street?

My father then asked what the women were wearing, if their clothes were "appropriate for the street".

He then claimed he had never heard of this kind of thing, even though he walked city streets daily.

He then dismissed the complaints as the over-sensitive imaginations of "womens-libbers". He actually said that. This is the same man who regaled us with tales of striking workers laying down in front of trucks to prevent scabs from entering a factory, the man who took me on civil rights marches when I was barely old enough to walk. The person who taught me to speak out against injustice.

It was a painful lesson in hypocrisy. It was maybe the first time I clearly recognized the gap between believing in the right things and doing the right thing - the space where we take responsibility for the injustice and privilege in our own lives.

This video gives me hope that things can change, and do change, and are changing.

question for people using blogger with custom domains

A few years ago, I used Blogger with my own domain, wmtc.ca. There was an issue with individual posts not publishing correctly. The main page, wmtc.ca, was fine. But if you clicked on a post, you still got wmtc.ca, not wmtc.ca/todayspost.html. You could get a unique URL for a post if you right-clicked, but people didn't do that, so when readers posted a link somewhere, they were using the URL from the main page.

Eventually this got too annoying, and I changed to URL forwarding. I still own wmtc.ca, but it forwards to wmtc.blogspot.com (now .ca, thanks to Google deciding to aid potential government censors). But of course I'm much rather use wmtc.ca and get the blogspot out of the address.

As I said, this was quite a few years ago, and maybe Blogger has fixed this issue. I asked my DNS host, but they didn't know. Anyone?

[And while you're here, would you mind answering a quick, one-question survey? Thank you!]

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: # 4

"Oh man, you gotta read these books! These books are the best! They're not even really books. There are pictures! And jokes! And they're really, really funny! And they're super easy to read! These are the best! You gotta read these books!"

The books that are "not even really books"? Archie comics. The young man didn't know the word for comic books.


matt green is just walkin' again. this time in nyc.

Some two years ago, I posted about Matt Green, who (as I said at the time) was living my oldest dream: walking across the United States.

Now Matt Green is walking every street in New York City, all five boroughs, about 8,000 miles worth of walk.
In 2010, Matt Green, 31, a former civil engineer, walked across the United States from Rockaway Beach, Queens, to Rockaway Beach, Ore. The journey took five months, during which he averaged 20 miles a day, pitched his tent on front lawns and wore through three pairs of Timberland Chocorua Trail boots.

The plan was to take a break from the work force in the hopes of re-entering it in a more fulfilling capacity later on.

“The problem with that idea,” Mr. Green said recently, “is that after you walk for five months straight, the last thing you want to do is go back to a desk.”

So Mr. Green, a bearded Virginia native with a gleeful look in his eye, spent the next year and a half working odd jobs (data collector, farmhand) while he plotted where to walk next. Finally, at noon on Dec. 31, he set off from a randomly selected address on Staten Island with a new goal in mind: to walk every street in every borough of New York City.

Many people have walked every street in Manhattan. The local historian John McNamara, who died in 2004, walked every street in the Bronx. But Mr. Green believes he is the first to try for every block in all five boroughs — a distance he calculates at roughly 8,000 miles, counting parks, paths, cemeteries and occasional overlaps. He estimates that the project will take him more than two years of full-time walking to complete.

Each morning, Mr. Green, who once lived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, but now sleeps on friends’ couches throughout the city, scrawls the day’s route into a three-by-five-inch Caliber notebook. He starts walking between 10 a.m. and noon and keeps going until the sun goes down. At night, he updates a Google map tracking his progress, uploads photographs to his Web site, imjustwalkin.com, and then researches online the things he saw that day until he falls asleep, often around 4 a.m. To survive, he rations his expenses to less than $15 a day and solicits small PayPal donations on his blog; he has received $1,100 to date.

NEW York is a city of walkers.

As such, those who walk for the sake of walking are called on to distinguish themselves from ordinary pedestrians. In Teju Cole’s recent novel “Open City,” the narrator, a psychiatric fellow at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, takes aimless walks “as a release from the tightly regimented mental environment of work.” The British novelist Will Self — who has published two books on psychogeography, or the effect of topography on the human psyche — once trekked 20 miles from Kennedy Airport to Manhattan. “I walk,” he said, “in order to somatically medicate myself against the psychosis of contemporary urban living.”

Mr. Green’s reasons are less succinct, though similar in spirit. “People tend to narrativize neighborhoods in New York, saying such and such a place is hip, or poor, or ugly or barren,” he said. “This walk is a way of understanding a place on its own terms, instead of taking someone else’s word for it.

“Some people have asked if I’m on a quest to figure out what to do with my life, but it’s almost the exact opposite,” he added. “When I’m outside, I get so immersed in wherever I am that it’s sort of impossible to think about my long-term future.”

This is, in a sense, the point.
My own dream, which has changed to become more manageable over the years, but has never gone away, now involves an RV and a drive across Canada with my sweetie and the pups. I'm determined to make this happen. But Matt Green still makes me unspeakably envious.

Matt Green, I'm Just Walkin'


and now to defeat the harper government

Well, I thought I'd be sad. But I'm not sad. I'm excited.

I'm not excited about Thomas Mulcair, but I'm excited about a re-grouped and re-energized New Democratic Party. I almost don't care who the leader is. All I want is to beat Harper.

All I want is to stop building prisons and redirect those funds to education.

All I want is to protect and enhance publicly financed health care.

All I want is to eradicate poverty.

All I want is to stop wasteful military spending.

All I want is Canada out of Afghanistan, Libya, and wherever else they'll follow the US.

All I want is to tax corporations fairly so we can give ordinary people better lives.

All I want is a government that will protect and sustain the environment.

All I want is a real democracy.

That's all I want from my government.

I know I won't get everything on my wish-list, but there's only one party that will even try to get us there, and if Thomas Mulcair is the leader of that party, then I'm on board.

ndp leadership vote: holding my breath, hoping not to hold my nose

I purposely haven't blogged about the NDP leadership contest, as I don't do party politics. But now we're down to the very end, and I'm worried.

A mere skim of the headlines at Progressive Bloggers is eye-opening - and nauseating. So many (supposed) progressives want to see the party move even further to the (supposed) centre. At the height of the party's strength, they want to betray the legacy of Tommy Douglas and Jack Layton and become a slightly more liberal version of the Liberals. And it all makes sense, right? Since the Liberals are conservative, and the Conservatives are right-wing reactionaries. And the millions of Canadians who voted for an alternative, who want to see social democratic values put into policy, what do we do?

Before I answer that question, I'm holding my breath, and quoting Dr. Dawg: "If I wanted a Liberal to lead my party"... If either Thomas Mulcair or Brian Topp leads the NDP, I will be sick. And very sad.


bill c-10 wtf: watch and tell stephen harper what you think

Please watch this excellent video about Bill C-10. It's only 4 minutes and incredibly informative and entertaining. I'm sorry I didn't see this video before the bill was rubber-stamped in the Conservative-controlled Senate, but that's what I get for staying away from social media.

Even though the law has passed, organizers are urging us to contact Stephen Harper and share your thoughts on the new crime law: pm@pm.gc.ca. Why not take a minute and vent to our friend Steve. Be respectful, of course. Don't want to end up on a watch list higher up on the watch list.

this sunday in toronto: firsthand account of israel's capture of gaza-bound boat

This Sunday, folks in Toronto will have a great opportunity to hear a firsthand account of the arrest and abduction of the crew of the Tahrir, the Canadian boat that tried to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, part of last year's Freedom Flotilla. Ehab Lotayef, a Montreal engineer, and David Heap, an academic and activist from London, Ontario, will speak about their experiences on the boat and in an Israeli jail.

I wish I could attend! I've never heard my friend David speak publicly about this, although I do read every post on his blog. If you're in Toronto this weekend, this is sure to be a fascinating event.

When: Sunday, March 25, 1:00 p.m.

Where: Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street, Toronto

Admission: $10 or pay what you can.

More information here.

heckle the govt and lose your job? support air canada wildcat strike!

Three machinists, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, were suspended after "sarcastically applauding" Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt as she walked to her flight. They may lose their jobs.

Now members of IAM at both Pearson and Trudeau Airports are on a wildcat strike, vowing to not work until their brothers are reinstated.

The Harper Government refused to intervene when Caterpillar - which received tax breaks and other incentives to come to Ontario - insulted its workers with a 50% pay cut, then closed its plant. But when workers have legitimate grievances against a company - and the company refuses to negotiate in good faith - the government forces them back to work. Now Air Canada has violated its employees' rights of freedom of expression, protecting the government that protected the company's interests. It's all very cozy for corporations and the governments that serve them.

I met a member of IAM recently; he came to Toronto to support striking library workers. That's how I learned that Air Canada just made a multi-million-dollar payout to its shareholders after selling off some subsidiaries. And the Air Canada workers are fighting for a 2% salary increase.

The photo at this link supposedly shows a man in Pearson Airport spitting in the face of a woman taking part in the job action. If this is true, this is beneath contempt, more disgusting than I can describe. These people need our support, and need it now.

Back-to-work legislation strips us of our basic labour rights, and these three men have lost their jobs for exercising their right of freedom of expression. Tell Air Canada to reinstate the three suspended workers!

To send a message to Air Canada: leave a comment on this Facebook page, or complain through this form.

how you can support striking tpl workers

An open letter from my friend and comrade Jonathon Hodge. See below for picket schedule.

Dear friend/neighbor/colleague,

Many of you are library users, or know someone who is, and so many of you are affected by the current work stoppage at the Toronto Public Library. Those of us who work in the library system do not take this step lightly.

The Toronto Public Library Board is pursuing a course that will severely undermine the library services that Torontonians hold dear. Already, budgets cuts have resulted in the loss of over 100 full-time equivalent positions, including the entire office for services to people with disabilities! This is on top of a 17% reduction in staffing over the last 12 years, while library circulation has increased over 25% in that same period. The library system is busier than ever and running with fewer people.

Further to that, the board is proposing to eliminate the employment security provisions for almost two-thirds of library workers. The employer’s final offer leaves a large majority of library staff unprotected from cuts and contracting out. More than half would be vulnerable to losing their jobs in the City’s next attempt at library budget cuts in 2013. The only reason to eliminate such provisions is to lay the ground for the closing of branches and the selling off of library assets in coming budgets.

We can not allow this to happen.

Please make your voices heard to the library board chair and to the City librarian.

How you can help:

1. Email Councilor Paul Ainslie (Councillor_ainslie@toronto.ca), chair of the Toronto Public Library board and demand a contract that secures public library service across the city, and that protects the staff who provide that service. CC any correspondence the City Librarian’s office – citylibrarian@torontopubliclibrary.ca.

2. Post a window sign in your home and/or workplace to show your support. [This is posted above. You can copy and print the image.]

3. Visit a library picket line and bring greetings to the workers that make Toronto Library work – Lines are at City Hall, Toronto Reference Library, Northern District Library, North York Central Library, Albion Library (Etobicoke) and Cederbrae Library (Scarborough). [See schedule below.]

4. Forward this post to your Toronto contacts.

Together, Toronto can safeguard the world-class library service we all value.

Thank you for your support.Sincerely,

Jonathon Hodge
Canadiana Room
North York Central Library

Picket schedule:

Toronto Reference Library
789 Yonge Street
Mon-Fri 8-8:30 & Sat 9-4:30 & Sun 1-5

City Hall
100 Queen Street West
Mon-Fri 8-3:30 & Sat 9-4:30

Albion library 515 Albion Road
Mon-Fri 9-4:30 & Sat 9-4:30

Fairview library
35 Fairview Mall Dr
Mon-Fri 9:30-8:30 & Sat 9:30-5

Northern library
40 Orchard View Blvd
Mon-Fri 8-3:30 & Sat 9-4:30

Cedarbrae library
545 Markham Road
Mon-Fri 9-8 & Sat 9-4:30

North York Central Library
5120 Yonge Street
Mon-Fri 8-7 & Sat 9-4:30


canadian profile: justin hines

In the March issue of New Mobility, I have a cover story about Canadian musician Justin Hines. You can see it here.

I wrote this over my winter break - just as the library job came through! Not exactly the restful vacation I was hoping for. Fortunately I had a lot of help; Allan should really have a co-byline on this one.

The print edition looks terrific, full of great photos. It was a pleasure to interview Justin, he seems like a terrific guy. I add this to my profiles of interesting Canadians: Chantal Petitclerc, Stephen Fletcher, and the great Alyssa Manning.

For those of you who can't get enough of my scintillating prose, I posted this with the Children's and Youth Advocacy group at the iSchool: A View from a Children's Library.


new survey: use of online directories

One more question, folks! Do you use directories to find information online?

If you ask, "What's a directory?", it's safe to say you don't use one.

Thank you very much! I really appreciate it. I will share the results of both surveys when I'm done with my research.

please take a quick survey about social bookmarking

Thank you very much to everyone who answered my social bookmarking survey. If you have not already done so, could you please answer two questions? It's research for a paper I'm writing.

The survey is here. Thanks!

david suzuki fights back: he needs our help

If you have not already done so, please take a moment and send a letter to the Canadian Senate, calling on them to tone down their offensive rhetoric, and stop trying to marginalize and demonize Canadians who stand up for the future of the country (and the planet) by opposing the tarsands. As David Suzuki says, "The issue of relatively small amounts of international funding is a distraction and effort to silence environmental organizations." From the Suzuki Foundation:
With their insulting and uninformed statements during an inquiry into international funding for Canadian charitable organizations that are standing up for our country’s rich natural environment, senators are doing a disservice to all Canadians.

The government has already labelled Canadians who question the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal as "radicals" and potential terrorists, but its appointed senators recently kicked things up a notch. Senator Don Plett, former president of the federal Conservative Party, asked his fellow senators during the inquiry, "If environmentalists are willing to accept money from Martians, where would they draw the line on where they receive money from? Would they take money from Al Qaeda, the Hamas or the Taliban?" Senator Percy Mockler referred to the David Suzuki Foundation and others as "qualified bad, not to mention ugly, foundations."

Such statements from senators are an affront to the democratic principles of this country. We expect more from our government and Senate leaders. We expect rational discussion of issues of national and global importance.

Environmental organizations have often stepped in where government and industry have failed to protect the air, water, and land that we all depend on – from raising the issue of acid rain, which led to a successful treaty to address the problem, to protecting valuable habitat and natural areas. The issue of relatively small amounts of international funding is a distraction and effort to silence environmental organizations. Trying to stifle those who don’t agree with the government's positions is undemocratic and goes against the values and traditions that Canadians of all political stripes have worked for many years to establish.
Go here to send a letter to the Senate and your own MP. Five thousand letters were sent yesterday. Be part of another 5,00 today.


blogger, please let us turn off word verification!

I've just found out that word verification for comments has been on, even though I've turned it off. I already use comment moderation, so there's no need for verification, too.

I've turned off verification repeatedly, but it keeps defaulting back to "on". If you're also having this problem with a Blogger blog, please use the "send feedback" feature on your dashboard to report it. Thanks.

why unions? would you rather have input into your working conditions, or not?

I've never understood why so many working people have it in for unions. I understand why employers don't want unions: unions give workers input into their own working conditions. A union workplace shifts the balance from the employer having 100% of the power to the employer having some amount less than 100%. So companies will do anything, even close a store rather than concede any portion of their unilateral power. But why workers don't want unions, that just makes no sense.

Right now I have two part-time jobs. One is a union job (for the first time in my life)* and one is a non-union job, as has been the case for my entire working life.

I can't go into too many details (yet)**, but I can summarize. In one job, my co-workers and I have zero input into our working conditions. The employer sets the terms of our employment: our salaries, our hours, our job descriptions. Those conditions change according to the whim and will of the company, often quite suddenly and in ways that impact our lives very negatively. We accept their terms, or we don't have jobs.

In my union workplace, the terms and conditions of my employment are set in advance. The conditions have been negotiated by a team of people working in the interests of all employees. I know in advance what is expected of me and what I am entitled to, and I know that can't and won't change without further discussion and negotiation. I also know I earn the same amount as other people with my job description and level of experience.

Through the collective bargaining unit, I have some measure of input into my own working conditions. As a result, morale is much higher in the union workplace, as employees do not feel constantly put-upon and taken advantage of. We work just as hard - if not harder - but we know the performance benchmarks that are expected of us. On the non-union job, no matter what we do, it is never enough. As a consequence, most of us do the minimum.

I note that this is not about pay. My non-union job pays more than three times as much as my union job. Even when I move up in the ranks of librarianship, assuming I do, it will be a very long time before my per-hour pay overtakes my current pay as a legal document specialist. Yes, I earn triple what I make in the library, and I regard the library as the preferred workplace.

Recently Impudent Strumpet imagined a scenario where all working people could be represented and covered by collective bargaining agreements.
Wouldn't that be awesome? Wouldn't life be so much better if other jobs worked that way? You don't have to negotiate your salary half-blind (How much do other people get paid for this job? What's the employer's budget?), you just have to do your job well.
That's my dream, too. It was the dream of the Industrial Workers of the World, the "Wobblies," who advocated for One Big Union, where all workers from all industries would be protected.

Meanwhile in the here and now, working people argue against their own interests by bashing unions. They gleefully do the work of corporations and corporate governments, who need workers pitted against other workers, rather than fighting side-by-side for better conditions for all.

Working people say they oppose unions because...

...unions are corrupt. That's true, some are. Just like some companies are corrupt. Unions are organizations of humans, and in any human-created endeavor, there is the potential for corruption and abuse of power. However, just as not all companies are Enron, not all unions are the 1970s Teamsters. Would you rather have some input into your working conditions or have none?

...they get just as good a deal without a union. They might - right now. But when the company is under pressure to show a bigger profit, how many jobs will be cut, how will new hires be treated? That will be entirely up to the company, and you will have no say at all. Would you rather have some input into your working conditions or have none?

...unions are only interested in keeping their members employed. Wouldn't it be great if we all had a team of people interested in keeping us employed? The answer to this is more union jobs.

...union workers are lazy. By lazy, I think they mean work a certain number of hours, for which they are paid, and are not forced to work longer hours and/or unpaid hours at the employer's say-so. I suspect the people who call this lazy would very much like the opportunity to be lazy like that. Also, I've worked in non-union environments all my life, and I've had loads of lazy co-workers. And many industrious ones. People are people. Unions don't change that.

...they are living off public money. First, there are private sector unions: Steelworkers, Auto Workers, Teamsters, Communication Workers. The folks Air Canada is trying to crush. The folks Caterpillar recently abandoned. Second, services cost money. I'd rather my tax money support good jobs for my neighbours than higher profits for shareholders. Either way, services are going to cost. One way the money goes back into the community and the city has some oversight. The other way, corners will be cut and taxpayers will be fleeced.

...What's in it for me? Union-bashers might not use those words, but much of the venom spewed against organized labour is borne of jealousy, at the fact that union workers may have better pay and better benefits than non-union workers. But those good union jobs raise the standard for all jobs. Throughout the history of organized labour, union pay scales have set the bar and led to higher wages for all workers. Without the UAW, CAW, USW, CUPE, AFSCME and SEIU raising the standards for decent wages and benefits, good jobs would be even scarcer than they are now. Trickle-down economics is bullshit, but a rising tide of better jobs will float many more boats.

One argument that we're hearing a lot now, as union-bashers parrot Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, is that public-sector workers have "jobs for life". This is said with tremendous disgust and disdain - and with the certain knowledge that such a thing exists. Other than the Pope and maybe a United States Supreme Court Justice, no one has a job for life. Union workers may have more job security than non-union workers. That's why we need more union jobs, so workers and their families can be more secure.

There are other arguments, too. But in response to each one, I ask the same question:

Would you rather have some input into your working conditions or have none?

* I was active in the National Writers Union, but that was more movement than union, and all the members were freelancers. There was no shared workplace.

** One day. I can hardly wait.

support your local library - support tpl library workers!

As you know, the staff of the Toronto Public Library is on strike.

Rob Ford is using the financial crisis as an excuse to "privatize everything that isn't nailed down" (his words), including the library. Branch closures are still an issue. Service cuts loom. In times of austerity, working people need the library more than ever - and the library should be free, public, and open to all.

A quality library means quality staff. More than two-thirds of TPL staff is part-time, working without benefits and often without adequate hours to make ends meet. Today at noon, library workers and their supporters will rally at Toronto City Hall to demand a fair contract. If you work downtown, please join us.

On the internet, I've already seen that (a) librarians sit around all day while pages do all the work, (b) librarians can be replaced by retirees and volunteers, and (c) libraries are unnecessary, because "it's all on the internet now and the internet is free".

Does any of that need a response? Just in case:

(A) Pages shelve books. It's an important job, but if there were no librarians, there'd be no books to shelve. Librarians decide what goes in the library: the books and DVDs, the website so you can access the catalog at home, the programs that serve the community. Librarians help patrons find what they need - but they also make sure that what patrons need is actually part of the library. People who plan, organize, and implement programs often do so sitting down. It doesn't mean they're not working.

(B) Volunteers are an important part of any library. But does anyone seriously believe that a 98-branch library system plus a world-famous reference library can be run by volunteers? Toronto Public Library is not a book club in someone's living room. Should we use volunteer firefighters, EMS, and police officers, too? Volunteer transit workers and janitorial staff? Volunteer day care workers and lifeguards? Providing quality public services means hiring, training and maintaining quality staff. Staff who deserve to be paid well and treated fairly. Isn't that what our taxes are for? Or should we pay taxes to enrich private companies who want libraries to profit their shareholders?

(C) Things the library has that the internet does not: ESL programs, resume help, job-search help, computer lessons, storytimes, teen book clubs, homework clubs, nutrition classes, author talks. That is a tiny sample of the programs that are offered through TPL. What else doesn't the internet have? Books! Magazines. DVDs for loan for free. And is the internet free? I don't know about you, but I pay a service provider every month for access. Not everyone can afford that. So where do they use the internet? You know the answer: at the library.

The people who live, work, and go to school in Toronto deserve a world-class library. The people who make that library world-class deserve a fair deal.

Join us today at noon at City Hall to say: I support my public library!


google, facebook, twitter: corporate dictatorships, and we their willing subjects

I'm sure Canadian readers have noticed Blogger's new blogspot.ca addresses. Blog-readers the world over are seeing country-specific domain addresses, as Google has decided to make it easy to aid government censorship.
Why does my blog redirect to a country-specific URL?

Q: Why am I seeing a URL change?
A: In the next few months the website address of a blog you're reading may be redirected to a country-specific domain. For example, if you're in Australia and viewing [blogname].blogspot.com, you might be redirected to [blogname].blogspot.com.au. The country-specific domain should correspond to the country where you're currently located.

Q: Why is this happening?
A: We are doing this to provide more support for managing content locally. If we receive a removal request that violates local law, that content may no longer be available to readers on local domains where those laws apply. This update is in line with our approach to free expression and controversial content, which hasn’t changed.
Google is not, as many headlines claim, beginning country-specific censorship themselves. But Google has a lot of power, and they've just made it easier to exercise it.

Private corporations now control enormous amounts of information. They make their own rules and answer to no one. People like to say that we should "vote with our wallets", but how is that possible when (a) the service is free, (b) the service is necessary and/or (c) the company has a monopoly or near-monopoly? There are supposed to be some governmental checks on media consolidation, but they're a joke, and even those jokes haven't kept pace with new technologies.

In a democracy, at least in theory, we have some input into our government. It often doesn't work very well, but there are at least mechanisms for grievance and complaint and the possibility of change. With private companies that offer supposedly free services, we have zero input.

So we end up with companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google able to profit off our personal information or censor millions of people at a government's behest. The consumer - the citizen - has no control at all. You have, in in essence, corporate dictatorships.

It's quite scary, or at least it should be. I'm sure many people who use free internet services are oblivious to the dangers, because they're taught to be good consumers, not watchful citizens.

And those of us who are watchful citizens generally feel we have no choice. If we want to participate in society, we need the internet, we need social media, we need the search engine. So we give up. I'm extremely skeptical that things like "Twitter blackouts" can have a real effect on this issue.

A while back, I wrote about Eben Moglen's Freedom Box, a simple device that would decentralize internet use. That wouldn't help us with Google and Twitter, but it would be a start.

For my own blog, I could go back to using my custom domain. I still own wmtc.ca; it redirects here. Using a custom domain with Blogger was problematic, and I eventually gave up and went with the redirect, but that was a while back. Maybe I'll try again. Which of course doesn't address any of the most important problems.


social bookmarking survey, take two

The poll in an earlier wmtc post wreaked havoc on my blog, so I'm trying again. If I might beg another moment of your time, please go here to take a two-question survey about your use of social bookmarking websites. By this I mean sites like Delicious, Reddit, CiteULike, BuzzFeed, Digg, Fark, and the like. This is research for a paper I am writing about tagging.

Even if you took the first survey that was posted here, please answer the questions again on the new survey.

Thank you very much!

html/css help needed (fixed!!)

As you can see, strange things have been happening to this blog's template, and I've been unable to find the source and fix it.

The header background is appearing in a strange (ugly!) colour. I can't find the code that is making this happen. If you click on any of the tabs ("contact", "comment policy", wmtc's greatest hits", etc.), you will see how the header background is supposed to look. If you click on an individual post, same thing. The colour code for the header background (#111111) is in there. But something is overriding it on the main page.

Of lesser importance, a gradient code is causing the background to have a fade effect. I would like a solid background without this effect, but when I try to change or remove the code, I get error messages. I don't know whether that's a Blogger glitch or my own error.

I would also like to remove the second background, now showing up as a pale green, in between the main blog and the gray background. I assume this is some kind of wrapper. I don't want it.

I tried switching to an entirely new template. I customized that template to the extent it would let me. I was still unable to get rid of these issues.

I don't know what else to do. I've posted on the Blogger Help Forum but I don't expect anything to come of that.


blogger! grrrr....! help!

What, you thought I wanted a blog header the colour of dog puke? No, I did not. The colours of my blog template have changed. On their own. And they won't change back.

Blogger accepted a few changes, so at least I have my lower-case back on the sidebar! But the colours are all off, and no matter what I do, they don't budge.

The header, post titles, post footers, and tags should all be black.


Update. It appears that whatever changes I make are showing up when you click on the tabs, but not on the home page. I repeat: grrrr.

worthington: pit bull ban is "ku klux klan law"

I hate to agree with the Sun's Peter Worthington, who once penned a screed against US Iraq War war resisters, as full of lies and errors as it was bluster and false patriotism. But apparently on some issues Worthington is willing to consider facts: breed-specific legislation is a form of bigotry, and it should be repealed.
Critics call the law “canine racism,” and say breed specific legislation (BSL), is vague to the point that it’s uncertain as to what constitutes a “pit bull.”

Legislation identifies Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers, and “a dog that has the appearance . . . substantially similar to any of those dogs,” warrants being banned, or killed.

Holy Mackinaw!

To put the above in human terms, that’s akin to deciding guilt on the basis of appearance, not behaviour. To be brutally frank, it (Bill 132) is a Ku Klux Klan law.

Right now three MPPs — a Liberal, Conservative and NDP — have a private members bill (16) to rescind the pit bull ban. Conservative Randy Hiller, co-sponsored by the NDP’s Cheri DiNova and Liberal Kim Craitor, want the “racist” aspects of the legislation repealed.

And they are right.

As in people, violent behaviour is an individual characteristic. Gone are the days (one hopes) when people are automatically assumed guilty because of their looks. Politicians apparently haven’t reached that stage with dogs.


quebec leads the way with resistance, in the halls of power and on the street

Two more reasons to say j'aime le Quebec.

Two days ago, the Cons' ridiculously wasteful, unnecessary, and inhumane crime bill was passed in the House of Commons. The leadership of Quebec wasted no time in striking a blow for justice and common sense.
The province announced Tuesday that it would do everything in its power to limit the clout of the legislation that passed a day earlier.

Because the provinces are responsible for applying the laws passed in Ottawa, Quebec says it will work to soften Bill C-10 where possible.

The provincial minister said he will issue a directive to various players in the justice system to avoid applying the strictest provisions of the crime bill – particularly when it comes to youth offenders.

“It is not a plan to abolish C-10,” Jean-Marc Fournier told a news conference Tuesday inside a courtroom at Montreal's youth courthouse.

“C-10 is a law, but we've also got laws in Quebec. We can make them work together.”

Some provinces, including Quebec, also say Ottawa should be responsible for paying for the new jail spaces that will be required as a result of the legislation. Quebec pegs the costs at $750-million for new prisons, and at up to $80 million a year for application of the new rules.

Mr. Fournier reiterated this position on Tuesday.

“It's not for Quebec to finance the costs of an initiative from a federal government that refused to collaborate with provinces on the content of the legislation,” he said. “The federal government can't hide its head in the sand and deny that some provinces will at least need to build more prisons, which takes time and money.”
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of post-secondary students in La Belle Province are on strike, protesting tuition fees increase and the austerity budget.

Austerity is about to descend on Ontario and on all of Canada, further cutting social services already weakened by past governments, both Conservative and Liberal, while corporate taxes are rolled back.

Canadians need to join Quebeckers in saying, "Enough!"

former u.s. sergeant speaks out against recent massacre in afghanistan

Please watch this video of my friend Chris Vassey, a former sergeant in the US military, speaking at a recent Afghans For Peace vigil in Toronto.

Chris has sacrificied so much for peace, much more than most of us will ever have to bear. Now he lives in Canada, and he works for peace.


pity the 1%, continued

Further to our chat about the tone-deaf 1%: go here for Brian McFadden's latest in the New York Times.

it's not robocalls we're worried about: it's election fraud

I know I'm not the only Canadian who is frustrated by the media's constant use of the phrase "robocall scandal," as if we're all fired up over a few unwanted phone calls. (Dr. Dawg has an excellent post about this fuzzy thinking.) Come on, people, we're talking about election fraud. Vote suppression. A deliberate attempt to mislead citizens in order to prevent them from voting.

We're talking about a polarizing government that won majority status by squeezing past the post in some very tight races - in which there are now serious questions about the legitimacy of the vote! Robocalls are not the problem!

And I know I'm not the only one who seriously doubts we've seen the worst of this yet, the rotten core of this corrupt, hypocritical, arrogant, anti-democratic Harper Government.

Here's one lie exposed. If you're disturbed by the connection between the Cons up north and the Reps to our south, don't miss this essential post by Alison at Creekside: RoboCon : Republican edition.


they're all civilians. they've always been civilians.

A U.S. soldier is accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan people. Civilians, we are told. As if all the Afghans and all the Iraqis slaughtered by US bombs, raids, drones, guns, white phosphorous, and torture were something other than civilians.

The US has been waging two simultaneous wars against civilian populations for more than a decade. Some people are labelled "insurgents". Those are the civilians who fight back.

I've heard many Vietnam War veterans tell a story, goes something like this. The platoon leader would count the dead, then say, "Twenty-five dead Viet Kong." "How do you know they're Viet Kong?" "Because we killed them." Shoot first, declare the bodies enemy later.

The White House called this latest incident in Afghanistan "tragic and shocking". It is neither. It is criminal and unsurprising, just like the rest of the war.

today in dundas square: rally for democracy!

If you're in the GTA, here are the details.

Rallies are being held across Canada. Check this Facebook page or do the Google to find an event near you.

Demand a full public investigation. Demand a new election!


pity the 1%

"Cash bonuses on Wall Street are expected to drop by 14 percent during this year's 'bonus season'." Only 20 billion dollars will be doled out, with the average bonus totalling $121,000. How sad.

That's billion, with a B.

Bankers' trophy dates are sad, too.

Be sure to click - and read to the end for maximum impact.


information please

In at least one respect, I am a born librarian. Friends have said there should be a sign over my head: INFORMATION. Everywhere I go, people ask me for directions.

In New York City, it was a rare subway trip that I wasn't approached. "Does this train go to Grand Central?" "How do I get to Columbus Circle?" In Toronto, it's "Is this the way to the Eaton Centre?" and "Where is the Rogers Centre?" It happens just as frequently when I travel. We were in San Francisco less than an hour when I car pulled up beside me, passenger window rolled down, inquiring face at the window. In Italy, France and Ireland, natives and tourists alike asked me the way. On a deserted highway in rural Mississippi, in a tiny village upstate New York, in the middle of rush hour in Mexico City. They pick me out of crowds, cross the street, flag me down. They want directions, and they want them from me.

When I talk about this phenomenon, people think I'm exaggerating - until they spend time with me. Not long before I left New York, my friend NN I were doing errands on the Upper West Side when a woman stopped me: "Is there a crosstown bus on this street?" NN said, "I see you're still in demand."

I've thought about why this might be. I suppose, as a short woman, I don't appear threatening or intimidating. And perhaps a lifetime of urban living has given me an alert, confident look. The very first time I can remember being asked for directions may provide a clue. This was in university, on the first day of classes, freshman year. I was nervously rushing to class, wondering where on earth I was going and what on earth I was doing, when a young woman tapped my arm: "How do you get to College Hall?" I burst out laughing. "I have no idea! I'm a freshman!" Wow!" she said, impressed. "You really look like you know where you're going." Together, we held her map and tried to determine where we were. But it made my day. It made my month. Hey, I look like I know where I'm going.

It's a responsibility I take very seriously. If I don't have the requested information, I feel like I've let someone down. (Even worse is the occasional realization that I've given someone wrong directions.) I wait while people search for pens. If the person is interested, I'll give several alternatives. In New York I would always try to tailor my directions to their needs: Can they walk a long distance? Are they in a rush? Would they rather save the price of the subway, and see the city on foot? More than once, I told tourists that we were headed in the same direction, and took them myself. (I know this isn't that unusual. Many Canadian friends have told me New Yorkers did this for them. New Yorkers are great like that.)

Now, for the first time, I actually have that INFORMATION sign. I'm not yet authorized to match people with their information needs, the magic known as reference. But the questions pages are allowed to answer are called... directional. "Do you have any Geronimo Stilton?" "Where is Harry Potter?" "Where are the books about mummies?" Follow me.


dear toronto star: you suck. so does the pit bull ban. (updated with minor apology)

To the editor of the Toronto Star:

Thank you for printing so many excellent letters countering your terrible editorial about the Ontario Dog Owners Liability Act. The letter signed by "Michelle Brew, Toronto" was in fact written by me, Laura Kaminker.

I'm glad to see you kept the meaning of the letter nonetheless. That editorial may have been a new low for your publication, and we were afraid we'd see no letters in response. Your readers deserve a correction and retraction from the Public Editor.
It’s wrong to say opponents of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) are “pit bull fanciers.” I am against BSL and I own a Basset Hound — a dog most people assume can barely move, let alone bite.

I want to see the government crack down on the real problem — bad owners. These owners can’t be bothered to socialize their dogs and don’t follow existing laws (like leash laws). People need to understand that they have responsibilities beyond feeding, watering and licensing their dogs.

I’d also like to see more bylaw enforcement by the City of Toronto. From what I’ve witnessed, the city could make a dent in their budget with fines against these owners.

Heather Mack, Toronto

Not just pit bull fanciers want to see this private member’s bill passed. Thousands of dog owners of any breed are wondering when their breed will be next.

Many pit bull-type dogs are excellent pets. The bill is named Hershey’s Bill after the beloved registered therapy dog who volunteered in seniors homes. After this ridiculous law passed, Hershey was no longer able to volunteer with seniors.

Sue Kingshott, Georgetown

I am quite shocked that this article made it to print in the Star. I am confused as to how this meets basic publishing standards. I’m quite disappointed in the Star and have come to expect so much more from this paper.

Melissa Munro, Maxville

Your editorial is misleading and incorrect. Under the current Dog Owners’ Liability Act, any dog that is “alleged” — merely alleged — to be a pit bull or to be menacing can be confiscated from its owner. It falls to the owner to prove the dog is not a pit bull, something that cannot be done, since the term “pit bull” is vague and subjective.

Until recently, a confiscated dog was automatically killed without any due process for its owner. Now the dog is allowed to live if a home can be found for it outside Ontario. This is the worst kind of bigotry: judging a creature by its appearance rather than its behaviour.

Your editorial states that “a pit bull can rip out a child’s throat or disembowel another dog.” In fact, any large dog that has been abused and trained to fight could do this.

But any dog of any breed that has been raised with love and trained properly will behave as a dog should. When dogs are abused by dangerous people, the dog is not a criminal — it is a victim.

Your editorial shamefully compares a dog, a sentient creature, to a machine gun, an inanimate object.

The people who want this law changed are not a “minority of people” who like “dangerous dogs.” We are ordinary Ontarians who love our dogs and believe in justice.

Michelle Brew, Toronto
I'm sure Michelle Brew wrote a great letter, too.

* * * *

Update. Turns out Michelle Brew did write this letter. I posted my letter on an anti-BSL Facebook page, and offered to anyone who wanted to crib from it. Michelle removed the personal stuff about Buster, and that's what ran.

The Public Editor emailed me and we put together the trail from there. So the letters editor of the Toronto Star doesn't suck. Apologies to him or her.

sign a letter to obama: charge and try shaker aamer or release him

We hear about so many human-rights abuses and outrages around the world, that it's easy to become numb. But think of this. A man held in a prison camp for 10 years - the last five in solitary confinment* - without ever being charged with a crime. Right in our own backyard.

Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen and legal UK resident, has been held in the Guantánamo Bay prison camp for 10 years. He was cleared for release in 2007, and the UK has asked for his repatriation. And yet... nothing. The rogue state knows no morals and heeds no laws.

Amnesty International is using an upcoming meeting between UK Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama to try to get Aamer's release on the agenda.

Go here to sign a letter demanding Shaker Aamer be either tried or released.

From The Guardian Observer:
This month marks 10 years since the first detainees were taken to Guantánamo Bay, the notorious US Navy-run detention centre in Cuba.

One of those still being held there is Shaker Aamer, a 45-year-old former UK resident whose family live in south London. In February he will have spent 10 years in prison without charge or trial.

Originally from Saudi Arabia, Aamer is married to a British citizen and moved to London in 1996, where he worked as an Arabic translator for a firm of solicitors who specialise in immigration cases. Given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, he is the father of four children but has never met his youngest son, who was born after his imprisonment.

In 2001, after travelling to Afghanistan to undertake voluntary work, he was detained by Afghan forces and held at the US military prison at Bagram, among other places. Later he was transferred to US custody, and then taken to Guantánamo.

At Guantánamo Bay, Aamer has been involved in protests against conditions at the camp, including hunger strikes, and has spent much of his time in solitary confinement. He alleges that he has been subject to torture, both before his arrival and while there, describing one instance when he says he was left alone in an interrogation room with a gun, after days of sleep deprivation and beatings.

The UK government has repeatedly asked for him to be returned to his wife and children in the UK. The US government is obliged to either bring criminal charges against Shaker Aamer and give him a fair trial, or release him. Sign a petition calling for the closure of Guantánamo, and write a letter for Shaker Aamer, here.
Sign the letter here.

* Long-term solitary confinement is a form of torture.


best of wmtc, 2011 edition

During the school term, I am frequently frustrated by not being able to blog. I have ideas for posts that never get written - unusual for me, and unpleasant. If this annual tradition of collecting my best posts from the past year serves no other purpose, it reminds me that I actually am still writing.

This the long list for best-of wmtc in 2011.

resistance is not futile: resistance is everything

how to save the public library

"all we know is we are going to get our freedom" (Report on forum on revolution in Egypt.)

my police complaint saga comes to a close

stephen harper dismantles canada's refugee system; jason kenney attacks canadian democracy

haliburton wolves in winter

¡bienvenido diego! (Not best-of, but most important! More good dog pics here: in which i undertake something completely new: my first garden.)

books on books, part 1: robert darnton, the case for books

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

books on books, part 3: reading matters: what the research reveals about reading, libraries and community

thou shalt be thin: obesity hysteria and the eating disorder epidemic

the only good bargaining is collective bargaining

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

war is peace, freedom is slavery, and bp is listening: more tales of corporate propaganda (My pick for best post of the year.)

on the dangers of centrism

occupy movement: some answers to cynics and detractors

"she is my family" and other revelations of humanity: s. brian willson in toronto (Allan guest post.)

how can we live without polar bears? bbc's planet earth gets political

sunday, march 11: toronto rally for democracy

Yesterday the rallies kicked off in Vancouver. Next Sunday is Toronto's turn. Demand a complete, public inquiry into election fraud in the 2011 election. Demand a by-elections!

Sunday, March 11, 2012
12:00 noon
Yonge-Dundas Square
On Facebook

Facebook pages for other cities where rallies have been confirmed:

As more cities have information, they'll be listed here.

For more information on why the present Elections Canada investigation is inadequate, see Dr. Dawg.


celebrate international women's day 2012

Today is International Women's Day.

We've come a long way.

And we've still got a long way to go.

Globally, the picture looks much worse.

See the current issue of Socialist Worker for a collection of IWD stories, including one by yours truly.

At today's IWD March in Toronto, the theme is "Reclaim Our City: Together We Are Stronger!" Details here.


what i'm reading: sag harbor by colson whitehead

Colson Whitehead is now officially one of my Favourite Writers. I last gushed about him here, after reading his excellent novel Apex Hides the Hurt. That post also contains links to earlier raves, especially about Whitehead's New York City essays.

Over my reading week, I read (for myself! hurrah) Sag Harbor, Whitehead's novel from 2009. It's a coming-of-age story, narrated by a teenage boy during a summer in Sag Harbor, Long Island, a historically black beach community, where middle-class African American families from the New York City area have taken their families for generations. I absolutely loved this book.

First, the teenage voice is as true as they come. Whitehead has such a light touch - the writing is very funny, and touching and sweet, but never cloying or anguished or self-aggrandizing. You feel for Benji, and your heart squeezes in recognition of his perpetually self-torturing teenage mind, but you know he'll be all right.

Then, within the coming-of-age form, Whitehead weaves layers of meaning, somehow without ever being overly obvious or preachy. So Sag Harbor is also about black self-consciousness, and the pigeon-holes black people are placed in by white society, the different "ways to be black," (street, Cosby Show, striver, and so on). And these pigeonholes run parallel to the cliques and labels of adolescence (nerd, jock, rocker, and so on). This parallel, between the black experience and the teen experience, universalizes the black experience in a way, gives the (potentially not-black) reader a point of identification.

Sag Harbor is, at bottom, about our invention of ourselves - the false nostalgia for our imagined carefree childhood years (which really weren't) and our imagined future when we will finally break free. In the background of Benji's story, there are family issues, maybe even the breakup of the family, but these are told with the same light, humourous touch, so you're laughing and shaking your head at things that aren't really funny, because you know it's no worse than what we've all survived.

Here's an excerpt.
Needless to say, I had no idea how fucked up the haircuts were at the time. To us they were normal. Just how things were done in our house. (Raise your hand if you relate.) My delusions ended that spring when I was cleaning out my desk during one of my periodic purges of nerdery. My twenty-sided die possessed a curious will, returning to pester and trouble me even though I had thrown it out a hundred times, the specter of D&D games past. This time I threw it out the window. (I found it under the radiator a week later.) I stashed dog-eared copies of Famous Monsters in a box at the back of the closet and hid all the comic books I'd bought since the last purge, in case a girl materialized in my room due to a transporter malfunction. I was in a good mood or something, feeling optimistic, like someone had chuckled at a joke that I'd made in Biology, or History, and it had gone to my head.

I came across a packet of fifth-grade class pictures under my copy of Swamp Thing #35. It is the nettlesome quality of elementary-school pictures to reveal the true nature of our childhoods. Nothing is how we remember it, and all the necessary alterations we've made in order to survive with semi-functioning psyches are exposed. Best to leave them alone.

Looking back, I think I had what is best described as a prelapsarian fondness for fifth grade, its lack of complication. No more. Miss Fredericks, the Social Studies teacher whose cruel smile had haunted me for years and who was actually the default setting in my nightmares when I needed an evil authority figure, had a melancholy face now that I really examined it. She seemed a bit too skinny, almost ill, and I got to thinking about what her house looked like, picturing the shadows in the kitchenette where she prepared her lonely meals. Two scoops of cottage cheese on a big leaf of wilted iceberg lettuce, and a side of misery. She never appeared in my dreams again.

Scanning the rest of the photograph, it was clear that none of us, teacher and pupils alike, had remained untouched by that horrible epidemic making the rounds back then, '70s fashion, the manic stripes and prints of the shirts and skirts and pants a kind of rash on our flesh that only a new decade could cure. Then there were the kids themselves. No one looked like they were supposed to. These changeling creatures surrounded me in polyester, touching my elbows. Strangers. I traced a finger along their faces like a movie amnesiac ... that must be my best friend ... his name is Andy ... that's the smart girl who sat in front of me all year ... she ate frankfurters out of a Bionic Woman thermos filled with hot oily water. Then there was my own face. My face was not the one I remembered showing to the world. Were my eyes so dark, those days? There was something amiss with my mouth, always my mouth, even before I got braces. My lips were chapped, sure, but the chappiness seemed to have extended its territory, so that a huge white halo encircled my mouth, like I'd been eating ashes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And then there was that thing on top. That really fucked-up haircut.

I recovered from the class picture pretty quickly. It wasn't that bad. Seeing the white letters identifying my homeroom, the construction-paper map of France we'd toiled over that winter, the poster of Neil Armstrong floating down to the lunar surface, I felt a nice warm tingle of nostalgia. The killer was the four panes of wallet-sized photos beneath the class picture. It was just me there. They should have stopped me. They should have stopped me at any number of checkpoints. As I tried to leave the apartment - here, a close relative would have been key. The doorman could have taken me aside. We got along, him and me, trading heys with enthusiasm, or so I thought. But he said nothing. Certainly the bus driver, de facto deputy of the body politic, could've forbid me entry, ripping my bus pass in half and tossing it to the dirty black treads. The security guard outside school should have beat me with his flashlight, and surely my homeroom teacher, Miss Barrett — stickler by nature, wielder of a bifocaled annihilating gaze — should have shoved her big wooden desk up against the classroom door, back brace or no back brace. All of them should have said, What the fuck is up with your hair?

avaaz petition to rcmp and elections canada to broaden investigation

This petition from Avaaz calls on the RCMP and Elections Canada to expand their investigation beyond the one riding in Guelph, to third parties, including all robocall contracts, and all ridings where misconduct is suspected.

Sign here.


canadians, report election fraud now

Canadians, if you or someone you know may have been the victim of election fraud during the 2011 federal election, please fill out this survey.

The clock is ticking. When media reports of voter suppression came to light, it triggered a 30-day time period for the filing of these reports under the Canada Elections Act.

If you suspect this may apply to you, please act now. The Council of Canadians has made it easy: go here. Or, if you prefer, a similar tool at Leadnow.

walkom: pit bull ban was "unforgivable" dishonesty, it should be repealed

Thank you, Thomas Walkom! You are a voice of reason in a sea of media ignorance.

Read this column to learn the truth behind Ontario's breed-specific legislation.
Thanks to the efforts of MPPs from all three parties, Ontarians are being given a chance — a chance — to see a patently bad law buried.

That law is the province-wide ban on pit bulls, a statute enacted seven years ago on the basis of much demagoguery and virtually no evidence.

The ban’s origins were fear and opportunism. The fear — particularly in Toronto — stemmed from a particularly vicious pit-bull attack that left a 25-year-old man with extensive injuries.

The opportunism was that of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government, which sensed in the public outrage surrounding this attack a chance to polish its fading image.

At the time, debate over the ban was hot and furious. Honest people took different sides.

Many parents welcomed any move that might keep young children safe.

Conversely, many dog lovers were outraged by the ban’s arbitrary nature.

But what made the government’s handling of this bill unforgivable was its dishonesty.

It cited as evidence for its move a U.S. study claiming that pit bulls, while representing only 1 per cent of the dog population, were responsible for between 48 and 56 per cent of all dog bites.

Under scrutiny, however, that claim collapsed. The statistics, a government spokesman acknowledged, came from an obscure Washington state pet owners’ magazine that had looked at just 59 cases.

Otherwise, the government had nothing. Serious organizations that had investigated dog bites — including the Canada Safety Council, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association and the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control — concluded that so called breed bans didn’t work.

The reason? No one dog breed is particularly vicious. What counts, expert after expert told the government, is how dogs are trained.

Moreover, the government was told, the dog-bite threat itself is overstated. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that far more children are injured playing baseball.

Riding on a wave of fear, however, the government persevered. . . .

In normal times, private members’ bills rarely manage to reach the third reading stage required to make them law. According to published reports, even this bill commanded the support of only three Liberals, including Toronto MPP Mike Colle.

Still, we can hope. The ban is particularly unpopular in rural areas, where the Liberals need seats if they are to regain a majority. Perhaps the government that chose to pass this travesty seven years ago will see reason.
I'll send this to my MPP along with my letter.