hedges: what happened to canada? (corporations have no borders)

Chris Hedges:
What happened to Canada? It used to be the country we would flee to if life in the United States became unpalatable. No nuclear weapons. No huge military-industrial complex. Universal health care. Funding for the arts. A good record on the environment.

But that was the old Canada. I was in Montreal on Friday and Saturday and saw the familiar and disturbing tentacles of the security and surveillance state. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accords so it can dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation. It carried out the largest mass arrests of demonstrators in Canadian history at 2010’s G-8 and G-20 meetings, rounding up more than 1,000 people. It sends undercover police into indigenous communities and activist groups and is handing out stiff prison terms to dissenters. And Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a diminished version of George W. Bush. He champions the rabid right wing in Israel, bows to the whims of global financiers and is a Christian fundamentalist.

The voices of dissent sound like our own. And the forms of persecution are familiar. This is not an accident. We are fighting the same corporate leviathan.

“I want to tell you that I was arrested because I am seen as a threat,” Canadian activist Leah Henderson wrote to fellow dissidents before being sent to Vanier prison in Milton, Ontario, to serve a 10-month sentence. “I want to tell you that you might be too. I want to tell you that this is something we need to prepare for. I want to tell you that the risk of incarceration alone should not determine our organizing.”

“My skills and experience—as a facilitator, as a trainer, as a legal professional and as someone linking different communities and movements—were all targeted in this case, with the state trying to depict me as a ‘brainwasher’ and as a mastermind of mayhem, violence and destruction,” she went on. “During the week of the G8 & G20 summits, the police targeted legal observers, street medics and independent media. It is clear that the skills that make us strong, the alternatives that reduce our reliance on their systems and prefigure a new world, are the very things that they are most afraid of.”

The decay of Canada illustrates two things. Corporate power is global, and resistance to it cannot be restricted by national boundaries. Corporations have no regard for nation-states. They assert their power to exploit the land and the people everywhere. They play worker off of worker and nation off of nation. They control the political elites in Ottawa as they do in London, Paris and Washington. This, I suspect, is why the tactics to crush the Occupy movement around the globe have an eerie similarity—infiltrations, surveillance, the denial of public assembly, physical attempts to eradicate encampments, the use of propaganda and the press to demonize the movement, new draconian laws stripping citizens of basic rights, and increasingly harsh terms of incarceration.

Our solidarity should be with activists who march on Tahrir Square in Cairo or set up encampamentos in Madrid. These are our true compatriots. The more we shed ourselves of national identity in this fight, the more we grasp that our true allies may not speak our language or embrace our religious and cultural traditions, the more powerful we will become.
Read it here.


wmtc now without threaded comments!

No go on the threaded comments.

First of all, it only indents once. That's a good space-saver, but kind of defeats the purpose of using the threaded format.

Second, as Allan points out, threading makes it more difficult to scan through a comment thread to read only the newest comments.

And finally, the new comment style added justified text and a narrow line height, which look bad. Hopefully reverting back to the original style of commenting will change that, too.

On we go.

wmtc now has threaded comments

Blogger now supports threading commenting, which (mostly) alleviates the need to quote the person you're responding to or use @soandso. It also helps distinguish between comments responding to other comments and those responding to the post itself.

I've also upgraded to the new Blogger interface, which is similar to the new Gmail interface. It's taking some getting used to, but there are lots of nice features.

So let's try threaded comments! What should we talk about?

dear mr harper: stop the threats and intimidation. we will speak out against the enbridge pipeline.

I've been holding on to this email from Leadnow.ca, hoping to write a scathing post... but this is too important to wait until I have time. In case you haven't seen it, I'll re-run the email in its entirety.

No one who has been following Canadian politics for the last few years could be surprised by the tactics of the Harper GovernmentTM, but we mustn't grow so jaded that we simply let this pass without comment or protest. Please read, click through to send a letter to the Prime Minister, and spread the word.
This week, we learned that the Harper Government is using closed-door intimidation tactics against Canadian charities. They’re trying to silence groups that question our government’s plans to push the Enbridge western pipeline and supertankers project through overwhelming local opposition, and recklessly expand the tar sands at all costs.

A whistleblower just revealed that the Prime Minister’s Office threatened to revoke the charitable status of Tides Canada if they continue their support for ForestEthics, an environmental group that has engaged thousands of Canadians in the public hearings about the Enbridge project.[1]

According to the whistleblower, a former senior communications manager for ForestEthics named Andrew Frank, the Prime Minister’s Office told Tides Canada they consider ForestEthics to be an “enemy of the Government of Canada” because of the group’s opposition to the Enbridge pipeline and tar sands expansion.[1]

This is about more than our jobs and environment. It’s about our rights and our democracy, and we need to speak out now. Together, we can stop these closed-door intimidation tactics by shining a bright light of public attention on our government’s actions.

Click here to tell Prime Minister Harper to stop the threats and ensure fair hearings for Canadians, then please forward this important message far and wide.

While we don’t know exactly what was said behind closed doors, the Globe and Mail reports that the Harper Government has called ForestEthics a group “acting against the government of Canada and people of Canada” in private meetings designed to intimidate charitable funders.[2] And Peter Robinson, the Chief Executive Officer of the David Suzuki Foundation, says that environmental groups are “right to worry” that the government will threaten the charitable status of groups they disagree with in order to shut down debate.[3]

The latest threats are part of a much larger pattern. Internal documents from March 2011 outline the Harper Government’s strategy to spend Canadian tax dollars on a PR and lobbying campaign to derail Europe’s climate and environmental policy. The foreign lobbying strategy lists First Nations and environmental groups as the government’s “adversaries,” while oil companies, industry associations, and the National Energy Board are listed as the government’s “allies.”[4]

Our government’s job is to provide a free and open forum for Canadians to hear the arguments and evidence for and against the Enbridge western pipeline and oil supertanker project, so that together we can decide whether or not the project is in Canada’s best interests.
Instead, Prime Minister Harper is abusing the power of government to silence Canadians who are concerned about a project that will kill jobs, destabilize the climate and threaten our salmon and coast.

Click here to tell Prime Minister Harper to stop the threats and ensure fair hearings.

The public hearings about the Enbridge western pipeline and supetanker project are now severely compromised in three ways:

1. The Harper Government has directly biased the hearings with a massive PR campaign to discredit environmental organizations as “foreign special interests” and “radical groups” while privately threatening Canadian charities.[5]

2. The National Energy Board has stacked the deck for the Enbridge western pipeline and supertanker hearings by issuing a directive that muzzles any discussion about the environmental impacts of the tar sands. In this way, they've ensured the hearings will overstate the benefits of the pipeline by ignoring the major costs of expanding the tar sands.[6]

3. The National Energy Board has committed to "consult" with First Nations, but it has not committed to respect the rights of First Nations to “free, prior and informed consent” over any project that affects their territory. Over 70 First Nations groups, covering the entire proposed path of the pipeline and much of the BC coast, have already stood together to oppose the project.[7,8]

We are seeing a radical shift in our national conversation, an aggressive attempt to poison the well of debate with public smears and private threats against organizations that Canadians have built to help us all have a voice on the issues that matter.

We need your help to speak out and tell Prime Minister Harper that Canadians will not be silenced. Click here to take action.

P.S. - Emma Pullman, Leadnow's research director, has found very close ties between industry front-group EthicalOil.org, the Sun Media network and the Prime Minister’s Office that suggest they have a coordinated strategy to create an echo chamber for pro-oil industry and anti-environmental group talking points. You can learn more here.
The letter to Harper reads as follows:
Dear Prime Minister Harper,

I am deeply concerned by reports that members of your office have been threatening charities that support Canadians who have serious concerns about the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and the expansion of the oilsands.

All Canadians, no matter what our political affiliation, have an interest in free and open debate. We have a right to decide what we think is in Canada’s best interests.

Between these private threats to charitable organizations, and the public campaign to discredit thousands of concerned Canadians and First Nations as “foreign special interests” and “radical groups”, I believe that the integrity of these hearings has been badly compromised.

I am writing today to call on you to stop the threats against Canadian charities and ensure that Canadians get a fair hearing so that we can decide whether or not the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline is in Canada’s best interests.

Specifically, I call on you to:

1. Immediately stop your government’s public and private campaign to silence environmental groups.

2. Instruct the National Energy Board to rescind its directive that the hearings be prohibited from considering the costs of expanding the tar sands.

3. Instruct the National Energy Board to respect the rights of First Nations to free, prior and informed consent on any project that affects their territory.
Sources from Leadnow.ca:
1. Affidavit accuses Prime Minister’s Office of threatening environmental charity

2. Environmentalist’s departure sheds light on tension felt by green groups

3. Attack on “radicals” sign of tougher federal strategy

4. Feds list First Nations, green groups as oilsands “adversaries”

5. ”Scary time” for Canada

6. Canadian pipeline needs aboriginal consent: chief

7. Save the Fraser Declaration

8. Whistleblower’s Open Letter to Canadians

9. PMO branded environmental group an ‘enemy’ of Canada, affidavit says

10. Affidavit accuses Prime Minister's Office of threatening environmental charity

11. Affidavit accuses PMO of threatening environmental group


occupy the u.s. election, part 2: it doesn't matter who wins if they don't count the votes

There are two principal reasons why the U.S. presidential election doesn't matter. Corporate money's death grip on both parties is one. Election fraud is the other.

Long-time readers of wmtc may recall a time when I was fairly obsessed with U.S. elections - not with the results, but with the veracity and validity of the elections themselves. A quick scroll through the wmtc category "election fraud" will give you an idea. The 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were both fraudulent. This has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. There were tremendous "irregularities" (lovely euphemism there) in the 2006 and 2010 midterm elections. In 2008, there was rampant vote suppression and obstruction, voter-list purging, and outright vote theft, but apparently Obama's election watchdogs over-rode enough of it so that the person who got the most votes actually won the election. At least we think so; there's no way to be certain. (For an interesting discussion of 2008 presidential election fraud, see this thread, especially the discussion in comments: "obama can't win if they don't count the votes".)

None of this has gone away. None of it has even gotten better. But there might be some hope on the horizon. From election fraud central, otherwise known as Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman:
Has America’s Stolen Election Process Finally Hit Prime Time?

It took two stolen US Presidential elections and the prospect of another one coming up in 2012.

For years the Democratic Party and even much of the left press has reacted with scorn for those who’ve reported on it.

But the imperial fraud that has utterly corrupted our electoral process seems finally to be dawning on a broadening core of the American electorate---if it can still be called that.

The shift is highlighted by three major developments...
Fitrakis and Wasserman outline three factors that could add up to progress: the NAACP has petitioned the United Nations, the Justice Department has moved against the state of South Carolina, and the Election Assistance Commission has ruled that voting machines are programmed to be partisan. It's worth reading. They conclude:
But a flood of articles about these realities---including coverage in the New York Times---seems to indicate the theft of our elections has finally taken a leap into the mainstream of the American mind. Whether that leads to concrete reforms before another presidential election is stolen remains to be seen. But after more than a decade of ignorance and contempt, it’s about time something gets done to restore a semblance of democracy to the nation that claims to be the world’s oldest.

occupy the u.s. election, part 1: "we can vote for romney or obama, but goldman sachs and exxonmobil and bank of america and the defense contractors always win."

Occasionally a bit of slime seeps from the sewer of the Republican primaries into my oxygen, and I feel the need to share the smell.

When a public figure says that a pregnancy from rape is a silver lining sent from god, as Rick Santorum did, and that person is a bona fide presidential candidate... well, it's disgusting, and it's dangerous, and it has to be mentioned.

I enjoyed reading this exposé of Newt Gingrich's hypocrisy - or at least some of his hypocrisy, as an exhaustive exposé would fill a book.

Generally, though, I'm paying as much attention to the 2012 circus as I did to the 2008 circus. That would be none.

Chris Hedges explains why this is, and what USians should be doing instead.
Turn off your televisions. Ignore the Newt-Mitt-Rick-Barack reality show. It is as relevant to your life as the gossip on “Jersey Shore.” The real debate, the debate raised by the Occupy movement about inequality, corporate malfeasance, the destruction of the ecosystem, and the security and surveillance state, is the only debate that matters. You won’t hear it on the corporate-owned airwaves and cable networks, including MSNBC, which has become to the Democratic Party what Fox News is to the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party. You won’t hear it on NPR or PBS. You won’t read about it in our major newspapers. The issues that matter are being debated, however, on “Democracy Now!,” Link TV, The Real News, Occupy websites and Revolution Truth. They are being raised by journalists such as Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi. You can find genuine ideas in corners of the Internet or in books by political philosophers such as Sheldon Wolin. But you have to go looking for them.

Voting will not alter the corporate systems of power. Voting is an act of political theater. Voting in the United States is as futile and sterile as in the elections I covered as a reporter in dictatorships like Syria, Iran and Iraq. There were always opposition candidates offered up by these dictatorships. Give the people the illusion of choice. Throw up the pretense of debate. Let the power elite hold public celebrations to exalt the triumph of popular will. We can vote for Romney or Obama, but Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil and Bank of America and the defense contractors always win. There is little difference between our electoral charade and the ones endured by the Syrians and Iranians. Do we really believe that Obama has, or ever had, any intention to change the culture in Washington?

In this year’s presidential election I will vote for a third-party candidate, either the Green Party candidate or Rocky Anderson, assuming one of them makes it onto the ballot in New Jersey, but voting is nothing more than a brief chance to register our disgust with the corporate state. It will not alter the configurations of power. The campaign is not worth our emotional, physical or intellectual energy.

Our efforts must be directed toward acts of civil disobedience, to chipping away, through nonviolent protest, at the pillars of established, corporate power. The corporate state is so unfair, so corrupt and so rotten that the institutions tasked with holding it up—the police, the press, the banking system, the civil service and the judiciary—have become vulnerable. It is becoming harder and harder for the corporations to convince its foot soldiers to hold the system in place.
There's much more: read it here.


"capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us"

Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us.
When a high priest of Davos says this, I can't help but wonder. Has the idea reached a tipping point?

Harper may have "unveiled his grand plans to reshape Canada" - come on, Globe and Mail, he's been unveiling that for five years - but he hasn't been elected Prime Minister for Life.

Klaus Schwab, the Chairman of the Davos World Economic Forum, Capitalism Central, publicly voices doubts about the future of global capitalism. Stephen Harper may have plans, but the future is always unknown.

More Schwab:
How sustainable is it and at what cost to the environment? How are the gains distributed? What has become of the family and community fabric, as well as of our culture and heritage? The time has come to embrace a much more holistic, inclusive and qualitative approach to economic development.
Are 'sustainable' and 'inclusive' merely buzzwords? But why bother? He's not running for office, doesn't need our approval. Could it be that even the enablers of the 1% are coming to understand that the centre cannot hold?
A global transformation is urgently needed and it must start with reinstating a global sense of social responsibility.
A global transformation? Transformation is another word for revolution.
Maybe Schwab is one of those "foreign radicals" Harper is on about. You know, ordinary people, who want there to be a future for all.

shit native new yorkers say

Ah, here's the real New York. This one's much closer to the mark.

To be honest, these are not limited to native New Yorkers (except "I grew up in..."), but to anyone who lived in the City during the 1970s or 1980s. I would replace yoga studios with nail salons, but "that used to be..." is a staple of that town. "I remember when this place was a...." earns you a merit badge towards your Real New Yorker ID.

And muggings and dead people on the subway, but no masturbators? What's up with that?

Many thanks to johngoldfine!


ode to a hero: attorney for the damned (with thanks to jill lepore)

Clarence Darrow was one of my earliest heroes. I first encountered Darrow in the guise of Spencer Tracy, who portrayed the lawyer in the 1960 movie "Inherit the Wind". Darrow famously defended John Scopes, who tried to teach evolution in a Tennessee public school. His courtroom opponent was William Jennings Bryan, portrayed in the same movie by Frederic March. (In "Inherit the Wind," as was typical in those days, names were fictionalized. Darrow was called Henry Drummond and Bryan was called Matthew Harrison Brady. "Inherit the Wind" was originally a play, written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, who also wrote the screenplay. It has been adapted for film several times.)

Some years later, as a young teenager exploring ideas of atheism and agnosticism, I came upon this.
I don't believe in God because I don't believe in Mother Goose. - Clarence Darrow
A simple statement, maybe even simplistic, but it spurred a lot of thought for me. I wanted to know about the man who said this.

I discovered Darrow's life work was defending the poor from the rich, defending labour from oppression, and especially saving people from being murdered by the state under the guise of justice. Naturally, I loved this, and for a long while dreamed of becoming a defense attorney to do the exact same thing.

During those same years I stumbled on another fictionalized version of Darrow, in a novel called Compulsion, by Meyer Levin, about the Leopold and Loeb murder case, one of the most sensationalist trials of its time. The fictionalized account interested me enough to look into the actual case, and I discovered Darrow had defended two boys who had abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered a child. The public was clamoring for the electric chair (it didn't help that the murderers were rich and Jewish) and Darrow saved their lives.

Of course, with my interest in labour history, I started running into Darrow on a regular basis. In Big Trouble, a towering work of history by the late J. Anthony Lukas - one of my favourite nonfiction books, ever - there's a mini-biography of Darrow. He seemed to be one of those figures that would pop up wherever I looked.

* * * *

Many years later, I had a rare experience. I learned about the tarnish on my hero's shine, and it only made me admire him more.

Clarence Darrow, "Attorney for the Damned," would do anything to win a case. He would bend any rule to within an inch of its life, subject the legal system to interpretations wider than his bull-like broad shoulders. He was not above jury-tampering, lies, bribery, suborning perjury, or any other trick. Whatever it took, he would do. For Darrow, the ends justified the means, because the goal was saving a person's life.

It's a radical approach to defense, and I admire it deeply. It recognizes that the legal and judicial systems are tremendously biased, designed to protect the interests of the state, and often, the interests of property, of capital, of industry and corporations. The poor defendant is at an incalcuable disadvantage. "Playing by the rules" doesn't mean playing fairly.

In the cases Darrow agreed to represent, the state was often trying to set an example to deter further disobedience. Prosecutors were trying to score political points with the people who would get them elected, the captains of industry whose interests they maintained. But the defendant was fighting for her or his life. If the state lost, nothing much changed. If the defendant lost, he died.

As my politics and worldview grew and formed, my imagined kinship with Darrow deepened. After reading Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking, my opposition to capital punishment moved from conditional to absolute. And at some point I realized that I actually don't believe in nonviolence as an absolute dogma in liberation movements - that nonviolent resistance is important and often a good strategy, but there are times when it's not necessarily the best path. Darrow, too, believed that certain ends are to be achieved - or at least fought for - by any means necessary.

* * * *

Along with Frederic Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., Darrow was one of the US's greatest orators. His closing summations to juries read like manifestos or declarations. Closing statements would go on for hours. He spoke, always, without notes. He was also one of the country's most famous skeptics, who believed "doubt was the beginning of wisdom."

I recently read "Objection," a long magazine piece by writer and historian Jill Lepore. Lepore is (among other things) a staff writer at The New Yorker, and she writes about many subjects that interest me. Two books about Darrow were published last year, and Lepore wrote a nominal book review that is really an ode to my enduring hero.

The excellent piece is only available online by subscription. Ms. Lepore gave me permission to reprint a couple of paragraphs, so I'm trying to limit myself to that. If you're interested in Darrow, try to get your hands on this issue of The New Yorker (or ask me for the text).

"Objection" recounts the story of Darrow's defense of a labour organizer Thomas Kidd on charges of conspiracy. The charges were an attempt to criminalize union organizing.

In Oshkosh, Wisconsin, also known as "Sawdust City", workers turned out 400,000 doors a year for the Paine Lumber Company. After the men reported to work in the morning, the factory doors were locked, and remained locked, except for a lunch break, until the guards opened the door at dusk. For a 12-hour day, a grown man could expect to earn 45 cents. But lately many workers were earning much less, because they were children, often hired to replace their fathers, working with the same giant saws. Kidd and the workers sent a letter to the owner, George Paine, demanding "better wages, a weekly payday, the end of woman and child labour, and recognition of their union". Paine trashed the letter.

The workers of the Paine Lumber Company went on strike, and the governor of Wisconsin called in the National Guard. On June 24, 1898, "four companies of infantry, a battery of artillery, and a squadron of cavalry armed with rifles and Gatling guns" faced the workers outside the factory gates. The National Guard, mind you, had been formed specifically to deal with labour unrest. Their salaries were paid partly by industry. But guess what? In Oshkosh the guardsmen were sympathetic with the strikers. They were sent back to Milwaukee and the mills remained closed. The workers struck for 14 weeks.

Now the state of Wisconsin thought it had found a way to rid itself forever of worker unrest. Kidd was charged with conspiracy to destroy the Paine Lumber Company. The trial became a test case for labour versus capital.

Lepore walks the reader through Darrow's closing statement, which would have constituted a famous speech for any other man. Darrow recounts the facts of the case - did the accused make a speech, did he incite fellow workers to strike, did he write a letter calling on the company to change its ways - and dismisses each one as trivial.
No, Darrow didn't care about the facts; nor, for that matter, did he care about the case. He cared only about one question: "Whether when a body of men desiring to benefit their condition, and the condition of their fellow men, shall strike, whether those men can be sent to jail."

And then Darrow said to the jury, "I know that you will render a verdict in this case which will be a milestone in the history of the world, and an inspiration and hope to the dumb, despairing millions whose fate is in your hands." He had spoken for eight hours.

The Kidd trial may not have been a milestone in the history of the world, but it was a landmark in the Gilded Age debate about prosperity and equality. There were two ways of looking at what Darrow called "the great questions that are agitating the world today." Either wealthy businessmen like Paine and Pullman were ushering in prosperity for all or else the interests of the Paines and the Pullmans of the world were at odds with everyone else's interests. In Oshkosh, Darrow won that argument. The jury was out for fifty minutes. All three defendants were acquitted.

. . . .

After [his own trial and indictment, in 1910], Darrow left the labor movement. He went on to do his best work, speaking and writing against fundamentalism, eugenics, the death penalty, and Jim Crow. "America seems to have an epidemic of intolerance," he wrote. That's still true. And the Gilded Age debate about the right to strike did not end in Sawdust City, a century later, it's still going on. Just this past March, Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, signed a law making public-sector collective bargaining a crime.

"Gentlemen, the world is dark," Darrow told that jury in Oshkosh, "but it is not hopeless." After all, no attorney for the damned ever lacks for work.


fightback works: peel parents win, for now

Community meetings, rallies, emergency mobilizations, and a five-hour Council meeting ended with the Peel Regional Council voting not to close 12 publicly-funded daycare centres - yet. The Council voted unanimously to stop the rush to closure and instead set up a task force to explore the options.

According to this story in the Star, the current daycare arrangement serves 800 children. Fewer than half of those are subsidized, and 4,000 children on the waiting list to get in.

The answer is simple. Don't cut public services: expand them.

Roll back the corporate tax cuts, require everyone to pay their fair share. It's not that difficult to figure out. Daycare > prisons. Education > military.

we don't care about facts, tarsands edition

Why you always have to ask, who is sponsoring this exhibit/ad/study/media. And why tax dollars should support the arts, humanities and sciences: because if we don't, they will. (Emphasis added.)
The Canada Science and Technology Museum faced pressure from a corporate sponsor to change its portrayal of the oilsands in a new energy exhibit, the museum’s former vice-president confirms.

Randall Brooks said both Imperial Oil and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers felt the exhibit was too critical of the oilsands. Brooks was still vice-president at the time but retired last year.

“They certainly were pushing for a positive portrayal of the oilsands,” he said Tuesday.

The Imperial Oil Foundation gave $600,000 over six years for the show called “Energy: Power to Choose.”

Brooks said industry representatives made up a large part of an advisory committee of about 25 people overseeing the exhibit’s preparation. It reported directly to the museum’s CEO, Denise Amyot.

“One of the things that they wanted point out, obviously, was that Canada is an energy-rich country and we need to exploit it,” he said.

“They were as far as possible trying to downplay the negative side of energy exploitation.”

Meanwhile correspondence between the museum and industry reps, obtained by Radio-Canada in an access to information request, show the industry pushing for changes in the exhibit’s content.

A letter last May from Susan Swan, the president of the Imperial Oil Foundation, says: “I find the language not balanced overall. I have tried to point out the most significant issues I have seen, but the overall tone is of concern to me.”

Imperial Oil calls a section of text about oil dependence “pejorative and unbalanced” and insists: “This has to be removed and rewritten.”

The company also says it’s uncomfortable with links in the exhibit between wars and oil.

Another objection is that the exhibit shows changes in the landscape caused by oilsands mining. Since the land must be reclaimed later under Canadian law, the exhibit is “telling only half the story,” the company says.

The museum’s current vice-president, Yves St-Onge, said energy is a “very complex” subject and his staff did a solid job of balancing many competing messages.

“From all the comments we received, we took some and left others behind,” he said.

“We tried to create a balanced content ... Our team of curators feel very strongly about the content of what we put out.

“It’s not something that has been dictated by any of the sponsors.”

A museum studies professor in Toronto says the same issue crops up again and again, as museums try to find a balance between the need for private money and the donors’ wishes to influence an exhibit.

Government funding cuts cause a “corporatization of museums,” said Lynne Teather of the University of Toronto’s faculty of information.

“Anybody running a museum today knows they have to deal with what we call stakeholders,” she said. As well, there’s the view of inside experts — the curators — and the museum’s own corporate mission. And the board of trustees may add its own influence toward a particular point of view.

Tensions can spring up over the interpretation of history, culture, or anything involving industry, she said.

“We would advise (the organizers) to be talking about that up front. Somehow those negotiations and balancing points get worked through toward an end point. We certainly teach students to be aware of these things.” She says there’s less private sponsorship money available than governments believe. And corporate donors may see their money as a marketing tool, not a simple donation.

we don't care about facts, crime edition

If only the Harper GovernmentTM weren't determined to waste our tax dollars on prison-building and useless mandatory sentencing, while telling us we can't afford to maintain decent spending levels for universal health insurance. If only they cared about facts.
New poll results show the public is abandoning a stubborn belief that crime is on the rise, bringing public opinion into alignment with a 20-year trend of declining crime rates.

The long-standing disconnect between public fears and reality has confounded criminologists and fuelled federal get-tough policies.

However, the Environics Focus Canada poll - obtained by The Globe and Mail and scheduled for release Thursday - shakes conventional wisdom even more by finding growing support for the use of crime prevention rather than punishment.

"This doesn't mean that people want to lay off criminals," said Keith Neuman, executive director of the Environics Institute. "But what people would like to see is more crime prevention. They feel that this is the right thing to do."
Has this persistent disconnect really "confounded" criminologists? Perhaps criminologists also know that if the mainstream media didn't run blaring headlines every time a crime is committed against a white, middle-class Canadian, people wouldn't be so afraid.

And what is really fuelling the federal crime policies? Citizens' fear, or prison profits?


save peel region public day care

Tomorrow, Peel Region Councillors will vote on whether to end publicly financed, union-staffed daycare services in Mississauga and Brampton.

A report from an audit by KPMG - released only days ago - recommended closing five daycare centres in Brampton and seven in Mississauga. In less than a week, Councillors are putting this to a vote. What's the rush? Why are the Councillors avoiding input from the people whose lives would be affected by the closures?

Closing these 12 daycare centres would eliminate around 800 child care spaces and almost 300 jobs. The goal is supposedly saving the Region money, but as we've seen time and again, these supposed savings rarely, if ever, materialize.

Since hearing about this report, parents in the area have been understandably worried, even panicked. The don't know how or where they'll be able to arrange dependable care for their children during working hours.

If Region contracts are awarded to private day-care companies, daycare costs are sure to rise, at a time when so many families are already struggling.

Inevitably, closing public daycare centres will lead to an increase in unlicensed, informal daycare arrangements, which have no oversight or accountability. Those situations may put children at risk and will create anxiety for working parents.

Hundreds of trained child-care professionals also stand to lose their jobs.

So who wins? That is, besides ideologues opposed to public services on principle, and shareholders who profit from corporate childcare?

From the Brampton Guardian:
It’s unfortunate that an information meeting held Friday in Mississauga that might have helped allay some concerns and fill in some of the blanks for parents actually barred the media from attending. The reason given, apparently, was that the region didn’t want to panic parents or bring them any extra anxiety. What a telling statement. The region’s approach to calming parents who are already clearly agitated and anxious is to prevent them from finding out more information through media reports?

Certainly, some of those parents who attended the meeting said afterward that their concerns had not been addressed and one parent concluded the region has “no plan” for how it would implement such closures. We wouldn’t know because we weren’t invited.
Region of Peel, wake up and do the right thing. You are supposed to represent the people of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, not KPMG, and not corporate daycare companies.

Mississauga News: Parents outraged


is m.p. lizon a bigot or just plain ignorant? you make the call

A few weeks ago, I learned that my new Conservative MP, Wladyslaw Lizon, brought to the attention of Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney the shock and horror of a woman wearing a veil during a citizenship ceremony.

Mr. Kenney, equally horrified (and similarly Islamophobic), issued a directive that forces women to choose between their personal comfort and becoming Canadian citizens. (My response is here; scroll down.)

Now the Member of Parliament for Mississauga-East Cooksville again displays how much he understands and respects the people in his culturally diverse riding. He sent out a survey asking, among other things, about the languages spoken in constituents' households. Choices included English, Polish, Arabic, Mandarin, Italian, Greek - and Indian. Indian? What language would that be?

This letter to the Mississauga News pinpoints the problem.
I’m keenly interested to know who in Mississauga East-Cooksville MP Wladyslaw Lizon’s office is responsible for the questionnaire regarding which primary language is used within a household.

I’m puzzled, confused, bewildered and seriously concerned about some major mistakes.

The questionnaire asks if people in some households speak Indian as their primary language? What does that mean?

India is a country, a recognized geographical state with 18 official languages. Hindu, Punjabi, Gujarati and Urdu represent the most commonly spoken languages among city residents who came from India.

Perhaps this question was not directed to people from India at all, but rather, referred to Native Indians? Here again, the most common languages spoken among members of this community would be Cree, Ojibwe, Cherokee or Tsalagi, which is an Iroquoian language.

Maybe Lizon’s office was referring to languages spoken by people of the West Indies?

Citizens expect and deserve greater respect and more knowledgeable representatives in government.

Oleh Michael Romaniuk, Mississauga
Mr Romaniuk: good job! Mr Lizon: you don't deserve to represent this beautiful riding. And by the way, I'm still waiting for a response to my last letter.


belafonte on obama: "a dagger in our sense of justice"

On a recommendation from a friend, I watched Harry Belafonte interviewed by Charlie Rose in New York City. Belafonte - musician, actor, social-justice activist, radical - is a joy to hear, and his life story is a march through history.

Here's one terrific thing I learned. Belafonte was still searching for his musical niche, finding the place where his music would match his heart. He went to the Village Vanguard to see Woody Guthrie, and that set him on his true life path. A few weeks later, he saw Leadbelly, and the whole thing was confirmed. Belafonte went to the Library of Congress and to hear and absorb everything he could about folk music and the activist music tradition. I wasn't aware of a connection between Belafonte and Woody (except in the metaphorical sense, the connection every activist musician has to Woody Guthrie). That was very cool.

If you're interested in Belafonte (or, for that matter, in US history, African-American history, theatre history, civil rights...), the whole interview is well worth your time. But at about the 45-minute mark, Rose asks Belafonte about Barack Obama. It's at the end of a long session (the full, unedited interview ran close to two hours), and I think the 84-year-old Belafonte is a bit tired and flagging, so he is not at the top of his game. But it's still worth hearing, when Obama asks, "When are you and Cornel West going to cut me some slack?", to which Belafonte responds, "What makes you think we haven't already?"

Listen here; Rose asks about Obama shortly after the 45-minute mark.

* * * *

I've also been watching portions of Cornel West and Tavis Smiley's Poverty Tour, including this segment that features Iraq War veteran and peace activist Geoff Millard, speaking about how war and poverty work together. I've always been a huge fan of Cornel West. I'm happy to know he's still a public teacher.

The Poverty Tour:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Remaking America, a panel discussion on solutions, featuring Michael Moore, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Suze Orman, Majora Carter, Vicki B. Escarra, moderated by Smiley.

Lots of great stuff here. Some people want to throw out the present economic system, some people have ideas on how to make the present system more liveable and equitable, but everyone wants to face the reality of a country imploding into a third-world nation.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3.

* * * *

Bonus: 37 seconds of humour. The description from YouTube: "Bill O'Reilly claims that banks haven't broken any laws; Tavis Smiley and Cornel West react appropriately."

shit white guys say to brown guys

a call to obama: end detentions at guantánamo

Ten years, and still the concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay remains open. Ten years, and still 150 human beings remain imprisoned without charges, without trial.

There have been deaths from torture, and cover-ups. There have been medical experiments. Child prisoners have come of age. Prisoners have been quietly released. And still... 150 human beings, still held, without charges, without trial, without access to the world.

On January 11, 2002, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the first detainees were transferred to the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Since then, the detention facility there has made the world’s news headlines for the shocking human rights concerns associated with it - including arbitrary detention, secret detention, torture and other ill-treatment, renditions, and unfair trials.

Ten years on more than 150 detainees remain at Guantánamo Bay. The majority are in indefinite detention without charge or trial. Those who have been charged face unfair trial by military commission and some can face the death penalty if convicted. The government claims that even those found not guilty can be returned to indefinite detention. There has been essentially no accountability or redress for the human rights violations to which they and other detainees have been subjected.

Human rights concerns in Guantánamo Bay remain an unfinished story. How long before the US government closes the book on Guantánamo and meets its human rights obligations?
Signing this petition is the very least and perhaps the very most we can do.
Dear President Obama:

We call on the United States President Barack Obama to address the detentions at Guantánamo Bay as a human rights issue that requires urgent attention.

Guantánamo detainees should either be charged and prosecuted in fair trials or released to countries that will respect their human rights, including into the USA if that is the only available option;

The US military commissions, which do not meet international fair trial standards, should be abandoned, as should any pursuit of the death penalty;

Former or current US officials responsible for human rights violations must be held to account, including in respect of crimes under international law such as torture and enforced disappearance by bringing them to justice. Victims of human rights violations must be provided genuine access to effective remedy;

The USA must recognize the applicability of, and fully respect international human rights law, when conducting counterterrorism operations, including detentions in Guantánamo, detention facilities at Bagram in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Sign here.

bradley manning support network is asking for our help

If you're interested in taking part in some activism against the US military and in support of Bradley Manning - without leaving the comfort of home - go here as soon as possible.

The Bradley Manning Support Network is trying to get one of most egregious charges against Manning, "Aiding the Enemy," dropped. It may not work, but it will remind his jailers that the world is watching.

This is a few days old but it's still needed. Go here for details and see comments for more phone numbers.


matthis chiroux: urination video "synonymous with our experiences within a military at war"

Matthis Chiroux, veteran and war resister, on the "urination video" and similar war porn:
To some, mostly the weavers and backers of war policy, it seems again that ‘a few bad apples’ have acted on their own within the military, and will be brought to justice in accordance with domestic military law.

To others, such as myself and the majority of veterans I associate with, the barbarity of these images is synonymous with our experiences within a military at war. No crime our brothers and sisters commit really surprises us anymore, but confirms to us our nation’s brutal history, of which for a time we became a part, and offers us a reminder that nothing’s really changed.
Read it here: Is US Military Addicted to War Porn?

shit new yorkers say

I love this town!


This seems like a good time to mention: Tala is now on Twitter. She saw Pooh Bear was doing it and she wanted in.

Because Tala's mommy needs new ways to waste time.

another victory: historic reduction in unnecessary animal testing in europe

From HSI Canada:
Humane Society International has just secured the biggest reduction in animal testing requirements in history!

Our science team has been hard at work for more than two years, negotiating with companies, government authorities and elected officials in Brussels for major changes to European testing requirements for pesticides and biocides -- among the most heavily animal-tested products in existence.

And what we've achieved is unprecedented.

Until now, dozens of different animal-poisoning tests have been required by law before a pesticide is approved for sale. In some cases, more than 13,000 animals are killed for a single new pesticide ingredient.

But together, we’ve made great strides toward convincing European authorities to say goodbye to outdated animal tests and to take up the very latest animal replacement and reduction alternatives. Going forward:

• Twelve-month dog-poisoning studies: gone.

• Lethal dose skin, inhalation and injection tests on rabbits and other animals: on the way out, no longer an absolute requirement.

• We've just secured the first-ever legal acceptance of alternative test methods and strategies that reduce animal use by 40 to 70 percent.

And that's just the beginning. Next up? After this enormous victory for animals and humane science in Europe, we’re moving into the world’s other major pesticide markets -- the United States, Canada, India and Brazil -- to make sure animals everywhere benefit from these advances.
Que brava!


ten reasons i like being a library page

I needed to get a job as a library page in order to be "in the system" at the Mississauga Library. Job openings rarely, if ever, go external. Since after I earn my degree, I want to work as a librarian in Mississauga, and I was advised by several people that a page job is the way in. So this was a career move, a necessity. I never imagined I would love the job - but I do!

As I've mentioned, I work in the Children's Department of the Central Library, a large, vibrant room with programs, games, computers, reference material, and books galore for kids up to about age 12 and their caregivers. Last night while I was shelving books, I made a mental list of why I'm enjoying the job so much. Here are 10 reasons I love being a children's library page.

1. Kids who love to read and are excited about books.

2. Parents and grandparents who care enough to take their kids to the library, and understand the value of reading.

3. Families who spend the evening at the library instead of watching TV, or who spend part of a day-off at the library.

4. People of diverse backgrounds sharing and enjoying a space together - kids playing together, parents shooting the breeze.

5. Literacy volunteers of all ages working with students of all ages. Adults using children's books to work on ESL skills.

6. Brief, pleasant interactions with children. When a little kid has a nasty meltdown, it's someone else's problem.

7. Eavesdropping on tweens and teens while I sort books.

8. I'm a union member!

9. Friendly, helpful co-workers who have made me feel welcome.

10. Surveys of new library users show that biggest predictor of whether or not people return to the library is the quality of their interactions with staff. I would like people who use the library to encounter friendly, knowledgeable, caring staff, so they feel good about the library. In a small way, I'm now a part of that.


sweet victories! ford budget defeated, tarsands pipeline dead for now

If Rob Ford and Stephen Harper are both unhappy, this must be a good day!

Yesterday the voices of reason on the Toronto City Council united to defeat Rob Ford's most dangerous budget cuts. There will still be cutbacks, and layoffs, and there is still a fight. But note this:
Public sentiment was key to moving some councillors behind Colle’s motion. Thousands of emails clogged their inboxes, almost 13,000 Torontonians filled out surveys on which services they cherish and hundreds of people made deputations to various committee meanings, including two that went all night.

And today President Obama has denied the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, effectively killing the pipeline for now. Keystone can reapply for another permit, but it will be an uphill battle. Stephen Harper has already expressed his "profound disappointment," so we know it's good news!

Obama covered his tracks by blaming Republicans for an arbitrary deadline, but the real credit goes to massive numbers of people speaking out and protesting during an election year.

Keep on making noise!

have you used wikipedia today?

What's going on


Why it's wrong


rally for toronto! today in nathan phillips square

Rob Ford might be losing weight, but Toronto is losing vital public services and good jobs - if the mayor and his friends on City Council have their way.

If you live, work, or go to school in Toronto, come out to defend your city.

WHEN: Tuesday, January 17, 5:30 pm

WHERE: Toronto City Hall, Nathan Phillips Square

WHY: Toronto is a vibrant, liveable city and we want it to stay that way


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: # 2

Girl, whispering so quietly I could barely hear her: Excuse me. Um, do you work here? Um... um... do you know where I can find books about diaries of wimpy kids?

Ten minutes later, a boy: Do you have Diary of a Wimpy Kid?

Not five minutes after that, another boy: Do you have any Diary of a Wimpy Kid books?

Within 15 minutes, five kids asked me about Diary of a Wimpy Kid. They had all just seen the movie, although I'm not sure where. The Mississauga Central Library shows free movies every Thursday night, but that wasn't it. Maybe in school? Anyway, there was a huge run on Wimpy Kid. Several kids were re-directed to Dork Diaries.

* * * *

Here's something I saw at the library. Shelving books about Machu Picchu, I stumbled on a title about MRTA, also known as Shining Path. Surprised, I looked through it and discovered it was part of a series called "Inside The World's Most Infamous Terrorist Organizations", put out by Rosen Publishing. I wrote a few titles for Rosen many years back, so the name jumped out at me.

The list of "most infamous terrorist organizations" included Al-Queda (of course), Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA, MRTA, the ETA, and a few others. It did not, however, include the governments of the United States and Israel.

I found the concept of the series very disturbing. To the publisher's credit, the book did give a political context, explaining in simple terms some of the issues that gave rise to the group. The conclusion raised the idea that certain reforms might not have happened if the group had not focused attention on the issues. It didn't look like the organization was portrayed as a bunch of insane, bloodthirsty monsters, and it did refer to violence from other sources.

But... terrorism is in the eye of the beholder. A political group may use many means to attempt to achieve its goals. Violence may be one of them. Does that make it a terrorist organization? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

How about an organization that goes into a residential area, uses explosives to blow the door off a home, holds a family at gunpoint, ransacks the home, abducts any male in the home over a certain height, cuffs the man or boy's hands behind his back, puts a hood over his head, and takes the man or boy away, never to be heard from again? And this organization does this night after night, home after home.

This organization forces residents to pass through a series of checkpoints as they go about their daily lives. It declares curfews and lock-downs, then shoots on sight anyone who defies or misinterprets their orders, which are issued in a language the residents do not understand.

This organization uses chemical weapons against this civilian population, weapons declared illegal by all international bodies. It bombs towns and cities so that its own members may encounter less resistance when they loot, pillage, and abduct.

This organization detains hundreds, thousands of people and subjects them to the most heinous of tortures.

Is this a terrorist organization? Or just the government of the country in which these books are published?

Naturally, I am quite aware that no American or Canadian publisher would put out a book for young readers detailing the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the United States government. I am merely noting the early political indoctrination of all young people, and the points of view that many of us have unlearned.

* * * *

I saw another book with a tragic omission. In a series about cities, a book about Boston said that the Red Sox had not won a championship since 1918! Get that book off the shelf!

the perfect is the enemy and other thoughts on writing

I have a little meta-reflection on writing my recent post about the walled-off internet. These thoughts are not specific to the topic; it could have been anything. As it happens, writing that post brought up some truisms about the writing process - one negative and one positive. Perhaps they are familiar to you.

The first is that old bugaboo that haunts many a creative effort: The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good. In this case a related pitfall was also at work: There's No Such Thing as Definitive.

I had wanted to write this post for months. I keep a short list of topics I'm trying to get to, and some ideas will stay on the list for weeks or months, especially if they're not timely or pegged to an event. This idea - called "walled-off internet" on my scraps of paper - stayed on the list for ages. The longer it sat there, the more difficult it became to write.

I started to feel as if I had to gather every scrap of evidence, research every corner, become a minor expert on the topic, before I could write. (Definitive.) And the post had to be an Important Post, a Best-Of Post, it had to be Great. (Perfect.)

That's a big mountain to climb. For such a project, I would need a massive block of uninterrupted time, I would need to feel on top of my game, I would need... all kinds of things that I don't have. I'm not ready to tackle such an undertaking!

So the item sat on the list, unwritten.

This was happening subtly, subconsciously. That's how our creative processes begin, I believe. Discovering them, digging them up and bringing them to the surface, we begin to understand them and work with them, instead of letting them control us.

The second, happier writing truth that I encountered was something I call The More You Write, The More You Write. (When I say truism and writing truth, I'm referring to my own experience. I know these feelings are familiar to many people trying to do anything creative, but I'm not implying they're universal.)

As "walled-off internet" mouldered on my topics list through the fall semester, eventually I decided I'd write it over my winter break. That offered an escape from the Perfect and Definitive traps. I told myself, I don't have time to write such a massive post during the school term. I'll put it on the winter-break list.

Then winter break came, and I was busier than I wanted to be - new library job, getting ready for Quebec trip, long list of errands and appointments - but also tired, a bit burnt out. I just couldn't get my mind in gear to write. I was totally unmotivated. All I could do was look at those two topics (there's another one!) on that list and wonder when the hell I'd ever write them.

Then school started. Now I'm busier, but my brain is re-engaged. I'm thinking and writing for school. And lo and behold, suddenly I am motivated to write - not just for school, but for myself, for wmtc. Because... The More You Write, The More You Write. Writing primes the pump for more writing.

In the great musical "A Chorus Line," which deals with the struggle for artistic success and recognition, there's a line, "I'm a dancer, a dancer dances". It's a simple lyric, but loaded with meaning. The singer - not a star, just one of the legions trying to get any dancing job - is asserting her identity, and equating her identity with this creative act. She sings, "All I ever needed is the music and the mirror" - because to be a dancer, to claim this identity, she doesn't need fame or even a job, she needs only to dance. The more she dances, the more she is a dancer... and a dancer dances.


a quick lesson on the affects of religion on longevity

It has come to my attention that certain fundamental religious people believe that the death of Christopher Hitchens, who had advanced cancer, vindicates their beliefs and proves that Hitchens' atheism was wrong.

This is quite strange, and quite hilarious, and also quite wrong. Let's review.

What happens to atheists with advanced, terminal cancer? They die.

What happens to religious people with advanced, terminal cancer? They die.

What happens to all people, always? They die.

I hope this has cleared things up for you.

the walled-off internet, or why facebook and mobile apps are good for them and bad for us

Last summer, Allan and I had plans to meet a friend for dinner, and I Googled the restaurant to get the address and details. The place came up in Google right away, but I couldn't get to the website. After trying a few times, I realized the restaurant no longer had a website: it only had a Facebook page. I was at work, and can't access Facebook from my workplace.

This was the first time I had seen a company abandon a website in favour of a Facebook page. Since then, I've run into it a handful of times, especially with individual people's public pages. Where various people - writers, designers, techies, small business owners - would have once had a website where people could browse samples of their work and get general contact information, many have now moved to Facebook-only.

This is heading in exactly the wrong direction.

I understand why companies want to be on Facebook; that's a no-brainer. So many people use Facebook that tapping into it as a marketing tool is now the expected norm. But why Facebook only? Website development has never been easier or cheaper. You can use blog software, for example, to create a website with at least as many functions as a Facebook page, if not more. So why put your company behind an access wall?

Facebook is a gated community

The internet is a huge, sprawling, interconnected, free-for-all that anyone with any kind of device can access.

Facebook is a privately-owned, proprietary service. You must submit your personal information in order to enter it. It is not accessible on every device and in every setting.

The internet is a vibrant megalopolis, a global village in which instant transit is a mere click.

Facebook is a gated community.

Using Facebook as a substitute for websites creates a walled-off internet. This is great for Facebook, but bad for the rest of us, and very bad for the internet.

The first time I heard someone say "Facebook is not the internet," Impudent Strumpet was asking, "Do people actually use Facebook as a substitute for the Internet as a whole?" I could scarcely believe it. When I first got online in the mid-late-90s, many people used AOL as a gateway - and worse - didn't seem to realize they were doing so, and didn't know they didn't need to. A quick search for "Facebook is not the internet" and "walled-off internet" reveals that many people are using those antiquated methods again, this time with Facebook - which is bigger and more powerful (if not financially, than by any other metric) than AOL ever was.

Similarly, the first time someone sent me a message through Facebook instead of emailing, I was appalled. Why elevate this one social media, this one proprietary service, to the status of email, a communication form that is ubiquitous and necessary for daily life? Why force people to hand over their personal information in order to communicate with you? And why trust your personal conversations to a company who is known to steal and keep your information? I vowed never to use Facebook as email... until the first time I had no choice, because the only way to reach that person was through Facebook.

I'm guessing that many people who use Facebook as an email substitute don't recognize the difference between the two. Email is accessible anywhere. You can save your email offline for reference and documentation. You can email anonymously. There are privacy issues, of course, it's not a wholly secure system - but those privacy issues are an eyedropper in an ocean compared to the privacy issues on Facebook.

Apps are information silos

The rapid proliferation of mobile apps is also a movement in the wrong direction. Apps are information silos. The company that owns the app controls the information you access and how you access it. In the case of iPhone-only apps, they also control whether or not you can access them at all. Don't have an iPhone? Too bad, you can't get here. If enough information and functionality gets hidden behind iPhone apps, then increasing numbers of people will buy iPhones - and increasing numbers of people will be left out. Great for Apple Inc., not great for the internet.

When I first started using a handheld device, the HP iPAQ I used to gush over in these pages, the best websites had mobile versions. These sites recognized that you were using a mini-browser, so to speak, and automatically switched to the "m" version. You don't need the CBC News App to access CBC on your smartphone. CBC has a mobile website that works perfectly well. But CBC's television ads tout their app as "the only news app you'll ever need". That's precisely the point. Want to see news? Tap on your CBC app, your New York Times app, your Corporate Media app. Leave the interconnectivity of internet, come to a silo, with our information, our ads, and our point of view.

The alternative to Facebook and mobile apps is not a pure, ideal world where everything is free and your privacy is always assured. I'm aware that the free platform I'm using to write this blog is owned by an enormous information corporation whose privacy practices are not always stellar. But it's not my only option. There are alternative applications that serve the exact same purpose, and will produce the same results. This blog is free for anyone, anywhere, on any device. You don't have to buy a special device, or join Blogger, or register your personal data to access it. If I wanted to limit the readership of this blog to people of my own choosing, I could do that, too - without forcing friends of wmtc to shed their anonymity and submit personal data to a private company.

I'd like to think the Facebook phenomenon has crested and is beginning its downward slope, joining MySpace, LiveJournal, and all the other ghosts of internet past. But zillions of people (especially an older demographic) are only now joining Facebook, and zillions more (especially a younger demographic) are increasingly choosing to be dependent on Facebook for communication and information. They are not actually dependent on Facebook. I say "choosing to be dependent," to emphasize that it is a choice. A bad one.

Further reading

Facebook is not the Internet, an old-school site listing many reasons to give up your Facebook addiction or be glad you never developed one.

Facebook Is Not The Internet, an excellent post on why using a Facebook page instead of a website is bad business. "We need to stop this trend of Facebook getting more attention that personal domains...and it all starts with you."

Facebook is the Internet, right? "But when the main reason people are going to google.com is to search for facebook.com it has me a little worried."

One of the architects of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee, in arguing for net neutrality and open standards, argues against information silos and information giants.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendster and others typically provide value by capturing information as you enter it: your birthday, your e-mail address, your likes, and links indicating who is friends with whom and who is in which photograph. The sites assemble these bits of data into brilliant databases and reuse the information to provide value-added service—but only within their sites. Once you enter your data into one of these services, you cannot easily use them on another site. Each site is a silo, walled off from the others. Yes, your site’s pages are on the Web, but your data are not. You can access a Web page about a list of people you have created in one site, but you cannot send that list, or items from it, to another site.

The isolation occurs because each piece of information does not have a URI. Connections among data exist only within a site. So the more you enter, the more you become locked in. Your social-networking site becomes a central platform —a closed silo of content, and one that does not give you full control over your information in it. The more this kind of architecture gains widespread use, the more the Web becomes fragmented, and the less we enjoy a single, universal information space.

A related danger is that one social-networking site — or one search engine or one browser — gets so big that it becomes a monopoly, which tends to limit innovation. As has been the case since the Web began, continued grassroots innovation may be the best check and balance against any one company or government that tries to undermine universality. GnuSocial and Diaspora are projects on the Web that allow anyone to create their own social network from their own server, connecting to anyone on any other site. The Status.net project, which runs sites such as identi.ca, allows you to operate your own Twitter-like network without the Twitter-like centralization.

Time to Reject Content App Silos: an iPhone-user explains "What's Wrong with Apps" and why "The Web's Where It's At".

Imp Strump again: Is Web 2.0 making information less accessible?


caterpillar is bulldozing canadian workers. workers are fighting back.

"So long, good Canadian jobs!"

Electro-Motive, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., a huge US company, has locked out 465 workers from its London, Ontario plant. The company has offered a take-it-or-leave-it contract that includes a pay cut of more than 50 percent: from a good middle-class wage of $35 per hour to a substandard $16.50 per hour. The new contract would also devastate benefits and pensions - while the company has reaped billions in profit and a 20 percent increase in production over the past year.

And what a surprise, the company has connections to the Harper GovernmentTM.
“This is a dispute between a private company and the union and we don't comment on the actions of private companies,” Harper spokesman Carl Vallée responded Wednesday in an email.

The Prime Minister showed no such reticence on Mar. 19, 2008 when he visited the Electro-Motive plant to showcase a $5-million federal tax break for buyers of the diesel locomotive-maker's wares and a wider $1-billion tax break on industrial capital investment.

“The Prime Minister's [2008] announcement related to the government's tax policies for all companies,” Mr. Vallée said in the email. “A low tax environment is the best way to ensure job creators come to Canada and stay in Canada, as proven by the nearly 600,000 jobs created in Canada since July 2009.”

A spokeswoman for Labour Minister Lisa Raitt repeated the same talking points in an emailed response.

When it was pointed out that Ms. Raitt aggressively intervened when privately-owned Air Canada was at war with its unionized workers last year, Ashley Kelahear responded that the Electro-Motive dispute “is in fact a matter of provincial jurisdiction.”

Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, which represents the unionized Electro-Motive employees, said the Prime Minister has a duty to make his views known.

Mr. Lewenza, fresh from a visit to the picket line at the London plant, said retirees and other workers there recounted Harper's 2008 visit.

“Mr. Harper went around, shook workers' hands and indicated to workers that they had a great future as a result of his announcement,” the union chief said in an interview.

“For him to pass this on as a bargaining dispute between the employer and the union is ridiculous. How do you hand a [corporate] partner a nice big cheque and then say, by the way, there's no ground rules relative to the cheque.”

Questioning unions has become a staple of the Conservative party's fundraising pitches over the past year and Mr. Lewenza wondered aloud whether Ms. Raitt and Mr. Harper would remain quiet had the CAW demanded a 50 per cent share of all Electro-Motive profits at the bargaining table.

“The prime minister of Canada and the minister of labour would very easily denounce that kind of aggressiveness of the union,” the CAW president said.

“For him not to stand up when the role is reversed, quite frankly, is abandoning Canadian workers – and I don't care if it's unionized or unorganized.”

Mr. Lewenza says Caterpillar's lead negotiator, with 37 years at bargaining talks, conceded he had never before proposed such dramatic cuts – nor ever heard of similar demands being made elsewhere.

“This is unprecedented in every way,” Mr. Lewenza said, “and admitted so by Caterpillar themselves.”
Lewenza is right. It doesn't matter if you're union or non-union, private sector or public. Workers are under attack everywhere, in all industries, all over the country and all over the globe. Employers are collaborating to strip workers of salary, benefits, pensions and rights. The only way to fight it - the only chance, the only hope - is to unite, to use our collective power to push back.

I'm sure that right now, in the comments sections of news stories on all the Canadian media websites, people are trashing Caterpillar workers, calling them greedy and claiming that in today's economy, no one can expect to earn the princely sum of $35 an hour. But unless those people are paid government operatives, they are arguing against their own interests. It doesn't matter if you have a job that pays a good middle-class wage of $35 an hour; it's still in your interests that those jobs exist. Good union jobs set the standard for all workplaces. Without those jobs, it's a race to the bottom. Why do you think corporations (and the governments who support them) are so interested in breaking unions?

This isn't about union vs non-union. This is about job standards plummeting - about our ability to lead decent lives. Could you afford a 55 percent pay cut? Could you continue to pay your mortgage or your rent and still feed yourself and your family? Do you want to work simply to scrape by, always anxious about paying bills, trying to figure out how to stretch your budget to your next paycheque? Or do you want a life that includes a bit of leisure time, a decent holiday, the ability to, say, give your kids piano lessons or skate time or an Xbox?

Our standard of living is falling. But this isn't gravity at work. This is not something natural and inevitable. This is an organized assault on workers, as corporations try to maximize profits by cutting labour costs. It's not the workers who are greedy!

The labour movement is coming together to fight back. The Ontario Federation of Labour is calling on members from all unions and all sectors to rally in London on Saturday, January 21. You can join them. It doesn't matter if you have the good fortune to work in a unionized environment: this still affects you and you can join the fight to stop it.

From Sid Ryan, President of the OFL:
This is pivotal moment in the history of labour! Employers of all types in the public and private sectors are collaborating in an aggressive assault on decent paying jobs, good benefits and retirement security. The consequences could mean the destruction of the middle class and a ballooning of the working poor. Everywhere we turn, employers are seeking major concessions from dedicated workers that are designed to convert good jobs into precarious and temporary ones. The same issues have recurred again and again over the past two years at U.S. Steel, ECP, Vale Inco, Canada Post, Air Canada, and even the City of Toronto. There is no doubt that greedy foreign-owned companies like Electro-Motive/Caterpillar and others are attempting to set a precedent by exploiting Canada’s lax labour laws and shameful domestic investment protections to break unions and usher in a new era of precarious work and record corporate profits.
If you want to join the rally on January 21 but are not a union member, email me for ideas. Buses will be leaving from all over Ontario and you can be on one.


the joy of books, long may they dance

Found on G+, thanks to S.

songs from beyond the grave (a list in progress)

I was driving around Mississauga listening to Bob Dylan's Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue, a great live album, when I realized that the narrator of "Romance In Durango" dies at the end of the song. Or does he?

The song seems to fall into a small subcategory of ballads - story-songs, not slow songs by rock bands - sung in the first person, and when the story ends, the narrator dies. It turns out he's been singing the song from beyond the grave.

The most famous song like this must be "El Paso," written and originally recorded by country-western singer Marty Robbins. I heard this song a lot as a child, and like most songs I learned at a young age, some of the lyrics are locked in my head, especially the famous opening lines.
Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl
Night-time would find me in Rosa's cantina
Music would play and Felina would whirl

So listening to one of Dylan's stories of the old West and lovers riding on horseback, I suddenly realized: wait, does the narrator of "Durango" die?? I think he does.
Was that the thunder that I heard
My head is vibrating, I feel a sharp pain
Come sit by me don't say a word
Oh can it be that I am slain?

Quick, Magdalena, take my gun
Look up in the hills that flash of light
Aim well my little one
We may not make it through the night
I've been trying to find more of these songs. They must be out there. I found lists of "dead teen" songs and there are plenty of murder ballads, but no "dead narrator" songs.

Then driving home from Vermont the other day, we were listening to a Neil Young live CD, and Allan and I both realized at the same time that we were hearing another one - one of my favourite Neil Young tunes, "Powderfinger". The crazy thing is, I've been misinterpreting this song all these years. I always heard the story as the narrator shooting up the ship, crossing the line where he has now killed a man. I now realize that the narrator is killed, possibly before he can even squeeze a shot out of his daddy's rifle. (I thought his "face flashed in the sky," but no... it's "then I saw black, and my face splashed in the sky".)

It's that one guitar line that makes this song so memorable. I love the line, "I don't think they're here to deliver... the mail."

Then I thought I came up with one other song where the narrator is dead and singing from beyond the grave: "Tell Laura I Love Her". But according to these lyrics, the dude killed in the car crash is not telling the story; a narrator is relating Johnny's last words after the fatal wreck.
No one knows what happened that day
Or how his car overturned in flames
But as they pulled him from the twisted wreck
With his dying breath, they heard him say

Tell Laura I love her
Tell Laura I need her
Tell Laura not to cry
My love for her will never die
If anyone knows any other songs where the narrator turns out to be dead, please list them here!

odds, ends, and i-school

Shorter wmtc: Quebec in winter: the weather is cold, the people are warm, the food is good. I loved all of it, and I especially loved traveling with my sweetie.

Driving home, we were on smaller country routes in Vermont and New York State for a good two hours before crossing into Ontario and hitting the 401. That was a nice change. We passed through some Mohawk territory, in the region of New York known as the North Country, near Massena and the Thousand Islands.

A cool sign on the side of a building: "DICK'S COUNTRY STORE AND MUSIC OASIS - Groceries - Gas - Guns - Guitars." Next time we pass that place, we'll stop in. One bad sign in front of a roadhouse: "BURGER'S AND FRIES". Not frie's, however. Just winging it, I guess.

* * * *

Emailing with friend and commenter Amy, I realized that I may sometimes give mistaken impressions about my travels.

I've kept a travel journal for every trip I've taken since 1982, when NN and I traveled through Europe together, my first trip abroad. When Allan and I went to Peru in 2006, I started to put my travel journals online, and I decided to stick (as closely as possible) to the same style I had always used. I like to capture as much detail as I can. That's why my blog entries from travel include details of annoyances or less-than-perfect experiences. It's part of the adventure.

Long ago, I learned that the key to successful travel, for me, is recognizing that there will always be things I can't do. Sites that are closed, or out of season, or under renovation, or too far away, or requiring more time than is available. I figure, you can never do everything, so just do what you do, enjoy what you can, and take the rest in stride. When I'm traveling, I am rarely disappointed. I just go with the flow.

* * * *

Classes have begun, and my expectations are low.

The Master of Information program at the iSchool includes four "core" courses, separate from required courses for your major or path. (Paths are, for example, library science, archives, records managements, knowledge media design.) The core courses fall under the general category of Information and Society. There is widespread agreement that four is way too many; the course material is highly redundant, and the workload is far too strenuous. In addition, because these courses are required for all students, they are taught in one large lecture, plus smaller section classes - an annoying and time-consuming format. From what I hear, it seems likely that the core curriculum will be redesigned, and perhaps condensed into two courses. But meanwhile, I've got to go through all four.

The first two core courses are prerequisites for nearly everything, and everyone takes them in their first term of school. And now, this term, I will finally complete the other two.

One is a philosophy course: Representation, Organization, Classification and Meaning-Making, always referred to as ROCM, pronounced Rock-Em. I have never heard one positive word about this course. It appears to be universally hated. Yesterday I attended the initial lecture, which was somewhat interesting, but I still dread it. One good thing: the lectures are videotaped and put online, so I will never attend another lecture in person. One bad thing: I still have to attend the smaller section class. If it proves useless, I won't make too many appearances.

The final core course used to be yet another lecture combining material from the other three core courses, but during my first term, there was a student revolt. School leadership, to their credit, scrambled to adjust the curriculum. Now instead of a fourth core lecture, there are two "information workshops," short courses in which students participate in ongoing iSchool research.

My information workshop this term is "The Architectures of the Book," which places digital books in the context of the history of the book.
ArchBook is an online, open-access reference resource composed of richly illustrated articles about specific design features in the history of the book. Unlike traditional historical studies of books and reading, a typical ArchBook entry will follow a specific textual feature through its development across historical periods, with an eye to the continuities and discontinuities the feature might have with digital reading environments. At present there is no online scholarly resource that tells the story of books and reading in the form of a reference resource, with a comprehensive scope and trans-historical perspective, and with a focus on informing digital design. ArchBook seeks to fill that gap. Our goal is to make the diverse history of the book (especially the under-appreciated parts of that history) available to students, researchers, and the public.
The second information workshop I'm taking is on children's digital games. Both these half-courses are organized around one group project that fits into the ongoing research.

I'm already counting weeks.


the iron lady was an enemy of the people and should not be celebrated as a hero

This week, the movie "The Iron Lady" opens, a big-budget biopic starring Meryl Streep as former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. No technical or directorial skills, nor the inevitable genius of Streep's performance, could justify my seeing this movie. Its very existence as a myth-making celebration of a dangerous, war-mongering, ideologue is anathema to me.

Margaret Thatcher destroyed the public sector in the United Kingdom, privatising and deregulating transportation, energy, housing, banking, and other major sectors. She gutted the national healthcare system and public education. She broke unions, because working people were not important to her scheme, but the creation of a millionaire class was.

Thatcher engineered a huge transfer of wealth from the public to the private sector, creating income inequality unprecedented in UK history to that point. She created unemployment, poverty, and despair.

Thatcher destroyed industry and heavy manufacturing while privileging the banking and financial sector. Her policies did not create prosperity: they inflated property values and a small wedge of private wealth.

Then she started a war to distract an uninformed public from the economic chaos she had created and to secure her continued reign. That bears repeating. She started a war for cynical, political purposes. People died, and killed, and were maimed, and left homeless, because it was convenient and useful for her and her financial backers. Think about that before you celebrate this Iron Lady.

I suppose one could say, "It's only a movie. It's not important." Can we live in our media-saturated, truth-challenged world and casually dismiss a major movie as unimportant? This is how myths are created and propagated.

When the war-loving, torture-defending writer Christopher Hitchens died recently, Glenn Greenwald wrote about "the protocol for public figure deaths", and how our cultural taboo against "speaking ill of the dead" has altered the public conception of several people. The example Greenwald looks at most closely is that of Ronald Reagan. After describing the unrelenting, gushing media worship of Reagan during the week following his death, Greenwald notes the effect of that lovefest.
The key claim there was that “politics is put aside.” That’s precisely what did not happen. The entire spectacle was political to its core. Following Woodruff’s proclamation were funeral speeches, all broadcast by CNN, by then-House Speaker Denny Hastert and Vice President Dick Cheney hailing the former President for gifting the nation with peace and prosperity, rejuvenating national greatness, and winning the Cold War. This scene repeated itself over and over during that week: extremely politicized tributes to the greatness of Ronald Reagan continuously broadcast to the nation without challenge and endorsed by its “neutral” media — all shielded from refutation or balance by the grief of a widow and social mores that bar one from speaking ill of the dead.

That week forever changed how Ronald Reagan — and his conservative ideology — were perceived. As Gallup put it in 2004: Reagan had, at best, “routinely average ratings . . . while he served in office between 1981 and 1989.” Indeed, “the two presidents who followed Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, each had higher average ratings than Reagan, as did three earlier presidents — Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower.”

Though he became more popular after leaving office (like most Presidents), it was that week-long bombardment of hagiography that sealed Reagan’s status as Great and Cherished Leader. As media and political figures lavished him with politicized praise, there was virtually no mention of the brutal, civilian-extinguishing covert wars he waged in Central America, his funding of terrorists in Nicaragua, the pervasive illegality of the Iran-contra scandal perpetrated by his top aides and possibly himself, the explosion of wealth and income inequality ushered in by “Reagonmics” which persists today, his escalation of the racially disparate Drug War, his slashing of domestic programs for the poor accompanied by a deficit-causing build-up in the military budget, the racially-tinged (at least) attacks on welfare-queens-in-Cadillacs, the Savings & Loan crisis resulting from deregulation, his refusal even to acknowledge AIDS as tens of thousands of the Wrong People died, the training of Muslim radicals in Afghanistan and arming of the Iranian regime, the attempt to appoint the radical Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, or virtually anything else that would undermine the canonization. The country was drowned by a full, uninterrupted week of pure, leader-reverent propaganda.
Then there's the gender card. Some people will claim that Thatcher is worthy of celebration because she was the UK's first female Prime Minister, and succeeded as a woman in a relentlessly male world. As a feminist and a socialist, and a person of peace and conscience, I conclude that that alone does not a hero make. Hundreds, thousands, millions of women, both famous and unknown, have had to push themselves into previously all-male domains. They have had to be smarter, stronger, and tougher than their male counterparts in order to succeed. Margaret Thatcher tread a path beaten by Nancy Astor, Constance Markievicz, and countless anonymous women, whether they succeeded or tried and failed. The mere fact of a woman's trailblazing should not be enough to win our praise and admiration. In fact, that's a sexist conceit, setting the bar far too low. Our admiration should be reserved for people who contribute positively to society, not the reverse.

Perhaps you have heard that Thatcher only did what was necessary, that she fed the UK the "bad medicine" it needed. It's not so. Start with this: Neil Clark: Don't believe the myth. Margaret Thatcher ruined egalitarian 1970s Britain.

Here's an excellent piece from a Brit, Harry Paterson, anticipating the reaction when Thatcher dies: The Best Way To Deal With Margaret Thatcher’s Legacy Is To Destroy It.