4.30.2012

linkathon part 5: the state of connecticut abolishes the death penalty. 17 down, 33 to go.

The US state of Connecticut has abolished the death penalty! This amazing and wonderful news is brought to you by Amnesty International, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and lawmakers who listen to reason.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty joins with the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty and its allies in applauding Governor Dannell P. Malloy for signing legislation to repeal the death penalty in his state.

The momentum in this country is toward ending the death penalty. With Governor Malloy’s leadership in Connecticut, we now have five states that have abandoned the death penalty in five years. The numbers of new death sentences and executions are down and there is a growing body of evidence exposing the death penalty system as failed public policy. We look forward to more states across the country joining the list of those without capital punishment in the coming years. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has been at it for 35 years, and I am pleased to say that the end of our struggle is in sight.
Connecticut also recognizes equal marriage, so it is now officially part of the civilized world. If you would like to thank Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy for removing legal murder from the state's penal code, go here.

linkathon part 4: the talking pineapple is a window into for-profit education

You've probably heard about the pineapple. Eighth-graders in New York State recently took a standardized test (Canadian translation: students in grade eight wrote an exam) where they were asked about a talking pineapple. The Daily News broke the story.
Students across the state are still scratching their heads over an absurd state test question about a talking pineapple.

The puzzler on the eighth-grade reading exam stumped even educators and has critics saying the tests, which are becoming more high stakes, are flawed.

“I think it’s weird that they put such a silly question on a state test. What were they thinking?” said Bruce Turley, 14, an eighth-grader at Lower Manhattan Community Middle School.

“I thought it was a little strange, but I just answered it as best as I could,” said his classmate Tyree Furman, 14. “You just have to give it your best answer. These are important tests.”

In the story, a take-off on Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare, a talking pineapple challenges a hare to a race. The other animals wager on the immobile pineapple winning — and ponder whether it’s tricking them.

When the pineapple fails to move and the rabbit wins, the animals dine on the pineapple.

Students were asked two perplexing questions: why did the animals eat the talking fruit, and which animal was wisest?

Teachers, principals and parents contacted by The News said they weren’t sure what the answers were.
What you may not have heard is the story behind this test question. This wasn't just a faceplant and a joke on Twitter. It was some Wall Street trader's profit margin. Gail Collins explains.
Teachers, parents and education experts all chimed in. Nobody liked the talking pineapple questions. The Daily News, which broke the story, corralled “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings, who concluded that “the plot details are so oddly chosen that the story seems to have been written during a peyote trip.”

The state education commissioner, John King, announced that the questions would not count in the official test scores. There was no comment from the test author. That would be Pearson, the world’s largest for-profit education business, which has a $32 million five-year contract to produce New York standardized tests.

Now — finally — we have tumbled into my central point. We have turned school testing into a huge corporate profit center, led by Pearson, for whom $32 million is actually pretty small potatoes. Pearson has a five-year testing contract with Texas that’s costing the state taxpayers nearly half-a-billion dollars.

This is the part of education reform nobody told you about. You heard about accountability, and choice, and innovation. But when No Child Left Behind was passed 11 years ago, do you recall anybody mentioning that it would provide monster profits for the private business sector?

Me neither.

It’s not just the tests. No Child Left Behind has created a system of public-funded charter schools, a growing number of which are run by for-profit companies. Some of them are completely online, with kids getting their lessons at home via computer. The academic results can be abysmal, but on the plus side — definitely no classroom crowding issues.

Pearson is just one part of the picture, albeit a part about the size of Mount Rushmore. Its lobbyists include the guy who served as the top White House liaison with Congress on drafting the No Child law. It has its own nonprofit foundation that sends state education commissioners on free trips overseas to contemplate school reform.

An American child could go to a public school run by Pearson, studying from books produced by Pearson, while his or her progress is evaluated by Pearson standardized tests. The only public participant in the show would be the taxpayer.

If all else fails, the kid could always drop out and try to get a diploma via the good old G.E.D. The General Educational Development test program used to be operated by the nonprofit American Council on Education, but last year the Council and Pearson announced that they were going into a partnership to redevelop the G.E.D. — a nationally used near-monopoly — as a profit-making enterprise.
Privatization doesn't improve service. It doesn't save money. It just moves public money - that is, our tax dollars - into somebody else's pocket. Rob Ford, we're looking at you.

linkathon part 3: the human cost of zero tolerance

This story on the impossibly high cost of so-called zero tolerance laws reminds me of the breed-specific legislation (anti-pitbull laws) plaguing Ontario. Reacting to media-created public hysteria, legislators create laws that are inhumane and injustice. I say so-called zero tolerance because something tells me the Wall Street boys who abuse Adderall and cocaine do not get the same treatment as the Latino grandmother with a joint in her purse.

This is well worth reading, both as a plea to repeal these insane laws, and as a cautionary tale to other jurisdictions who might want to institute these policies. That's right, Stephen Harper, we're looking at you.

This is also what happens when a city elects a prosecutor for a mayor.
There is no proof that the zero-tolerance policing adopted by New York and other cities in the 1990’s had anything to do with the decline in violent crime across the nation. Crime also dropped in jurisdictions that did not use the approach.

Millions of people have been arrested under the policy for minor violations, like possession of small amounts of marijuana. And one thing is beyond dispute: this arrest-first policy has filled the courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders who do not belong there and wreaked havoc with people’s lives. Even when cases are dismissed, people can be shadowed for years by error-ridden criminal records.

The human toll is evident in New York City, where last year 50,000 people — one every 10 minutes — were arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The city downplays the significance, saying these cases are typically dismissed and the record sealed if the person stays out of trouble for a year. But getting tangled in the court system is harrowing. And the record-keeping can be unreliable and far more porous than the city suggests.

An analysis by the Legal Action Center, which assists 2,500 people with criminal records each year, has found that nearly half of its clients’ rap sheets have errors. Defense lawyers say that too often the courts and police fail to report to the state about dismissals and other outcomes favorable to defendants.

As for “sealed” records, background-screening companies working for private employers can harvest data at the time of an arrest and there is no guarantee that they will update to reflect dismissals — or expunge the information when records are sealed by the courts. While it is illegal to exclude people from jobs based solely on arrest or convictions, unless there is a compelling business reason for doing so, many employers quickly write off applicants who are flagged in these databases.

New York City drove up its marijuana arrests — from just under 1,500 in 1980 to more than 50,000 a year today — despite the fact that the State Legislature in 1977 decriminalized possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, making it a violation, roughly akin to a traffic ticket. The problem is that the Legislature made public display of any amount of marijuana a misdemeanor, which can lead to arrest, jail and a record that follows the person for years. And New York’s police have been repeatedly accused of arresting people for possession after forcing them to show “in public” the small amounts they had. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly tacitly admitted this practice last year, directing officers to make an arrest only when the drug really was in view.

Critics say the fact that 87 percent of those arrested are black or Hispanic suggests that the police are deliberately singling out minority citizens for arrests that push some of them permanently to the very margins of society.

An arrest, even without a conviction, can swiftly unleash disastrous personal consequences.

linkathon part 2: charlotte's web at 60

Two great books - both children's classics, and both simply great books for any reader - had milestone birthdays this year. A Wrinkle In Time, which I've blogged about before, is now 50 years old. And Charlotte's Web, one of my top-five favourite books of all time, turns 60. This adaptation from an upcoming book by Michael Sims tells the story of how E. B. White came to write about a pig, a spider, a barn, and a girl named Fern.
Inevitably, though, the morality of farming troubled White, especially his betrayal of a pig’s trust when he suddenly turned from provider to executioner. In the fall of 1947, a pig he had planned to slaughter became ill, and White labored heroically but failed to save its life, a sad farce he immortalized in his 1948 essay “Death of a Pig.” In his animal-populated imagination, however, the pig lived on. White began to envision stories in which the poor animal’s life might be endangered — only this time it would survive.

Often in his barn White stopped to admire the artistry of a particular spider, and one evening he watched her spin an egg sac in a web over the doorway. When she didn’t return during the next few nights, he cut down the sac, which seemed to be woven of peach-colored cotton candy, and took it along in a small box to his New York apartment. Eventually tiny air holes in the box served as escape hatches for hundreds of spiderlings who then drifted around the room on silken filaments.

Gradually White tried to unite the potent images that cavorted in his imagination, but at first failed because he knew so little about spiders. He understood the squabbles of geese and the muddy zest of pigs because they filled his days at the farm, but through what secret alchemy were spiders drawing in the air?

So White went to work researching spider life. He borrowed science books from the New York Public Library and even conferred with an arachnologist at the American Museum of Natural History, deciphering jargon and diagrams until he understood how the spinnerets on his barn spider’s abdomen spun silk and how she would anchor the guy-lines for a web and what a poignantly brief time she would live after laying her eggs. As “Charlotte’s Web” took form in his mind, White described invertebrate magic both from what he had read and from what he had witnessed. When he wrote the tender scene of her children’s ballooning forth on their web filaments, trusting to fate and a warm breeze, he had only to describe what he had seen in his apartment. “Remember that writing is translation,” he advised a college student during this period, “and the opus to be translated is yourself.”
If you're a Charlotte fan, like me, you'll want to check out The Annotated Charlotte's Web. Allan gave it to me as part of a birthday present many years back, and I'm planning to re-read it this summer.
It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.
          - E. B. White, final sentence of Charlotte's Web

linkathon part 1: hawkcam 2012

I have a bunch of links I want to share, and no real post for any of them. I think readers don't like linkathons, so I'm putting each link in a separate post. Coincidentally, many are from the same source, so kudos to the The New York Times for an abundance of interesting reading during my work weekend.

* * * *

Say hello to Hawkcam 2012! For the second year, the Times is streaming live from the nest of a red-tailed hawk, where little fuzzy roundheads are peeping about.


Watch live streaming video from nytnestcam at livestream.com

I love birds of prey, and I love urban creatures, so I double-love the hawks who make their homes among us. There's a hawk nest outside the Steelworkers Hall in Toronto, so we frequently see hawks from the window of the War Resisters Support Campaign office. We once watched a hawk devour its dinner, probably a rat. It was kind of amazing thing to see, right outside the window.

You can also follow the New York city hawks at the hawkcam blog.

4.29.2012

pete fornatale, 1945-2012


Pete Fornatale, a pioneer of rock radio, died this week at the too-young age of 66. I learned so much from Pete! Like many people, I especially loved his Sunday morning "Mixed Bag". From The New York Times:
Mr. Fornatale was at the forefront of the FM revolution, along with WNEW-FM colleagues like Scott Muni, Rosko, Vin Scelsa, Dennis Elsas, Jonathan Schwartz and Alison Steele (who called herself “the Nightbird”). They played long versions of songs, and sometimes entire albums, and talked to their audiences in a conversational tone very different from the hard-sell approach of their AM counterparts.

WNEW-FM may have been the most influential experimenter. When the station dropped rock music for talk radio in 1999, Billboard called it “a legend, affecting and inspiring people throughout the industry.”

Mr. Fornatale (pronounced forn-a-TELL) had actually beaten WNEW to the punch. As a sophomore at Fordham University in 1964, he persuaded the school’s Jesuit leaders to let him do a free-form rock show on what was officially an educational station. He continued that show for a few years after he graduated, and for a while could be heard on both WFUV and WNEW.

WOR-FM became the first commercial station in New York to adopt the format, in 1966, but abandoned it after about a year. WNEW, with the slogan “Where Rock Lives,” adopted it in 1967.

Mr. Fornatale came on board in 1969 and quickly moved to the center of New York’s music scene. He gave early exposure to country-rock bands like Buffalo Springfield and Poco. He did one of the first American interviews with Elton John, and got a rousing ovation when he brought a rented surfboard to Carnegie Hall for a Beach Boys show. He introduced Curtis Mayfield to Bob Dylan at a Muhammad Ali fight.

In 1982 he started “Mixed Bag,” a program that emphasized singer-songwriters, on Sunday mornings. His regular guests included Suzanne Vega, who introduced herself to him by sending a fan letter.

One of Mr. Fornatale’s signatures was playing songs that followed a theme. It might be colors, with a playlist including the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” Or it might be great inventions, as when he celebrated the 214th anniversary of the United States Patent Office. Or the theme might simply be radio.
Allan was a college radio DJ when we met and during our long-distance relationship. When he was in New York, we'd listen to "Mixed Bag" on Sunday mornings. I always reminisced about how much I learned about music from that station - something that, even then, was becoming a distant memory.

When WNEW-FM was bought by a chain and became just another commercial, cookie-cutter, so-called classic rock station, Pete moved to WFUV, an excellent public radio station affiliated with Fordham University in the Bronx. I listened to college radio off and on, and I tried to get into the great WFMU, but the demise of WNEW-FM really killed my relationship with radio.

Thank [something] for the internet. Between the death of radio and the advent of the internet age, discovering music was much more difficult and time-consuming. In that heydey of rock radio and even beyond, Pete Fornatale was the brightest of lights. You can read a tribute to him at WFUV's website.

4.27.2012

m312: harper gets our message

So the first hour of debate on the not-so-stealth abortion motion did not go well for Mr. Woodworth. The Opposition parties came out strongly in favour of the 21st century and rationality. And as you know, only one Conservative other than Woodworth spoke - Gordon O'Connor (Carleton-Mississippi Mills and Conservative whip) - and he demolished the bill.
But O'Connor disagreed, saying "the ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions at some development stage in Canada." If the legal definition of when a person is considered a human being is changed, and a fetus is then considered a human being then homicide laws would apply, and abortion, as a consequence, would be considered homicide, O'Connor said.

He was the only other Conservative MP to speak during the debate, and he urged everyone to reject his colleague's motion whenever it comes to a vote.

O'Connor said abortion is a serious decision for women to make and he wants all women to continue to live in a society where they can make that decision "without the threat of legal consequences."

Whether one accepts abortion or not, it will always be part of society, O'Connor said, adding that he can't understand why those who are opposed to it want to impose their belief on others through the Criminal Code.

"Trying to amend the legal rules governing abortion as is intended by this motion will not improve the situation, it will only lead to increased conflict as the attempt is made to turn back the clock," said O'Connor. "Society has moved on and I don't believe this proposal should proceed. As well, it is in opposition to our government's position."
Knowing the Prime Minister's MO as we do, I believe this can only be interpreted one way. Harper used Woodworth's motion as a weather balloon, to test the public's appetite for re-opening the abortion debate. Pro-choice activists mobilized, and public opinion was rallied. Harper saw that this was politically unfeasible, and he hung Woodworth out to dry (or Woodworth volunteered to be sacrificed for the cause; those details don't matter).

Make no mistake. You beat back this threat. We did. We won this round and perhaps the war (for now), not because the Tories came to their senses, but because we showed them the consequences of their actions.

4.26.2012

new york moments


I've just returned from a lovely brief trip to New York City and points nearby. Apologies to friends who I didn't notify that I was coming in; I was in dire need of less running around and more downtime. I had excellent quality time with my mother and siblings, enjoyed a few really good meals, walked through Central Park and around the Upper West Side, had a gabfest with NN, and took in an exhibit by myself, my preferred mode of museuming. If you're in the New York area, I highly recommend "The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant Garde" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I hadn't been to the Met since moving to Canada, and it never disappoints. I highly recommend this exhibit. If you enjoyed Woody Allen's "Midnight In Paris," you'll especially want to see this.

I witnessed two little New York moments, one in a coffee shop and the other on the subway.

Sitting near me as I had a cup of tea in a coffee shop were two women. One was a senior, white, impeccably groomed in casual clothes, a smart short haircut, lovely jewelry. She was of a type seen all over New York, but especially on the Upper West Side. Not ostentatiously wealthy as you might see on the Upper East Side, but comfortable, and independent, a self-assured older New Yorker. The other woman was perhaps in her 40s, African-American, a working woman. If I saw them walking together, I would have thought the black woman was a personal care assistant - that's pretty typical. But the older woman was in good shape, not visibly in need of assistance, and their relationship did not seem in any way defined as employer and employee, or by any type of class or power lines in either direction. They were engrossed in conversation, at first complaining about the many annoyances of daily life in New York. There is no rush hour anymore! Every hour is rush hour. You have to leave an extra 30 minutes to get anywhere! Later, the topic drifted to shopping - where they like to shop, what they like to spend money on. Both feel they should shop less, but agree that buying nice things for themselves cheers them up. After that, they traded stories about some people they know. He's very eccentric. The whole apartment is filled with books! Floor to ceiling, huge stacks of books!

The African-American woman asked, "Are you ready to go?", and the older woman began gathering her things, putting on her scarf and jacket. That was my only clue that perhaps the younger woman was hired by the older one. They each had packages from nice stores throughout the neighbourhood. Perhaps an afternoon of shopping is too much for the older woman to manage by herself, so an assistant helps her. Or perhaps they are simply friends from the neighbourhood.

* * * *

Later, on the subway, a man in maybe his early or mid-30s got on the subway wheeling an instrument case. I saw a woman seated two people from the door look at him and smile to herself. At first I thought she was just admiring the scenery, but then I noticed she also had an instrument, strapped to a similar wheelie cart in front of her. She caught his eye and said, "Are you coming from a gig?" He said, "On my way to one." She asked him what venue he was playing, and with what band. He mentioned that the man who assembled his gig is a tennis pro who also plays for fun. They both said, "Like Woody Allen."

The musicians chatted until the man's stop came up. They said, "Have a good gig - enjoy" and off he went. She caught me looking at her and we shared a quick smile. I knew just how she felt: making a momentary connection with a stranger on the subway is so uplifting. It can keep you feeling good about your city the whole day.

* * * *

Also on the subway, I saw ads for a service I would have loved when I lived in the City: Wag.com, a pet-supply delivery service. New Yorkers love to have things delivered. Indeed, they need to have things delivered. Most people own cars, and those that do use them mainly for trips out of town. Shopping for anything more than a few items can be amazingly inconvenient, and schlepping bags of dog food on the subway or with car services is not fun. Wag.com joins Diapers.com, Soap.com, and my old favourite, Fresh Direct as ways New Yorkers cope. I liked the ads: "You Sit. We Fetch." and "Feed the cat with a click of the mouse."

* * * *

This was the first time I've flown Porter Airlines, but I will use them from now on if possible.

I hadn't tried them sooner because I mistakenly believed it would be difficult to get from Newark Airport to my mom's house by public transit. It was actually super easy.

The best thing about Porter is the Toronto City Centre Airport. It's so civilized. First of all, it's quiet: no TV blaring, no piped-in music. This is very smart. Everyone has their own entertainment, and those who don't, don't want any. There's a bar area where you can make a cup of tea, coffee, espresso or cappuccino, or take a bottle of water or a can of soda, along with cookies - for free. In the waiting area, chairs in groups of four are arranged around a table, and with low partitions between the groups.

And unlike Air Canada and many other airlines, you're not charged extra for every little thing. I've flown Air Canada several times, and I haven't had the problems many people talk about, but Porter was a much nicer experience.

m312: it doesn't matter when life begins. that's not the issue.


When does life begin?

Perhaps this is a question for philosophers, or theologians. Perhaps it is a question for scientists.

It is not a question for Parliamentarians.

It is not a question for government.

There are many different kinds of life. There are non-human animals. Some of these are eaten as food, others are members of the human family. All are forms of life.

There is plant life all around us. Plants are alive. Most people can kill a plant without giving it a second thought.

A fetus is alive. That's pretty obvious. It's a type of life form. A human fetus has the potential to become a human life, but in its fetal state, is not yet a human life. It is part of the body of its mother.

And because a human fetus is part of the body of its mother, the mother of that fetus can decide what to do with the fetus, just as she decides what to do with the rest of her body.

When a baby is born, it legally becomes a person, and so has certain very limited rights under the law.

This is all pretty simple stuff, and through most of human history has been fairly non-controversial. Historically, most societies have recognized that not all pregnancies become babies. Some are terminated spontaneously - so-called "miscarriage," a 19th century term that people cling to. In many societies, midwives or other specialists knew how to induce abortion when it was necessary.

Now, as first-world women enjoy a degree of control over their sexuality and reproduction that irritates and offends certain other people, comes this non-sequitir, this unanswerable question: "When does life begin?".

We shouldn't get hung up on it. We shouldn't debate it. Indeed, we should refuse to discuss it. It's a distraction. It's a trap.

Canadian women won the right to control their own reproduction. And no government, no matter how many robocalls it makes and how many lies it tells, is going to begin the process of taking that away from us. No way, no how.

Tell Mr. Woodworth [woodworth.s@parl.gc.ca]. Tell your MP. We are never going back.

4.23.2012

what are people supposed to do? or, why we need socialism

As I read news stories, read blogs, skim headlines, one question keeps coming to my mind, over and over. What are people supposed to do?

Income insecurity

Wages have been slashed or have been stagnant for years. Corporations continue to eliminate jobs, forcing the survivors to work much harder for the same (or lower) salaries, while the unlucky into a job market that is more like an empty larder.

Jobs that were once full-time and included benefits have been transformed into part-time jobs or contract work, with lower pay, no benefits and no security.

Good jobs are scarce and getting scarcer all the time. We can't all work in retail. Those who manage to get themselves through university and beyond, hoping for more meaningful employment, are burdened with debt for decades.

For those unable to work or unable to find decent employment, social assistance is more difficult to access. For those who do qualify, it provides a level of support that cannot rightfully be called subsistence.

What are people supposed to do?

The higher and higher cost of living

While wages plummet or stagnate, everything costs more, seemingly every day - not only extras and luxuries, but the price of basic survival. Food, shelter, and fuel account for an increasing share of whatever income we have. Many people can't afford gas or public transit to even look for a job. Governments cut public services that are needed for meaningful participation in society, forcing more people into social exclusion, be it from lack of health care, child care, elder care, therapies, basic nutrition, or a decent public library.

And what about extras? What about recreation, leisure time, fun? Increasing numbers of people work two and three jobs to support their families, which means they have less time, patience, and energy to nurture those families and enjoy time together. Living a good life that includes leisure time should not be a luxury that only the wealthy can afford.

When wages are cut by 50%, what are people supposed to do? When the price of food and fuel is more than the family's budget, what are people supposed to do?

This is not an act of god

The condition we find ourselves in is not inevitable. It is not found in nature, not part of some biological or geological system that cannot be altered. These stressful conditions are the product of a system made by humans, and that system is called global capitalism.

When a condition exists all around us from the moment of our birth and is never questioned - when we are not taught that there are alternatives - and when those who do teach alternatives are marginalized - we tend to think that the condition is inevitable. This describes many aspects of our lives. Gender roles. Up until very recently (and still in many places), heterosexuality. The naturalness and inevitability of war. And the naturalness of capitalism.

Ask why

Step back from a moment and think about this. Why should food be sold for profit? In Canada and other advanced nations, it is recognized that health care should not be a profit-making enterprise. If we have a universal right to health care, why don't we have a universal right to not be hungry? Why don't all people have all the food they require for themselves and their families?

Why should the cost of fuel include profit? Why should fuel, which all people need, be subject to speculation, investment and profit?

Why should the people who toil to produce wealth for others struggle for basic survival, while the people who design systems of speculation and profit reap fabulous riches?

Ask how

Why must we accept this system as inevitable? And when we begin to question this system, when we reject it, how can we begin to dismantle it and create an alternative system?

There is enough food to feed every person on this planet. There is enough human ingenuity and determination to halt and reverse climate change. There will always be people who want to make war, but there are many more people who want to end war. How can we achieve these goals?

I don't know the answers to these questions. But I want to discuss them with others who believe, as I do, that a better world is possible.

So then, what are people supposed to do? I don't know. I just know they can't do it alone.

That's why I'm attending Marxism 2012.

4.22.2012

add your voice to voices against motion 312


More to come, much more, so much more that I haven't been able to post coherently about this because I have so much to say.

So while I struggle with my inarticulate rage, make sure your MP knows exactly how you feel about this and exactly what you will do if she or he votes in favour of the Woodworth motion.

Go here for tools to help you speak out against this freakshow. Go here to submit memes, images, and ideas.

And most of all, do not under any circumstances make the mistake of taking for granted the legal right to terminate a pregnancy. Pledge to do all you can to prevent Canada from sliding down that slippery slope.

4.21.2012

happy diego day!


One year ago today, we adopted Diego. I had just gotten home from my spring New York visit. Allan and I had been looking at dogs online, and had decided Diego was our guy. I called Toronto Animal Services to ask about him, thinking we would go there in the next few days. But of course they can't hold dogs for potential adopters, and I was worried someone else would scoop him up. I didn't unpack or even go upstairs! We put Tala in the car and drove straight there.



From the moment we brought him home, Diego was a member of our family, as if he had always lived with us. Diego and Tala were instant buddies, and are now deeply attached to each other.




Diego is one of the happiest, friendliest dogs you'll ever meet. He's a little too friendly at times - the only thing our big boy can be faulted for is exuberance. But when his happiness gets the better of him and he jumps up to say hello, he just raises himself up in front of you and kisses your face. This is a great trick for a 90-pound dog! Jumping up is not polite, but it's a whole lot better than laying his big paws on your chest. (Our first dog used to nearly knock me over every time I came home.)






In short, we love him to pieces - and so does Tala.









4.20.2012

happy birthday, fenway park


One hundred years ago today, April 20, 1912, Fenway Park opened to the public. The Boston Red Sox have played their home games there ever since.

Fenway is the oldest Major League Ballpark still in use. Until the 1990s, it was one of a trio of historic parks still used for major-league play, along with Chicago's Wrigley Field and Tiger Stadium in Detroit. Now only Fenway and Wrigley have that distinction.

Fenway is my favourite park, and always has been - long before I ever could imagine switching sides in the historic rivalry to become a Red Sox fan. I've been to 22* Major League parks - one more than Allan, a fact that continues to rankle him - and none of them even come close to Fenway. The first time I saw a game there, despite having seen games played in Boston on TV for decades, I was awe-struck. Brick! The wall! The manual scoreboard! I remember asking Allan about the scoreboard, as if I had never heard of it. He was puzzled. "You know about this. The announcers talk about it all the time." Well yes, but... they didn't say it was so beautiful!

There was a time when Fenway's future was threatened, when it was rumoured that Boston would go the way of so many other clubs, letting a historic ballpark fall into disrepair, then bilking taxpayers out of a publicly financed stadium. An important piece of living history would be lost forever - along with much of the Red Sox's special cache. Fortunately for all of us, then-new Red Sox ownership understood their unique opportunity. The park was modernized in a way that left its historic beauty intact - even enhanced it - and all talk of abandoning Fenway was laid to rest.

Yesterday the Red Sox hosted an Open House. Everyone was invited, free of charge (unheard of!) to tour Fenway, walk around areas usually inaccessible to the public, spend the day there if they wanted. Allan and I both wish we could have been in Boston to participate.


Today, the anniversary of the Park's opening day, everyone in attendance will participate in the "world's largest toast", before a game against New York, the same two clubs that faced each other on April 20, 1912.** Every living former Red Sox player and manager has been invited, and the team says all kinds of surprises are planned. For the game, teams will wear 1912 replica uniforms.

For excellent photos of the 1912 Red Sox and their beautiful new park, see this Joy of Sox post. Although the New York Giants no longer exist, Sox fans would like history to repeat itself this year.


-----
* Should be 23! In 1996, I had tickets to see the Braves in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, but was working too hard covering the Paralympics to attend - a fact that continues to rankle me!

** The American League team from New York was The Highlanders. They would be re-named the Yankees the following year.

4.19.2012

levon helm, 1940-2012


We love you, Levon.

shorter wmtc: fraudulent government kills canadian environment

In case you haven't seen it yet, the Council of Canadians' investigation into election fraud has uncovered yet more damning evidence that the Harper GovernmentTM did not win its so-called majority government through democratic or legitimate means.
The Council of Canadians today released two of the documents it intends to present as evidence in support of applications by individual citizens seeking to overturn federal election results in seven ridings.

“Contrary to claims by the Conservative lawyer that our legal challenge is ‘frivolous’ and a ‘publicity stunt,’ this evidence shows that voters were deliberately misled,” says Garry Neil, Executive Director of the Council of Canadians. “We believe that Canadians were wrongfully denied their right to vote, and this affected the outcome of the election in these seven ridings. That is why we are asking the Court to throw out these election results.”

The first document is a sworn affidavit from Annette Desgagné, a former Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) employee who initially made calls on behalf of the Conservative Party. Three days before the election, however, she was instructed to make calls about polling location changes and was given a new script that did not indicate that she was calling on behalf of the Conservatives.

In her affidavit, Ms. Desgagné states that she specifically recalls contacting voters in the riding of Nipissing-Tamiskaming, as she needed help with the pronunciation. The second document, from Elections Canada, however, states that no polling location changes occurred in Nipissing-Tamiskaming. Only one polling location was changed out of all seven ridings.

“The Conservative talking point that any misdirection was due to an honest mistake just doesn’t add up,” says Mr. Neil.

The Council of Canadians continues to gather evidence in support of the case, and will release more as it becomes available.
Affidavits concerning all seven ridings are available as pdfs through this page.

Borys Wrzesnewskyj, the former Liberal (and liberal, and very decent) MP who lost his riding by 26 votes will be in court in a few days, contesting the results of the election.
In documents filed in court, Wrzesnewskyj's lawyers claim 181 ballots are in dispute and should be thrown out. Aside from some voters voting twice, the former MP's legal team says some voters did not properly prove their identity or were not vouched for properly when they showed up at the polling station with no identification.

Under a court order, Wrzesnewskyj's lawyers were able to examine the ballots at 10 polling divisions, as well as poll books and electors' lists at Elections Canada's office in Ottawa.

The test to declare the election invalid, and trigger a byelection (after any appeals are exhausted), would be a finding that more than 26 ballots, the losing margin, should not have been counted.
Macleans call Wrzesnewskyj's claims "unrelated to the still-simmering Robocall scandal", but that's a bit generous for my tastes. Let's just say it appears to be a different tactic used by the same party perpetrators criminals.

And in case you need a reminder of how important this is, and what's at stake, the so-called majority government has taken a giant step towards selling all Canadian resources - water, air, land, and everything in it and on it - to the highest bidder without that pesky red-tape known as environmental review. The number of federal departments and agencies that will be authorized to conduct environmental reviews will fall from 40 to three. A few bullet points from the David Suzuki Foundation:
Reviews protect people as well as natural systems

  • Canada's environmental review processes and laws are in place to safeguard our families and communities from pollution, toxic contamination and other environmental risks.

  • Today's decision to reduce Canada's environmental review processes and rush the approval of major oil and mining projects, among other industrial development, will lead to poor decisions — putting the health and safety of Canadians at risk.

  • Pay now or pay much more later

  • Rushed public review of megaprojects risks could leave citizens on the hook for multibillion dollar clean-up costs when things go wrong later.

  • Most Canadians recognize that our economy needs to shift away from overdependence on non-renewable natural resources to a cleaner, innovative, and diversified economy that protects the health and safety of Canadians — and provides more and better jobs over the long-term.

  • Canada needs a measured and thoughtful approach that ensures that we approve projects that make the greatest contribution to a cleaner, more innovate economy, not a 'rubber stamp' for non-renewable resource development at all costs.

  • Federal environment reviews matter

  • Recent reports by the Auditor General have shown that the federal government is failing to monitor oil pollution levels in our rivers and today's decision is weakening the oversight and enforcement that could lead to the approval of potentially dangerous projects.

  • Eliminating or limiting federal environmental reviews means eliminating the environmental safety net for things like fish and fish habitat, which are the federal government's legal responsibility.

  • Provincial environmental assessment processes are inconsistent from each other and often weak, lacking key safeguards of the federal process.
  • 4.18.2012

    ontarians, what are you doing this saturday? come to queen's park to demand a fair budget


    When Dalton McGuinty appointed a banker to assess the province's budget priorities, he got exactly what he expected: a recommendation to cut jobs and shred public services, while leaving corporate tax cuts intact. The proposed budget cuts will affect every aspect of our lives: health care, child care, education, pensions. The Ontario budget promises to destroy what's left of the social safety net, while the banking industry - the people who created the financial crisis - walk off rich and happy. Billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts could be used to create jobs and ensure basic survival for people in need.

    This Saturday, April 21, Ontarians will come together to tell McGuinty that this is not a strategy for economic recovery. We need jobs. We need social services. And corporations and banks must pay their fair share.

    WHEN: Saturday, April 21, 3:00 to 5:00

    WHERE: Queen's Park, Toronto

    WHY: Demand prosperity, not austerity!

    To find transportation near you, contact a union about getting a seat on their bus. If you're in the GTA, join in to make your voice heard.

    4.15.2012

    bill maher's good (and occasionally funny) thoughts on castrophobia


    Thanks to Jere.

    digital jigsaw puzzles, this quiet blog, and the current state of my brain

    The writing part of my brain appears to be on vacation. It didn't request time off; it doesn't have to. It's the boss. I have a pile of topics I'd like to write about, but Writing Brain is off in the woods somewhere, recovering from academia.

    So what is the rest of me doing, besides working two jobs?

    There's baseball, of course. I've already dived into my spring and summer reading. I have the usual humongous spring list of chores and errands, all the things that pile up while I'm in school. I'm also spending far too much time on my latest obsession, digital jigsaw puzzles.

    I plan to return to the War Resisters Support Campaign, at least for the summer. I've been marginally active in the Campaign via email, but I haven't been able to attend meetings for a long time, and I really miss it.

    None of that explains why I'm not writing. But I've noticed that every year after school ends, I'm eager to get back to blogging, but I can't. Not right away.

    * * * *

    I always have more topics to blog about than I have time or space to blog. Some items wither and die on the list without ever seeing pixels, but none has lingered longer and more annoyingly than Marxism.

    Last year, Allan and I attended the annual Marxism conference put on by the International Socialists. I intended to write about the talks we attended, or at least post our notes. Then I got my summer research job, and then school started again... and every time I look at my notes, I'm overwhelmed with the size (and the possible futility) of the task. But I never forget that I said I would do it, so the not-done-ness continues to bother me. This persistent, nagging feeling can be a powerful motivator, and also a pain in the ass.

    Now Marxism 2012 is coming around, and we are again taking the weekend off to attend. So I either get my 2011 notes up before that happens, or I remove the task from my list permanently.

    * * * *

    My half-semester workshop in children's digital games turned out to be very interesting. We played a lot of games and discussed the many issues that they raised. Working in groups, we designed a game using some basic DIY game-creation applications, to evaluate the process and the choices involved. We also chose ten digital games for a library playlist, and presented them in a digital format. Through that assignment, I discovered digital jigsaw puzzles.

    I'm playing Ravensburger Puzzle Selection in "campaign mode". This means every time I complete a puzzle, I get another, more difficult puzzle challenge. It's a game designed for an addictive personality like mine.

    My family used to do jigsaw puzzles, often having one going on the dining room table in the winter. (Many people in my age group have a similar memory.) I was great at jigsaw puzzles and loved them, but haven't seen one in years - decades. Last summer, after a conversation about puzzles on a JoS game thread, a baseball friend gave me two Red Sox-related puzzles. This revived my interest in puzzles, but our home is badly positioned for it: there's only one table. (Long-time to-do: buy foldable card table.)

    Enter digital puzzles. They are every bit as addictive as physical jigsaw puzzles, but less convenient - and less social. Working on physical puzzles is time spent with other people, but a digital puzzle keeps me at my computer. It's not like I need more screen time. But it's too late now. I'm addicted.

    * * * *

    I've noticed that blogging about the inconsequential details of my life sometimes kick-starts my writing. So if you're still reading this, thanks for bothering, and thanks for contributing to the process.

    4.12.2012

    the tale of ozzie guillen, fidel castro, free speech, and corporate welfare: a story with irony to spare

    Those of you who don't follow baseball - which I assume is most of you - might never have heard of Ozzie Guillen before this week, or maybe don't know his name now. Guillen is a Major League Baseball manager and a former player, a guy who is often described by the euphemism "colourful". A guy about whom people say, "You know Ozzie, he's not afraid to speak his mind," in a Don Cherry kind of way.

    Last week, Guillen spoke his mind, and it cost him a five-day suspension from his job as manager of the Miami Marlins. What utterance could carry such a price tag? He dared to say something complimentary about Fidel Castro. In an interview with Time magazine, Guillen is reported to have said:
    I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still here.
    For this, Guillen almost lost his job, but was spared unemployment, getting away with a suspension, retraction and abject groveling. Because in the USofA, freedom-loving country that it is, one cannot publicly praise someone who has been branded The Enemy. I'm not invoking the First Amendment, which, as Keith Olbermann explains, does not apply in this situation, any more than it does when I ban a troll from this blog. But something needn't be unconstitutional to be wrong - and nuts.

    A good starting point is the oft-heard description of Fidel Castro as a "brutal dictator". In the US, those words have a silent ending: "who won't do our bidding". In a country which has installed and supported brutal dictatorships around the globe for more than a century, this description has special irony when one considers the US-backed brutal dictator that Fidel Castro's revolution deposed, Fulgencio Batista. And if we stacked up Castro's supposed crimes against the the US's, brutality for brutality, which regime has done more damage? Which country, the US or Cuba, has oppressed, tortured, killed, stolen, imprisoned, and destroyed more countries, people, homes, lives, families? I'm not counting nationalizing wealth as a crime. That part is a victory.

    In all the noise in the baseball world about Guillen's statements, you will not hear one critical thought about Castro or Cuba. No one asks why it is so outrageous for a man to say he loves Castro. It is simply beyond the pale to do so, and we don't need to talk about why.

    The US's obsession with Castro and Cuba would be hilarious if it didn't cause the Cuban people such hardship. The poverty and want in Cuba isn't caused by communism. It's caused by isolation, and that isolation has only one source: the US-led embargo against Cuba. The little island nation has managed to defy the US and stay its own course, remaining resolutely communist even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and this drives the US nuts. Once upon a time Cuba was an outpost of Soviet sponsorship in the US's backyard. Now it's just a poor country with free, universal health care and universal education, a country which manages to survive without material wealth. Blaming Cuba's poverty on communism is a bit like blaming the tarsands communities for their high cancer rates.

    Of course, any event can only be assessed in context, and the uproar over Guillen's words have a very special context: Miami. The Cuban community in Miami and its political connections have been responsible for keeping the embargo alive these many, many years. The reaction in Miami to Guillen's statement was so over-the-top, it reads like farce. The manager of our baseball team has said something positive about Fidel Castro! How can we go on?
    "In Miami, it's the worst possible thing he could have said. People in sports are forgiving, but this a pretty damning statement for the fan base."

    The Herald reported that a number of prominent community activists and political figures -- including Miami-Dade Commission chairman Joe Martinez, who told the paper he wants Guillen to resign -- were upset about the comments.

    "It's so outrageous, they have to start by buying a new brain for Guillen, because every time he opens his mouth, he offends somebody," said Ninoska Pérez Castellón, an activist and radio host with Radio Mambí, according to the Herald.

    Guillen was contrite during Tuesday's news conference at Marlins Park, speaking in both Spanish and English for about 45 minutes.

    "I hurt a lot of people's feelings, a lot of victims," Guillen said. "I've apologized twice, and I meant it. ... I say a lot of things and I never apologize. But now I have to, because I did the wrong thing. I'm behind the Cuban community. ... How am I going to make it better? ... I'm going to show the community that I support them 100 percent."

    Rickie Ricardo, the Phillies' Spanish radio announcer, who is of Cuban descent, told the Herald that nothing on the field could hurt Guillen's perception more than his words.

    "That's a subject that's untouchable," Ricardo said. "This team could go 0-50 and it wouldn't hurt the Cuban community as much as him saying something like that."

    Royals catcher Brayan Pena, who defected from Cuba in 2000, thought Guillen appeared sincere, but that Miami's Cuban community would be slow to forgive him.
    "Slow to forgive him" might be an understatement. I'd be surprised if Guillen can ever mend this fence, because his neighbours are so irrational. Remember Elian Gonzalez? In that strange incident, the US federal government did what international law demanded: they returned a child to his home. But because that home was in Castro's Cuba, the Cuban-American exile community thought it was perfectly justified to kidnap a little boy and keep him from his father, permanently. As far as I can tell, they continue to view the government's actions as an unforgiveable betrayal.

    For the Marlins, whether the Cuban-American community forgives Guillen personally is only the beginning. Sports teams and their publicly-funded stadiums thrive on corporate welfare, happily accepting socialism for their expenses (more irony!) while returning profits to their own private, undisclosed pockets. Marlins owner Jeff Loria isn't so concerned about "the community" because he's such a nice guy, and not only because he's worried about ticket sales. It's much bigger than that. A quick scan of the "Miami Marlins" tag on Neil deMause's Field of Schemes blog will give you the picture.

    Dave Zirin puts it in perspective.
    Let’s leave aside the rather glaring irony that the politicians, sports commentators and Cuban exiles want to show their love of freedom by taking Guillen’s job for the crime of exercising free speech. The fact is that when looking for political consistency and clarity, Ozzie Guillen is not the best place to start. The Venezuela-born Guillen’s comments on Castro are not very different from what he has always said about Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. He has made comments very favorable about Chávez and very negative. He said, “Viva Chávez” after his Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series. He has also been one of Chávez’s most high-profile critics.

    Trying to make sense of Guillen based on public utterances is a fool’s errand. As someone who knows people that talk to Guillen when the cameras are off, I will try to explain his actual politics on Venezuela and Cuba. Guillen is big on a collective Latin American pride and will not abide anti-immigrant and anti-Latino words or deeds. He has a great deal of respect for the way Castro and Chávez stand up to the United States. He opposes efforts by the United States to impose its will on these countries and wishes the rest of Latin America would show similar mettle. It’s not a question of the relative good or bad of Cuba’s internal politics. It’s a question of independence. He’s also as gung-ho for the United States as any manager in baseball, going as far as to fine players for not showing proper respect for the National Anthem, a practice I criticized in 2005. I know that people love portraying Ozzie Guillen as an out-there, crazy kind of guy, and that’s in part because he is an out-there crazy kind of guy. But what’s crazier? Guillen’s views on Cuba or the fact that an aging coterie of people who mourn for the strong hand of Fulgencio Batista control the political debate in South Florida?

    But this issue is bigger than Guillen and it’s bigger than Cuban exiles who dream of returning to a smoldering “free Havana,” with Castro’s head on a pike. It’s bigger than the petty hypocrisies of those who stand for freedom by denying it for others. It’s now about whether the ire produced by Guillen’s words will be directed against Loria, his grab of public funds and the entire Miami baseball operation. If that happens, this issue won’t die, but the Marlins might.

    4.09.2012

    u.s. continues to target its own citizens at the border... which is 100 miles wide

    This story --
    A Montreal university student was detained at the U.S. border, held for several hours, interrogated, had his personal belongings searched and saw his computer confiscated for more than a week.

    What caught the authorities’ attention? His doctoral research on Islamic studies, he says.

    In a case that has attracted media attention in the U.S., Pascal Abidor has become embroiled in a drawn-out legal battle with the American government – and a poster child for civil-rights advocates defending the right to privacy and due process.

    Mr. Abidor, a 28-year-old American and French dual citizen, was returning by train to Brooklyn in May, 2010, when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent stopped him at the border in Champlain, N.Y. ...
    -- reminded me of my own detention at the border, now 2-1/2 years ago, and the several "secondary inspections" and shorter detentions that followed. I ended up re-reading that post - "the gray area": in which i am detained, harassed and threatened at the border - and the discussion that followed. It brought back all my feelings from that day, especially how surreal it seemed, as if I were watching myself from a distance, which I've come to recognize as a response to fear. And yes, my fear, at least for a few moments - my hesitation at entering the interrogation room, how vulnerable and alone I felt.
    The older man said, "Come with us." They led me through a door behind the waiting area and opened a door to what I can only describe as an interrogation room: a tiny, bare room, with a desk and three chairs. At this point my heart raced a bit.

    This is it. This is the room you've seen and heard about. The little room. I have no ID, no phone, no anything. I'm alone. I'm powerless. I don't wish to sound overly dramatic, but it was unnerving.

    I thought, I'm sure glad I'm wearing my white skin and my non-Muslim-sounding last name. I'd hate to be walking in here without those protective devices.

    In addition, the only time I have ever sat alone with police in a room like that was the night I was raped. So I felt little triggers flashing in my brain, old triggers but real, and for a split-second I thought I might cry, or faint - not from the present situation, but from August, 1982. I breathed deeply, and it passed.

    Most of my brain knew that everything would be fine. Another part knew that having done nothing wrong is no guarantee of anything.
    The US's habit of targeting its own citizens at the border is on Glenn Greenwald's radar screen. (See original for links.)
    One of the more extreme government abuses of the post-9/11 era targets U.S. citizens re-entering their own country, and it has received far too little attention. With no oversight or legal framework whatsoever, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them and questions them at the airport, often for hours, when they return to the U.S. after an international trip, and then copies and even seizes their electronic devices (laptops, cameras, cellphones) and other papers (notebooks, journals, credit card receipts), forever storing their contents in government files. No search warrant is needed for any of this. No oversight exists. And there are no apparent constraints on what the U.S. Government can do with regard to whom it decides to target or why.

    In an age of international travel — where large numbers of citizens, especially those involved in sensitive journalism and activism, frequently travel outside the country — this power renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment entirely illusory. By virtue of that amendment, if the government wants to search and seize the papers and effects of someone on U.S. soil, it must (with some exceptions) first convince a court that there is probable cause to believe that the objects to be searched relate to criminal activity and a search warrant must be obtained. But now, none of those obstacles — ones at the very heart of the design of the Constitution — hinders the U.S. government: now, they can just wait until you leave the country, and then, at will, search, seize and copy all of your electronic files on your return. That includes your emails, the websites you’ve visited, the online conversations you’ve had, the identities of those with whom you’ve communicated, your cell phone contacts, your credit card receipts, film you’ve taken, drafts of documents you’re writing, and anything else that you store electronically: which, these days, when it comes to privacy, means basically everything of worth.

    This government abuse has received some recent attention in the context of WikiLeaks. Over the past couple of years, any American remotely associated with that group — or even those who have advocated on behalf of Bradley Manning — have been detained at the airport and had their laptops, cellphones and cameras seized: sometimes for months, sometimes forever. But this practice usually targets people having nothing to do with WikiLeaks.

    A 2011 FOIA request from the ACLU revealed that just in the 18-month period beginning October 1, 2008, more than 6,600 people — roughly half of whom were American citizens — were subjected to electronic device searches at the border by DHS, all without a search warrant. Typifying the target of these invasive searches is Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old dual French-American citizen and an Islamic Studies Ph.D. student who was traveling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in 2011 when he was stopped at the border, questioned by DHS agents, handcuffed, taken off the train and kept in a holding cell for several hours before being released without charges; those DHS agents seized his laptop and returned it 11 days later when, the ACLU explains, “there was evidence that many of his personal files, including research, photos and chats with his girlfriend, had been searched.” That’s just one case of thousands, all without any oversight, transparency, legal checks, or any demonstration of wrongdoing.

    But the case of Laura Poitras, an Oscar-and Emmy-nominated filmmaker and intrepid journalist, is perhaps the most extreme. In 2004 and 2005, Poitras spent many months in Iraq filming a documentary that, as The New York Times put it in its review, “exposed the emotional toll of occupation on Iraqis and American soldiers alike.” The film, “My Country, My Country,” focused on a Sunni physician and 2005 candidate for the Iraqi Congress as he did things like protest the imprisonment of a 9-year-old boy by the U.S. military. At the time Poitras made this film, Iraqi Sunnis formed the core of the anti-American insurgency and she spent substantial time filming and reporting on the epicenter of that resistance. Poitras’ film was released in 2006 and nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary. . . . [See original for more plus links.]
    And of course, the "border", according to the US, is 161 kilometres (100 miles) wide. The ACLU points out that many USians are unaware that this happens, or else believe that it only effects potential illegal immigrants. My guess is the majority of USians still believe that their US citizenship protects them from such mistreatment - a myth that is now completely ridiculous, in light of the NDAA.
    Many Americans and Washington policymakers believe that this is a problem confined to the San Diego-Tijuana border or the dusty sands of Arizona or Texas, but these powers stretch far inland across the United States.

    To calculate what proportion of the U.S. population is affected by these powers, the ACLU created a map and spreadsheet showing the population and population centers that lie within 100 miles of any “external boundary” of the United States.

    The population estimates were calculated by examining the most recent US census numbers for all counties within 100 miles of these borders. Using numbers from the Population Distribution Branch of the US Census Bureau, we were able to estimate both the total number and a state-by-state population breakdown. The custom map was created with help from a map expert at World Sites Atlas.

    What we found is that fully TWO-THIRDS of the United States’ population lives within this Constitution-free or Constitution-lite Zone. That’s 197.4 million people who live within 100 miles of the US land and coastal borders.

    Nine of the top 10 largest metropolitan areas as determined by the 2000 census, fall within the Constitution-free Zone. (The only exception is #9, Dallas-Fort Worth.) Some states are considered to lie completely within the zone: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

    The spread of border-search powers inland is part of a broad expansion of border powers with the potential to affect the lives of ordinary Americans who have never left their own country.

    It coincides with the development of numerous border technologies, including watch list and database systems such as the Automated Targeting System (ATS) traveler risk assessment program, identity and tracking systems such as electronic (RFID) passports, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), and intrusive technological schemes such as the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBINet) or “virtual border fence” and unmanned aerial vehicles (aka “drone aircraft”).

    This illegitimate expansion of the extraordinary powers of agents at the border is also part of a general trend we have seen over the past 8 years of an untrammeled, heedless expansion of police and national security powers without regard to the effect on innocent Americans.

    This trend is also typical of the Bush Administration’s dragnet approach to law enforcement and national security. Instead of intelligent, competent, targeted efforts to stop terrorism, illegal immigration, and other crimes, what we have been seeing in area after area is an approach that turns us all into suspects. This approach seeks to sift through the entire U.S. population in the hopes of encountering the rare individual whom the authorities have a legitimate interest in.
    I highly recommend the ACLU's Fact Sheet on U.S. "Constitution Free Zone". "U.S. Constitution Free Zone"... an oxymoron?

    Thanks to Alex L. and S. Cheung for the stories.

    hoax of the century: conservative transparency, accountability, and fiscal restraint


    4.08.2012

    "the greatest problem is we are afraid to offend our oppressors": john carlos, tommie smith, and a lesson about resistance


    This is one of the most iconic photos in sports history: the Olympics, 1968, Mexico City. As the Star Spangled Banner begins to play, gold-medal winner Tommie Smith and bronze-medal winner John Carlos, each wearing a single black glove, raise their fists in a black-power salute. Peter Norman, the silver medal winner from Australia, wears a badge in support of their gesture.

    This moment of silent protest rocked the world. The social revolution - often referred to as the "turmoil" - of 1968 broke through the sanitized, apolitical facade, forcing the public to notice and react. From The Guardian:
    Anticipating some kind of protest was afoot, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had sent Jesse Owens to talk them out of it. (Owens's four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin themselves held great symbolic significance, given Hitler's belief in Aryan supremacy.) Carlos's mind was made up. When he and Smith struck their pose, Carlos feared the worst. Look at the picture and you'll see that while Smith's arm is raised long and erect, Carlos has his slightly bent at the elbow. "I wanted to make sure, in case someone rushed us, I could throw down a hammer punch," he writes. "We had just received so many threats leading up to that point, I refused to be defenceless at that moment of truth."

    It was also a moment of silence. "You could have heard a frog piss on cotton. There's something awful about hearing 50,000 people go silent, like being in the eye of a hurricane."

    And then came the storm. First boos. Then insults and worse. People throwing things and screaming racist abuse. "Niggers need to go back to Africa!" and, "I can't believe this is how you niggers treat us after we let you run in our games."

    "The fire was all around me," Carlos recalls. The IOC president ordered Smith and Carlos to be suspended from the US team and the Olympic village. Time magazine showed the Olympic logo with the words Angrier, Nastier, Uglier, instead of Faster, Higher, Stronger. The LA Times accused them of engaging in a "Nazi-like salute".
    This is yet another example of courageous resistance being vilified in the media and by the public, only to later shine in memory. One day Martin Luther King is on the FBI's Enemies of the State list, the next day politicians are shoving each other out of the way to say they loved him all along. Malcolm X's face is on a postage stamp. Never be afraid to be hated.

    The terrific piece in The Guardian, with excerpts from the book The John Carlos Story, puts the protest in perspective, and puts you in John Carlos' mind as the moment approached.
    The first thing I thought was the shackles have been broken," Carlos says, casting his mind back to how he felt in that moment. "And they won't ever be able to put shackles on John Carlos again. Because what had been done couldn't be taken back. Materially, some of us in the incarceration system are still literally in shackles. The greatest problem is we are afraid to offend our oppressors.

    "I had a moral obligation to step up. Morality was a far greater force than the rules and regulations they had. God told the angels that day, 'Take a step back – I'm gonna have to do this myself.'"

    The image certainly captures that sense of momentary rebellion. But what it cannot do is evoke the human sense of emotional turmoil and individual resolve that made it possible, or the collective, global gasp in response to its audacity. In his book, The John Carlos Story, in the seconds between mounting the podium and the anthem playing, Carlos writes that his mind raced from the personal to the political and back again. Among other things, he reflected on his father's pained explanation for why he couldn't become an Olympic swimmer, the segregation and consequent impoverishment of Harlem, the exhortations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to "be true to yourself even when it hurts", and his family. The final thought before the band started playing was, "Damn, when this thing is done, it can't be taken back.
    There's a lesson many of my fellow Canadians need to hear: we cannot be afraid to offend our oppressors. I mean no disrespect to these courageous men when I post this more recent, modest echo of that day.


    The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment that Changed the World is co-authored by the one and only Dave Zirin. Thanks to M@ for posting the Guardian story on G+.

    4.06.2012

    i ♥ roku

    I am absolutely gaga over Roku. This was exactly the missing piece we needed. And it all started with getting rid of Rogers cable.

    In February, I asked for help with my movie-season problem. We had been getting special treatment from Zip, but once that ended, Zip became useless again. I knew there had to be a better way. It's the 21st Century, for crissakes. Why can't we get on-demand baseball, movies, and whatever else we want to watch? First world problems? Absolutely! But that's where I live.

    In the past, no suggestions really worked for us. We couldn't get rid of cable TV, because we needed it to watch baseball. We couldn't watch baseball online, because we had a cap on our bandwidth usage. (And because of our work schedules, we had to subscribe to baseball through cable and internet!) I didn't want to watch movies via Netflix only on computer. I didn't want to buy a gaming system just to watch movies. Nothing was quite right.

    And then, everything came together.

    M@ started it all by identifying the root of the problem: the first step was to get rid of Rogers and their ridiculous bandwidth cap. Switching to TekSavvy was fast and easy. We save money, we get more, and suddenly... we have choices.

    Next, we bought two Roku devices, one for each TV. Allan drove to Buffalo to make sure we were set up for the baseball season, but they may now be shipping to Canada.

    Next, Roku began to support Netflix Canada.

    And next, Netflix Canada has hugely improved since I first checked it out. It has even improved in the last two weeks, growing by leaps and bounds.

    I thought that getting rid of cable would be slightly inconvenient, but I'd adjust. That's because I didn't know what awaited me through streaming, via Roku.

    Baseball without commercials! (At least the ones between innings.)

    Movies! And lots of them. No more waiting to see what we receive in the mail - but without having to watch on a computer, or having to hook up a computer to the TV.

    And not just movies. The small amount of TV I care about is suddenly now available on demand. Without commercials.

    And to complete the picture, if someone wanted to get around Canadian copyright restrictions - speaking hypothetically, of course - that someone could set up a VPN to access Amazon Instant Video. And then that purely hypothetical someone would have access to a full range of media, all streaming through the little marvel that is Roku.

    If you haven't seen one yet, Roku is a little black box - 3.3-inches square and just under an inch tall - that plugs into your TV. Configuring it takes five minutes, max. You can't even really call it configuring; it just picks up your wireless, and you're ready to go. In keeping with Roku's keep-it-simple approach, even the remote is minimalist.


    You choose what apps to load, some free and some for purchase. It supports MLB, NHL, NBA, and MLS games, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, Amazon Instant Video, and a bunch of other options.

    From the earliest days of Netflix DVDs-by-mail and cable Pay-Per-View, I used to wonder when we'd be able to watch any movie or any TV show, anytime we wanted, in our own homes. I just moved one giant step closer to that.

    It's completely ridiculous to be this happy over a device. I heart Roku!

    latest threat to internet freedom from u.s. corporatocracy: stop cispa

    The US Congress and its corporate partners want the right of warrantless spying on every internet user, anywhere in the world. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) would give corporations the right to collect information on our online activities and share it with the US government, without notifying us that we're being spied on, and with total immunity to lawsuits. And it would all be perfectly legal. Lovely, isn't it, what the law can do for those who control it.

    Massive public outcry stopped SOPA. Massive public outcry stopped PIPA. Now it's time to do the same for CISPA. For those of us outside the US, Avaaz has become a leading mechanism for international protest. Click here to sign the Avaaz petition to stop CISPA.

    For more info on CISPA, see these stories:

    Digital Journal: Move over SOPA & PIPA: Here comes CISPA — Internet censorship

    Wired: Internet SOPA/PIPA Revolt: Don’t Declare Victory Yet

    4.05.2012

    happy opening day

    Red Sox! Baseball! Today!

    The beginning of a new baseball season is a harbinger of spring, bringing hope, renewal, and... the end of school! In a few days, I'll be done with another term and can turn my attention back to the rest of the world, including wmtc.

    Also in a few days - Tuesday at noon, but who's counting - I'll be finished with 75% of my degree, three of four years. I'm extremely restless and eager to finish. Since starting work as a library page, I'm working hours equivalent to a full-time job, plus school, and I'm really feeling it.

    Some days I feel like I just can't do it anymore. But then I get some rest... and, as Jackson Browne said, get up and do it again, amen. Each semester is 13 weeks, and I figure I can take another 26 weeks of this.

    Meanwhile... baseball! Today!

    4.01.2012

    jason kenney kills dream of canadian immigration for 280,000 people

    Anyone who follows Canadian immigration had to see this coming, although I admit I didn't think they'd do it in one fell swoop. Just as they have done with refugee claimants, the Harper GovernmentTM created a backlog of immigration applicants... then they got rid of it.
    More than 280,000 people who have been waiting years for a decision on their immigration files could be soon be chopped from the list as the federal government moves to streamline its immigration practices.

    It’s a decision some immigration lawyers are calling a betrayal by the government that they say is changing the rules too late in the game.

    “These people have had the rug pulled out from underneath them,” said Montreal-based lawyer David Chalk.

    “The government of Canada invited people who had certain qualifications to apply, these people invested time energy and hope."

    Citizenship and Immigration Canada said it’s coping with half a decade of application backlogs by focusing efforts on skilled immigrants who can immediately fill holes in the country’s labour market.

    The change was proposed in the federal budget, presented by the Conservative government Thursday.

    If approved, the department will close files of potential immigrants who applied under the Federal Skilled Worker Program before Feb. 27, 2008 if an immigration officer did not made a decision on their case by the end of March.

    The move is expected to affect around 280,000 people, including the applicants and their dependants.
    This will please the anti-immigration crowd, but it won't help Canada. For better or worse, Canada was built by immigrants, and continues to be. The only reason Canada has population growth or economic growth is because of immigrants. Imagine that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration doesn't believe that.