zucchini abundance recipe of the day: penne with zucchini and fresh herbs

This is probably the easiest way to use zucchini from your garden, and if you're growing herbs, it's an excuse to use those, too. It's also one of those dishes that takes just about anything you like in pasta. I'm keeping it very simple, so as not to drown out the zucchini.

I use brown rice pasta. I originally tried it when we thought one of us was celiac, then it became habit. It's delicious and very healthy, but it does need the extra step of rinsing the cooked pasta. If you don't do that, the pasta will all stick together in a one big gluey mess... something I discovered painfully on my own. 

Also, if you use brown rice pasta, it's easier to use a "cut" pasta, like penne, rotini, or ditalini. Long pasta like spaghetti or linguini is more difficult to rinse properly. 

Pasta with Zucchini and Fresh Herbs

1/2 package of penne pasta 
1 large zucchini
a variety of fresh herbs, washed and shredded (I used basil, thyme, and cilantro)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated or shaved (Use good cheese! It makes a difference.)
salt & fresh black pepper to taste
olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta to just under desired doneness. When it's still a bit harder than you want it, remove the pasta from the heat and pour into colander. If you're using rice pasta, rinse it well with cold water, stirring the pasta with a wooden spoon as you rinse. Drain well.

While the water is heating and the pasta is cooking, slice the zucchini lengthwise, then slice each half lengthwise again, so you have four spears. Then slice each spear, so you have triangles. 

Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet. Add garlic and let it cook a bit. Add zucchini and herbs. Cook for a minute or two.

Add pasta to skillet, add salt and pepper as desired, and continue cooking until the pasta and zucchini are both at desired doneness, tender but not mushy.

Spoon into pasta bowls and top with grated cheese.

One large zucchini nicely covered half a bag of pasta, for dinner for two people.


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #15! one that makes me very happy!

The conversation was simple enough.

Teenage girl: "Where is the nonfiction?"

Me: "Nonfiction is upstairs, but it's organized according to subject. There should be some nonfiction books on the Bingo display."

Teen: "I think they're all gone."

Me: "OK, we'll find you something. What would you like to read about?"

Teen: "So far I've read one nonfiction book. It was about a man who left the war in Iraq. It was called The Deserter's Tale. I loved it."


Why did this make me so unreasonably happy?

1. War resisters! Teens reading about moral choices! Teens reading about conscientious objection to war! I always include Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale in my youth nonfiction displays. But I've never gotten feedback on it before! And she didn't just read it, she loved it!

2. One of my missions at the library is to offer nonfiction to teen readers. There is no special youth nonfiction section, and I'm trying to informally create one. This is a sign that it's working!

3. No one likes to re-fill the nonfiction on the Summer Reading Bingo display because it means going upstairs and hunting for books. It's not that library staff is lazy; it's that we're all so pressed for time, and a trip to a different floor to find books feels too burdensome for most people (given most staff don't have a strong motivation to get teens reading nonfiction). So I refill the nonfiction on the Bingo display pretty much by myself. And it was all gone from the display! It was only five or six books, but they were all gone! All! Gone!

4. And a teen asked for more!

If you're curious about Summer Reading Bingo: teens read books in different categories, write short (1-2 sentence) reviews, and win prizes - which are usually donated books or advanced reading copies from publishers. It's a great way to keep teens reading all summer. You can see it here.

the decision "you'll regret for the rest of your life": the reality gap in fictional abortions

The conversation around the movie "Obvious Child" has prompted me to re-visit a long-standing interest of mine, one I share with many other reproductive rights activists: the portrayal of abortion in the mainstream media.

I haven't seen "Obvious Child" (I wait for DVD or Netflix, as always), but I've heard that it includes a rarity: an honest and positive portrayal of the choice to terminate a pregnancy. Considering how many women do have abortions - and considering that the choice is usually met with relief and happiness - this shouldn't be exceptional. Yet it is.

On fictional TV shows and movies, when women are faced with unwanted pregnancies, certain outcomes are almost predictable. Sometimes abortion is never mentioned as an option, as if it simply does not exist. More often, abortion is mentioned briefly, contemplated with horror, and cast aside.

In soaps, a spontaneous abortion (usually known by the antiquated term miscarriage) often settles the question. Horseback riding is good for this, as is a fall down a flight of steps. Somehow no bones are broken but the pregnancy disappears. In movies, women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant often contemplate abortion, can't go through with it, and are converted into happy motherhood. "Save the Date" is a good recent example of this, although the ambiguous ending leaves the happy outcome to the viewer's imagination.

And there's the question of what happens after abortion is chosen. Depression, and death by either murder or suicide, or general psychotic outbursts, are not uncommon.

Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health - a project of the University of California, San Francisco - looked at every single instance of abortion in fictional movies and TV shows, and compared them to reality. They're still working on the project, but you can click here to see an infographic of their results so far. Such as this.

I don't know if most producers and screenwriters know this is twaddle but fear the reprisals of anti-choice activism, or if living in a world of media fiction has misled them to actually believe this stuff. Or perhaps they are simply creating drama, the way TV detective mysteries have practically invented the psychotic female murderer. (Yes, they exist, but they're relatively rare. Except on TV.) Either way, abortions in movies and TV often end up tinged with anti-abortion propaganda.

In reality, the most common feeling for women to experience post-abortion is relief. It's over, and she can move on with her life.

This is not to say there isn't, for some women, sadness or wistfulness or some measure of regret. Sometimes no choice is really what you want. I've known women - and perhaps you have, too, or perhaps this has been your experience - who would have liked to have another child, but knew that in good conscience they could not. Either she couldn't afford another child, or her life was too unstable, or her marriage was breaking up, or what have you. She thought it would be wonderful to have another baby, but not now, not given her current circumstances. So she chose abortion, all the while wishing she didn't have to. So there's a measure of regret, but the choice is freely made.

Often, though, there is only relief, pure and simple. An unwanted pregnancy is a horrific experience. The bottom drops out of your world until it's taken care of.

But don't take my word for it. How can we be sure that an exception like "Obvious Child" is actually a more honest portrayal? From every study that's ever been done.

The Guttmacher Institute compared women's emotions one week after terminating a pregnancy to the emotions of women who were denied abortions.
Context: The notion that abortion causes poor mental health has gained traction, even though it is not supported by research. Few studies have comprehensively investigated women's postabortion emotions.

Methods: Baseline data from a longitudinal study of women seeking abortion at 30 U.S. facilities between 2008 and 2010 were used to examine emotions among 843 women who received an abortion just prior to the facility's gestational age limit, were denied an abortion because they presented just beyond the gestational limit or obtained a first-trimester abortion. ...

Results: Compared with women who obtained a near-limit abortion, those denied the abortion felt more regret and anger ... and less relief and happiness. ... Among women who had obtained the abortion, the greater the extent to which they had planned the pregnancy or had difficulty deciding to seek abortion, the more likely they were to feel primarily negative emotions.... Most (95%) women who had obtained the abortion felt it was the right decision, as did 89% of those who expressed regret.

Conclusions: Difficulty with the abortion decision and the degree to which the pregnancy had been planned were most important for women's postabortion emotional state. Experiencing negative emotions postabortion is different from believing that abortion was not the right decision.
(This research is incorrectly credited to the University of California San Francisco, in many online stories.)

A similar study by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in the UK reviewed all studies about the emotional effects of abortion that had been published in English between 1990 and 2011.
- Unwanted pregnancy increases a woman’s risk of problems with her mental health.

- A woman with an unwanted pregnancy is as likely to have mental health problems from abortion as she is from giving birth.

- A woman with a history of mental health problems before abortion is more likely to have mental health problems after abortion.

- Circumstances, conditions, behaviors, and other factors associated with mental health problems are similar for women following abortion and women following childbirth.

- Pressure from a partner to terminate a pregnancy, negative attitudes about abortion, and negative attitudes about a woman’s experience of abortion may increase a woman’s risk of mental health problems after abortion.
Of course, in terms of reproductive and human rights, it doesn't matter if a woman regrets having an abortion. Human beings must own their own bodies, and must be free to decide whether, if, and when to bear children. Like all life decisions, reproductive decisions come with a risk of regret. As free people, that's our risk and our potential consequence to bear. When it comes to bringing a life into the world, I know I'd rather regret not having a baby than regret having one. Most of all, though, I insist on having the choice.


zucchini abundance recipe of the day: zucchini fritters

Apparently if you grow zucchini, you have too much of it.

Being new gardeners, we didn't know how prolific our one zucchini plant would be, or the insane quantities - and size! - of the vegetables it would produce. And those leaves! They're gigantic and there's so many of them! It's been a source of wonder and amusement.

We've cut back the leaves several times, as they're crowding out the herbs and the eggplant. And of course cutting back just makes the plant produce even more. I remember that much from my indoor planting days.

There's no shortage of recipes online offering ideas and advice on how to use your surplus zucchini, including several suggestions of leaving some on a neighbour's porch. So although there's no need, I'm going to add mine to the pile. My recipes are all adapted from what I've found online, usually a combination of ideas I find in two or three places, tweaked to our own tastes and cooking style.

Zucchini Fritters

1 huge zucchini, grated or shredded in food processor
Some salt 
1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 or more cloves of garlic, minced
1 egg, beaten
A little ground black pepper (if you've used seasoned bread crumbs, try not adding more salt)
Olive oil

Place shredded zucchini in a colander in the sink and salt lightly. Zucchini has a lot of moisture and this helps get some of it out. (Some people leave salted zucchini for hours or even overnight to leech out the moisture. So far I've found this is both unnecessary and too salty.)

While the zucchini is sitting with the salt, combine all other ingredients except olive oil in a large bowl.

Rince the zucchini, drain it well, and pat it dry with a cheesecloth or paper towels. Add the zucchini to the bowl with the other ingredients and combine well.

Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet on a medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, scoop spoonfuls of the mixture into the skillet. Flatten each scoop with a spatula.

Cook 2-3 minutes until the underside looks golden brown, then flip them over and cook 2-3 minutes on the other side. We like these kinds of things very well done, so I continued cooking them until they had a crisp brown exterior.

Serve and eat them right away, while they're sizzling hot. Most people probably would serve these with sour cream or yogurt. I prefer mine with no sauce or condiments, as I do most food. Super yummy. 

One huge zucchini yielded about 15 small fritters.


this year's mini garden and a mini pupdate

This year's garden-ette is completely out of control! In a very good way. Here's June.

And here's today.

No idea what I'm going to do with all the zucchini. Neither of us bakes, so zucchini bread and muffins are not an option. Guess I'd better start Googling...

This eggplant is tiny right now, but I suppose soon I'll need those recipes, too.

Random Diego pic.

And because you're never too old to be a puppy, Tala recently fell in love with an empty peanut butter jar. No idea why.

happy blogiversary to wmtc

This month - July 11, 2014 - I have been blogging for 10 years. Ten years!

I clearly remember telling Allan I was considering beginning a blog about emigrating to Canada. He thought it was a great idea.

July 11, 2004. I was working weekends at my (incredibly easy, wildly overpaid) job at Most Evil Corporate Law Firm. Our applications had been submitted, and we were waiting.

August 30, 2015 will be the 10-year anniversary of our move to Canada, but I felt the 10-year anniversary of wmtc was worth a mention. Thanks for being part of what I love* about blogging.

* Or hate, in some cases


israel slaughters palestinians, pays for online propaganda, and north americans gobble up the bait

I've been trying to write about Israel's latest slaughter of Palestinian people ever since the hideous spectacle began, without results. I post little bits of horror and disgust on Facebook, but can't sustain anything worth posting here. Because... what is there to say?

A mighty military power unleashes deadly force against a civilian population. Some people within that population have dared to use violence to resist their own oppression. Therefore the entire population must be terrorized, hundreds murdered, thousands maimed, lives destroyed.

Another great military power and a second-tier military wannaberush to the defense of the military power, and anyone who speaks out against it is accused of bigotry. People who normally would recoil at such warmongering are silent, or, incredibly, call the slaughter defense.

It's a topsy-turvy world.

In the US, if you don't blindly support, without question, every single military action perpetrated by the government, you are accused of being unpatriotic, not "supporting the troops", even of siding with "the enemy". If you don't do the same about Israel's military actions, you are accused of being anti-Semitic.

The parallels are not surprising. What I do find astonishing is how many normally progressive American Jews fall for this bullshit. "Both sides are wrong," they whine. "Hamas used rockets." Rockets?? You see an equivalence between a hand-fired rocket and the force of the second-largest military on the planet? When black South Africans threw rocks at the riot-shielded apartheid army, did you say "both sides are wrong"?

"Israel has a right to defend itself," they say. "It cannot tolerate terrorism." I wonder, do you support retaliation for all victims of terrorism? If the Iraqi people, if the Afghan people, could somehow launch air strikes against your town, would you shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, the US started it. Iraq has a right to defend itself."?

Or are you still hiding behind accusations of anti-Semitism? You've heard anti-Semitic statements! Oh my! Keep defending the slaughter of civilians. That will help.

I don't see or hear anti-Semitism in anti-Israeli activism. But if there is anti-Semitic rhetoric coming from some pro-Palestinian people, can you rightly tell me that such words justify slaughter? Will you continue to support the murder of civilians, because someone has said words that offend you?

My friend David C, who used to blog here, tells me that online comment sections have been deluged by wildly over-the-top accusations of anti-Semitism.
What is going on is just insane. Doctors without Borders had a Facebook post that simply called for Israel to show restraint and gets flooded with angry comments accusing the organization of politicizing the tragedy. Amnesty International calls both sides to calm down on its Facebook page and again got deluged with angry comments. The reason even though it was calling out both sides? Amnesty used a photo of a Palestinian woman wailing, not an Israeli. That apparently is tantamount to anti-Semitism.
That flood of commentary is not coincidental, nor indicative of public opinion: it is organized propaganda.
Israel has announced it will pay university students to circulate pro-Israeli information on social media networks, without having to identify themselves as working for the government.

The move was publicised in a statement from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, the Associated Press reported. Students will receive scholarships to "engage international audiences online" and combat anti-Semitism and calls to boycott Israel, it was alleged.

In 2012, a Palestinian-run blog reported similar arrangements between the National Union of Israeli Students and the Israeli government. Students would be paid $2,000 to post pro-Israel messages online for five hours a week.

According to Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, the most recent proposition is being spearheaded by Danny Seaman, who was slammed by the media for writing anti-Muslim messages on Facebook.

Students will be organised into units at each university, with a chief co-ordinator who receives a full scholarship, three desk co-ordinators for language, graphics and research who receive lesser scholarships and students termed “activists” who will receive a “minimal scholarship”, the Independent reported.
See also: "Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda" (The Independent), and "Prime Minister's Office recruiting students to wage online hasbara battles; PMO and national student union to create covert units at universities to engage in diplomacy via social media; unit heads to receive full scholarships" (Haaretz). (Again, thanks to David C; I would have missed this.)

The latest war on Gaza has led me back to some old wmtc posts, and the interesting discussions that followed.

From 2013:

my journey to palestinian solidarity and the myth of the self-hating jew, part 1

my journey to palestinian solidarity and the myth of the self-hating jew, part 2

my journey to palestinian solidarity and the myth of the self-hating jew, part 3 and final

From 2010:

a simple lesson: how to tell the difference between hatred of a people and criticism of a nation's policies

* That's Canada, by the way.


upcycling with teens at the library

My summer youth programs have been going really well. Attendance has increased with each program - first 7, then 13, then 15 - and yesterday we hit the jackpot with 23 teens. We actually had to turn away three kids without tickets, as our program room was so packed with people and materials.

I wasn't planning on blogging about individual programs, but there seems to be some interest. Plus, since I regularly Google for ideas for programs and displays, I'm happy to give back by adding to the ideas out there.

Upcycling was a huge hit! For those not familiar with the term, upcycling is an expression for taking an item that would normally be thrown in the trash or in the recycling bin and creating something useful or decorative from it - moving it "up," figuratively, in the lifecycle of the product.

I like to begin programs with a bit of context, and to immediately get the teens engaged. This is not difficult to do: I structure a brief introduction in the form of questions.

First, I asked if someone could explain what "upcycling" means. I got exactly the definition I wrote above.

Next, I said that I could think of two ways that upcycling is good for the environment and for the earth. Can someone tell me one way? One of the teens said, "It removes something from the waste stream, so all the energy that it would take to recycle the item - to break it down and re-form it - isn't used. Or if the thing is not recyclable, it keeps it out of landfill." Exactly!

And lastly, I asked if anyone could think of another way upcycling is good for the environment. A third teen said, "It helps us consume less. Instead of buying something new, we re-use something we already have." Smart kids, eh?

So after that little intro, we showed some samples made by an artistic colleague of mine who worked on this program with me: a milk carton change pouch, tin-can caddies, and pen or pencil holders made from plastic tubes. (The tubes are the rollers inside the paper that library slips are printed on. We generate zillions of them.)

I had a few YouTube videos and some Pinterest pages cued up on the projector, and we watched some of the ideas in action. I told the teens that I found all these ideas online, I didn't think of them myself.

I also tell them that I'm not very artistic or crafty. I just like to try new things and to create something. I always emphasize that whatever they make today doesn't have to win a prize or look like something you would see in a store, because the only way to learn how to do something is to fool around and learn what works.

Then I give a few ground rules, something like... If you haven't done a DIY program with me before, here's how it works. There are lots and lots of different materials at various stations around the room. Help yourselves to anything you see, and if you think of something you could use that you don't see, ask us, we might be able to get it for you from our craft supplies. You are free to create anything you wish, using any combination of materials. The samples are examples - you can re-create those, or add to them, or do something entirely different. I say a few words about safety - wear gloves when using hot-glue guns, no more than two people at a glue gun station at a time - and we're off.

It was a huge success. We practically had to kick them out of the room to clean up. Here's how I know for sure that it worked: several teens asked if there were other programs like this, and could they come back for more.

Here are some pics of the kinds of things we made.


nadine gordimer, 1923-2014

Nadine Gordimer was a great writer, and a steadfast voice for justice.

Gordimer, a white South African, was a member of the African National Congress when the organization itself was illegal. Several of her novels, which explored the affects of apartheid on those who lived it, were similarly banned.

Gordimer was a courageous woman, an outspoken intellectual, and a writer for whom art and politics became inseparable. She lived life on her own terms, and died at the old age of 90. Despite that, her passing feels like a great loss to the world.

Nadine Gordimer's obituary in The Guardian, and The New York Times.

tommy ramone, and how can it be the ramones are gone from this world?

Back-to-back obituaries again. Obits are taking up a large percentage of wmtc real estate these days, yet another indication of how little I'm writing.

The passing of Thomas Erdelyi this week, better known as Tommy Ramone, brings an uncomfortable reminder of mortality for people my age and younger: the last surviving original Ramone.

Like a lot of people, I discovered the Ramones in a kind of backwards fashion, through the Clash and other great British punk and new wave bands. No matter how many times I've read and heard that these guys from Queens were a heavy influence on British punk, to me it always seemed the other way around.

The Ramones, perhaps more than any other band, embodied the true spirit of punk. So strange that they are gone.

Tommy Ramone, 1949-2014


what i'm reading: the spirit catches you and you fall down, truly excellent nonfiction

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong child, her American doctors, and the collision of two cultures by Anne Fadiman contains dozens of passages that I'd like to share. My library copy is shamefully dog-eared, and I intend to buy a copy of the book for my bookshelf. But I'll restrain myself and will share only a single anecdote, related in the early pages, which drew me in.
In an intermediate French class at Merced College a few years ago, the students were assigned a five-minute oral report, to be delivered in French. The second student to stand up in front of the class was a young Hmong man. His chosen topic was a recipe for la soupe de poisson: Fish Soup. To prepare Fish Soup, he said, you must have a fish, and in order to have a fish, you have to go fishing. In order to go fishing, you need a hook, and in order to choose the right hook, you need to know whether the fish you are fishing for lives in fresh or salt water, how big it is, and what shape its mouth is. Continuing in this vein for forty-five minutes, the student filled the blackboard with a complexly branching tree of factors and options, a sort of piscatory flowchart, written in French with an overlay of Hmong. He also told several anecdotes about his own fishing experiences. He concluded with a description of how to clean various kinds of fish, how to cut them up, and, finally, how to cook them in broths flavoured with various herbs. When the class period ended, he told the other students that he hoped he had provided enough information, and he wished them good luck in preparing Fish Soup in the Hmong manner.

The professor of French who told me this story said, "Fish Soup. That's the essence of the Hmong."
Fish Soup is also a good metaphor for this book, as Fadiman untangles a complexity of threads that caused "the collision of cultures" of the book's subtitle.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is the story of Lia Lee, a Hmong child with epilepsy, the many people who were responsible for her care - her parents and a large contingent of extremely dedicated doctors, nurses, social workers, and others, and the extreme cultural misunderstandings that compromise and obstruct that care.

It is also a work of anthropology and sociology, an ethnography (that is, an in-depth description of a culture) of the Hmong people, whose worldview and practices are radically different than any in modern society. Most Westerners know very little, if anything, about Hmong culture, and I found this aspect of the book fascinating.

The book is also a history: of the Hmong people, and of their participation in the American wars in Southeast Asia, in which they played a crucial, unacknowledged role, and which ultimately left them victimized, traumatized, and dislocated almost beyond imagining. (When thinking about The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, I am constantly reaching for words like unbelievable and incredible, not only as expressions of amazement, but almost as literal truth.)

Fadiman alternates between the history/ethnography and Lia's medical story. This structure builds suspense for Lia's story and prevents the history chapters from becoming tedious or overwhelming. The conflict at the heart of this story is complex and not easily unpacked. Piece by piece, Fadiman lays out the puzzle for the reader.

* * * *

From Lia's very first seizure, the conflict begins. The first seizure is brief, and by the time Lia's parents arrive at the hospital with their daughter, it has passed. The hospital has no Hmong interpreters, and Lia's parents cannot communicate what has happened, but is no longer apparent. And so Lia is misdiagnosed. Lia's parents are sent home with medication and instructions that they cannot read or understand.

What's more, Lia's parents view their child's condition partly as an illness, and partly as a sign of a special spiritual state. For the Hmong, medical practices are also religious, and religious practices involve medicine and healing rituals. Based on their understanding of the world, passed down from generation to generation over thousands of years, Lia's parents strongly object to many forms of treatment.

With one of Lia's siblings, herself a child, pressed into service as a translator, and most Western medical concepts having no Hmong equivalent, Lia's parents rarely understand the doctors' questions or instructions. The time-honoured Hmong way of dealing with such incomprehension or distrust of authority figures is to nod and say yes.

As Lia's condition worsens, the doctors prescribe ever more complicated medication regimens, further reducing the parents' ability and willingness to cope. Over time, Lia's parents would come to believe that their daughter's doctors were worsening or even causing her condition.

Everyone wants what's best for Lia, but without trust and with little or no communication, the medical staff and Lia's parents are in constant conflict. Before Lia reaches the age of five, she has been at the hospital more than 100 times, and has been admitted 17 times.

At one point, Lia is placed in foster care, an absolutely heartbreaking situation which almost kills her mother, and is so traumatic that Lia's highly experienced, loving foster mother advocates for the family to be reunited. Ironically, a doctor who is considered inexpert is able to break Lia's downward spiral by greatly simplifying her medication routine.

For the Hmong family, cultural traits that once had enabled them to survive, such as an extreme distrust of authority, or the propensity to have huge families, are, in this new context, maladaptive, even dooming. The medical staff sees Lia's parents as intractable, ungrateful, stupid, and maddeningly stubborn.

For the medical team, actions that are caring, unselfish, even heroic, end up poisoning relationships and endangering health, even putting Lia's life at risk. Talented, dedicated doctors, unaccustomed to being ignored or defied - especially by patients who are poor, illiterate refugees - find their efforts utterly thwarted. Lia's parents sees them as dangerous dictators who must be placated but ignored.

This is not a story of low-income, non-English-speaking people who were denied quality medical care. Quite the opposite. The family receives the services of huge numbers of people, all at no cost. Doctors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists lose sleep and become physically ill from the tensions of trying to provide care for people who reject it.

Nor is this a story of neglectful parents, clinging to old-world folkways or insisting that prayer will cure their child. It's hard to imagine parents investing more time in a child's comfort and welfare than Lia Lee's parents did for her.

And despite both these truths, Lia's condition worsens.

It's as if the medical staff was attempting to force a Hmong family through a narrow funnel called Western Medicine. The only way the family could have fit through that bottleneck would be to cut off their own heads. If you've ever wondered what "culturally sensitive medical practices" would look like - or if you've scoffed at the idea, believing that medicine is medicine, no matter who the patient - this book will be very illuminating.

Throughout, Fadiman maintains tremendous respect for all the actors in this complex drama, and views them all with compassion, yet with enough objectivity that the reader gets a clear picture. As a writer, I was awed by the amount of research this book represents, and by Fadiman's unerring ability to translate a huge amount of information in a lively and compelling way.

* * * *

The obvious and catastrophic mistakes chronicled in this book are not made by doctors, nor by Lia's parents. They are made by governments.

The Hmong didn't want to come to the United States, Canada, or any of the many countries in which they were re-settled. They wanted to live as they had, in peace and isolation, an isolated ethnic group in Southeast Asia, a people without a country. The Hmong were uprooted and devastated by war and its aftermath, then again by the incredibly inept ways in which they were resettled, a recipe for disaster which added trauma on top of (those words again) almost incredible trauma. Once in the US, the Hmong (like most refugees) have been vilified, hated, and subjected to bigotry. But because they vehemently resist assimilation - just as they resisted imperialism and forced assimilation for thousands of years - this racism can be intensified and prolonged.

Fadiman finds instances where Western intervention was filtered through a culturally Hmong lens, with brilliant results. When a healthcare worker in a refugee camp organizes a vaccination pageant, compliance rises from zero to complete success. When a resettlement agency is able to give a small group of Hmong a plot of rural land, within two years the community is self-sufficient - while the Hmong resettled in modern urban environments languish on public assistance and fare more poorly than almost any other immigrant group. Sadly, these positive solutions were extremely time-consuming and labour-intensive, and depended on the unusual involvement of one dedicated, resourceful organizer, making them all but impossible to replicate.

Researching online, I've learned that several medical schools have adopted The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down as a required text for their medical ethics classes. The book has also led to changed medical practices in the state of California and elsewhere. You can read more about that here; the link contains spoilers that I have tried to avoid in this post.


federal court again rules in favour of health care and basic decency, against radical harper agenda

A few days ago, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that the Harper Government's denial of health care to refugee claimants from certain countries is unconstitutional and cannot stand.
In a surprisingly strongly worded statement Friday, the federal court ruled Ottawa’s cutbacks to health-care coverage for refugee claimants are unconstitutional because they constitute “cruel and unusual” treatment.

The decision was quickly lauded by many, including the Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and Justice for Children and Youth — groups that, along with two refugee claimants, challenged the law.
Of course the Government plans to appeal, but the decision will be difficult to overturn. The Government and its complicit media partners can lie to the public - fabricated stories of refugee claimants who supposedly receive better health care than Canadians, calling refugees whose claims are rejected by the Government "bogus" - but hoodwinking the court is another matter.

My comrade Dr. J at your heart's on the left reminds us that this excellent court decision did not materialize from the rarified air of chambers and black robes. It is the direct result of people organizing on the ground.
More than two years of mobilizing have pushed the Federal Court to reject the Conservatives’ cuts to refugee health. This should encourage further mobilizing to reverse the cuts and challenge the broader agenda.

In April 2012 then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program, beginning in June of that year. The government claimed that the cuts would promote fairness, save money and protect public health — but the cuts did the exact opposite.

There was immediate condemnation by health providers—including an open letter, occupation, interruptions of Tory press conferences, and demonstrations across the country. These led the government to quietly reverse some of the cuts, but this only created more confusion.

Health providers warned that these cuts would harm refugees and scapegoat them for other healthcare cuts. As Dr. Mark Tyndall said at an Ottawa press conference in 2012, "the government has used this issue to divide Canadians, pitting those who are dissatisfied with their own health coverage against refugees. Canadians are smarter than this. This is an attack on our entire healthcare system."

A year after the cuts there were already dozens of documented cases of refugees being denied essential medical care. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers launched a constitutional challenge, and there was a second annual day of action across the country against the cuts.

The mobilizations pushed some provinces to say they would step in and provide care—throwing the new Immigration Minister Chris Alexander into a temper tantrum about making Canada “a magnet for bogus asylum seekers.” But the reality of the cuts has continued to emerge. According to the study “The Cost and Impact of the Interim Federal Health Program Cuts on Child Refugees in Canada”: “After the implementation of funding cuts, the admission rate of refugee children increased from 6.4% to 12.0%...Shifts in the levels of health care access (hospital to primary-based care or vice-versa) due to affordability and administrative hurdles may make the vulnerable refugee population sicker, eventually leading to overall increase in healthcare costs.”

Court decision
This June was the third annual day of action against cuts to refugee health, and now the Federal Court has reflected public opinion.
The ruling itself, written by Justice Anne Mactavish, alludes to the effect of public opinion on the court.
The 2012 modifications to the [Interim Federal Health Program] potentially jeopardize the health, the safety and indeed the very lives, of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages Canadian standards of decency.
Advocates for public health care, human rights, and refugees hail this decision as both just and important.
“It is a good day for pregnant refugee women and sick refugee children who have been picked on and bullied for over two years by the federal Conservative government,” said Berger, who believes the government’s cuts had been “devastating.”

The Federal Court decision “makes clear that a government cannot deliberately subject human beings to physical and emotional suffering as a means of punishing them for seeking refugee protection,” said Audrey Macklin, professor and chair in human rights law at the University of Toronto, and executive member of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

“With today’s decision, the Federal Court has recognized that the government’s cuts to refugee health care violate the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, without any lawful justification,” said Lorne Waldman, lead counsel on the case and president of the lawyers association.
This decision also further extends what is being called "the federal government's court-case losing streak," but which is more properly thought of as a legal bulwark against the worst excesses of the Government's radical agenda.

Earlier coverage of this issue on wmtc: here, here, here, here, here, here.


summer, teens, the library, and me

Yesterday was my first summer program at the library. Attendance was low, but very keen. An artist and activist (who happens to be a friend of mine from the war resisters movement) led a workshop I called "Comix that Save the World". We explored the use of the comics form to express larger social concerns. It was so much fun, the teens were so into it, that I'm thinking of expanding it to an ongoing series, where kids could really develop something.

The summer at Mississauga Central Library will be packed with programs for teens - sometimes as many as three a week - and all are free. 

Mondays are special events with presenters, held in our lovely glass pavilion that faces Celebration Square. Wednesdays are DIY days, put on by yours truly with another staff member to assist. And every Friday is Game Day, where teens hang out and play board games and video games. That one is presented by our "TAG", the teen advisory group, who earn volunteer hours by planning and presenting events. 

The challenge for me and others who are involved in children's and teen programming is that our busiest time coincides with many staff vacations, so staffing is at a minimum. Just when I need maximum time not spent behind the information desk, I'm doing exactly the opposite, spending twice as much time at the desk as I normally do. 

It can be a bit stressful. And super busy. Sometimes it's exhausting. But it's also super fun. (It will be a lot more fun in a few weeks, when my colleagues are finished with their vacations.)

Here's the lineup.

Monday events:
-“Why didn’t anyone tell me that?” Peer-to-peer university prep. Chat with UTM students who recently made the transition to university.
- "What’s On Your Mind?" Improv, movement games, and self-expression with the Youth Troopers for Global Awareness.
- Green Wheels: bring your bike to the library for a summer tune up! Safe riding, basic maintenance, and more, by City of Mississauga’s Transportation and Works Department. 
- A Day at the Spa: free hand massage, manicure, and henna, with Everest College aesthetics students. 

Wednesday DIY:
- Comix That Save The World (activist comics)
- Stop-Motion Movie Making
- Upcycling: make beautiful and useful objects out of trash
- Bookmarks and Book Art 
- Create Your Own E-Book (Storybird.com)
- Chalk It Up! Button It! Turn notebooks into chalkboards, make personalized buttons. 
- Operation Frankentoy! Toy Hacking

And Friday Game Days.

sometimes knowing your rights is all it takes: in which we win our landlord battle

We won! And we won so easily, we're left scratching our heads and asking, "What just happened?"

As you'll recall, our landlord asked for an illegal rent increase - 10.5% when the legal allowable is 0.8%! - and implied that he would resort to dirty tricks if we didn't pay.

We did our homework, checked and double-checked that this home does not fall through a serious loophole in Ontario rent laws. We crafted an email with just the right tone - straightforward and firm, but with nothing that could be considered belligerent.

When he received our email, he asked when he could come over to discuss it. Part of me felt like shooting back, "There's nothing to discuss!"... but we successfully ignored that (younger, more volatile) self, and made an appointment.

Waiting to speak with him was nerve-wracking! We vowed we wouldn't negotiate or be intimidated, that we wouldn't agree to any increase over the legal one, and also that we wouldn't be baited into an argument, but instead would insist that anything further be brought to the Landlord-Tenant Board.

When Landlord came over, he immediately went to work repairing a broken light fixture - something he had tried to get us to take care of, even though it was clearly his responsibility. We were surprised... and wary.

Then we sat down, and he said, "What do you want to do?"

We were completely confused. "What do we want to do?"

"I'm a reasonable guy," he said. "I don't want to drag this out. I might not know all the details. You tell me something. I listen. So, what do you want to do?"

I said we want to renew our lease. Allan said he'd like no rent increase, but we understood that he could raise the rent this percentage in 2014, and this other percentage in 2015. So that's what we want: a new lease that is within the law.

Landlord: "I asked you last time I was here, do you have any questions? You said, no. Then I get your email. So I wanted to come over and finish this up right away."

Neither of us remember him ever asking that. But no matter. I said, "We were very surprised. We had to look into it."

"Yes, that's fine. So let's finish this up right now."

We went over the terms of the new lease, how we would work our new security deposit, and that was that.

It was as if the veiled semi-threats - the cash-only, undocumented increase, the implication that he could refuse to rent to us, the mysterious "other people" who offered him several hundred dollars more per month - had never happened. As if he had never said, "The rent will be $200 more a month," and when we balked, implied that we had no choice.

So what happened? I think he was trying to see what he could get away with. When we asserted our rights - when he saw we knew the law and were prepared to protect ourselves - he backed off. He's not a stupid man. Maybe he realized that the Landlord-Tenant Board would never rule in his favour, so fighting it would be a lot of work for nothing.

One other unknown variable was the presence of Mrs. Landlord during the first conversation. Was he showing off in front of her, playing the tough landlord? Was she the driving force behind the illegal rent increase? She did imply we broke the light fixture. (In fact, she questioned why we needed to change the light bulb!)

We'll never know what really happened. But here's the big lesson. If we had not known our rights and asserted them, we would be paying $200 more in rent every month, or we would have had to move. Instead, we are paying $15 more per month for the remainder of this year, and $30 more per month in 2015. Know your rights!