things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #21

Visibly anxious and upset customer: Can you please help me? Something is wrong with this computer!

I go over to take a look. The public computer is still starting up, and Internet Explorer (sadly, the default browser) is slowly opening.

Me (pointing to the Chrome icon on the taskbar): Let's try this browser instead. You'll find it's better than Internet Explorer.

Visibly anxious customer: No! I can't! I have to use the internet!

Me: I understand. This is also the internet. It's a different browser - a different tool for accessing the internet. Most people find it works better.

I help her open Chrome, and show her where to start, and return to the information desk. A few minutes later...

VAC: I can't use this computer! It's broken! I can't use this computer!

Me: All right, you're free to use any available computer. Why don't you log in to this one?

I stick around while she gets started, then return to the information desk. Fortunately, she is only steps away.

VAC: Can you help me?! Something is wrong! This isn't working! Can you help me?!

Me: What are you trying to do?

VAC: I always go to Sears.ca and I see my paystub. It's not working!

Me: Right now you're at Sears.ca, which is a public website, where people can buy products from Sears. The site where you see your paystub must have more to it. Perhaps Sears.ca slash... something?

VAC: No! No! Sears.ca! I go to Sears.ca and see my paystub! I do it all the time! It is Sears.ca!

Me: Here we are at Sears.ca. It's a website for shopping at Sears. There must be more to the address than that.

VAC: No! Look! Here it is on this paper! Look! My-dot-Sears-dot-CA.

Me: So what you need is my.Sears.ca. Let's do that.

We do. The site she is expecting loads.

Me: Do you know how to log in here?

VAC: Yes, of course I do! I do it all the time! Go away! Go away!

Me: Uh... ok. I'm at the desk if you need me.

rest in power, daniel berrigan and michael ratner

The world lost two great fighters for peace and justice this past week.

Daniel Berrigan was a lifelong peace activist, a man who was ready and willing to put his body and soul on the line. He was a writer, a thinker, a pacifist, an idealist, a pragmatist, and a priest.

Berrigan was also a leader, someone who, early on, helped make visible the connections between racism, poverty, war, and capitalism. He became a leading figure in the peace movement during the Vietnam War. Naturally, he was on the FBI's "most wanted" list and served time in prison.

Later in his life, Berrigan founded the Plowshares Movement, which used daring acts of civil disobedience to draw a spotlight on the US's nuclear arsenal.

Here are two pieces from The New Yorker celebrating Berrigan.
James Carroll remembers his "dangerous friend".

Eric Schlosser remembers how "a handful of a handful of pacifists and nuns exposed the vulnerability of America’s nuclear-weapons sites": Break-In at Y-12.
Following in the giant footsteps of Dorothy Day, Berrigan's life and work demonstrates that religion can be a positive force for social change.

Michael Ratner's life and work also defies stereotype: he was a lawyer who spent his entire career defending the scorned, the falsely accused, the scapegoated. He was a trailblazer who pioneered the use of the law to champion human rights. Long ago, when I contemplated going to law school, I dreamt of Michael Ratner as my role model.

Democracy Now! devoted an entire program to the celebration of Ratner's life and work.
The trailblazing human rights attorney Michael Ratner has died at the age of 72. For over four decades, Michael Ratner defended, investigated and spoke up for victims of human rights abuses across the world. He served as the longtime head of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Attorney David Cole told The New York Times, "Under his leadership, the center grew from a small but scrappy civil rights organization into one of the leading human rights organizations in the world. He sued some of the most powerful people in the world on behalf of some of the least powerful."

In 2002, the center brought the first case against the George W. Bush administration for the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo. The Supreme Court eventually sided with the center in a landmark 2008 decision when it struck down the law that stripped Guantánamo prisoners of their habeas corpus rights. Ratner began working on Guantánamo in the 1990s, when he fought the first Bush administration’s use of the military base to house Haitian refugees.
I can't begin to do justice to either of these men, but I didn't want their deaths to go unnoticed on this blog. Their passing saddens me and their lives inspire me.

hooray for tala

Tala is doing great! Of course she was exhausted and a bit wobbly when she came home, but now she's well rested and back to herself. And she looks a whole lot better without a disgusting, oozing tumour sticking out of her side! More importantly, there's a 75% chance the cancer won't come back.

Look how thick her fur is! The doc said this will take a long time to grow back.

She doesn't need the Cone of Silence* this time, but the surgeon recommended she wear a t-shirt to keep protect the incision site. Tala accepts it with grace.

*  I much prefer the vintage TV reference to the what most people seem to call it, the Cone of Shame. The surgery clinic calls it an E-collar, which makes me think both of some sort of digital device, and of E. coli.


in which i ride an emotional roller coaster and get off at the top

Short version: Tala has had surgery and has a very good chance of remaining cancer-free. Whoo-hoo!

It's been a crazy couple of days. Monday afternoon we hear the biopsy results. Tuesday morning we have X-rays done. Our vet recommends a top surgeon who is in the area. She has a cancellation, that very afternoon!

I cancel plans at work, and we rush over. The surgeon is amazing, explaining everything clearly and in great detail. Tala has already been fasted for the X-rays, so even though the surgeon still has another emergency to take care of, she's going to work on Tala that day anyway.

The staff at this clinic couldn't be nicer, calling us with updates, assuring us we can call at any time, even sending us photos of Tala in recovery!

I work Tuesday nights, and by 7:00 Allan has called to say the surgery is over and Tala is recuperating nicely. The doctor said it turned out to be not as extensive as she had thought, based on the external tumour. Statistically, there's a 75% chance it will not return. In this doctor's personal experience, of 21 surgeries on this type of tumour, there has been only one recurrence. Gotta like the odds.

I feel incredibly fortunate. I have a huge credit card bill to pay off - I had that before this happened! - but I feel very fortunate to be able to say that, too.

Here's our little girl in the recovery room.


i'm not ready for another broken heart, or, nothing says mortality like your sick dog

Tala has cancer.

As it happened with Cody, we found a lump. First I was sure it was a cyst, then I was hoping it was a cyst, now I'm just hoping it's not an iceberg. 

There's a big ugly tumoury thing sticking out, but this type of sarcoma is known to have internal tentacles. We're having x-rays done today to see if the cancer has spread to any organs, then - we hope - surgery as soon as possible.

Cody's cancer turned out to be highly operable and likely not metastasized, and we were thrilled to celebrate one more Cody Day. But it did turn out to be her final year. Tala Day is in late January. Will she be with us in January 2017? 

The answer to that, of course, is we don't know. 

And the answer to that is we never know. We don't know about Tala and we never know about any of us.

I feel that we never know every day. I'm not trying to be maudlin or melodramatic; it's just a fact. I feel my own mortality, and that of everyone I love, every single day. I have the impression - based only on observation - that this is not universal. But perhaps it's universal but most people don't admit it, or do a better job of blocking it out.

It's not like I walk around thinking, "I'm going to die". I'm not a character from a Woody Allen film. I just have a strong sense, deep down, that all we have is right now. That right now is our happiness, our love, our passions, our pain, our opportunity to give our lives meaning. And any time other than right now is an illusion.

(This has some unfortunate reprecussions in my life, like real difficulty saying no to myself, and resulting credit card debt. And the constant nagging fear that I should be spending our so-called retirement savings. I look at the stupid savings plan and think, will we live long enough to use this money? I'd like to know, please, because if not, I'm making travel plans.)

In almost 30 years of sharing our lives with dogs, we've said goodbye to four beloved animals so far. At this point, I see every dog as a heartbreak waiting to happen. It's worth it - for me there's no doubt - but as I get older, as the years start whipping by faster and faster, their time with us seems so very fleeting. If you adopt, as we always have, that time is shorter still, both because they're not puppies when you take them, and because a rescued dog's life span is usually shorter. 

And going through that whole journey, from "I think we're ready to adopt another dog" to that final goodbye, you come face to face with right now is all we have.


10 ways you can increase member engagement in your union

#7: Hold a logo contest!
Trying to increase member engagement in your union? Here are some ideas that work.

1. Always make time for your members' concerns.

This is number one through infinity. If you don't make time for your members’ concerns - if your members don't know that you're fighting for them - everything else you do is a waste of time.

I made a pledge to myself and to our members: I will never say, "I don't have time for you," or "Your concern is not a priority for us." I often cannot fix the member's problem. But I can empathize. I can affirm and validate. I can let them know they're not alone, that someone is fighting for them.

2. Identify allies.

Find one or two members who will conspire with you, and work with them. They may be of totally different backgrounds and have completely different perspectives than you. That's good! Come together over your shared concerns. Sit down for a coffee or a pint, talk about steps you can take to improve the situation. Make a list, then each of you find one or two more people to bring in, and make a few things on that list a reality.

3. Offer specific tasks to volunteers.

When specific, self-contained tasks come up, put a call out for volunteers. "Can someone go to the Library Board meeting next week?" "I'm looking for a member to update the job postings spreadsheet." "Can someone look after this location's union board?" This extends your reach - you and your small band of allies aren't doing all the work - and it engages more members, gives more members ownership.

4. Find ways to make your union more accessible and more inclusive.

Our meetings used to be held on the same night of the week, such as the second Monday of the month. But our members work shifts, and in many different locations. Now we rotate the nights of the week and the location of meetings. Even if meeting attendance doesn't increase, our members feel more welcome, more included.

For you, making your union more accessible may mean something else. Think about it. Is there something built into your structure and practices that may be keeping people away? Do you use a lot of union jargon? Do you shoot down every new idea as impractical, or already tried? Are you, however inadvertently, giving the impression of a closed clique? These are good questions to ask ourselves on a regular basis.

5. Find ways other than meetings to get together.

Hold a labour film night. A potluck. A summer barbecue in a local park. It doesn't have to be often - twice a year is probably enough. Give members the opportunity to connect with each other in a non-work and non-union-meeting environment.

6. Keep your members informed.

Be generous with information sharing. Tell your members as much as you can. How will they know what their union does for them if no one tells them? Why would they care about a union they never hear from? Show your members you are fighting for them.

7.  Hold a logo contest!

Do you have a good logo? If not, consider holding a contest. We put out a request for designs, and members voted online. One result was the awesome logo pictured above. The other results were creativity in support of our union, member involvement, and increased feelings of pride.

8. Think small.

What little things can you do that will involve more members? CUPE's colour is pink. On the day our bargaining team returned to the table, we held our first Wear Pink day. Each Wear Pink Day, we challenge members to get more people involved at their location. I got a bunch of CUPE gel bracelets, and we give them away to members to wear in the workplace. With your allies, brainstorm ideas that may work in your own workplace.

9. Get in touch with history.

Every so often, answer the questions "What has your union done for you?" "How has belonging to a union benefited your working conditions?", and "How do unions benefit society as a whole?" Sprinkle labour history in meetings, in your emails, and on social media. You know that pride you feel in being part of the labour movement? Share it.

10. Rethink your union bulletin boards.

Are the union boards in your workplaces up-to-date? Or have they been stagnant so long that members don't see them anymore? Bulletin boards can do more than announce meetings and minutes. Try a "Clause of the Month". Labour-themed cartoons. Jokes. Find members - not officers, not stewards - who will tend the board like a garden.

11. What else??

Your ideas here.


what i'm reading: the deserters, a hidden history of world war 2

No one knows exactly how many US soldiers deserted from the Vietnam War, nor how many young men resisted conscription by going either to jail or to another country. The most conservative account puts the number at about 50,000, the highest at about double that. The majority of those went to Canada, where - after a people's movement organized to support them - they were allowed to live and eventually become citizens. Because of this, resistance to the war in Southeast Asia is part of American and Canadian history, no matter who tells the story.

Resistance to other US wars, however, is mentioned less frequently, if at all. There was massive resistance to conscription to (what was then known as) the Great War or the War in Europe. Ireland and Quebec went into full-scale rebellion, and thousands in both Britain and the US spent time in jail after they refused to fight. I'm somewhat familiar with this history through my ongoing exploration of World War I from a progressive and peace-activism perspective. I certainly didn't learn about it in school.

Still, it's relatively easy to talk about resistance to World War I, at least for Americans. It's the war that no one understands, the war where the name of every battle is a shorthand for massive slaughter, the war of mustard gas and horses vs. machine guns. It's the war that ushered in the modern world. We can understand why people didn't want to die in the mud in Belgium or France.

Resistance to World War II, however, is entirely different. This is the supposedly good war, the war to crush the Nazis, the war to punish the people who attacked Pearl Harbor. This is the war that supposedly every able-bodied boy and man wanted to fight.

Well, not quite. As Charles Glass shows in The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II, no matter what the political motivations of war, the reality on the ground is largely the same. Troops face appalling conditions and constant deprivation. They are forced to remain in combat past the point of mental and physical endurance. Their stress is ignored, ridiculed, and punished. And thousands - tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands - refuse to continue.

The book, unfortunately, is not a very good read. It's incredibly well researched, but literary nonfiction needs more than research. No lively narrative pulls the reader through the stories. Glass offers a tremendous amount of detail without synthesis or explanation. At times I felt as if I were reading a pile of facts, rather than a story.

The book's saving grace, and what makes it worth reading, is the introduction. In 10 pages, the author gives us an overview of war resistance and society's responses to it. He blends the political, social, physical and psychological views into a miniature masterpiece.

Readers with a special interest in World War II and hidden histories in general may enjoy The Deserters. For me it was a tough slog. But in my continuing education about war resistance, Charles Glass' introduction has a place on the bookshelf.


awful library books and why we remove them from our shelves

A while back, I blogged about weeding, every library's not-so-dirty little not-so-secret. Daniel Gross, writing in The New Yorker, looks at weeding, too - from a library-users' revolt in Berkeley, California to the hilarious Awful Library Books blog: Weeding the Worst Library Books. It's a sweet story about a necessary evil that is really a very positive - although painful - practice.

What I want to know is how did the Berkeley public know about the weeding? Why was it even announced? I can guarantee the Mississauga public doesn't know about ours.

In any case, it's a really nice piece: Weeding the Worst Library Books by Daniel Gross.


what i'm reading: every exquisite thing by matthew quick

I recently had the pleasure of reading an advance reading copy of Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. Quick - a/k/a Q - is the author of The Silver Linings Playbook, which I have not read, but now will.

Every Exquisite Thing combines a few stock elements of youth fiction into something heartfelt, authentic, and compelling. I caught a little bit of Eleanor & Park and a little bit of The Fault in Our Stars poking through, but none of that stopped me from enjoying the book.

Nanette O'Hare is a high-achieving student athlete whose future is all laid out for her to follow. An iconoclastic teacher gives Nanette a copy of a cult novel - echoes of The Catcher in the Rye are obvious - and suddenly she views her privileged life in a new way. The teacher goes even farther, setting up Nanette with another young person to whom he's given the same book, this one a misfit poet with some dangerous tendencies.

Nanette needs to rebel, and she's fallen in love with a rebel. But what form that rebellion will take, and how far it will go, is something they both need to find.

Nanette sets out both to lose herself and find herself in some surprising ways. A few parts of Nanette's journey won't translate well into a review (plus I'm avoiding spoilers) but they work beautifully in context. The best part of Every Exquisite Thing is the bold character of Nanette herself, full of self-doubt and self-discovery, figuring out how to use the strength she knows is inside her.


james connolly, sid ryan, and marxism 2016

This is The Proclamation.

The Proclamation was read by Padraig (Patrick) Pearse outside the General Post Office in Dublin on April 24, 1916. This marked the beginning of the Easter Rising.

Rather less dramatically, a copy of the Proclamation has hung on my office wall since our trip to Ireland in 2001. It has lived large and present in my revolutionary heart since the early days of my fascination with Irish history.

Last week I had the pleasure of hearing the entire Proclamation read out loud by Toronto labour activist Mike Seaward. It was nothing short of thrilling to hear these stirring words ring out - words to live by. For the men who wrote them, they were words to die by.

The reading of the Proclamation kicked off the 2016 Marxism conference special event, commemorating 100 years since the Easter Rising, almost to the day. This was followed by Canadian labour leader and activist Sid Ryan, spinning out Irish history in sparkling prose and stunning detail, without a scrap of paper in front of him. Sid was followed by Carolyn Egan, a leader in the Canadian women's and labour movements, and my comrade in both the International Socialists and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Carolyn highlighted some of the more radical and revolutionary ideals of the ongoing battle for Irish independence, and connected those back to our current times.

The Easter Rising was many things. It was the first crack in the British Empire. It was the culmination of 600 years of oppression under British rule, and 600 years of armed insurrection against it. It was the wild utopian yearnings of poorly trained rebels, a death sentence for the men who signed it. It is a touchstone for every Irish nationalist, to this day.

The Easter Rising might have been an obscure moment in history, as so many rebellions are. The British government itself ensured the Rising's significance with one giant blunder: the execution of the leaders. With those murders, public opinion turned from irritation or indifference to wild anger and support.

At Marxism 2016, Sid Ryan and Carolyn Egan held a Marxist lens to this largely nationalist rebellion. It isn't difficult to do so, embodied by James Connolly, the great Irish thinker and socialist revolutionary.

James Connolly was an extraordinary leader. His counterpart in American history might be Frederick Douglass. Both rose from extreme poverty (in Douglass' case, slavery), had no formal education, and became extraordinary thinkers and orators. Both were radical, egalitarian, open-minded, and committed to justice. Both supported women's rights. Both understood that the struggle was bigger than their people, not Black against White or Irish against British, but the people against the ruling class. Both men rejected any solution that was in reality only a change of masters.

I won't try to recreate the talk here; I'm hoping it will be posted on the IS's YouTube channel. Unfortunately for me, this was the only talk I was able to attend at Marxism 2016. I also participated on a panel called "Union Organizing in a Time of Precarity," with two labour-activist friends.

There's a lot about James Connolly online, but this piece by Ella Whelan is powerful and poignant, and in my view the most accurate: James Connolly: We Only Want the Earth: What We Can Learn from the Easter Rising, by Ella Whelan. I noticed this beautiful emblem from the IWW bears that line from one of Connolly's poems. I love that my hero of Irish history organized with the revolutionary group that lives in my heart.

The Proclamation:

IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.

Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.

We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades in arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.

The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.

Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.

We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline, and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.

Signed on behalf of the Provisional Government: