the day out report

Yesterday we took a drive to the Elora Gorge, as part of my desire to see more of the surrounding area and go hiking (or walking in some woods) more often.

The majority of the day was spent driving. We took the scenic route up, first winding our way out of Mississauga on Erin Mills Parkway, which joins Mississauga Road and becomes Highway 1, then to Highway 7. (In New York State and much of the rural US, these country roads are called "routes". I'm trying to remember that they are called "highways" here, even though they don't look like highways.) I've been told that 7 is the scenic route from Toronto to Kitchener, so it seemed like a good idea.

Long ago, Lone Primate and some other readers mentioned The Copper Kettle in Georgetown for its great pub food. (It's great knowing this is all recorded somewhere on your own blog.) I got the address online, and Main Street, Georgetown seemed like an easy enough place to find. It was, but there was no Copper Kettle on it. We drove a lot, and looked a lot, and spent a fair amount of time searching, but no such pub materialized. Anyone know if this place is still in business?

We had lunch at another pub on Georgetown's Main Street, then back to 7 west to Guelph, then north on 6.

On Highway 6, we got lost. Who expects a road to take a 90-degree turn without changing numbers? And without good signage, either. So we drove a fair distance out of our way, and back, and by the time we got directions and headed back towards Elora, it was getting late in the day.

Back on 6, the area is all farmland, which is always nice to drive through. Although the getting lost part detracts from that a bit. But not in a huge way.

The Conservation Area itself was very nice. We had a nice walk, saw a bit of the gorge, and there's not much more to say about that. We were already warned that it wasn't a huge hiking area, but we walked on whatever trails are there, plus around the park itself.

We took the 401 home, which gave us a better idea of the distance. Minus searching for a phantom pub, having lunch, and getting lost, Elora Gorge seems to be slightly more than an hour from our place, maybe 1:15.

If you're wondering, Tala barked and spun in circles the entire way up. The. Entire. Way. And since we were on slow roads and got lost, that's a lot of barking. The best part of walking around Elora Gorge was the quiet.

Then, much to our amazement, she actually tired herself out. On the way home, we had several highly surprising stretches of quiet. She actually lay down! We were like parents tiptoeing around after they finally get a colicky baby to sleep, whispering for fear of starting her up again. (She seems to be conditioned to pop up and bark at the sound of the directional being used! Click - Tala!)

This was the first time we've ever seen Tala tire herself out from barking. So it turns out there is a limit! Perhaps lying quietly in the back while traffic zooms along on both sides provided an unintentional lesson for her. See? You can lie here quietly, and nothing bad happens.

But we've discontinued her car training. It was so much work, and progress was excruciatingly slow. It's one thing to drive around our little neighbourhood with me in the hatchback with Tala (not exactly comfortable), giving her treats for quiet behaviour. She's made big progress on that little front.

But we can't imagine how long it would take to get from there to actual highway driving with Tala alone in the back, well-behaved. Especially since every time we go anywhere without training, it reinforces the barking behaviour. I do think she'll eventually grow out of this.

She's a great dog, and she's learned so much since we adopted her, and we love her to pieces. So if this is her worst flaw, well, everyone has one.

I think our next outing will be the Devil's Punchbowl Falls, some time in May.


what i'm watching: flight of the conchords, eddie pepitone

Two days ago, I had never heard of Eddie Pepitone and never seen a single minute of "Flight of the Conchords". I had heard of the show, but didn't know what it was and never bothered to find out.

Last week we hung out with our friends M@ and S, and they lent us the first season of FOTC on DVD. They thought we would really like it; if nothing else, we'd appreciate the New York City locations.

Yesterday morning I see a clip of comedian Eddie Pepitone on Joy of Sox. I'm not into stand-up, and very little of what many people find oh-so-hilarious doesn't even make me smile. But I really liked this. Big loud laughs. Very enjoyable. (Clip to follow, keep reading for now, ok?)

Then last night, Red Sox night off, we pop Flight of the Conchords into the DVD player. We love it. LOVE IT. It's brilliant and hilarious. The music video parodies are amazing. We laugh so hard, we are crying and gasping for breath. And I did indeed love seeing New York City.

And there he is: Eddie Pepitone. We can't believe our eyes. He plays the boss of the sign-holding company, where Bret and Coko meet.

I love weird coincidences like that.

The show is brilliant. We watched four episodes straight through. Amazing stuff.

* * * *

Yesterday's planned outing to Elora Gorge and vicinity was postponed due to uncooperative weather. But spring is back today and I'm in dire need of a day off, so here we go.

I was wondering why, with all the gorgeous weather we've been having, I didn't plan a day out earlier this month. What was I doing with my days off all these weeks? Allan reminded me: day games. I love day baseball, but I can only take so much time off. The Red Sox need to play at night so I can go walk in the woods.

* * * *

And now, Eddie Pepitone. (Totally not safe for work!) It looks like we would also know Pepitone from The Sarah Silverman Program if we had continued watching that.


"we are surviving people"

Native issues - the concerns of First Nations people and how those mesh or clash with the rest of the country - are in the mainstream news all the time in Canada.

This is a pronounced difference from the United States, where Native Americans are invisible, except for casinos. It's something that greatly surprised me after we moved here, and which continues to strike me as a real difference between the two countries. The first time a wmtc commenter referred to "the three peoples that created Canada," I confess I had to think of who those third people might be.

I don't blog about Native issues, but not for lack of interest. I am deeply sympathetic, but for me this falls under the category of "read and learn," rather than espouse.

Yesterday I read a post by a First Nations blogger. I was really moved by it, and want to share it with you. Who or What is an Indian?, by Mister Beastly.
They may have got it right when they issued the status card to the first Indians on the reserve but our identity is so much more then being bound up in that little card. We are clearly a race that believes in ourselves and asserts our right to live and be free. We as Indian people are free to define ourselves and must be able to since we are peppered across such a huge island and are as diverse as any multitude of European nations. We have fought to stay distinct and not be swallowed up into the Canadian multicultural ideology but protected our status as the first people. We are a people of tradition and of culture who love to celebrate all aspects of life and family from birth to death. It would be easy to finish by saying an Indian is part of a race of people who resisted and fought 300 years of oppression and our history would agree with that. But to answer the core of the question after looking at the history of the Indian resistance a big part of any Indian definition would have to be – we are surviving people, we are still here.

Read "Who or What is an Indian?" here.

Friday, May 29, 2008, will mark the second national First Nations Day of Action. I'm looking for what I can do in support, but haven't seen much yet.

what i'm reading

I've been trying to read Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta. Has anyone here read this?

It's a book of nonfiction essays about the city now called Mumbai. I saw several excellent reviews of it; I was especially intrigued to read "what Dickens did for London, what Joseph Mitchell did for New York City, Suketu Mehta has done for Mumbai". That's a little odd, because Dickens and Mitchell did completely different things for their respective cities. But I love both those writers - Dickens being one of my all-time favourites, and Mitchell being perhaps the greatest chronicler of New York City - so Maximum City seemed like a natural for me.

So far, I can't get into it. I'm trying, but when I find myself going a week or more without picking up the book I'm supposedly reading, something is wrong. I'm going to put it aside and try again some other time.

There are also two other books, both important to me, that I left unfinished and am determined to get back to sometime this summer. Both are the final books in trilogies from which I read two and a half books: Sigfried Sassoon's trilogy, Sherston's Progress, and Taylor Branch's At Canaan's Edge. I've blogged about both extensively.

Meanwhile, I'm going to read Naomi Wolf's The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, so expect excerpts from that.


ttc strike as litmus test of progressive worldview

The Toronto Transit Commission is on strike.

Full disclosure: I don't rely on the TTC for my daily commute.

However, I lived for 26 years in cities wholly dependent on public transportation, and never owned a car before moving to Canada.

I support the striking transit workers.

I support striking workers everywhere.

The transit workers have power, and they should use it. I wish all workers - myself most definitely included - could wield the kind of power the transit workers can.

People on all points of the political spectrum are foaming at the mouth because union leadership already had announced there would be no strike. But union membership rejected the deal, as is their right to do so. Too often union leadership pushes deals down membership's throat. This time democracy prevailed.

I'm a freelance writer, and an office worker. Although in the US I belonged to the National Writers Union (to my tremendous benefit), I have little power in either of my work capacities. People who actually provide a service that is not easily replaced - television writers, professional athletes, transit workers - should use that leverage to their best advantage. I only wish more of us could be described that way.

I've seen many supposedly progressive bloggers writing (paraphrasing), "I'm all for unions, but..."

Just the other day, in comments on another blog, I was noting how people say, "I'm not racist, but..." then tell you how [these people] are always so lazy/smelly/stupid/tricky. Or, "I'm not gossiping, but..." then tell you personal details about your co-workers that you aren't supposed to know. "I'm not sexist, but I just cannot work for a female supervisor. They're always such bitches."

If you say, "I'm all for unions, except when they inconvenience me," you are not for unions.

A much better post about this is here on Dr. Dawg's Blog. Plus, Dawg calls out the pseudo-progressives by name.

Robert McClelland has run the numbers:
Here's the history of strike action by the union representing TTC workers.
1952: 19 days
1970: 12 days
1974: 23 days
1978: 8 days
1991: 8 days
1999: 2 days
2006: 1 day wildcat
2008: 2 days+
Total: 75 days over 87 years (the TTC was established in 1921)
Average: 0.86 days of strike action per year

Does less than one day per year of inconvenience (or hardship depending on your point of view and economic situation) justify stripping someone of their labour rights?

The TTC is not an essential service. I'm not even sure there should be an essential-service exception to the right to strike.

More power to them!

Update: Judging from the first comment, I guess I wasn't explicit enough. In Philadelphia and New York City, I wasn't car-less for environmental reasons. I didn't own a car because I couldn't afford to (and because in those cities you don't need to). In other words, I took public transportation because I had to, not because I wanted to. I don't commute by TTC now because I live in Mississauga, outside of TTC territory.

c-537: final verdict

I first blogged about C-537 here, and was met by some objections I hadn't considered, from health-care workers' perspective.

To summarize, I had said:
Health care providers cannot be allowed to pick and choose what legal procedures they want to perform or assist with. If a person cannot in good conscience have anything to do with abortion, or any other legal medical procedure, that person shouldn't be working in health care.

My friend Jen suggested this revision:
I'd amend that to "If a person cannot in good conscience have anything to do with abortion, or any other legal medical procedure, that person shouldn't be working in: Labour and delivery/ER/post partum".

Likewise, those opposed to/don't understand electro-convulsive therapy should steer clear of the psych units, those opposed to/don't understand harm reduction should steer clear of public health, etc. Health practice, individuals and patient needs are all to many and too varied for there to be an expectation of everyone to be on the same page.

My friends the nurses weren't supporting C-537; they were pointing out flaws in my reasoning against the bill. I know these folks to be smart and progressive people, as well as caring health care practitioners, so I took their concerns seriously. Their comments are significant and worth reading. Some excerpts:
. . . the College of Nurses of Ontario and College of Physicians and Surgeons . . . both allow their members to refuse to perform procedures they object to via scope of practice statements. Even in NY State as nurse I was free in my practice to refuse to perform acts that I deemed objectionable and the state board of nursing protected that right.

. . . I don't believe as a nurse, I should be asked to do anything that violates my personal, ethical or religious beliefs as I've defined them. This could be widely interpreted to include a good deal of other issues besides abortion and abortion-related practices.

. . . Health care professions are self-regulating and autonomous. It was a long hard fight to be able to say "no" and advocate for the patient against unsafe and/or unethical practice (e.g.: giving meds, especially sedation, against the patient's will or unbeknownst to them; withholding information from patients at family's request, etc). . . .

The "by law you must do this" approach to practice was a huge motivator (among many other things) in the eugenics movement as another example of the end result of a very slippery slope.

These comments (which I hope you'll read in their entirety) brought a lot of food for thought to my table. Their concerns made sense to me. But the bill was still bothering me. A lot.

So I've thought more about this, and read what many other pro-choice bloggers have written. And now my thoughts are crystal clear.

This bill would define human life as beginning at conception. Meaning it would define the fertilized egg as a human being. That's all we need to know.

I am quite sure life of some sort begins at conception. After all, an amoeba is a life form. So is a cow. So is a carrot. So, too, the zygote. But we must reject any legislation that seeks to define the zygote as a human life under the law. The implications are obvious.

Reproductive freedom is the cornerstone of women's equality and self-determination. If a zygote has the same rights that I do as an adult woman, then disposing of that blob of cells is murder. And we can't take one step down that road.

The concerns about autonomy and personal ethics raised by my nurse friends have much merit. And, as they've pointed out, their concerns are already addressed by their professional regulatory bodies. Just as C-484 is unnecessary because the criminal code already speaks to the same issues without defining the fetus as a legal person.

C-537, like C-484, is an anti-abortion bill dressed up in a costume of concern. C-484 is supposedly about concern for female victims of violence: but we know better. C-537 is supposedly about concern for health care workers.

But both are really about abortion. Both are attempts to chisel away at our rights. If you feel as I do, make sure your MP knows how you feel.

wingnut fixation

There's a certain blog.

A reactionary wingnut blog, written by a Canadian woman.

Like her wingnut comrades, she's not big on facts. A lot of heat, not much light. Lots of vitriol and bile. Lots of mindless saluting and flag-waving. So what's new. Perhaps she fancies herself the Canadian Ann Coulter. That should be all the description you need.

This blog supposedly gets a lot of traffic. But if what I see at Progressive Bloggers is any indication, many of those clicks are from progressives, who read her blog, then denounce her on their own blogs. They pound their fists on their keyboards. All the while, of course, publicizing her blog.

I don't get it.

All activists want to keep apprised of what their opponents are doing, but in my opinion, right-wing blogs don't figure into that equation. This woman is not an MP. She's not an influential writer or thinker. She's in no position to make public policy, or to sway public opinion. People who agree with her are already a lost cause.

And if she does influence someone? What can be done about that? We can't run around the internet trying to correct every mistake and counter every argument.

Why hand her so much publicity? Why the constant highlighting of her posts? Why is any progressive person at her blog in the first place to even know what she is posting? (And before you tell me how I must have read her blog in order to write this post, I went once, months ago, to see what all the fuss is about. I scrolled through a few dozen posts, and never returned.)

If I were this blogger, I'd be laughing all the way to the Statcounter Bank. "I make provocative statements, and look how the moonbats dance!"

Why let this woman push your buttons?


green progress, large scale

There have been several positive environmental advances in Canada lately.

Ontario will ban sales of incandescent light bulbs by the year 2012. This will supposedly be the equivalent of taking a quarter-million cars off the road. (I'm not sure if that's true.)

Nova Scotia is phasing out plastic bags in their liquor stores by this fall. The city of Edmonton is considering banning plastic bags or taxing their use. The LCBO, which controls sales of wine and liquor in Ontario, is is also considering a ban. (Impudent Strumpet may have a better idea.)

Canada will soon be the first country to list Bisphenol-A as a toxic substance, and ban its use in baby bottles. The Bisphenol-A ban marks the first time Canada has taken the international lead to ban the use of a harmful substance. The Bisphenol-A ban is being compared to the US's ban of DDT 30 years ago, which was the result of pressure from consumers and environmental groups.

Quebec has already banned the use of so-called "cosmetic" pesticides, and Ontario will soon follow. Even more significant is the announcement by megastore Home Depot to stop the sale of pesticides in Canada. Canadian Tire announced it would do the same, and Loblaws has already done so in its garden centres.

This is exciting news. Pesticides have been linked with leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Parkinson's disease. They serve no practical purpose beyond silly social customs about which plants are acceptable and which must eradicated. Long live the dandelion!

Unfortunately, this is a Canadian trend, not a North American trend. From the Globe and Mail:
The actions in Canada are also in stark contrast to the United States, where Home Depot's U.S. parent continues to sell these products nationally, although it does face some local restrictions.

How many news stories in Canada could contain that phrase, "stark contrast to the United States"?

green progress, small scale

I don't think I've ever been so happy to see spring. This winter was just ridiculous, even for a winter-loving person like me.

I've been obsessively watching the trees in our neighbourhood for signs of leaves. The dogwoods are already in bloom, and now our little pear tree and forsythias are budding. The trees that line the sidewalk - I don't know what they are! - are still bare.

Most days, we can leave the back door open and the dogs can trot in and out at will. In the warmest part of the day, Tala likes to lie on the little concrete patio and survey her kingdom. Cody lies in the hot sun until she's cooked, then over to the shade to cool off a bit, then back to the sunbathing.

I like to sit in the backyard and listen to the birdsong, watch the birds skitter around. A big fat robin is working on a nest in the pear tree. It's just a small tree, and seems like an insecure spot for a nest. Yet the foundation of it survived the winter, so the bird must know what its doing.

Compared to my former urban life, sometimes I feel like I live out in the country. That's ridiculous, since this is the heart of suburban sprawl. But having a backyard, being outdoors a lot more, I am so much more aware of the change of seasons than I was in New York. In the city, I saw the overall change: oh look, it's spring now. Now I see the gradual changes over days and even hours. I'm really enjoying it.

In keeping with my goal of going hiking more often, this Monday we'll take our first spring hike. I'm aiming for once a month, a modest goal that would be a sizable increase over what we did last year. Hiking was a big incentive for me to deal with my foot pain. This will be a big test of my new orthotics.

I'd also like to try several different places for these little hikes. This week I'm thinking Elora Gorge.


follow-up: canine crisis update

Many of you very nice people have asked about our former dogwalker, and our canine crisis in general.

D never re-appeared. She hasn't called and hasn't emailed. I was worried, and baffled, but I asked the landlord to change the front-door lock. I can't feel safe knowing someone has a key to my home and knows when we're not home, especially as she may be having other problems. So that's just hanging there, unresolved, and may remain so.

Fellow doggie parents J & L filled in last weekend, so we didn't have to take any unpaid time off, truly a lifesaver. And thanks to Craigslist, we have hired someone new. She volunteers at the Oakville Humane Society and has two rescued dogs of her own. She's very knowledge about about dogs, has glowing references, and generally seems terrific. I also found someone who would work as back-up, which is really necessary with a weekend schedule.

Meanwhile, we are desperately searching for someone to stay at our home while we're in Newfoundland in late June, early July. It's too long for our regular dogsitter, as she doesn't drive.

Our ideal dogsitter doesn't work full-time. He or she doesn't need to be home 24/7 by any means, but someone who is gone most of the week is not a good fit. A student, someone who works from home, or someone who works part-time would be great.

We pay well, and it's a nice house with a big backyard, high-speed internet, cable, and all that fun stuff. It's best to have a car, although if the person doesn't mind being limited to what's in walking distance and infrequent public transportation, that's all right with us.

We'll be away for 16 days, plus there's a three-day weekend in July we need to fill in, too.

Do you know anyone who fits this bill? If you do, please email me!

searching for solar-powered beef

In the personal-is-political department, I've taken a big step towards a change I've been planning.

In the warmer months, Allan and I eat dinner outside almost every night. After 20+ years of apartment life, we are mad for sitting in our backyard. I can't even express what joy and inner contentment this simple act brings me, and Allan seems to feel the same way.

We grill dinner, and that usually means chicken, salmon or steak. From reading about factory farming, and especially from reading Michael Pollan, I decided I wanted to buy and eat pasture-raised, more naturally fed, meat. Some history of my thoughts is here, and here. I also asked readers about local vs organic vs industrial food.

I spent some time online looking for where pasture-raised animal products are available in our area. The excellent website Eat Wild can direct you to local, organic, grass-powered farms all over the US and Canada.

I was very pleased to learn that there are plenty of these farms in Ontario. But it quickly became apparent that the missing link is distribution. These farms, by definition, must operate on a small scale. They can't produce the massive quantities that would attract large supermarket distribution. Most of these brands aren't even sold in farmers' markets (although, for me, the farmers' market isn't an option anyway).

With most of the organic farms, you can place a large order, then pick it up at the farm itself. I know at least one friend of wmtc does this. It sounds like a great idea to try once, but being realistic, Allan and I are not going to shop that way on a regular basis. So, whittling the list down to what is available in our area, there are a few choices.

The "big" brands (big for the smalls, but still tiny compared to the industrials) are Beretta Organic Farms, Rowe Farms and Cumbrae Farms. All three are available at two or three places not far from where we live. (If we still lived in Port Credit, they would be literally down the street.) But to my knowledge, none are available at Loblaws, where we do our grocery shopping.

Beretta will also deliver a large order. They tell you when they are in your area, and you place the order two days ahead. They've recently added a $5.00 fuel charge, which I think you would more than return by buying direct with no retail mark-up. This seems like a nice option.

I haven't yet figured out how I'll do this. Do we want to make a separate trip to one of these better stores - in our area, Cousins or Elmwood Meats - to buy for the week? Do we want to place a large order with Beretta directly? It will be trial and error at first as we figure out a system. And I do want to visit the farm at least once. It seems like something fun and interesting we should do.

This meat will be much more expensive than we are accustomed to, as well. Our money is pretty tight right now, and that's not likely to change soon. (We have never gotten back to where we were before my unemployment, and we're about to take a vacation we can't afford.) I'm not sure how price will figure in. But this is something I really want to do, so I think I can figure out a way to do it.

During my research, I also made another compromise. Animals that are raised for meat are, towards the end of their lives, fattened up with a different diet than they normally eat. This is called "finishing," I already knew about this from my earlier reading. In this round of research, I learned that even on organic farms, with pasture-raised cattle, the cattle eats grass for most of its life, then is finished on other grain.

One-hundred percent grass-fed beef is very difficult to find. (I started writing "...is rare". My usual unconscious punning.) Beretta Organics does produce and sell completely grass-fed beef. But, I learned, grass-only beef is not good for grilling, and in general requires different cooking that probably wouldn't work for us. What's more, I could only order this directly; the few retail outlets I found that sell Beretta products don't carry the grass-only beef.

But I realized that Beretta Farms' standard, certified organic beef very much accomplishes what I set out to do. It comes from cattle that is pasture-raised and eats grass for most of its life. Even during finishing, the cow still eats organic grain, not industrial corn. It doesn't live in a filthy feedlot, it isn't being injected with antibiotics. In general, it still lives a cow life, not a factory life. In light of my objectives, this works for me.

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, this won't be a perfect system. It won't account for anything we eat in restaurants, and I'm not sure we will sustain it in winter. But working on the assumption that any positive change is good, and one needn't do something 100% in order to do it at all (relatively new insights for me!), it seems like a very good step.


to speak to a representative, press nothing, we will not speak to you

Yesterday I had a problem with my US credit card company, Capital One. It wasn't a big deal, but it required a phone call. After several minutes in their automated phone maze, I was able to "press zero to speak to a representative". If I pressed 0 before hearing this option, it was an "invalid entry".

I haven't needed to call Capital One in a long time. The last time I did, you could opt-out of the automated system by pressing 0 immediately. That option no longer exists.

When a rep answered the call - clearly from a South Asian call centre, of course - she was unable to help me. After some frustration, I asked to speak to a supervisor. She told me she had already handled my call satisfactorily, and hung up.

She hung up.

I was amazed. And not too happy.

When I called back, the option to press 0 to reach a representative was no longer there. I thought, is this me? Am I missing something? I asked Allan to try. Nope, it wasn't me. It wasn't there.

Do you only get that option once? And if you have to call back after a unsatisfactory call, does your phone number receive a different menu?

I called from my cell phone, et voilà, the press-zero option was back.

Does anyone know anything about this?

About the call itself, the next representative also couldn't help me, but she did let me speak to a supervisor, who of course assured me that you are always entitled to speak to a supervisor, and no representative is ever instructed otherwise. The supervisor worked with me and resolved the issue.

Once upon a time, Capital One had excellent customer service and actually treated me like they valued my business. This experience galled me. I'd love to ditch cancel the card altogether, but as we're still building our credit history in Canada, I need my low-interest, high-credit US Visa card for emergencies or large expenditures that we need to pay off. So I'm stuck just writing a letter of complaint.

But what's the deal with the changing menu on a second call?

retraction, or at least rethinking

Yesterday I blogged about C-537, which I see as a stealth anti-choice move on the part of Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott.

Two friends of wmtc, both nurses, objected to my objections. They explained why, and also explained their legal rights as healthcare practitioners. Some other commenters agreed with them from a patient's perspective. You can read all about it in comments here.

I hadn't thought about the issues they raised, or I had, but not from the perspective of the health-care worker. They make a lot of sense, and I agree with much of it.

But something still bothers me about this bill. I still perceive it as an attack on choice, and I can't put my finger on why.

Is it the offensive language of the bill that would sneak a non-legal definition of personhood into the law: "...'human life' means the human organism at any stage of development, beginning at fertilization or creation..."? And my fear that language could be used as a wedge for subsequent anti-choice legislation?

Is it the general vague language stating that no employer can refuse to employ a health care practitioner based on these convictions? What if the employer is a family planning clinic? Could an anti-choice health care worker sue the Morgentaler Clinic for refusing to hire her, creating unnecessary legal and economic challenges?

Is it my awareness of the terrible lack of access of comprehensive family planning services in the US, where law after law shredded the right to a legal abortion into a mere technicality? And my fear of those successful chipping-away strategies being used in Canada?

It's all of those things, but it's more than that, too. I'm still thinking about it. After you read the comments in the first thread, please feel free to continue the discussion here.


c-537: another threat to choice and equality

Hard on the heels of C-484, the fetal homicide bill, another stealth anti-choice private member's bill is before the House of Commons.

This one is C-537, "an Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of conscience rights in the health care profession)", brought by Maurice Vellacott, Member of Parliament for Sasaktoon-Wanuskewin. It's the third time this MP has introduced this same bill, which he frames as "freedom of choice for all health care workers". When Vellacott introduced the bill in Parliament, he said:
...the bill would prohibit coercion in medical procedures that offend a person's religion or belief that human life is inviolable. The bill seeks to ensure that health care providers will never be forced to participate against their will in procedures such as abortions or acts of euthanasia. ...

Canada has a long history of recognizing the rights of freedom of religion and of conscience in our country. Yet health care workers and those seeking to be educated for the health care system have often been denied those rights in medical facilities and educational institutions. Some have even been wrongfully dismissed.

This bill is anti-woman, anti-equality, anti-personal liberty, anti-choice and anti-common sense.

Health care providers cannot be allowed to pick and choose what legal procedures they want to perform or assist with. If a person cannot in good conscience have anything to do with abortion, or any other legal medical procedure, that person shouldn't be working in health care.

In the theocracy to the south, where models for all manner of anti-choice, anti-woman legislation can be found, reports of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for contraception have been surfacing for many years. Some states have tried to pass laws upholding a pharmacist's right to do so, while other states have mandated that all licensed pharmacists must fill all legal prescriptions.

(I should note that I'm using pharmacists as an analogy, and not abortion providers, since as of 2000, 86% of US counties had no abortion provider. 97% of American women in non-metropolitan areas live in counties with no abortion provider. An opt-out law would hardly make a difference there.)

I blogged about the pharmacy issue a long time ago, and when I went back to look for the post, I saw this in comments:
When I first read about the move to allow pharmacists to not carry certain items according to their conscience, I thought, "Gee. That's a good idea. No one should be forced to do something they don't think is right."

But then I thought about it some more. Where does it end? Can an emergency room doc withhold treatment from a gang member because he disapproves of gang activity? Can he refuse to treat an injury caused by the patient's own stupidity? What if he wants to withhold surgery from someone because they are gay, or a different religion, or a different color? Just because they think it's wrong.

Back to the pharmacist. What if he wants to withhold AZT from someone with HIV because he assumes that AIDS is a gay disease and thinks it's wrong? What if he doesn't want to fill a prescription for pain killers because he would choose to tough it out and you should too?

Initially, I was even able to answer these questions with, "So what? You can always go to another pharmacist for your drugs." But if everyone in a conservative town is withholding the same prescriptions, it essentially becomes impossible to get.

I really appreciated this line from your post:
But if you can't do your job properly because your conscience is bothering you, you need to find another profession.

When you sign up to be a pharmacist, you know what you're getting into. It's not like you accidentally got the job; it takes a lot of time and effort. So to all the pharmacists out there, know what you're getting yourself into, then live up to your responsibility and quit complaining about it. Otherwise, find something else that's more compatible with your lifestyle.

That's it in a nutshell. (Thank you, former reader from Arkansas.) A health care provider's first responsibility is to the patient. Providers who cannot meet their obligations to their patients because of religious or conscience issues shouldn't be doing that job. Prospective employers must be free to screen for such potential issues and not hire people who might put a patient at risk because of a conflict of conscience.

For a more exhaustive list of what's wrong with C-537, and about the Conservatives' attacks on women in general, see this excellent post by The Regina Mom.



Search string of the day:
why are north americans cold and selfish people?

Shut up, I'm blogging about me!

the most painful goodbye

A dear friend of mine is losing his beloved dog today. I won't link to his blog, because I think he's not ready to be public yet. I just wanted to acknowledge it in case he checks in today.

The dog has terminal cancer, and my friend is doing the most difficult, most loving and most responsible thing, in not allowing his best friend to suffer. As I always say, it's the only bad part of sharing your life with an animal. But it's a really bad part.

Allan and I are both thinking about our friend and his wonderful dog.

Update: This is David, and his dog Noah, here. Note the name of the blog.

day game

Today is my favourite baseball game of the regular season.

Every year on the third Monday of April, on the Massachusetts holiday of Patriots' Day, the Red Sox play a game at 11:00 in the morning, which is also the day the Boston Marathon is run. Patriots' Day commemorates the famous ride of Paul Revere through the streets of Boston ("one if by land, two if by sea"), and the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War.

The Red Sox have played a home game on this day every year since 1959, and the start of the game (if not postponed for bad weather) is timed so that the game ends just as the Marathon is heading through the city of Boston.

Today is the 112th running of the Boston Marathon. I take a special interest in the Boston race, as I usually know someone running in the wheelchair division. One of my favourite athletes, who I have written about many times, is Jean Driscoll, who has won Boston's women's wheelchair division an amazing eight times, seven of those consecutively. My girl today is Cheri Blauwet.

It's game time. Play ball!


suicide rate of canadian troops has doubled

The suicide rate among Canada's soldiers doubled from 2006 to 2007, rising to a rate triple that of the general population, according to data obtained through access to information requests.

Last year, the number of suicides among regular and reserve members of the Canadian Forces rose to 36, the highest in more than a decade, military police records obtained by Maj. Michel Sartori show.

Sartori, a Laval University doctoral student, has been gathering information about military suicides for years. It's the subject of his thesis and a topic close to his heart, since five of his colleagues killed themselves after a tour of duty in Yugoslavia in 1994.

He believes the rise is linked to the intensification of Canada's mission in Afghanistan when soldiers moved into the volatile southern region in 2006.

Based on the military police reports, he found that the average suicide rate among Canadian Forces military members, both regular and reserve, between 1994 to 2007 was 16 per year.

But the number of suicides among members of the military rose to 20 in 2006 and then jumped even higher to 36 in 2007, or a rate of 41.4 suicides per 100,000 soldiers. That's double the rate in the previous year.

Sartori says he was alarmed when he received the latest numbers.

"It was a shock, total shock," said Sartori. "I almost fell out my chair."

The 2007 numbers put the military suicide rate at triple that of the general Canadian public. Over the past two decades Canada's overall rate has ranged from 11.6 to 14 suicides per 100,000, though recent numbers are not available.

Dr. Greg Passey, a former military psychiatrist and head of a post-traumatic stress disorder clinic in Vancouver, says the spike in military suicides is "disturbing" but not surprising. He says he believes it's related to what he calls the "increased tempo" of the Afghanistan mission, which began in 2002.

"We're now a number of years into that mission and the frontline, the combat soldiers, and even the support staff are having to do multiple tours," he said.

The psychological stress of those missions is cumulative, he said, and Sartori's discovery may be the wakeup call the military needs to deal with the issue.

Veterans Affairs says that the number of vets experiencing some kind of operational stress injury, such as PTSD, has tripled in the past five years, and they expect it to continue rising with Canada's mission in Afghanistan likely to last until 2011.

Roughly 2,500 Canadian soldiers are serving in and around Afghanistan's Kandahar region, where they are battling Taliban insurgents.

And for what? For what?? For oil? For warlords? For poppies? To squelch a religious-political movement we disapprove of? To ingratiate Canada with the US?


sane thoughts on spp

Unlike many of my cohorts, I don't much worry about North American Union, Deep Integration, and other scenarios that picture Canada losing its sovereignty to the United States. That's an old Canadian fear - and a justified one - but there's too much paranoia and hyperbole in the mix for me, and I avoid it. Wmtc had a big discussion about it a while back, if you want to catch up on my perspective, and that of several of wmtc's most thoughtful readers.

This doesn't mean I think there's no issue. The current crew in Ottawa is happy to walk in lockstep with the US, and that can only be dangerous - no matter who is in Washington. We need to protect the interests of the people, as opposed to the interests of the rich and powerful. That's always the case, and it's no less true about SPP than it is about anything else.

On the other hand, a highway connecting Mexico to the US and Canada - which, by the way, already exists - does not threaten Canadian sovereignty.

SPP, like most corporate schemes, is bad for labour, bad for the environment, and bad for democracy. There are good reasons to oppose it without envisioning the loonie being replaced by the greenback and a monument to George Bush being erected in Ottawa.

I recently read a good story on SPP on AlterNet. The authors, Manuel Pérez Rocha and Sarah Anderson, pull together both strands of thought, dispelling US wingnut fantasies and affirming Canadian progressive concerns.
This month, President Bush will host the leaders of Canada and Mexico to advance the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a project Lou Dobbs has predicted will "end the United States as we know it."

Lou sounds downright blasé, though, compared to all the online ranting and raving on this subject. And while there are plenty of reasons for progressives to be up in arms over this effort to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement, the xenophobes have clearly cornered the market.

In their paranoid fantasies, the three North American executive powers are secretly plotting to surrender everything they hold dear about the good ol' USA. The U.S. borders, the flag, and even the almighty American dollar would disappear as the country is submerged into a North American Union with Mexico and Canada.

Check out amerocurrency.com, whose creators are convinced that while the SPP hasn't replaced the dollar with a North American currency just yet, the switch is right around the corner. To raise alarm bells, these folks have gone ahead and designed our future money themselves. The cost of purchasing uno "amero": $10.

From the always imaginative John Birch Society, you can order a poster featuring our future North American Union flag, a collage of the three countries' current emblems with -- gasp! -- the socialist maple leaf dead center.

After an intro image of North America bursting into flames, Stopspp.com offers screeds by anti-immigrant Minutemen about how the SPP will fling open U.S. borders to terrorists, drunken Mexican truck drivers and tens of millions more illegal immigrants who will infect us all with tuberculosis.

The video "North American Union and Vchip Truth" cranks things up another notch. Viewed more than 4.8 million times, it presents the SPP as a big step towards a single world government, with David Rockefeller preventing any resistance by implanting us all with Vchips. We can only hope this is satire, but the 10,000 comments by Youtubers suggest that many viewers aren't getting the joke.

All this would be simply entertaining if it weren't for the fact that the SPP truly is a dangerous initiative -- but not for the reasons cited by the xenophobes.

Launched in 2005, the SPP is an ongoing process of negotiation between the three countries' executive powers to change regulations and other policies to boost business and support the U.S. War on Terror. Twenty SPP working groups on everything from financial services to intelligence cooperation hammer out details in between the annual presidential summits.

In Mexico and Canada, progressive activists are already highly mobilized on the SPP. And while the far right has dominated the U.S. discourse, this is beginning to change. A half dozen U.S. progressive groups organized a strategy meeting in Washington, D.C., in March with activists and legislators from all three countries. Together with local activists in New Orleans, the site of the fourth SPP Presidential Summit on April 21-22, they are planning a Peoples Summit and a trinational meeting of energy sector workers.

Here are 10 reasons why progressives are paying attention to the SPP:

1. No democratic oversight. Although elected officials in all three countries have demanded transparency, they continue to be excluded from the SPP Presidential summits, ministerial meetings and working groups. Legislators have formed a trinational task force to stop the SPP.

2. Secrecy. The SPP excludes civil society organizations and the media from all meetings. During a peaceful demonstration outside the last summit in Canada, the government sent in undercover agents posing as rock-wielding protesters. After being confronted with video footage, authorities fessed up to the scheme.

3. Only big business has a voice. Wal-Mart, Lockheed Martin, and 28 other corporations and business associations are part of an official SPP advisory body called the North American Competitive Council. The council made 51 proposals to SPP negotiators in February 2007 on issues as varied as taxation and patent rights. Six months later, they boasted that "all three of our governments have committed themselves to taking action on many of our recommendations."

4. Expansion of failed NAFTA policies. Even though the lifting of trade and investment barriers under the trade pact has failed to create good jobs, the SPP is further chipping away at remaining economic regulations. For example, at the last SPP summit, the three leaders announced (PDF) a weakening of NAFTA's "rules of origin" to allow products with a lower level of national content to receive preferential tariff treatment. This will undermine domestic industries by making trade in products from third countries like China even more profitable.

5. Privatization. SPP agreements announced thus far show a clear bias in favor of an expanded role for corporations. Two examples: 1) a North American Plan for Avian and Pandemic Influenza intended as a model for private sector and military involvement in emergency management and preparedness and 2) a Trilateral Agreement for Cooperation in Energy, Science and Technology that reflects the NACC's recommendations (PDF) to promote energy privatization in Mexico, where there has been strong resistance to opening up to U.S. oil companies.

6. Energy grab. Progressive activists in Canada and Mexico are particularly concerned about the likelihood that the U.S. government will use the SPP negotiations to push for greater control over its neighbors' resources, under the guise of a "North American integrated energy market." Common Frontiers, the Council of Canadians, and other groups point to an SPP workshop that envisioned a fivefold increase in environmentally destructive oil production from tar sands, with most of the increase to be exported to the United States.

7. Pipeline proliferation. The Sierra Club and others have raised alarm bells about the SPP's Transportation Working Group, whose mandate includes facilitating "multimodal corridors" that could include massive water and oil pipelines, with serious costs to the environment and communities. The Alliance for Democracy is calling for public hearings on the issue.

8. More border baloney. The SPP is focusing on facilitating transit of "legitimate people" and expanding border surveillance infrastructure, rather than addressing the root causes of migration or the rights of undocumented workers. There are also worrisome implications for civil liberties, as Mexico and Canada have agreed to share vast amounts of information with the U.S. government, including the fingerprints of refugees and asylum seekers.

9. Militarization. Mexico and Canada are enlisting in the U.S. War on Terror by creating a North American security perimeter and joining forces against not only external but also "internal threats." Some fear a U.S. multibillion-dollar military aid package for Mexico, supposedly to combat drug cartels, may also end up being used to suppress political dissidence and immigration flows.

10. Polarization. The zany anti-SPP xenophobes may be amusing at times, but their hysteria shows how government secrecy and exclusion can fan the flames of a racist movement and push us further away from any rational response to migration.

Having the leaders of our three deeply interconnected nations getting together to talk is a positive thing. The problem is with what's on the agenda -- and what's not. Rather than a misguided NAFTA expansion, they should be addressing people's real needs and planning a sustainable future.

See AlterNet for the story with linkage.

it's cody day!

Nine years ago today, we adopted Cody, which puts our old girl at around 11 years old. And Sweet Cody Brown is having a birthday party! While we're at work, her friends Cobalt and Denim will be over for a play date, along with their parents. You may recall, Denim is the puppy Cody fell in love with.

For dog-loving readers, here's the rundown on Cody from a previous Cody day. This post about Cody and her mania for big sticks was also a hit.

I was surprised to see I didn't do a Cody Day post last year. (Bad mommy!) She's a lot happier this year, now that she finally loves her new sister.

fork of the credit 09


danny federici dead at 58

Danny Federici, long-time keyboard player for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, has died of cancer at age 58.

This is very sad news. Among those of us who love the E Street Band's sound, he will truly be missed. Here's a tribute to Federici in the New York Daily News.

I'm so fortunate I was able to see the E Streeters last year, while Federici was still kicking on the accordion.

the brain invaders advance over another hill

Marketers have discovered another way to pollute our landscape and invade our brains. It's called the Flogo, and it might be coming soon to a lovely blue-sky day near you.
As kids, most of us spent time laying in the grass, watching clouds roll by and imagining the shapes we could see in the fluffy white masses.

Now, one company aims to indulge those flights of fancy by actually making "clouds" in the shapes of, well, anything, from the Atlanta Braves' tomahawk to Mickey Mouse's iconic head.

These clouds are actually a mixture of soap-based foams and lighter-than-air gases such as helium, something like what you'd get if you married helium balloons with the solutions that kids use to blow bubbles from plastic wands.

The company uses re-purposed artificial snow machines to generate the floating ads and messages, dubbed Flogos. The machines can pop one Flogo out every 15 seconds, flooding the air with foamy peace signs or whatever shape a client desires. Renting the machine for a day starts out at a cost of about $2,500.

Designers use computer software to make a stencil that when placed into the snow machine, "cuts the foam in the exact right shape," said Flogo inventor Francisco Guerra.

The Flogos are about two feet long and nearly a foot wide, and generally last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, depending on conditions in the atmosphere, according to the company.

"They will fly for miles," Guerra said. "They are durable so they last a while."

They generally bob to heights of 300 to 500 feet (90 to 150 meters), the inventors say, though they can rise up to 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) in the air.

Guerra says that Flogos are environmentally friendly as the soaps that make up the foamy shapes are derived from plants, and that eventually a Flogo "just evaporates in the air."

"It does not pollute the skies," he told LiveScience.

Guerra also says the floating ads are not a danger to airplanes, because flying through one is "like going through a cloud." Nothing from the Flogo sticks to the surface of a plane, even if it goes through the aircraft's jet engine, he said.

"It does not pollute the skies." I disagree!

Perhaps these things don't leave chemical residue, although we shouldn't accept the manufacturer's word on that without independent confirmation. But they obviously pollute our visual space with advertising.

To the makers of Flogos: Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should do it. The sky is not yours to sell, nor some corporation's billboard to buy. Keep your fake clouds out of our sky! Here's the Flogo website if you want to tell them yourself.

Story thanks to James, via Gizmodo.


iraq mortatorium # 8

Tomorrow, April 18, is the eighth Iraq Moratorium. The Moratorium, held on the third Friday of each month, is a series of decentralized actions to protest the US occupation of Iraq. I encourage you to take some small, visible action to show your disapproval of this ongoing, senseless war.

At the Iraq Moratorium website, you can find a partial list of planned events, some suggestions for actions you can take on your own, and reports, photos and video from past Moratoriums.

I know it can be difficult to do something visible in your workplace or your community. You feel conspicuous, even embarrassed. Take a deep breath. Put a sign in your window, or your cubicle, or your rear window. Wear a black armband, and when people ask you about it, tell them why you're wearing it. Sit on a park bench holding a sign. When the day is done, you'll feel proud of yourself.

You can't stop a war by yourself, but you can join millions of others who are trying to stop it, together.

domestic crisis, canine variety

Allan and I both work long hours on the weekend. A dogwalker comes in to take care of Cody and Tala.

I get home first. When I came home last Saturday, the place looked exactly as when we left in the morning.

Tala is crated when we're not home. She was very agitated, which is unusual, then she zoomed outside and immediately "did both", also very unusual.

I had a weird feeling that D, the dogwalker, hadn't been in. But I kept telling myself that she wouldn't do that. She's been so reliable and responsible. Had the dogs eaten? Should I feed them?

I was concerned but I just kept debating with myself, was she here or wasn't she. I called and emailed but didn't hear anything. On Sunday morning I left a note and D's money.

When I came home on Sunday, the note and the money were still there, untouched! Now I knew the dogs had been alone all weekend, and hadn't eaten on Saturday.

To compound my guilt, Tala was in a funnel collar - we're trying to get a sore to heal - and she's not very happy in her crate with the collar on. So she was stuck in her crate for 12 hours - something I would never do - two days in a row. And she hadn't eaten the first day! I felt terrible.

And just for good measure, I had a horrible night at work on Sunday (also unusual). So when I came home to this, I was really upset.

Where is D?? She is a single mom of a small child, and has dogs of her own. She has always seemed so responsible and reliable. I keep thinking something must have happened to her or her baby to cause her not to show up. (But why couldn't she have called? Even if there's a crisis, at some point you can find two minutes to call and say you can't make it...) We are confused and worried about her.

You know when you don't know whether to be worried or angry? Of course I hope nothing happened, but if I find out that's true, I'll be furious.

A friend suggested we call the police. It's not an unreasonable idea. "Didn't show up for work" is often how missing people are reported. But D is very close with her mom, who does a lot of child care for her. If D is actually missing, her mother is already aware of it.

I have a new ad on Craigslist (how I found D and her predecessor), and I'm reasonably sure I'll be able to find someone to start next weekend. This weekend, friends of ours are going to come over (thank you thank you thank you). If we couldn't find anyone to do that, we were going to take turns calling in sick. (Uh, no one from work reads this, right?)

We took the dogs to the park both Monday and Tuesday to make up for their crappy weekend. Of course they bounced back much faster than me. Canines are much better at that than humans, with our ridiculous brains.

But where is D?


farley mowat: sealers are not fishermen, they are butchers

I wasn't going to post about the seal slaughter this year. I usually do. In fact, I think an anti-seal-slaughter post was the first criticism of Canada I ever put in this blog - and the only criticism I felt comfortable expressing for at least another year.

I was avoiding the topic this year because I'm sick of the usual, tired arguments.

I eat meat, so I am not entitled to protest the slaughter of animals for fur. Answer: All killing is not the same. Killing for sustenance can be distinguished from killing for commerce and fashion. One needn't be morally pure to protest something one finds immoral. If that were necessary, no one could ever protest anything.

It's a tradition. Answer: So was slavery. So was apartheid. So was women having no legal rights. So is child labour in many parts of the world. Societies change. The fact that a practice was once considered acceptable is not ample justification for its continuance.

The anti-sealing activists are breaking the law. Answer: That's what it takes to change immoral or unethical laws.

I'm tired of the having the same old arguments with the same anonymous posters. So this year, I thought I wouldn't bother.

Until I read this op-ed by Farley Mowat, the man for whom the impounded ship is named. I believe you need Globe & Mail access to read it, so I will reprint the whole thing here.
I have great admiration for Paul Watson and what he has done with his life.

In some ways, I could say our lives have been parallel - both of us more at home with the non-human animals of this world; both of us pretty protective of them, because we have seen how abominably the human species treats other species.

And while I gravitated from my time with the Inuit to care about wolves and whales and became a writer, he moved from whales to reef fishes and on to tuna, and remained always an activist.

When it comes to seals, it was Paul Watson who turned me around.

I met him more than 25 years ago in the Magdalen Islands during one of his early anti-sealing expeditions. I admire fishermen - they're men of adversity who care for nature, and it cares for them - and I thought I'd admire sealers too. So I went out on Watson's boat that year as a neutral observer of the seal hunt.

I was appalled. These sealers weren't like fishermen, they were like butchers. A real fisherman takes what he needs to survive; these people were taking a good deal more. Their sole objective was money.

And they didn't much care if the seals were killed or not. They'd hit them over the head, cut off their flippers and skin them alive. The authorities say this is a canard, that it doesn't happen that way. But it does; it's the absolute truth.

The experience turned me around completely: My sympathy went from the sealers to the seals.

And it brought me closer to Paul Watson. We've kept in touch ever since.

I watched him expand his defence of "the others" until it took in the whole living entity that cloaks the Earth. When I wrote Sea of Slaughter, I was impelled by his work. I'm dedicating my current book, Otherwise, to him.

But what I try to do with words, he does with action. And he's more successful. People can read and ignore my words, they can't ignore him.

In 1998, we went out together on his ship, the Sea Shepherd, to try to stop the seal hunt. We couldn't get near it; we were shadowed every step of the way by the Department of Fisheries' private navy, the Coast Guard.

After the experience, he asked if I would like to have the name of his flagship changed to mine. "You're damn right I would," I said. And it's been the Farley Mowat ever since.

That's made me, vicariously, a participant in the fight to save life in the oceans.

Neither I nor Paul Watson have any problem with those who hunt seals for subsistence, and nothing but admiration for the traditional life of those who live by the sea.

But those who conduct the seal hunt have grown rich by employing men who make a few hundred extra dollars while they buy the fur and flippers and become wealthy from the profit.

It is ruthless exploitation of men as well as nature - the traditional way of life manipulated by a few.

I admit I'm confused by the government's action. I see no financial reason for its persistent defence of this seal hunt. The cost of sending out the Coast Guard, of dispatching delegations to conferences around the world, must be three times the actual returns from the hunt. So what's the point?

Is it just because this way of life has become ingrained and tradition demands that it continue? Well, that's what they used say about bull fighting in Spain, until authorities were forced to change their minds.

Is it because politicians in Ottawa think it garners votes in Atlantic Canada?

Well, I lived in Newfoundland for seven years and still keep in close touch, and it's my experience that more than half the people in the province would like to see the seal hunt ended. They don't like the repercussions, the idea that they are viewed around the world as seal killers.

But most are too afraid to speak out. Loyola Hearn and Danny Williams, these bulls of the balsam swamp, as I call them, frighten them into silence. But it's a lie that most of the people support the hunt.

The authorities say the Farley Mowat endangered the lives of sealers by coming too close to their boats for safety. But even their own pictures show this not to be true. And I know Paul Watson. In all his years, no one has been killed or hurt in any of his operations. If I thought for a moment he'd risk human lives in defence of the creatures of the sea I'd dissociate myself from him. No, the only danger comes from the government that refuses even to enforce safety regulations on the sealers and their boats.

I can assure Canadians that the Farley Mowat did not violate any Canadian laws, and did not even cross into Canadian waters. The people on board knew that Mr. Hearn's navy was waiting to board them if they did. They stayed outside the 12-mile limit, but that didn't stop Mr. Hearn. And I think I know why.

They boarded the ship and forced it to port just to keep it out of the way until the hunt is over. People will find that out in due course. They'll see the electronic positioning records, which the government has seized, and realize it was an error. But by then it will be too late, and another couple hundred thousand seals will be dead and skinned.

The act being played out in the Cabot Strait would be expected if it came from a third-rate dictatorial country, but not from a democracy like Canada.

I'm ashamed of this behaviour.

Here are some letters in response. Just the good ones.
Is it possible for the crew of the Farley Mowat to get a fair trial here, now that Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn has already acted as judge and jury, and publicly called them "a bunch of money-sucking manipulators" (The Seizure Of The Farley Mowat - editorial, April 14)? What a pathetic, unprofessional statement. How annoying that I have to pay for this "trial" and the circus that is the seal kill.
Sharon Stephenson, Langley, BC

I just mailed the cheque I normally would have donated to the Conservative Party to Paul Watson from the Sea Shepherd society. The Conservatives can expect no more support from this home unless they address the slaughter off the East Coast.
Eric Johnson, Grimsby, ON

Seeing my tax dollars hard at work arresting seal protesters makes me ashamed to call myself Canadian. Our government just doesn't get it. Why are we investing hundreds of millions of dollars across Canada to attract tourism when we're prepared to flush our international image down the toilet for $20-million in seal pelts? This cruel slaughter is disgusting, it's an economic disaster, and it's an embarrassment.
Craig Kelley, Vancouver, BC

ok liberals, what are you waiting for now?

The federal Tories have ended their flirtation with majority government territory, according to a new poll that puts them back to the same support levels that gave them their current minority.

The poll shows that, while the Tories appear to be improving their standing with Quebec voters, they have lost support in Ontario since Finance Minister Jim Flaherty launched attacks on the province's Liberal government.

The Strategic Counsel survey, conducted April 10-13, found that 36 per cent of voters would support the Tories if an election were held today, compared with 30 per cent who would back the Liberals.

The results for the two parties match the 2006 vote.

I believe this is what's known as "neck and neck". And this is with the Liberals acting like Tory lapdogs. Imagine how the poll might read if Stéphane Dion and his party showed a little chutzpah and stood up to Harper's bullying?

vacations in the culture of fear

Much has been written about the culture of fear that pervades so many people, especially parents, in these times.

There's a lot of money to be made by exploiting fear, from home-alarm systems to war profiteering. (Get 'em over there before they get us over here!) There are websites, catalogues and stores full of products designed with fearful parents in mind. For many, the padded playground has come to symbolize parental over-protectiveness and obsession with safety. We've all read about it; I won't try to recreate the whole argument here.

I see and hear a lot of stories about many parents' attempt to create a risk-free world for their children - as if such a thing is possible, and as if it is preferred. Without risk, there can be no growth, no testing of boundaries, no meaningful accomplishment. One needn't be a daredevil to know that a fearful child will have less self-confidence and have a more difficult time achieving independence. Falling on an ordinary, non-padded, playground, scraping your knee, then continuing to play is something of a metaphor for growing up.

I overheard something recently that perfectly illustrated the culture of parental fear. (Don't know if you've noticed, but a large percentage of my essay-type posts originate from overheard conversations. I'm always listening.)

This particular overheard conversation was lengthy; I was sort of trapped beside it, unseen, for an extended period of time. A woman was telling someone about her recent family vacation. They went on a Disney cruise. She went on and on about how great it was - an enormous variety of activities for kids of all ages and for adults. But what she really loved about the Disney cruise, as opposed to any other vacation they've taken, is how safe it was.

Every time you walked into a dining room or buffet, staff was handing out hand sanitizers. People were sanitizing the elevator buttons and door knobs all day long.

After leaving the ship for island entertainment (also owned by Disney), they had to pass through metal detectors and show identification to re-board. None of the other cruise lines did that!

All the entertainment was produced by Disney, of course, so there was no danger the children would be exposed to anything inappropriate.

The kids had to wear helmets and shin guards for all non-water activities, and life jackets for all water activities.

She talked about this a lot. "And it just made us feel so safe, so protected. It was the best part of the trip."

This astonished me.

I know that there have been illness outbreaks on cruise ships, so I understand that sanitation may be an issue. I'll give her that. But this was the best part of the trip?

Now, I'm not a cruise person in the first place. I can think of few things I'd enjoy less than be trapped anywhere with 2,000 other people and a bunch of "activities". To an independent traveler like me, the whole concept of this kind of holiday is hideous.

I also reject the notion that the only vacation you can take with kids are theme parks or cruises. I grew up going to national parks and historical sites. We hiked and rode horses and talked to park rangers, and we saw our country.

It's not a money issue. This woman's family had first spent a week in Florida (ugh), then did this four-day Disney cruise. She told her friend that the cruise was more expensive than the entire week in Florida including airfare, a giant splurge. I could plan three vacations for this family with what they spent on this one cruise. I kept thinking of all the cool things they could have seen and done for the same cost.

So sure, my reaction to this conversation is tempered by my general disgust at that type of holiday. But the safety issue just amazed me. How fearful she must be to make that such a high priority!

Are you thinking, "if she was a parent, she'd understand"? Well, I'm not a parent (not of humans, anyway), but my parents were. And I thank [something] that they didn't raise me to believe I needed hand sanitation and metal detection every time I turned around.

We knew about safety. We wore seat belts, we washed our hands after the bathroom, we had a fire safety plan. But we were also taught, by example, that there are worlds to explore, and given the confidence to do it.

My sister and brother are parents, and they didn't raise their kids in a fearful environment, either. My nieces and nephews travel all over the world on their own. They move into unchartered territory in their own lives, both figuratively and literally.

I also helped raise a child - I was a nanny, like a second mom, to a boy for five years. I saw risk, and I saw safety, and I saw a person who needed to test the world, to explore.

In addition, I have spoken with dozens of families of children with physical disabilities. Independence and potential over-protectiveness are huge issues in this world. The children who thrive come from families that recognize that life is risk.

But for every parent who is afraid of the big, bad world their children are entering, Disney, and dozens of other companies, are waiting to cash in.

I don't have any huge conclusion to draw from this. I just find it sad, and wrong.

department of lame excuses deports gay refugee claimant

Slap Upside The Head has the final verdict on Joaquin Ramirez, another gay man denied asylum in Canada.
Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board rejected Joaquin's story, asking why he didn't apply for police protection back at home before coming here.

Police protection. For a gay man in El Salvador. What planet are these people living on?

I guess it's the same planet where the nature of the Iraq War is not relevant to the war resisters' refugee cases, so the Refugee Board refused to hear arguments about it.

See Slap Upside for lots of news you might miss, plus his kickin' illustrations. Slap says he's "combatting bigotry the gayest way I know how". He's one of my favourite bloggers.


now here's a headline i can enjoy

"Mounties search Tory headquarters - RCMP searched Conservative party headquarters in Ottawa on Tuesday at the request of Elections Canada."

I hope they find lots of goodies!


but i'm sure it was just an innocent slip of the tongue

The Chairman of Associated Press referred to the world's most famous and elusive terrorist as "Obama Bin Laden".
After addressing the journalists gathered at the annual Associated Press luncheon in Washington, D.C., today, Sen. Barack Obama, standing at the podium, took a few questions. The last one from the audience, delivered via AP chairman W. Dean Singleton, was related to Afghanistan, our troops in Iraq and the threat posed by, as Singleton put it, "Obama bin Laden."

Obama quickly corrected Singleton. "That's Osama bin Laden," he said. The crowd laughed a bit. "If I did that, I am so sorry," Singleton replied.

Then Obama said, "This is part of what I have been going through for the past months, which is why it is impressive that I am still standing here."

Yes folks, that's the Chairman of AP, the organization described (by itself) as "the backbone of the world's information system, serving thousands of daily newspaper, radio, television and online customers. . . the largest and oldest news organization in the world. . .".

Thanks to the researcher-in-chief.

File this under humour? Election fraud? Things that leave me speechless?

immigration "reform" and this endless harper government

I'm unhappy about the proposed changes to Canada's immigration policy, and unhappy about the way they are being moved through Parliament, tacked onto budget votes in a series of we-dare-you confidence motions.

The Toronto Star's Carol Goar had a good piece about it last month, and it's still relevant. Emphasis mine.
It is possible that Immigration Minister Diane Finley wants more power to do exactly what she says: clean up her department's enormous backlog of unprocessed applications.

It is also possible that she is equipping herself to transform Canada's overloaded immigration system into a lean, business-friendly recruitment tool.

Both interpretations fit the available facts. The determining factor will be how the minister uses her expanded mandate.

Legal experts are still parsing the changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, introduced on March 14. But the preliminary consensus is that they are much more significant than Canadians have been told.

Under the new legislation, the immigration minister would have the authority to:

Limit the number of immigration applications Canada accepts.

Deny admission to applicants already approved by immigration officers.

Block the entry of would-be immigrants "by category or otherwise."

These measures, backed by a $22 million funding boost in last month's budget, would certainly allow the government to whittle down its pile of 900,000 unprocessed immigration applications.

If visa offices cut off new applications, the staff could tackle the six-year accumulation of paperwork in their files. If the minister instructed them, as a first priority, to discard all applications from individuals who have died, immigrated elsewhere or decided against coming to Canada, the pile would shrink appreciably.

But if clearing the backlog is Finley's objective, why does she need the power to bar certain types of immigrants? Why does she seek the authority to reject applicants who have already met Canada's admission criteria? Why doesn't she just give managers of visa offices in countries such as China, India and the Philippines the discretion to close the intake pipe when their workloads become unmanageable?

The sweeping nature of the changes proposed in Bill C-50 suggests something bigger than housecleaning is afoot.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty called it "modernizing the immigration system" in his Feb. 26 budget. He said the government wants a "just-in-time competitive immigration system, which will quickly process skilled immigrants who can make an immediate contribution to the economy."

The fastest way to get there is to centralize control in the minister's office.

That is what Bill C-50 would do. If Finley wanted to block the inflow of relatives sponsored by family members in Canada, she could do it. If she wanted to exclude immigrants from certain countries, she could do it. If she wanted to propel foreign workers needed by a government-friendly employer to the front of the queue, she could do that, too.

"This fundamentally changes our immigration policy," said Lorne Waldman, a lawyer who has practised in the field for more than 30 years. "The minister could issue an instruction overriding all of the existing criteria."

What this means, Waldman said, is that Canada would no longer be an immigrant-welcoming country. It would be a rich Western power that shops for high-value immigrants. Federal officials would no longer use objective standards to determine whether an individual qualifies for a visa. The minister would be able to set and change the rules at will.

"I'm very concerned," he said. "These changes are far more serious than people have been led to believe."

. . .

Perhaps Finley has no intention of currying favour with ethnic voters, catering to the demands of business or keeping out people from certain regions. But if this bill becomes law, there will be nothing to stop her.

In the Montreal Gazette, Ian MacDonald writes about Harper's worrisome strategy.
The Conservatives keep daring the Liberals to defeat them in the House. The Liberals keep threatening to do so, only to fold when push comes to shove in votes.

The latest Conservative dare is over an immigration bill meant to reduce a huge six-year backlog of 800,000 persons waiting to get in the country, and expedite those whose credentials fill the need of the Canadian labour market. By tying it to budget implementation, the Conservatives have made it a money bill, and thus a question of confidence.

The Liberals are trying to stir old ghosts among ethnic voters about narrow-minded Conservative attitudes on immigration. Whipping up anxieties in multicultural communities, a core Liberal constituency, is something they do well.

Thus, for two weeks in the House, the Liberals have pounded the government on the immigration bill.

. . .

But this debate isn't about the immigration reform bill. Not really. Especially since it's been tied to the budget as a question of confidence. It's about whether the Liberals can muster the courage to bring down the government at month's end, forcing a June election. It's a big game of truth or dare.

Or, as a senior cabinet minister put it privately the other day: "We are giving the Liberals another chance to defeat us over the immigration bill."

And if the Liberals blink again, then once again they will appear weak and unprincipled. But the Liberal caucus is increasingly unhappy being stuck in this place. And there are hidden leadership agendas, of Iggy and Bob Rae, that could precipitate an election.

MacDonald and many other pundits see the strategy as a no-lose for Harper. He either survives the confidence motion or forces an election while the Liberals are supposedly bleeding support.

But there's a lot of anger and dissatisfaction with this government: with their hypocrisy (transparency? accountability? yeah, right!), their penchant for secrecy, their feud with Ontario, and a whole series of unpopular, regressive bills.

The Liberals have been fools to let the Harper government go this far, as every unanswered dare only strengthens the Tories. Partisan Liberal supporters who can only whine, "But it's not time for an election!" are even worse. Your party props up this Conservative government for twice as long as it should have, and all you can say is "But they're not ready...". That, and blame the NDP (who has done exactly none of this propping up) and NDP supporters for "splitting the vote" (i.e., voting for the actual progressive party).

I don't know what would happen in a summer election - and despite the pronouncements, neither does anyone else - but I do know we won't get rid of this government without an election. Enough already!

a shot at a verified vote in the u.s. election

In the US, activists for democracy have reached a potential milestone. Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will vote on HR 5036, "The Emergency Election Assistance for Secure Elections Act".

We already know electronic voting cannot be trusted. Currently, only 17 states have a voter-verified paper trail with a mandatory audit. Without a paper record, the vote cannot be audited.

HR 5036 would provide funds for voter-verified paper records and audits of the vote on Election Day. However, the bill does not require states to have paper trails or audits. Participation is optional, so voters would still have to fight for paper audits on the state level. Big bad feds not allowed to require poor little ole states to do anything.

Howard Stanislevic, who writes a blog about the dangers of electronic voting, sees some welcome language in this bill.

US voters should contact their Congresspeople and urge them to support HR 5036.

This bill represents a long campaign by a lot of dedicated activists. It will be interesting to see if it goes anywhere.



Search string of the day:
do i have to fill out any forms to move to canada?

Forms?? Oh, baby!

tutu says boycott beijing

How did I miss this? Earlier this week, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on world leaders to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu said Tuesday he supported international protests surrounding the Olympic torch and urged world leaders to boycott the games' opening ceremony in Beijing over China's human rights record.

The retired Anglican archbishop from South Africa also called on China to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is seeking autonomy for Tibet.

Tutu praised protesters who have put themselves on the line in Paris, San Francisco and elsewhere to protest last month's crackdown in Tibet, which claimed as many as 140 lives.

In particular, he applauded three climbers who hung pro-Tibet banners Monday from the Golden Gate Bridge.

"I salute them," he said.

Tutu was in San Francisco to receive the Outspoken Award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission for his work on behalf of gay and lesbian rights.

Desmond Tutu is a hero of mine and proof that religion can be a positive force in the world. Not in my own life, of course! But in the fight for social justice.

crisis of food, crisis of heart

People are starving all over the world.

People who already live on a knife's edge of hunger and need are being pushed further into hopelessness.

This is scrambling my mind and weighing on my heart. I seldom say this about anything, but the global food crisis feels so huge and so hopeless to me.

* * * *

As societies collapse, the people clinging to the bottom rung of the economic ladder will always feel the effects first, and the people on the top will be sheltered the longest. At the very top, consumption - and superconsumption - blithely continues. The tide rises, the people on the bottom drown, and people further up the scale begin to feel the effects.

We see this all around us, as formerly middle class Americans huddle in tent cities, as people riot for food, as rice is delivered in armoured vehicles.

For those of us who already view the global situation as a series of resource wars, this development fits squarely into the picture. The very scary picture.

If the spectre of people starving all over the world doesn't move us, perhaps the spectre of riots, terrorism and massacres will.

Canada is home to much of the world's fresh water and large reserves of oil. How will that figure in?

We know that one major factor contributing to this global crisis is biofuels. We knew it was obscene to grow food for cars, instead of people, but the people with cars can pay, and the people who need food cannot, and profit drives the world.

* * * *

This morning I was crunching some numbers, figuring out how to pay some bills while we save for our vacation. I'm researching where to buy pasture-raised meat. We are planning our party, and filling up our gas tank, and watching baseball on cable TV. And people all over the world are sinking into desperation because the price of a bag of rice is more than their monthly income. It's obscene.

I feel helpless. Please tell me I'm not. Please tell me, what can we do?