rtod: extremism normalized

Revolutionary thought of the day:
Remember when, in the wake of the 9/11 attack, the Patriot Act was controversial, held up as the symbolic face of Bush/Cheney radicalism and widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties and restraints on federal surveillance and detention powers? Yet now, the Patriot Act is quietly renewed every four years by overwhelming majorities in both parties (despite substantial evidence of serious abuse), and almost nobody is bothered by it any longer.

. . . The idea of flying robots hovering over American soil monitoring what citizens do en masse is yet another one of those ideas that, in the very recent past, seemed too radical and dystopian to entertain, yet is on the road to being quickly mainstreamed. When that happens, it is no longer deemed radical to advocate such things; radicalism is evinced by opposition to them.

Glenn Greenwald, "Extremism Normalized"


we like lists: list # 16: five things going on with me

I did this once before - turns out it was about a year ago - and although not many people participated, it made for good conversation and helped me get caught up with some friends. So why not? I still prefer posting about my life here as opposed to Facebook. From last year's post:
This list will answer the burning question: What's up? What's happening in your life? Doing anything interesting? Enjoying doing something mundane? Reading a good book? Working in your garden? Suffering from the heat? Tell us! Elaborate as much or little as you'd like.
We'll limit this to five, but less than five is OK.

1. My mom's annual visit is this week; she arrives tomorrow and leaves Friday. I always try to make her visit special - cook a nice dinner, do stuff she'll enjoy, have foods she loves in the house. She is very easy to please, and super appreciative, so it's a pleasure to make the effort.

Would you believe this woman turned 81 this year? This photo is from 2010.

2. I'm loving going to War Resisters meetings this summer. During the last school term, especially after I added my library job, I had to stop attending meetings, and was only marginally active by email, and attended some large events. It feels awful to sacrifice what I care about most! And it's also isolating, as meetings (and the post-meeting pub) is a big chunk of my social life. So it's great to be back this summer... and I will again have to drop it come September.

3. Speaking of September, here's a newflash: I'm not completely dreading school this year! That's a nice change. Knowing it's my last year is making it much easier to face. Plus - a huge plus - all my classes should be relevant to my new career. In the fall I'm taking "Children's Cultural Texts" with a great instructor I had last year for the children's digital games workshop, and "Public Library Advocacy," with an instructor who is a famous former public librarian and administrator, and teaches people how to advocate for libraries in their communities. In the winter, I'll have "Graphic Novels and Comic Books in the Library" and "Issues in Chidren's and Young Adults' Services". And then I will be done.

4. And speaking of being done... This is way far in advance, but I'll share anyway, since it's so present in my mind. I am planning a trip to celebrate finishing my degree. I love planning trips - for me it's part of the excitement of travel - so I'm having a great time thinking about this one, no matter that it's 10 months away! We'll start out in London (the "other London") to visit some friends, including a close friend who we haven't seen since she relocated in 1999. Then we'll spend a few days in Paris, because I've decided that every trip to Europe should include a visit to Paris. (Our last time in both London and Paris was 1998.) Then we'll take an overnight train from Paris to Barcelona, and spend the rest of the time in Spain. I'm not sure how long we'll have in Spain, but at least 10 days, maybe more. So far, Barcelona, Bilboa, and Roman ruins are the main targets.

Roman aqueduct in Segovia, Spain

5. Over the weekend, I read this excellent feature about Springsteen in The New Yorker. We weren't planning on seeing him on this tour, but now I feel I must. I've seen Bruce many, many times, beginning in 1978 and most recently in 2007. Now he's playing one night in Toronto and one night in Hamilton, and who knows if or when I will ever have the opportunity to see him again.

Your turn!


memo to rcmp and csis: it's not the environmentalists who are radical. it's the harper government.

CBC reports that a heavily censored, declassified report obtained by the Canadian Press shows that the RCMP (with input from CSIS and the CBSA) have issued warnings about the supposedly growing threat of radical environmentalism in Canada.

Isn't that convenient. With the Harper Government branding everyone who opposes their anti-environment, anti-human, profit-over-all agenda as dangerous radicals, we can now hear it direct from the spying-enforcement agencies themselves. Supposedly Greenpeace and other environmental groups are dangerous and might become violent.

As Yossi Cadan, campaigns director for Greenpeace Canada, is quoted as saying:
There is a difference between breaking the law and criminal activities. . . . It's true that the distance between the government policy and the environmental movement is growing, but I don't think that the movement is getting more radical.
The Harper GovernmentTM, on the other hand, is trying to radically remake Canada in its own image: a country whose laws derive from ignorance, bigotry, and emotion rather than science, fact, and rationality. A country that gleefully destroys our environment so that a few may profit. A militarized country, where peace and safe refuge are scorned as naive and wasteful, and the only social programs worth funding involve guns, bombs, or prisons.

People who oppose this government's dangerous policies are not radical. We are ordinary Canadians. It's the government that's radical.

ten years too long: bring omar khadr back to canada

Today marks 10 years since Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, then 15 years old, was picked up in Afghanistan. For an entire decade, he has lived in prison, first in Bagram, then in the US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay. He lives in solitary confinement, which is recognized internationally as a form of torture.

Just this week, Public Safety [sic] Minister Vic Toews scrambled to find new excuses to not bring Khadr back to Canada. Professional wingnut Ezra Levant launched a new campaign to discredit Khadr and bolster the government's case. We can only hope that, as with most of Levant's ranting, this one will end up backfiring.

May I please ask you to do three things?

First, if you have not already done so, sign the petition created by Senator Romeo Dallaire, calling on Toews to bring Khadr back to Canada.

Second, please share the petition with everyone you know.

And third, read this excellent column by Thomas Walkom.
Some are down on Ezra Levant, the prolific conservative gadfly who pops up on every known mass medium to offer unsolicited views.

But in the case of Omar Khadr and the reluctant minister, I think Levant has performed a great service.

He has done so by making public some of the strange reasoning that informs Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ decision to delay Khadr’s return to Canada.

And in doing so, he has inadvertently made clear the absurdity of the government’s excuses.

Most Canadians have probably never heard of Ezra Levant. But if extreme conservative views are at play, he is almost certainly involved.

His rants provided the impetus for Ottawa’s decision to attack environmentalists as un-Canadian radicals.

He once publicly accused George Soros, the Jewish-Hungarian-American financier, of collaborating with the Nazis (under threat of lawsuit, Levant later recanted).

More recently, Levant’s no-holds-barred attacks on Omar Khadr have bolstered Toews’ reluctance to honour a 2010 plea deal aimed at bringing the Canadian prisoner back from Guantanamo Bay.

Khadr, of course, is the Toronto-born man who at the age of 15 was captured by U.S. forces following an Afghan firefight. He has been incarcerated at Guantanamo for almost 10 years.

In 2010, he entered into a plea bargain where he admitted killing a U.S. soldier during that firefight. In return, the Americans sentenced him to eight more years in jail. Under the deal agreed to by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government at the time, seven of those were to be served in Canada.

It’s the return to Canada that Toews has been stalling. The minister now argues that before making a decision he must see pre-sentencing reports and videos, including those by U.S. forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner.

Welner testified to the military commission sentencing Khadr that the Canadian is a threat to society.

Which brings us back to Ezra Levant. He argues that Khadr, now 25, has duped his lawyers, virtually all of the media, most of his jailers and those experts (including a senior U.S. military psychiatrist) who say he poses no threat to anyone.

To support his point, Levant has posted online Welner’s report on Khadr as well as a transcript of the psychiatrist’s testimony.

Both make fascinating reading.

Welner’s analysis of Khadr is based on three broad factors. First, the young man remains an observant Muslim. Some might say this means he’s just an observant Muslim. Welner concludes it means he hasn’t been sufficiently westernized.

Second, Khadr hopes to see his mother and siblings again. Again, some might interpret this as normal. To Welner, it means he remains committed to jihadist views.

Third, Khadr is irked about being locked up at Gitmo. I’d be ticked too. But Welner says this shows he is unrepentant.

On it goes. . . . .

During the hearing, Welner testified that his approach was heavily influenced by the work of Danish psychologist Nicolai Sennels.

Only under cross-examination was it revealed that Sennels has strange views of his own, including beliefs that Turks are inbred and that Muslims should be forced out of Europe.

This is the gist of the so-called secret evidence against Khadr. Surely even a Harper cabinet minister can’t take such nonsense seriously.


what i'm reading: further thoughts on ralph ellison's invisible man

Before reading Invisible Man, I thought the book's title referred to the invisibility of black men in white society, but it turns out I was mistaken.

Ellison didn't call his masterpiece "Invisible Men". The titular Man refers to a man - an individual, a person, a human being with a unique identity. The man in question realizes he is invisible because he is always seen as a Black Man, always slotted into one of the ways black people are perceived in American society - not just by white people, but by black people, too, and all the time. Indeed, the people most despised by the narrator are not the ignorant Southern rednecks who thrive on humiliating their black neighbours, but the hypocritical, duplicitous black leaders who in public are "a credit to the race," but in private are greedy for power, ready to betray and vanquish any black brother one who stands in their way.

As the nameless narrator's world expands, he begins to realize that he has only a limited number of identities to choose from, and based on his appearance, demeanour and speech, he will be slotted into one of those types - and this is what he rebels against. He yearns to know not which slot he fits into, which uniform he can wear, but who he is underneath the uniform.

Invisible Man is a journey of a search for identity - not just identity as an African-American, but an identity that transcends such a description, the identity of self - of self-definition. In this sense, the book resonates universally.

Consider this. A man wants to eat some food - food he loves, food suffused with pleasant memories of his childhood. But that food is a brand, a mark. Only "country niggers" eat that food, not sophisticated Harlem men. When he says, essentially, "fuck it," throws off convention and judgement, and eats that food, he feels free and alive, because he's made his own choice. And because the food is delicious, and he enjoys it! A simple pleasure he would be denied by social conventions.

The man imagines the director of his former school - the two-faced man who has betrayed him - and what would happen if he ate this country Southern food.
I took a bite, finding it as sweet and hot as any I'd ever had, and was overcome with such a surge of homesickness that I turned away to keep my control. I walked along, munching the yam, just as suddenly overcome by an intense feeling of freedom -- simply because I was eating while walking along the street. It was exhilarating. I no longer had to worry about who saw me or about what was proper.

To hell with all that, and as sweet as the yam actually was, it became like nectar with the thought. If only someone who had known me at school or at home would come along and see me now. How shocked they'd be! I'd push them into a side street and smear their faces with the peel.

What a group of people we were, I thought. Why, you could cause us the greatest humiliation simply by confronting us with something we liked. Not all of us, but so many. Simply by walking up and shaking a set of chitterlings or a well-boiled hog maw at them during the clear light of day! What consternation it would cause! And I saw myself advancing upon Bledsoe, standing bare of his false humility in the crowded lobby of Men's House, and seeing him there and him seeing me and ignoring me and me enraged and suddenly whipping out a foot or two of chitterlings, raw, uncleaned and dripping sticky circles on the floor as I shake them in his face, shouting: "Bledsoe, you're a shameless chitterling eater! I accuse you of relishing hog bowels! Ha! And not only do you eat them, you sneak and eat them in private when you think you're unobserved! You're a sneaking chitterling lover! I accuse you of indulging in a filthy habit, Bledsoe! Lug them out of there, Bledsoe! Lug them out so we can see! I accuse you before the eyes of the world!" And he lugs them out, yards of them, with mustard greens, and racks of pigs' ears, and pork chops and black-eyed peas with dull accusing eyes.

I let out a wild laugh, almost choking over the yam as the scene spun before me. Why, with others present, it would be worse than if I had accused him of raping an old woman of ninety-nine years, weighing ninety pounds . . . blind in one eye and lame in the hip! Bledsoe would disintegrate, disinflate! With a profound sigh he'd drop his head in shame. He'd lose caste. The weekly newspapers would attack him. The captions over his picture: Prominent Educator Reverts to Field Niggerism! His rivals would denounce him as a bad example for the South. Editorials would demand that he either recant or retire from public life. In the South his white folks would desert him; he would be discussed far and wide, and all of the trustees' money couldn't prop up his sagging prestige. He'd end up an exile washing dishes at the Automat. For down South he'd be unable to get a job on the honey wagon.

This is all very wild and childish, I thought, but to hell with being ashamed of what you liked. No more of that for me. I am what I am! I wolfed down the yam and ran back to the old man and handed him twenty cents, "Give me two more," I said.

"Sho, all you want, long as I got 'em. I can see you a serious yam eater, young fellow. You eating them right away?"

"As soon as you give them to me," I said.

"You want 'em buttered?"


"Sho, that way you can get the most out of 'em. Yessuh," he said, handing over the yams, "I can see you one of these old-fashioned yam eaters."

"They're my birthmark," I said. "I yam what I am!"
Can you remember feeling that way as a young person? The first glimmer of your own autonomy, the feeling of being free to stand on your own, to make your own choices? To say, "fuck it," just in your own mind, to the people whose judgements held you back?

Later on, at his first political gathering, a drunken party-goer asks the narrator to sing a spiritual. The request is suffused with racism, and it embarrasses the other guests, who are modern, sophisticated, and steeped in egalitarianism. He helps everyone out of the awkward moment by laughing it off as the harmless foolishness of someone who's had too much to drink. But then he wonders, why should being asked to sing be such a problem?
"Oh, he was only tipsy," I said, looking into her thin, New England face.

"Yes, I know, and revealingly so. I would never ask our colored brothers to sing, even though I love to hear them. Because I know that it would be a very backward thing. You are here to fight along with us, not to entertain. I think you understand me, don't you, Brother?"

I gave her a silent smile.

"Of course you do. I must go now, good-bye," she said, extending her little white-gloved hand and leaving.

I was puzzled. Just what did she mean? Was it that she understood that we resented having others think that we were all entertainers and natural singers? But now after the mutual laughter something disturbed me: Shouldn't there be some way for us to be asked to sing? Shouldn't the short man have the right to make a mistake without his motives being considered consciously or unconsciously malicious? After all, he was singing, or trying to. What if I asked him to sing?
I related to these passages, thinking of what most of us experience as we grow up. As we figure out who we are, as we become more secure in our own identities, we realize we can move beyond the stifling labels we bumped against in junior high or high school. (Are you a freak, a jock, or a nerd? What if you're none of those, or a little bit of all?) Perhaps it's easier these days, with the culture more fractionated, less monolithic, easier to mix-and-match to find your true self. Or perhaps that's just my distorted view as someone whose identity struggles are long behind her.

Ralph Ellison's narrator struggles to achieve full personhood, because no one will see him as himself. His identity is always bound up in the roles that other people project on The Black Man. Certainly this is specific to the African-American experience. And surely it is also universal to the human experience. That's part of what makes this a Great Book.

* * * *

In my earlier post about this novel, I noticed certain parallels between Invisible Man and Colson Whitehead's Zone One, which I recently read and loved. I noted that both novels are narrated in the first person by a man whose name we never learn. Shortly after writing that post, I learned that the similarity goes further. The narrator of Zone One goes by an alias given to him by others - and about halfway through Invisible Man, its narrator is re-named by a group of people. I'm wondering if Whitehead consciously drew this parallel, and if I'll notice any others.

tom davis deanimated at age 59

I've just learned of the untimely passing of a very funny man.

Those of us old enough to remember the brilliant and subversive "The Franken and Davis Show" bits on the old Saturday Night Live may have sometimes wondered what happened to Al Franken's less famous partner. Tom Davis died last week at the too-young age of 59.
In 2004, contestants on “Jeopardy!” were stumped by the clue “He was the comedy partner of Al Franken.”

Tom Davis, that comedy partner, sighed as he watched. He was so inured to playing second fiddle to Mr. Franken, now a Democratic senator from Minnesota, that he called himself Sonny to Mr. Franken’s Cher.

But the fact is that Mr. Davis helped shape Mr. Franken’s comedy, and vice versa, from the time they entertained students with rebellious, razor-edged humor at high school assemblies in Minnesota.

In 1975, Mr. Davis, brilliant at improvisational comedy, and Mr. Franken, a whiz at plotting funny sequences, became two of the first writers on a new show called “Saturday Night Live,” which has lasted 37 years. (The two should actually be called one of the show’s first writers: they accepted a single salary of $350 a week. Each, singly, was called “the guys.”)

Mr. Davis never lost the quirky, original tone that helped shape the show, and in his last months he referred to death as “deanimation.” He deanimated on Thursday at his home in Hudson, N.Y., at age 59. The cause was throat and neck cancer, his wife, Mimi Raleigh, said.

With Dan Akroyd and others, Mr. Davis helped create the clan of extraterrestrials known as the Coneheads, who attributed their peculiarities to having come from France. He and Mr. Franken collaborated on Mr. Aykroyd’s impersonation of Julia Child, in which the television chef cuts herself and bleeds to death after grabbing a phone to dial 911, only to find it’s a prop. As she collapses she bids her audience “Bon appétit!”

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Aykroyd spoke of Mr. Davis’s “massive contribution” to the show, characterizing him as “very disciplined” and able to herd less focused writers toward something concrete. “There was no frivolous waste of time,” he said.

Mr. Davis was present at the creation of Irwin Mainway (played by Mr. Aykroyd), head of a company that made “Bag o’ Glass” and other dangerous toys. He midwifed Theodoric of York, a medieval barber-surgeon, played by the guest host Steve Martin, who believed bloodletting cured everything. A famous sketch about a drunken President Richard M. Nixon stumbling around the White House conversing with past presidents’ portraits and spouting anti-Semitism? Mr. Davis and Mr. Franken wrote it.

They flirted with the margins of taste: a sketch about the Holocaust was rejected, but others about child abuse and the murder of lesbians made it onto the air.

In the early years of “Saturday Night Live,” Mr. Davis and Mr. Franken also appeared as a comic duo. One Franken and Davis routine was “The Brain Tumor Comedian,” in which Mr. Franken, his head bandaged, tried to tell jokes but kept forgetting the punch line. Mr. Davis fought tears as he implored the audience to applaud.
Amazingly, very few Franken and Davis SNL moments are online, and what I found is not representative. This HuffPo obituary has some material, along with some interviews.

Tom Davis' comedy was a highlight of my late-night TV teen years. I'm sorry he died so young.

olympics. not.

The 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics kick off today, with Opening Ceremonies that are supposed to be completely over-the-top. With a £27 million price tag ($42.5 million Canadian) for those three hours alone, they ought to be. We're told that one billion people worldwide will watch the Opening Ceremonies. I won't be one of them.

I used to love the Olympics - the competition, the ubiquitous underdog stories, the feats of seemingly superhuman ability. I was able to tune out the nationalism and concentrate on the athletes. In the 1990s, when I started writing about disability sports, I shifted my focus to the Paralympics. I felt that competition best embodied the true spirit of amateur sport, and that helped me block out the increasingly disturbing issues surrounding the Olympic games.

These days I can't enjoy the games at all. I get past the corporatism, the nationalism, and the constant blending of the two into a corporate-fascist spectacle.

Right now in London, as the UK is besieged by the continued dismantling of the public sector, as banksters continue to rig the system while workers pay 20% VAT and lose their public libraries, a great city is victimized again by a £9,000,000,000 (that's $14.2 billion Canadian) funnelling of public funds into private coffers.

The residents of London are under siege in a civil liberties crackdown rivalling the horror show Toronto lived through during the G20. Brand Police comb the city for trademark infringements, forcing the owners of an "Olympic Cafe" to change their sign to "Lympic Cafe", and threatening a sausage vendor who sculpted the familiar five rings out of kielbasa with a $30,000 fine. If that sounds funny, consider that these special police have the right to enter homes, shops, and offices without a warrant, and remove signs the Olympic committee has deemed unacceptable.

I used to find refuge in the Paralympics, but naturally those games have been infected by the same viruses. Witness Canadian wheelchair racer Josh Cassidy, from the neighbouring town of Oakville, world-record winner of the 2012 Boston Marathon. Cassidy is extremely talented and time was I'd be interviewing him... but the oil pipeline company logo on his chest is just more than I can bear.

I thank and stand in solidarity with the Counter Olympics Network for their excellent work at documenting the increasing militarization, corporate profit, and assault on housing, labour, and the environment that the Olympics have become.

Cartoon Movement has a good graphic version of the issues.

And I hope you will enjoy the results of the counter-Olympics logos and posters collected by an excellent subversive blogger Kevin Blowe, a/k/a Random Blowe.

If all else fails, you can always follow the Lodnon 2102 Oimplycs. (Thanks to reader John F in comments.)

In late 2011, Chris Allison — Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner and the national coordinator of Olympic security — briefed the London Assembly on policing costs for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. He highlighted ‘four key risks to the Games’—terrorism, protest, organised crime, and natural disasters. Singling out protest as a ‘threat’ and then sandwiching it between terrorism and organised crime was revealing. For political activists it was ominous. Security officials should most assuredly do their best to prevent acts of terrorism—that’s their job—but this does not give them carte blanche to conflate activism with terrorism and criminality. Keeping the Games safe from terrorism is one thing—green lighting the squelching of individual freedoms and human rights is another entirely.
From the Red Pepper Blog, "Policing Dissent at London 2012". Thanks to AZ.


rtod: the how to guide for understanding rioting negroes

Revolutionary Thought of the Day: the KFC Double Down is a plot against white America.
The Negro Rioting Plan that's been put in place is a terribly complicated strategy that has taken hundreds of thousands of Negroes to plan and thousands of years to come together. Sleeper agents, technological advances and an unwavering patience has been our friend on this path to finally achieving our rioting plans. Only one man has ever come close toppling our years of work to destroy then redistribute good earnest White folks wealth with epic rioting.

That man is the brilliant and perceptive Glenn Beck.

Glenn Beck has been our arch nemesis for years. His amazing detective skills has outed many of our operatives and leaked several plans to the world. Our only method of battling his spectacular abilities is to paint him as being a fucking crazy person who clearly doesn’t understand ANYTHING and is simply out to profit from fear mongering and race baiting.

But we Negroes know the truth.

We know this man to be comprised of amazing moral fiber and his main concern is to save America. And since OUR main concern is to destroy America with some fantastic rioting we had to get him off national television. He couldn’t be allowed to continue like that lest we risk everything we’ve worked for crashing down upon us.

On his radio show recently he spoke of the impending race riots that are soon to come if Barack Obama isn’t re-elected. The part he hasn’t worked out yet is that the NEGROES have been working TIRELESSLY to make sure Obama DOESN’T get re-elected just so that we CAN riot!

The economic collapse? Negroes. Bush tax cuts? Negroes. The KFC Double Down? NEGROES. (We want White folk fat so when we riot they can’t do much about it.)

The Negro Riot Plan called for us to undo all of the good work the Republican party has been doing for the people of America. Trickle Down Economics—this indisputable and amazing economic theory has been undercut by all of our hard work. Jobs were created by the rich and the Negroes—in conjunction with other ethnics—have made sure NOT to take those jobs, continue to multiply, and lean on government services hopefully bankrupting it.

The incredibly high unemployment rate amongst Blacks has been hard to create. With so many jobs available and wealth just waiting for us—there are Negroes that have been tempted to just get a job and support themselves. But luckily a large enough group has remained diligent and maintained a lifestyle under the poverty line all so that we can finally come together and RIOT. In the meantime we will continue our smear campaign of Glenn Beck in hopes that America won’t wake up and find out what we’re planning.

Seriously Glenn Beck. Stop snitching.

the boss comes out: bruce springsteen reveals his 30-year battle with depression

Thank you, Bruce!

In a long feature story in The New Yorker, Bruce Springsteen reveals he has been in psychotherapy for 30 years, and has at times been depressed to the point of suicidal.

I believe that every public figure who comes out about their own mental-health struggles helps break down the stigma of mental illness, a little bit at a time. Every ordinary person who speaks openly about depression, therapy, and medication also helps pave the way for their family, friends, and colleagues. But when a celebrated artist or athlete chooses to be out about depression - or about anything that carries a stigma - I am especially grateful, because they reach so many people.

Springsteen relates his "self-loathing" to his creative process, and believes this is a nearly universal feature of the creative drive. From a summary in The Guardian:
"My issues weren't as obvious as drugs," Springsteen explained to Remnick. "They were quieter – just as problematic, but quieter. With all artists, because of the undertow of history and self-loathing, there is a tremendous push toward self-obliteration that occurs onstage. . . . You are free of yourself for those hours; all the voices in your head are gone. Just gone. There's no room for them. There's one voice, the voice you're speaking in."

The Boss was driven, he admitted, "by pure fear and self-loathing and self-hatred".

"I'm 30 years in analysis!" Springsteen said. "You think, I don't like anything I'm seeing, I don't like anything I'm doing, but I need to change myself, I need to transform myself.

"I do not know a single artist who does not run on that fuel," he continued. "If you are extremely pleased with yourself, nobody would be fucking doing it! Brando would not have acted. Dylan wouldn't have written Like a Rolling Stone. James Brown wouldn't have gone 'Unh!' He wouldn't have searched that one-beat down that was so hard. That's a motivation, that element of 'I need to remake myself, my town, my audience' – the desire for renewal."
New Yorker story is here. It's a hell of an article for Bruce fans, so much more than the snippet from the Guardian implies.

See also: wmtc: in defense of drugs: anti-depressant medication saves and improves lives.

humans of new york: a photographic census of nyc

Assuming I am not the last person on earth to find this site, you might share my enjoyment of Humans of New York, a photo project by Brandon Stanton, documenting a "photographic census of New York City".

The Humans of New York website says that updates happen most frequently on Facebook, but I prefer the web version. HONY is also on Tumblr. And it's gotten quite a bit of media coverage.

The site was brought to my attention by S, who thought I would appreciate this:
“I’m a librarian.”
“What’s your favorite part about being a librarian?”
“...the books.”

what i'm reading: invisible man meets the zombies of zone one

I'm in the middle of reading Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, now removed from the Famous Books I Haven't Read Yet list. The novel is an exploration of African-American identity in the days of the Jim Crow South and the shifting terrain of the supposedly enlightened North. Written in the late 1940s and published in 1952, Invisible Man was instantly hailed as a Great American Novel. It won the National Book Award the year after its publication, and is number 19 on Modern Library's 100 Best Novels List.

Sadly, the book itself became overshadowed by what came next - or what didn't. After huge initial success, Ellison never published anything important again. He ranks as number one on a much sadder list: the famous and prolonged cases of writer's block. Unlike the other two writers who spring to mind as sharing that sad distinction, Ellison didn't have a large body of previously published work (like Joseph Mitchell) and he didn't have a second writing life in his senior years (like Henry Roth). The novel Juneteenth, attributed to Ellison, was published posthumously, based on thousands of pages of his notes, worked on by Ellison's long-time editor.

None of that really matters in terms of Invisible Man, of course. But I wondered if the novel would hold up over time, or if it would be more of a period piece, a work you have to accept as great and groundbreaking within its own context, but not something a contemporary reader could relate to. I've found this to be the case with many Great Novels of first half of the 20th Century: they simply don't work anymore.

I was pleased this wasn't the case with Invisible Man. It's now a historical novel, to be sure, in a way it was not when it was written. It's a journey into the midsection of American's racist history, the period between its slave roots and its current incarnation of denial and amnesia. And it's a relevant and compelling journey. The Wikipedia summary says:
It addresses many of the social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans early in the twentieth century, including black nationalism, the relationship between black identity and Marxism, and the reformist racial policies of Booker T. Washington, as well as issues of individuality and personal identity.
This is accurate, but I think these explorations are well integrated with character and plot.

Reading Invisible Man today, it would probably help to have some knowledge of American history, especially of Jim Crow and the mass migration of African-Americans to the industrial North. Ellison is not didactic; much history is implied but not spelled out. But even without that knowledge, a good reader could understand the book, and might be moved to learn more to fill in the gaps.

* * * *

The narrator of Invisible Man remains unnamed throughout the book. He is both an Everyman and, as the title implies, a No Man. Interestingly, the last book I read, Colson Whitehead's Zone One also employs an unnamed narrator; you know him only by his post-plague nickname, "Mark Spitz". He is not, however, the famous American Olympic athlete Mark Spitz, and his real name is never revealed.

In Whitehead's first novel, The Intuitionist, characters are identified by their skin colour for reasons integral to the book's central premise. But in each of Whitehead's subsequent novels, the narrator is casually revealed to be African-American later in the story, when it becomes relevant.

I've always felt that, in doing this, Whitehead was purposely bucking the unwritten rules of American book publishing and marketing. Writers who are white are writers. Writers who are black are Black Writers. White writers can write about anything, but ethnic people only write about ethnic concerns. Unless otherwise indicated, narrators are always white, and if a narrator is not white, please indicate immediately so white readers will not be confused. And so on.

This ghettoization is an old story, and the same white-male-centricity has been reflected in many other arenas. I am old enough to remember the "women's music" section in record stores, and of course we still have "sports" and "women's sports".

Based on my awareness of this and my enjoyment of Whitehead's wry sense of humour, I've always felt that Whitehead's late revelations of his narrator's blackness was a subtle act of resistance.

Slight spoiler alert: if you plan on reading Zone One you might want to skip this.

In Zone One, the narrator's blackness is revealed very late in the book, and nearly gratuitously. More than two-thirds of the way into the novel, you learn that "Mark Spitz" is black. I have to think this has now become an inside joke between Whitehead and his readers. The Mark Spitz narrator is practically stepping out of frame in a postmodern aside, winking at the reader: Oh, did you assume I was white?

So here in the space of weeks I've coincidentally discovered two unnamed African-American narrators. Both are Everyman. Both come to New York City. Both are survivors, whether they like it or not. Both lead the reader on a journey through a very dark and harrowing history, a history that will not die. Although the novels are as different as 1952 and 2011, Ellison's invisible man could be "Mark Spitz"'s grandfather.


mayor of boston puts equality before commerce, tells bigoted company to stay out of city

Menino: "Chick-fil-A would be an insult to the city's long history of expanding freedom."

Rob Ford, please take note.


rtod: survivors speak out

Today's Revolutionary Thought of the Day is dedicated to every survivor of sexual abuse or sexual assault who suffers in silence.

Here is the thought. Tell someone.

It may be the most revolutionary action you ever take.

You are not alone. But only you can take that first step. The road ahead is scary, but nowhere near as frightening as what you've already faced.

Tell someone.

It's the first step on the path to healing, the path to reclaim your own power.

No matter how old you are, no matter how long ago it happened, you can still walk that path.

Survivors Speak Out

Pandora's Project

Raising Her Voice

Soul Speak Out

After Silence

Speaking Out About Child Sexual Abuse

Violence Unsilenced

The Clothesline Project

Survivors speak out on YouTube

Tell someone.

penn state sanctions: justice for - and by - survivors

I spent some time last night reading reaction to the sanctions against Penn State University set out by the NCAA. (I should qualify that: I was reading the reactions of intelligent, compassionate people. I don't need to read anything written by people who care more about football than child sexual abuse.) If you haven't read about the sanctions, this is a good explanation.

Many people are upset, feeling that anything short of the so-called "death penalty" - the complete dismantling of Penn State's football program - is a failure of the NCAA.

Although I would have preferred to see the end of Penn State football for five or 10 years, I do think the NCAA sanctions are weighty and meaningful. They force the school to continue to play their vaunted sport in greatly diminished form. As my friend Barry Crimmins said on Facebook, they are "forced to be shitty in public" for a certain length of time, an ongoing public humiliation.

Certain aspects of the sanctions are especially meaningful. I'm pleased that more than a decade worth of wins will be wiped from the official record, because I care about history. Joe Paterno, whose shameful inaction enabled the sexual abuse of children, has been officially stripped of his honours, and that is fitting. I wish he were alive to see it, because he deserves to live with the shame.

The organization that allowed the abuse to continue - the sports equivalent of reassigning the priest so he can rape some kids in a new town - has to live with their ongoing humiliation, too. (Current football players can transfer to other universities and begin playing immediately, so while they are affected, their careers are not scuttled.) The whopping $60 million fine, the ban on postseason play, the reduction in scholarships, and the public exposure and shaming of the program means that Penn State football will not be competitive for at least a decade.

Regarding the fine, there seems to be some misunderstanding: the money doesn't go to the NCAA. The $60 million, roughly the annual revenue of Penn State's football program, will fund programs that assist victims of child sexual abuse and work to educate and prevent abuse. The programs can't be administered by Penn State or the NCAA. So the outrage over the NCAA profiting from Penn State's horrific past is misplaced.

For me, this entire story - the public outrage, the grand jury investigation, the criminal proceedings against Jerry Sandusky, Sandusky's conviction as a serial pedophile, The Freeh Report, and the NCAA actions against Penn State - has been very encouraging. Every moment of it - every second of air time, every pixel and column-inch - has been the result of activism on the part of survivors and their advocates - the social workers, therapists, program directors, community activists - who have refused to be silent.

Fifty years ago, none of this happens. Thirty years ago, a scandal erupts but Penn State is able to contain it and carry on. Today, the school's institutional failure, the power structure that put football and its profit ahead of human rights and the safety and dignity of children, has been exposed and, we hope, dismantled.

This sea change didn't just happen on its own, and it wasn't caused by media attention. Quite the contrary. The media storm, the conviction, and the sanctions are the collective result of every survivor who has ever said, "This was not my fault. This should not have been done to me. If it's been done to you, you are not alone."

My heart goes out to every one of the former children who were Sandusky's victims. Thank you all.


what a dog can do: ptsd service dog fundraising update

Buddha, the service-dog-in-training, is now living permanently with the Brockways. Thank you to everyone who has helped make this possible.

We've now raised $4,150 towards our $8,000 goal. We are brainstorming ideas on how we can expand our fundraising base. If you have any ideas, please email me. And if you want to donate, please click here.

* * * *

Before Jeremy Brockway started working with Buddha, he rarely left his room. Interaction with his family was limited and very difficult. The transformation is astonishing. Here are some updates.

Ashlea, June 11:
Buddha is now living with us! Jeremy wakes up early every morning to walk him, and they spend a lot of time playing and working together in the backyard. This means Jeremy spends a lot more time with the family, which is so wonderful! The boys love Buddha.

Buddha himself is still adjusting to living with us. He was very anxious and fearful at first, and we were concerned. But he is coming around. I am hopeful that we will soon see the impact Buddha will have on our lives.
Jeremy, June 22:
Today, the dog trainer, Beth, came to begin my training with Buddha. It went great, better than I expected. I had been a little worried about Buddha making the adjustment to living with us, and she put all my fears to rest. She said that Buddha just needed a little help in understanding that he needs to apply his training here, as well.

The three of us walked all the way around the block, which I had never done before. Buddha was there for me, pressing on my leg to keep me grounded, the whole way.

Beth said that Buddha and I work very well together, and I am very excited to continue and finish training so he can be certified.

I am so grateful to everyone that made this possible, the overwhelming show of support brings tears to this grizzled leatherneck's eyes. Thank you so much.
Ashlea, July 9:
When Beth, the trainer, came last week, she, Jeremy, and Buddha went to Canadian Tire together. It was the first time they went out to a store. It went well. Jeremy's assignment over the next two weeks is to take Buddha out to a couple more public places.

The past few days have been rough for both Jeremy and Buddha. With it being Canada Day and the 4th of July there have been fireworks, which upset both of them. Buddha is skittish around loud noises and for Jeremy it brings back bad memories of Iraq. But they made it through together. They started going on their walk around the block earlier, when it was more likely to be quiet.

When Jeremy and Buddha arrive home from a walk, Jeremy brings him to the front step and pets him while repeating the command "HOME" three or four times. This is to train Buddha to know where home is so that if Jeremy ever becomes disoriented when they are out, Buddha can lead him back.

We celebrated William's 4th birthday on the July 3. It was the first time that William had a friend over and Jeremy was able to participate in some outside time, our meal, and presents. In the past it was hard for Jeremy to share a meal with us and he did so only occasionally, and in the past, he often wouldn't come out of his room when other people are over. Now thanks to Buddha, Jeremy has been able to eat dinner with us on a regular basis, and he was able to enjoy William's birthday with him. This year we didn't have to have a separate family time and a separate friend time, which really shows us how far we've come.

My hope is building that Jeremy's life will have a greater degree of 'normalcy' than I've previously let myself dream of. Buddha is a great blessing to our whole family!
Ashlea, July 18:
The other day Jeremy told me that Buddha woke him up. He was licking him in the face. He had never done that before. Jeremy knew that Buddha woke him up from a night terror.

They are growing closer as time goes on. It's hard to imagine their bond being stronger than it has been from the start, but Jeremy dotes on Buddha like a proud parent. Jeremy is especially proud of how well Buddha does out in public while wearing his vest. We have taken him out a couple more times to Canadian Tire, one of Jeremy's favorite stores. We also took him to a playground with the kids a few nights ago and to the library today. It's really great to be able to get out as a family.

It's even greater that Buddha's dream training kicked in without any practice whatsoever with Jeremy. Jeremy has never pretended to have a nightmare to show Buddha what its like, but Buddha recognized the behavior and woke Jeremy up. The great thing is that Jeremy can't remember the night terror either, just being licked by Buddha.
Click here to donate.

we like lists: list # 15: such stuff as dreams are made on

In a dream, you walk into a room, someplace you have been before. Three people are there: a current celebrity, a historical figure, and someone you associate with your childhood. You ask for something to eat and something to drink. Music is playing in the background.

Tell us:

1. What is the room?

2. Who is the celebrity?

3. Who is the historical figure?

4. Who is the person or character you associate with your childhood?

5. What are you eating?

6. What are you drinking?

7. What music is playing?

There's no trick to this. It's a dream; it doesn't have to make sense.

I'm going to withhold my list until later in the thread.


rtod: a town without poverty. it happened in canada.

Revolutionary thought of the day:
Initially, the Mincome program was conceived as a labour market experiment. The government wanted to know what would happen if everybody in town received a guaranteed income, and specifically, they wanted to know whether people would still work.

It turns out they did.

Only two segments of Dauphin's labour force worked less as a result of Mincome - new mothers and teenagers. Mothers with newborns stopped working because they wanted to stay at home longer with their babies. And teenagers worked less because they weren't under as much pressure to support their families.

The end result was that they spent more time at school and more teenagers graduated. Those who continued to work were given more opportunities to choose what type of work they did.

. . . .

In the period that Mincome was administered, hospital visits dropped 8.5 per cent. Fewer people went to the hospital with work-related injuries and there were fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. There were also far fewer mental health visits.

From "A Town Without Poverty? Canada's only experiment in guaranteed income finally gets reckoning by Vivian Belik in The Dominion
Many thanks to M@ for this fascinating piece of Canadian history. It can be done. It can be done again.


onboard the tahrir, now with video

I've updated my recent post, onboard the tahrir: 'our course is the conscience of humanity. our final destination is the betterment of mankind.' to correct a few factual errors. I also added this video, which you might want to watch, whether or not you appreciated that post. The sight of the Israeli boats speeding towards the Tahrir sent chills up my spine.


Revolutionary thought of the day:
That’s a very American value right there: if you screw up in your early 20s, you — and your children — are on your own for life. . . . Why does it seem like a reasonable policy suggestion to tell Jessica she needs a husband, and pie in the sky to say she needs a union? Or a national day care system like the one in France, where teachers are well-paid, with benefits?

Katha Pollitt, "The 'New York Times' Misses the Mark on Inequality, Marriage", in response to "Two Classes, Divided By 'I Do'".
Newsflash: a woman with a college degree and a solid marriage enjoys better life chances than a college dropout raising three kids alone! Therefore everyone should get married! Read Katha's column here.

what fans' extreme reaction to bad reviews reveals

I noticed this story yesterday about some fans' extreme reaction to negative reviews of an upcoming movie.
As The Dark Knight Rises hits theatres this week, critics posting negative reviews of the Batman film have been flooded with a wave of online abuse and threats sent by fans.

The final instalment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which officially opens in theatres Friday, is one of the year's most anticipated films.

U.S. online film critic Marshall Fine offered the first negative appraisal of the comic-inspired tale on his site Hollywood & Fine and via the popular movie-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

As expected, fans raised a furor in the comments section. Although most were negative, some commenters went so far as to vow to take down his website, while others threatened violence against him — including beating him into a coma or setting him on fire.
I find this pretty bizarre, and the story made me wonder... what's going on here?

Fine, the critic may well be right. He is quoted as saying:
This is what they live for, so to have somebody say 'This isn't good,' they take it personally. To them it's a slap in the face. It's not just that I said 'I don't like this movie.' They hear that as 'I don't like this movie and if you do, there's something wrong with you.' They take it personally and they respond emotionally.
For so many people, I am what I consume. If you don't like what I buy - the movies I watch, the games I play, the music I listen to, the clothes I wear - you don't like me. Not only don't you like me, you've dissed me, you've put me down.

This thinnest of skins, most fragile of egos, combined with obsessive materialism, is what leads to shootings over a pair of sneakers or drivers running people down over a scratched car - a violent episode erupting over some perceived slight. The glove has been thrown down and you must represent.

Naturally, these outraged fans haven't even seen the movie themselves. Their comical anger mirrors the right-wing protests that inevitably accompany a movie with religious themes. Facts? We don't need no stinking facts! This movie will be great (or offensive) and don't you say otherwise!

Another theme at play, obviously, is troll behaviour, people unleashing their inner nastiness as they hide behind the curtain of online anonymity. The trolls and their vitriol pollute our online interactions like roadside litter on the information highway. We all know about this and deal with it all the time. I wish all the news and information websites would close their interactive features, but that will never happen, as long as clicks sell advertising.

Then there's the anti-intellectual strain of popular culture, on full display in comments on the CBC story (and likely any story on this subject). These folks proclaim a perverse brand of egalitarianism: we all know the same things. "What do critics know? Usually whatever they hate, regular people like!" "Critics are stupid. That is only one man's opinion!"

In a literal sense, of course, that's true: a review is one person's opinion. But the person is - or at least is supposed to be - a student of the genre they're reviewing, someone who spends a huge amount of time learning about and analyzing the art form. A critic is supposed to bring a broader perspective to the table, telling us not just "I like this," but "This is good and here's why, and here are some things it might have done better". They're supposed to offer analysis, place the work in context, measure it against other similar pieces. Although we often disagree with reviews, there are presumably reviewers that we recognize as reliable authorities, whether or not our tastes always jive with theirs.

The anti-critic comments are part of the general rejection of expertise - a denial of the very concept of authority, or at least a misunderstanding of what authority is. (I wrote about this here, in relation to online question-and-answer sites.) Experts exist. There are people who have spent a great deal of their life studying a particular subject, and so, their views on that subject are more informed, and should carry more weight, than the views of someone whose sole knowledge is as a casual, non-critical consumer.

Naturally no opinion is sacrosanct. (Neither is any movie!) Often people with great authority are also highly biased, and are sought out for exactly that reason. We see this all the time in the mainstream media: bank CEOs are asked for their economic prescriptions, former generals are asked if a war is worth fighting. So of course we must question any authority's motives and interests, and never accept a resume in lieu of an argument.

But with all these important caveats, authority and expertise do exist. Bad movies exist, too, but that's another story.

a pit bull, a cop, and a happy ending

Now here's something we don't see every day, although we should, and we could.

The police are called to investigate "a vicious pit bull"... and they don't assume the story to be true, don't draw their weapons, don't shoot the animal on sight. In fact, a police officer rescues the dog, first to a shelter, and then to his own home. Here's the story in the officer's own words, written to a blogger called Modified k9 Pit Bull Rescue. Click through for great pics.
I'm a Police Officer in Baltimore City. I am originally from Wilkes-Barre, and I am a fan of your organization and Pit Bulls. Today I received a call while on duty about a vicious dog chasing kids. When I came on the scene, I noticed people yelling out their windows at the dog. I followed the dog into an ally to see how it was acting. Going on my own approach, being a dog lover, I got out of my car and called the "vicious dog" over to me. The dog came over with it's tail between it's legs and panting. I grabbed my water bottle and the dog sat down next to me and began licking my pants. I started giving the dog water. I brought the dog over and waited for the pound to show up. My partner was not a fan of dogs and was startled by my approach. I suggested to him that this dog cannot be put down, and should be taken to a shelter. We took it upon ourselves to take the dog to the shelter, and transported it in the back seat in the back of our patrol car. Then I decided that I wanted to keep the dog, and spoke to the shelter about the steps to take to adopt it. The dog was originally kept outside and was filthy, and now it just might have a new home. I know you like positive pictures so I have attached a few. Have a great day and keep up the good work!

Officer Dan Waskiewicz
Baltimore City Police
Why is the pit bull in this story now someone's cherished family companion, and not long dead by a bullet? One, the man didn't hate the dog based on his appearance; that is, he wasn't bigoted. And two, the officer invested a small amount of time in the situation before taking action. That's all it took.

Thanks to Antonia Z.!

Update. Even after this dog was rescued by a kind and rational police officer, its life still might have been in danger. As Dharma Seeker points out in a comment, a third ingredient was necessary: the absence of a pit bull ban or other similar breed-specific legislation. In Ontario, for example, the officer might not have shot the dog, but the dog - friendly, loving, neglected - probably would have been killed in the animal shelter. It makes no sense.

romeo dallaire says: bring omar khadr back to canada

I was surprised and pleased to see Roméo Dallaire's name associated with the campaign to repatriate Omar Khadr. I hope it helps.

It's hard to believe Omar Khadr is still being held in Guantanamo Bay. It's hard to believe that the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay still exists.

As of today, 168 souls are believed to be interred there. Most have never been charged with any crimes.

As for Khadr, this is Prime Minister Stephen Harper's infatuation with the United States at its most disturbing and dangerous. Canadians should never forget that if Stephen Harper had been Prime Minister in 2003, this country would have joined in the invasion of Iraq.

To sign the petition, you'll need a Change.org account. Please take the time to create one and sign the petition, if you haven't already.



Revolutionary thought of the day:
There are limits to how far a people can be pushed. And if violence continues to be the preferred mechanism for control, if the state refuses to institute rational economic and political reforms to address the growing misery that corporations inflict on the citizens, it will, as at Blair Mountain, engender a violent response.

Chris Hedges, "The Battle of Blair Mountain"


celeste holm, 1917-2012

A grande dame of American acting died earlier this week. Celeste Holm, New York born and bred, was best known for her Academy Award-winning performance in Gentleman's Agreement*, her memorable (and Oscar-nominated) role alongside Bette Davis in All About Eve, and for originating the role of Ado Annie in Oklahoma!. But her list of stage, film, and television credits was very long indeed, as was her list of husbands. Her last marriage, to a man almost 50 years her junior, was announced at Sardi's, in true New York theatre style.

The New York Times obituary is here, but scrolling through Holm's credits on her Wikipedia page is also entertaining.

*Gentleman's Agreement was a groundbreaking film, adapted from an equally ground-breaking novel by Laura Z. Hobson. It was the first mainstream work to deal with anti-Semitism in the United States.


Revolutionary thought of the day:
It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.

Eugene V. Debs


vaginal discharge. now i've said it, too. (thanks, carefree.)

How can it be that an advertisement is considered controversial because it clearly states the intended use of its product?

Strangely, it makes perfect sense, in a world where legislators are banned from their workplaces for uttering the word vagina, where breasts are used to sell everything in creation, but the most basic function of a breast - feeding babies - must be hidden from view. A world where the product in question is itself marketed under a euphemism: feminine hygiene.

Thank you, Carefree, for an ad that uses plain language. Thank you, too, to model Cody Condell, who says she is "proud to be part of" the Australian Carefree campaign. Now would everyone else just grow up?
How would you describe the substance that comes out of a woman's private parts when she's not menstruating?

Let’s just call it what it is: vaginal discharge.

That’s what Carefree did in its latest ad for underwear liners, which shows a naked young woman, her body hidden behind white flowers, discussing the often taboo subject of female bodily functions.

Ads for “feminine care” products are replete with euphemisms (and what’s with the blue liquid?), featuring young women beaming at the camera while they strike a yoga pose or jump off a diving board.

“You never see a bathroom, you never see a woman using a product,” Elissa Stein, co-author of the book Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, told The New York Times in a 2010 article about menstrual product ads. “They never show someone having cramps or her face breaking out or tearful – it’s always happy, playful, sporty women.”

After the Carefree ad aired Sunday night, the Advertising Standards Bureau in Australia starting receiving complaints – five so far. But the company has defended the commercial, saying it is “the first time a major brand has had the guts to use real words, not euphemisms or diminutive terms."

Campaign spokeswoman Debbie Selikman told Nine News in Australia that Carefree conducted research and found that women wanted ads to use the proper terminology for their anatomy; other words used for vagina made women feel like they should be ashamed or embarrassed about their bodies.

It wasn’t until 1985 that the word “period” was said on TV in a Tampax commercial by none other than Courteney Cox (before Friends, of course). That was 27 years ago. Maybe one day we’ll look back and think how silly it was that “vaginal discharge” would be described in any other way.


Revolutionary thought of the day:
Among the peoples of the world the idea of war resistance is growing. You must fearlessly accept the challenge and aggressively spread the idea of war resistance. You must convince the people to take disarmament into their own hands and to declare that they will have no part in war or in the preparation for war. You must call on the workers of all countries to unite in refusing to become the tools of interests that war upon life. Today, in twelve countries, young men are resisting conscription and refusing military service. They are the pioneers of a warless world.

Albert Einstein, 1931
I've posted this before, but I just love it so much. I repeat it to myself, like a prayer.


onboard the tahrir: "our course is the conscience of humanity. our final destination is the betterment of mankind."

This post is based on my notes on a talk by David Heap, supplemented by graphics from David's presentation, about his experience as part of the Canadian Boat to Gaza.

To see David's presentation in its entirety, go here. It was videoed and put online by Paul S. Graham (with additional footage from Harold Shuster) for Winnipeg Community TV. You can see more of Paul's videos on his Red River Pete YouTube channel. Images in this post courtesy of Tahrir.ca.

Illegal, ongoing, and only getting worse

The closure of Gaza has been going on for decades. The blockade of international aid is the end of a long process of increasing restrictions of the movement of Palestinians.

Israeli journalist Amira Hass reminds us that restriction on movement is a hallmark of apartheid regimes. The inability to move around one's own country, needing passes (often impossible to get and laden with arcane bureaucracy) to visit family or conduct trade, adds humiliation to the constant reminder of one's subservient status. This was the case in apartheid South Africa, and it's the case in apartheid Israel/Palestine.

Like the checkpoints in the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza has become increasingly severe over the last five years. In 2006 and 2007, the blockade was becoming extreme. By 2009, Israel was harassing, ramming, and boarding boats bound for Gaza - all of which is illegal under international law.

The blockade of Gaza is, without a doubt, illegal under international law. This was reiterated by four UN special rapporteurs in September 2011.

According to Amnesty International, the International Red Cross/Red Crescent, and many other NGOs, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is desperate. It is also unnecessary and avoidable, as it is a direct product of the blockade.

The first flotilla, 2010

Against this backdrop, the Mavi Marmara and nine other boats sailed for Gaza in May 2010; a tenth boat, the Rachel Corrie, arrived later. This was the Freedom Flotilla of 2010.

The world watched in horror as Israel attacked the boats. When the IDF attacked, the boats were in international waters, heading away from Israel and from Israeli waters.

Nine unarmed people were killed, at least six of them "execution style", shot at close range in the back or the back of the head. Everything aboard the boats was confiscated. Israeli soldiers forced the boats to sail to Ashdod, Israel, where all survivors were first jailed, then deported.

Two Canadian responses to this crime are worth noting.

On the streets, the peace movement erupted in spontaneous protests. Activists began to ask, "When will we have a Canadian boat to Gaza?" Not could we have, or perhaps we should discuss, but when.

In the halls of power, within hours of this heinous crime, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyaho.

The second flotilla, summer 2011

A group of activists immediately began the greatest fundraising challenge any of them had ever faced: the cost of a boat and the expense of putting it to sea.

With a lofty goal of $300,000, they raised $350,000. This money was raised exclusively through people-to-people solidarity - no foundations, no grants, no official funding channels. With the money raised, Canadian activists were able to help people from other countries come onboard. They began to call it the ABCD boat: Australian, Belgian, Canadian, and Danish.

The ABCD boat joined with 10 other initiatives, representing campaigns in over 20 countries. This was Freedom Flotilla II.

The ABCD team held a contest to name the boat. Many suggestions were heavy on the Maple Leaf, but they wanted a name that reflected the international character of the movement. They settled on a name which reflects a universal human value: liberation. It's a word that we're all now familiar with, a word made famous by the Egyptian revolution: Tahrir, the Arabic word for liberation.

Now the group needed to find a boat and the expertise needed to get it inspected, file the correct paperwork, hire a crew, and so on. They had to bring delegates and journalists in a port in eastern Crete, in Greece.

There were 10 boats in the flotilla, distributed around the Greek islands and Turkey. Everyone undertook nonviolence training together, as were committed to reacting only nonviolently to whatever was thrown at them.

Almost 50 delegates and journalists from more than eight countries were trained. The group included a former MP from Australia, a former Senator from Belgium, a former Mayor of Copenhagen and a former Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin first nation, Bob Lovelace. Lovelace describes himself as a former political prisoner, having been arrested while defending First Nation land from uranium mining.
The African-American writer Alice Walker called the flotillas "the freedom rides of our generation," drawing a comparison to Palestinian solidarity and the US civil rights movement.

At this point, the Greek authorities began to find (or invent) mistakes in the boats' paperwork, which had perviously passed all inspections. Funny how these abnormalities appeared now. All kinds of delays were invented.

On July 1, the Greek Minister of Civil Protection issued a decree forbidding any ship from leaving any Greek port with Gaza as its destination. The Israeli foreign minister immediately thanked Greece - and offered to help with its economic troubles.

At the time, no one knew the extent of Israel's bribe to Greece. It turned out that Israel sent Greece tear gas and armoured vehicles that later would be used against Greeks protesting the imposition of austerity measures. So Israel helped the Greek government attack its own citizens.

The flotilla members now had to decide whether they would face down the Greek authorities before meeting the Israeli ones. The answer was a resounding yes.

The same day the decree was issued, the US boat, The Audacity of Hope, made a break for it. As Bob Lovelace says, "As indigenous people one of the things we learned about colonialism is that you never ask the oppressor for permission."

The Americans were barred from bringing supplies, so they carried only love letters - expressions of solidarity with the people of Palestine. They were stopped by the Greek coast guard and impounded in a joint US-Greek naval dockyard.

On July 4, 2011, in what might be the first use of the word kayaktivism, two people in kayaks blocked the Greek coast guard ship to give the Tahrir time to get out of port.

David notes that the Greek soldiers preventing the ship from leaving seemed embarrassed, and it is noteworthy that Greek authorities did not interfere with the media. Onshore, Greek citizens demonstrated in favour of the flotilla. The soldiers said, "We are under orders." The activists shouted, "From who, Athens or Tel Aviv?"

In the end, the Greek coast guard was guarding the flotilla boats. Two ships in the flotilla were sabotaged. There was no investigation. Officially, the incident never happened.

Freedom Waves, autumn 2011

The delegates learned valuable lessons about strategy from this experience, and they brought hope to the people of Gaza. Now they felt an urgency to act sooner rather than later. They didn't want to wait an entire year to try again. After discussion and consultation, they decided to try again with two boats. It wasn't a full flotilla, but neither were they giving up.

The same Greek captain - well known to the Greek coast guard, and a veteran of three successful missions to Gaza - signed on. The Tahrir joined with the Irish boat Saoirse (which means freedom in Irish) to form Freedom Waves to Gaza.

Unfortunately, the Tahrir had to prune their delegation from 35 to 12, forcing some painful decisions about who would go. They were forced to leave behind friends, media, and their own videographer. The media still on board had to leave behind their film crews, so they took turns filming each other.

Among the crew was a Palestinian student from Haifa. If he was arrested, there would be serious consequences, and he stayed with the mission at great personal risk. He was travelling illegally to his own homeland.

On November 2, 2011, the Tahrir and the Saorsie were authorized to leave, with their declared destination the Greek island of Rhodes. On their first night at sea, the Tahrir was followed by Turkish navy vessels until they were well out of Turkish waters.

Two delegates got a crash course in steering, so that George, the captain, could get a few hours of sleep (in the wheel room, in case he was needed). There was some urgency, as they wanted to approach within 100 nautical miles of Gaza during daylight. (The first flotilla had been attacked at night.) Israel has unilaterally decided that its borders extends 100 nautical miles off the coast - a legal fiction that no other nation assumes for its own security zone. (This is reminiscent of the US's self-declared, elastic borders, which extend 50 miles into Canada and Mexico.)

Once the boats were in international waters, they turned left - towards Gaza - and began the media campaign they had prepared, sending out releases, tweeting, posting on Facebook. Democracy Now and Al Jazeera began broadcasting. They did all their interviews in advance, knowing once they approached Israel, their communications would be blocked.

They hoisted the Palestinian flag, and hung signs in English and Hebrew.

Next came this:

[This video exists because, as the IDF was confiscating the equipment on the boats (tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, never returned) some quick-thinking media person swapped in a blank memory chip and smuggled out the used one.]

On the radio, they were hailed, and they responded:

What is your course?

"Our course is the conscience of humanity."

What is your final destination?

"Our final destination is the betterment of mankind."

The IDF sprayed them with water cannons, soaking the boats and creating both dangerously slippery conditions and a fire hazard. The Irish boat caught on fire. They were ordered to the rear deck, then sprayed with water cannons. They were ordered to the front deck, then sprayed there.

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers were present. At least 30 boarded the Tahrir. They took control of the ship, tasered the delegates, threatened them with electricution, dragged them out, strip-searched them, and so on.

It was an overwhelming show of force: three large warships, at least 15 smaller attack boats, and air support. Against 12 unarmed people. By contrast, the Greeks used six people to subdue four times as many people, and most of the Greek guards never drew their weapons.

(At this point, in David's backyard, it was difficult to take notes, as the story was so riveting and disturbing.) I later asked him, How did you feel when you saw those boats? Knowing the year before, they executed nine people with total impunity, how did you feel?

David said, Of course I was afraid. You're afraid of what they will do - and also afraid because you know that the governments of the world will not hold them to account for anything they do.

But solidarity is not about not being afraid. It's about being afraid and doing it anyway.

Both boats were forced to sail to the Israeli port of Ashdud. Everyone was strip-searched, the boat was searched and x-rayed. All their electronic equipment was confiscated (supposedly temporarily, but it was never returned). (Eventually, the entire boat was confiscated, and is still being held in Israel!)

They were brought to a low-security immigration prison, where they were searched and interrogated several times. In prison, they had no contact with other prisoners. The Irish activists, with their history of resistance to colonial occupation, were better prepared for prison, and approached it with humour and the Irish feck off attitude.

They didn't know how long they would be held for, whether it would be days, weeks, or months. But they knew that Palestinian prisoners are held for years without charges in far worse conditions with far less support.

David and Ehab Lotayef, the other Canadian on the Tahrir, were held for six days. For more about David's experience during his six days in Israeli prison, visit his blog: More mind games, and the language of resistance and Lies, misinformation and manipulations.

"Your message has reached all of Palestine"

On November 4, David received an email from a Palestinian comrade. It said, in essence, "Whether or not you reach the shores of Gaza, your message has reached all of Palestine." In this and many respects, the Canadian Boat to Gaza was a success. Freedom Waves:

• sent a clear message to the Palestinian people of Gaza: peoples of the world have not forgotten you, and never will,

• shook the myth of Israeli invincibility, as civil society organizations working quietly, managed to keep an element of surprise and break the outsourced blockade, and

• exposed the inhumane and illegal actions of Israel against Gaza.

As the Irish activists on board the Saoirse said: Tiocfaidh ár lá. Our day will come.

gaza's ark: trade, not aid, to challenge the blockade

As I mentioned, I recently had the opportunity to hear my friend and comrade David Heap speak about his experience attempting to bring supplies to the people of Gaza, as part of the Canadian Boat to Gaza. David concluded his talk with a look at a new initiative. I'll begin there.

The new project is called "Gaza's Ark / Building Hope". Its aim is to revitalize the Gazan shipbuilding industry and its export trade - and with that, Gazan autonomy - by breaking the illegal blockade of Gaza from the inside.

The Israeli government justifies its blockade of Gaza (as it does all its illegal acts) by invoking security. No one can bring aid to Gaza - no matter who they are or how thoroughly their cargo is inspected - because this is said to compromise Israeli security, although how medical and educational supplies does that, no one can say. Gazans are also prevented from subsistence fishing. If they venture more than three or four miles off the coast, they become IDF targets. They are also prevented from exporting goods they have grown or created. How can the export of fruit or textiles be a threat to Israeli security?

Obviously it can't be, any more than Iraqi and Afghan civilians, like so many peoples before them, were a threat to the security of the United States.

Gaza would not be dependent on international aid, if its vibrant export economy had not been choked by the Israeli blockade. And so, Gaza's Ark is not an aid project. The people of Gaza don't need aid: they need freedom of mobility. Gaza's Ark aims to bring them some small, symbolic, yet useful, measure of that. David described Gaza's Ark as "a campaign to liberate liberation".

Gaza's Ark mission statement:
Gaza’s Ark, will build a boat in Gaza, using existing resources. A crew of internationals and Palestinians will sail it out of Gaza carrying Palestinian products to fulfill trade deals with international buyers.

Gaza’s Ark will be constructed in Gaza by Palestinian hands and expertise, with international assistance where requested.

Gaza’s Ark will help revitalize the dwindling ship building industry in Gaza and help ensure the transmission of this disappearing expertise (another effect of the blockade) to the younger generations.

Through Gaza’s Ark and trade deals secured between Palestinian producers in Gaza and international businesses and NGOs, a channel will be established to export Palestinian products from Gaza that are available despite the blockade.

Gaza’s Ark will provide training to Gaza’s sailors in the use of up-to-date electronic sailing equipment and techniques, which they have been denied for years as a result of the blockade.

Although it will help in a very limited manner to alleviate Gaza’s unemployment crisis by paying wages to the boat builders and providing business opportunities to traders, Gaza’s Ark is not an aid project. It is a peaceful action against the blockade which Israel unilaterally and illegally imposes on Gaza.

Gaza’s Ark stands in solidarity with the Palestinian fishers in Gaza whose ability to operate in territorial waters and to derive a livelihood is threatened by the same illegal Israeli blockade which our campaign is challenging.

Gaza’s Ark challenges the blockade by building hope on the ground in Gaza. It affirms our confidence that the Palestinians of Gaza can rebuild their economy through outbound trade that threatens no-one’s security.
Most of us can't be onboard a boat to Gaza but any concerned person of conscience can get onboard this campaign. We can invest in advance in goods to be produced and shipped from Gaza.

I'm sure I'll be posting updates on this exciting initiative as it builds. Right now, you can help spread the word or make a donation.

Web: GazaArk.org
Twitter: @GazaArk
Facebook: Facebook.com/GazaArk