what i'm reading: shoulds vs. wants

An ongoing theme in my life has been ridding myself of as many shoulds as I possibly can - or, to put it more positively, to spend my time doing what I want, rather than what some voice inside my head or some external pressure tells me I ought to.

We all have obligations. Work, family, exercise - there are always things we don't really want to do, but must do anyway. Then there are the obligations we give ourselves, the shoulds we add to our own too-full plates. Those are the ones I've been shedding.

Lunches with co-workers that I really don't like. Extended email conversations that I don't have time for. I used to see blockbuster movies that I had no interest in, because, for some strange reason, I thought I had to. And certain books. Like so many people who love to read, I never have enough time to read what I want. So why read anyone else's idea of what I should read? Whether they're the current hip books that people are talking about, or classics we think are "good for us" (whatever that means), or a book we dislike that we force ourselves to finish, many readers labour under reading shoulds.

Brad Leithauser, writing in The New Yorker, seems to have a lot of them.
If your bookshelf speaks to you, it’s likely to be uttering reproaches. Or so my experience runs. All those unread books! — the must-reads of last year, or the year before, hot débuts of young novelists, frosty farewells from the aging and once hot, books whose catchy titles beguiled you into buying them, books that will (so their blurbs promise, or threaten) change your life forever. They address us in the voices of aggrieved friends, saying, Why don’t you call me? Or, Why don’t you ever pay me a visit? Or, ultimately, Why are you neglecting me?

But the bookshelf offers other voices of reproach — deeper and more solemn voices. These speak less like friends than like grandparents, whose stern, measured cadences will not be stilled by any jocular protests of good intentions. They ask you, When will you get serious? They ask, When will you grow up? These are the voices issuing from the weightiest projects in your library.
Leithauser lists some of the very weighty reads he feels he should tackle, such as Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", and others that he's impressively completed, like Proust and Trollope. Then he describes an equally impressive project that he's on the verge of completing.
My most recent big literary undertaking has been, in terms of sheer pages, the most sizable of all: Dickens’s complete fiction. It comes to something like nine thousand pages, and I’m nearly finished; only “The Old Curiosity Shop” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” remain. I don’t know what to think on discovering that my favorite Dickens is mostly the world’s favorite Dickens. It feels appropriate, anyway, that this writer who so stoked and revelled in his international popularity should be fairly, representatively epitomized by his most popular books.
Now, I absolutely love Dickens. And I hope, in the course of my lifetime, to read his entire oeuvre. But I would never read them consecutively, all at once, and I'd never want to. If I tried to, I'd become bored and irritated, the books would all blend together, and I'd quickly lose touch with everything I love about Dickens.

Leithauser doesn't specifically say he read all that Dickens consecutively, with no other books in between, but I think he implies it.
Those foot-soldier readers who successfully march through all of Dickens’s fiction may wind up feeling like David [Copperfield] at his journey’s end, with shoes in a woeful condition (“the upper leathers had broken and burst until the very shape and form of shoes had departed from them”) and skin powdered “white with chalk and dust, as if I had come out of a limekiln.” Reading projects of this old-fashioned sort are the equivalent of a long pilgrimage on foot. The pace and the proddings of modern life, forever segmenting one’s existence into smaller and busier intervals, counsel against them. On the other hand, those patient, reproachful, grandpaternal voices continue to mutter on your bookshelf. And they say, Start walking.
One modest goal of mine is to read everything George Orwell ever wrote. So every once in a while, I read some Orwell. I want to eventually read all 26 Shakespeare plays. And so, every once in a while, I read one or two more. I can't imagine anything that would kill my love of Shakespeare faster than trying to read all 26 plays, consecutively, with nothing in between.

I am not entirely free of reading shoulds. I read and loved the first two volumes of Taylor Branch's history of the US civil rights movement, wrapped in a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., often called "The King Books". In the third and final volume, Branch's dense, somewhat difficult writing style became impenetrable. Gleaning any information from each metre-long, convoluted sentence became a trial. Halfway through book three, I gave up. That was in 2007, yet I remember that I haven't finished the series, and I still intend to finish that book. (I notice that almost a year later, I was still mentioning it in "what i'm reading" posts.) I have one other similar should, also the final book in a trilogy in which I lost interest.

In general, though, life is too short, reading time so much shorter. Here's my take: read whatever you like.

what i'm watching: early dispatches from movie season: graffiti mystery, legal murder

I can't believe how much I'm loving having access to US Netflix through our Roku device. For the price of a new router and some easy-to-follow instructions, my leisure time has been hugely improved.

This is close to what I've always wanted for TV and movies: true on-demand viewing. Among the things I love: not paying for hundreds of cable channels that I never watch, not searching in vain for anything I might consider watching, being able to sample one or two shows of a series at no cost or inconvenience, watching on a TV (not a computer), convenience, selection. I can easily see this becoming the standard delivery method for all home viewing. Outside the US, after the initial investment in Roku (which we bought for baseball), plus a new router, this costs $16 per month: $8 for Netflix and $8 for the VPN.

At the moment I am gorging on "Commander in Chief," Stephen Bochco's imagining of the first female POTUS, starring Geena Davis and Donald Sutherland. I saw a few episodes when it first ran in 2006, loved it, then lost the thread and the show was cancelled. Being able to find a show like this and tear through every episode is Movie Season heaven.

* * * *

After finishing the second season of Downton Abbey, we've only seen two movies (as opposed to series) so far, and they were both excellent.

"Into the Abyss" is Werner Herzog's examination of capital punishment, as seen through one case in Texas.

You learn about the crime (a triple murder), the victims, the survivors, one convicted murderer who received a life sentence, and one convicted murderer and state victim who died on death row. You also hear from a former death-row worker. No one who is part of the state death apparatus is allowed to speak publicly.

My only issue with this movie was an unusual number of interjections and interruptions from Herzog during his interviews. He seems to have trouble keeping out of the story, which is very surprising from a master interviewer. Despite this, I highly recommend the film.

This was the third powerful and excellent documentaries by Herzog we've seen in recent years: "Grizzly Man" (2005), "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (2010), and "Into the Abyss" (2011). We have not seen the 2007 "Encounters at the End of the World," about Antartica.

Anonymous, numbered crosses mark the graves of the victims of the state of Texas who had no one to claim their bodies. Thirty-three US states have capital punishment, plus federal and military statutes.

* * * *

"Resurrect Dead: the Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles" is a documentary about a graffiti mystery: the "Toynbee tiles". I remember seeing this strange message on the street in New York City. I didn't realize they were tiles - I thought they were stencils - and I always assumed they were a graffiti art project. I had no idea there were so-called Toynbee Tiles in some 25 cities, and that their origin and purpose was unknown.

The film follows a man who became obsessed with solving the mystery. The viewer becomes a detective, but whether you're solving the Toynbee mystery or the mystery of the man who follows the Toynbee mystery is for you to judge. Very well done.


illegal detention abroad, censorship and media propaganda at home: solidarity with palestine under attack

As you may have heard, the ship The Estelle, sailing in international waters, was illegally boarded by the Israeli navy, and its occupants taken into custody. Among those being held are Jim Manley, a Canadian, and a former New Democrat MP.

The Estelle is part of the Freedom Flotilla movement, which seeks to draw attention to the illegal blockade of Gaza, to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine, and to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza. The 30 activists on board The Estelle hailed from Israel, the US, Canada, Israel, Norway, and Sweden.

In a story about the incident, the Calgary Herald describes Gaza as "the seaside strip ruled by the Islamic militant Hamas group".

This "seaside strip" is home to 1.7 million people, and Hamas is recognized by those people as their legitimate government.

Of course, Hamas is an officially designated terrorist organization as defined by the US, Israel, and the EU, and since Canada takes its marching orders from the US, by Canada as well. According to much of the world, including many citizens of those same countries, that is one very large, powerful pot name-calling a small, freedom-fighting kettle.

Labelling Hamas a terrorist group allows Israel to engage in all manner of repression, destruction, torture, and murder.

Elsewhere, that same label provides a cover for suppressing free speech and freedom of assembly. For example, that official terrorist designation gave Jason Kenney's office an excuse to bar the British activist and (then former) MP George Galloway from Canada. The Canadian courts correctly reversed that decision.

Examples of this censorship are everywhere. The City of Toronto wants to change its anti-discrimination policies so that the words "Israeli apartheid" will be a violation of rights. So calling Hamas a terrorist organization is not an insult to Palestinians, but calling Israel an apartheid state is discrimination against... who exactly? No one.

The boycott-divest-sanction movement and the mere words "Israeli apartheid" are instantly and constantly equated with anti-Semitism, often by people who equate everything Muslim with terrorism. At this point, the knee-jerk reaction is so swift and shallow, it's become almost comical. Write something defending Palestinian autonomy human rights, get labelled an anti-Semite. It's amazing how everyone cares so much about Jews all of a sudden. Too bad Canada and the US didn't care when it really mattered.

More on the Toronto so-called anti-discrimination policy in a future post.


"all they talk about is taxes, but all people want is jobs": thoughts on why there are no good jobs and why no one is creating them

We visited family in the US this past week, and because of this, ended up hearing more about the election in two days than either of us have read, seen, or thought about in months, if not years. Which is not to say people talked non-stop about the election, only that both Allan and I completely tune out that circus masquerading as a democracy. (Apologies to circuses everywhere.)

I heard something over dinner one night that stuck in my mind. My sister noted that most voters care foremost about one thing: job creation. She said, "All they talk about is taxes, taxes, taxes, when they should be talking about jobs, jobs, jobs." She remarked how nothing is made in the US anymore, noting, "We don't even answer the phone." And she wondered how anyone even could go about creating jobs, a task that seems nearly impossible at this point. This got me thinking...

Bleeding jobs for decades

The mainstream media discovered the exodus of North American jobs fairly recently, about the time call centres were outsourcing to India. But the US has been bleeding good jobs - solid manufacturing jobs - for decades.

First good manufacturing jobs moved from the US north to the US south, where the so-called "right to work" (i.e., right to starve) laws let corporations lower standards. Then jobs moved further south, to Puerto Rico and other places in Latin America, then onwards around the globe. The US has been undergoing a massive de-industrialization for decades.

During those same decades, we'd hear that x number of jobs had been created, but rarely did we hear what kinds of jobs they were, relative to what had been lost. Those new jobs paid less, were part-time, offered less stability, and usually did not include health insurance. Mainstream economists and pundits largely ignored this.

I offer this extremely brief summary only to note that the massive unemployment and under-employment in the US is not new, and it is not sudden. It pains me when elected officials and the media act as if these conditions began in 2008.

So why didn't we hear about it?

This ongoing job loss was usually ignored because it occurred while the economy was said to be strong. This seeming contradiction is possible because the corporate media and the government believe that a strong Wall Street equals a strong economy. That is, if shareholders are doing well, the economy is good.

But as we know, shareholders profit when costs are driven down. And costs are driven down by downsizing, layoffs, and outsourcing.

During this supposedly strong economy, corporations could move their production bases to China, where they didn't have to worry about pesky details like health and safety laws, environmental protection, and labour laws. They could hire 10-year-olds, pay dollars a day, dump raw chemicals and sewage into rivers, lock workers in fire traps, and anything else that helped cut costs.

Then they could ship the product back to the US - leaving an increasingly large carbon footprint along the way - sell it cheaply, make a good profit, et voila, a healthy economy.

So why did we let this happen?

This is possible because laws have made it possible. The so-called free market is sacrosanct. No one can pass laws that are said to "interfere with business". No one challenges the bizarre notion that an economy in which fewer and fewer people are well employed is a healthy economy. No one with any power, that is.

No one in the mainstream media or in the government takes on Wall Street, because the media and the government are Wall Street.

So how could we reverse it?

In order to create large numbers of good jobs, we would have to re-write the laws of the American economy. We'd have to unravel many of the developments of the past 50 years. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head.

- In order to enjoy the privilege of selling goods in the United States, a company must employ at least 75% of its total workforce within the United States.

- Goods produced outside North America will be subject to a 50% tariff.

- All so-called free trade agreements are hereby null and void. Corporations will exist wholly within the borders of one country. Goods and services are to be produced within 500 miles of their point of use or sale.

In other words, corporations are no longer solely responsible to shareholders. They are now responsible to the local economy.

And this, we know, cannot and will not happen.

So why don't we try this?

Any candidate or party that advanced this platform would be torn to pieces. They would be ridiculed and vilified, and if for some reason that wasn't enough, they'd be smeared and disgraced.

Note that none of what I wrote about involves dismantling capitalism. I didn't mention public takeovers or an expansion of the public sector or mandatory investment in public works. The plan I outlined is not socialist, as it still involves private ownership and profit. Nevertheless, it would be called communist.

That is partly because most people have no idea what socialism is. (Proof: they call Obama socialist!) But it's mainly down to the corporate government itself.

Corporate interests control the government. So despite what any candidate might say during an election campaign, the administration doesn't exist to create jobs and help citizens. It exists to create profit and help Wall Street.

Now, dozens of economists and free-trade enthusiasts can come along and tell you why the suggestions listed above are actually bad for the economy. I would say, ask them how they define good and bad.

A local economy is good for the earth and it's good for workers. We can make what we use, then we can afford to buy what we need. Then we can stop endlessly criss-crossing the earth in order to make more crap that instantly falls apart, because the economy will no longer be based on poor people buying crap that falls apart so they have to buy more.

And if you hear about anyone in the US campaigning on such a platform, I might consider voting there again.


we like lists: list # 19: more eponyms, subcategory edition

Eponyms everywhere! Who knew?

Our most recent list of eponyms was a smash success. It gave rise to at least three subcategories, as I wrote here:

- Inventor/creator/discoverer, not genericized. These are eponyms, but have not entered the vocabulary as a separate noun or descriptor. Example: Alzheimer's. Compare to pasteurized.

- Fictional characters
--- Mythological names
----- Biblical names

This list is more specific, and more difficult. Allan and I have done this one before, and even with help from a well-read listserv, came up with only a handful. (Idea for new reality show: Are you smarter than Wallace-L?)

When Joseph Heller died, I marveled at how his creation has entered our vocabulary as such a widely recognized generic expression. The often-misused phrase "catch-22" was long ago separated from its origins. I'm sure many people use it who have never heard of Heller's book. I wondered if there were any other examples.

Using a very strict criteria, we came up with very few:
Big Brother

Here are the rules. Fiction only. Can be a title or a character. The author must be a known person whose identity is not in dispute. That means no myths, including bible stories, but of course Shakespeare can be used. The word must be recognizable as a generic term, enough that you'd see it used in a mainstream newspaper story.

Thanks to last night's thread, I'll add one that the Wallace list missed:

Got any others? You can use our last list, but other than that, no cheating, please.


we like lists: list # 18: words that were once people

I really enjoy learning about the origins of words and expressions. (I included this in our last list.) Several words now part of ordinary vocabulary started out as proper names.

In 1880, a group of Irish tenant farmers organized a labour ostracism against the agent of an abusive absentee landlord. The agent's name was Charles Boycott.

Charles Ponzi was a con artist who promised investors they would double their money in 90 days.

In the film "La Dolce Vita," directed by Federico Fellini, an intrusive photographer is named Paparazzo.
Thomas Bowdler was a crusading editor who published a book called "The Family Shakespeare": the Bard without the naughty bits. Bowdler believed his work made Shakespeare suitable for the delicate sensibilities of ladies (i.e., upper-class women) and children.

So there we have four words - boycott, Ponzi scheme, paparazzi, and bowdlerized - that are derived from people's names.

Can you think of any others?

Adjectives like "Orwellian" or "Dickensian" don't count. Those refer to conditions described by an author. "Freudian" doesn't qualify, but if, say, dream interpretation was called sigmundosis, that would count.

walmart workers issue ultimatum, threaten to walk on busiest shopping day of the year

Walmart workers have been trying to reason with their employer and get better working conditions for many, many years. Walmart doesn't ignore their pleas and demands: it punishes them. Retaliation against workers who stand up for better conditions, although illegal, is commonplace.

Workers who have joined OUR Walmart - Organization United for Respect at Walmart - aren't asking for some cushy new deal. They just want the basics: things like advanced scheduling, full-time work for people who want it, a living wage, and an end to forced unpaid labour. (Yes, it's pre-1865 in the Republic of Walmart). But when they ask, they are punished.

OUR Walmart has had enough. They've issued an ultimatum. Walmart must stop retaliating against workers who speak out for better conditions, or on the day after U.S. Thanksgiving - what many people (although not me) call "Black Friday" - they will walk. From Salon:
One day after Walmart employees in twelve states launched a major strike, today workers issued an ultimatum to the retail giant: Stop retaliating against workers trying to organize, or the year’s most important shopping day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, will see the biggest disruptions yet. The announcement comes as 200 workers – some of them currently striking – have converged in the Walmart’s Bentonville, Arkansas hometown outside the company’s annual investors meeting. It offers a new potential challenge to Walmart, and a new test for OUR Walmart, the labor-backed organization that’s pulled off the first two multi-store U.S. strikes in Walmart history.

If Walmart doesn’t address OUR Walmart’s demands, said striking worker Colby Harris, from Dallas, “We will make sure that Black Friday is memorable for them.” He said that would includes strikes, leafleting to customers, and “flash mobs.” Harris was joined on a press call announcing the deadline by leaders of the National Consumers League, the National Organization of Women, and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, three of the national organizations that have pledged support for the workers’ efforts. Absent a resolution, said NOW President Terri O’Neill, NOW members will join Walmart workers outside stores on Black Friday to ask customers “whether they really want to spend their dollars on a company that treats workers this way.”

Dan Schlademan, a UFCW official, told Salon that to avert the Black Friday actions, “at a minimum” Walmart would need “to end the retaliation,” including reversing the firings of workers allegedly singled out for their activism.

According to OUR Walmart, 88 total workers have been on strike since yesterday at 28 stores in twelve states. The largest group was in Dallas, Texas; others struck stores in Miami, Orlando, Seattle, Chicago, Missouri, Minnesota, Maryland, Kentucky, and California. They followed 70 who struck in southern California last Thursday. And as Salon has reported, this week’s and last week’s store strikes follow two strikes by about 70 Walmart warehouse workers employed by contractors or sub-contractors during the past month.

"I don’t think this will be a flash in the pan,” Chris Rhomberg, a strike expert at Fordham University, said last night. “If they’ve been able to achieve this level of coordination, I imagine we’ll see more.”
You can help. Take the pledge to stand with Walmart workers on Friday, November 23.

Your pledge, like mine, may be symbolic - I have never been in a Walmart in my life and I don't shop on International Buy Nothing Day.

Or your pledge might be concrete: if you're out shopping that day, stop by a Walmart to wish the striking workers well and tell management that you're not shopping there.

Either way, please add your voice so the OUR Walmart workers know they are not alone.


now accepting suggestions for movie season

I hardly noticed the transition from Baseball Season to Movie Season this year. With the Red Sox having their worst season almost 50 years (1965), my tolerance for the nightly loss ran out some time in July.

By August it wasn't unusual for Allan to keep the game on his computer while we played Angry Birds. (We finished the whole game, then went back to the beginning to get three stars on every level. Gotta have those golden eggs.)

Plus, one of the really nice pieces of dumping cable in favour of streaming has been having Netflix all year. Zip was $30/month, and I didn't want to pay that on top of all our baseball-access expense, just for off-days and rain-outs. But at $8/month, Netflix all year is no problem.

So while the Red Sox were still playing, we...

- finished Sherlock - can't wait for Season 3!

- finished Justified - can't wait for Season 4!

- watched The Big C - really enjoyed Season 1 but it seems to be falling off in Season 2, although I'll try a couple more episodes

- tried Huff - has potential but is not great

- started Weeds from the beginning - we had seen bits and pieces here and there, hoping it pays to watch straight through

- watched all of Little Dorrit (just me, and I wish Netflix had many more Masterpiece Classic-type shows)

- devoured Season 1 of Downton Abbey, and are halfway through Season 2

We've only seen Season 1 of The Wire, so we might go back to that.

No matter how many people tell me I must watch Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, I'm finding it hard to work up any enthusiasm for those. It might depend on how much other good stuff there is.

Some of the movies already on my list:
Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)
Happy Go Lucky (Mike Leigh)
The Descendants
The Artist
The Hunger Games
Daydream Nation
A Beginner's Guide to Endings
The Whistleblower
Trigger (Bruce McDonald)
Shut Up Little Man
Route Irish, The Angels' Share (Ken Loach)

What have you seen and liked or loved this past year?


workers on strike at walmart! support this historic labour action.

Last Thursday, October 3, was a historic date for working people. For the first time in the 50-year history of Walmart, Walmart workers are on strike.

Walmart is the largest private employer on the planet, with more than 2.2 million employees worldwide. Approximately one out of every 100 employed USians works at Walmart. And the company offers those employees some of the worst working conditions in North America.

Walmart workers in Southern California were the first to walk out, forming picket lines last week. A few days later, they were joined by workers in Dallas, Texas, and Laurel, Maryland. The strike has now spread to 12 cities in nine states. Some are one-day job actions, some are information pickets, some are full-blown walkouts.

These actions are vitally important for all working people. Please sign this statement of support for striking Walmart workers (the form is US-only, but it will accept a Canadian address), and learn about more ways you can support them.

The organized workers, members of Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart, presented a “Declaration of Respect” to the company in June, calling for a minimum of $13 per hour, full-time jobs for those who want them, predictable work schedules, affordable healthcare, among other things.

Walmart claims the average hourly wage for its full-time workers is $12.40, but independent reports show that it's actually $8.81, barely above the pitiful minimum wage, and very few workers ever see full-time status. Tens of millions of Walmart workers qualify for public assistance. They are the very definition of "working poor".

For the most part, Walmart workers have no access to healthcare, no paid sick time, and their schedules are erratic and unreliable. Try getting childcare when your schedule is made out only a week in advance. Then again, minimum wage workers can't afford childcare anyway. Among other indignities and injustices they must endure for the privilege of remaining employed, Walmart workers are often forced to work off-the-clock, a practice that I believe was outlawed in 1865.

Workers at Walmart have been organizing for many years. The company doesn't just ignore their demands. They punish them. Walmart is notorious for retaliating against employees who stand up for better conditions - which, of course, is illegal and a violation of workers' rights. The striking Walmart workers are very brave. Please show them they're not alone: sign here, read here, and don't shop at Walmart!

Also: OUR Walmart on Facebook.


seen in upstate new york

Something for all your needs, plus excellent alliteration. Down the road in Mohawk territory, in the North Country region of New York State, we saw this:

Many generations of Mohawks have been ironworkers. Many of the great New York City skyscrapers were built by Mohawk labour.

We didn't have a camera with us; these were just taken on my phone, the better-than-nothing emergency camera. Which made us think, with two cameras at home, why don't we always take one along, as a matter of course?

A portion of the drive to Vermont is very scenic. Once you get off the 401 and cross into the US, it's rural routes through farmland and lakeside villages all the way to Burlington. Lots of autumn colours, lots of cows, horses, small main streets with the occasional stone church. Some of it is picture-book autumn in rural New England, and some of it is sad and run-down. At its best, it looks kind of like this (not my photo).

On the other hand, it's also eight hours of driving, and we're not inclined to add to that with a lot of stopping.


a few words about burlington vermont

We are in Burlington, Vermont, for a wedding.

We drove here on Friday, a nice drive mostly through blue skies and autumn colours.

On Saturday, we found a public library so I could do some school work.

Saturday night was the wedding. The ceremony was held on a patio overlooking Lake Champlain, with a dramatic sky and setting sun as a backdrop. The wedding was fun. It was good to see some of our family (Allan's side) who we like, and do the general wedding celebration stuff.

Today we hung out with our good friend Ray and took a nice walk on a waterfront trail. Now we're in a motel room watching baseball.

So that's what we've done. And now a few words about Burlington, Vermont.

There's not much here.

It's a pretty little college town, home to the University of Vermont and some smaller schools. You always hear what a nice place this is. And it's not a bad place, it's not not-nice, but... there's just not much here.

The big attraction is the Church Street Marketplace, a section of downtown Burlington closed to vehicle traffic. Twenty years or so ago there were a lot of interesting, independent stores and funky cafes. Now it's Banana Republic, The Body Shop, and one chain after the next. People rave about it... but I don't get it. It's an outdoor mall.

There's a beautiful walk and bike path along several miles of lake, part of a rails-to-trails network. It's flat, there are beautiful views, and you can see stretches of unspoiled lakefront, and several public parks. Many people walk their dogs or jog along it, and you can rent a bike from a local nonprofit.

And that's really it. There's an aquarium and science centre, and the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum, which to me are time-fillers if you have kids. Burlington is a great jumping-off point for outdoorsy things in the rest of Vermont, but if the best thing about a town is getting out of it, what does that say about the town?

Allan was born and grew up in this area, and was living here when we met in 1985. When we were long-distance, friends of mine used to ask if it was hard to decide who was going to move. We thought they were nuts. Allan and I never considered my moving to Vermont, not for one moment.

I guess most people from New York thought of Vermont as a beautiful, peaceful place, a place where one might get away from city life. But we loved city life and wanted a lot more of it.

Now it's 25 years later, and I still look at Burlington and wonder what all the fuss is about. It's a perfectly nice place to live. Our relatives, who live in the much smaller and more scenic Jeffersonville, Vermont, have a lovely life here. If you are drawn to small-town life, I could see this being a good choice - although you'd better love winter.

But if anyone tries to tell you Burlington, Vermont, is a tourist destination, send them this post.


in which my roku experience gets even more awesome: how to set up a wireless vpn

You may recall that we switched our internet provider from Rogers to TekSavvy in order to get more bandwidth, then dumped Rogers altogether by switching from cable to streaming. We bought a Roku streaming device. And I fell in love with it.

No more paying for dozens of channels that we'll never watch. On-demand viewing without DVR'ing. And no more cable bill! We even upgraded one Roku to the model that has a USB port and a media server, so we can watch our own media directly on our TV. Awesome.

There was only one piece missing.

If you use a streaming device, and you don't live in the US, your options are very limited. For us, there's Major League Baseball, Netflix Canada, and... that's it. There is a pathetic Netflix wannabe called Crackle, and Roku hosts a zillion little homemade niche channels, but nothing that would cause you to dump cable TV. Netflix Canada has improved a lot, but it's still very limited compared with US Netflix. You also can't get Amazon Instant Video, which has a ton of movies and TV shows, or Hulu Plus, which I personally don't want, but is very popular.

You can easily get around the restrictions and watch content from those sites on your computer, by using one of the many proxies or tunnel services to change your IP address to a US location. But your Roku or streaming device work with wireless internet, and your wireless router will still be using a Canadian IP address.

Unless it's not.

You can follow these instructions, and change your wireless IP address.

We bought a new router, a specific model that supports the third-party, open-source firmware DD-WRT. We downloaded the software, followed these instructions, et voilà, US Netflix and anything else will now stream through Roku onto our TV.

I wasn't sure we should try it, but after getting encouragement and support from a very techy friend (partner of wmtc reader James), we decided to give it a go. We figured the worst that could happen was we'd go back to our old router and return the new wireless router to the store.

But the process wasn't too difficult, and worked the first time.*

There was some question if this would cause problems with our VoIP phone, but it didn't.

We did find one glitch. With the new IP address, MLB.com didn't stream properly on Roku, and certain websites, especially those with videos, don't load and play properly. For now, the solution is simple, if a bit clunky: we simply swap routers - one router for Baseball Season, one router for Movie Season.

The Asus RT N-16 router costs about $85 before tax, the equivalent of one or more months of cable, depending on your plan. Like the Roku, it's a one-time purchase.

You can use any VPN service. The instructions I linked to are for Hide My Ass, but we are using AceVPN. The free level of service is adequate for accessing sites on your computer. We decided to use the $6/month level for streaming.

It works and it's fun.

* Why do this instead of physically connecting a computer to the TV? Once it's set up, it's always there - no need to continually connect and re-connect. You can use your computer and the TV at the same time. You can buy a Roku device for each TV in the house, and they operate independently of each other. The picture quality is better. It's simpler, easier, and more pleasant to just pick up your remote and watch movies or shows the way you normally would, as opposed to dealing with a computer that is connected to a TV. And frankly, between baseball and movies, and the little bit of TV I like to watch before I go to sleep, I couldn't see having to deal with a computer hook-up every time.


can we stop the next war before it starts? don't attack iran: saturday, october 6

This Saturday, October 6, is an International Day of Action: Don't Attack Iran. People will be standing up for peace all across Canada. Some event listings are below, and a search on Facebook may turn up a few more.

From the Canadian Peace Alliance:

Almost ten years after the start of the Iraq War, we face the threat of another war. This time the target is Iran. And the process that led to war nearly a decade ago is strikingly similar to the situation today. It started with sanctions, which our government insisted were a “humanitarian” alternative to war but then lead to air strikes and invasion based on dubious claims about Weapons of Mass Destruction.

At stake today is the possibility of another disastrous war in the Middle East. Over 1.5 million Iraqis died because of sanctions, and over a million more have been killed since the war began in 2003. We must not be fooled into war with Iran, especially by arguments that have long since been discredited.

The Harper Government has become an important player in contributing to the propaganda campaign in support of this war. Stephen Harper has labeled both "Islamicism" and Iran as the greatest threats to world peace and he and Foreign Minister John Baird have use every international platform to push for war. The people of Canada, the majority of whom didn't vote for the Conservatives, must stand up and end the sabre-rattling, fear-mongering and threats.

What can you do?

The Canadian Peace Alliance has developed new resources to help build the campaign against war with Iran including sample letters for your MP, petitions, window signs, and a new fact-sheet with the Top 5 Myths and Realities about the drive to war.

Go to the CPA's "No War On Iran" page to find all the information you need to build the campaign in your community.

And on October 6, join the demonstrations in cities and towns across Canada. If you are organizing an event please let us know by e-mailing cpa@web.ca.

October 6 Event Listings


A peace rally organized by the Edmonton Coalition Against War & Racism (ECAWAR) urging the Canadian government not to use military intervention in Iran.

Saturday, October 6, 2012
2:30 - 4:30 p.m. in UTC-06

The program includes:
Dr. Rose Geransar (Iranian-Canadian activist)
Siavash Saffari (Iranian-Canadian activist)
Peggy Morton (ECAWAR)
Dr. Dougal MacDonald (ECAWAR)
Paula Kirman (political singer/songwriter)
....more details to come!


Join us for a rally and march on Saturday, October 6, part of a pan-Canadian day of action to oppose a war against Iran.

1:00 p.m. Rally at Halifax Commons Triangle
1:30 p.m. March to Megan Leslie's Community Office on Gottingen St.


No Attack on Syria and Iran!

Join thousands of people around North America and England in protesting the run-up to the looming wars in the Mideast! Stop the Harper government's preparations for military intervention in both Syria and Iran!

Saturday, October 6, 2012, at the Federal Building, 55 Bay Street North, Hamilton, 1:00 p.m.

For further info on the October 6 demonstrations, e-mail hcsw-at-cogeco-dot-ca or go to our events page at Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War.


Don't attack Iran - Rally and March

Join the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War for a city-wide rally and march on Saturday, October 6, part of a pan-Canadian day of action to oppose a war against Iran.

2:00 p.m. Rally at Queen's Park
3:00 p.m. March
3:30 p.m. Public meeting: 'Why Harper cut ties with Iran' - featuring special guest speakers (TBA)


Stop Harper's Warmongering Against Iran
International Day of Action Against War

Saturday October 6, 12:00 noon

Meet at Peace Flame Park (also known as Seaforth Peace Park) - south end of Burrard Bridge, between Cornwall & 1st Ave. Join StopWar.ca and allies in a display of banners and signs for drivers, cyclists and transit riders.

This action is in solidarity with an international day of action.


Don't Attack Iran! International Day of Action
October 6, 2012
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Please join Peace Alliance Winnipeg in holding a peaceful information picket in Osborne Village to raise awareness of the increasing danger of war with Iran. Bring friends and family to help distribute information on this serious issue. Feel free to bring your own placard.

Location: River Avenue and Osborne Street, Winnipeg

how to send mail to kimberly rivera

Kimberly Rivera, the Iraq War veteran and war resister who was forced out of Canada by the Harper government, is being held in at her former base in Fort Carson, Colorado. Supporters wishing to write to Kimberly Rivera can send cards and letters to this address:
Kimberly Rivera
c/o All Souls U. U. Church
730 North Tejon Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80903

Supporters at the church will bring Kim her mail in batches. This will draw less attention to her on the base, and might circumvent some censorship.

However, please be aware of her situation and refrain from messages that could be used against her. Please send messages of love and support, not anger, and nothing incendiary!

Kim has not been charged yet, and at present is free to roam around the base, although not free to leave. Supporters in the area are giving her the use of a bicycle, so she can get around more easily. Kim has some limited access to internet at the base library, and the use of a cell phone, so she can call and text her family and her lawyer.

I know your cards and letters will mean a lot to her. Thanks to everyone for all your continued support.


stephen harper awarded first richard nixon award

Some of us found it more than a little strange to learn that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been named World Statesman of the Year by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. Perhaps this is to expected in a world where Barack Obama - now Commander in Chief of a military presence in more than 150 countries, waging no less than 75 "special ops" wars - is given the Nobel Peace Prize. Even Resident Bush managed to hold the number of secret wars to 67.

Fear not, Canada. We will not be outdone. "A coalition of international and community groups" announced that Harper has won the first ever Richard Nixon Prize.
The selection committee applauds the Prime Minister's "principled, forthright and steadfast international policies in the interests of the rich and powerful".

Because the Prime Minister will be in New York to receive another award, this one will be presented using the "empty chair" technique recently used by Clint Eastwood. The prize will be presented by author Yves Engler, who has written extensively about Harper's foreign policy. The Nixon prize will be unveiled and the Ottawa Raging Grannies will express their appreciation in song.

Reasons for the committee selection are as follows:

• The grantees cite Harper's "consistent backing of the interests of North America's top 1% of income earners, with a special emphasis on supporting those who make their billions from resource extraction, weaponry and banking."

• The committee applauds Harper for bombing Libya into democracy and at the same time standing by Egypt's Hosni Mubarak until the final hours of his 30-year presidency.

• In Afghanistan the Prime Minister has stayed committed to war even though most Canadians want to bring the troops home, the prize committee said in a statement. Harper's decision to continue to deploy 1,000 troops as well as special forces is exactly what America's 37th president would have done. "Canadian special forces play an important role in US-led nighttime assassination raids. When a parliamentary committee began asking inappropriate questions about Afghan detainees Harper refused to buckle and simply closed shop," said the committee's statement. "Richard Nixon would have been proud."

• Despite Harper's Conservative government being the biggest backer of the world's mining industry, ordinary Canadians just don't understand how valuable this is to the wealthy, the committee said. "We appreciate the Prime Minister's commitment to advancing Canadian mining companies' interests abroad. All investors benefit."

• The Richard Nixon Prize grantees thoroughly support Harper's international environmental policy. "The Prime Minister has firmly challenged those in Washington and Europe who call the tar sands "dirty oil". At international climate negotiations Harper has made the tough decision to support more carbon in our atmosphere rather than simply accede to an overwhelming international consensus. His government repeatedly blocked climate negotiations and withdrew Canada from the Kyoto protocol, what he once correctly called a 'socialist scheme' to suck money out of rich countries."

corporate greenwashing and the myth of consumer sovereignty

One of the wonderful things about no longer working for Evil Corporate Law Firm - and there are so many! - is no longer contributing to a firm that represents some of skeeviest organizations in the world, including the Conservative Party of Canada. I've worked for many a skeevy law firm, because writing and activism doesn't pay the bills, and a decent salary lets me do good in the world. If I were a lawyer, I hope there'd be a different equation, but as support staff, well, we don't blame fruit pickers for pesticide use.

Like most corporations these days, ECLF proudly displays its green initiatives and offers incentives to get employees involved. A big favourite is one of those "green commute challenge" week, where employees can earn prizes by biking, walking, or taking public transit to work, instead of driving. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Nothing, except that while ECLF is cheerleading for a green commute, it reaps its profits by representing organizations that destroy the earth (and workers). ECLF represents some of the biggest, most notorious extraction companies in the world, and they represent the Conservative Party of Canada, which is actively dismantling this country's environmental protections so that those companies can earn more profits, and which supports the world's dirtiest oil production.

That is one thick coat of greenwash. And the truth underneath is largely invisible.

In addition to corporate greenwashing, the green commute and other similar initiatives promote the myth of consumer sovereignty, which I wrote about most recently in connection with an outstanding book, Too Many People?, by Ian Angus and Simon Butler.

This type of "let's all do our share" activities are all but worthless in their overall emission reductions, and actually might do more harm than good, as they perpetuate the idea that small, individual acts of personal choice are the solution to climate change, while masking the real corporate culprits. The green commute may have personal value, and it does raise important awareness, as I've written about Earth Hour. When I write "all but no value," I mean on the measurable impact on air quality or climate change. And no matter how many ECLF employees sign up for the green commute, their collective action could never compensate for what ECLF itself does. It would be a teaspoon against an ocean.

What's more, gimmicks aside, most people have very little choice about how they commute, because of planning decisions that have kept most working people dependent on cars. Those decisions have been made by governments more interested in a real estate-based economy than in the environment or in the comfort and convenience of working people.

Individual acts matter. But no number of individual acts can compensate for massive corporate environmental destruction that continues, unabated.

Something to think about the next time your employer offers you free breakfast if you walk to work.