google, what have you got against choice?

Google is losing a lot of friends lately. Their recent decisions to discontinue iGoogle and Reader are making many people unhappy. Today, to the great dismay of many Gmail users, Gmail's new compose interface - a small box in the corner of your screen - became the default. Google says the previous compose style - the more typical large box in the centre of your screen - will be discontinued.


Why not give us options? If some people like to compose an email in a small box in the corner of their screen, that's grand. They can. And if other people prefer to compose an email in as large a space as possible, in the centre of their screen... well, why can't we?

I do not understand Google's continuing drive to dictate to its users how they should use Google products. The technology to allow for customer choice clearly exists. Why not let users decide how best to use a product? Why does Google care where and how we type our emails? Why not let us decide?

This actually affects me less than many users. At home, on my main (desktop) computer, I use Gmail through Outlook. I use Outlook for email, contacts, calendar, notes, and tasks, and I like having everything in one place. I also prefer Outlook's formatting options, and it syncs easily with my BlackBerry.

But like many people, I use more than one computer, in more than one location, so I also use Gmail's web interface when using my netbook, at work, and any other place I might need email. Having both web and Outlook options is a great fail-safe, too. I frequently go into "internet Gmail" to find something I can't find in "Outlook Gmail".

With this idiotic compose function, I'm not going to want to use Gmail on the web unless absolutely necessary. And if Google keeps this up, I'll be searching for another email solution that isn't so dictatorial.

As far as I can tell, this mandatory compose feature is almost universally hated. You can leave feedback about the new Gmail functions on this Google Plus thread.


it's pro-choice or no choice: protecting our rights

If you're in the Mississauga area and you're interested in hearing this blog live and in person, I'm giving a talk on Tuesday, April 2, sponsored by the Mississauga chapter of the International Socialists. Here are the deets.

* * * *

It's Pro-Choice or No Choice – Protecting Our Rights

Stephen Harper promised he wouldn't re-open the abortion debate, but one Conservative MP after the next has tabled motions that would limit - or even destroy - Canadian women's reproductive rights.

What are those rights, and how are they threatened? What can Canadians learn from the state of reproductive rights in the U.S.?

Join us for an informative talk by long-time pro-choice activist Laura Kaminker and a discussion of the issues.

WHAT: "Pro-Choice Canada – Protecting Our Rights"

WHEN: Tuesday, April 2, 7:00 p.m.

WHERE: Room CL-2, Central Library, 301 Burnhamthorpe Road West, Mississauga

Parking in the garage under the library is FREE after 6 pm.

Sponsored by the Mississauga chapter of the International Socialists.


war resister campaign update: behind the tindungan decision

Supporters of U.S. war resisters in Canada may be interested in hearing about the War Resisters Support Campaign event earlier this week. A large crowd came out to share a meal, hear an update on the Campaign, and raise funds for legal fees for the court martial of war resister Kimberly Rivera.

War resister Jules Tindungan kicked off the evening by speaking about the letter from Iraq War veteran and resister Tomas Young, which I'm sure you've all seen. We watched Young himself read the letter on Democracy Now (here).

It was announced that war resister Justin Colby was sentenced to 15 months in prison, which his lawyer, James Branum, was able to get reduced to nine months. Justin returned to the U.S. "voluntarily," meaning he was not deported or technically forced out by the Harper Government, but had he been granted status in Canada, his decision might have been very different.

Courage to Resist has posted about Justin. They are asking supporters to write respectful letters to the commanding general of Fort Carson, where Justin is being held, requesting he be granted clemency.

Kim Rivera will be sentenced on April 29. At that time, we'll have more information on what we can do to support her.

Kim is in good spirits, but the ordeal has been extremely difficult. If you know Kim, a woman of peace and light, you can imagine that being in uniform, forced to be a part of the military, is very hard on her. Through some grant money (which we learned about through a Toronto supporter), Kim was able to visit with her children, but the inevitable re-separation was incredibly painful for everyone. Because of this, Kim feels it's best that her children not visit with her again, and is choosing not to see them until the ordeal is completely over. With the help of many incredible local supporters, Kim and her husband Mario have been able to spend several weeks together in Colorado, before her sentencing hearing and (we assume) prison sentence.

Now for the positive news.

Last month, the Federal Court ordered that war resister Jules Tindungan be given a new refugee hearing. In that decision, Justice Russell used extremely strong, unequivocal language, slamming the government's ridiculously weak arguments and chastising the Refugee Board for ignoring previous Federal Court rulings on war resisters. If you are interested in this campaign, I highly recommend reading the decision, which is posted here.

At the fundraising dinner, Campaign lawyer Alyssa Manning explained the most significant aspects of the Tindungan decision. This decision overcomes every argument in the government's case that forced Kim out of Canada. Of course, Kim and her family had to leave in September 2012, and this decision came down in February 2013. It was too late for the Riveras, but the Tindungan decision gives us every reason to keep fighting. Here's why.

Refugee cases always revolve around the issue of state protection. According to the Harper Government, the US war resisters have adequate state protection, because the US military has a fair, impartial, and adequate justice system.

However... Alyssa has produced a mountain of evidence from four unassailable expert witnesses showing that the US military justice system does not meet either international or Canadian standards of impartiality and fairness. In fact, the Canadian court martial system was overhauled in the 1990s, in order to comply with international standards. The US refused to do the same, and clings to a court martial system in which, among other issues, the accuser acts as judge and jury.

Against the unassailable evidence presented by Alyssa, the government produced one expert, a military apologist, who said, in essence, I think the US system is fair. He gave no evidence to support this claim; it is simply his opinion. Then the refugee board said, in essence, we're ok with that. For more on this, see paragraphs 144 through 169 of the Tindungan decision. At the end of the section on the fairness and adequacy of the US military justice system, Justice Russell concludes:
In the end, I do not think the RPD has found a way out of the mistakes it made in Vassey. It has simply, in the face of a plethora of principled evidence to the contrary, grasped at the straw offered by Professor Hansen, which, in my view, offered nothing more than a personal opinion unconnected to any coherent principle of fairness and adequacy and which attempts to defend a U.S. military justice system that, on the evidence before me and the RPD, appears to be outdated and sadly at odds with Canadian and international norms. 
With this, we have overcome one of the three reasons we lost in September - that is, one of the reasons the Riveras were forced out of Canada.

Next, there is the issue of differential punishment. In all the war resisters' cases, Alyssa has been demonstrating how US soldiers who speak out against the war are punished more harshly than other soldiers who go AWOL - indeed, more harshly than some soldiers who have committed horrific violent crimes against civilians or against their fellow troops. This means that war resisters are being punished for their deeply held personal beliefs. In addition, Alyssa has shown that the treatment of soldiers who try to speak out from within the military amounts not to prosecution, but persecution. These conditions make the US war resisters eligible for refugee protection... but the Refugee Board continues to ignore them.

In response to Alyssa's long list of outspoken war resisters who received differential treatment, the government pointed to three other AWOL soldiers who were also given harsh sentences. But - get this - the three people they named were also outspoken war resisters! You can read more about this at paragraphs 160 through 167 of the Tindungan decision. Justice Russell concludes:
This information is directly contrary to the RPD's findings, and it should have been referenced and dealt with. It was either overlooked or ignored. Once again, the lessons of Vassey appear to have been ignored by the RPD.
With that, we overcome the second reason we lost in September.

Finally, we come to a tremendous legal breakthrough in the fight to keep US war resisters in Canada. The realities of the Iraq War - the reasons war resisters deserted or refused to deploy - have never been addressed by any court decision, because of legal technicalities. Now we have this, in paragraphs 170 and 171 of Tindungan. Is it a coincidence that war resisters' cases rest on section 171 of the UNHCR Handbook?
[170] One of the fundamental problems with the RPD's approach on this issue is that it assesses the Applicant's personal experiences as isolated incidents that were not condoned by the USA and were not systemic, while completely ignoring the documentary evidence that confirms that the opposite is true.

[171] The Applicant submitted voluminous documentary evidence from credible, third-party sources such as Amnesty International that discuss routine and authorized military practices in Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. Army that describe conduct falling under section 171, and which suggest that the U.S. has not complied with its international obligations in this regard. The RPD simply ignores this evidence.
There it is. It took nine years, but we finally have a statement from the Federal Court saying the US has systematically acted outside international laws and conventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. And with that, we overcome the third reason we lost in September.

This decision came too late for the Rivera family, and for the many US war resisters who have been deported from Canada, or who gave up the fight to stay. Yet it is a significant legal victory. It gives us every reason to keep fighting - for war resisters, and for the country we want Canada to be.


i am a master of information

The degree will not be official until May, but I've just completed my very last school assignment. This means... I. AM. DONE. Done!!!!! My apologies to everyone who already saw this at Facebook, but such momentous news must be posted on wmtc!

I am honestly unable to express my joy and relief at finishing school. I sometimes wonder if I'm making a big fuss over something quite common, something people do every day. Then again, if people do return to school after nearly 30 years and pilot through a complete career change in their early 50s, every day, then good on them, because it isn't easy.

I had a ton of help. The support and encouragement from friends - in person, on wmtc, on Facebook, or all three - helped so much. People did amazing things for me, like a Campaign friend who gave me a key to her house near campus and insisted I use her spare bedroom for a lie-down anytime I wanted. For my first two years of school, that rest and re-charge let me continue to attend WRSC meetings; I couldn't have done it otherwise. (After that, library work or night classes made meetings impossible.)

The incredible generosity of my sister and brother-in-law, two of my greatest friends and supporters, made it possible for me to graduate without debt, and eventually to leave my well-paid but crappy job and focus on library work. Is that amazing or what?

Above all, this journey was all about teamwork. Allan took on so many extra chores and errands and tasks, to free my time for school, in addition to helping me through all my anxiety and obsessions and frustrations. And he did it all gracefully, without complaint. Those who know him should find that hard to believe! Allan? Without complaint?! Yes, it's true. He took it all in stride. We've actually had a lot of fun and laughs getting through this. Also a lot of wine and quite a few Klonopin.

When I was a little girl, just as I started grade school, my mother went back to school to complete her university degree, and some years later, started teaching. After that, she returned to school again for her Master's degree. My father was supportive in public, but spiteful and demanding in private, plus my mother had three children. We were all charged with helping out more at home, and my older sister was recruited to make sure we didn't starve. (God forbid my father would have made us dinner.) I was always proud of my mother's accomplishments, but these past four years have made me appreciate them on an entirely different scale.

alternatives to google reader at replacereader.com

Since blog comments are not a very useful way of sharing information, I'll post this again here. A list of alternatives to Google Reader can be found at ReplaceReader.

I'm very interested in this, even though I stopped using Google Reader a long time ago. I tried several times, and each time found that using any feed service hugely exacerbated that feeling of drowning in too much information. Worse, using a feed reader triggered my anxiety about not having enough time, just about the last thing I need. Thus my own internet reading continues to be the only thing in my life that is purposely erratic, unmethodical, and disorganized - and that's the only way it works for me.

Despite that, I hate that Google has discontinued Reader and iGoogle, and I hope another good feed reader service becomes hugely successful as a result.


petition google to save google reader: please sign and share widely

A while back, I expressed my frustration with the current massive emphasis on mobile apps, and with organizations that use Facebook pages instead of web pages: the walled-off internet, or why facebook and mobile apps are good for them and bad for us.

For a more complete view of this sad fact, you might want to read this 2010 article from Wired: The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff. It's old in internet terms, but more relevant than ever:
If we’re moving away from the open Web, it’s at least in part because of the rising dominance of businesspeople more inclined to think in the all-or-nothing terms of traditional media than in the come-one-come-all collectivist utopianism of the Web. This is not just natural maturation but in many ways the result of a competing idea — one that rejects the Web’s ethic, technology, and business models. The control the Web took from the vertically integrated, top-down media world can, with a little rethinking of the nature and the use of the Internet, be taken back.
Now Google plans to take a huge step in this same wrong direction, with their plans to discontinue Reader. Whether or not you personally use Google Reader, its impending demise should bother you. Impudent Strumpet explains why.

Here is a petition to save Google Reader. Please sign and share.

world water day

photo by andreyohanes3
One in eight people on this planet do not have access to safe drinking water.

Each day, 3,000 children under the age of five die from diseases caused by drinking unsafe water.

Half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water.

In a world of such great plenty, how can this be?

It's not inevitable, and it's not beyond our power to change.

Go to WaterDay.org to see an impressive photo gallery highlighting the global water crisis.

In Canada, the Harper Government has removed protections from almost every lake and river in the country. They are trying to cut environmental assessments for massive projects (like pipelines) that endanger the fresh water supply. The Council of Canadians asks you to join the fight to protect Canada's water as a public commons, not a free giveaway for industry.

Water is a human right.


hugo chavez vs lies western media tells us

Linda McQuaig recently wrote an excellent column about the blatantly false portrayal of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in the Western mainstream media. Chavez should be a hero to anyone who cares about social justice, but if your primary news sources are anywhere from CNN to the CBC to the New York Times, you might wonder why millions of Latin Americans mourned Chavez's passing rather than celebrating. You might imagine they were in the thrall of a charismatic tyrant.

I found the mainstream media's description of Chavez as a "dictator" particularly rich, given the US endured at least two fraudulent elections in recent times. Toronto activist Judy Rebick had this excellent letter in the Globe and Mail:
Your front-page article on the death of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez (Death Of A Revolutionary – March 6), calls him “a polarizing dictator.” He was certainly polarizing, as is our own Prime Minister, but Mr. Chavez was never a dictator. Mr. Chavez was elected several times over the past three decades, each time by a significant majority of the popular vote, which is more than we can say for Stephen Harper.

In 2002, Mr. Chavez’s opponents, including the right-wing media, organized a coup against him that was overturned by the massive mobilization of the poor people of Caracas. In 2004, the opposition organized a recall vote, a mechanism created by Mr. Chavez. It failed. In the 2006 election, he won with 63 per cent of the popular vote; in 2012, with 55 per cent of the popular vote.

You may disagree with Mr. Chavez’s 21st-century socialism policies, but please do not describe him as a dictator.

Judy Rebick, Toronto
Had Hugo Chavez followed the pattern of many Third World leaders and concentrated on siphoning off his nation’s wealth for personal gain, he would have attracted little attention or animosity in the West.

Instead, he did virtually the opposite — redirecting vast sums of national wealth to the swollen ranks of Venezuela’s poor, along with free health care and education. No wonder he alienated local elites, who are used to being first in line at the national trough.
Chavez’s relentless championing of the downtrodden set a standard increasingly followed in Latin America. It explains his immense popularity with the masses and the widespread grief over his death last week.

Yet in the West, he was portrayed as a tyrant.

He was accused of muzzling the press, although anyone who’s ever turned on a TV in Caracas knows there’s no shortage of Fox News-style media outlets carrying a frothy mix of celebrities, U.S. sitcoms and anti-Chavez tirades.

He was also accused of being anti-democratic, even though he won elections which former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and his global election monitoring centre have declared “the best in the world.”

Chavez deservedly came under attack in the West — including from Noam Chomsky — for failing to order the release of a judge imprisoned for allowing a corrupt banker to flee Venezuela with millions of dollars.

But it’s striking to note that the West routinely ignores more serious democratic failings on the part of its allies, including torture and execution in full-fledged dictatorships like Saudi Arabia.

What actually appears to have infuriated the western establishment was Chavez’s audacity in challenging — and scoring some victories against — western dominance of the world economy. 
One such victory allowed Third World oil-producing nations to gain a bigger share of global oil revenues.

Up until the 1970s, the major western oil companies, known as the Seven Sisters, controlled the world oil market through a cartel established at a secret retreat at Achnacarry Castle in Scotland in 1928. The Achnacarry agreement set out in detail how the companies would maintain their lucrative control of oil markets into the future, setting quotas among themselves, never competing with each other and preventing competitors from getting in on the action.

In the 1970s, oil-producing nations in the Middle East and Venezuela organized and managed to replace the Seven Sisters with their own cartel, OPEC, striking a better deal for themselves and sending oil prices soaring. Some enraged westerners were left wondering, “How did our oil get under their sand?”
Read the rest of the column here.

McQuaig is the author of It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet, among other books. I wrote about her excellent book Holding the Bully's Coat here and posted an extended excerpt here.


ten years on: hate mail to bush and cheney from a dying iraq war veteran and war resister

Yesterday, March 19, 2013, was the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Looking for something to post, I sorted through about a dozen essays and stories online, but nothing reflected the anger and sadness and disgust and urgency and frustration I feel about everything connected with the ongoing Iraq War. I didn't write something myself, because it feels like I've said everything I have to say a good 50 times over.

I'm going to leave my post to Tomas Young. Young is an Iraq war veteran, and he is dying. He was profiled in the documentary "Body of War," which I wrote about when we screened it as a fundraiser for the War Resisters Support Campaign and the local chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Chris Hedges recently wrote about Young here: The Crucifixion of Tomas Young.

In his powerful letter, Young writes to the architects and salesmen of the Iraq War. I don't agree with everything Young writes. I don't see the invasion of Afghanistan as justified by September 11th or anything else. And I only wish I agreed with Young that Bush and Cheney will see some sort of reckoning in the hereafter. In my worldview, the Bushes and Cheneys of the world will continue to lead lives of wealth and privilege, unscathed by their actions that have killed and irreparably harmed so many millions of people - until the revolution. But Young's damning appraisal, the force of his emotions, and his willingness to speak out until his dying breath are gifts to us all, and must be shared.
I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.
Read the letter here.

For another view of the betrayal of US veterans, see the documentary "The Invisible War," about the ongoing rape and sexual assault within the US military. I was strongly cautioned not to see it, as friends thought it would be intensely triggering, but I hear it's one of the most powerful and devastating films you will ever see.


1500 kilometres by foot through the arctic winter: the journey of the nishiyuu nears ottawa

On January 16, 2013, six young Cree men and an experienced guide left their community on Hudson's Bay, in the far north, on foot. Their destination: Parliament Hill, Ottawa. Along their route, other aboriginal youth joined them, and together, now almost 200 strong, they are still walking.

This is the Journey of Nishiyuu, or, the Quest For Unity.

The walkers will reach Ottawa on March 25, having walked more than 1500 kilometres in sub-zero temperatures.

These impressive young people stand in solidarity with Idle No More, and seek to protect their land and their heritage, and to build unity among the indigenous peoples of Canada, and of the world. From their media release:
As our ancestors did before them, the youths will encounter a lot of challenges and hardships along their journey that will attempt to stop them from completing their objectives, including having to confront the elements during the coldest and harshest months in our region.

By facing these challenges that our people are subjected to everyday, our youths will reinforce the traditional bonds that existed between the Cree Nation and our historical allies by restoring the traditional trade routes that linked the Cree, Algonquin, Mohawk and other First Nations throughout Turtle Island for the betterment of future generations.

The Whapmagoostui First Nation greatly applaud this initiative and wish to express our full support and pride in our youths and in our community members for choosing to accept such an incredible challenge that will solidify the bonds between our nation and those of our brothers and sisters across Canada.

The time to stand united is now, we support the Idle No More Movement and respect the duties entrusted upon our Leaders. Through peaceful processes, unity and proper negotiations, we can solidify our rights to ensure the earth and our way of life will be fully protected forever.

Please join us as we pray for a safe journey and return of our youths.
On their website, Journey of Nishiyuu, you can read a blog of their journey, and read more about their quest. If you live near Ottawa, you can welcome the walkers when they arrive.

The blog The Answer Is 42 has posted some helpful maps to help us visualize the journey: here. I really dig this blog's tagline: "Do Justly - Love Mercy - Walk Humbly - Afflict the Oppressor". Another good place to follow the journey is Ahki.

Journey of Nishiyuu is another demonstration of the global movement of indigenous peoples joining together to defend the Rights of Mother Earth.

From the mainstream media, mostly silence.

But this movement is becoming too big to ignore.


the world fails to protect polar bears, canada leads the failure

A while back, I asked: "how can we live without polar bears?". The world has taken one step closer to that vision, helping the polar bear along the road to extinction. Stephen Harper's government was one of the worst offenders.

From NRDC:
As I wrote last week, the international community rejected a US proposal to ban the global commercial trade in polar bear parts (skins, teeth, claws, skulls) at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand. For the second time in three years, parties to the convention turned their backs on the plight of polar bears and the threat over hunting poses to the species – a species that, according to the best science, will likely lose more than two-thirds of its population by 2050 as a result of climate change.

It was this dual threat of climate change and over hunting that created one of the biggest challenges for the US proposal. Parties at CITES are used to assessing and analyzing the impacts international trade has on species threatened by over hunting or "unsustainable harvest," but are not used to doing so when climate change is thrown into the mix. This unfamiliarity created the perfect opening for Canada – the only country where polar bears live that allows the killing of the animals to supply the global market – and others opposed to the proposal, like Denmark and Norway, to cast doubt on the science and question whether banning trade would benefit the species.

It’s shortsighted at best and duplicitous at most. Shortsighted because over hunting to supply the global market for polar bears adds unnecessary stress to populations already suffering from climate change. With mounting pressures from climate change, polar bear populations need to be strengthened to increase their chance to survive in the future. Weakened populations will be less likely to withstand climate change impacts, making them more susceptible to sudden threats like early earlier sea-ice loss. Only a ban on international commercial trade would ensure that global demand is not driving over hunting. Duplicitous because many of those making money off of selling polar bear parts on the global market have pushed doubts to continue the status quo of selling skins for money as opposed to taking a precautionary approach for species protection.

The European Union is particularly responsible for the failure of the US proposal. Once again the EU, which votes as a 27-state block, failed to support banning the global profit-driven trade in polar bear parts. Unable to reach agreement internally, even though the majority of EU member states and the EU Parliament supported, the EU refused to support the US proposal and instead pushed its own proposal, which put no limitations on international trade. Failing to provide any benefit to polar bears, the EU proposal also failed.

After the international community turned its back on over hunting for commercial trade, what’s next for polar bears? Will polar bears continue to be hunted to supply the global market and will decisions on the number of polar bears to be killed each year be made against a backdrop of ever-higher demand and prices for their skins? Maybe, in the short term. But if we keep up the pressure and continue to explain the polar bear’s plight, we will be able to convince countries to end the global market. We didn’t this time, but as long as polar bears have a chance of withstanding climate change, we’ll continue to work for their protection through CITES or other forums.

ten years since the invasion of iraq: a fundraiser for court martial defence for kimberly rivera

If you're in the Toronto area, please join us for an evening of community, information, and fundraising in support of war resister Kimberly Rivera. Kim is confined to the Fort Carson, Colorado army base, while her husband and four children (two of whom were born in Canada) are in Texas. We expect Kim's court martial to begin on April 29.

WHAT: Ten Years Since the Invasion of Iraq: The case for U.S. war resisters: Fundraising dinner in support of Kimberly Rivera’s legal defense

WHEN: Monday, March 25, 6:00 dinner, 7:00 programme

WHERE: United Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street, Toronto

WITH: Alyssa Manning, lawyer representing Iraq War resisters in Canada, and James Branum, lawyer representing several Iraq war resisters facing court martial by the US military

Suggested donation $20, but all supporters are welcome, no donation too small.

Event on Facebook

Amnesty International on Kimberly Rivera


how can we condemn bigotry on the soccer field yet support racist israeli policies?

This week in The Nation, Dave Zirin reports on some disturbing - and disgusting - behaviour from Israeli soccer fans.
Not even in the earliest days of Jackie Robinson’s 1947 historic debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers did Brooklyn’s white fans walk out after number 42 stole a base or hit a home run. The Brooklyn faithful’s love of “Dem Bums” trumped any racism that simmered in the stands. What does it say that sixty-six years later, Israeli fans of the soccer club Beitar Jerusalem have not evolved to postwar-Brooklyn standards of human decency?

Earlier this season, Beitar Jersulam broke their own version of the “color line” by signing the first two Muslim players in team history: Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev. Predictably, Beitar’s supporters were madder than the NRA in a school zone. Boos have rained down on Sadayev and Kadiyev every time they’ve taken the field or touched the ball. Several members of a team fan club flew a banner that read, “Beitar is pure forever.” Two others attempted to burn down the team offices. This pales, however, next to what happened when Sadayev scored his first goal for the team last week. After the striker found glory, hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem fans simply stood up and walked out. Even by soccer standards, where racism on the pitch is a continual plague, this organized nature of the action was shocking.

As one 19-year-old fan told The Independent, “The reaction to the Muslim players being here is not racist. But the club’s existence is under threat. Beitar is a symbol for the whole country.” Another said, “It’s not racism, they just shouldn’t be here…. Beitar Jerusalem has always been a clean club, but now it’s being destroyed—many of the other players are thinking of leaving because of the Muslim players being here."
Most Americans and Canadians will be repelled by this blatant bigotry, and will condemn it. That certainly includes most US Jews. But how many of those North Americans will continue to support the roots of this bigotry?

Israel's racist policies of exclusion condone and enable this disgusting display. Indeed, it's not possible to build a society on racist policies and not see this kind of behaviour on the ground. Just like "whites only" signs and segregated public facilities throughout the Jim Crow US South enabled and condoned ugly, hateful acts by some white Americans, so do the racist policies of present-day Israel enable these hateful acts by Israeli soccer fans.

If this is wrong, the wall is wrong.

If this is wrong, the checkpoints are wrong.

If this is wrong, Jewish-only Israeli settlements in the West Bank are wrong.

If this is wrong, laws controlling the legal rights, movements, access to land, and civil liberties of Palestinian people - laws that do not apply to Israelis - are wrong.

How can you condemn these soccer fans and their desire for racial purity, yet continue to support Israeli apartheid?

Read Dave Zirin's full column here.

See also, my interview with a South African activist explaining why it is accurate to call the Israeli system of control of the Palestinian population apartheid, and why that apartheid is even more brutal than the system he grew up under in South Africa: "they didn't build a wall": is israel an apartheid state? a south african perspective: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

See also, Dave Zirin: Killing Hope: Why Israel Targets Sports in Gaza

hear bradley manning's complete statement, and help spread his words across the internet

The Freedom of the Press Foundation has posted the leaked audio recording of Bradley Manning's statement to the military court in Ft. Meade. In it, Manning explains why he leaked more than 700,000 government documents to WikiLeaks. FPF also has posted transcript highlights, in case you can't make it through the full 35-page statement.

The US military "court" - that is, Manning's accusers - are trying to prevent public access to the proceedings, especially Manning's own statements. We can all help thwart their plans.

Listen to the statement here.

You can download Manning's statement, in part or in full, and embed the audio on your own website: Help Spread Bradley Manning's Words Across the Internet.

For more information on the groups FPF is helping to fund, go here.

For more on FPF itself, go here.

A man speaks the truth about war crimes and murder, and he is persecuted, tortured, and imprisoned. The people who are responsible for those war crimes continue to lead lives of wealth and privilege. Bradley Manning is being court martialed, but never forget who the real criminals are.


children's books # 6: the return of interspecies love

It's been a while since I've written about children's books, and an even longer while since I've done an interspecies love post, so why not combine the two? There's a spate of children's books depicting cross-species animal friendships, some excellent, some better avoided.

Children love these stories for the same reasons we do. There is something so touching - and off-the-charts cute! - about these friendships between animals who should, by nature, be afraid of each other, or even in a very different kind of relationship - at mealtime.

For kids, some of these books have a moral overlay, teaching about difference and tolerance. That's fine, as long as its done with a light touch. Children's books don't need to be didactic to get their message across.

I've seen at least a dozen animal-friendship books, and there are probably a dozen more I haven't seen. I've chosen four good ones, and highlighted two others that are noteworthy for the wrong reasons. Don't miss the bonus tracks at the end. (Anachronism alert! You might have to be over a certain age to know what a bonus track is.)

Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom, Jennifer Holland, 2010

Jennifer Holland's Unlikely Friendships is noteworthy for the outstanding photography and perfectly concise text. A writer for National Geographic magazine, Holland avoids sentimental or cutesy language, focusing on animal behavioural explanations for how such unusual bonds may form.

Holland includes some of the more famous interspecies friendships, like Owen and Mzee (see below), and some that are total cute overload, like a horse and a fawn. But surely the most remarkable friendship stories are those between animals who normally interact as predator and prey. A leopard returns to an Indian village every night to sleep with its friend... a calf. A female lion raises a baby oryx. There is a friendship between a snake and a hamster!

This book is marketed to all ages. Although an adult could read it to a young child, and the child would undoubtedly enjoy the photos, the language and the subject matter is more appropriate to older children with strong reading skills. The very young child would not understand why these friendships are so unusual, or, for example, why a snake who eats a hamster rather than befriending it isn't mean or bad.

Holland also adapted her book for children. Unlikely Animal Friendships for Kids is a series of chapter books, each with five animal-friendship stories, retold in simplified language. Unfortunately, they read like dumbed-down versions of the original, or something that was hastily thrown together. I'd avoid them.

Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships, Catherine Thimmesh, 2011

Catherine Thimmesh's book, on the other hand, is a children's book written by someone who knows how to write for children. Each animal friendship is told in a short story written in simple rhyming verse. Although the photographs are not as striking as the ones in Holland's book, they are still beautiful and engaging.

The author's website has a promotional video where you can see some of the animal pairs. Who can resist a sad-eyed monkey cuddling with a white dove? Children of almost any age would enjoy this book.

Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship, Craig Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, Peter Greste, 2006

These days, the most famous interspecies love stories have their own books, or series of books, or maybe a mini-franchise. Owen and Mzee was one of the first. It tells the story of a baby hippo who was orphaned during the 2004 tsunami, and rescued by an animal rehab centre in Kenya. Rescuing a 600 pound baby is no small feat, and that story is well worth telling. But those animal workers were amazed when a giant tortoise, thought to be around 130 years old, adopted the hippo. The two became fast friends, spending all their time together, including swimming and playing together.

This story is not only happy and sweet. The baby hippo is separated from its pod (a hippo family), the fate of the mother is unknonw, and the baby is lost and alone. The choice of photographs by Greste, a photojournalist for BBC, helps prevent the sad part of the story from becoming overwhelming. Ultimately, of course, this is a story of love triumphing over pain, and friendship helping to heal loss.

Craig Hatkoff has written several lovely children's book about animals, including Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captured the World (website here) and Leo the Snow Leopard: The True Story of an Amazing Rescue. Owen and Mzee is not only about animal friendship; it's full of well written information about hippos, animal sanctuaries, tsunamis, and more.

Isabella Hatkoff, listed as co-author or contributor, is Hatkoff's daughter. When she was six years old, Isabella saw photos of the friendship between the hippo and the tortoise, and persuaded her father to write this book.

Another book, A Mama for Owen, treats the same story in picture-book format, without success. Author Marion Dane Bauer over-simplifies the story, portraying the baby hippo as meeting the tortoise by accident. Although I often argue in favour of introducing children to difficult concepts, I'd approach this book with great caution. Should very young children see a baby separated from its mother, who gets swept away in a huge ocean wave? The baby hippo finds a new friend, but friends are not mothers. This book isn't particularly well done, but more importantly, it could be extremely upsetting, even traumatizing.

Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends, Carol Buckley, 2009

This post wouldn't be complete without Tarra and Bella. You've probably seen video of this inseparable pair, who were YouTube superstars.

Tarra had been a circus elephant. When she was allowed to retire, she was put in sanctuary. Tarra avoided other elephants and didn't make friends - until the appearance of Bella, a stray dog and new sanctuary resident. It was, as the cliche goes, love at first sight. When Bella was hospitalized after a serious injury, Tarra sat outside the dog's recovery room, every day. When Bella recovered, Tarra was waiting for her, ready for them to walk together at Bella's new slow pace.

This is a beautiful story, beautifully told, with excellent photographs, including frames from video of the moment the friends were reunited after Bella's recovery. The book contains great, brief information about the Tennessee animal sanctuary where it took place, and the URL of an "EleCam" on the sanctuary grounds.

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Bonus tracks! A collection of interspecies love sent by wmtc readers over the past year.

Dog and river otter at play!

Animal odd couple photo gallery from the New York Daily News: here. Turns out that paper is good for something after all!

Dog adopts abandoned tiger cubs: here.

Lions and tigers and bears oh my: here.

Thanks to Eric, Stephanie, Allan, James, and if you've sent me one that I've forgotten, thank you, too.


international women's day 2013

To celebrate International Women's Day, read Judy Rebick's beautiful piece at Rabble, and watch an excellent video featuring Patrick Stewart, talking about the role men play in women's equality.
International Women's Day: What's the way forward?
by Judy Rebick

As an aging feminist I am often asked to speak about the progress we have made as feminists and how much is left to do. It gets depressing sometimes because of the persistence of violence against women and economic inequality. I am despairing of the deep gendered divide in children's toys and the heavy load placed upon young women expected to be beautiful, thin, successful, a great mom and too often chief cook and bottle washer at home. Not to mention daily viewing the old Reform party anti-feminists running the country.

During the 1993 CBC election coverage, when the Mulroney Tories were reduced to two seats (how I long to see that day again), I was asked what I thought of the new Reform Party members. "They make John Crosbie look like Gloria Steinem," I quipped. Many of you probably won't remember that John Crosbie, Minister of Justice at the time, was prone to putting is foot in it when speaking about or to women.

But this year, there really is something to celebrate and it's not about what we normally think of as the women's movement. It's Idle No More. I'm thinking that Idle No More is perhaps showing us the way forward towards women's liberation. I know that's an archaic expression but somehow I think it's more appropriate to describe what we need now. [Read more here. You won't be sorry.]


more canadian pet-supply chains sign the no-puppy-mill pledge

HSI Canada has announced a major step forward in the fight against puppy mills. PJ's Pets and Pets Unlimited, two sizable retail chains of pet-supply stores, will no longer sell puppies. This is a direct result of public education and small-scale, person-to-person activism. It should give us all hope that shutting down puppy mills by shutting down the retail demand for their "product" is possible.

For readers who may not be informed about puppy mills, here's something I wrote a few years back, during a Puppy Mill Action Week.

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Puppy mills are places of horrible cruelty and deprivation. Adult dogs are forced to breed until they die of exhaustion or complications, often bleeding to death. The puppies are raised under horrendous conditions, in tiny, overcrowded, wire cages, in which they can't stand properly, with no medical attention, no human contact and barely adequate nutrition. The puppies are then cleaned up - superficially, so they appear presentable - and sold to pet stores, usually the kind found in malls.

Puppies from puppy mills have a laundry-list of medical and behavioural problems. They often die shortly after being brought home, or the people who buy them are overwhelmed and either surrender or abandon them, or have them put down. It's a short, miserable life of suffering for a dog who never should have been brought into the world.

Although puppy mills violate all kinds of animal-cruelty laws, these laws are seldom enforced. Animal welfare groups like HSI Canada and the Humane Society of the United States believe that the best way to shut down puppy mills is by shutting down demand.

We need to educate prospective dog owners about not buying puppies from pet stores. The smaller the market, the fewer dogs will be ordered by pet stores. As demand shrinks, supply will shrink. When the system is no longer profitable, it will shut down. But as long as there's a market, puppy mills will continue to exist.

* * * *

The big-box chain stores such as PetCo, PetCetera, and PetSmart have been a great turning point in this battle. Seeking good publicity - and not wanting to be the target of boycotts - they got on board with this many years ago. None of these huge chains sell puppies or kittens at all. Instead, they work with local rescue groups to promote adoption.

Progress has been much slower among the smaller chains that are mostly found at malls. Slow, but happening. When I first moved to Mississauga in 2005, the pet store in the Square One mall had the old-fashioned puppy-in-the-window display. It broke my heart every time I saw it. Now that store no longer sells puppies.

HSI Canada:
Humane Society International/Canada applauds PJ’s Pets & Pets Unlimited and their affiliated stores for signing the HSI/Canada Puppy Friendly Pet Store Pledge. Last year, the pet store chain made the humane decision to stop the retail sale of puppies, and today they reaffirmed their commitment by pledging to never sell puppies in the future. PJ’s Pets & Pets Unlimited is one of the largest pet store chains in Canada, with 37 stores across the country.

“Every year, millions of healthy dogs are euthanized because homes for these animals can not be found. By signing our pledge and refusing to sell puppies, PJ’s stores are taking a stand against the cruel puppy mill industry and helping shelter dogs find loving homes,” said Ewa Demianowicz, campaigner for HSI/Canada. “Pet stores that sell puppies serve as a key distribution channel for puppy mills and we call on other pet stores to follow PJ’s example.”

“PJ’s Pets encourages the public to adopt dogs and cats in need of homes instead of buying them. Working together with rescue groups and shelters, PJ’s Pets uses its own stores as information conduits to find new owners for the abandoned pets,” said Margaret Kordas, president of PJ’s Pets & Pets Unlimited and its affiliated stores.

Since the launch of the HSI/Canada Puppy-Friendly Pet Store Pledge in 2009, over one hundred stores across Canada have shown leadership and set an example by pledging not to sell puppies now or in the future. HSI/Canada encourages the public to support ethical business by shopping at puppy-friendly pet stores, and opting to adopt when looking to add a dog to their family.


- Reputable breeders never sell puppies over the Internet or through a pet store and will insist on meeting the family who will be purchasing the dog.

- Investigations have consistently shown that puppies sold in pet stores often come from puppy mills.

- Puppy mills are mass-production facilities where the breeding dogs are often confined to small wire cages for life and deprived of the basics of humane care, solely to produce puppies for the pet trade.

- Several municipalities across Canada are helping to stop substandard commercial breeding operations by introducing by-laws that restrict the sales of commercially bred dogs and cats in pet stores, including Richmond, Toronto, Mississauga, Verdun, and Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie.

- Puppy mills contribute to the pet overpopulation problem, which results in hundreds of thousands of unwanted dogs euthanized at shelters every year.

- Increasingly, owners of small and large pet stores are realizing that successful pet-related businesses do not require the sale of animals.


hugo chavez 1954-2013

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, July 28, 1954 – March 5, 2013. Rest in peace. And thank you.

From Derrick O'Keefe at Rabble:
Hugo Chavez has died -- undefeated.

Yes, undefeated. Chavez, no matter how many times the corporate media and the cheerleaders of the status quo call him a dictator, was elected repeatedly with overwhelming majorities.

No matter how many times this slur is moronically or mendaciously repeated, people know the truth. No less than Jimmy Carter certified Venezuela's elections as amongst the most fair and transparent his organization has ever observed. And the voter turnouts that elected Chavez were usually far, far higher than those in the U.S.

The voices that cheer and mock the death of Hugo Chavez are in fact mocking democracy and the people of Venezuela, who elected him and who have re-elected him time and time again -- most recently by a decisive majority in October, 2012.

But today we need not dwell on the disgusting carnival of necrophilia with which the right-wing has followed Chavez's illness and which will reach a crescendo in the coming days with the news of his untimely demise. This macabre celebration is only the flip side of impotence; they whoop and holler at Chavez's death from cancer only because they failed to defeat him in life, and could not take down his government by democratic (or other) means.

. . . .

So let the corporate media say "good riddance!" to Chavez in their cynical way. Ignore them, and watch (or rewatch) the inspiring story of the People Power that defeated the 2002 coup, as told in the powerful Irish documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. The title is a tip of the hat to Gil Scott-Heron, and it's a reference to the key role that right-wing, private, big media played in orchestrating and manipulating events and their portrayal during the failed attempt at regime change. (Another important source of information about Venezuela is the website Venezuelanalysis.com)

The rich and powerful of the world did not hate Chavez because he was a dictator. Deep down the sentient among them know he wasn't.

They hated him because he was symbolic of a threat to the dictatorship of Capital, a figurehead of a continent alive with social movements and millions of people conscious of their political power. [Read more.]


in which my library career moves forward

Page no more! I'm not a librarian yet, but I've managed to get out of the page level. I've landed a part-time position as a circulation clerk, doing circ and customer service at the front desk in a branch about 20 minutes from home.

I'm thrilled. My hourly pay rate just doubled, and it will be a huge relief to my middle-aged back and knees.

Another reason this is very important is it guarantees I will not be a page again. If I get a librarian position that is temporary, such as covering a maternity leave (a not-uncommon way to break in to the professional level), when that job ends, I can return to circulation clerk, rather than return to being a page.

More than the paycheque, more than the security, the most important takeaway from this is the confidence boost it's given me. It's very difficult even to get an interview for these positions. Often managers don't even open the competition to pages, to avoid conducting 50 or 60 interviews for one spot. Pages may wait six months just to get an interview. When I walked out of my interview, I felt as though I had done all right. But while I waited to hear, all the doubts rushed in: why didn't I say this, I should have said that. Learning I placed first has given me so much more confidence.

Also on the page-to-circ theme, I've joined the Labour-Management committee of my union. I'll be part of the union team that meets with management monthly to discuss and try to resolve issues. I have an idea that would give pages at a better shot at circ jobs and save management time and interviews.

I'll leave you with a little library humour from the brilliant Tom Gauld, courtesy of M@.


what i'm watching: another frontier: in which my star trek experience enters the 1980s

An historic moment in "what i'm watching" history: I've just seen my first-ever episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I finished watching Star Trek TOS, the whole series, in order. I was sad when it ended! I miss Mr. Spock! I want more!

So after one Star Trek-less week, it seemed only right to begin anew.

I remember when Star Trek TNG first came out. I read reviews and was very interested in the show. But it was 1987. I was busy running around New York, hearing live music, getting involved in activism, adopting our first dog. TV was unimportant.

Over the years, I'd see random bits of TNG while flipping channels, so I knew what the characters looked like. And I love Patrick Stewart. But I always passed it by.

Thanks to Netflix plus Roku plus our hacked router, tonight I started from Episode One. Hey, I said I'd let you know.

* * * *

If my posts seem a little thin these days, both in quantity and quality, well, it's March. But unlike my usual March anxiety and brain overload, this year I'm coping with an excess of joy. I'm on the very verge of finishing school, about to make an exciting job announcement, Allan has some crazy big news of his own, and we're planning a trip to Europe. Joy Overload. More as I have it.

beautiful ad-free e-cards at jacquie lawson dot com

This is such a good tip, I am almost reluctant to share it. Then again, most people probably won't use it.

I like to remember people's birthdays. Long before Facebook kept track of birthdays for us - and I do mean long before, as in, most of my life - I have been in the habit of writing people's birthdays on my calendar, and buying, and sending birthday cards. This is something I learned from my mother, although I did not retain her habit of being responsible for other people's cards, too. It was my mother's job to remember my father's birthday obligations, too - his mother, his sister. I don't do this for Allan! But I do have dozens of birthdays on my calendar and I like to send each person a card.

I always sent paper cards, and continued to do so, even after the advent of email. Then we moved to Canada, where the paper cards I like (preferably by Papyrus) are crazy expensive, often $7 or $8 each, plus postage to the US is a loonie a pop. On months with multiple birthdays, I could easily spend $40 or $50 on birthday cards! It seemed a bit much, and then I became unemployed or underemployed, and it became impossible. Plus we're all trying to cut down on paper use.

I looked at e-cards, but none of the online greeting card websites really meets my standards. If you've sent me a card from any of the popular sites, I'm sure I loved it, and I appreciated the thought, so please don't take this the wrong way! I just don't want to send a birthday or anniversary card with ads all over it. I just can't do it.

So I started sending birthday emails or texts, which saves paper and money, and conveys the general message of "I am thinking of you" as well as anything else. But this year I found something better.

I am now using an unusually good greeting card website: E-cards by Jacquie Lawson. The site has a large variety of beautiful animated cards set to classical music, which you can personalize. There are a few cards you can send for free, but for a $12 annual subscription, you have unlimited access to an array of cards for almost every occasion. You can send as many cards as you like all year. For someone like me who likes to send cards, $1.00 a month is a huge bargain!

Paid subscriptions come with a lot of nice little features, like a running history of all the cards you've sent, the ability to queue up cards for a certain date (I just did all my March and April birthdays in advance), the ability to re-send the same card to a different email address, and so on.

And of course, no ads, ever.

Here are some samples: That Special Day, featuring Chudleigh, a recurring character on the site, and a birthday memory game.

I've saved a lot of money and paper, and have made many people smile, since finding Jacquie Lawson e-cards.

If you know of any other ad-free e-card sites, let me know.


bradley manning takes the stand, tells the world why he released the videos to wikileaks

Please watch Michael Ratner, the lawyer representing Julian Assange in the US, reporting on Bradley Manning's testimony yesterday. Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and the Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin.