thank you, jason collins!

It has finally happened. A professional male athlete in one of the big US team sports has come out as gay. Someone had to be first, and that person is Jason Collins of the NBA. Thank you, Mr. Collins, for your courage and your honesty!

From the Sports Illustrated cover story:

I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.
I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.

My journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgement began in my hometown of Los Angeles and has taken me through two state high school championships, the NCAA Final Four and the Elite Eight, and nine playoffs in 12 NBA seasons.

. . . .

I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston's 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I'm seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn't even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I'd been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, "Me, too."

The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn't wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully? When I told Joe a few weeks ago that I was gay, he was grateful that I trusted him. He asked me to join him in 2013. We'll be marching on June 8.

No one wants to live in fear. I've always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don't sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time.
Jason Collins will never know all the people he has reached, the lives he has touched, with his courage and his honesty. I look forward to the time when a professional athlete being out is completely unremarkable.

war resister and peace activist kim rivera sentenced to 14 months in military prison

From the War Resisters Support Campaign:

Iraq War Resister Kimberly Rivera sentenced to 14 months in military prison after deportation by Harper government

On Monday afternoon, during a court-martial hearing at Fort Carson, Colorado, Kimberly Rivera was sentenced to 14 months in military prison and a dishonourable discharge after publicly expressing her conscientious objection to the Iraq War while in Canada.

A pre-trial agreement capped the sentence at 10 months of confinement and a bad conduct discharge.

Kimberly Rivera with her husband Mario
Private First Class Kimberly Rivera deployed to Iraq in 2006 and sought asylum in Canada in 2007 because she decided she could no longer be complicit in the war. A mother of four young children — including two who were born in Canada — she was forced back to the United States of America by the Conservative government after receiving a negative decision on her pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA). A Federal Court judge denied her request for a stay of removal, finding the possibility of her arrest and detention in the U.S. to be “speculative.” Rivera was arrested three days later, on September 20, 2012, as she presented herself at the U.S. border.

“Kim is being punished for her beliefs and for her comments to the press while she was in Canada,” said James M. Branum, the defense attorney who represented Rivera during the court-martial proceedings. “Because she spoke out against the Iraq War, Kim’s sentence is harsher than the punishment given to 94 percent of deserters who are not punished but administratively discharged. In the closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that the judge needed to give PFC Rivera a harsh sentence to send a message to the other war resisters in Canada and their supporters.”

The tremendous public outcry related to Rivera’s case shows the deep and broad support that Canadians continue to express for Iraq War resisters. In a period of 10 days leading up to the Rivera family deportation, 20,000 people signed a Change.org petition supporting the family. Faith, labour and human rights organizations spoke out, Amnesty International adopted Kim as a prisoner of conscience, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu published an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail newspaper calling the deportation order “unjust.”

In stark contrast to this outpouring of support, Conservative MPs cheered when the Rivera family’s removal was announced in the House of Commons.

“The Conservative government knew that Kim would be jailed and separated from her children when they forced her back to the U.S., yet they cheered her deportation,” said Michelle Robidoux, a spokesperson for the War Resisters Support Campaign. “They are out of step with the great majority of Canadians who opposed the Iraq War and who support allowing U.S. war resisters to stay in Canada.”

On February 1, 2013, the Federal Court of Canada issued a decision in the case of another U.S. war resister, Jules Tindungan, finding that the U.S. court-martial system “fails to comply with basic fairness requirements found in Canadian and International Law.” The Court also found that the Refugee Board failed to deal properly with evidence that soldiers who have spoken out publicly about their objections to U.S. military actions are subjected to particularly harsh punishments because of having voiced their political opinions.

“The sentence Kim received today underlines the concerns we have been raising all along, and what the Federal Court now acknowledges, that soldiers who speak out against unjust wars face harsher punishment and have no recourse within the U.S. military justice system,” said Robidoux. “Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney were ardent supporters of the Iraq War, and they want U.S. Iraq War resisters punished. But Parliament has voted twice to stop these deportations, and the majority of Canadians believe Kim and the other resisters did the right thing. We will continue to fight to make sure this injustice does not happen to any other U.S. war resister who is seeking asylum in Canada.”

kimberly rivera to be sentenced today

We expect Kimberly Rivera to be sentenced today. War resister, prisoner of conscience, peace activist, artist, mother, friend, Kim Rivera is in the hearts of all who know her, all her supporters who stand by her in this time of need.

Kim is being punished for choosing peace over war, light over darkness, love over hate.

She is being punished by the US military, but that punishment was made possible by Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney, and their so-called majority government.

Shame on them. Shame, shame, shame.


bangladesh factory fire: consumers are not the problem, or the solution

As I write this, the death toll in the recent Bangladesh factory fire nears 350. That number is expected to grow, as scores of people are still trapped under giant blocks of concrete, and not expected to survive. Six people have been arrested in connection with the conditions in the factory.

This fire is only the latest (and worst) in a long series of factory fires in Bangladesh's booming garment industry.
After a fire killed 112 garment workers at Tazreen Fashions in November, clothing brands and retailers rejected a union-sponsored proposal to improve safety throughout Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry. Instead, companies expanded a patchwork system of private audits and training. Labor groups insist that the moves improve little, with official inspections lax and factory owners enjoying close ties to the government.

In the five months since, there have been 41 "fire incidents" in Bangladesh factories—ranging from a fatal conflagration to smaller fires that caused employees to panic, according to a labor organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Combined, those incidents killed nine workers and injured more than 660.
Canadians were horrified to learn that this most recent, horrific fire occurred in a factory that supplies (among other companies) the "Joe Fresh" clothing brand sold by the Loblaws companies, a huge Canadian supermarket chain. There has been an outpouring of reaction online, including petitions to Loblaws and vows of personal boycotts.

It's excellent and important that consumers connect the products they buy to the workers who make those products. But a consumer boycott could never be widespread enough, or sustained long enough, or affect enough companies, to leverage real change.

What's more, too many North American consumers are themselves exploited workers - earning sub-living wages, paying market-driven housing costs, earning barely enough for food and fuel, living one paycheque away from homelessness. Or worse, they are long-term unemployed. Too many of us are struggling to sustain families in impossible conditions, and are obligated to live as cheaply as possible. And don't Loblaws and Walmart (and the rest of them) know that? They help create those conditions so the lure of their low prices is impossible to resist.

The problem is not a personal, individual one, and neither is the solution.

The most effective response to the Bangladesh factory fire came from the Bangladeshi workers themselves: a massive strike, in which hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to demand change. This was not the first garment workers' strike in Bangladesh and it undoubtedly won't be their last. Witness this 2010 photo of a police officer poised to smash a child with his club: the child is a striking garment worker.

At nearly the same time as the recent strike in Bangladesh, fast-food and retail workers in Chicago walked off their jobs to demand a living wage.

The Bangladeshi garment workers and the Chicago fast-food workers suffer from the same problem and are part of the same solution. Workers themselves must organize and demand more equitable working conditions. As responsible consumers and as workers, we can and we must support their efforts. But only the Bangladeshi people will be able to change their own conditions.

Canadian columnist Doug Saunders was excoriated by many liberal readers for seeming to explain away the sweatshops of Bangladesh. But although Saunders' column may seem insensitive, he is right.  Just as North American garment workers did a century ago, Bangladeshi workers will have to end the sweatshop system, by forcing their country to institute real labour laws, health and safety laws, fire codes, and building codes. By forcing the ruling class to demand real accountability from the companies that do business there. Because really, why are clothes sold in North America made in Bangladesh in the first place? Because there, corporations can get away with it.

This supposed "need" to locate production in areas with lower standards of living is accepted as perfectly normal. It doesn't have to be. Imagine a system where corporations are accountable not to shareholders but to communities. Where in order to enjoy the benefits of our society, they must also contribute to it. In a post last year, I imagined a different system.
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. Imagine the benefits to our entire society as millions more people enjoy stable, well-compensated employment - to say nothing of the massive reduction in carbon emissions as globalization is rolled back 50 years.

Signing a petition to Loblaws or taking a pass on Joe Fresh products are perfectly good actions, especially if they raise our own consciousness about the dangers of global capitalism. But as long as North American companies are allowed to operate in no-law zones, they will do so, no matter where we buy our clothes.

* * * *

For perspective, I highly recommend this article from the Harper's archives: "Shopping for Sweat: The human cost of a two-dollar T-shirt," by Ken Silverstein.

And for even greater perspective, I recommend reading Triangle: The Fire that Changed America, by David von Drehle, which I wrote about here, here, and here.



Revolutionary thought of the day:
I can’t stop looking at Rue, smaller than ever, a baby animal curled up in a nest of netting. I can’t bring myself to leave her like this. Past harm, but seeming utterly defenseless. To hate the boy from District 1, who also appears so vulnerable in death, seems inadequate. It’s the Capitol I hate, for doing this to all of us.

Gale’s voice is in my head. His ravings against the Capitol no longer pointless, no longer to be ignored. Rue’s death has forced me to confront my own fury against the cruelty, the injustice they inflict upon us. But here, even more strongly than at home, I feel my impotence. There’s no way to take revenge on the Capitol. Is there?

Then I remember Peeta’s words on the roof. “Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to . . . to show the Capital they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.” And for the first time, I understand what he means.

I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.

A few steps into the woods grows a bank of wildflowers. Perhaps they are really weeds of some sort, but they have blossoms in beautiful shades of violet and yellow and white. I gather up an armful and come back to Rue’s side. Slowly, one stem at a time, I decorate her body in the flowers. Covering the ugly wound. Wreathing her face. Weaving her hair with bright colors.

They’ll have to show it. Or, even if they choose to turn the cameras elsewhere at this moment, they’ll have to bring them back when they collect the bodies and everyone will see her then and know I did it. I step back and take a last look at Rue. She could really be asleep in that meadow after all.

“Bye, Rue,” I whisper. I press the three middle fingers of my left hand against my lips and hold them out in her direction. Then I walk away without looking back.

. . . .

I open the parachute and find a small loaf of bread. It’s not the fine white Capitol stuff. It’s made of dark ration grain and shaped in a crescent. Sprinkled with seeds. I flash back to Peeta’s lesson on the various district breads in the Training Center. This bread came from District 11. I cautiously lift the still warm loaf. What must it have cost the people of District 11 who can’t even feed themselves? How many would’ve had to do without to scrape up a coin to put in the collection for this one loaf? It had been meant for Rue, surely. But instead of pulling the gift when she died, they’d authorized Haymitch to give it to me. As a thank-you? Or because, like me, they don’t like to let debts go unpaid? For whatever reason, this is a first. A district gift to a tribute who’s not your own.

Suzanne Collins
From The Hunger Games


what i'm reading: youth fiction: the hunger games

This is the first in a series of reviews of youth (formerly called YA, or young-adult) novels, which I will be reading in no particular order and with no particular method. I love youth literature, and it's simply a pleasure to read what I want once again, with no schoolwork hanging over my head. As with all my "what i'm reading" posts, if it seems that I like everything I read, it's because I only write about books I enjoyed.

I finally read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I've been intensely curious about this book since it was released to great sensation in 2008.

I think most readers know the basic plot of this dystopian novel. The Hunger Games is set in the future, in what was North America, now called Panem. A lavishly wealthy Capitol exercises totalitarian control over an apartheid-like system of districts. The competition of the title is an annual event in which one boy and one girl from each district are selected by lottery. The contestants all fight to the death. The Games and everything associated with them are broadcast live.

That much I knew. What I didn't know is how rich with meaning the book is, and how good. In short: I loved it.

I'm so pleased that something so wildly popular is also such a quality novel, and so political. The Hunger Games is no polemic, it contains no billboards, but it fairly begs for a Marxist analysis.

The Hunger Games is very consciously about poverty, class, and oppression. About how the ruling class divides the poor and - in this case, literally - pits them against each other. The workers in every district have more in common with each other than with their wealthy, capricious, and dictatorial rulers, but with communication and travel controlled and forbidden, they can only envy and resent each other. Workers in the coal district die of starvation and envy the workers who farm the fields, not knowing that workers in the agricultural district are forbidden to eat the crops they grow.

The Hunger Games is also about war, and a poverty draft. Although every teen's name is entered in "the reaping" - the lottery from which Hunger Games contestants are drawn - the children of poor families end up with a much greater chance of being selected. Katniss, the narrator, explains.
But here's the catch. Say you are poor and starving as we were. You can opt to add your name more times in exchange for tesserae. Each tessera is worth a meager year's supply of grain and oil for one person. You may do this for each of your family members as well. So, at the age of twelve, I had my name entered four times. Once, because I had to, and three times for tesserae for grain and oil for myself, Prim, and my mother. In fact, every year I have needed to do this. And the entries are cumulative. So now, at the age of sixteen, my name will be in the reaping twenty times. Gale, who is eighteen and has been either helping or single-handedly feeding a family of five for seven years, will have his name in forty-two times.
The chance of a young person from a wealthy family being selected, Katniss says, "is very slim compared to those of us who live in the Seam. Not impossible, but slim." Conveniently for the Gamemakers, most people in the districts never have enough to eat.

(The reaping itself is a conscious nod to Shirley Jackson's immortal story "The Lottery". The premise also recalls The Long Walk, by Stephen King, which I have not read, but read about.)

The games themselves are a futuristic reality-TV version of gladiator contests, and the book is also rife with allusions to marketing, advertising, image-making, and mass manipulation. Collins comments pointedly about our own complicity in our violent society: what drives the games more than anything is ratings. The Capitol invented the Games, but without the district viewers' lust for brutality packaged as entertainment, the Games would stop.

I'm writing about themes, but The Hunger Games is an action-packed adventure story, with a strong female hero who must tap into her own inner strength, and overcome a series of obstacles both external and internal, in order to survive. I never found the novel preachy or overly obvious. The pacing is perfect, the teenage voice completely authentic, the mix of internal monologue and action-adventure dead-on, the ending more exciting and more gripping than I anticipated. A triumph.

If you want to talk about the book, please don't worry about spoilers from the rest of the series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I'm also interested in reflections on the movie, as I am unlikely to see it. Folks wishing to avoid spoilers should stop reading now.

I will close this post with this image of political awakening. Katniss finds the dead body of a girl who was her ally, someone she had tried to protect.
I can't stop looking at Rue, smaller than ever, a baby animal curled up in a nest of netting. I can't bring myself to leave her like this. Past harm, but seeming utterly defenseless. To hate the boy from District 1, who also appears vulnerable in death, seems inadequate. It's the Capitol I hate, for doing this to us all.

what i'm reading, children's books edition: # 7: two by roddy doyle

Roddy Doyle is one of my favourite authors. I read everything he publishes for adults, but I had never read any of his children's books before. I recently read two of them, and I'm so glad I did.

Wilderness, Roddy Doyle, 2007

In this story, a mother and her two sons set out on winter adventure vacation in Finland. They need some time alone together, while the boys' teenage sister (their mom's stepdaughter) needs some time alone to meet her biological mother.

The girl is a sullen, angry adolescent, trapped in her own confusing emotions, which she feels unable to control. The boys are on the cusp of their own transition, one foot in the protection and comfort of childhood, the other ready to take a few steps on their own, and test their independence.

Wilderness alternates between the two stories, in two distinct voices, one older and more turbulent, the other younger and simpler, more trusting. There's no question that the man who gave us Paula Spencer, narrator and hero of two Roddy Doyle novels, can write convincingly in the voice of a teenage girl.

While the teenage sister struggles in the wilderness of forming a halting, tentative bond with the mother who abandoned her, the winter holiday becomes dangerous, and the younger brothers are forced into a very urgent and real independence. In the wilderness-survival story, Doyle gives a conscious nod to Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. There are beautiful descriptions of the wonders of dog-sledding through a novice's eyes - the intelligence of the dogs, the deep partnership between human and canine, the beautiful, fluid motions and sounds of the well-tuned pack.

The two stories come back together in the end, the young people having each crossed a threshold, both conscious, yet inarticulate, about the change.

This book is an interesting mix of adventure story and family story. In a field dominated by genre books and almost always shamefully segregated by gender, Doyle has done something gutsy: written a book not easily categorized, to be enjoyed by almost any young reader.

A Greyhound of a Girl, Roddy Doyle, 2011

In this funny, sweet, poignant, readable book, four generations of Irish women come together, including one who left the earth long ago. Like Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, Doyle takes a realistic, down-to-earth story and mixes in something a little fantastical - in this case, a ghost.

Like most of Doyle's work, A Greyhound of a Girl is both funny and touching. The characters are witty and sharp, but still entirely believable. As in Wilderness, the teenage girl's voice is as real as it gets.

In fact, each woman's voice is distinctive and authentic - sharp, sarcastic Mary, her free-spirited, quirky mother Scarlett, her dying grandmother Emer, the great-grandmother Tansey, who died of influenza when Emer was a baby. This is very much a women's story, as the four generations play out a story of love, loss, and remembrance, but always with a light touch.

A Greyhound of a Girl is a lovely little book, very engaging, and despite dealing with illness and death, is breezy and easy to read. And just the right amount of sad.

wind mobile: horrible retail customer service but great follow-up after complaint

I sent this email yesterday.

To Wind Customer Service:

Re: Mobile Phone # xxx.xxx.xxxx


Tendered On: 24-Apr-2013 01:08 PM
Tendered At: WCMA01
Invoice: xxxxx

I am writing to complain about some terrible customer service I received at your Square One kiosk (100 City Centre Drive) on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. The transaction information from my receipt is above.

A few days earlier, I had called Wind to enquire about activating international calling on my phone. I was told I would need a new SIM card, plus some add-ons, and that I could pick up the new SIM card at no cost at any Wind corporate store. 

I asked the customer service rep to confirm that I could receive a free SIM card at the Square One location, and was told that I could.

At Square One, I asked for a new SIM card. Two people were working at the kiosk, one male and one female, and I was the only customer.

The man at the booth said, "The thing is, when we are busy, we don't like to do those transactions."

I pointed out that they were not busy. I was the only customer.

He said, "The thing is, what they don't tell you in the email or texts is that we may be very low on stock of SIM cards. They have no way of knowing how much stock we have at any time. We have very few of those cards left right now."

I said, "Do you have one available or don't you? I only need one."

He confirmed that they did have SIM cards, then said, "But we are very, very low on stock. We try not to use them, since it's not a transaction we can bill for."

I told him I would call Wind right now, and ask them to authorize the transaction. At that point, he took out a box of SIM cards (there were about 30 in the box) and processed the swap. He said he would do this as a favour to me because I was already in the store.

I'm sure you can see why this is completely unacceptable. My request was not a "favour", and as long as the kiosk had one SIM card in stock, it should have been given to me with no additional questions or discussion. If a kiosk is low on stock, that is something for Wind to work out. Likewise, if there is a discrepancy between what customer service says and what the kiosk reps prefer they say, that is also Wind's issue, not the customer's.

I hope you will correct this problem so other customers don't have to deal with the same behaviour.

Thank you.

Laura Kaminker
Mississauga, ON

Can you believe this? I imagine a customer coming into the library and requesting a pedometer, an item we keep at the front desk. I would check to see if we had any on hand. If we were low, I might say, "Hey, you're in luck, there's only one left, and you got it."

Perhaps the kiosk guy works on commission and doesn't earn anything from this transaction. In which case, since all Wind customers are entitled to this, take care of it as fast as possible so you can get back to your paying customers (none of whom are present at the moment).

I sent the email and put it out of my mind. It's a very busy time,* so I wasn't even going to blog about it.

This morning, Wind called. A customer service rep said he was "appalled" and apologized on behalf of the company. He said a quality assurance team that monitors retail locations will visit the Square One location in person to discuss this issue. Meanwhile, he wanted to make sure I had what I needed for international calling.

And guess what? I didn't. The person at Square One did give me what I asked for - the new SIM card, plus an add-on that saves a lot of money for international calls. However, he did not check to see if international roaming had been activated on my phone. This is free of charge, and without it, I would not have been able to use my phone in Europe at all - including to call Wind to fix the problem.

Many thanks to Wind for responding quickly, taking my complaint seriously, and asking the right questions so I could have the phone service I need.

No thanks to the little creep at the Square One kiosk!

* Interview prep, interview follow-up, trip prep, dog/house-sitter prep. All good, but: overload.


earth day 2013: one million comments against the keystone xl pipeline

Nancy Zorn's Direct Action
To mark Earth Day 2013, I hope you will submit a comment to the US State Department opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline. The form is properly set up for both US zip codes and Canadian postal codes. The goal is one million comments.

Submit your comment here.

In Arkansas, four weeks after a pipeline rupture spewed hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into a residential area, Exxon tried to buy off affected residents with the princely sum of $10,000. What's that the human equivalent of, three cents? Exxon is refusing to pay the cost of investigating the spill, and a private corporation is profiting from the cleanup.

We've seen it all before: the horrendous impact of pipeline failure, the utter negligence of the energy corporations, the disaster capitalism cleanup that profits from the misery.

Concerned and courageous citizens all over North America are engaging in civil disobedience to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. The Sierra Club broke with its 120-year tradition of eschewing civil disobedience, and 48 people were arrested in front of the White House. The arrested included Julian Bond, Bill McKibben, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Daryl Hannah. In Oklahoma, 79-year-old Nancy Zorn locked herself in piece of heavy machinery, and she's not the first. You can read more about these actions at Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance.

With people putting their bodies on the line to stop the tar sands madness, submitting an online comment seems like such a tiny action. But one million tiny actions may have an impact. Submit your comment here.


boston, pakistan, terrorism, and perspective

From "A Tale of Two Terrorisms"
In the midst of tragedy, it's hard to talk about perspective.

My niece lives in Boston, a short walking distance from where the bombs went off. She was on the spot less than an hour before the explosions.

And, having lived in New York City before, during, and after September 11, 2001, I know something of what the people of Boston are experiencing.

What happened in Boston is a horror and a tragedy and a crime.

For families and friends of the three people who were killed, there is no perspective. There is only loss. For people who lost limbs, life is forever altered. No matter how they adjust and adapt, there will always be a before and an after.

On April 7, US-led airstrikes killed 20 people in Afghanistan, 11 of them children. Those 11 children are a small fraction of the civilians killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and other countries by the United States in recent years.

The parents and loved ones of those 11 children are grieving in exactly the same way as the families in Boston. People everywhere love their children. People everywhere mourn their irreparable loss.

I'm told it is natural and normal to care more about "our own people" than about people in faraway lands. This is generally the excuse given for why USians offer huge outpourings of grief and sympathy for the people of New York or Boston or Oklahoma City, and... well, nothing for the people of Pakistan and Yemen.

If this is natural and normal, then I'm proud to be a crazy freak. I don't care about the people of Boston more than I care about the people of Yemen. They're all people. They just happened to live in another part of the world. In the 21st century, it is way past time to move beyond dangerous, antiquated tribal concepts like nationalism.

It's not only USians' lack of concern for the victims of their country's wars. It's much worse than that. The USian people are paying for all those civilian deaths. They are funding those attacks. They are funding terrorism as horrific and shocking and disgusting as the attack in Boston, only hundreds of times more lethal.

Many USians are paying for those attacks against their will, I grant you that. Yet there is no massive uprising, no huge and vigorous movement, trying to stop it. The US has seen massive and effective peace movements, but only when the American middle class were threatened.

If the people of the United States feel powerless to stop their war machine, who can blame them. But most are not even trying. There's no excuse for that.

If I were in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or any of the many other countries the US is currently bombing, I think I would find it quite difficult to work up much sympathy for one bombing in one US city.

See also:

The Boston Marathon and U.S. Drone Attacks: a Tale of Two Terrorisms. Not much to read, but please click and scroll. It's a must.

Dave Zirin, interviewed by Amy Goodman:
Well, first, prayers for the people of Boston, Baghdad and Mogadishu who are suffering today. Second, I think people have to realize that an attack on the Boston Marathon is really an attack not on Boston or the United States, but on the world. We have a tendency in this country to call our national champions "world champions." And yet, here’s this Boston Marathon, which sounds so provincial—the Boston Marathon—but it comprises people from 96 countries. The world record holders for both the men and women are both from sub-Saharan Africa. Over 20,000 people compete. You can speak to people around the world who are part of this global marathon community, and they know that Heartbreak Hill is the fourth hill in Newton that’s so difficult to go over. They know that when you run past Wellesley College, for example, that the cheers can be so loud you can’t even hear out of your own ears. They know that the Boston Marathon actually means something that’s very communitarian. And so, when you take something that’s so communitarian and you turn it into something that now, going forward, is going to feel insecure, dangerous, something you don’t want to bring your family to, it really is an attack on collective space with global dimensions.
Full interview here; well worth your time.


why i haven't blogged about rehtaeh parsons and how the story makes me feel

I feel some kind of obligation to write about Rehtaeh Parsons. Not because I imagine I have something important to add to the conversation, just because she is on my mind so much, and when that happens, I must write.

For non-Canadian readers, this is why we know the name Rehtaeh Parsons. From an excellent post by Christine Salek at PolicyMic:
Let me know if you've heard this one before.

A teenage girl attends a party, drinks alcohol, and then is gang raped by four male classmates. The boys take photos of the assault and share them with their school, and the girl is then bullied relentlessly.

This happened to Rehtaeh Parsons of Nova Scotia, but her story didn't end with her assailants being sentenced — at all. The police didn't think they had enough evidence to charge anyone of the crime, so for 2 years, Parsons was taunted with memories of that night, called a "slut," and blamed for something over which she had no control.

Last week, she hung herself. On Sunday, she passed away.

Parsons was 15 at the time of her rape and fell into a deep depression after the event that was never addressed. While an emergency help team was called when she told her parents about the assault a few days later, no one made sure she was taken care of past that point. The police were also briefed, but after a year of investigating the incident, they decided there wasn't enough evidence to charge any of the four named assailants. To them, it was a case of "he said, she said" and that the photographs of the rape were not a criminal issue — even though she was underage. They couldn't figure out who took the pictures, they said, so no one would be charged, even those who had photos of a naked 15-year-old girl being sexually assaulted in their possession.
There you have it. A similar story recently came to light in the US: Audrey Pott, from California.

I don't have anything new to add. Twenty-first century North America and girls are still being raped by classmates, and other classmates are shaming them, and police are not believing them. Meanwhile Canadian media can obsess over the "rape problem" in India, and Canadians can believe themselves to be superior.

So yeah, nothing new to say. I just think about Rehtaeh, and I hurt for her, and I cry. Frankly, I don't know how she survived as long as she did.

About a year after I was raped, I also started having suicidal thoughts. This was not the result of depression or mental illness prior to the assault. It was not the result of lack of support or not being believed. I had been a happy person, no one questioned what happened, and I had tons of support. But a full year had gone by, and the pain was unremitting. The strange joy of having survived was gone, the crazy hyperactivity that propelled me through the first few months had dissipated. Now there was just pain. I thought about suicide all the time, because I wanted the pain to stop.

I never told anyone at the time. It felt impossible to express, and anyway, life had moved on. "That terrible thing that happened to you," as my mother called it, was old news. I just hung on.

Years later, when I did public speaking about my recovery, mostly through this group, I made no secret of these suicidal thoughts. When I wrote about my experience (my first publication), I negotiated with the editor over what we could say about rape survivors and suicide. We settled on the phrase "a great many of us".

Yes, a great many of us. A great many of us are raped, and a great many of us think about death as a way out. This is how bad it feels.

How Rehtaeh coped with the psychic pain of rape, plus the nightmare of shaming and bullying for having been raped, I don't know. Ultimately, she couldn't cope, and she found a way to make the pain stop.

I just think about her, and I cry.


unpaid labour used to be called slavery. now it's an internship.

Image found at Youth and Work blog
In recent years, I've been very disturbed by the proliferation of so-called unpaid internships, more properly called unpaid labour, previously known as slavery.

A while back, I had a disturbing conversation with an unpaid editor at The Mark. She was highly skilled, an excellent editor. I told her so, and asked if she was being paid. Since The Mark does not pay its contributors, I was wondering if they also got a free pass on staff.

The young woman vigorously defended her unpaid job, explaining, "I'm learning the business as I go." To which I responded, "That used to be called an entry level job!" She seemed not to realize that people used to get hired right out of university, and trained in a variety of positions. I asked, "When the internship ends, will they hire you?" She said, no, she can renew her unpaid arrangement, or leave. It's safe to assume that if she chose to leave, another unpaid intern would take her place.

I'm assuming The Mark pays web designers, IT people, advertising salespeople. But writers and editors? Why bother?

A growing trend

The New York Times confirms that increasing numbers of desperate university graduates are accepting unpaid work, in the hopes of gaining experience. The Daily Mail notes the same is happening in the UK, and the Toronto Star's Carol Goar documented the practice in Canada.

Unpaid internships have long been the norm in the nonprofit world, where dollars are stretched till they scream. In the past, however, interns were usually students. They worked on special projects, and there was an understanding that they were first in line for real jobs. Now interns have university or Master's degrees, and they work in day-to-day operations.

HuffingtonPost.com was bought by AOL, but still doesn't pay its writers. Media giant Rogers hires - or, more accurately, uses - unpaid interns in its newsrooms and for magazine production. The broadcasters who read local news on Channel 10 are "paid" with a pizza lunch. Bell Canada, the largest corporation in the country, uses unpaid interns in nearly every department. We can't seriously be expected to believe Rogers and Bell can't afford to pay entry-level employees. Some perspective:
According to Statistics Canada, unemployment in Ontario for those younger than 24 is 16.5 per cent. That’s more than double the rate of 6.3 per cent for those above 24.

“You won’t find the word ‘intern’ in our employment laws at all. It’s an industry term,” said David Doorey, professor of employment law at York University. “There seems to be a widely held belief that an employer avoids our basic employment law rules simply by labelling someone an intern. That’s wrong.”

In many sectors of the economy, internships seem to have replaced entry-level positions, forcing young people to work without pay for years till they gain enough experience to get hired for mid-level jobs, says Toronto lawyer and internship critic Andrew Langille.

“Exploitation of unpaid interns has reached epidemic levels,” Langille said.

Langille estimates tens of thousands of people are misclassified as interns by their employers. “As a result of this mischaracterization these young people forgo wages, can’t collect EI, and aren’t credited with contributions to CPP,” said Langille, who monitors internship job postings on his blog and often intervenes in an attempt to see that minimum wage is paid.
At the same time, more education than ever is required: not only a four-year university degree, but one and sometimes two Master's degrees, so young people enter the job market increasingly burdened by debt.

Unpaid internships exclude young people who simply cannot afford them, people who must pay their own way in order to eat and put a roof over their heads. During my time in grad school, a steady stream of volunteer positions was always posting. Only students from privileged backgrounds could even consider applying for them.

Companies should have an obligation to hire and train young people, but the brutal equation of capitalism shields them from any obligation except profit for their shareholders. The government, by not holding down education fees, and the companies that exploit young graduates, are helping to financially cripple an entire generation. This in turn will take a toll on our entire society.

From the news desk to the checkout line

Unpaid labour takes other forms, too. The restaurant industry has their labour costs subsidized by their customers, and we've come to accept this bizarre situation as perfectly normal. But think about it: why should customers be responsible for paying servers? Why should servers' pay depend on customers' whims - and on the relative ignorance of the customer? Sadly, many people think tipping is optional, a way to reward outstanding service, and acceptable to withhold if you don't like the food, or perhaps can't afford the meal any other way. But servers live on tips.

Supermarkets and big-box stores also get free labour, every time customers use the self-checkout aisle. After we spend money at a store, is it such a luxury to have someone ring up our purchases and put them in bags? Apparently so. My local Loblaws keeps two people working on checkout, with eight cashier bays empty - thus creating long lines, and ensuring frustrated customers will use self-checkout. Getting out of Ikea has become a nightmare, with one checkout staffed, and everyone else struggling to find the bar codes on their own items.

Contrary to what companies would like you to believe, the great savings in labour costs is not passed along to the consumer. It's pocketed as profit.

Other costs are offloaded to the customer and sold as convenience. Printing your own boarding pass may indeed be convenient, but think of how much money it saves the airline over time. Paperless billing, while good for the environment, is another huge cost saver, passed along to the consumer.

Finally, we shouldn't talk about unpaid labour without acknowledging the largest sector of unpaid work on the planet: the work traditionally done by women at home. The numbers on this are startling.

Late stage capitalism, squeezing us all

The trend of unpaid internships is best seen in context of late-stage capitalism, as companies, desperate to show growth, try anything to wring out a drop of profit.

Staffing cutbacks, benefit clawbacks, stagnating pay.

Forcing workers to work off the clock.

Global outsourcing.

Planned obsolescence.

Shrinking product size. A bag of coffee, traditionally one pound, is now 12 ounces. A carton of juice, formerly two litres, is now 1.75 litres for the same price. I bought a familiar skin care product. The packaging looked the same, but inside, there was a false bottom. The actual product was 25% smaller. Yes, the millilitres or ounces were labeled correctly, but if you're familiar with the size and shape of a product, are you checking the ounces each time you buy it?

Meanwhile, services cost more, and more services are needed. Housing costs, utilities, and food are subject to the market, even though all industries reap the benefits of government subsidies. For many people, this turns necessities into luxuries.

Last year, I wrote: what are people supposed to do? or, why we need socialism.

The bottom has fallen out. The "invisible hand" is crippled. It clutches at us from the grave.


conversation with a cab driver

"Oh man, you live in Toronto? I love Toronto! I go there a lot. I have a friend who races horses at Woodbine."

"Woodbine, is that the one near the airport? I live right near there."

"Toronto's a great town. I love hockey, so you know I love going up to Canada."

Talk of hockey leads to talk of baseball, and as it turns out...

"Well, I couldn't really say, I'm a Red Sox fan."

"Get outta here! Me too! I'm a total diehard!"

"No way? Another New York area Sox fan!"

Typical how-is-our-team-this-year talk goes on for a while, both of us quite animated. Do we have a decent closer, the excitement of Jackie Bradley, Jr., what's it like to see Youk play for the other side. I did get a hint that something was amiss...

"Canada's great, except you can't go to Quebec. They hate us there."

"Nah, that's just something people say. Quebec is wonderful. Montreal is an amazing city."

"Oh yuck, Montreal. I have never been there."

"Montreal is terrific! It's like being in Europe."

"Ugh, if i wanted Europe, I'd go to Italy, not fucking France."

So it's back to the Red Sox...

"What is up with Pedroia? The man needs a shave and fast."

"Well damn, no wonder Ellsbury looks so hot, next to that!"

We're laughing about this when we get to the airport. The cab pulls in, and an attendant leans towards the window and politely asks the driver to pull up a bit more.

The driver yells, "Get out of my face, you foreign bastard. Go to hell, Achmed!"

I was so taken aback I could barely react. I had been up all night, was wasted, feeling sick, and was very close to missing a flight. I make it a point to challenge bigotry whenever I hear it, but I was frozen with exhaustion and surprise. I can't remember the last time I heard such blatant racism.

I wonder how often the airport worker hears it.


today is equal pay day in ontario

Today, April 9, is Equal Pay Day in Ontario. Please watch this short video to learn why we are still fighting for pay equity. Then visit the Equal Pay Coalition to learn how you can raise your voice for pay equity in this province.

"This is not something we should still be fighting for.
Students today should be reading about this in their textbooks."


hundreds of nyc fast-food workers walk off the job, demand a living wage (plus: don't fly porter)

Hundreds of fast-food workers in New York City walked off the job this week, demanding a living wage. This is their second walkout in six months, as this exciting labour movement continues to grow.

The workers, who have organized themselves as Fast Food Forward, are a model for people throughout the US who are employed but live in poverty.

Low-wage workers in Chicago are involved in the same fight, under the banner of Worker Organizing Committee of Chicago. Both groups are calling for a $15/hour minimum wage.

The National Restaurant Association says its industry "provides more than 13 million jobs — jobs that could be jeopardized if the minimum wage goes up". So that's what they do: "provide" jobs. But workers provide the labour that keep that industry running.

And that industry has it pretty good. In non-fast-food restaurants, customers subsidize the cost of labour in the form of tips. (In the US, restaurant workers earn well below minimum wage before tips.) In the multi-billion-dollar fast-food industry, workers are expected to survive on minimum wage. In the US, that's $7.25/hour. Try living in New York or Chicago on $7.25/hour. It can't be done. Shareholders love it. As do military recruiters.

If you haven't yet signed the petitions from Fast Food Forward and WOCC, please do. Show these courageous workers you support their struggle, and tell their employers to cough up a $15/hour minimum wage.

Fast Food Forward (New York)

Fight for 15 (Chicago)

If you live or work in New York City, why not visit a picket line? You can buy a striking worker a cup of coffee, or make a donation, or just say hi and tell them you support their efforts. I'll be in town in a couple of days and I hope to report back on the strike.

Speaking of which, I was originally flying Porter, but as 22 fuellers are on strike against that airline, I cancelled my flights. If you tell Porter you stand in solidarity with the striking workers and you will not cross a picket line, they will waive the "change fee," normally $75 per person per flight (meaning the change fee for one round-trip flight is $150). If you do this, please let Porter know here.

I rebooked on Air Canada. I paid a little more, but some bargains are not worth making. Porter's credit is good for one year, so I sure hope the fuellers win their strike soon. More information: Don't Fly Porter.


can money buy happiness? yes. no. sometimes. maybe.

My friend Impudent Strumpet writes a series of posts that dispute the oft-repeated notion "money can't buy happiness". (Here's an example.) I find this idea very thought-provoking. I've definitely subscribed to the idea that money doesn't equal happiness - that making the acquisition of riches a primary life goal does not lead to a happy life. Imp Strump's posts led me to think more clearly about this axiom and see what kinds of truths it might or might not hold.

If money doesn't buy happiness, try living without any

For people who live in poverty, money undoubtedly could buy a great deal of happiness. The stresses of poverty are endless, and few of us would deny that being able to afford adequate food, housing, fuel, health care, and other basic necessities would make many people who lack those things very happy indeed. That is why universal health insurance and a more just, rational economic system would solve more problems for more people than the system of profit and greed we have now.

Beyond that, for those of us who are not necessarily poor or low-income, being able to afford some wonderful life supports and conveniences definitely buys a large measure of happiness.

In recent weeks, I have purchased new eyeglasses, new orthotics for my shoes, and some veterinary services. All were very expensive. I didn't want to spend so much money on these things, but I had no choice; all are necessary for my comfort and well being. (Some may consider dogs a luxury, but they are my family.) Each time I took out my credit card, I thought, what do people do who can't afford these things? If your feet hurt or you can't see properly, and you can't afford the solution, how do you cope?

After your most basic needs are met, having enough discretionary income so that an unexpected expense doesn't force you to make difficult and uncomfortable choices is a very real happiness. I've lived both ways, and I can tell you, the reduction of anxiety is tremendous. The column Imp Strump quotes in her recent "money buying happiness" post gives the perfect example.
People with plenty of money have crummy luck all the time, too, but it’s just an inconvenience for them. My parents are millionaires. Last week their heater, car, and garage door broke. So what?

If they were poorer, each problem would've caused two more problems. People living on the edge are vulnerable to every mishap in a way that is catastrophic.
Living lives of our own choosing

Being able to do the things you love is another kind of happiness that money can buy. My greatest love is travel, and travel costs money. When I don't have money to travel at least a little, I'm considerably less happy.

Money also buys leisure time. When you must count every dime and dollar to make it to the next cheque, you must do everything as cheaply as possible. You can't afford little conveniences that make it easier to prepare dinner, or big conveniences like a car, which makes it easier for you and your family to participate in various activities. Without any discretionary income, you have less time to enjoy life, and fewer options when you do.

I do believe that there's a kind of happiness that money can't buy, a basic contentment, a satisfaction with one's life path, that no amount of material goods will touch. Yet money affects this, too. No matter what gives your life meaning - gardening, cooking, travel, photography, hiking, sports, writing, etc., etc., etc. - you need some leisure time and some discretionary income to pursue it. As the notion of good job and decent employment crumbles, we see more people completely consumed with survival. Less money equals less happiness.

Small-picture vs big-picture happiness? Is that it?

Despite all this, which I find logical and irrefutable, I do think there is some truth buried in the saying "money doesn't buy happiness". I once wrote about small- and big-picture luck. Maybe that's the distinction here, too.

I went to university with lots of people whose primary life goal was to make a lot of money. Not to earn money doing something they loved, or to be well compensated for helping others, but to make as much money as possible, full stop. I see no evidence that fulfillment of that goal leads to happiness. It appears to lead to the desire to make more money. Which in turn leads to the desire to make more money.

It also leads to things like Enron, Nortel, and Worldcom - things like the Bhopal and Deep Horizon - which lead to a huge amount of unhappiness for untold numbers of people, through absolutely no fault of their own.

The pursuit of profit does not lead to happiness. I am comfortable stating that as a fact.

I have also met many people who are completely caught in the thrall of consumerism. They spend constantly, and are often broke, because they are always buying clothes, shoes, gadgets, what have you. Shopping is the main focus of their lives, like a bottomless pit of getting and spending. Their purchases do appear to buy a small measure of good feeling, but it is fleeting, ephemeral. As soon as the feeling fades, they are shopping again. If it sounds like I'm describing an addiction, I am. This addiction to things - buy, buy, buy, more, more, more - is created and fed by the consumerist, capitalist system in which we live.

I think, too, that money does not create the deepest kind of happiness: how we feel about ourselves, our relationships, our lives. While money can buy us a great deal of comfort and convenience, wealth can't actually turn an unhappy person into a happy person. An adequate income can remove a huge amount of stress from a relationship, but it can't in itself create a loving, respectful relationship where one does not exist. When a person is unhappy with herself, material goods offer, at best, a very short-term band-aid, and possibly not even that. A life spent chasing material wealth will not bring inner contentment. In that sense, money does not buy happiness.

The solution: revolution

By my observation, people with tremendous amounts of money - people who live lives of lavish excess - could lose a large percentage of that wealth and still be happy. But people of modest means would find their lives greatly improved by a sudden influx of cash, or the sudden affordability of services.

Thus, a global revolution that ushers in a more equitable distribution of wealth, and the socialization of resources that are currently held for private profit, would probably make a small percentage of people a bit less happy. But it would lead to a tremendous net increase in human happiness overall.

roger ebert, 1942-2013

Who would have thought a movie critic could be so loved, and so missed?

Of course, Roger Ebert was so much more than a critic. He was a model for the potential of criticism as an important contribution to art and entertainment. He helped audiences discover art and helped artists connect with audiences. He reviewed each film on its own terms, seemingly enjoying all genres and understanding the potential in each of them.

Like many of you, if you are old enough, I used to love to watch "At The Movies," with "the fat guy and the other one," as the joke went. In the 1980s and 90s, during the burgeoning of independent film, Ebert turned the world on to so many films that otherwise might have gotten lost in a mountain of quirkiness. I particularly remember Ebert championing "Say Anything," and later, "Show Me Love," two great teenage love stories. Of course, this was long before a famous scene from one of those movies was reduced to a meme. That scene was tender and almost eerily moving, and Ebert urged us to see this low-budget sleeper.

Later Ebert became a model for transcending disability, or for that matter, anything life throws at us. To me he exemplified the best of how people respond to tragedy: acknowledging pain and loss, remembering what is still good, valuing the experience, being alive to possibility, and moving on into a new world. As he said himself, he was always open to joy and wonder.

I wish I had found Ebert's blog sooner. I don't know how we missed it, since we're always looking for good movies, but somehow it flew under our radar until a few years ago. Since then, it has supplied the backbone of our movie list. I don't like as many types of movies as Ebert did, but when he recommended a film, I knew it was worth seeing.

In case you haven't seen them, some Roger Ebert reading:

In Salon: I Do Not Fear Death, in his own words.

From Ebert's blog: A statement from Ebert's partner, Chaz Ebert, and "A Leave of Presence", Ebert's final post.

Obituary from The New York Times

Also, two years ago, Ebert's struggle inspired me to write this post: thoughts on roger ebert and transcending circumstance.


what could baseball, sexual abuse, and pitbulls possibly have in common?

It's Opening Day!

It's always a long, cold winter for a baseball-only fan, but winters for Red Sox fans have been especially long and cold lately. When was the last time we saw a meaningful game? (Don't answer that.) I lost interest 'round about July last season, unusual for me, but there's something about losing every night that doesn't inspire me to plan my life around the team's schedule.

But that's all behind us now. Spring is here, and with it, a fresh start, new hope, and who knows, maybe a half-decent, rebuilding kind of season for the Sox.

The 2013 season is also momentous for me personally: it marks my 10th year as a Sox fan. In June 2003, I crossed the great divide, and switched sides in the greatest rivalry in the history of American sports. When it comes to baseball, I'm still monogamous, but I'm on my second marriage.

I want to use this lovely Opening Day to celebrate the achievements of two baseball players. As of this season, both happen to play for the Toronto Blue Jays, a team I will politely say I dislike. But that makes no difference: it's the players' off-field activities I want to highlight.

R. A. Dickey, male sexual abuse, and the global scourge of sex trafficking

R. A. Dickey is a rare breed: a professional male athlete who has chosen to be public about being sexually abused as a child. Every survivor of sexual abuse or assault who comes out publicly helps untold numbers of people who suffer silently, and this is especially important for male survivors. From the Globe and Mail:
"Sport has provided us with the opportunity to get the white elephant out of the room," the 2012 Cy Young winner said Tuesday during his first interview with Canadian reporters since he was traded from the New York Mets to Toronto.

Dickey shoved that elephant into the public in his memoir, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball, in which the 38-year-old father of four detailed his unlikely path from the minor leagues to baseball’s best knuckleballer. He also disclosed for the first time that he had been sexually abused as an 8-year-old, first by a female babysitter on several occasions, and in a separate incidence by a male teenager.

In doing so, Dickey became a powerful asset in the fight against sexual abuse suffered by boys. Experts say that since professional athletes are often viewed as the ultimate tough guys and manly role models, to have one come out as a survivor shows others that it’s okay to disclose past abuses, and seek help.

“It’s extremely powerful for an athlete to be able to speak about sexual abuse, because in our culture, being sexually abused as a man means, unfortunately, that you’re perceived as weak. You didn’t protect yourself. You weren’t strong enough. You weren’t brave enough. You didn’t take care of yourself,” said Howard Fradkin, a psychologist who works with male sexual abuse survivors, and the author of Joining Forces: Empowering Male Survivors to Thrive.

Experts say that as many as one in six boys will experience unwanted sexual touching by the time they are 18. Yet, more often than female victims of sexual abuse, they keep the abuse a secret.

Counsellors who work with male victims of sexual abuse say that’s because stigma surrounding abuse are intertwined with societal concepts about masculinity. . . .

Opening up about his experience was not easy, said Dickey.

“Honestly, I had a lot of fear about releasing a book like that, because it wasn’t necessarily a baseball book, it’s much more a book about life, and darkness and redemption and a lot of other things. So I had a lot of fear about baring my soul to not only my teammates, but the world,” Dickey said.
Dickey's revelation takes tremendous courage, and if he did nothing more than model this possibility for other male survivors, it would be significant.

But now Dickey is shining a spotlight on one of the most horrific forms of sexual abuse: sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is sometimes mistakenly called "forced prostitution", but it's actually something even worse: sexual slavery.

Dickey works with a group called Bombay Teen Challenge, a Mumbai organization that has been fighting sex trafficking locally for 20 years. The group has rescued more than 1,000 women and children from sexual slavery, and includes a long process of healing, nurturing, and de-indoctrination.

Dickey first raised money through a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, then traveled to India with his daughters, to meet the people of BTC, to see and hear first hand why their work is needed and what it does.
Before our six-day trip was over, my daughters and I had our most exhilarating experience of all, in an area called Ashagram, about two and a half hours away from Mumbai’s red-light district, a campus devoted to healing and life and rejuvenation. It’s where BTC brings the women and families whom they’ve freed from slavery (the escape process is an elaborately detailed plan that I’m not allowed to write about) and where counselors begin the arduous process of rebuilding lives, seeking to instill a sense of worth to people who have come to feel worthless, aiming to give them the equipment to live and trust and be productive members of society. It is a place where you hear children singing songs and playing games, and where you feel lightness. Like me, my daughters were deeply saddened and uncomfortable with so much of what they saw in Mumbai, but in Ashagram they flourished, making friendship bracelets and braiding hair and reveling in the simple pleasures of camaraderie. It reminded me again how the deepest, most basic kind of joy has nothing to do with the accumulation of things or the size of your paycheck; it has to do with being secure, and feeling loved. These kids who had lived their whole lives in Kamathipura were happy now because they were safe and nourished, and because they had people loving on them.

It’s really not all that complicated, is it?

I head off to Dunedin, Fla., this week, for my first spring training as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. It has always been one of my favorite parts of being a ballplayer, the renewal and metaphorical rebirth that comes with a new season. Soon I will be throwing knuckleballs again, and though the motion may look the same, the man behind it is altogether different, having been enriched by the spirit of the good people I met in Mumbai. I will take the mound hoping and praying that, person by person, life by life, the women in captivity in Kamathipura will find their own renewal and rebirth. People at Bombay Teen Challenge tried to tell me that the contribution I’ve made has been such a blessing, but my daughters and I know the real blessings are ours.
The stories of girls and women who are held in sexual slavery in Mumbai are beyond horrific. You can read more about it here, which I post with a trigger warning: Former NY Met and current Toronto Blue Jay R.A. Dickey tells story of his journey to rescue India's youth from horrors of sex slavery.

Mark and Jamie Buehrle: justice for pitbulls and the people who love them

Four Buehrle dogs. Slater is on the left.
Pitcher Mark Buehrle (pronounced "Burly") has long been an outspoken advocate for animals, and for sensible, non-bigoted animal laws. When he pitched for the Florida Marlins, Buehrle was active in trying to get Miami-Dade county's anti-pitbull law repealed. Now that he pitches for Toronto, Buehrle and his wife Jamie turn their efforts to Ontario's breed-specific law. Jamie and the rest of their family will live hours away in western New York State. They can't move to Toronto, because their family includes Slater, who is part Staffordshire terrier, otherwise known as a pit-mix.

Buehrle was the subject of some criticism in the boosterish Toronto sports media, because, the line goes, "He should live here before he criticizes." Rubbish. There's nothing uniquely Canadian or Ontarian about the unjust Dog Owners' Liability Act. And if there were? We all criticize laws of various countries all the time. Every time we get an email decrying some human-rights abuse in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia or wherever, aren't we doing the same? Don't Canadians criticize the US's crazy gun laws? We don't have to live in a place to recognize injustice, and to fight it.

The Buehrles say they will use every opportunity to speak out against Ontario's cruel and unjust breed-specific laws. I am so excited that Ontario pitbulls and the people who love them now have a powerful new ally. From the Toronto Star:
What’s certain is that Buehrle isn’t parting with his dog — a 2-year-old American Staffordshire terrier named Slater — and no matter where he lives, he and his wife Jamie will be adding their voices to those calling for the repeal of breed-specific language in Ontario’s controversial Dog Owner’s Liability Act, the legislation which prohibits pit bulls.

“I think it’s a discriminatory law,” Buehrle said Thursday via conference call with local media, adding that he and his wife Jamie have already made contact with advocacy groups in Ontario. “We are big spokesmen of it and we’re trying to do what we can do to try to help other people out.”

Acquired by the Jays earlier this month in a 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins, Buehrle has yet to arrive in the city and may not even end up living here. But when he gets to Toronto next season, his impact could extend far beyond what he does on the pitching mound.
The movement to repeal Ontario’s controversial prohibition of pit bull-type dogs has gained increasing momentum in recent years as it inches closer and closer to its goal.

Buehrle’s celebrity endorsement could be what the campaign needs to succeed.

The Buehrles own four dogs: Three vizslas and Slater, a rescue dog. They are outspoken animal rights activists and campaigned against Miami’s pit bull ban last season. . . .

Toronto NDP MPP Cheri Di Novo, who has been leading the political fight against the ban, says as soon as the legislature resumes, she will retable the bill and is confident the ban will eventually be overturned.

With the legislature indefinitely prorogued and the sluggish pace of passing new legislation even at the best of times, it’s nearly impossible that Ontario’s pit-bull ban could be repealed before Buehrle begins his Jays’ career.

But with Buehrle under contract in Toronto for the next three seasons, it figures to be a focal part of his time with the Jays.

“We’re going to do everything we can to try to get this passed,” he said.
For more about the Buehrles and their pro-dog, anti-bigotry activism, see "Lonely days ahead for Mark Buehrle" from ESPN.