what i'm watching: the tv detective mystery, where women are crazy and ex-husbands don't kill

One type of TV show that I enjoy are detective murder mysteries. I don't watch them all - that would be nearly impossible, Netflix carries so many - but I'm always looking for detective shows that I find absorbing. "Inspector Lewis" is probably my favourite. I loved "Prime Suspect", Helen Mirren's tour de force. I'm in the middle of "Wallander", recommended by a few wmtc readers, although I'm watching the BBC version with Kenneth Branagh, not the original Swedish show. "Case Histories", featuring Jason Isaacs as private investigator Jackson Brodie, is another one I enjoy. And I've sampled many more - Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders, Cadfael, and so on. On my to-watch list are The Killing and The Fall.

As much as I enjoy this genre, I often end up annoyed when we learn "whodunit". Because, too often, you know who done it? A woman.

In TV detective shows, there are an enormous number of women murderers. Women obsessed with and spurned by men. Women whose careers have been thwarted by men. Women driven insane by their unfulfilled desire to have babies. Women who couldn't handle the pressure. Women who can't move on. Women avenging the murder of their children. Women who are closet lesbians.

Sometimes, the murdering woman turns out to be trans* or bisexual. TV trans* and/or bisexual murderers practically constitute a separate subgenre. The contemporary version doesn't portray these women as insane by definition, merely driven insane by society's intolerance and by the men who wouldn't love them.

I haven't quantified my observation (yet), but I'd estimate that on the small screen, murders are committed by women about 60 or 70% of the time.

In reality, in the US, for example, men commit around 85% of all homicides. About 15% of homicides in the US are committed by women.

(I note that "Prime Suspect", with its more realistic plot lines, is not included in this.)

This disconnect between reality and fiction - the topsy-turvy world where women are more likely to be murderers than men - is not a new or original observation. When the movie "Fatal Attraction" came out in 1987, there was a spate of commentary saying essentially the same thing. If the plot of that movie had been a real-life scenario, Michael Douglas's character would have been terrorizing the family, not Glenn Close's. A few years later, the same arguments cropped up in relation to "Basic Instinct" (1990), with the addition of the crazy bisexual motif.

As a writer, I understand why TV murder-mystery writers and producers might reach too often for the female murderer. It's unexpected. It's different. It's interesting precisely because it's not real life. Let's lead the audience to suspect the controlling ex-husband, then let's surprise them with his female victim who couldn't take it anymore.

But as a feminist and a media-watcher, I find it highly irritating, and potentially harmful. An ignorant viewer could easily come away with the impression that women are far more dangerous than men. Might that make it more difficult to believe - and to have compassion and empathy for - the dangers that so many women face from their partners and ex-partners, even on a subliminal level? Could the TV unreality make it more difficult for people to understand and accept the real statistics on femicide?

Historically, there has been an abiding fascination with female murderers in all forms of fiction, from Medea and Lady Macbeth to Lizzie Borden and Aileen Wuornos. The interest in female killers - including real ones - may stem partly from their very novelty. Plus, the notion of a female murderer runs counter to most gender stereotypes. Women are supposed to be loving and nurturing; we are supposed to be weak, fearful, and squeamish. On the other hand, we're supposed to be unable to control our emotions. In real life, perhaps most murders are fueled by testosterone, but we've always got hysteria!*

I expected to find a spate of stories about the female murderer in TV detective dramas, but to my surprise, I found none. Perhaps I missed them, or perhaps this theme is mostly explored in graduate school papers like this one. I did find numerous stories about the negative portrayals of LGBT people, especially trans* people, a topic much more in the media spotlight right now than garden-variety sexism. (I also found the fascinating rabbit-hole called TV Tropes, which looks like a genre-writer's dream.)

As I said, for now this is based only on observation. I haven't quantified it yet, haven't sat down and counted what percentage of TV detective-mystery episodes end with a female murderer. But I might, eventually.

* For those unfamiliar, the history of the word is noted.


today! right now! fast-food workers on strike throughout the united states

Today, fast-food workers all over the United States are standing up for their rights, demanding a living wage, demanding to be free from harassment and intimidation.

From New York to Seattle, from Maine to Texas, from Los Angeles to Chicago to Raleigh, low-wage workers are on strike. Please show your support by signing their open letter to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s. These corporate giants netted $7.35 billions in profit last year alone, yet they pay their workers poverty wages. Help them demand more!


dear war criminals: don't lecture us about morals as you prepare to bomb civilians

Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.

- Secretary of State John Kerry
The slaughter of innocent civilians is a moral obscenity? I'm betting the people of Iraq and Afghanistan* agree.

Or is only the slaughter of civilians by chemical weapons obscene? Is slaughter by bombs - by house raids and checkpoints, by torture and endless imprisonment - merely ordinary and banal?

Does white phosphorous, the US's chemical weapon of choice, constitute moral obscenity?

How about imprisoning for 35 years someone who brought to light the killing of innocent civilians, then granting absolute immunity to the people who ordered those killing? That obscene enough for you?

Yet again we are told that to punish a dictator for killing his own people, we must kill more of those people.

And we will be told this again and again, onward through the years, until we shut down this system that profits from war, and create a new system in which all human life is valued and all resources are shared.

* And hundreds of other places.


this thursday, august 29: national strike of low-wage workers

If you are a fast-food worker, go here for more information on the national strike to say: Low Pay Is Not OK.

For the rest of us, on August 29, visit a picket line, send an email, sign a petition. In New York City, join rallying low-wage workers at Union Square at 2:30. All our communities will be stronger we all earn a living wage!

the standard double-standard: prison for war resisters, immunity for war criminals

Abby Zimet reports on Common Dreams:
Days before Bradley - now Chelsea - Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for helping expose U.S. war crimes in Iraq, the Obama Department of Justice filed a petition in federal court arguing that the perpetrators of those crimes - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al - enjoy “absolute immunity” against criminal charges or civil liability. The filing came in a suit brought by Sundus Shaker Saleh, an Iraqi single mother and refugee now living in Jordan, who alleges that the planning and waging of the Iraq war under false pretenses constituted a "crime of aggression" under a law used in the Nuremberg trials.
Meanwhile, after the revolution...


"hide my ass" is far superior for vpn and wireless vpn

My adventures with VPNs, wireless VPNs, and other fun IP-address changes just keep getting better all the time. My new favourite addition is called HideMyAss - a stupid name, but a terrific service.

When I last updated you on our awesome wireless VPN + Roku experience, we were using two separate routers - one for wireless VPN, and one for everything else. This was necessary because MLB.TV - through which we watch baseball on our TV, via Roku - didn't get along with the wireless VPN router. The feed would continually stop for buffering, making it impossible to follow a game. To watch baseball, we would use our regular router, with our normal Canadian IP address. To watch US Netflix, we'd use the router with the non-Canadian IP address.

Flipping routers, as we call it, was no big deal. But recently, anytime I was using the wireless VPN router, my internet connection would slow to a crawl. Plus the selection of IP addresses offered by Acevpn was getting less and less reliable. And the only way to find out if a particular IP address woud work was to try it. That meant going into the router, manually changing the gateway IP address, waiting a few minutes, seeing if it worked. If it didn't, try another. And another.

Recently it dawned on me that perhaps the VPN service itself was the problem. The original instructions that I used to set up our wireless VPN mentioned HMA (and for all I know, it is stealth marketing for HMA), so I tried them.

They are great! Here's why.

1. HMA has hundreds of IP addresses all over the world. By contrast, Acevpn had a dozen or so in the US and a handful in the UK.

2. For the standard VPN connection, on your computer, you can download and install their software. It gives you a handy, user-friendly dashboard with a simple on/off button and a full choice of IP addresses. No fiddling with routers or code.

3. You can test the IP addresses before you choose one!

4. And, most importantly for users of Roku or other streaming devices, HMA's wireless VPN does not interfere with any other internet functions. We can watch MLB via Roku from a "different location" with no buffering issues.

This rocks.

Canadians, there is no reason to put up with the sub-standard content available on Netflix Canada, or to be blacked out of sports you want to see, and which you are already paying for.

We're not stealing. Netflix and MLB are still getting their monthly fees. We're just not letting Rogers dictate what we can and can't see.


joni, my idol, redux, plus personal update

A few months ago, I wrote about my idol, Joni Mitchell, and posted a number of links to in-depth, lengthy interviews with her. I wasn't able to listen to them at the time. Today I am relaxing on the patio, drinking iced coffee, listening to Joni talk about her life, her art, and life, and art.

Podcast of Jian Gomeshi (CBC) one hour in Joni's home. At around 17:30 she talks about what it was like to be a pregnant, destitute teenager in 1965, and the erroneous claim that she surrendered her child for adoption in order to further her career. She also demolishes several cultural myths, such as "the greatest generation," and looks at the conversion of the hippie generation into a generation of consumers. She ends by saying, "I have a tremendous will to live, and also a tremendous joie de vivre."

Video of Jon Pareles (New York Times) in conversation with Joni Mitchell and Brian Blade, one hour thirty-five minutes, at the Luminato Festival in Toronto; the interview itself begins at 5:26. This interview is completely different, much more about Joni's musical influences, her artistic process, the intersection of her life and her art. (Why does the audience find it so funny when Pareles asks a question and Joni says "no" and corrects him?) Towards the end, around 1:15:00, they talk about Canada, the Canada of Joni's heart.

There's very little overlap between the two interviews. You could say, roughly, that Gomeshi's is more about life and Pareles' is more about art. I highly recommend both.

* * * *

More recently, I blogged about the crazy, unhappy whirlwind my life had become. Things are much calmer now, much happier, at least for me. Banishing our landlord's contractors was the first big step. Hiring people to help pack was the next, and one of the better ideas I've had, as my energy and sanity is worth much more to me than money.

Allan is bearing down on finishing his manuscript, and that is always a very stressful time, but from my outside perspective, I can tell he is on track to finish both well and on time.

Tala has made a huge improvement in the past two weeks. We're going to take it very slowly, just as we did two years ago when she was first diagnosed, slowly adding activity before we begin to reduce her medication.

This Monday, we have a hearing at the Landlord Tenant Board. I'm not expecting much to come of it, but we want to see it through.

We move on September 3, and I can't wait! The following week, my mother will make her annual visit. She can help me spend our insurance settlement.

And finally, I am loving my job. I come home happy and energized every day. (The under-ten-minute commute helps, too.) I am eager to snag a full-time, permanent librarian position before this part-time contract ends in March. I await the job posting.

fifty years later, king and his most famous speech are transformed into patriotic mush

Today, Americans will march on Washington in commemoration of the most famous March on Washington: August 28, 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his now-famous "I Have A Dream" speech. The meaning of that speech, like the man who delivered it, has been purposefully misremembered, and so, is constantly misunderstood.

Here's the fully researched version of a theme I am always talking about, adapted from the book The Speech: The Story Behind Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream, by Gary Younge.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took the podium on August 28, 1963, the Department of Justice was watching. Fearing that someone might hijack the microphone to make inflammatory statements, the Kennedy DOJ came up with a plan to silence the speaker, just in case. In such an eventuality, an official was seated next to the sound system, holding a recording of Mahalia Jackson singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” which he planned to play to placate the crowd. 

Half a century after the March on Washington and the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the event has been neatly folded into America’s patriotic mythology. Relatively few people know or recall that the Kennedy administration tried to get organizers to call it off; that the FBI tried to dissuade people from coming; that racist senators tried to discredit the leaders; that twice as many Americans had an unfavorable view of the march as a favorable one. Instead, it is hailed not as a dramatic moment of mass, multiracial dissidence, but as a jamboree in Benetton Technicolor, exemplifying the nation’s unrelenting progress toward its founding ideals.

Central to that repackaging of history is the misremembering of King’s speech. It has been cast not as a searing indictment of American racism that still exists, but as an eloquent period piece articulating the travails of a bygone era. So on the fiftieth anniversary of ”I Have a Dream,” “Has King’s dream been realized?” is one of the two most common and, to my mind, least interesting questions asked of the speech; the other is “Does President Obama represent the fulfillment of King’s dream?” The short answer to both is a clear “no,” even if the longer responses are more interesting than the questions deserve. We know that King’s dream was not limited to the rhetoric of just one speech. To judge a life as full and complex as his by one sixteen-minute address, some of which was delivered extemporaneously, is neither respectful nor serious. . . .

Perhaps the best way to comprehend how King’s speech is understood today is to consider the radical transformation of attitudes toward the man who delivered it. Before his death, King was well on the way to being a pariah. In 1966, twice as many Americans had an unfavorable opinion of him as a favorable one. Life magazine branded his anti–Vietnam War speech at Riverside Church “demagogic slander” and “a script for Radio Hanoi.”

But in thirty years he went from ignominy to icon. By 1999, a Gallup poll revealed that King was virtually tied with John F. Kennedy and Albert Einstein as one of the most admired public figures of the twentieth century among Americans. He ranked as more popular than Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II and Winston Churchill; only Mother Teresa was more cherished. In 2011, a memorial to King was unveiled on the National Mall, featuring a thirty-foot-high statue sited on four acres of prime cultural real estate. Ninety-one percent of Americans (including 89 percent of whites) approved.

This evolution was not simply a matter of ill feelings and painful memories eroding over time. It was the result of a protracted struggle that sheds light on how the speech for which he is best known is today understood. The bill to establish King’s birthday as a federal holiday was introduced just a few days after his death, with few illusions as to its likely success. “We don’t want anyone to believe we hope Congress will do this,” said union leader Cleveland Robinson at a rally with King’s widow in 1969. “We’re just sayin’, us black people in America just ain’t gonna work on that day anymore.”

Congress would pass the bill, but not without a fight. In 1983, the year Ronald Reagan grudgingly signed Martin Luther King Day into law, he was asked if King was a communist sympathizer. “We’ll know in thirty-five years, won’t we?” he said, referring to the eventual release of FBI surveillance tapes. [Read it here.]
Meanwhile, as I write, in Washington, DC:


help fund "let them stay", the book

Some of you may remember when wmtc was obsessed with the War Resisters Support Campaign, a fact that was noticed in some very interesting places. (Hi CIC! Are you still reading?) I joined the Campaign in 2007, then in 2009, I began school for my Master of Information degree.

I managed to stay active in the Campaign during my first two years of school, but by fall of 2011, night classes plus my library page job on top of my regular paid employment forced me to take a back seat. I thought I'd reactivate immediately after graduation... then over the summer... and now I'm aiming for mid-September.

But although I have only attended Campaign meetings sporadically for some time, I'm still involved in the fight to keep US war resisters safe in Canada, and to support war resisters who have returned to the US. War resistance in general, and specifically Iraq War resisters in Canada, are still the most passionate and pressing concerns in my mind and my heart.

Because of that, I'm very excited to share this Indiegogo fundraising campaign with you.

Let Them Stay, by Luke Stewart and the War Resisters Support Campaign, is a compilation of oral history, personal narrative, and public statements of Iraq War resisters in Canada from 2004 to the present. When published, it will be both a moving tribute and an important historical document.

You can help make this book a reality by donating any amount to the Indiegogo campaign below. From the Let Them Stay team:
Long before Bradley Manning released the Iraq War logs, Canada had its own WikiLeaks in the embodied form of the American soldiers who fled to Canada seeking refuge from the UN-deemed illegal war in Iraq. Now, after an almost decade-long struggle to stay in Canada, their stories and related documents have been collected in one place: Let Them Stay, the book.

These stories are vital to understanding how the politics of war changed the lives of men and women who had valiantly served their country but whose consciences would not allow them to continue to fight. Did you oppose the Iraq War? So did these US soldiers. By contributing to Let Them Stay, you will help document the sacrifices made by these brave men and women fighting to stay in Canada.

What We Need:

With many War Resisters and activists volunteering time and talent to Let Them Stay, our supportive publisher, Iguana Books, has managed to keep production costs low. Among others, a professional editor, a professional graphic artist, and a professional videographer have all donated their time to getting this book launched.

Even with all the unpaid time and effort that have gone into the making of this book, we still need to secure funding for some aspects of production, marketing, promotion, and on-line world-wide distribution for eBook and print. The total budget for this campaign is $6500.

We would like to see the campaign exceed that goal so we can make a donation to the War Resisters Support Campaign. Additionally, Iguana Books and Luke Stewart are donating the majority of the royalties to WRSC. This means that once Let Them Stay has been released, 85% of all sales will go directly to support the fight to keep conscientious objectors in Canada. Buying a book will help WRSC to Let Them Stay!

how you can support chelsea manning

Here are two important things you can do to help support Chelsea Manning.

1. Do whatever you can to work for her pardon. You can sign the petition to President Obama here.

You have to create an account, but that only takes a few moments, and the form accepts Canadian postal codes. Please sign and share widely.

2. Write her. According to her support team, she's looking forward to being able to correspond with her supporters for the first time. The mailing address will say Bradley Manning, as that's the only name the military will recognize. But you can and should use her chosen name out of simple courtesy and respect.
Bradley E. Manning
1300 N. Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027-2304
Here's a good short piece by John Cassidy in The New Yorker: History Will Pardon Manning, Even if Obama Doesn't.


her name is chelsea and she is a hero - and a scapegoat

A while back, I saw a blog post angrily asking why everyone referred to Bradley Manning as a man when it is "known" that he is trans. The answer is simple: out of respect. That's how Manning was identifying. Period. Anything else was rumour.

Now that Manning's court martial (fake trial) is over, she has come out as a transwoman. So now we can refer to Chelsea Manning with the same respect.

From Chase Madar, in The Nation:
Update, 8/22/2013: Yesterday, Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Today, Chelsea Elizabeth Manning announced through her lawyer that she will live the rest of her life as a woman, and we have amended our comment from yesterday in conformity with who she is. Chelsea Manning will most likely be imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, which like all other US military prisons and many civilian ones, does not provide hormone therapy or gender transition surgery to transgender prisoners. These policies should be reversed immediately.

The best way to cope with humiliating military disaster is to find a scapegoat. For the Germans after World War I, it was leftists and Jews who “stabbed the nation in the back”—the Dolchsto├člegende that set the global standard. In the resentful folklore that grows like kudzu around our Vietnam War, American defeat is blamed on the hippies and anti-American journalists who sabotaged a military effort that was on the verge of total victory. (More sophisticated revanchists season this pottage with imprecations against General Westmoreland’s leadership.)

The horrible problem with our Iraq and Afghan wars is that policy elites can’t find anyone to blame for their failure. Widespread fatigue with both wars never translated into an effective antiwar movement with any kind of mass base or high public profile. As for journalists, even liberal media platforms like The New Yorker and MSNBC dutifully mouthed administration propaganda in favor of both wars. (The liability of thoroughly embedded media is that they can’t be blamed for military failure.)

In other words, the usual suspects for stabbing-in-back whodunits all have ironclad alibis. Who will save us from this thoroughly unsatisfying anticlimax?

Enter Pfc. Chelsea Manning. In the young Oklahoman we finally have a scapegoat for two failed wars against whom Republicans and the deeply compromised Democrats can unite in vindictive harmony. Her release of 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks is well under 1 percent of what Washington classified last year, but the moral panic it has generated among American media and policy elites has scratched a certain punitive itch. Her thirty-five-year sentence is a sign that she must have done something seriously wrong. Finally, we have held someone responsible.

One almost has to admire the deft disingenuousness of our foreign policy mandarins. Though the real (and ongoing) carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan has elicited only their sulky silence, how they gush with brave humanitarian concern over the purely speculative damage they attribute to Manning and WikiLeaks! Some variation of “She has blood on her hands!” has been shrieked with joy by top civilian and military officials in the Obama administration.

The double-subjunctive mood of “may have put lives at risk of harm” is of course two degrees of reality removed from the actual slaughter that continues in our Afghan War (some 1,600 soldiers dead since Obama took office, and thousands more civilians, without any military or humanitarian gains to show), but no matter. Retired Brigadier General Robert Carr testified in the court-martial that there was no firm evidence of any Afghan civilian harmed by the release of the Afghan War logs. Military judge Denise Lind did not allow most of the State Department’s vaporous speculations of harm to US interests to be admitted as evidence against the young private.

But this doesn’t mean we can’t blame Chelsea Manning. After all, she is the only player in the saga of our Iraq War to be prosecuted—or to make a public apology. “I am sorry that my actions hurt people,” said the private, facing a possible ninety years in prison, in an effort to throw herself on the mercy of the judge. After all, no mea culpas have sprung from the lips of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld or Condi Rice; not from Bill or Hillary Clinton, both of whom supported the Iraq invasion; not from David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, which editorialized in favor of the war after publishing spurious reports on the links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Nor has New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who told a bemused Charlie Rose that the United States needed to invade Iraq and tell its troublesome inhabitants to “Suck. On. This.” The Bush/Cheney administration’s torture lawyer Jay Bybee has not apologized, and the feckless Democrats have not apologized for failing to impeach Bybee off the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he now wields immense power, just one judicial layer beneath the Supreme Court of the United States. This long and distinguished list of non-apologies could go on, and on, and on—but fortunately we have found a private to blame.

So thank God for Chelsea Manning. Not only did she provide us with hundreds of front-page news stories to enjoy with our morning coffee, she fulfills the sacred role of national scapegoat. All the good people who blame the teachers unions for child poverty and bicycle lanes for bad traffic can now hold Chelsea Manning responsible for the military and humanitarian failures of the past decade, for the hundreds of thousands dead, for the trillions of dollars spent, for the long-term public health damage that will give parts of Iraq astronomical rates of birth defects for generations.

As Dolchsto├člegenden go, it’s pretty pathetic. But then our national standards have been slipping and it’s the best we can do. Manning’s thirty-five-year sentence could mean eight or nine more years in prison before release, at which point she will be able to live free, just like George W. Bush and Frank Wuterich, commander of the Marine unit that killed twenty-four civilians in Haditha, Iraq, many of them women and children slaughtered execution style. Manning’s sentence is shameful, cruel and stupid, like our Iraq War itself, to which the prosecution of this patriotic truth-teller is a bitterly appropriate finale.


bradley manning in his own words

In case you haven't seen it, this link at Democracy Now! has the transcript of Bradley Manning's statement, read by his lawyer David Coombs, after Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we’ve had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.

I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.

In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.

Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown our any logically based intentions [unclear], it is usually an American soldier that is ordered to carry out some ill-conceived mission.

Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy—the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, the Japanese-American internment camps—to name a few. I am confident that many of our actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.

As the late Howard Zinn once said, "There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."

I understand that my actions violated the law, and I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intention to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.
I believe I've quoted this Bob Dylan song more than once, but it keeps going around in my head: "And all the criminals in their coats and ties, are free to drink martinis, and watch the sun rise..."

Or, as a Facebook friend said today: Bradley Manning, 35 years; the war criminals he exposed, still at large.


interspecies love, adorable baby elephant edition

If this doesn't tug at your heartstrings, better call 911. You might be dead.

Many thanks to Stephanie for helping me stay afloat.

discoveries make me happy

I am always astonished to see stories such as these.
A tree-dwelling animal with a teddy-bear-like face and rust-coloured fur has become the newest mammal species discovered by scientists.

The olinguito, the smallest known member of the raccoon family, lives in the cloud forests high in the Andes Mountains of Colombia and Ecuador, reported a team of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which described it in the journal ZooKeys Thursday.

The animal has actually been displayed in museums and zoos over the past 100 years, but was mistakenly identified as a different, known species among its close relatives, the olingo.

"It's been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time," Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and lead author of the new report, told The Associated Press.
And this.
Giant Maya Carvings Found in Guatemala

Archaeologist Anya Shetler cleans an inscription below an ancient stucco frieze recently unearthed in the buried Maya city of Holmul in the Peten region of Guatemala. Sunlight from a tunnel entrance highlights the carved legs of a ruler sitting atop the head of a Maya mountain spirit.

The enormous frieze—which measures 26 feet by nearly 7 feet (8 meters by 2 meters)—depicts human figures in a mythological setting, suggesting these may be deified rulers. It was discovered in July in the buried foundations of a rectangular pyramid in Holmul.

Maya archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli and his team were excavating a tunnel left open by looters when they happened upon the frieze. "The looters had come close to it, but they hadn't seen it," Estrada-Belli said.

According to Estrada-Belli, the frieze is one of the best preserved examples of its kind. "It's 95 percent preserved. There's only one corner that's not well preserved because it's too close to the surface, but the rest of it isn't missing any parts," said Estrada-Belli, who is affiliated with Tulane University, Boston University, and the American Museum of Natural History and who is also a National Geographic Explorer. His excavations at Holmul were supported by the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program.

Maya archaeologist Marcello Canuto agreed, calling the frieze "amazingly and beautifully preserved."
And this.
Archaeologists have discovered a hidden tomb of the Wari, a monument from an early civilization that predated the Inca, nestled in a site 175 miles north of Lima, Peru. The funerary chamber, ensconced in a stepped pyramid, had been filled with more than 1,200 artifacts, including gold- and silver-inlaid jewelry, ceremonial axes, looms and spindles.

The Wari mausoleum at El Castillo de Huarmey is the first pyramid discovered at the site that has not been looted, Milosz Giersz, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw who headed the expedition, said in an interview. It holds an altar-like throne and the bodies of 63 people, mostly women. Bodies were placed in seated position and wrapped in disintegrating cloth. Some were probably human sacrifices, and three of them are thought to be Wari queens.

“We know little about this culture,” Giersz said, “and this discovery is the first one which brings us so much information about the funerary practices of the highest-ranking elite and the role of the woman in pre-Hispanic times.”

The artifacts included ear-ornaments called orejeras, rattles, looms, spindles, as well as ceramics from all over the realm. A rare alabaster vessel bears depictions of fights between the coastal warriors and foreign invaders.

The Wari were an Andean civilization that flourished in the coastal regions from roughly 500 AD to 1000 AD, well before the Inca empire's 13th century rise. But very little is known about the Wari, because they appear to have left no written record of their lives. The Inca, though they were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors, were also documented by them, and so archaeologists have a better record of their society.

For archaeologists studying the Wari, such pristine finds are invaluable additions to understanding this ancient culture, Giersz said.
I find it thrilling to realize that we humans have not completely discovered, mapped, and classified all that exists on our planet. More technology will be invented, of course, and doubtless more lethal weaponry. More art will be created, and words will be spun in some new order to inspire or horrify or entertain us. But more pieces of ancient civilizations to be discovered? A species humans have yet to study? Amazing.

I wonder which will come first, the total exploration of Earth or its total destruction.

a witchunt and its backlash: interest in "a people's history" surges, thanks to censorship attempts

Once upon a time in the state of Indiana...
Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, one of the country’s most widely read history books, died on January 27, 2010. Shortly after, then-Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels got on his computer and fired off an email to the state’s top education officials: “This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away.”

But Gov. Daniels, now president of Purdue University, was not content merely to celebrate Howard Zinn’s passing. He demanded that Zinn’s work be hunted down in Indiana schools and suppressed: “The obits and commentaries mentioned his book ‘A People’s History of the United States’ is the ‘textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.’ It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. Can someone assure me that is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?”
The irony makes your head spin. I'd love for this guy to challenge A People's History on a factual basis. I'd love for him to find one sentence in the book that is "anti-factual".

In any event, this email exchange occurred in 2010, shortly after Zinn's death. We know about it now because the Associated Press obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request. Bill Bigelow, co-director of the Zinn Education Project, "Indiana’s Anti-Howard Zinn Witch-hunt" (quoted above).

Now Common Dreams has this uplifting follow-up.
Public demand for Howard Zinn's classic book A People's History of the United States is surging, something likely to make former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels none too happy.

In July, the Associated Press revealed that Daniels, who is now president of Purdue University, sought to ban the works of Howard Zinn from Indiana classrooms.

But since his "anti-Howard Zinn witch-hunt" has been exposed, Zinn's People's History has become "a hot read at libraries" in the state, the South Bend Tribune reports.

St. Joseph County Public Library, for example, which only had one copy of Zinn's People's History just weeks ago, has now upped the number to 19 due to patrons' interest, but even that wasn't enough. They're all checked out now, and there are 10 people on a waiting list.

At Indiana University South Bend, the book isn't even on any required reading list for the fall 2013 semester, but all the available copies are currently checked out, the Tribune continues.

The surge in interest in the book hasn't been limited to Indiana either.

The Zinn Education Project, which promotes and supports teaching a people’s history (upper and lower case) in middle and high school classrooms, has also received a surge of interest in its teaching materials since Daniels' censorship attempts were exposed.

"Thanks to the exposure generated by former Gov. Mitch Daniels' attempt to ban Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States from Indiana schools and teacher education programs, the Zinn Education Project has been flooded with visitors looking for people's history teaching materials," Bill Bigelow, Zinn Education Project co-director, told Common Dreams via email.

"Teachers and parents have told us that they are redoubling their commitment to teach people’s history in the face of the proposed censorship. We invite other governors to attempt to ban Zinn's works—it helps introduce A People's History of the United States to huge new audiences," Bigelow added. 
Ask for it at your library today!


bradley manning's apology: the triumph of torture

Earlier this week, Bradley Manning's defense ended its case in Manning's sentencing hearing. Manning made a statement to the military court: an apology.

Reading it, I thought of 1984, when Winston faces the terror of being eaten alive by rats, and he tells his tormentors what they want to hear. I read the apology and I thought, They have crushed him.

Manning has been tortured - physically and mentally. He has been through an ordeal that few of us can possibly imagine. No matter how much we admire him, no matter how we stand with him in spirit or in thought or by donating to his defense, no matter how many of us say "I Am Bradley Manning," only Bradley Manning is Bradley Manning. And he is alone.

Manning said:
First, your honour, I want to start off with an apology. I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I'm sorry I hurt the United States.

At the time of my decisions, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues, issues that are ongoing and continuing to affect me. Although a considerable difficulty in my life, these issues are not an excuse for my actions.

I understood what I was doing, and decisions I made. However, I did not fully appreciate the broader effects of my actions.

Those factors are clear to me now, through both self-refection during my confinement in various forms, and through the merits and sentencing testimony that I have seen here.

I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions. When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people.

The last few years have been a learning experience. I look back at my decisions and wonder how on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better […] on decisions of those with the proper authority.

In retrospect I should have worked more aggressively inside the system, as we discussed during the […] statement, I had options and I should have used these options.

Unfortunately, I can't go back and change things. I can only go forward. I want to go forward. Before I can do that, I understand that I must pay a price for my decisions and actions.

Once I pay that price, I hope to one day live in a manner that I haven't been able to in the past. I want to be a better person, to go to college, to get a degree and to have a meaningful relationship with my sister with my sister's family and my family.

I want to be a positive influence in their lives, just as my Aunt Deborah has been to me. I have flaws and issues that I have to deal with, but I know that I can and will be a better person.

I hope that you can give me the opportunity to prove, not through words, but through conduct, that I am a good person and that I can return to productive place in society. Thank you, Your Honor.
People of peace and conscience know that Bradley Manning has nothing to apologize for. He is not a criminal. He is a hero. This is the response from the Bradley Manning Support Network.
Nothing To Apologize For

As the defense closed its sentencing case yesterday, whistle-blower PFC Bradley Manning – facing 90 years in prison on six Espionage Act convictions – apologized to military judge Colonel Denise Lind for the way in which he exposed the horrific crimes and abuses he witnessed in America’s wars and diplomacy abroad. “I should have worked more aggressively inside the system,” noted Manning on the stand.

The defense’s cross-examination of prosecution witnesses in open court revealed that no deaths or casualties have been connected to WikiLeaks releases, despite soaring government rhetoric since 2010. The defense tried a number of times to get the judge to consider overclassification and other big picture issues affecting the case, but her ruling in the merits portion showed she was not willing to do so. In closed court, prosecution witnesses were allowed to talk about indirect harm—primarily the money and Government resources expended reacting to the release of the documents. Meanwhile, the Defense was barred from addressing the many positive outcomes of the releases. In that context, Manning stated, “I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry I hurt the United States.” [Read more here.]
I wonder how many of us, if we could know what would happen afterwards, would have made the choices Manning did. In prison for three years before court martial, nine months of those in solitary confinement, at one point without even clothes, bedding or his glasses. And now he faces spending the rest of his days in prison.

I think most people could only make the moral choice in ignorance of the personal consequences - the suffering - it would bring.


sports without war: canada out of aghanistan, and military out of our sports

I have written a bit about the use of professional sports as a vehicle for war propaganda and militarism, such as when the Harper Government used the Olympic torch relay to promote its war in Afghanistan. My partner Allan has covered this ground more consistently, since he writes a sports blog. See, for example, his "Thoughts Prompted By The Red Sox Foundation's Association With "Run To Home Base"" and "The National Anthem And The Idea Of Respect", among others. These are mostly from a US perspective, since that's mostly where Major League Baseball is played.

Whether it's endless rounds of "God Bless America," (nationalism being the first stop on the road to war), the honouring of veterans who are always deemed "heroes," or in one case, a plan to distribute dog-tags to kids attending a game (dropped after protests), the continuing militarization of sports is a disturbing - yet largely uncontested - trend. When militarism is linked with sports, spectators of sport are turned into spectators of war. War becomes part of the entertainment. Fans of the game are expected to consume both forms of entertainment - to conflate the two, to see them as related and inseparable - and to do so unquestioningly.


Why is war glorified at a baseball game or a hockey game? Why is military worship associated with sporting events? Why should we accept this as normal and natural?

Have we come to see war as just another sport? Is there an assumption that the people who attend sporting events are especially receptive to military propaganda? Or is sport being used as the great leveler, the mass common denominator, the stand-in for The Public, those whose passive consent is required in order for the war to continue?

As both Allan and I have written in too many posts, questioning and challenging this norm is decried as "political," as in, "Why are you bringing politics into baseball? Can't we just enjoy the game?". On the other hand, the presence of militarism at a game, being the dominant view, is seen as neutral. But of course, it's not neutral. Every "hero" honoured, every flag waved, every resounding exhortation about the troops "protecting our way of life," is a conscious act, and a political one.

Apparently Canadians once saw this as a peculiarly USian phenomenon - but no longer. Given the nature of the Harper Government and the direction in which Canada has been headed, this is unsurprising. But we should still find it disturbing, and we should challenge it.

The current issue of Canadian Dimension magazine takes an in-depth look. In the lead story, "The NHL and the New Canadian Militarism: National Game, International Shame", Tyler Shipley works it out.
There was a time when the idea of military pomp at a Canadian sporting event would have seemed absurdly out of place — that was an American thing. Oh, how the times have changed.

These days, when you settle in to watch the Jets beat the Leafs on Saturday night, you do so understanding that there will almost inevitably be some kind of military spectacle on display. Maybe soldiers will rappel from the rafters to thunderous applause. Maybe there will be a moment of silence for our fallen heroes. Maybe Don Cherry will take us on an unscheduled trip to Kandahar in a jocular salute to the boys who are maintaining their team loyalties even while they keep us safe over there.

But wait — over where? Keeping us safe from whom? Doesn’t it matter?

Not according to the NHL, the CBC, or the countless franchises, broadcasters, sponsors and pundits who have made themselves a crucial component of the new Canadian militarism. Ours is not to talk about actual details of Canada’s military engagements, it is simply to “support the troops.” Those who question this mantra are told that while one may or may not agree with the particular deployments of the Canadian Armed Forces, we all have a responsibility to support the men and women who put their bodies on the line for us.

But the logic does not hold. Uncritically supporting the troops is a tacit support of their deployments especially since, in the first place, that support is premised on the notion that they are protecting us. That is, it requires that we believe that the troops’ particular deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Haiti, Mali and elsewhere are making us safer — a claim that is not at all self-evident. Moreover, the military celebrations at NHL games themselves make no effort to separate the troops from their missions, and it needs to be added that there are plenty of other Canadians — aid workers, doctors, nurses, activists — who also put their bodies on the line doing work that doesn’t involve killing, injuring or torturing anyone. They receive no similar tributes at hockey games. [Read more here.]
If you're Canadian and this interests you, please check out the new group Sports Without War.
Sports Without War (SWW) is a collection of sports fans, athletes, concerned citizens, and activists organized against Canada’s role in imperial interventions, occupations and military actions around the world, most notably, in Afghanistan.

In particular, we are opposed to the increased use of professional sports as an avenue to promote an imperialistic, pro-military politics. SWW aims to challenge pro-military messaging at sporting events and in sports media through targeted information campaigns, speaking events, and public demonstrations.

Professional sports and the sporting media is a pervasive part of our lives. As sports fans, we enjoy participating in the excitement and drama of seeing the world’s greatest athletes compete at the highest level. Nevertheless, we increasingly find our enjoyment of the games interrupted by blatant military propaganda, from the presence of recruiters at arenas and stadiums, to military-themed team uniforms, to the spectacle of troops rappelling from the rafters, to solemn services honouring their sacrifices.

These services ignore the many people - often civilians - who have been killed in the course of Canada’s war in Afghanistan. In so doing, they explicitly support the Canadian occupation, which has not been driven by humanitarian or security interests but, rather, by a collusion of corporate interests that prioritize profits over human lives. In the meantime, the Canadian government is spending billions of dollars on the war machine, while ordinary Canadians are struggling in the climate of austerity, job cuts, and wage freezes.

The realm of professional sport should be reflective of popular opinion, rather than actively seeking to promote an unpopular pro-military position. But military propaganda in sports is part of a broader project to build support for a new Canadian militarism, in a country where some 80% of the population opposes its most visible military occupation, in Afghanistan.

SWW is part of the larger pro-peace, anti-war movement and understands that while sporting culture can be accessible and unifying, it can also be oppressive and violent along a variety of social divisions, including but not limited to gender, sexuality, race, and class. We will endeavor to create a non-hierarchical atmosphere at our meetings and events, and we encourage anyone interested in promoting peace and justice to participate in our organizing efforts.
Folks from SWW recently leafletted a Blue Jays game, in protest of the so-called "Sunday Salute" to a member of the Canadian military. You can find them on Facebook.


dimanno: let's make sochi the gay games

When I read Stephen Fry's open letter to the IOC, and the continued calls to boycott or move the Sochi Games because of the horrendous and institutionalized homophobic violence within Russia, I couldn't help but think of the Beijing Games. I absolutely understand the uproar over Russia's anti-gay laws, and I agree, of course. But did the same people make so much as a peep when the Olympics were in Beijing? China is one of the worst human rights offenders on the planet, but all I heard during the Beijing Olympics was "Go Canada".

I personally boycotted the Beijing Games (here's why), then soon discovered that I was done with the Olympics altogether. And certainly everyone who feels disgusted and offended at the homphobia emanating from Russia should personall boycott the games if that's what feels right to them. But Sochi is hosting, and that's not going to change. What can the people who'll be there do?

Rosie DiManno has the right idea. DiManno and I disagree on many things, especially on One Big Thing. But DiManno has been relentless on Toronto's Mayor Crack, as she is about police violence and abuse. And I think she's on the money on what needs to happen in Sochi.
American figure skater Johnny Weir intends to be his flamboyant gay self at the Sochi Olympics.

New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup, homosexual and activist, will wear the Rainbow Pin created by the London 2012 Olympic Organizing Committee to promote diversity.

BBC presenter Clare Balding, best in show for sports commentary at those Games, will anchor 100 hours of Olympic coverage — undoubtedly as knowledgeable and frank as ever.

I defy any Russian government authority to drag an athlete off the medal podium or a lesbian personality out of the broadcast booth for the crime of making a pro-gay gesture or statement.

It won’t happen. The imbecilic legislation passed in June will be not merely ignored but exposed for all its ridiculous, draconian ambition. The athletes, primarily, will see to that. Throughout the history of the modern Games, they have always been the ones who’ve rescued the Olympics from politics, ideology and craven greed.

The most iconic image of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin — the Nazi Games — is Jesse Owens accepting his gold medal, on four occasions, even while German rivals gave their “Heil Hitler” salutes. A black man put the boots to Aryan racial superiority, with a sour-faced Hitler looking on.

While too much of a burden is routinely placed on athletes to exemplify something other than their sporting pre-eminence, in Sochi they will once again transcend the rhetoric and ranting on all sides with memorable performances. That’s as it should be. There will be no boycott, no moving of the Games to another city, as some have promoted. Logistically, it’s impossible. Morally, it’s on slippery turf.

. . . . .

Only once has the IOC cleaved to a moral compass — banning apartheid South Africa from the Games from 1964 to 1992. Meanwhile, African-American 200-metre medallists Tommie Smith and John Carlos were expelled from the Mexico Games for raising their fists on the podium in the Black Power salute.

If respecting human rights was a criterion for the IOC, they wouldn’t have awarded the Games to Sochi in the first place, or to Beijing in 2008. But it’s done and political protests that primarily punish athletes are intolerable.

The futility of this gambit repeatedly: President Jimmy Carter pulled the U.S. out of the Moscow Summer Games in 1980 over Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan, with Canada and more than 60 other countries following suit. (Twenty-one years later, it was America’s turn to invade Afghanistan.)

In Montreal, 1976, 24 countries boycotted the Games, objecting to the inclusion of New Zealand because their rugby team had played a match in apartheid South Africa. In 1984, it was the Soviet Union and its allies passing on Los Angeles in retaliation for 1980.

Many athletes only had that single shot at an Olympics. Who remembers now the sacrifices forced upon them, because politicians were gaming the Games?

So go, gays. Be proud, raise the rainbow flag, kiss your same-sex partners in the stands, scorn the stupid law. If any athlete is persecuted or prosecuted, the media will have your back.

For 17 days in February, let’s all be citizens of Queer Nation.


what i'm watching: a kiss on the wrist: the absence of same-sex love on star trek as a measure of how far we've come

Earlier this year, I re-watched the original "Star Trek" series end-to-end on Netflix - a thoroughly entertaining experience - then decided to watch "Star Trek: The Next Generation" for the first time. It wasn't long before I was completely hooked.

The show has a lot to recommend it: compelling story lines, mostly good writing, progressive politics, and the brilliant acting of Patrick Stewart meshed with the commanding character of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. I especially appreciate how Star Trek TNG improved on the worldview of Star Trek TOS. I remember reading about this when the show premiered in the late 1980s, especially how the role and status of women had been updated, but I didn't realize how far it went. The show is actually anti-sexist.

That's why the absence of any gay or lesbian characters, or any same-sex relationships whatsoever, is such a glaring omission.

A quick search online revealed that this topic has been well-discussed. (No surprise there.) On TrekMovie.com, a Star Trek writer and producer explains that same-sex relationships were excluded because Star Trek was "a family show", which I find more offensive than the het-only love itself. The best response I found was from Autostraddle, "Gay Me Up, Scotty: How Star Trek Failed To Boldly Go There".
Berman was afraid that parents would freak out about their kids watching gays on afternoon reruns and so, under his direction, TNG began what would be a long and illustrious tradition of awkwardly bumbling around gay issues but NEVER DIRECTLY MENTIONING GAY PEOPLE AT ANY COST.
So far, I've seen three episodes that "bumble around" and miss grand opportunities.

In "The Host," Dr. Beverly Crusher falls in love with a Trill, a life form that lives in a symbiotic relationship with a humanoid body.* When Crusher and the Trill Odan fall in love, the host body is an attractive male. Later, after all the drama has died away, the Trill lives in a female host body. Does Beverly Crusher realize that she can love this person no matter what its gender? Does she even consider it? She does not. Indeed, the emotion and passion of the earlier scenes has completely disappeared. Crusher says she can't "keep up," continually adjusting as the Odan inhabits different bodies, but seriously, she doesn't even try. Once her lover has become female, she can barely eke out a polite goodbye.

At the end of the episode, female Odan lifts Crusher's hand and kisses her wrist. Crusher is shocked. Really, Dr. Crusher? It's the 24th century, and a kiss on the hand from another woman shocks you? Crusher may not be bisexual; fine, whatever. But the straightest women I know wouldn't look so astounded.
"Prepare to be shocked! My lips will touch your wrist!"
(Image from Autostraddle)

The episode "The Outcast" is an obvious metaphor for the repression and criminalization of gay and trans people. (Obvious metaphor, a redundancy in science fiction.) But the norm on the planet J'naii is androgyny, and Commander William T. Riker falls in love with a "misfit" who identifies as female. So Riker loves a woman, as he usually does, and the potential for something different and expansive is lost.

On the episode "The Masterpiece Society," a genetically engineered society defends its planned perfection against the chaos of outsiders. The denizens of this society are thoroughly multicultural, just so we're clear that this is not Nazi-style perfection. But as the black, white, and Asian families drift happily by, not one same-sex couple or family is seen. Another lost opportunity.

Why is this noteworthy? Because Star Trek TNG is a show that aggressively embraced an all-inclusive ethic - as Wired put it, "infinite diversity in infinite combinations". In this vision of our future, war is a last resort, imperialism is the greatest evil, women and men live and work as equals. Monogamy is not especially valued. Even animals have been liberated; as Riker explains, "We no longer enslave animals for food purposes". The concept of my favourite Star Trek TOS episode, "The Devil in the Dark" - life in completely foreign forms, all deserving of respect and compassion - is creatively pursued in nearly every episode.

In this context, the absence of normalized same-sex relationships is one gigantic elephant in the room.

The show I'm watching aired from 1987 to 1994, but apparently this LGBT void still has not been filled. In 2010, Autostraddle wrote, "Star Trek has yet to acknowledge the existence of LGBT people and, in my opinion, has slowly died because of it." An excellent Wired story from only a few months ago, "Star Trek’s History of Progressive Values - And Why It Faltered on LGBT Crew Members," explains why it matters.
The invisibility of gay characters isn’t neutral; it’s negative, and represents a glaring double standard. After all, many a heterosexual romance has played out on the Star Trek screen, often involving notorious ladies’ men like Kirk and The Next Generation‘s Commander William Riker. The omission of a simple homosexual storyline, regardless of how many interspecies or interracial or almost-homosexual romances have been featured, is still very much a point of concern. We are, after all, still living in the 21st century, not the 24th, and it would still be significant to see an LGBT officer serving on the bridge today, much as it was to see a black woman in the ’60s when civil rights battles were being waged.
Thinking about this conspicuous omission has made me (once again) realize the sea-change gay liberation has achieved in my lifetime. Few of us would fault Star Trek TOS (1966-1969) for not including a gay character. If Star Trek TNG (1987-1994) had done so, it might have been daring. It certainly would have been noteworthy. By now, the absence of any gay character or theme seems bizarre, even homophobic.

* The internet tells me that this life form, Trills, becomes an important feature in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". No spoilers, please!

more roku joy: post your pbs and nfb recommendations here

Roku has added an app for PBS! This means we watch music clips from Austin City Limits, and in the winter we'll binge on American Experience history documentaries and American Masters biographies. These documentaries are consistently worth watching, and often truly excellent.

On American Masters, we've recently seen "There But For Fortune," about Phil Ochs, and will eventually see bios of Philip Roth, J. D. Salinger, Johnny Carson, Mel Brooks, Rosetta Tharpe, and James Baldwin. American Experience has a spate of docs we haven't seen, including "The Abolitionists," and films on the building of the Panama Canal and the Hoover Dam.

Roku has also added an app for the National Film Board of Canada! The choices there are overwhelming, so if you've got NFB recommendations, please post them here.

The appearance of these two apps is good news for streaming in general and for Roku in particular. Now that all my TV and movie viewing is on-demand, and I have so many choices, I often wonder how I managed with cable. But this is how I managed: I hated it and I complained often. Streaming through Roku plus downloads plus our US IP address equals movie and TV heaven. Maybe one day Netflix Canada will get up to speed, and we'll drop the US address, but until then... If you want to know how, go here, then here.

* * * *

There are many excellent videos on the Roku PBS/Austin City Limits app, but for me, none tops this gripping performance by Richard Thompson: "1952 Vincent Black Lightning". Enjoy.


a quieter life, plus photos

Finally, some peace and quiet. This is the first time since the sewage flood on July 8 that our home is quiet. This lovely state of affairs exists because we filed a complaint with the Landlord Tenant Board, requesting our Landlord be ordered to stop renovations on the basement until after we move out. The complaint has not even been processed yet, but the Landlord backed down. Another lesson in Know Your Rights! (I would like to create a new tag/category for wmtc called "know your rights," but I feel like it would apply to half my posts.)

With a plan for Tala's rehab, and the construction crew banished, we can finally breathe around here. Or at least I can. Allan is coping with deadline pressure, but at least now he has a quiet space to work - albeit it's the kitchen table.

On my days off, I've been working on sorting our photos from our trip to Spain and putting them online... and I'm finally finished. There are more photos than anyone wants to look at,* but perhaps you'll bookmark them to go through at your leisure. (Or not!)

Links to the sets on Flickr are below. Or, if you're really ambitious / love travel diaries / want to relive my trip to Spain / are a masochist, the sets are now linked at the end of each blog post labelled "Spain trip".

A few architecture photos from London.

The same for Paris.

La Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona

Park Guell, Barcelona

Moderisme walking tour, Barcelona

Casa Batlo, Barcelona

Old City and Roman ruins, Barcelona

Barcelona anti-austerity demo

La Palau de la Musica, Barcelona

Mercat St. Josep, Barcelona

La Palau Guell, Barcelona


Over the mountains of Andalucia


The acqueduct at Segovia



Cantabria and Asturias, although our reason for being in that region was not photograph-able.

A few photos from the Gernika Peace Museum, and the ceramic reproduction of Guernica.

The Bilbao Guggenheim

* For previous trips, like Peru and Newfoundland, I would choose representative "best-ofs" and only post those. Now I'm finding that is just too much work! For this trip, I edited out obvious failures or blatant dupes (like trying the same photo using three different settings), and then just posted the set.


what i'm reading: clarence darrow, attorney for the damned, by john a. farrell

I last wrote about Clarence Darrow in early 2012, after reading a piece by one of my favourite New Yorker writers, Jill Lepore. Two new biographies of Darrow had been published, and Lepore wrote a tribute to the great defender, and mused on the state of North American labour movement.

Lucky for me, Allan found a copy of one of those books - brand new, in hardcover - on one of his used-book jaunts. I'm more than halfway through John A. Farrell's Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned and still haven't gotten to Darrow's most famous triumph.

As I wrote earlier, throughout my life and my self-education, all the way back through childhood, I kept stumbling on Clarence Darrow. And the more I learned of him, the more I loved and admired him. Is it any wonder? Darrow was: an outspoken atheist, a radical death-penalty abolitionist, the greatest defender of organized labour and the rights of working people the US has ever seen, and an anti-racist in a time when segregation was absolute and violently enforced. He questioned and subverted all of society's institutions and conventions, including monogamy, marriage, and the subjugation of women. He didn't play by the rules, because he believed those rules were corrupt and designed to serve the interests of wealth and property.

Farrell serves up Darrow's triumphs and his defeats, his idealism and his trickery, his genius and flaws and contradictions in equal measure. The research is masterful, the writing is elegant, the pacing exciting. I don't usually quote book publicity material, but in this case, it's accurate.
Amidst the tumult of the industrial age and the progressive era, Clarence Darrow became America’s greatest defense attorney, successfully championing poor workers, blacks, and social and political outcasts, against big business, fundamentalist religion, Jim Crow, and the US government. His courtroom style — a mixture of passion, improvisation, charm, and tactical genius — won miraculous reprieves for men doomed to hang. In Farrell’s hands, Darrow is a Byronic figure, a renegade whose commitment to liberty led him to heroic courtroom battles and legal trickery alike.
Farrell's Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned is an opportunity to be amazed and inspired - and perhaps to contemplate radical solutions to remake our world.



This Revolutionary Thought of the Day brought to you by my abiding hero, Clarence Darrow.
Darrow dismissed many of the remedial bandages that he and the labor movement had battled for: eight-hour-day laws, women's suffrage, child labor legislation. "We are busy patching and tinkering, and doing a poor job patching and tinkering at that."

The working class must seize the earth's natural resources and the means of production, he said. "There can never be any proper distribution of wealth in the world while a few own the earth - a few men own the mines, the railroads, the forests, while the great mass of men are bound to compete with each other for a chance to toil," Darrow told them. "There will never be a solution until all men are capitalists and all men workingmen.. . . . There can be no peace without it."

From Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned by John A. Farrell


when it rains, it pours, or, welcome to my roller coaster (updated)

Tala is not doing well.

You may recall, she has a chronic and degenerative spine condition. After a long rest and rehab process, she has been doing wonderfully - truly better than I ever expected. But this week she took a downturn. She was suddenly not able to sit. She can only stand or lie down. When she tries to sit, she is in obvious pain. She tries repeatedly, then gives up and lies down.

We are taking her to the vet tomorrow, but my heart is already breaking.

* * * *

This spring, everything was going our way. We had so much good news, I kept thinking of the phrase "an embarrassment of riches".

I finished my Master's degree.
Allan got a book contract.
I got my first librarian position.
We had a great trip to Spain, London, and Paris.

I'm still loving my new job, and Allan is working hard to meet the September 1 deadline for his manuscript.

Then: my broken foot.
The sewage flood.
We have to move, and everything that entails.
We're having successive conflicts with our landlord: first getting our security deposit back, and now over the renovations, which are a massive inconvenience to us (especially Allan), and are all about the landlord's ability to attract new tenants. (After the first flood in 2009, he didn't renovate for three months, and then only after we demanded a rent rebate.)
Then our car broke down, and needs $2500 worth of repairs.

But now any other problems fade away, because my little girl is in pain.

More news when I have it.

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Post-vet report. We live to fight another day. Tala is in a lot of pain. We are going to re-start the rest and rehab program, and re-up her meds - more pain killers, more rest, less activity - and continue to evaluate. She is in good spirits, playful and happy. It's not her time to go yet. And we ain't letting her go! But we've got to get that pain under control.

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Do you know what I realized? In my list of all the crap that's been going on in our lives lately, I didn't even include my broken foot! I updated again.