Entries from February 2009

» Redesign Diary #5: Spread 'em
» Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape
» National Geographic exposes oilsands "holocaust"
» oops - nuclear subs collide
» ThisAbility # 17: RDSP to the Rescue (For Most)
» You're invited to our redesign party
» The Commons
» Polarized #16: Homeward bound
» Queerly Canadian #6: The censor's dilemma
» Polarized #15: Worlds, and ships, collide
» Not-so-liveblog of the OttawObamaRama
» More advocacy and education about Intellectual Disabilities needed, Hamilton incident teaches
» Polarized #14: The killing starts again
» Guest Blogger: 'Slumdog Millionaire' is the feel-bad movie of the year
» Vacation the Exxon way
» Strategies for the coming apocalypse
» using the bible to lose weight? CMAJ blasts weight loss industry.
» ThisAbility #16: The Cycle of Dependence
» Pink is the new black
» Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink
» The Working Poor Diet
» Redesign Diary #4: Finally, the big reveal
» Polarized #13: Human victims of the whale hunt
» NYC goes for the 100 mile diet
» Science in the News!
» Food Freedom Day
» Redesign Diary #3: Under the covers
» Polarized #12: The chase is on
» Textured feminism
» ThisAbility # 15: Sexcapades
» Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
» Tweet what you eat
» Charles Taylor Prize Review Roundup #2: The winner, Shock Troops
» Heritage Minister on CBC Radio: commercials if necessary, but not necessarily commercials
» ...and the clocks were striking thirteen
» TED2009
» Charles Taylor Prize Review Roundup #1: Angel of Vengeance
» Queerly Canadian #5: Picking sides
» Protest or Parade?
» Polarized #11: Ending one battle, starting another
» Water Shortage Projections
» Get Smart
» An interactive book review: revisiting American war resistance
» Redesign Diary #2: "With a little sex in it."
» A Kodak Moment for stupid "security" measures
» Kebab Wars
» Sri Lankan protests demand peace
» The road to greener pastures?
» ThisAbility # 14: "Oh, by the way..." The High Cost of Living
» Polarized #10: Shore leave

Entries from January 2009

» Profile: Red Thread - Multiracial womens' organization in Guyana
» How many is too many?
» Reuse and Recall - thoughts on the food industry
» Shooting Star(buck)s
» Introducing This Magazine's new logo
» What a crazy concept..
» Ignatieff Liberals declare victory, and surrender, in one deft move
» ThisAbility #13: Parental Control
» Obama and the Middle East
» Postcard from Washington: In the belly of the beast
» Polarized #9: Spy vs. Spy
» Throne speech kills the coalition with kindness
» Dare to be awkward with Geez magazine
» Classic THIS: Bill Ayers edition!
» Queerly Canadian #4: The drama queens of 'The L Word'
» A #changecamp is gonna come
» ThisAbility # 12: American Idol has blinders on
» Liveblog: Barack Obama's Inauguration
» FYI: we're liveblogging the Inauguration tomorrow
» Polarized #8: Death at sea
» Book Review: Elvin T. Lim's The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush
» Cold Snap!
» Atheist bus ads may be crossing the pond
» Canada's unconditional support
» Anti-sweatshop campaign is bum logic?
» Polarized #7: The Life Aquatic
» Presidential Inauguration, Survivor-Style
» ANC endorses Zuma
» January-February 2009 Issue now online!
» The sun never sets
» NIMBY attitudes on closing Guantanamo?
» Polarized #6: Collision course
» See for yourself - Conflict goes 2.0
» Giving the green shine to grocery shopping
» Please sir, can I have some more minutes?
» 'Whopper Virgins' campaign leaves a bad taste
» Images from the Toronto demonstration against Israeli assult on Gaza
» Pirates of the Arabian Sea
» Rinky-dink ink tinkering isn't the answer
» Queerly Canadian #3: The Pope's queer ideas
» Jet-setting goes green
» Chernobyl in the Jungle
» In '08, Journal of Aesthetics and Protest lost a valued writer and visionary
» UK public transit ads promoting evangelical atheism
» Police State, Version 2.0
» ThisAbility #11: Model Building
» Polarized #5: Neptune's the boss around here
» Welcome to 2009

Entries from December 2008

» Polarized #4: The storm before the storm
» ThisAbility 10: Deathly Cold
» Polarized #3: Welcome to the seafaring life
» The airing of the grievances
» Queerly Canadian #2: Escape Claus(e)
» Some parents just don't understand
» Polarized #2: Whale Wars - The Next Generation
» Global plane traffic graph: like bugs devouring a corpse
» ThisAbility 9: Accessible or Accessi-bull?
» International Human Rights Day!
» The Daily Show on Canada
» Polarized #1: Life and Death at the End of the World
» ThisAbility #8: Condo Conundrum
» The New Yorker on Naomi Klein (and This Magazine)
» Dion, we'll miss your antics
» CITIZENShift is looking for podcasts
» Pirates
» Guest Blogger: What Mumbai means
» All I want for Christmas is an effective government
» Queerly Canadian #1: Do they know it's World Aids Day after all?
» What could have been
» Parliament: FAIL
» What should Stephen do?
» More on the coalition
» ThisAbility #7: Not all Buildings are Created Equal
» Two heads are better than one (but proportional representation is best of all)
» November-December 2008 issue now online

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Previous Entries

» What a crazy concept..
» Ignatieff Liberals declare victory, and surrender, in one deft move
» ThisAbility #13: Parental Control
» Obama and the Middle East
» Postcard from Washington: In the belly of the beast
» Polarized #9: Spy vs. Spy
» Throne speech kills the coalition with kindness
» Dare to be awkward with Geez magazine
» Classic THIS: Bill Ayers edition!
» Queerly Canadian #4: The drama queens of 'The L Word'
» A #changecamp is gonna come
» ThisAbility # 12: American Idol has blinders on
» Liveblog: Barack Obama's Inauguration
» FYI: we're liveblogging the Inauguration tomorrow
» Polarized #8: Death at sea
» Book Review: Elvin T. Lim's The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush
» Cold Snap!
» Atheist bus ads may be crossing the pond
» Canada's unconditional support
» Anti-sweatshop campaign is bum logic?

January 30, 2009

Profile: Red Thread - Multiracial womens' organization in Guyana

Posted by Anna Bowen at 02:54 PM ET | Comments (0)

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pic courtesy of SHAGGY ISAAC
It was a combination of two striking stories in the Toronto Star today that got me thinking about Red Thread. The first was Maher Arar's public critique -- he asks, if journalists aren't looking out for the marginalized, who is? The second story was the gut-wrenching reports of gang rape and religious violence in India in 2008.

During my time at OISE/University of Toronto, I had the opportunity to visit the most inspiring feminists I have ever met. A Guyanese miraculously multiracial women's organization, Red Thread is working on a shoestring budget and does more work than you can imagine.

About Red Thread

Red thread is an anti-racist organization that defends the rights of women, sticks out its neck to speak out against violence against women, and attends to the very basic needs of its constituency - literacy, help during floods, transportation -- everything from helping mothers budget for food to advocacy and protest.

They explain their project as twofold: Bringing together low-income Guyanese women of African, Indian, and Indigenous descent, across race divides; and Developing the skills, information, and other resources [they] need to understand and contest the inequalities that oppress grassroots women.

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Presently, they are trying to send delegates to a conference in the UK. They write,

We are currently trying to organise to attend an international set of meetings in London, the UK, next week, and for seven grassroots women from Guyana to attend. The meetings are organised by the Global Women's Strike, Red Thread is the national co-ordinator of the Strike in Guyana.

With the influx of major news stories that cycle through our newpapers, blogs, TVs, and radios, I feel like it's also important to draw attention to smaller groups with less resources, working hard in places that don't always make the headlines.

For more info or to get involved, please contact anna@thismagazine.ca

More entries on: From the intern desk

How many is too many?

Posted by Melissa Wilson at 11:52 AM ET | Comments (0)

If you haven't heard at least whisperings of octuplets born in California this past week, you might want to get your hearing checked, or at least pick up a paper. Any paper. Any blog. Any radio station. The story is everywhere. The new octet is only the second set of living octuplets. The first, the Chukwu family, exploded in size a decade ago, but lost the smallest baby a week after birth. If the babies, whose parents haven't been identified, keep doing as well as they are, they could very well become the world's first set of octuplets to survive early infancy (it's probably too early to predict anything else, but so far the Chukwus hold the record of a longest-living full set).

While any healthy baby is undoubtedly a cause for celebration, with the birth of eight babies comes certain ethical questions that can't help poking their heads out of the sand.

The babies' troubles
Higher-order multiples (triplets or higher) carry huge risks for both baby and mother. They will almost definitely be born prematurely (the California eight came nine weeks early), which can lead to breathing problems, brain injuries, learning disabilities and a grab-bag of other problems, according to the Daily Mail. That is, if they even survive. Parents of multiple births don't often receive a happy ending filled with five or six bouncing babies. The Morrison family gave birth to sextuplets in 2007 and lost five of the six within two months.

Then there's the hordes of media attention the babies will inevitably receive. Some families actively try to stay out of the limelight, smartly trying to avoid a fate similar to that of the Dionne quintuplets, but for others, the temptation to put one's children on display proved too great. Check out some of TLC's hit shows and try to guess the long-term effects that will plague a gaggle of children who are living in a fishbowl.

The mother's troubles
Once the shock and awe wears off, the parents are left raising a basketball team of children, but their real problems begin way before that. Just imagine having eight babies walking around inside of you. During pregnancy, mothers of high-order multiples face higher risks of pre-eclampsia, miscarriage, hemorrhage, and anemia, among other problems, according to the Daily Mail. Jenny Masche, mother of six healthy two-year-olds, nearly died during childbirth of heart failure.

Society's troubles
The donations the family will undoubtedly receive, the medical care, the child care, the media attention. Who pays for it all? Much comes from private donations, but the taxpayers often pick up the tab as well. Even in the states, it's unlikely that the parents of a set of adorable quintuplets would be saddled with a mile-long medical bill.

All of that is nothing compared to the private cash donations and corporate product donations (think of the publicity Pampers would get for forking over a measly crate of diapers). Anything from cribs to jumpers to baby lotion can be expected if your babies are cute enough.

But what if your produce the wrong kind of sextuplets?
Born in 1997, the Thompson kids (the first set of African American sextuplets, though one baby, a girl, was stillborn) famously received only a fraction of the news coverage and donations that the McCaughey septuplets, born a few months later, received. Today, five healthy babies is certainly a feat, but twelve years ago, it was a damn miracle. So why didn't the Thompsons receive any attention or support until civil rights activists stepped in?

Potential solutions
While some might argue that it's up to a woman to decide if she wants to birth one baby or eight, others think the system should do more to prevent multiple births. A Jezebel blog post reports that the UK is issuing a "one embryo only" guideline for IVF doctors as a way to curtail risky pregnancies.

Another possible solution is to make in vitro fertilization more affordable. Most high-order multiples are a result of infertility drugs like clomid that stimulate the ovaries anywhere from two healthy eggs to ten (or more). It is much more difficult to control the number of babies this way. IVF treatments, on the other hand, work by implanting a number of fertilized embryos into the uterus and hoping one of them sticks. One round of IVF, however, costs more than a year's rent for me, whereas clomid is relatively inexpensive and accessible. A recent CBC article argues that the cost of providing child-hungry parents with IVF treatments would be more than offset by the costs incurred to provincial health care systems when it comes to caring for the babies in hospital once they are born.

More entries on: Healthcare

January 29, 2009

Reuse and Recall - thoughts on the food industry

Posted by Anna Bowen at 10:14 AM ET | Comments (0)

As an aspiring organic gardener/farmer, and a lover of good eats, I'm always taken in by news about food. I just want to explore three things here: biodiesel, peanuts, and corn syrup.

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This morning it was reported that Calgary is thinking about manufacturing biodiesel for city busses out of beef tallow. The idea is that if the fuel is coming from cows, it's not coming from the fields -- a critique of much of the biodiesel innovations these days. Just the fact that there is enough beef tallow lying around is enough to make you look twice at your burger, but I suppose using all the parts of the animal is something I can get behind. Still other companies are using chicken fat and other leftover animal junk for fuel.

I am totally into alternative sources of fuel, but when we're resorting to the use of cows, the blubber from barnyard foul, and corn to fuel our transportation needs, it's always good to point out that we need to balance reducing our dependency on fuel with looking for alternative sources.

Yesterday, the US recalled masses of peanuts in a salmonella scare, after reports say that eight people have died of salmonella poisoning related to the nutbutter. Authorities have traced the scare back to The Peanut Corporation of America plant in Georgia. Apparently, this is one of the largest food recalls in American history.

If you're wondering how peanuts get salmonella (wait isn't salmonella just in raw chicken juice?) you're not alone. Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of Food & Water Watch, reports that salmonella sometimes gets into plants by leaking through roofs or from animal products being applied to fields (ok, manure, that's organic, isn't it?)

More interesting still, Democracy Now reports today that high fructose corn syrup, used to sweeten everything from jellyrolls to chocolate sauce, has been found to contain traces of mercury. I'm not suggesting that we need to stop buying fruit cups and cocopuffs, but the way that our food industry is streamlined amazes me. To get a grip on the proliferation of corn in our diets, I've heard nothing but praise for Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma

More entries on: Food Security and Agriculture

January 28, 2009

Shooting Star(buck)s

Posted by Anna Bowen at 04:47 PM ET | Comments (0)

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It's not just the feds who are releasing their budget this week. It seems that both coffee dealers and buyers are doing an analysis of their pocketbooks and retro snappy purses, including the infamous Seattle-based Starbucks. Because of overexpansion that caused what is referred to as "cannibalization" (starbucks eating starbucks, or competing with itself) as well as competition from fast-food chains, Starbucks is scaling back and shuttering stores.

After initial cuts last year, Starbucks intends to close down 300 of their underperforming stores across the US this year, which could mean a loss of 6,000 jobs (and dental)

that Starbucks has been pumping out since it swept across city blocks a few years ago. Yet another reason to grab your daily dose at a local fair-trade coffee shop. While companies like the big SB are looking at share prices, local roasters are just dealing in beans.

image courtesy of KALADI COFFEE

More entries on: From the intern desk

Introducing This Magazine's new logo

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 04:20 PM ET | Comments (1)


This Magazine has been around since 1966, and it's worn a lot of different looks since then. Magazines are fashion-conscious things, always changing outfits, checking themselves in the mirror, and trying again. This last refreshed its design in 2004, and so we thought it was time to do it again.

Just to preserve the suspense a moment longer, I've obscured the logo above. But you can click after the jump to see it in glorious, uncensored technicolor.

This new logo will officially debut with our March-April 2009 issue, which will also showcase the rest of our redesign. A complete reset. We scrapped everything and started over. Twice. Among other things, this means that we're going to be going full-colour, which is tremendously exciting (and a triumphant embrace of 1986's hottest publishing trend — we wanted to make sure it wasn't a fad). Over the next few weeks I'll put up a few blog posts to preview the designs we've been working on, and if the art director lets me, some of the junk we threw out.

Anyway, there's plenty of time to talk details leading up to March. For now, take a look at the new face of This:


Thoughts? Complaints? Accolades? As always, email editor at thismagazine dot ca.

More entries on: THIS matters

What a crazy concept..

Posted by Lindsay Kneteman at 03:17 PM ET | Comments (1)

Earlier today there was a headline on Yahoo!'s homepage that caught my eye, "Liberals demand budget change". What was this all about, I wondered, could we be in for some more political drama?

Sadly, no. The big budget change turns out to be the inclusion of three "detailed progress reports", something that can be summed up as one of the most obvious ideas ever. I'm actually quite surprised that the Conservatives didn't include something like this in the original budget, since they're so big on accountability. Unless of course... no, no, I'm sure Harper will follow through with his budget promises, even the arts and cultures one.

Oh sure, the Liberals tried to spice things up by mentioning that they'd defeat the government if the reports show that the 2009 budget isn't saving the economy but I wouldn't put much faith in that, unless of course the polls show the Liberals and Iggy with a healthy lead over the Conservatives.

The inclusion of these accountability reports might be a bit of a dull move but it is a smart one. After all, who's going to complain about forcing the government to show that a) it's keeping its spending promises and b) those promises are doing some good? By demanding that the government show that it's being responsible, Ignatieff himself comes off as someone responsible, someone who maybe you might want to vote for.

At the same time, the fact that in theory he could bring the down every 90 days gives him a sense of "edge", that he's here and ready to do battle with Harper. Sure, it's no coalition but then that whole coalition thing was kind of scary and confusing to many Canadians. However, bringing down the government because it "lied" about how it was spending our tax dollars, that's something people can get behind.

To be honest, I'm rather looking forward to these reports. To me, spending billions while cutting billions in tax revenue seems counter-intuitive but hey, maybe it'll work. I just hope that these reports come with clear, digestible summaries and charts that will allow pretty much any Canadian to understand exactly what's being spent (or cut) where. That way ordinary Canadians, and not just the politicians, can pass an educated judgement on the 2009 budget.

More entries on: On the Hill

Ignatieff Liberals declare victory, and surrender, in one deft move

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 11:37 AM ET | Comments (0)

Michael Ignatieff speaks on the Canadian Budget on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 in a press conferece on CPAC

Michael Ignatieff's press conference this morning was quite the performance: the Liberal interim leader told the assembled press that he was putting the prime minister "on probation." Which is an odd metaphor to use, since probation usually follows punishment. The decision to amend the budget and pass it is more like rewriting the law after the crime has been committed so that it's no longer illegal. (I'd stop short of actually calling the budget a crime, however — even one this disappointing).

You can tell that Ignatieff wants the "probation" line to be the soundbite that sticks today, because that's the line he posted on his Twitter account this morning. But the substance of the announcement is more complicated. The Liberals will introduce a motion this afternoon with specific amendments to the budget — investments in affordable housing and postsecondary education are welcome sights here — at which point the ball is back in the Conservatives' court. The poison pill in this arrangement is the ultimatum that the Grits want reports on the budget's stimulus measures every three months, and that each of those updates will be an opportunity to pull the trigger on a non-confidence motion.

In other words, we're getting the worst of all possible outcomes: a cut-and-paste budget that lacks coherent focus and still suffers from gaping holes and inadequacies, plus permanent electoral brinksmanship, with the Liberals and the Conservatives playing parliamentary chicken every 90 days. It's fashionable to deride the NDP these days — in conservative and progressive circles alike — for the party's clumsy power plays such as the now-dead coalition, and their apparent surrender to the role of perennial bridesmaid to the Liberals. But at least the NDP has had the simple integrity to say No to a budget they think is wrong.

More entries on: On the Hill

January 27, 2009

ThisAbility #13: Parental Control

Posted by Aaron Broverman at 04:08 PM ET | Comments (0)

When Lenore Skenazy admitted, last spring, that she let her nine-year-old ride the subway alone, she set off gasps from many fearful and concerned parents. After all, her son Izzy was still single-digit age and the world is a "Dangerous place these days" and "Who knows what could happen." I could call bull-shit on those theories, but Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller already did in an episode of their infotainment show, Penn & Teller: Bullshit! on stranger danger. See the episode below, if you like:

So what does all of this have to do with disability? Well, while it's true that everyone has their mommy and daddy issues and parents of able-bodied kids worry about strangers, food on the floor and swimming after eating. All that paranoia can get ramped up tenfold when you have a disability. Parental support (or not) can very much mean the difference between an independent adulthood or a lifetime of dependence. Parents of disabled kids need to take a page from the "Book of Skenazy."

I know what all you worried parents of disabled children are thinking: "Wait just a minute, Izzy didn't have a disability! Doesn't that change the game?" Well no, not really. Look, I know that there are some disabilities that make it impossible for those that have them to leave their house without assistance. Some people really don't have the capacity to make the descisions to keep themselves safe, but that doesn't mean they can't use what they do have to live a life as independently as possible. Able-bodied people are paid regularly to be the physical bodies for their disabled clients and everyone should be given the opportunity to fail and learn from their mistakes. Just because it's obvious someone can't be independent in one way, doesn't mean they shouldn't be given every opportunity to be independent in other ways.

What I'm talking about here is not degree of disability, I'm talking about an attitude. It's an attitude that can be adopted by any parent, no matter what their child's disability is. For most parents, it doesn't even matter how disabled their child is.

For example, I moved to Toronto from Vancouver with almost the full financial backing and logistical support of my parents almost six years ago. I knew that if I stayed in Vancouver, it would be way too easy for me to rely on my parents (with mom checking in regularly). I would never really know my full capabilities, my accomplishments would always be coloured by the parental asterix. I wanted to live or die purely by my own hand and I do. I live on my own, I clean my own house and make my own money, they all approve, and yet, at 23, with six years of independent living under my belt, I still have the types of conversations with my mother that rely on the worst case scenerio as their central tenant. I remember when I was moving to Toronto, my jacket was open and her reaction was: "You'll never be able to survive in Toronto, if you can't do up your jacket."

It's frustrating because I know that there's "The Skenazy Parenting style." The one where the parent feels the fear and the worry, but bites their tongue for the benefit of their child's own self-concept. I know parents of friends with disabilities whose reaction to expanding one's horizon's is always, "Great, go. I'll be here when you get back." Their reaction to catastrophe is not, "I told-you-so," it's, "Figure out how to fix it and if you need my help, ask." They are believers, who use their kid's prior behaivor as evidence of their kid's competence in a given situation. They worry too, but they trust their kid and let faith do the rest.

I would argue that this attitude is more cruicial for disabled children because many of them already have enough people telling them what they can't do beyond their family. Problem solving is a skill they're going to have to use more often than most and their parent's won't be there forever. That's why Lenore's Free Range Kids philosophy should be trumpted by parents of people with disabilities everywhere, especially when the statistics are against these children when it comes to ever leading an independent life.

I should mention too, that if you're a disabled person whose parents are giving you every opportunity to prove yourself. You should routinely thank heaven for your luck. It's you're responsibility to match their support in every way that you are able, and be motivated enough to take advantage of every moment presented.

broverman_a.jpgAaron is a freelance journalist living in Toronto. His work has appeared in Financial Post Business, Investment Executive Newspaper, and TV Week Magazine, along with Askmen.com. He is a regular contributor to Abilities Magazine and is currently plotting a weekly web comic called GIMP, with artist Jon Duguay, about a handicap school bus driver who wakes up after a crash to find he's the last able-bodied person on earth — and he's being hunted.

More entries on: ThisAbility

Obama and the Middle East

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 02:31 PM ET | Comments (0)

I'd really like to write something clever about Obama and the Middle East. I'd love to comment on his commitment to end the war in Iraq, his appointment of Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell as his special envoy to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, or even his reiteration of the right for Israel to "defend" itself. I'd love to provide deep insight into how his policy will change the international face of America. I'd love to sound smart.

But I can't. As far as I can tell, nothing has changed. At least not yet. Or perhaps it's too soon to tell.

Instead, I point you toward this open letter to President Obama by comedian Dean Obeidallah. His observations are far more witty than mine could ever be this early on in the President's term. He made me laugh out loud. Always a good sign.


More entries on: American Politricks

Postcard from Washington: In the belly of the beast

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 12:16 PM ET | Comments (1)

[Editor's Note: From time to time we feature guest bloggers on the site. Eva Salinas, who edits news columns for the magazine, was in Washington D.C. for the Obama inauguration last week, and sends this dispatch about her experience. To propose guest blogs, email editor at thismagazine dot ca.]


And what a beautiful beast it was.

Last week, by some wonderful twist of fate, I found myself in Washington, inside a throng of more than 1 million well wishers.

It was early Tuesday morning and there I was, leaning in closely to the bodies in front of me, trying to keep warm while icy air whipped our hair and lashed our faces. The speakers boomed around us, marking the start to the inauguration of the U.S.'s 44th President.

Millions of people in the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of Barack Obama

But before excitement, joy, and hope, the first thing I felt was the cold. I thought I had left Canada, but this felt much more bone chilling than any Toronto morning. I imagined it was like doing the polar bear dip, only we were swimming in a sea of people, surrounded by brilliant smiles on patient faces.

I closed my eyes, wincing at the wind and thought about the past twelve hours. Only hours earlier we were driving in darkness from Toronto to D.C., a spontaneous trip that began Monday evening. Our car, a small, dark blue thing — dirty as hell with sleet and snow — hummed down the highway under starry skies in New York State, Orion's Belt leading the way. We snaked through the Poconos mountains in Pennsylvania, and zoomed along eerily quiet roads in Maryland, past empty gas stations, sleepy houses, and the neon lights of 24-hour Uni-Marts and Kwik Fills. All the while, Barack Obama's articulate, familiar voice hushed us into a reflective state, as we listened to the audio books of his "Dreams from my father."

Looking up at the darkness above, images from his life played out in our heads: his grandparents struggling in a racist Texas; their white daughter's choice of a Kenyan husband; Obama as a boy, influenced by stories of his father (the legend; the man of stubbornness and principal); outdoor boxing lessons in Indonesia; his mother's loneliness there and, later, Obama's indifference to academia as a young man; his rebellion... The trials of his younger years unfolded in our minds, as red and white lights flashed on the highway in front of us.

Hours and miles and too many cups of coffee behind us, we arrived in Washington, just past 7 a.m. A caller into one of the local radio stations said it already felt "like lunch time" in the downtown core, and we braced ourselves for a traffic jam ahead. But luck was on our side and, despite reports of bridges and streets being closed, we made it into the heart of the city, driving past the dozens of military personnel on guard (more security in the city than U.S. troops in Afghanistan), and the revellers already out in the streets.

By 9 a.m., our car parked underground, we were on our feet, walking with them, toward the Mall.

We entered the grounds, the sun shining through the trees and on the frozen pond. Choral music streamed into the air in surround sound, I had no idea from where it was being projected. It felt like as though a strong magnetic pull was drawing us into the area ("like the mother ship," my friend observed): people emerged out of every building and from every street, pouring into the park, walking over paths and grass and tree roots and stones, forging their own route to the epicentre.

We reached Washington Monument around 10 a.m., where we hit a wall of people. This was still a good half mile back from where the action would take place on Capitol Hill, we couldn't see where exactly, only the sea of people in front of us, and the growing sea behind us. Giant screens dotted the crowd every couple of hundred metres.

It was incredibly cold out, even for us Canucks. I know it was said the temperature was just below zero, and compared to the -14° C weather we left at home, that's nothing to complain about. But there was something about the chill there that seeped into your bones, a dry cold that made you try to shake it off, but to no avail. Just trust me, it was damn cold. Some friends who descended upon the Mall at 2 a.m. to get a prime spot ("the front of the nose bleeds") would later tell me that they were surrounded by "cuddle puddles" all night long — crowds forced out of necessity to huddle to together, an experience oscillating between something sexual and platonic love for one another, despite being strangers. God forbid you had to go to the washroom.

Around 11 a.m., the screens came alive with announcements and images of sleek convoys rolling in, men in suits and women in long, presidential cloaks arriving. We waited with bated, cold breath.
Just before Noon, after special guests had been welcomed and seated, including a boo'ed Bush and a cheered Clinton, controversial Evangelical pastor Rick Warren took the stage. I can't remember what he looked like; my face had long been tucked into the neck of my sweater for warmth. But I could hear booing around me, and "just wait to hear what he has to say" comments behind me.

And I was surprised by his speech.

I was prepared for the predictable — many mentions of God, avoidance of controversial topics, such as his views on homosexuality and Iran. I had regretted earlier, as we walked toward the Mall, not having brought a rainbow flag or something to quietly protest his views, while respecting the ceremony (as was recommended by Dan Savage last week).

Warren's views are impossible to ignore, however taking his prayer at face value, I echoed his sentiments. God or no god, everyone present bestowed love on Obama and his family, on Biden and his family, and hoped for strength and courage and guidance in light of the challenges they will face. This is true prayer at its best, when non-believers and believers alike can close their eyes and share in the feeling of good will toward others. I won't go so far as to say I came out respecting Warren that morning, far from it, but I had respect for his words, their meaning, and, more likely, his speech writer.

Washington Monument

The swearing in ceremonies went as expected, more or less: a cheering crowd, a stirring piece of music or two, a thousand smiling moments in succession that made your cheeks ache. Obama spoke, to me, of building up, not breaking down, of accepting a diverse country of believers and non-believers, of the importance of the environment, of science, of meeting challenges, of a new day.

And, before we knew it, it was all over, we were herding out of there, slowly but surely, streaming back into the Obama-mania streets filled with hawkers selling Obama air fresheners, Obama hand puppets and Obama earrings.

The next 24-hours remain a blur: walking around a new city, limos and taxis and bicycles flying past people dressed to the nines, the presidential parade, the zealous, spontaneous conversations with strangers while in line for coffee, in the hotel restroom, or at the pub. The jubilation.

And, the next day — after a night of celebrating among locals, foreigners, actors, musicians, actors-cum-rappers, filmmakers in top hats and all lovers of 5 a.m. pita sandwiches — we set off for home.

Today, one week since his inauguration, Barack Obama is the U.S.'s 44th President.

Immediately, there are many signs his presidency will be reassuringly, incredibly different. And not just because he gets to keep his BlackBerry. The announcement to close Guantanamo, to lift the ban on abortion funds, and to move toward tougher auto emission standards are just a few of many early, positive signs this President is not afraid of change.

Will that mean justice for Omar Khadr, equality for the gay community or peace for Afghan children? I'm not sure. But if the butterflies in my stomach during the drive back North last week were any indication, there is hope.

Eva Salinas is This Magazine's news columns editor. She also provided the photos.

More entries on: American Presidential Election

Polarized #9: Spy vs. Spy

Posted by Emily Hunter at 12:10 PM ET | Comments (0)

After leaving the search and recovery scene of the Japanese whaling fleet's missing man, Sea Shepherd headed for Australia. The plan was to refuel within 48 hours and return to the southern ocean to stop illegal whaling vessels. The trip back to land became a little more complicated as the Steve Irwin was tailed by a spy ship.

Late last year, on December 7th the spy ship was confirmed to be the 'Yushin Maru No. 3,' a harpoon ship in the Japanese whaling fleet. Most likely, it was sent by the fleet to track the Irwin's position to try to gain the upper hand by making the anti-hunters into the hunted.

A year ago, the tactical move of the 'spy ship' had been first used by the fleet sending the Fuki Yoshi out to the high seas. The Fuki Yoshi had no purpose to the fleet — it was not a harpoon ship, a spotter vessel, assisting to or acting as a processing ship. Its sole purpose appeared to be a sort of protest tracker ship, following such groups as the Sea Shepherds in their anti-whaling campaign.

Declaring harassment, the captain and founder of Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, maneuvered to end the reversal of roles. Up until last year, Sea Shepherd has been the stalker while the whalers have been the stalked — not the other way around. Watson hid the 'Irwin' behind an iceberg wall readying the crew and ship for a surprise attack. Within minutes the ship's two Zodiacs, the small high-speed inflatable boats, were deployed. The mission of the crew on the Zodiacs were to spray the harpoon ship with stink cans, dyes and a slippery substance. These moves would contaminate the decks of the whaling ship and make it impossible for them to hunt any whales for days, perhaps weeks.

The Irwin's helicopter hovered over the Yushin Maru taking aerial photography and reporting on the whalers' actions. At 1300 hours, the pilot reported that the Yushin was returning to the fleet before the Zodiacs could reach them. The Sea Shepherds had gained their hunter status again. The Zodiacs were sent back to the Irwin as a storm was moving in, and the helicopter also returned as eight meter swells, a fog bank and volatile winds took over. With no further spy ships on radar the Sea Shepherds continued onwards toward land.

Emily Hunter title=Emily Hunter is an environmental journalist. She is currently working on a book about young environmental activism, The Next Eco-Warriors and a documentary on illegal whaling in Antarctica.

More entries on: Polarized

January 26, 2009

Throne speech kills the coalition with kindness

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 02:56 PM ET | Comments (0)

Cover of the 2009 Throne Speech

Monday saw the return of Parliament after its long winter hibernation, a product of the Harper government's surprise prorogue in December. And much like a hungry bear waking up from months of slumber, it was a pretty sluggish, grumpy affair.

The throne speech itself provided almost nothing of substance, just refried Obama-ish platitudes about standing shoulder to shoulder in a time of crisis, etc. etc. Today was all about the mise en scène for the real show, which is of course tomorrow's budget. In the televised scrum after the speech (helpfully televised on CPAC) both Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton were pressed on whether their parties' coalition plans from last month will amount to anything now. Layton said he was still game and that the ball was in the Liberals' court; Ignatieff said he was going to read the budget before making any decisions. But given that the details of the budget have leaked out steadily over the past week, there can't be many surprises there.

Given the government's backpedaling on the more poisonous features of the previous budget — "Old assumptions must be tested and old decisions must be rethought," the throne speech sheepishly telegraphs, the parliamentary equivalent of "my bad" — conciliation is in the air, and nothing will kill the dreams of a progressive coalition faster than goodwill and co-operation. My bet is the Liberals cave and support the budget, and this whole sorry episode is reduced to a single question in the Trivial Pursuit "Crazy Canuck Aughts Edition."

I've embedded the PDF of the speech for your reading, uh, pleasure here.

Get your own - Open publication
More entries on: On the Hill

January 23, 2009

Dare to be awkward with Geez magazine

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 11:55 AM ET | Comments (0)

awkward sermon logoOur friends at Geez magazine, the cheeky Winnipeg publication for "the over-churched, out-churched, un-churched and maybe even the un-churchable," is running a contest that may be of interest. The Daringly Awkward Sermon Contest — "because social change is a bit awkward" — runs until February 28, with the winning entries published in their spring 2009 issue. The details:

We want sermons that explore the awkwardness of too much privilege, right-wing relatives, the drunk stranger in the back pew, our pad in the comfy end of the global village, litter in the poor part of town.
Maybe the key to social change and spiritual growth is found in stumbling, fumbling, oafish awkwardness. Our pulpit awaits.

Amen, brothers and sisters. We look forward to reading these.

More entries on: Contests

January 22, 2009

Classic THIS: Bill Ayers edition!

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 03:37 PM ET | Comments (0)

Get your own - Open publication

You might have heard that educational reformer and Weather Underground co-founder Bill Ayers was turned back while trying to cross the Canadian border earlier this week. Ayers was on his way to a speaking engagement in Toronto at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, but border control agents had other ideas — although just what those ideas are, we don't know, since the border agent cited as the reason a felony conviction from 1969, which apparently doesn't exist.

Ayers' name became a political byword in the last election when vice-presidential candidate and world-class twit Sarah Palin seized on a tenuous connection between Ayers and Barack Obama as proof that the now president was cavorting with terrorists.

But before Ayers was a fugutive from the law for his involvement with the Weather Underground, he was an educator and an activist in the late 1960s, running an experimental integrated school in Ann Arbor, Mich. The combination of radical leftist politics and schools naturally brought him into contact with (drum roll, please), the editors of This Magazine Is About Schools, the very publication you're reading, which at the time was slightly over two years old. Ayers wrote this piece, "Travelling with Children & Travelling On", about his experiences with the racially mixed school and the uphill work of integrating schools in the U.S. Shortly after, he became a leading figure in Students for a Democratic Society. The rest is history, but we thought you might like a look back at Ayers's original article, which we pulled out of the archives and rescanned. You can read the PDF online and download it for yourself here.

[Thanks to reader Michael for finding the article title, which made the search a lot easier!]

More entries on: Classic This

Queerly Canadian #4: The drama queens of 'The L Word'

Posted by Cate Simpson at 01:09 PM ET | Comments (3)

Showtime's lesbian serial drama The L Word returns this week for its sixth and final season. Set in L.A., the series follows a group of women through their hook-ups and break-ups, generally providing a rough sketch of what being a lesbian is like if you're wealthy and live in Los Angeles. The show hasn't garnered much mainstream press attention, but it has become a staple for queer female viewers.

Cast of The L Word

Nearly every lesbian I know hates The L Word. We complain that the plot twists are out of control. We complain about the publicity photos showing the cast members stark naked. We complain that we have absolutely nothing in common with the lives of these rich, tanned, ultra-femme figures who also just happen to be gay (with the token bisexual included for good measure). We complain that Jenny is insane and irritating, and that if we have to hear one more word of her awful new-age writing we are going to stop watching. But we don't.
What is it about The L Word that is so compelling? Maybe it has something to do with the dearth of other lesbian characters on television. There have been valiant attempts in the five years since The L Word premiered to introduce some queer characters to our TV screens, which would be more encouraging if these characters weren't so prone to freak accidents and sudden changes of heart that see them packed up and shipped off the air without warning.

An early example was Kerry Weaver's first girlfriend in E.R.'s seventh season (four years before The L Word appeared on the scene), who left suddenly because of Weaver's inability to stomach a simple lesbian in-joke, and her second girlfriend looked promising until, after most of a season spent as a fuzzy off-screen presence, she was killed in a fire.

Or take Grey's Anatomy, for example, where network heads reportedly became so alarmed by the relationship developing between two female surgeons that they pulled the plug on the romance overnight, writing one of the women out of the show with only a perfunctory — and fairly implausible — explanation.

And yet, we grasp at these tenuous and short-lived lesbian storylines, and keep watching shows like The L Word that aim to depict our relationships and social lives, even when they do it spectacularly badly. Because, no matter what else we think about television, it is important to see ourselves reflected on it.

In a society in which popular culture has expanded to the point where the "popular" is redundant, if you don't see yourself or your group represented in the media, it starts to feel like you don't exist. And for people who grew up watching Sex & The City and Friends, The L Word is an irresistible guilty pleasure.

The quickly aborted Grey's Anatomy storyline brings us neatly to the start of the current L Word season, which premiered on Monday. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet, but you can expect painfully dramatic twists, lengthy scenes of remorse and reconciliation for last season's misdeeds, and (drum roll) a completely random and gratuitous death.

I can't wait for next week's episode.

Cate SimpsonCate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.

More entries on: Queerly Canadian

January 21, 2009

A #changecamp is gonna come

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 11:51 AM ET | Comments (0)

#changecamp logoWe consider ourselves to be pretty politically aware at This Magazine, which is why I'm excited to be attending an interesting experiment on Saturday, an "unconference" in Toronto called ChangeCamp. With the swearing in of Mr. Change himself yesterday, there's a lot of interest and energy pouring into new ways of organizing and influencing government and engaging citizens in the political process. Here's how the ChangeCamp organizers describe it:

ChangeCamp is a free participatory web-enabled face-to-face event that brings together citizens, technologists, designers, academics, policy wonks, political players, change-makers and government employees to answer one question: How do we re-imagine government and governance in the age of participation?

By "participation," they mean mostly social technologies that are flourishing on the web, connecting citizens and providing easy ways for large groups of people to collaborate together. Now, I'm a big nerd for these ideas, although it's also important to acknowledge that there's an awful lot of techno-utopian nonsense that comes with the territory. But I also think it's important to be there, to talk to people who are similarly excited about the possibilities for improving government responsiveness, boosting citizen engagement, and building more effective policy. This Magazine has always prided itself on studying and embracing (or, sometimes, rejecting) new progressive political movements. ChangeCamp isn't a movement yet. But it could be. The only way to find out is to go and see for myself.

Since the content of the conference is determined by the participants on the day, we don't know exactly what's going to happen. But it will be a diligently blogged and Twittered and YouTubed event, and I'll report back next week on what went down. You can follow the day's progress on Twitter (search for the term #changecamp or follow @changecamp) and on the conference website.

More entries on: Toronto

ThisAbility # 12: American Idol has blinders on

Posted by Aaron Broverman at 10:46 AM ET | Comments (0)

It has been a long time coming, but I'm finally back to my muck raking ways. Last week, I was packing in as much as I could during my last week on the westcoast, so ThisAbility fell by the wayside. Then, not wanting to overshadow the Obamascension activities on Blog This! yesterday, I decided to put this week's entry off by a day.
Barack Obama's mention of people with disabilities at the end of voting night was not missed here, so it's probably the least I could do.

Anyway, last time we were all together, I mentioned my quest to deconstruct the conflict between the medical model and social model in my own life, but then I saw yet another example of how the attitude that permiates the medical model has unconsciously infiltrated the most watched show on television--American Idol.

Scott MacIntyre auditioned in Pheonix on the season premiere. He is a man who is legally blind, and plays the piano, so he was immediately given the full inspirational-superhero-savant treatment with all the trappings. "Wow it's really brave what you're doing," I heard one of the judges say. Only Simon didn't seem to be fazed by the appearent bewilderment that came with MacIntyre actually leaving his house, making the trip and singing so beautifully. The medical model was there as subtext: How could he possibly show up and do this so well? Aren't you supposed to be damaged? Aren't you less than normal?

Obama coined the Audacity of Hope, but for the judges of American Idol, this was the audacity of a disabled man following a dream--how dare he!

The show seemed to be giving itself a pat on the back for sending this guy to the next round, like they bestowed upon him an opportunity only they could give. Not to take away from his talent or self-determination, but, in reality, he is only the latest in a series of piano playing blind singers. Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Andrea Bocelli all paved the way that made Scott MacIntyre a "safe" competitor for a record contract. Real change would've been to send a singer in a wheelchair to the next round. How often do we see that? Does the world really need another blind piano playing vocalist?

Of course, a blank cheque for achievement is even worse. Sending a no-talent hack in a chair, just because you want to be progressive, discredits the disabled community even more. It shouldn't be a news flash, but we all want to compete on our own real merits like the rest of the world. How MacIntyre is treated in the next few rounds will really tell the tale,I guess.

What happened during the post-audition interview maybe a thornier issue, but it's all in how you interpret it...

Yes, Ryan Seacrest tried to high-five a blind guy. For most people, (just read the comments) this is dumb and disrespectful on his part. If Scott could see Seacrest's awkward "expectant hand in waiting" moment, his response may have been, "Uuh Ryan, you dolt, I'm blind!" Seacrest knew Scott was blind going into the audition room and it's not like he doesn't have personal experience melding a person's disability with social grace. He is, after all, the chosen protege of Dick Clark, someone who deals with the after effects of a stroke everyday. You'd think that their close working relationship over the last few years would give Seacrest unique insight into the general social etiquette associated with disability. Or at least, give him enough pause to think through his next move.

Then again, isn't Seacrest's natural respose in this instance exactly what should've happened in the audition room moments before? His momentary lapse means he legitimately forgot to see Scott's disability. He saw the person first, isn't that true equality? Too me, reaching for Scott's hand was more of a no-no, as an invaision of personal space. Seacrest would be better served letting McIntyre handle it his own way by saying, "I want to give you a high-five, is it okay if I grab your hand?" After all, how does Ryan really know how Scott takes on high-fives in his own daily life?

People shouldn't feel uncomfortable in voicing their legitimate questions about disability, it's not like there's anything in media teaching them what is proper. How can we really expect people to know how to interact with disabled people when they're barely ever seen at all? When in doubt, ask the question because making assumptions is where we get in trouble.

Scott Macintyre photo courtesy of www.myspace.com/scottmacintyre

broverman_a.jpgAaron is a freelance journalist living in Toronto. His work has appeared in Financial Post Business, Investment Executive Newspaper, and TV Week Magazine, along with Askmen.com. He is a regular contributor to Abilities Magazine and is currently plotting a weekly web comic called GIMP, with artist Jon Duguay, about a handicap school bus driver who wakes up after a crash to find he's the last able-bodied person on earth — and he's being hunted.

More entries on: ThisAbility

January 20, 2009

Liveblog: Barack Obama's Inauguration

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 10:03 AM ET | Comments (0)

Welcome to our liveblog of the wildly anticipated/overhyped inauguration of the U.S.A.'s 44th president, Barack Obama. The blog will update automatically in the window below, so you don't need to refresh your browser. You can also leave comments in real time by selecting "Make a comment."

More entries on: American Presidential Election

January 19, 2009

FYI: we're liveblogging the Inauguration tomorrow

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 04:31 PM ET | Comments (0)

Run DCJust a brief programming note in advance of tomorrow's all-day O-nauguration extravaganza: We'll be doing a liveblog of the ceremony on Tuesday, January 20, starting right here at blog.thismagazine.ca at 11 AM. C'mon back and see us then.

More entries on: American Presidential Election

Polarized #8: Death at sea

Posted by Emily Hunter at 12:26 PM ET | Comments (0)

Imagine falling off a boat in the Antarctic waters wearing only overalls and a shirt. You yell and throw your arms about in hopes that someone on your ship will notice you. It's nighttime, and not a single person sees you. You watch your life slip away as the ship sails off into the mist. Your body begins to twitch, you lose the feeling in your body, but a warmness takes over and you begin to sleep. Within the hour you dream and never wake up again. This was the end that Hajime Shirasaki recently met.

On Monday, January 5th, in the evening, Shirasaki, an engineer on the 'Kyoshin Maru 2,' a spotter vessel for the Japanese whaling fleet, fell overboard. It was not until six hours after he fell that he was reported missing to New Zealand Search and Rescue. He was 30 years old with family back home.

"That is probably one of the worst ways to die," says Jane Taylor, an American ex-marine on board a Sea Shepherd ship, "and is also one of the most common ways to die at sea. Almost regularly there have been man-overboards in the Navy. It can happen to anyone — professionals, amateurs, or to activists."

For Sea Shepherd, who sailed their ship to the southern ocean to oppose whaling vessels like the Kyoshin Maru, the news changed the group's course. There had been manoeuvers to return to port for Sea Shepherd after a month at sea searching for illegal whalers and confronting two ships. The fuel on our ship, the Steve Irwin, was low, and Sea Shepherd would have to return to land to refuel before continuing. However, with news of a search and rescue operation, Sea Shepherd changed course to assist the search-and-rescue efforts.

This was not the first life-threatening event for the Japanese whaling fleet. In the last ten years, there have been three fires on the fleet's flagship, the Nissin Maru — one fire in the southern ocean claimed a life in winter 2007. In the spring of that same year, an industrial accident in Japan took another.

In Shirasaki's case, he was declared dead by the afternoon of January 6th. On the night of that same day, Sea Shepherd found itself in the middle of the whaling fleet. Captain Paul Watson offered the ship's helicopter and services for a recovery operation.

The Kyoshin Maru's captain responded angrily with a radio transmission saying: "We do not want your help, we do no want the help of eco-terrorists, stay away!"

For the crew on the Sea Shepherd ship it is painfully clear that they are here to save whales, not harm or terrorize people. They feel that "eco-terrorist" is an unfair label that deflects attention from the ones really making the problems for our planet, and endangering their crew's lives.

Canadian activist Shannon Mann says: "We lent out our hands to the whalers despite our differances to help in this man's recovery. We're not here to hurt people. I think we have made that clear. Our goal here is to save life, not the other way around. How does that make me or any other crew here a terrorist?"

On the bridge of the Sea Shepherd ship, Paul Watson radioed back: "out of respect for your loss, we will not interfere with you or assist in the recovery operation as you request. But once you go back to whaling, we will come back to stop you."

The crew on Sea Shepherd applauded and hollered loudly on the bridge after his transmission. Kaori translated the captains message. The media got their footage of a bold moment from the captain. And we turned and headed north, back to Australia to refuel. Watson's words were a promise: The Sea Shepherds plan to return within weeks to resume the fight againstsouthern ocean whaling. For, as many here say, they're here "not to hurt life, but to save life."

Emily Hunter title=Emily Hunter is an environmental journalist. She is currently working on a book about young environmental activism, The Next Eco-Warriors and a documentary on illegal whaling in Antarctica.

More entries on: Polarized

January 18, 2009

Book Review: Elvin T. Lim's The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush

Posted by Daniel Tseghay at 09:54 PM ET | Comments (0)


In just a few days, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. He'll be following George W. Bush, of course: a man that made a distinct impression in a number of ways. Bush's administration extended the powers of the executive branch to a level unseen in the modern era; his administration broke international law with an almost studied negligence; and Bush, the man himself, was an extraordinarily bad speaker. Now, we all know about his tendency to trip over his own words. Yet, his failure to follow basic grammatical rules distracts us from an important aspect of his rhetoric: its anti-intellectualism.

In The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush, Elvin T. Lim takes note of the growing anti-intellectualism in the rhetoric of presidents. Where once, they engaged their audience with complex arguments for and explanations of their policies, the rhetoric of the modern presidency is now characterized by its use of slogans, appeals to emotion, applause lines, and its unimaginative simplicity.

Lim, quite understandably, sees this as a serious problem and, even, a threat to democracy. If the president cannot, or will not, speak to the citizenry with any kind of complexity or depth, how can we expect an informed public? And if the president's rhetoric is detracting from, rather than contributing constructively to, public deliberation, on which basis are the people making their decisions?

There are some things to be hopeful about. Not only is Obama an articulate, eloquent, and elevating speaker, he's shown us he has the ability to speak about complex issues without "dumbing" them down. His speech in March of 2008 on race in America, titled "A More Perfect Union", is a good example of his willingness to engage the citizenry intellectually. Lim, though, criticizes Obama for the vagueness and imprecision that often creeps into his speech. "Barack Obama waxed poetic about his theme of 'change,' while leaving details of his inspirational rhetoric unspecified. Tellingly, he drew support from both ultra liberals (such as supporters of MoveOn.org) and moderate Republicans with this strategy."

Let's hope that with the end of Obama's campaign for the presidency, he'll feel less pressured to appeal to everyone and will speak to the people with directness, honesty, and a demonstrable respect for their intelligence.

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January 16, 2009

Cold Snap!

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 04:52 PM ET | Comments (1)

bundle up!

Bundle up baby! It's gonna be a cold one.

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Atheist bus ads may be crossing the pond

Posted by Melissa Wilson at 01:01 PM ET | Comments (3)

Last week This editor Graham F. Scott blogged about a group of atheists in England who raised money to buy ad space on 200 London buses with the slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Now the Globe and Mail is reporting that the ad effort may soon be making its way to the streets (and subways) of Toronto. York University student Chris Hammond launched atheistbus.ca last week, and hopes to raise at least $6,000 to buy ad space on the TTC. The ads are meant to be a reaction to the Christian ads featuring Bible quotes that can sometimes be seen around Toronto. He told the Globe,

"There's atheists that are out there. This will show them they are not alone."

More entries on: Atheism

January 15, 2009

Canada's unconditional support

Posted by Daniel Tseghay at 11:31 PM ET | Comments (0)

Last week, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff had this to say about the Gaza offensive: "Canada has to support the right of a democratic country to defend itself". The minister of state for Foreign Affairs, Peter Kent lent similar backing to Israel, saying: "The position of the government of Canada is that Hamas bears the burden of responsibility for the deepening humanitarian tragedy". And just this Monday, Canada became the only member of the UN Human Rights Council, out of 47, to vote against a motion condemning the Israeli military campaign in the Gaza strip.

I agree with Michael Byers that, even when a state has the right to defend itself, it may potentially break international law with disproportionate tactics. The international community seems to be saying as much, and yet Canada remains unreflectively supportive.

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Anti-sweatshop campaign is bum logic?

Posted by Anna Bowen at 03:49 PM ET | Comments (0)

"I know it sounds strange to say, but if we care about the poor, shouldn't we actually be campaigning for sweatshops?"
- New York Times' Nicholas D. Kristof in Cambodia

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

In Kristof's video, "A Dirty Job: Making the Case for Sweatshops"
the former managing editor for The Times is worried that if Obama is going to make a change for better working conditions, labor standards, and trade agreements for the poor in factories in the South that...

a) It will reduce jobs in Cambdodia?
b) He won't be able to get a new tie for under $50?
c) Factories will close because they can't be competitive unless they underpay and mistreat their workers?

He says "the anti-sweatshop logic is very well-meaning, and utterly misguided." He also states the only alternatives to sweat shops in the world's most impoverished countries are "construction, prostitution, or scavenging."

Although my instinct is to totally shut down Kristof's argument (his narrow perspective does not take into account a larger picture), I do think it is true that in order to be responsible citizens, maybe we need to do a little of the hard work of research for ourselves.

Are travel mugs really better than styrofoam or paper cups? Is buying a T-shirt made in Cambodia always a bad idea? Is buying a "fair-trade" T-shirt from American Apparel always a good one? We really can not be looking for any quick-fix answers.

Often part of the secret to finding the answer seems to be in doing the hard work of checking out case-by-case instances, or reading up on the work of those who have. An aid-worker friend who worked in Bangladesh, for example, told me that it is difficult to make sweeping generalizations about factories - one H&M T-shirt factory in Bangladesh seemed to have everything going for it (childcare, good working conditions, education), but that doesn't mean that the H&M jean factory in (insert country here) offers the same deal.

I think it's also important to point out that we need to support labor rights activists and workers in places where they are locally fighting for better working standards, as well as supporting well-researched campaigns that are making a positive difference.

Kristof's final thought on sweatshops? "I sure wouldn't want to work in one."


more comments on this article here.

More entries on: From the intern desk

Polarized #7: The Life Aquatic

Posted by Emily Hunter at 01:29 PM ET | Comments (0)

New Year's is celebrated at dawn, as the sun never sets in the Antarctic at this time of year. (The countdown slips one minute past midnight, since none of the crew has a watch on.) We celebrate on the of bow of ship, our knees shaking and our arms flexing as the motion of the ocean tosses us about. Cheers, laughter, hugs and some secret whispers like 'I love you' are passed around as we toast in the new year. I toast to my late father, wherever he may be. We throw a single wine bottle corked with our new years resolutions off the side of the ship. Some ask for the love they share with another crew member to last. Others wish for success in the school year, or for a family member to be well. But the one wish above all that unites our crew is: to end southern ocean whaling this year by intercepting the Japanese whaling fleet.

Captain Paul Watson at the helmThis is how the eco-activist crew on board a Sea Shepherd vessel celebrate their new year in Antarctic waters. Sacrificing their holidays is a small price to pay to be apart of a whale saving campaign for many of the crew. The loss of the annual eggnog drinking, a family dinner and an arbitrary countdown doesn't bother them. What does is the annual illegal killing of whales in the southern ocean by a fleet heavily subsidized by the Japanese government. And that is what they hope to end this year.

One thing that does weigh on many of the crew's minds are the tension between their lives back home on land, and their lives out here at sea. One UK man on board had to quit his job to join the expedition. It was a type of 'big brother' program where he helped young impoverished boys keep off the streets — a job that was near and dear to his heart. For an American engineer, he struggles between his marriage and his "true life's work" as an environmental activist, and being away on these kinds of trips for months at a time has strained his marriage. For a Dutch woman, she fights with her deteriorating health to remain an asset, and not a liability, to the ship. A Canadian student feels torn between her environmental activism and her work as an academic.

There are numerous other tensions that come with being a Sea Shepherd activist. From the pains and ills of being seasick, the always present threat of a confrontation with the whalers that could happen at any moment, to living a restricted lifestyle in terms of food, showering, sleeping, and dealing with the social complexity of living with 43 other people in a confined space for months on end. For many of the crew, they have given up their lives back home to be a part of a 'whale saving lifestyle' while for others, they have given it up for a little while and will return to life on land soon. For all the hardships, there are benefits to life on the ship, too. With a crew from around the world with a diversity of backgrounds, everyone learns from one another. For example, Laurens, a Dutch cop, teaches self defense classes; Kaori Tanaka, a Japanese student, gives Japanese language lessons.

Artistic talent too blossoms on the ship. Those that can draw color the ship's logbook with images that remind us of how beautiful Antarctica is. The musicians take out their banjos, didgeridoo and acoustic guitars to play. The photographers show us slide shows of our expedition. Even the engineers come out of the woodworks to weld and cut metals, making whale-related arts and crafts projects like whale bottle openers.

We also organize events to buoy morale. Talent show contests are among the favorite events on the ship, an event where crew display their abundantly colorful nature. We've seen Bollywood dance routines, 'Rocky Horror Show' skits, poetry reading, Karate moves, even staring contests (seeing who can go longest without blinking). We celebrated Christmas a few weeks ago with a Secret Santa gift exchange: One gift was a voucher for someone else's shower time; vegan condoms for a couple; a hand-made whale-shaped pillow; and even a ride in the ship's helicopter on a reconnaissance mission. Birthdays, as well as anniversaries, are celebrated with speeches or cakes.

It becomes a life of its own at sea on board an activist ship. We gossip in the galley. The engineers, in their time off, play Scrabble, Pictionary, and Boggle. The deckhands, mostly boys, act like brothers, wrestling and roughhousing. On the bridge watch, we are entertained by the Captain, who sings 400-year-old ballads from memory. We watch movies together, including the movies 'Happy Feet' and 'The Life Aquatic' (which we consider to be about us). There's a surprisingly big fan base on the ship for the TV show 'Nip/ Tuck.'

Our own TV show, 'Whale Wars,' season two of which is currently being filmed on board the ship, puts all our lives on display. The drama factor is increased by having the cameras around: Cameramen follow the crew's every move and interview them frequently. Smaller 'spy cameras' continuously film many of the rooms onboard. It's like living on the set of a reality show like 'Big brother,' and many of the crew find themselves editing what they say and do for the cameras.

Like all small, tight-knit groups, Sea Shepherd has a culture of its own, that can be hard to understand for outsiders. What makes them distinctly different is a new year's resolution that unites them, despite their differences: A resolution to end Antarctic whaling.

Emily Hunter title=Emily Hunter is an environmental journalist. She is currently working on a book about young environmental activism, The Next Eco-Warriors and a documentary on illegal whaling in Antarctica.

More entries on: Polarized

Presidential Inauguration, Survivor-Style

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 11:43 AM ET | Comments (0)

As Americans prepare to make history before the world's watchful eyes, the town of Washington DC is gearing up for a natural disaster. Next
Tuesday's inauguration of President Elect Barack Obama is starting to sound more like a drill for an impending terrorist attack than a celebration.


In preparation for this historic moment, the city of Washington DC will be shut down. There will be no access from any of the bridge crossings from Virginia, and the downtown core will be cut-off. Over at the State Department, all essential personal will be required to spend the night prior to the presidential inauguration sleeping under their desks on inflatable mattresses.

Journalists are being told to prepare for "survival conditions," especially because the majority of the washrooms in the downtown core will remain locked for security concerns. The city has committed to erecting 5,000 porta-potties, or about one toilet for every 10,000 people. And that's assuming turn out is low.

Add to this a mass of arctic air, predicted to descend on the city this coming weekend, and you've got a recipe for one hell of a party. Or one hell of a endurance test, depending on your sense of adventure.

What ever happened to the good old days, when a gathering on Washington Hill required little more than love beads and a joint?

More entries on: American Presidential Election

January 14, 2009

ANC endorses Zuma

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 03:04 PM ET | Comments (0)


On January 10th, the African National Congress (ANC) officially endorsed Jacob Zuma as their candidate for the forthcoming South African elections. While Zuma is considered the front runner for the presidency, his nomination is mired by corruption charges. On January 12th, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the National Prosecuting Authority, allowing them to re-instate the 783 counts of alleged corruption against Zuma. Earlier today Zuma declared he would launch an appeal to have these changes dropped.

I'm all for innocent until proven guilty, but Zuma is just bad news, plain and simple. The majority of his charges stem from a $5 billion dollar arms deal made back in 1999, and include money laundering, racketeering and corruption. Not to mention previous charges of rape and HIV denial.

South Africa is the economic engine of the region. It can not afford to fail. In late 2008, the ANC fractured, creating a new Congress of the People (COPE). While local analysts believe the ANC will likely win the forthcoming election, COPE may be just the official opposition the region is in desperate need for. At any rate, something has got to give, before it's too late.

More entries on: Africa

January 13, 2009

January-February 2009 Issue now online!

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 02:29 PM ET | Comments (1)

This Magazine January-February 2009 Cover

Our January-February 2009 issue is now online for your reading pleasure. I'll be highlighting a few items on the blog over the next week or so, but you can skip ahead and read the whole thing now.

In the cover story, "The Case for All-Black Schools," Andrew Wallace digs through the troubled history of Africentric schools. As Toronto prepares to open a new black-focused school in September, we survey the arguments for, and against, the controversial idea and uncover an all-but-forgotten educational experiment that could be a sign of hope — or a cautionary tale.

Also in this issue, Jennifer O'Connor uncovers hundreds of sexual assault cases that are being swept under the rug by Canadian police departments every year; Ashley Walters goes inside the Canadian Military Journalism Course to experience the fraught relationship between reporters and the Canadian Forces; Mark MacKinnon warns that Ukraine may be in Russia's crosshairs; Jason Anderson compares the homegrown-movie-going habits of English and French Canada; and Tim McSorley writes about Socially Acceptable Acts of Terrorism.

PLUS: Bloggers behind bars; Men's rights; Stephen Harper's book club; History funnies; and the sex life of George and Laura Bush.

To get all of this delivered conveniently to your mailbox, and to reduce your risk of finger strain brought on by excessive clicking, you could always subscribe to the magazine for the bargain price of $24.99. (Hint: lock in now before the subscription price goes up in the spring!)

Or if you'd like to continue enjoying all the best in progressive news, views, arts, and culture on our website — and without the dead trees — may we suggest a small tax-deductible donation instead? This Magazine relies on the generosity of donors to help support the kind of fiercely independent journalism that commercial (and mostly ad-supported) magazines often simply can't do. We don't charge for anything on our website, but every little bit you choose to donate will help us continue to support independent journalism that matters.

More entries on: From the magazine

The sun never sets

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 11:14 AM ET | Comments (0)


As an aspiring photographer, I understand the difficulties of taking long exposure shots with my digital slr. I'll spend a lifetime setting up the shot until it's just right, and then, inevitably, I'll knock the camera just before I'm finished, rendering the whole image blurry and effectively ruining the shot.

Maybe I've been using the wrong type of camera.

British photographer Justin Quinnell is catching the imagination of the photography world with his Solargraph, the product of a six month long exposure, created in Bristol, England. The photo captures the image of the sun rising and setting over the city's famous suspension bridge. Remarkably, the image was produced not with the latest and greatest in photographic technology, but rather a home made pin hole camera, fashioned out of an empty coke can. From December 19th until June 21st the can was strapped to a telephone pole, allowing it to track the sun's axis between winter and summer solstice.

From the UK's Telegraph:

Mr Quinnell, a world-renowned pin-hole camera artist, of Falmouth, Cornwall, said the photograph took on a personal resonance after his father passed away on April 13 - halfway through the exposure. He says the picture allows him to pinpoint the exact location of the sun in the sky at the moment his father passed away.

Mostly, I just think it's real pretty.

More entries on: Visual art

NIMBY attitudes on closing Guantanamo?

Posted by Anna Bowen at 10:10 AM ET | Comments (0)

This past Sunday was the a 7th anniversary of the arrival of prisoners to the Guantanamo Bay detention center. It also marked just over one week until President-elect Obama is inaugurated. In his campaign, Obama promised to close Guantanamo within 100 days of gaining office, but the task is looking a little more complicated than the average person imagines, explained Obama this weekend.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PROTEST 2008 COURTESY OF www.edgeofconsciousness.net

In an interview with ABC on Sunday, Obama softened his promise only a little, saying it would be a "challenge" to close the detention center within 100 days, but the presidential order should at the very least get the ball rolling. Obama will probably issue a presidential order for its closing within his first week in office, suggest his advisors, but according to the NY Times, some analysts suggest it may take as long as a year to transfer the estimated 240 detainees who are being held at present to other countries or incarceration facilities within the US.

Reports estimate that 70 inmates are on hunger strike in protest of the conditions of confinement, potentially in response to the anniversary (January 11, 2002) or to draw attention to their cause in hopes that Obama will carry through with his promise.

What makes the closing of this prison facility so hard are the decisions and complications of who will be moved where and how they will be tried. Rumours that Australia is refusing take some of the detainees who cannot repatriate seem to be true - and the UK is having a hard time agreeing to rehabilitate ex-detainees. How the US will deal with the approximately 15 so-called "high-value" detainees is unclear.

My opinion? Although Obama's promise was to close the prison within the first few months of office, it makes sense that cleaning up a mess like this is going to take longer. It is surprising to me (maybe I'm naive) that the US has spent the last seven years demonizing the inmates and now expects European and Western countries to accept them for rehabilitation. Obviously they're going to have to lead by example.

Meanwhile, as detainees - many of whom are not charged with anything - no doubt wait in agony for news of change, George W. Bush is preparing for his own move, to a new house in Dallas, Texas. There, he hopes to get out of the limelight, avoid more shoes to the head, no doubt keep his own backyard detainee-free, and generally hand the mess over.

More entries on: From the intern desk

January 12, 2009

Polarized #6: Collision course

Posted by Emily Hunter at 11:28 AM ET | Comments (0)

Clinging onto the very tip of the bow on Sea Shepherd’s eco-activist ship, I stare into the fog with desperation. Looking for any shape, figure or shadow that resembles the vessel we have been waiting weeks to find. I could almost smell a ship’s diesel fumes, but not see them. The Sea Shepherd ship steamed ahead through a sharp icefield purely focused on reaching this mystery ship. I was to give the hand signal to the crew on our bridge once I could identify what lay ahead. Fifteen minutes away, 0.4 miles in range, 10 minutes, 0.3 miles, 8 minutes, 7 minutes... I start to see ripples in the calm sea: they are made by the wake of the ship ahead. The lines get bigger and wider — it must be right in front of us now. Something dark looms in the mist, a shape starts to form, a slip-way I can see, a ship, a white ship with Japanese lettering — it reads Kaiiko Maru. It's a whaling vessel.

Kaiko Maru After sixteen days at sea, Sea Shepherd found its second whaling vessel in the Antarctic. The first ship was found five days before Christmas, a harpoon vessel called the Yushin Maru 2. Today, on Boxing Day, we've found a spotter vessel named the Kaiiko Maru. Both vessels are a part of the Japanese whaling fleet, aimed at hunting 1,000 whales at the south pole. And both vessels faced the wrath of Sea Shepherd's fight for the whales. But unlike the Yushin, the Kaiiko fought back.

At 6:30pm, activists on board Sea Shepherd found a target. Within the hour, the crew was in position ready for an attack, the ship was gaining on the Kaiiko and a team, including me, searched into the mist from the bow to identify our quarry. Once the Kaiiko was visible to all of us, the Sea Shepherd ship quickly came alongside the Kaiko’s port side for a Boxing Day surprise. Crew on the Kaiiko level to us on our bow turned to us in shock to see our boat nestling up beside them. In a panic they closed doors, turned their faces away from our cameras, and ran inside, bracing for a conflict.

On the Sea Shepherd, teams of two planted themselves at the bow, the bridge deck and the monkey deck (the highest deck of the ship) readying with various bottles. Bottles filled with rancid butter, dyes and methyl cellulose (a slippery substance) that would contaminate the decks of the whaling ship for days to weeks, making whaling impossible. Within seconds of passing the Kaiiko Maru, the Sea Shepherd activists throw the bottles. They're experienced shots, after weeks of practice with organic compost balls. Two, four, six, eight bottles shatter on the Kaiiko’s decks. Only two miss their target.

But the Kaiiko does not sit idly: instead, they retaliate. The Kaiiko comes in close — so close that on the bow we could have easily walked onto their deck. Suddenly, I remember the rammings from previous Sea Shepherd campaigns I had been on. In previous instances, I'd never been on the bow during one of these collisions, but I can see the Kaiiko isn't turning away. I yell to my team to "brace for impact." We all hold onto something, anything, and I grab for the anchor chain — maybe not the best choice. Screech, thump, bang! The Kaiiko struck, scrapping our port side and pulverizing one of our helicopter guard rails.

Unafraid, Captain Paul Watson at the helm turns our ship in circles around the Kaiiko. Once, twice, three times around we go. On the third turn, we just miss their stern to our bow. Their ship crosses for the last time. The two ships are so close their two crews can get a good look at each other. I stand on the bow and I stare one man in the eye as he stares back. I don't sense hate, but instead curiosity in our exchange. He probably wonders why I am doing this, fighting against his job. I wonder why he is doing this, whaling. We are from two very different worlds, a pro-whaling world and an anti-whaling world, meeting one another for the first time without words in an ecological war. I wonder in that moment: can we come to a middle ground? A ground where jobs are kept but an ecological destruction is curbed?

Minutes go by. The Kaiiko turns southeast and we let them go, to continue onwards in pursuit of the rest of the fleet. The Captain looks like a kid on Christmas morning, as happy as can be. The Kaiko’s decks are contaminated, making at least part of the whaling fleet inoperable and surely putting the rest of the fleet on notice that we are in pursuit. The crew exchange the stories of their individual experiences. High fives, hugs and even some kisses go around. The press releases get written and media calls begin. The world begins to find out about round two.

"In this game, Sea Shepherd got 2, Whalers 0," says David Nickarz, an engineer and activist from Canada.

Sea Shepherd is knee-deep in the whale wars now. The question is, will they find the Queen Bee that they need to confront to win this battle, the "mother ship," called the Nissin Maru, without getting too badly stung themselves?

Emily Hunter title=Emily Hunter is an environmental journalist. She is currently working on a book about young environmental activism, The Next Eco-Warriors and a documentary on illegal whaling in Antarctica.

More entries on: Polarized

See for yourself - Conflict goes 2.0

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 11:17 AM ET | Comments (2)

It's hard to know just what to say about the most recent installment of the Israeli-Gaza conflict. The 16 days of fighting have killed 900 Palestinians and left 1.5 million in urgent need of food and medical aid. Recent reports suggest humanitarian aid is currently denied access at Gaza checkpoints. Many international agencies have pulled out, citing the increase of violence as an extreme hazard to their aid workers.

The Israeli government has forbidden foreign journalists from entering the Gaza strip, making it impossible to confirm accuracy of the reports coming from the region. Fortunately, in the age of the internet, anything is possible. For the first time in history you can act as an international observer from the comfort of your own home.

The Israel Defense Ministry has set up a web cam feed of the Kerem Shalom border crossing, the largest boarder crossing between Israel and Gaza. Live images are broadcast during the three hour ceasefire from three cameras that monitor the entrance and exit of the terminal. Are the trucks really making it across the boarder and into Gaza? Is there really a steady flow of aid to the Palestinian people? Now you can see for yourself.

Alternatively, if you're looking for a little hope in these troubled times, why not check out the live feed of the Western Wall.

Are all these live feeds just a publicity stunt for a beleaguered government trying to change international public opinion on their efforts? Is seeing really believing? What do you think?

More entries on: Interweb | War and peace

Giving the green shine to grocery shopping

Posted by Melissa Wilson at 09:19 AM ET | Comments (1)

Starting today, Toronto Loblaws patrons will need to stock up on canvas bags or start shopping at Metro if they want to enjoy the petroleum-based convenience of free plastic shopping bag, CityNews reports.

The decision was made last month to charge five cents for each plastic bag (a la No Frills) handed out in Hogtown. The new fee was set to hit stores on June 1st of this year, but Loblaws has apparently decided to start a bit early, pocketing five months' worth of plastic bag profits.

Critics of the program say that it's just another way for corporate chains to make a buck, and that the City of Toronto is just looking for a way to avoid recycling costs.

What do you think? Is this a get-rick-quick scheme or an earnest effort to divert non-biodegradable plastic from landfills?

More entries on: Toronto

Please sir, can I have some more minutes?

Posted by Melissa Wilson at 09:10 AM ET | Comments (0)

Last fall, I broke my cell phone (a.k.a., alarm clock/voice recorder/little black book/lifeline) and in the two days it took to get a new one, my life stopped. I fell behind on assignments, scrambled to find phone numbers and slept with my laptop next to me because 1) I needed it to act as a pseudo alarm clock and 2) I was convinced that a burglar would pick that night to break into my apartment (which, in reality, is pretty safe) and without a landline, I wanted my computer close by so I could Facebook 911.

Now, I'm a student, not Ari Gold, but suffice to say I cannot live without my cell phone, even for two days.

So the question is this: if they are so necessary, should Canada be doling out cell phones like food stamps and free mittens to those who can't afford them? No? But the Joneses are doing it!

According to a Toronto Star feature, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has introduced a program--Safelink--to provide eligible Americans with 68 minutes a month on a free cell phone with all the bells and whistles (voice mail, caller ID, call waiting and texting).

The Star's Lynda Hurst writes, "In the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. has increased the drive to ensure all citizens have basic phone services and access to help in times of emergency."

Safelink, provided by TracFone Wireless Inc., is currently available in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Virginia and, according to the website, will soon be available in 10 additional states, including New York, Connecticut and DC.

Judging by the comment's on Hurst's article, the public is less than thrilled about the new initiative, the main complaint being that (surprise, surprise) a cell phone is a luxury and should be reserved for those who work hard to pay for it.

I think an interesting point is that while no one would argue that access to a landline isn't important to any person's success and safety, many seem to have a hard time swallowing the notion that cell phone access carries the same importance, that it is more necessity than luxury. Now, if one already has a landline, I might agree, but the program is meant to give phone services to the 7 million Americans without it, not to give cake to starving peasants.

Let's not forget that in 2009, it's not uncommon for an individual to forgo landline service in favour of a cell phone.

Aside from the obvious benefits of a cell phone over a landline (a cell could be accessible 24/7, in case of an emergency; the owner is much less likely to miss an important call, possibly from an employer, etc.), a landline requires a permanent address, not always a guarantee for those in the low-income bracket who might often be moving from one cheap apartment to another. Secondly, the cost of a basic landline is comparable (especially in the U.S. where cell phones are much cheaper than they are here) to that of a cell phone. Providing landline service on principle would be like giving someone a tambourine for entertainment when for the same price you could have given him an iPod.

On the other side of the coin, behind all of the philanthropy and good intentions is a cell phone company. Is it impossible that they saw dollar signs in FCC subsidies or considered the millions of potential customers when they signed on to help the less fortunate? When the free cell phones run out of their allotted 68 minutes, it's up to the user to pay for extra.

What's that saying? Nothing in life is free?

Regardless of all the pro and con arguments, the richest irony is that a nation that's committed to putting a cell phone in every pocket for safety still hasn't made it a priority to put a universal health care card in every wallet.

More entries on: Poverty

'Whopper Virgins' campaign leaves a bad taste

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 06:19 AM ET | Comments (3)

This might be old news to some: Burger King's "Whopper Virgins" ad campaign has been running for a while. Here's the promo:

I felt intuitively icky about the whole thing before but couldn't quite define why. Luckily, blogger Evan Calder Williams has articulated that feeling very nicely already, so I'll just let him take it from here:

The core of it seems rather to be: these are ads that hinge on the support structure of those subjects who do not grasp advertising, who are "pure." Encoded in this, then, is the oddly self-aware stance of the corporation: look, we know that your consumption habits are so mediated by advertising — as we want them to be, we're not suggesting that you change that, good God no — that you no longer can even taste things correctly. So we're bringing in a pinch hitter, the global dispossessed, to function as the externalization of the sensual apparatus you all used to have.

[Thanks Steve!]

More entries on: Advertising | Cultural industries | Development | Globalization

January 10, 2009

Images from the Toronto demonstration against Israeli assult on Gaza

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 11:55 PM ET | Comments (0)

It was brief, but I managed to snap a few photos on my way to meet a friend today.

Palestine Protest


Harpers Silence


police watch


police on horseback


In general it was a peaceful, family affair, well attended by children and toddlers alike. How lucky we are to live in a country where we can bring our children to public demonstrations without the fear of physical retribution. Far more tempered than other demonstrations I have recently attended.

More entries on: Activism

January 09, 2009

Pirates of the Arabian Sea

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 10:48 AM ET | Comments (0)

pirates of the arabian sea

When I was a kid I really wanted to be a pirate (actually I was probably nearly twenty one when I first got this notion into my head...) I could live on a boat with the sea as my home and travel where ever the great winds would take me. I would have swash-buckling adventures, meet interesting characters, and claim my fortune in a distant land.

Things didn't quite work out as planned. Not that I'm complaining. I like writing from the intern desk at This. But lately, pirates have been on my mind once more. And not the Johnny Depp variety.

Pirates off the coast of Somalia have been making waves almost daily it seems. Earlier today it was reported that for a cool $3 million the Saudi oil tanker captured last November has been released. The ship is currently sailing into calmer waters, but no one is willing to comment on the situation, not yet at least.

The global rise in pirate activity is baffling, not only to me, but to the international community. In mid November the UN Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution to let all member countries attack Somali pirates by land, sea or air. Thus far the resolution has done little to stem the attacks. Last year alone it is estimated that Somali pirates made $30 million off ransoms in the heavily used shipping artery. In fact, these rebels are affecting ten percent of all global trade.

At yet, there remains a magical air about these pirates. Maybe it's the fact that they're struggling against all odds to create wealth for a country in near destitution. Maybe it's the romanticism behind troubled waters and a final frontier. Or maybe, as the pirate themselves so bluntly put it, they are considered heroes in their local communities. At any rate, Pirate Watch 2009 has officially begun.

More entries on: Global politics

January 08, 2009

Rinky-dink ink tinkering isn't the answer

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 11:57 AM ET | Comments (0)

EcoFont alphabet

A Dutch design firm has released a new computer font, Ecofont, that they say uses less ink, and can therefore reduce the e-waste that results from depleted toner cartridges. It's a regular-looking font except that it's riddled with holes, and the firm, Spranq, claims this reduces toner use by up to 20 per cent.

Their hearts are in the right place, but this is clearly public-relations bunk. (And I realize I'm playing into it by linking to them.) There are plenty of environmental problems in the world, and technology waste is some of the most difficult to deal with. But the real effect of this font is statistically insignificant, and no one should be fooled into thinking it's a real solution to any of our pressing environmental problems.

This kind of "environmental" measure is increasingly common — easy to implement, emotionally gratifying, socially acceptable, and totally ineffectual. You would be better off turning on the ink-saving features now available in every modern printer; even better would be choosing not to print that two-line email in the first place.

This morning on Twitter I linked to a new advertisement from the World Wildlife Fund that makes a crucial point: consumers and end-users are being constantly scolded to change their behaviours and reduce their environmental footprint while government and industry continue to allow damaging beahviour to go unchecked. Individual efforts like installing compact fluorescent lightbulbs and downloading an "Ecofont" are fine, but they won't get us where we need to go unless the biggest and baddest polluters are brought to heel.

More entries on: Cultural industries | Environment | Planet Earth | Time Wasters | Visual art

Queerly Canadian #3: The Pope's queer ideas

Posted by Cate Simpson at 11:45 AM ET | Comments (5)

Pope Benedict XVI - via WikipediaPope Benedict made some waves last month with his Christmas address for saying, amongst other things, that homosexuality and transsexuality were liable to cause the "self-destruction" of the human race. It hasn't so far, but perhaps he means sometime in the future we'll reach a sort of trans critical mass and one Friday night at 2am, an especially loud Church Street drag queen will tip us over into the gender apocalypse.

The Pope also briefly compared the "protection" of humanity from homosexuality to the protection of the rainforest. Aside from being a curiously outdated approach to the climate change concerns of the present decade (when was the last time anybody said "rainforest"? Do we even have any rainforests left?) I think there may be in this the seeds of how the Catholic Church and the homos can finally live together. It's called "queer offsetting."

As with the (somewhat dubious) practice of carbon offsetting, in which you arrange for some trees to be planted to make up for the damage to the environment by your carbon-belching SUV, queer offsetting would require queers to plant an appropriate number of trees every time their homosexuality impacts the world around them. So, for instance, an overly camp Christmas pantomime might warrant two or three, and when Pride Week brings all of downtown to a standstill someone better be out there planting a forest.

Or maybe the Catholic Church should stop hiding behind rhetoric about the end of days, admit that "tolerance" is no substitute for acceptance, and turn its attention to something that matters.

Cate SimpsonCate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.

More entries on: Queerly Canadian

Jet-setting goes green

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 11:33 AM ET | Comments (0)

Algae - via Wikipedia

If you're one of the millions of Canadians striving to lower your eco footprint, travel just got easier. Yesterday, Continental Airlines successfully completed their first flight using fuel derived from algae. That's right, now you can jet-set around the world on little more than the energy of an autotrophic organism!

The aviation industry, bemoaned for its astronomical contributions to global CO2 emissions, is eager to make the switch to biofuels within the next five years. Algae is viewed by many as the fuel of the future, because it doesn't compete with food crops and can produce up to thirty percent more fuel than other energy crops. Not to mention it's rapid replication.

Pilots, start you engines...

More entries on: Environment

January 07, 2009

Chernobyl in the Jungle

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 03:40 PM ET | Comments (4)

Amazon Rain Forest

Looking for an adventurous and educational holiday to beat the winter blues? Why not tour the chaos and misery of the mess Texaco Oil left behind in the Amazon Basin. For the last fifteen years Chevron Corp, which acquired Texaco Oil in 2001, has been in a deadlock legal battle with the citizens of Lago Agrigo, Ecuador. With the case against the oil giant is set to conclude latter this year, locals are busying themselves touring the public around the toxic waste dump they now call home.

Among the claims against Texaco Oil:
1. Soaking dirt roads with crude to keep down the dust
2. Encouraging local oilfield workers to smoother their legs and scalp with crude
3. Dumping 18 billion gallons of wastewater into unlined waste pits
4. Burning natural gas and solid waste, resulting in deadly air pollution

The result has been over 1400 deaths from cancer in the tiny community, nearly twice Ecuador’s national rate. While it’s impossible to predict who will win the legal battle, local experts believe the payout from Chevron could be as high as $27.3 billion.

For more on this story and other eco-catastrophe, check out forecast earth.

More entries on: Environment | From the intern desk | Global politics | Human rights | Planet Earth

January 06, 2009

In '08, Journal of Aesthetics and Protest lost a valued writer and visionary

Posted by Anna Bowen at 02:58 PM ET | Comments (0)

A reflective morning trip to work through uncannily warm sunlight for a would-be bleak January day was followed by the happy realization that one of my favourite journals, the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, out of Los Angelas CA (which was out of commission for so long that I nearly lost hope and gave up on them) had put out a book-length journal in November of 2008.

This was quickly dampened by the sad news that one of their contributing writers, Ben Schaafsma, only 26, passed away shortly after publication. One of his most recent articles can be viewed here. As one of the organizers of InCUBATE (Institute for Community Understanding Between Art and The Everyday), Schaafsma conceptualized alternative, collective funding and support for the arts modeled after examples from similar contemporary organizations in Latvia and Hungary. InCUBATE offers artist, writer, or researcher residencies (for folks who want to do "self-directed creative projects") for one to three months at $250/month in Chicago, which includes a bedroom and communal space as well as studio and gallery space.

In his article, Schaafsma asked, "Is it possible to create new contexts for public support by looking towards the periphery of neoliberal economics, operating in the folds of established institutions?" The group answered their own question by working on the fringe with a traveling arts exhibition called Other Options and with their InCUBATE project. Schaafsma's article looks into other examples of cooperative art spaces, taking its cues from another space called FOOD from 1970s NY. It's worth a read for the energy and vision behind it, for the inspiration that it offers. My deepest sympathies to Ben's family and friends.

More entries on: Visual art

UK public transit ads promoting evangelical atheism

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 02:04 PM ET | Comments (0)

Atheist ad on side of London bus

A new ad campaign launched on British public transit systems today promoting atheism. The campaign was spearheaded by readers of England's Guardian newspaper website Comment Is Free, who together raised more than £135,000 ($230,000 CAD) to pay for the campaign (they say their initial goal was £5,500 and 30 buses, a deliberately modest goal that they have far exceeded, as obviously intended). In London there are 200 buses sporting the ads, and more featuring quotations from prominent atheists throughout history (Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein) will be put up in the London Underground next week. More are on the way in Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, York, Cardiff, and several other cities.

Is the world ready for evangelical atheists? We're about to find out.

More entries on: Atheism

Police State, Version 2.0

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 01:28 PM ET | Comments (0)

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Lately, it seems everyone is talking about slumdog millionaire. I haven't seen it, but I've been assured it is the thing to do. Having recently returned from a little overseas adventure of my own, I've been thinking a lot about slums. What does it mean to live in a slum? Or a compound, a favela, a township, depending on your nation state boundaries. I've got a feeling it's not not as glitzy and glam as Mr. Boyle would have us believe. According to this really cool website, 2008 marked the first time in global history that more people are living in an urban than rural setting. In fact, urban slums are the fastest growing habitat on earth, with one billion people calling a 'slum' their 'home.'

And yet governments around the world continue to treat slums as illegal settlements, refusing to acknowledge the community, culture and necessity they provide for millions. Earlier today, The Washington Post reported that Brazil has begun a counter-insurgency occupation in the shantytown of Santa Maria, located in Rio de Janeiro. The government is taking the concept of police state to new and exciting levels, employing a counter-insurgency pilot project that aims to emulate the tactics used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq to stem drug related criminal activity in the favela.

Maybe it's just me, but the whole operation seems a bit extreme. When did being poor become illegal? (I know, I know, governments around the world have always tried to criminalize the poor just for being poor...) I'll be the first to admit that Rio has had its share of crime related issues, but employing war-time tactics in a peaceful country effectively violates the rights of the citizens who occupy the communities. And I stress the word community. Since its inception, the occupation of Santa Maria has successfully stunted local culture, shutting down businesses, dance parties and motorcycle taxis. While citizens report feeling safer, they also lament the days of yore, when you could walk down the street and chat with your neighbour. These days, no one leaves the house for fear of an interrogation, or worse...

It all prompts the question — in taking the concept of a police state to the next level, are we really engaging in a 'war on drugs' or a war on people?

More entries on: From the intern desk | Global politics | Human rights | War and peace

January 05, 2009

ThisAbility #11: Model Building

Posted by Aaron Broverman at 07:48 PM ET | Comments (0)

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As 2009 begins, I enter the new year brimming with optimism, especially when it comes to the essential goodness of my fellow man. This is because just yesterday (as we still battle the snow, and an apathetic city, here in Vancouver)my friend Kent and I were refused pick up by a local cab, only to be taken home by a father and son team in their BMW. So Don and Alex, wherever you find yourselves on this day, this blog is for you...

I also have high hopes for ThisAbility in 2009. I hope to delve deeper into the many issues and permutations of disability in all their forms. I also hope to replace the Eastern European jibberish spam in the comment fields with actual english comments, but since the second resolution is up to you all, I figure I'll just focus on the first.

But before I start wading into more complex territory, it occurs to me that I must prepare my audience with a lesson in terms. The disability civil rights movement is intimately familiar with the ying and yang of philosophies proposed when relating to disability on a macro level.

On the one side, is The Medical Model: The idea that disability is a flaw in the person caused by a physical or mental impairment that must be controlled and whenever possible fixed through sustained, individual medical treatment. The focus is on a cure or a change in behavior that would at least reach an almost cure.
Responsibility rests on the medical care and the individual person. For example, "If they just didn't sit that way, or tried a little harder. or if there was better medical care, they wouldn't be as bad off as they are. Isn't that too bad."

On the other side, there is The Social Model: The idea that true disability is the result of social problem. Here the responsibility rests not with the idividual, but with people with disabilities not being fully intergrated into society. This is caused by a variety of factors in the social environment, traditionally combated through activism and social awareness. The Social Model places disability as a human rights issue, not a medical one. Someone who believes in The Social Model feels that it's not their diagnosis that puts them at a disadvantage, but a society that prioritizes the able-bodied world. Barriers and prejedice (whether purposely or indifferently) are the real determining factors for who is disabled and who is not in the world.

Obviously, this blog leans toward The Social Model most often. In the next couple entries, I will begin to expose the conflict between the medical model and social model in my own life. There are times it will be me vs. the world, me vs. my relationships or me vs. myself. There are a lot of flaws in leaning too far toward one model or the other, but the central question of this blog will always be, where does personal responsibility for one's disability end, or social responsibility begin and vice-versa?

Together we may not ever find a difinitive answer to this question, but at least, by the end, the light on these issues will shine brighter.

broverman_a.jpgAaron is a freelance journalist living in Toronto. His work has appeared in Financial Post Business, Investment Executive Newspaper, and TV Week Magazine, along with Askmen.com. He is a regular contributor to Abilities Magazine and is currently plotting a weekly web comic called GIMP, with artist Jon Duguay, about a handicap school bus driver who wakes up after a crash to find he's the last able-bodied person on earth — and he's being hunted.

More entries on: ThisAbility

Polarized #5: Neptune's the boss around here

Posted by Emily Hunter at 11:29 AM ET | Comments (0)

From the engine room the steel frame of our ship looks like Jell-O: the Razor-sharp ice chunks, called ‘growlers,’ hammer at the metal ship as we try to pave a path of escape, and they make the ship flex from the outside in. Fears of a breach creep in: we tell nervous jokes about the Titanic to ease the tension, additional metal is welded onto the hull for extra insurance, and even the experienced captain, who takes the helm and with whom we trust our lives, has a worried look in his eyes.

Sea Shepherd ship and ice

“It would take anywhere between 30 minutes to several days for the ship to sink depending on the damage,” engineer Dave Nickarz, from Winnipeg, tells me while on the bridge.

It's not entirely reassuring, considering that we are in the Antarctic waters with few willing to stick their necks out to rescue a radical conservationist ship that is owned by Sea Shepherd. Labelled as ‘eco-terrorists’ by many diplomats and governments, their tactics include ramming vessels in the open ocean, boarding ships, and throwing stink bombs at those they oppose.

Few can stop them in their determination to save marine wildlife: Not harsh criticism by politicians, media and the public; not court cases, investigations or interrogations; not even underwater missile shots by the Norwegian navy, boat raiding by the Canadian coast guard off the east coast, or tear gas attacks by the Faroese.

The only thing that does seem to stop them is the god of the seas himself, Neptune. When he decides to let us see, there is up to 14 miles of visibility in every direction. When he decides to blind us, the fog can take over and we don't even see past our own bow. When he decides to cradle us, being tied up to port can feel more of a disturbance than the calm gliding through the sea. When he decides to dance with us, it is like the dance of Shiva, the god of destruction and creation. Evidently, in recent days, Neptune's been in a bad mood, and we've been battered by ice and waves.

It's kind of ironic: trying to beat back mother nature’s wrath to save her, her great leviathans of the sea, that is. Hours turn into days as the boat keeps getting cut off from its prey, the whalers, by walls of ice. Turning east, then west, northeast, then southwest. Zigzagging in a maze that seems inescapable.

Today, the fog diminishes, we can see. The dance of destruction with the seas turns into gentle cradling. The ice finds others to enslave. Neptune sets us free. And Sea Shepherd marches to its ecological battlefield.

Emily Hunter title=Emily Hunter is an environmental journalist. She is currently working on a book about young environmental activism, The Next Eco-Warriors and a documentary on illegal whaling in Antarctica.

More entries on: Polarized

January 02, 2009

Welcome to 2009

Posted by Melissa Wilson at 10:31 AM ET | Comments (0)

Whew. What a year it's been. The U.S. made history, Canada almost did and gas prices dropped to their lowest since I got my driver's license.

Toronto finished off 2008 with three bank robberies and began 2009 with three new babies and the GTA's first homicide, which, tragically, pales in comparison to the bloodbath that Calgary saw on New Year's Day. Regarding the economy, the IMF is expecting 2009 to go from bad to worse, and the Globe and Mail's Lawrence Martin predicts 2009 will see the end of Stephen Harper.

I would like to see 2009 bring some good news. A cure for cancer? Reasonable government? Baby kittens? Anything.

If, like me, you would prefer not to read about homicides and economic downturn on what is one of the precious last days before reality returns, here's a bit of fun: Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail has made a quiz of the year's top news items. See if you can beat my embarrassing score of just barely passing.

Instead of reflecting on the year that's just passed (we've done enough of that already), it's time to start thinking about the future. The Globe staff has made a few predictions of their own, but what do you predict for 2009? Maybe more importantly, what do you hope for 2009?

More entries on: Generally Interesting

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