Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year!

Well, 2008 has been an interesting year in the Confucian sense. I needn’t remind anyone of why; the headlines will do that. But personally, it’s been twelve months of reckoning and re-evaluating. Working in the Canadian cultural industry is always perilous, and the past year has been particularly unsettling: economies going down the toilet, layoffs, parity, elections...I expect to hear the clatter of apocalyptic hoof beats soon. It makes one tired physically, emotionally, and intellectually. The only highlight was Barak Obama’s election to the White House. I was able to let my growing cynicism take a break, and basked in the warmth of possibility. It was nice.

Tomorrow is the last day of this tumultuous year, and Thursday will the first of 365 days of what I hope will be positive change if only for me and my friends: marriages, babies, passports, new jobs, better attitudes. I don’t expect the economy to boost or for governments to realize that their job is, in fact, to govern and not bully. I do expect 2009 to be a year of progressive adjustment. Ghosts will give way to realistic goals.

Normally, I make resolutions that are realistic and achievable. One year I changed my career, the next I lost weight (and it remains lost). Among my promises is that I will spend more time writing and not let my small space on the worldwide web become as dusty as I have in the last six months.

Here’s hoping for positive change! Cheers and happy New Year!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

All the News that Fit to Imprison

This story was aired today on CBC's As it Happens , which archives its shows for live stream or podcast

From the International Justice Network website:

June 3, 2008, New York, NY—Attorneys from the International Justice Network (IJNetwork) filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. government seeking the release of 22-year old Canadian Television (CTV) journalist, Jawed Ahmad. Ahmad has been held incommunicado by the U.S. military for more than six months without charge at the notorious United States Air Base in Bagram, Afghanistan, where several confirmed instances of detainee abuse and deaths have occurred.

The lawsuit, filed as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus and a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, alleging that the government is holding Ahmad illegally.

The U.S. Department of Defense has admitted that Ahmad is being held at Bagram, but has refused to disclose the reasons for his arrest and detention. Ahmad is one of several confirmed cases of foreign journalists illegally detained by the U.S. government as part of the “war on terror.” Earlier this year, on April 6, the U.S. government finally released Pulitzer Prize-winning AP photographer Bilal Hussein after two years of military imprisonment without charge in Iraq, followed by the release, on May 1, of Al Jazeera cameraman Sami Al Haj after five years of detention without charge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rolling Up Our Sleeves...

A great example about how when women are pushed to the brink, we push straight back. In this case, in Maraba, Rwanda.

From the Toronto Star:

But the secret to success here has had far less to do with the idyllic climate and volcanic soil than with a group of people who have emerged as Maraba's – and Rwanda's – most potent economic force: women. In the 14 years since the genocide, when 800,000 people died during three months of violence, this country has become perhaps the world's leading example of how empowering women can transform post-conflict economies and fight the cycle of poverty


The march of female entrepreneurialism, playing out here and across Rwanda in industries from agribusiness to tourism, has proved to be a windfall for efforts to rebuild the nation and fight poverty. Women more than men invest profits in the family, renovate homes, improve nutrition, increase savings rates and spend on children's education, officials here said.


Officials at Vision Finance, the microloan arm of World Vision International that launched a program in 2005 in this town of 40,000, said that while women make up the majority of borrowers, four out of five defaulters are men.


As important was an acceptance at the highest levels of government that women would need new legal status to help rebuild the nation. By 1999, reforms were passed enabling women to inherit property – something that would prove vitally important to female farmers. At the same time, women began rising to higher ranks of political power. Today, women hold about 48 per cent of the seats in Rwanda's parliament, the highest percentage in the world. They also account for 36 per cent of President Paul Kagame's cabinet, holding the top jobs in the ministries of commerce, agriculture, infrastructure, foreign affairs and information.

Success in economics mirrored the rise of women in politics. Today, 41 per cent of Rwandan businesses are owned by women – compared, say, with 18 per cent in Congo. Rwanda has the second-highest ratio of female entrepreneurs in Africa, behind Ghana with 44 per cent, according to the World Bank.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five Years and Counting

The Independent's Robert Fisk on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Absolutely worth reading:
And I will hazard a terrible guess: that we have lost Afghanistan as surely as we have lost Iraq and as surely as we are going to "lose" Pakistan. It is our presence, our power, our arrogance, our refusal to learn from history and our terror – yes, our terror – of Islam that is leading us into the abyss. And until we learn to leave these Muslim peoples alone, our catastrophe in the Middle East will only become graver. There is no connection between Islam and "terror". But there is a connection between our occupation of Muslim lands and "terror". It's not too complicated an equation. And we don't need a public inquiry to get it right.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mole...It Isn't Just for Dinner Anymore

Part of my job at the bookstore is to read book reviews. It's a win-win situation in that I get to read the paper over coffee, appear in the know, and build my to-read list to the point of ridiculousness. Usually this is a pleasant enough task, but today I had the last filaments of shreds of hope torn asunder by Nathan Glazer's review in the New York Times of Hugh Wilford's book The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America. Not surprisingly, the CIA was sugar daddy to a number of so-called progressive organizations. Sadly, Gloria Steinem knew and didn't seem to mind:
A youthful Gloria Steinem had just spent a year and half in India, where, we are told, she befriended Indira Gandhi and the widow of the “revolutionary humanist” M. N. Roy, and had met a researcher who seems to have been a C.I.A. agent or contact. Attractive and progressive, Steinem was hired to run the I.S.I.[Independent Service for Information] and to recruit knowledgeable young Americans who could debate effectively with the Communist organizers of the festival, defending the United States against Communist criticism of segregation and other American failings.
The C.I.A.’s connections to the I.S.I. and a host of other organizations and publications was exposed in a storm of magazine and newspaper articles in 1967, and just about everything that had once been secret became public. Steinem stood up bravely: “I was happy to find some liberals in government in those days who were farsighted and cared enough to get Americans of all political views to the festival,” she told The New York Times. And to The Washington Post she said: “In my experience the agency was completely different from its image: it was liberal, nonviolent and honorable.”

Maybe that is naive youth speaking. I'll have to read the book to find out. Was everyone on the bloody take? Oh, and by the way, Gloria thinks we feminists should all vote for Hillary.
From the New York Times:
What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age.

This country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees. It’s time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers. We have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.”

What worries me that someone who thought the CIA was "liberal,non-violent, and honorable," wants us poor deluded non-Boomer women (who can't possibly think for ourselves) to vote for a dynasty. Sigh. I'll stop the rant before it starts.

I wonder how this would pair with Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, which is also on my long list.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Other Oil Crisis

From today's New York Times:
This is the other oil shock. From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food.
In some poor countries, desperation is taking hold. Just in the last week, protests have erupted in Pakistan over wheat shortages, and in Indonesia over soybean shortages. Egypt has banned rice exports to keep food at home, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.
A startling change is unfolding in the world’s food markets. Soaring fuel prices have altered the equation for growing food and transporting it across the globe. Huge demand for biofuels has created tension between using land to produce fuel and using it for food.

So ethanol, biofuel, and hybrids aren't going to save the world, huh? Who knew?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Slum-urban Planning

In his great Reckoning column in the Globe and Mail Doug Saunders discusses how "Slumming it is better than bulldozing it." (Jan. 12, 2008)

From the piece:
This is the crucial flaw in all top-down, slum-clearance plans: They are based on the belief that people are in slums because they have fallen out of mainstream society, but most slums are composed of people who are clawing their way into the mainstream — the new arrivals from the villages, the recent immigrants from overseas.

They know more than anyone does about what it takes to improve their condition. Given the right conditions — planning approval, utilities, accessible loans, proper deeds or leases on their property — they would probably advance to the middle class faster than any government agency could take them there.

Monday, January 14, 2008


About four years ago I had a burning itch to move to New York, launch my publishing career, and vote for Hillary Clinton in ’08. I had it all worked out. I was a woman with a plan. Now, with the US economy going down the shitter, after reading report after report about Americans not reading or buying books, and after seeing Michael Moore’s Sicko, I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things. Even voting for a woman for president.

Ok, don’t get me wrong: I’d love a woman in the White House. In fact (and I know I’ll take heat for this), I think it’s accomplishment to have a black woman not wearing an apron working for the president. Sadly, Condi Rice plays for the wrong side, but baby steps, ladies, baby steps. We had Madeleine Albright and Sandra Day O’Connor and now Nancy Pelosi. Our time will come.

But is Clinton our feminist messiah? Does she have all the answers? She certainly has pedigree, and as she puts it “experience.” She was the unelected ear of the US president for eight years. And if she wins in November the United States of America will have been ruled by two families for more than twenty years.

Yes, she campaigned for universal health care. She was First Lady, not an elected official. She was a the Spouse of the Commander of Chief of the American Armed Forces. Clinton is now the elected Senator for the state of New York…who voted in favour of the war in Iraq.

Clinton is no shrinking violet and she is no doormat, and for those reasons I think she’s great. Her experience in the de facto politics of the white house—elected or no—is undisputed. I just wonder if she’s the right choice for president just because she’s a woman. Is she the right person for the job? Must we women (ok, maybe not me since I’m not an American citizen nor will I ever be) vote for a woman out of some trumped up sisterly love? Just because she has a vagina, does that mean I have to take one for the team? Should I have voted for Margaret Thatcher? Golda Meir? Benazir Bhutto? Kim Campbell? Would that have been the right thing to do?

When pundits flog Clinton’s advocacy for universal health care they forget that that’s an easy motherhood issue…and a change that will not see the light of day even in two terms. Eight years for all the HMOs to roll over and play Red? Not bloody likely! We’d need the next Clinton in office, dear Miss Chelsea, before that gets any traction.

So where does that leave us? Watching the middle: John Edwards. The nice, obliging, rich, white guy in a suit. And that doesn’t leave me with any Hope for Change.

Now for part 2 of my electoral rant. I’ll be brief. Really. This past Sunday, January 13, the New York Times ran a great story "Rights vs. Rights: An Improbable Collision," about the rights issue; specifically enfranchisement for women versus black men. About twenty years ago I wrote an essay for a women’s history class on this very topic about how largely white middle-class women campaigned for the vote before full male suffrage, which would have included not only black men but non-landholding men. Now, if I recall correctly (my typewritten essay is MIA) I probably used the inflammatory term “racist” (I was twenty-something, it was the Eighties). My prof wrote some scathing remarks about scholarship, I believe, but she also took offence at the content. Nevertheless, two decades hence, I feel vindicated. And sad at the same time.