Friday, April 29, 2005

Some Reading

  • This post on Killing Train about the Kahnawake band council selling the Mohawk language to Microsoft appears to be so ridiculous that my first instinct is to think it is bizarre satire of some kind, but Justin Podur posted it as a serious item, and if it is then it is mindblowing...check it out.

  • Been meaning to post this link for a couple of weeks: The first issue of Upping the Anti is out, and well worth reading from cover to cover. Here is the table of contents and here is a PDF version of the whole thing.

  • Apparently a lawmaker in Alabama wants to ban public school libraries in the state from buying books or plays by gay authors or containing gay characters.

  • An interesting look at the political economy of Pakistan, by Aasim Sajjad on Z Net.

  • An article on the first year of the socialist government in Spain, on AlterNet.

  • The site for "thirdspace: the site for emerging feminist scholars". (Via brown rab girl fish)

  • This post says that former chair of the Black Panther Party, Elaine Brown, is planning on running for mayor of Brunswick, Georgia, on the Green Party ticket. Brown's book, A Taste of Power, was an important read for me during my initial process of politicization, and a review of it in the McMaster University newspaper, The Sillhouette, was one of my earliest pieces of published writing (albeit a politically naive and not paritcularly well written one).

  • I like pretty much everything that Paul Street posts. Here's one from a couple of weeks ago called "On The Costs of Being Left".

    This particular sentence...

    Of course, one of the reasons people prefer not to give a decent hearing to radical ideas is their fear that the knowledge possessed by leftists will make them want to challenge structures and authorities they don’t feel powerful enough and/or worthy to fight.

    ...made me think of a brief encounter a couple of years ago with a good friend. I had just come from an event focusing on Canada's Secret Trials and related detention of Muslim men without due process, and I briefly explained what it was about in our "what have you been up to" chitchat. Her initial expression was shock and, I think, a certain cognitive disonance -- this person is very personally empathetic but not very political, and her impulses towards caring in this instance drew very briefly towards politics before the "prefer[ence] not to give a decent hearing" surged forward and she said, "Oh, that happens in lots of places, doesn't it?" And the subject was changed.

    Anyway, I'll cite the post's conclusion at length, because it has some commonsense wisdom that we (meaning activists) don't talk about nearly enough, in terms of self-care and balance and self-sustainability. Here it is:

    Portside people can deal with the costs (both externally and internally imposed) of being left in various ways. They can make sure to balance their knowledge of outrageous evil and injustice with a determination to regularly clear and slow their ever-racing (and often rage-consumed) minds. In my experience, radicals burn out...alot. Refusing to cede the imperatives of self-help and personal and spiritual balance to Oprah, Dr. Phil, the local minister or priest and other corporate New Age lifestyle authorities, they can balance their sometimes overdeveloped mind energy with a commitment to cultivating their physical and emotional well-being and to realizing that their heart is going to be as important as their mind in the creation of a more just and democratic world.

    They can seek to reduce their vulnerability to economic punishment and insulate their dependence on the energy-stealing/life-sucking employer class by working to minimize unnecessary expenditures and debt.

    They can reduce their sense of isolation by keeping themselves regularly in touch with fellow leftists and also by looking for the often impressively progressive sentiments that are held and expressed by people who are not openly on the left.

    We can work to rescue the basic notion of personal moral responsibility from the clutches of the right, remembering that we possess a significant capacity to improve personal and social experience short of the many-sided social revolution that remains highly desirable ....and probably necessary for long-term human survival.

    We can remember that not all human dilemmas are caused by “the man” and his vicious interlocking systems of hierarchy and inequality. Radical social theory is about disentangling historically specific, particular, and socially constructed oppression structures from universal human difficulties and existential conundrums.

    Thinking perhaps about the distinct personal-historical circumstances that led to our own awakening as radicals, we can commit ourselves (on the model of the civil rights movement at its best) to communicating our ideas in ways that show respect and understanding for the related difficulties many people face in accepting and acting on our ideas.

    We can and must combine our criticism of the existing order with a practical and actionable vision of an alternative democratic, egalitarian, and participatory social order that would meet peoples’ basic material needs without replicating the evils of class inequality, racism, sexism, and empire, etc.

    We can lift the burden of world history from our merely individual shoulders, remembering that none of us will set the world rightly upside down alone and once and for all in our own lifetimes. We can graciously accept in advance the certainty of numerous defeats and frustrations.

    We can and will do our best – and often quite a great deal – to advance humanity towards a more just and glorious world: the beloved egalitarian community of the freely associated producers, citizens, artists, poets, scientists, and others.

CBC In Hamilton?

I received an email, this morning, from the Hamilton (the city I moved from to come to LA) chapter of the Council of Canadians, a moderate, non-partisan, left-nationalist organization that has been quite involved in opposing neoliberal globalization and privatization of public resources, and trying to strengthen communities in Canada. The email included a link to this site, which briefly describes a study and lobbying effort to get Hamilton a local CBC radio station.

Hamilton is, apparently, the largest local market in the country without such a station. In addition, I can attest to the fact that broadcast media diversity in the city is woefully inadequate. I was involved in local radio journalism at the campus/community station in the city, 93.3 FM CFMU, for a few years. In particular, my show covered city hall and local social movement activities. CFMU had few resources at all, being a campus/community station, and other local radio stations chose to devote very few resources to news. In fact over the course of the time I was involved there was some kind of a buy-out and merger of commercial stations so there was only one newsroom (of sorts) feeding into the couple of stations that had any space at all on their schedule for news. And as anyone who has listed to local commercial radio news knows, it tends to be shallow and with a fairly conservative slant.

On all of those grounds, having a local CBC station would probably be a good idea. They would probably have more resources to devote to local news, which might force other stations to devote more resources to local news as well. While CBC is still an institution of the dominant media, with all of the limitations that implies, it still does tend to be marginally more balanced than market-driven dominant media institutions. I also have a certain irrational fondness for it: While I have not listened to CBC radio much as an adult, when I grew up, every time I was going anywhere in a car with my parents, CBC was on the radio, and I have many pleasant memories of the voices of Alan Maitland, Peter Gzowski, Lister Sinclair, and even, when he was carefully sequestered on "As It Happens" and not allowed to run rampant on the morning show, Michael Enright. Many a time I dozed off in the car coming back from a canoeing adventure with my Dad while "Ideas" or some other late-night documentary or even radio drama played as the soundtrack to my snoozing. My very first memory of things from the public sphere was the "Royal Canadian Air Farce" radio show that was broadcast on Sundays in the early afternoon -- and which was much funnier on the radio than it has ever been since it moved to television -- making fun of Pierre Trudeau's famous "walk in the snow" during which he decided to step down as Prime Minister.

So, yes, I think it would be good for Hamilton, and good for democracy in the city to have a local CBC station.

On ther other hand, I'm not as enthusiastic about such a thing as I once would have been, since my stay in the United States. I'd rather have CBC over NPR (National Public Radio) any day, but in this country there is the amazing phenomenon of state and foundation funding going into actual community-based broadcast media. In other words, there are state dollars in this right-wing nation going to support much more progressive media than the CBC (as well as much more conservative media, of course, in some parts of the country). My local favourite station, KPFK, exists mostly on donations from listeners that roll in at a scale unimagineable in Hamilton, but I think something like 10% of its budget comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a federal government entity. And it is a much more particiaptory and democratic media space than the CBC has ever pretended to be. Of course most cities in the U.S. don't have a Pacifica station like KPFK, and the CPB is apparently under pretty concerted attack from the Bush administration and its allies. Nonetheless, it would be exciting to promote a model of broadcast media in Hamilton and in all of Canada that involved substantial support for genuine participatory, grassroots media. The country's campus/community stations, particularly outside of Toronto and Vancouver, are an incredibly under-utilized resource for social movements and communities. So while I support a CBC station moving to Hamilton, I'd love to see Council of Canadians members and other people concerned with social justice in the city give money to CFMU and figure out ways to contribute their labour to the station, to IMC Hamilton, and to whatever other media options can be created.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Peace Vigil Notes

The peace vigil I attend almost didn't happen, tonight, and it's not clear how much longer it is going to continue. Groups have a life cycle, and this one seems to be at a rather low point in terms of energy. Many people have moved on to other sites of activism where there is currently a feeling of momentum, while others have succumbed to entirely understandable despair and slipped, at least for awhile, into inactivity. Thankfully, we stuck around and enough folk showed up to make it worthwhile. But I'm worried my most consistent lifeline to social movement activity is going to shrivel up before the end of our tenure in Los Angeles.

And thank goodness we did manage to make it happen tonight. I had a chance to have an actual, in person encounter with an honest-to-goodness right-wing nut case. He's a young, testosterone-exuding guy who lives nearby and apparently has visited the vigil before, though I've never seen him. He spent some time taking our picture from across the street and then came over and engaged us in a strange approximation of dialogue. He seemed only marginally capable of listening, and not at all of any kind of self-reflection.

He repeatedly accused us "liberals" (true for some, not for others) of being too emotional and not rational enough, by which I think he meant we shouldn't get too upset when folks die or suffer and we should just understand that history has to work that way. Yet he recommended Sean Hannity as a good source of information, a right-wing hack in the employ of Fox News who is all about illogical, emotion-based argument that is not rational and that is sloppy with facts.

At another point, one of my co-vigilers was making some point about there being less suffering and death in the Soviet Union under Stalin than is commonly thought -- a point that I didn't think I agreed with, but which she didn't get a chance to finish -- and his immediate rejoinder was to interrupt her repeatedly and ask if she was a Holocaust denier.

He also worked extremely hard to maintain the position that, yes, the expanding United States killed many Aboriginal people and broke treaties and conquered their nations and forced them off of their land, but it wasn't genocide -- "It was war, which is just something that happens, and they lost, so tough for them" seemed to be his position. He expressly endorsed the historical practice of forcing Aboriginal people off their land and making them assimilate, and claimed it was justified because they had been conquered; when it was pointed out that this met the definition of "ethnic cleansing" he forcefully disagreed and got very upset. He also accused Ward Churchill of being a denier of the Jewish Holocaust, which is a ridiculous right-wing fabrication which has no basis in what Churchill has actually written.

It was a kind of surreal experience. It wasn't dialogue because he wasn't willing to listen and actually engage, just to sort of jump from topic to topic and make statements without feeling any need to support them while accusing us of having no facts to back up what we were saying. Which isn't to say that "our" side is always without people who engage in discussion in that way, but at least today we had no hotheads with a taste for yelling matches in attendance. And he repeatedly referred to grown women (much older than himself, as it happens) as "miss" and once as "hon."

It was weird.

Review: Ten Thousand Roses

(Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution by Judy Rebick. Toronto: Penguin, 2005.)

Before I picked up this book, its existence evoked in my mind a vague cloud of anxiety and insecurity. My main project is a book (and hopefully a series of radio shows) using oral history interviews to bring to light bits and pieces of Canadian social movement history. This book uses oral history interviews to take a detailed look at the women's movement in Canada from the late 1960s to the 1990s, and it is written by one of Canada's foremost feminist activists and most visible figures on the left, Judy Rebick. I was worried that it would turn out in some partial way to be a "scoop" of my own work, and one done by someone much more experienced and well-known than me to boot.

Actually reading the book has been wonderful. Most importantly, it is an accessible, direct, and inspiring history of Canadian women coming together to make change. I learned a great deal about the women's movement, and on many occasions I found myself thinking, "Wow. That is so cool." My own current relative isolation from social change work due to personal circumstances, along with the fact that the present moment in history in the United States (my home right now, but perhaps not for much longer) is a time of defeat after defeat after defeat for even very modest progressive goals of all stripes, mean that hope for social change is not an easy thing to come by. But there are lots of stories in this book of women coming together, identifying problems, and by sheer determination and creativity actually creating change. This book helped to renew my hope.

It would be hard for me to summarize what I learned from this book, but one of the things which struck me the most was how significant the alliance of women across class difference and across political difference has been to the Canadian women's movement. I hadn't appreciated that this is a fairly unusual thing, in comparison to other countries; nor had I appreciated the amazing extent to which it actually happened in Canada. The much greater difficulty in dealing with difference in terms of race and ability also received attention in the book (though I have the impression from the experiences of people that I know that the book is perhaps a little too optimistic about the success of the women's movement in grappling with racism, particularly outside of some national and Toronto women's movement spaces).

In terms of my more personal worries with respect to the book, happily they proved to be largely unfounded. Rebick interviewed a few people that I also interviewed, and covered some territory that I wish to cover. However, though it may mean I make somewhat different choices in how I deal with those areas, the impact on my work will be minimal. The fact that this work focuses with some effort at completeness on one movement over about 30 years means that quite different choices have been made about structure and context than I will be making as I grab interesting bits and pieces from many movements over 50 or 60 years. As well, some of the ways in which my project and this book think about social movements are a bit different -- not in fundamental ways, I don't think, but in terms of choices about how explicitly and assertively to try and get readers thinking in new ways about power and about what social movements actually are. In any case, we need dozens more books like this, which use the words of the people who were actually involved the movements that helped create history to help us understand that history.

Anyway, the fact that this has been published by a major corporate publisher is an indication that there is a market for this kind of material, which is good news, and this will also be a wonderful reference for me when presenting the context for my own interviews. Thanks, Judy!

And I think every Canadian, particularly every Canadian who is politically active, should read this book.

[Edit: For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Learnings From 10 Days In Ontario

  1. Life is full of surprises. Forest Gumpish, yes, but no less true because of that. There were a number of ways in which life flamboyantly exhibited this characteristic over and around the interval of this trip, but I'll just talk about the one that feels like it is looming largest at the moment: somehow over the course of the visit the potential job opportunity that provided the pretext for the trip went from being merely a pretext and source of paid airfare to something being very seriously considered. And I'm feeling conflicted about it.

  2. Ten days of inadequate sleep is a poor approach to getting rid of a cold. It doesn't help when most of that time is spent in low level dehydration as well.

  3. Flying to LA from Buffalo via Newark is not necessarily as dumb as it sounds. It adds time to travelling, but there is partial compensation if you have never been to New York City because you get to gaze at the Manhattan skyline as you are landing in Newark.

  4. The closest a middle-class white North American such as yours truly is likely to come to experiencing something similar to people who live in poverty on this continent, barring the taking of political action which lands us before the courts, is when crossing an international border. Most of the time the texts which organize and legitimize social regulation and the domination which can be part of that are crafted in ways that leave us more or less alone (taxes, the odd speeding ticket, and an occasional corporate inconvenience aside). At the border, that privilege still counts for a lot, and we aren't targeted for harassment due to skin colour or religion or name (e.g. Arabs, South Asians, and Muslims post 9/11), or shot for wanting to be able to feed our families (e.g. every years some of the undocumented economic migrants seeking to enter the U.S. from Mexico) but it can still be a moment which temporarily weakens the facade of harmlessness that usually obscures the harsh realities of the liberal democratic state in middle-class perceptions. In that moment, we are at the whim of state minions who need care nothing for us, but only for making sure their actions conform to the texts which they are employed to enforce. Their power over us means they can be as nasty and unpleasant as their bad marriage, hangover, or gout tells them to be. They can present us with lists of requirements that nobody told us about, that contain items never mentioned in previous crossings, that are not consistent with the publically accessible guidelines available on the internet, and that could seriously screw with our plans for the day and the year if the agent's supervisor happens to be in just as grumpy a mood. In fact, the power dynamics of the situation means that the list of arbitrary demands presented by the minion can deviate from what the texts actually require, but it is very difficult for those subject to the demands to identify this fact and to take effective action if they do identify it. In all of these ways, it felt like a brief glimpse into the everyday realities of people on social assistance and their struggles with the systems which have control over their access to the necessities of life.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Parental Media Regulation

My farewell from the last stable employment I had outside of the home (I've done some freelance consulting, along with lots of work on this, plus parenting, since then) was just before L was born. It included lots of uninvited but still welcome parenting advice which largely consisted, as far as I could tell, of a number of the women with children on staff trying to scare me. After a healthy dose of this, another woman with children briefly entered the conversation, listened for a few minutes, and said, "Don't worry. Parenting is easy. You just sort of do it," before turning her attention away.

I really appreciated that. By and large, that piece of wisdom seems to be pretty much true -- it takes a lot of time and can result in sleep deprivation, but it isn't particularly difficult.

I have the sense that as time marches on, there may be some ways in which this becomes less true, however. I imagine these ways will be related to L's expanding sphere of autonomy and increasingly complex field of wants and desires. One aspect I have been particularly thinking about recently, as he has developed the ability to express an interest in watching particular television programs ("Emmo" for Sesame Street and "choo choo!" for Thomas the Tank Engine, along with the ever-popular "Do-ah" for Dora The Explorer) is the role of parental regulation of media consumption.

In fact, this is something I've wondered about for years, probably since I was a potential target for such regulation myself. I never remember it being a big problem for me, though; I never remember being told not to listen or watch or read something in which I was interested. I remember feeling that I should not be displaying interest in anything remotely related to sexuality, or even acknowledging such interest in any way, but that was never spelled out to me directly. And I think when it was discovered that my eight-years-older cousin was leading my three-years-younger sister and I in an exploration of the classic movies of the horror genre he was quietly asked to cease and desist. But that's about it. I wasn't one to push boundaries of this sort, but I don't remember feeling that I had to.

I also thought about it in the era before L (and have also done so more recently) when I have encountered others who applied or suffered from such regulation. Sometimes, of course, it is so far from what I would consider reasonable that it's easy to dismiss -- the friend who couldn't own Nirvana's Nevermind because the baby on the cover is as naked as, well, the day he was born, for example. Or more recent public controversies in the United States, like the one in which an episode of Postcards From Buster was pulled by PBS because the backdrop included (in a way that was never mentioned in the narrative) a lesbian couple who own a farm in Vermont, or the firestorm after Janet Jackson's nipple made an appearance in a Super Bowl halftime show. (Frankly, I think we'd all be a lot better adjusted if seeing nipples of all genders and descriptions was so commonplace as to make it completely unremarkable regardless of the age or gender of the viewer.)

But this sort of intervention happens in more progressive versions, too, and with more progressive intent. I can understand wanting to shelter young children from brutal portrayals of trauma or violence. I can sympathize with attempts to moderate media intake of oppressive imagery and narratives. I can appreciate not wanting to force kids that are too young for it to deal with adult sexuality. But is there a right age to see a cinematic murder? In a media environment saturated with oppressive images and narratives, is filtering out a few of the ones you happen to object to the most really going to make a difference in a young person's development? And how much of an impact do attempts by parents to micro-manage access to media really matter, in the grand scheme of things? The society we live in is messed up and oppressive, and trying to avoid that doesn't change it.

I don't have it clear in my own mind, yet, but I think what is needed to resolve this apparent tension is to think differently about the role of the parent. Often, I think, parents with progressive values uncritically accept a quite conservative vision for what parenting is supposed to be. In this case, that would mean chucking the laundry list of right-wing so-called values, such as those that put the heat on poor Buster, and replacing them with progressive values, while still seeing the role of the parent as being somewhat analagous to the role that the state plays in society -- i.e. that parents should create a list of "dos" and a list of "don'ts" and should enforce those on their children, and the difference between more conservative and more liberal parenting is the content of those lists. This practice is defended by arguing that the only alternative is a complete abandonment of parental responsibility.

I don't agree with that, though. I think rethinking the role of parents means starting from the acknowledgment that we are not outside and above life, issuing objective decrees that are the ultimate in wisdom about what is or is not appropriate. Some parents would agree that we are not these things but would argue that we have to behave as if we were anyway, as a form of leadership or something, but I think that too easily turns into domination. I think every single bit of parenting has to be engaged in with the explicit acknowledgment, to ourselves and to our children, that both they and we are people on a journey and we don't have all the answers. I think that means a much more explicit recognition of children, even young children, as autonomous and capable (though without ignoring their limitations). I think that means participating in critical engagement about consumed media with children, and with other adults while children are present. It means creating a home media environment that is rich in liberatory imagery and narratives. It means living a critical engagement with media in a way that is integral to your own life and not thinking about these things only when it comes to your kids. It means modelling for them your own ways of dealing with different narratives and imagery -- your analysis as well as your gut-level enthusiasms and aversions, and how those things interact, and how you act on them.

How this translates into practical terms for me remains to be seen, of course. But I suspect that, at its best, it means not straying too far from, "Don't worry. Parenting is easy. You just sort of do it." But that's only possible when this issue is not treated as being primarily a discrete question involving regulation and limitation of your children, but rather when it is seen as one facet of your own journey through the complexities of our media environment.

Friday, April 08, 2005


I'm going to be away from sunny SoCal for nine days starting tomorrow. We're headed back to Ontario so my partner can participate in a job interview, and so we can visit family and friends. I was less successful than I had hoped doing blog updates during our December visit so I'm not going to make any extravagant promises for this trip; if I don't post much over the next week or so, you'll know why. However, I know I have one day later in the week that will be pretty empty, so I hope I can do a substantial post or two then at least.

Push MoveOn to Favour Withdrawal

Partly, this tiny action on my part is because a discussion I had with a fellow peace vigiler last week about the ongoing problem of getting people mobilized and active got me thinking. Partly, it is in response to the new ZNet feature which allows users to select and then engage an action of the week. In any event, for tonight's edition of the vigil, I have created and printed out a few fliers encouraging my fellow street corner peaceniks to take an easy action to encourage online liberal powerhouse MoveOn.Org to take a more proactive stance in calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq -- opposition to the war was the issue which got the group started, and they seem to be moving away from active opposition.

Anyway, I figured I'd post the text of the flyer here. It's nothing huge, but it can't hurt.

Flyer text (slightly modified):


Take Home Action: Push MoveOn to Favour Immediate Withdrawal

Noted media analyst Norman Solomon has written, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, and peace advocates do a lot more than shrug when a previously great antiwar organization starts to get lost...Two years after the invasion of Iraq, the online powerhouse – which built most of its member base with a strong antiwar message – is not pushing for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.”
(Full article here.)

To encourage MoveOn to continue active opposition to the recolonization of Iraq, you can take the following steps:

  1. Go here.

  2. Click on “Sign In” on the light grey bar.

  3. If you are already a member, sign in as you usually would. If not, then complete the fields under the “Register” heading, and reply to the email that you are automatically sent.

  4. Follow the instructions on the next screen.

  5. Click on the “next 5” link until you find an item labelled “I still oppose the war.” (It was #21 when I did this, but might change.)

  6. Click the radio buttons beside “agree” and five stars for importance.

  7. Click the orange “Submit My Ratings” button at the bottom of the page.

  8. If you wish, click on the orange “Submit Your Own Comment” button near the top of the page, and express how you feel in your own words.


It will only take a few minutes, and it might be useful, so please do it if you are so inclined. In the words of Michael Albert, "MoveOn is not highly radical, it is true, but it is hard to see why it would take a position to the right of a large core of members of the Democratic Party. MoveOn pushing hard for withdrawal of course won't guarantee it will happen. But MoveOn not pushing for withdrawal is certainly not helping."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

From Email: Action And Link

An easy e-action from an email on a feminist research list:

The University of Western Ontario has decided to give Dr. Henry Morgentaler an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on June 16. Unfortunately, the university has been getting a large amount of anti-choice mail protesting this decision and slandering Dr. Morgentaler. In contrast, there has been next to no pro-choice mail in support, so far. Dr. Morgentaler is a hero to Canadian women for securing the right to choose abortion in 1988, in the Supreme Court Morgentaler decision that threw out Canada's abortion law.

Could you possibly help with a short, affirming e-mail to the administrators at the university? Below are the names and e-mail addresses of the President of the University and the Chair of the Board of Govenors. It is really important that as many people as possible write to these administrators praising the decision to confer the law degree on Dr. Morgentaler as soon as possible. The anti's are holding a vigil on Wednesday at 2pm. And could you pass this message on to other Canadians who would be willing to take a few moments to send a note of praise? Thank you so much for your support!

Dr. Paul Davenport, President, UWO at pdavenpo(at)

Don McDougall, Chair of Board of Govenors
c/o Jan VanFleet, University Secretary vanfleet(at)

And a link to a blog about a cool project by someone I know a little bit, found via a distribution list I'm on:

I am currently cycling with my brother Steve from Lisbon Portugal - Vietnam. We are filming and documenting organic farms along the way. I want to see as many different ways of growing good clean organic food away from the petrochemical intensive farming that is currently plaguing the world. I am hoping that you can forward this message to the list serve so that anyone who is interested can check out our website and see how we are doing. Our website is TwoHammers and our e-mail address is [EMAIL ADDRESS REMOVED].

I am also wondering if there is anyone out there who would be interested in locating and\or finding contact info for organic farms that will be along our route. Roughly our route is in the areas of Eastern Spain, Southern\Eastern France, Northern Italy, Slovania, Croatia, Southern Hungary, Western Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Western\Central\Eastern India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and finally Vietnam.

If anyone has any suggestions for contacts, you can send them to me and I'll pass them along. Meanwhile, check out their blog!

Review: Living The Spirit

(Living The Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. Compiled by Gay American Indians, Will Roscoe Co-ordinating Editor. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.)

My actual work has been going more slowly than I'd hoped this week, for a variety of reasons, so I only have time to do a few quick words about this book. It is a compilation of essays about the past and the present, stories, poetry, and visual art. Most of the contributors come from nations whose territory is now considered part of the United States, but there are a few from farther north, including a couple of great short stories by Beth Brant of Bay of Quinte, whom I'd heard of before.

I had gotten a hint before of the ways in which sexual and gender regulation were vastly different (in diverse ways) in pre-contact Aboriginal societies than in European traditions. This book also feels like it is just a start at unearthing those realities, but it is important because it is the voices of gay and lesbian Aboriginal people themselves.

Before colonization, a number of Aboriginal nations had traditions in which people could embrace the dress and work of the other gender and thereby be considered either that gender or a third or fourth gender. In this book, the French word "berdache" was used as a general term to describe men who engaged in these practices. There was also acceptance, in many nations, of some kinds of same-gender and same-sex sexuality, sometimes connected with changes in gender identification and sometimes not. People who went down these paths were sometimes looked down upon, sometimes just accepted, and sometimes regarded as sacred.

The scope of the tragedy of colonization -- the completeness of the destruction of ways of living -- hit home for me again not only through the text but also from the photographs of the last few known men who had lived as berdaches in traditional ways. I was struck by the different ways there could be of reading the content of those images. Some people would probably take them as markers for exoticness, yet another ounce of racist weight added to the so-called evidence that Aboriginal people were/are "different" and "weird" and "other." Some fundamentalists probably would even take them as evidence that Christianizing and colonization were for the best, if traditional cultures allowed for that sort of shenanigans.

But really these are just photos of ordinary people who found a way to live who they were, and one note of the symphony of tragedy that is North America's genocide is that the niches in which they could exist never had the chance to evolve peacefully -- they were cut short, and now folks like those who contributed to this book are having to reinvent from scratch, more often than not, ways to be queer and Aboriginal in North America.

It's worth a read.

[Edit: For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Racial Profiling, Take 2

A couple of weeks back I posted a link to a new site talking about a campaign in Canada to stop racial profiling via a private member's bill in the federal parliament. One of the folks running that site, Zool Suleman, happened to stop by this blog, and mentioned in a comment that he would appreciate it if Canadians concerned about racial profiling, both those in Canada and those in the United States, would write letters to their MPs urging the government to implement anti-racial profiling measures. So I would encourage any Canadian readers to check out their site and do just that. As well, check out their page on taking action on this issue. Thanks!

Papal Passing

This post on Stone Court reads:

Christiana Amanpour is going on now about how John Paul II "touched" and was loved by people on all parts of the political spectrum. Just curious -- do folks agree with that? There is no doubt he was a charismatic man, but I have a hard time feeling affection for someone who worked so hard to exclude women from the priesthood, to oppose birth control, abortion, and stem cell research, and to stigmatize gays.

To that, I responded in the comments section:

I am not Catholic and have no particular affection for him, but I think it is important to note that though some of his teachings around the issues you mention are very negative, there are also some profoundly progressive social teachings the he strongly promoted that generally don't get much airplay in North America -- things related to opposition to war and a radical vision for economic justice.

In the mid-1980s, in the Canadian city I used to live in, there was a block of progressive city councillors that proposed a notice of motion at one meeting involving some radical, socialist-sounding rhetoric about the rights of workers and the immorality of economic exploitation and so on, without telling anyone what exactly it was. There were some bitter grumblings from some of the more conservative members of council in the press, some of whom were Catholic. A couple of days later, the lefties let it be known that this was, in fact, text lifted directly from a papal encyclical (or similar document) which threw the conservatives into a bit of a quandry about what to do about it. Don't remember, from the version of the story I heard, whether it passed or not at the next meeting but the point they wanted to make in the press had been made and some of the right-wingers had embarassed themselves.

As well, I don't know a lot about the internal politics of the church, but a good friend of mine who is devoutly Catholic (although in the mystical side of its theological tradition, and the progressive side of its politics, and who also happens to be an out lesbian) has a certain affection for JPII, and in past conversation has blamed much of the social conservatism under this pope on Cardinal Ratzinger, one of the senior officials in Rome and a vocal conservative.

I would add that the other day I heard local activist Blaise Bonpaine interviewed on Beneath The Surface on KPFK on this issue. I had heard him speak at a conference back in the fall, and on that occasion I was not impressed, but this time I was. Bonpaine was a priest in Guatemala in the 1960s. He was ordered out of the country by the government because of his support for liberation struggles, and on his return to the U.S. was ordered to silence by the church. He chose instead to speak up about the atrocities he had witness and leave the priesthood. Anyway, he did a good job of presenting a progressive Catholic perspective on the teachings and legacy of John Paul II. Even though I am not Catholic and not particularly religious at all myself, I think that is important because I worry about the knee-jerk reaction of certain liberals and lefties who condemn religious institutions and even entire religions in simplistic ways, without appreciating that not only can they have an oppressive impact but they can also play a positive role in liberation struggles, and they can be personally important to people in our movements.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Iraq Stats

March 30 Iraq Body Count number for the total Iraqi civilian deaths caused by the invasion/occupation since May 2003:

Minimum: 17300

Maximum: 19679

This number is very conservative; it requires multiple independent reports in mass media outlets to confirm each instance of civilian death. Because much of Iraq is inaccessible to journalists, particularly Western journalists, this number is likely far lower than the reality. A peer-reviewed academic study published in one of the world's most renowned medical journals last year put the number at around 100,000 at that time.

Latest US-UK and "Coalition" Forces Causalities (Based on DoD Info):

1710 Killed

11442 Wounded

The war in Iraq cost the United States:


Injuries to civilians in Iraq; the impact of trauma to the families of Iraqis, Americans, and others killed and injured both physically and psychologically (including the next few generations, which often suffer indirectly from the impact of such traumas); and the financial harm done to the Iraqi people as both individuals and as a nation cannot be easily quantified.

(Adapted from an email on the ActionLA list)