Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mardi Gras

On Septmeber 16, 2005 I was wondering about the debacle that would be debris removal from Katrina.

On the Ellen Show Mardi Gras celebration the issue of debris was a focus. She could barely restrain herself that it was all still sitting there 6 months later. She spotlighted people who have taken the matter into their own hands. A teacher from California who brought her students to New Orleans for three weeks in January and cleared the debris from 23 properties. And the woman who started the Katrina Crew, spending Saturdays clearing debris with their bare hands. Started with 15, grown to 1,000. Their biggest problem: supply of garbage bags. You might think that if the feds were not up to managing and financing the debris removal themselves, they might have at least arranged for some emergency garbage bags. But, no. 10,000 industrial bags were donated on the Ellen Show.

There are currently 6 city garbage disposal workers in all of New Orleans. So many unemployed and all that debris to remove and nothing. What a waste.

Monday, February 27, 2006

From My Favourite Blog-towleroad.com

The Military's Ugly Double Standard on Gay Porn

A noteworthy if sad junction of events happened last week. It was the release of some FBI memos regarding the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and the announcement that seven paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division would be charged with engaging in sex for money on a website.

Here's one revelation from the newly released memos:

"Military interrogators posing as FBI agents at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, wrapped terrorism suspects in an Israeli flag and forced them to watch homosexual pornography under strobe lights during interrogation sessions that lasted as long as 18 hours, according to one of a batch of FBI memos released Thursday."

And here's a point brought up in an opinion piece just published in The Nation.

"This confluence of events presents the unlikely but completely plausible scenario in which 1) military boys star in gay porn which is 2) subsequently used by military interrogators in Guantanamo to torture prisoners in violation of international law then 3) these same military boys are prosecuted for acts which are perfectly legal under civilian law but remain punishable offenses under a silly and discriminatory set of military policies while 4) the torturers and their supervisors get off totally scot-free. Ain't that America."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Pessimism Deficit By Sarah Vowell


A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a reading at one of those bookstores on the West Coast where at least five people will hiss like snakes and radiators if an author even mentions the names of certain senior administration officials. And that was back before members of the executive branch actually started shooting their friends.

The question-and-answer period included the usual random lineup of what I call the "Garry Wills questions." They're the sort of undignified "What historical figure would you like to make out with?" queries my way-more-upstanding-nonfiction-colleague Mr. Wills never has to endure. Probably because everyone knows the Socratic author of "Lincoln at Gettysburg" and "Why I Am a Catholic" would answer with another question, namely, "Do you consider Snoop Dogg to be a historical figure?"

Then a man raised his hand and asked me to give him a reason to be "optimistic" about America. Huh. That was a new one. That's how depressing things are in this country right now — citizens are coming to me for optimism. And I'm the person who came to town to read from a book that ends with me walking across Union Square from the Lincoln statue toward the Gandhi statue and noting, "They shot him, too."

I was so taken aback by the optimism request I think I mumbled something about seeking solace in art and the land, culminating in a drippy anecdote about my sunrise flight over Mount Hood and Crater Lake while listening to "Adagio for Strings." But that question keeps dogging me.

My go-to worldview is pessimism. I see a Times Square billboard promoting a musical that has its audience "dancing in the aisles" and I can't help but think, "That is a fire hazard." But it has been my happy experience that if one moves through life in a constant state of low-key dread, then one gets to be continually pleasantly surprised.

Like, suppose I was to be asked to write a guest column for a newspaper I find consistently infuriating because, for example, its arts section prints claptrap proclamations like "No woman really loves Bob Dylan," thereby making me want to jump in a cab with a boombox and my two copies of "Blonde on Blonde" and plant myself on 43rd Street, blaring "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine" at said newspaper's windows. I would dread such an assignment until I felt the glee of getting paid to carp at said paper within its own pages. See? Pleasant surprise.

Sure, there are reasons to be hopeful about the United States. And most of them do involve art or the land. Like those Ed Ruscha paintings representing the nation at last year's Venice Biennale. There's something so true and rebellious about his skies; to look at them is to get that same smiley, breathy relief a Westerner feels the second she crosses to the left bank of the Mississippi.

Or there's the current Broadway revival of "Sweeney Todd," with its strange rhythms and cheeky poetics and actors playing instruments, making a listener wish she'd never given up the baritone horn. Or there was last week's "Inside the Actors Studio" with Dave Chappelle, in which Chappelle was funny, of course, but also so self-possessed and thoughtful and morally outraged he had a kind of biblical grandeur.

And what about the glory that is Glacier National Park? Or the good news that bald eagles are no longer an endangered species?

I got the feeling, though, that the man asking for optimism at that bookstore wasn't looking for raves about paintings or ice age deposits (especially since global warming is likely to make Glacier National Park glacier-free by 2030). I got the feeling that he was asking for reasons to be optimistic about the government.

Alas, I see my initial worries about the current administration as the greatest betrayal in my whole life by my old pal pessimism. I attended the president's inauguration in 2001. When he took the presidential oath, I cried. What was I so afraid of? I was weeping because I was terrified that the new president would wreck the economy and muck up my drinking water. Isn't that adorable? I lacked the pessimistic imagination to dread that tens of thousands of human beings would be spied on or maimed or tortured or killed or stranded or drowned, thanks to his incompetence.

I feel like a fool. All those years of Sunday school, and still the apocalypse catches me off guard.

Published: February 19, 2006 New York Times

On the Report by House Republicans (Yes, Republicans) That Excoriates the Bush Administration for Its Fumbling Response to Hurricane Katrina

by Calvin Trillin

Though Bushmen had claimed that word never reached
The White House that levees had finally been breached,
The White House was told, all the evidence shows.
Yes, this report shows that it's doubtless that those
In charge of tornadoes and floods and nor'easters
Had all been informed and then sat on their keisters.
And Chertoff was sluggish and clueless and worse.
It's in the report, all in chapter and verse:
His failure to get what the crisis demanded,
Like buses and boats, meant that thousands were stranded.
While Bush, at the ranch, kept on cutting out brush,
His gaggle of clowns seemed to be in no rush.
So Brownie is hardly unique in this mob.
No, others as well did a heckuva job.
It's easy to blame one incompetent slob,
But others as well did a heckuva job.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

US-Canada Relations & the Election Rhetoric


Lay off U.S., ambassador tells Martin
U.S. is 'walking the walk' when it comes to environmental issues, David Wilkins says
Dec. 13, 2005. 03:29 PM
CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA — The Bush administration issued a sharp, public rebuke today to Prime Minister Paul Martin for dragging the Canadian-U.S. relationship into the federal election campaign.
Ambassador David Wilkins said Canada risks damaging one of the world’s best relationships by focusing on short-term political gain.

“It may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner constantly,” Wilkins said in a speech to the Canadian Club at the historic Chateau Laurier Hotel, next door to Parliament Hill.

“But it is a slippery slope, and all of us should hope that it doesn’t have a long-term impact on the relationship.”

America may be an easy target, said Wilkins, adding he understands “political expendiency.

“But the last time I looked, the United States was not on the ballot for the Jan. 23 election,” he said to scattered applause.

It was the only applause from a crowd of several hundred throughout the 20-minute speech.

Wilkins did not name the prime minister directly but it was clear from the context of the remarks that he was referring to Martin.

Speaking on the campaign trail in Surrey, B.C., Martin hotly denied he was being overtly anti-American for electoral purposes — even as he used Wilkins’ comments to impugn Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

“I will defend the Canadian position and I will defend our values and I will defend our interests against anybody,” said the prime minister.

Without prompting, he added that “if the thesis of Mr. Harper is that the only way to have good relations with the United States is to concede everything to the United States, then I do not accept that at all.”

Martin, who touted a more mature relationship with the United States as one his priorities when he became prime minister in 2003, has been talking a hard line against Washington throughout this autumn’s heated election run-up.

The prime minister has been particularly critical of the U.S. position on softwood lumber duties and failure to ratify the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gas emissions.

Wilkins, a long-time supporter and confidant of President George W. Bush, left absolutely no doubt the Bush administration was sending a message directly to Martin.

Less than a week after the prime minister raised hackles in Washington by specifically naming the United States for lacking a global conscience on climate change, Wilkins threw the words back at the prime minister.

He pointed out that America’s record is far superior to Canada’s on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

“I would respectfully submit to you that when it comes to a `global conscience,’ the United States is walking the walk,” said the ambassador.

Liberals have denied they are using anti-American rhetoric as election fodder. But a senior Liberal campaign organizer was clearly delighted at news coverage last week that suggested Canada’s ambassador in Washington, Frank McKenna, had been called on the carpet by the Americans over Martin’s undiplomatic climate change talk.

Wilkins also mentioned the softwood dispute, noting that the U.S. Commerce Dept. cut the contentious tariffs on Canadian lumber in half last week.

He defended the continuing American occupation in Iraq, saying ``freedom is on the march.”

And on looming passport requirements for Canada-U.S. travellers, Wilkins said the two countries can work together to mitigate the impact but that Canadians have to appreciate the new American mentality.

“Bottom line: Canada should understand that 9-11 forever changed my country,” Wilkins said of the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Canadians Await Word of Hostages

PHOTO: LUCAS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR
Haithem Al-Hassani holds up a sign at the corner of King and John Sts. last night, where many Iraqis were among the crowd that rallied in support of the release of the Canadian hostages in Iraq.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Still Looking


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Looking South


This photo is taken at Humber Bay Park in Toronto, on the shores of Lake Ontario. Looking out from the beach while walking with the dogs each morning, I am literally a Canadian Looking South to the USA. On the other side of the horizon on the far shore is New York State. What's a little water between neighbours?