Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yet another international incident *unrelated* to terrorism

It was all over the news on Friday: a Qantas jumbo jet flying over the South China Sea makes an emergency landing in the Philippines after explosive decompression. Upon landing, a large hole is discovered on the underside of the plane, from the cargo hold. From the Toronto Star's article, here is the fourth paragraph:

"An official at the US Transportation Security Administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident was not domestic, said initial reports show it was not related to terrorism."

I found this mention jarring. It was an interesting piece of news, but the possibility of terrorism had not entered my mind. Is it foremost on the minds of most Canadians? Media have a responsibility and obligation to give the public information relevant to every story, and to answer our questions. So if most people are indeed thinking of terrorism when they read stories like this, then the mention is appropriate.

Nowadays, however, media are increasingly being accused of trying to shape public opinion by manipulating both what gets reported and how it is fed to the public. It is not a stretch to say that most media are guilty of editorializing throughout papers or tv programs (which is why I no longer make a point of reading/watching the editorial pages/programs).

I write about this now because for me, this is the third time in recent memory that an accident headline has been closely followed by the mention of "no terrorism". This, in itself, can be manipulative - putting terrorism in the minds of ordinary Canadians and making it the first thing we think about in every news incident. If you pay attention to this issue, governments worldwide - including, of course, the Bush and Harper governments - have been pushing this angle to make it easier to sell their citizens on increased military spending and extended occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

For trauma victims, new trauma can indeed renew memories of their past trauma. So in the two recent incidents in NYC, in which construction cranes collapsed, citizens near to the disasters were reported to have feared the worst when they heard a big crash. But for most of us, I don't think this is the case... unless the government and media propaganda is getting through to us.

Omar Khadr: an issue not of guilt or innocence, but of the right to justice

Saturday's rally in Toronto for Omar Khadr was a success. It drew a large and diverse crowd, despite some heavy rain and a severe thunderstorm watch. It was nice to see the Muslim community so well represented, as they are the community being targeted worldwide, but it made me feel good to see so many non-Muslims out in support. And as speeches by a number of prominent speakers finished, the sun came out to dry everyone off and we marched in a circle up and down the sidewalk on University Avenue, opposite the US consulate, while passing drivers honked in support.

I've seen the usual conservative opposition to bringing Khadr back to Canada from Guantánamo. The most vocal opponents are, of course, the bigots and those who think immigrants to Canada are all criminals (these people have clearly never looked into the immigration point process to see how difficult it can be to come and live here). But there is also a segment of the population which thinks that Khadr doesn't deserve support because his family have been painted in the mainstream media as pro al-qaeda.

One of the speakers summed up the problem very concisely and eloquently; I hope I do him justice as I paraphrase. The point is this: in a free and democratic country, justice is not reserved for those we like. Are you listening, Mr. Harper?

I don't know whether Khadr is guilty of the allegations claimed by the US authorities. I only know that he will not get a fair trial through the kangaroo court system set up by the US military and the Bush administration. Harper wants Khadr to rot in Guantánamo; he is the youngest inmate there, and Canada is the only country which has not obtained release for its prisoner(s) there.

Some Canadians still think of countries in the middle east as barbaric places where there is no democracy, freedom, or human rights. Yet Bush and Harper have made the US and Canada into places where those things have been violated. If we continue to allow Harper to be Bush's lap dog, if we sit at home and say nothing, if we don't speak out against these wrongs and these atrocities, then we need to stop thinking of Canada as a better, free and democratic place.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Enjoy life.

My frequent and numerous calls for justice come from a desire for peace, kindness, compassion, and happiness for victims - and for all of us. That said, I balance my activism with as many positives as possible. I would hope that everyone would. Take a break. Laugh loudly and often.

Accordingly, here is a brilliant and inspiring little video, passed on to me by my Spanish teacher, Abdel. The guy in the video has a website too. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What we miss, because we live in Canada

Ok, so it's not that I didn't know Bill O'Reilly was a wingnut. But I hadn't known the depth of it. In surfing links from friends' blogs, I just came across, and these choice quotes (just a selected few of many):

• On the September 13, 2005, broadcast of The Radio Factor, O'Reilly claimed that "many of the poor in New Orleans" did not evacuate the city before Hurricane Katrina because "[t]hey were drug-addicted" and "weren't going to get turned off from their source." O'Reilly added, "They were thugs."

• On the August 16, 2006, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly argued extensively for "profiling of Muslims" at airports, arguing that detaining all "Muslims between the ages of 16 and 45" for questioning "isn't racial profiling," but "criminal profiling."

• During the September 19 [, 2007] edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, discussing his recent trip to have dinner with Rev. Al Sharpton at Sylvia's, a famous restaurant in Harlem, Bill O'Reilly reported that he "had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful," adding: "I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship." Later, during a discussion with National Public Radio senior correspondent and Fox News contributor Juan Williams about the effect of rap on culture, O'Reilly asserted: "There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer, I want more iced tea.' You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all."

Holy shit. I'm having Margaret Wente and Christie Blatchford over for tea, and to give them fucking tolerance awards.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mormons get dragged into the 21st century...

... kicking and screaming.

A firefighter-style calendar featuring shirtless mormons has created controversy in the mormon community (surprise!). Does their bible state that men can't pose in calendars? Are they not allowed to take their shirts off? Are mormon women not allowed to view their husbands as sex symbols when they make love? Are mormons only allowed to take personality into consideration when choosing a mate?

Oh well. There's no stopping progress...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Good news and bad news, as your Prime Minister continues to ignore democracy...

As part of a day of action across Canada, I took part in a war resisters demonstration this evening. In Toronto, we formed a human chain along University Avenue, all the way from Queen Street to the US consulate. I'm keen to hear an estimate of the numbers who turned out; standing as part of a human chain, you can't really get a feel for how large the crowd was. But it was clear to me that there is a lot of support for the cause, as indicated by the numbers of passing drivers honking horns - especially taxi drivers. Well - that, and the consistent evidence from polls which show that a clear majority of Canadians want the war resisters to be allowed to stay in Canada.

I was worried that a lot of people who had planned to come out for the demo would bail at the last minute, as word spreads that Corey Glass - whose imminent deportation was scheduled for tomorrow - has had his deportation stayed indefinitely so his appeal can be heard. The demo and the fight are no less urgent as news also spreads that war resister Robin Long has been imprisoned and is to be deported, possibly as soon as Monday. So it was great to see such a good turnout.

Our scumbag of a Prime Minister is still playing from the Bush rule book, defying the will of the people and pretending he hasn't heard of democracy. He has a mandate to implement the motion, as passed in the House of Commons, to allow the war resisters to stay.

Once again, please call and remind Harper to do the right thing.
• Prime Minister Stephen Harper (613.992.4211,
• Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley (613.996.4974,,

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Mr. Harper/ Ms Finley:

Polls consistently show that the majority of Canadians want the American war resisters to be allowed to remain in Canada. As you are well aware, a majority in the House of Commons also voted to allow the war resisters to stay.

Mr. Harper, did you not once state (on April 13, 2005), in the House of Commons, "The Prime Minister has the moral responsibility to respect the will of the House"?

As a Canadian, the very least I expect is that my own Prime Minister respect the concept of democracy. That means you have a moral obligation to implement the House of Commons motion to allow the war resisters to stay in Canada, and also to stop the deportation of war resister Corey Glass on July 10.

Three days remain until war resister Corey Glass is to be deported.
Phone or email Prime Minister Stephen Harper (613.992.4211, and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley (613.996.4974,,

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

On Tipping, and Workers' Rights

As one of my first jobs, I bussed tables at a busy restaurant downtown. Although never a server myself, I worked closely with the servers, and as part of the payment structure of this particular restaurant, received a cut of the servers' tips, which - during a lunch rush with seven servers - was often substantial. In Ontario, restaurant servers can be paid below minimum wage because they receive tips to supplement their income. At restaurants that are expensive and/or busy, servers can make a great deal of money.

Working in foodservice, I became acquainted with advantages and disadvantages of this system, including: the injustice of diners who don't tip fairly (either because they are stingy or because they may be from countries where restaurant servers are not tipped); the use of tips to show appreciation or displeasure; and servers who are rude to customers and wonder why they earn less than their coworkers. (An aside: I've read that Americans think Canadians are lousy tippers. But where I worked - in Eaton Centre, where a large part of the clientele are tourists - servers regarded the American tourists as lousy tippers. Maybe it's a problem with tourists in general?)

Recently, I met friends for dinner and drinks on a patio at a pub. The place wasn't full, but it was busy with a large party inside. Our server was polite and amiable, but... absent. Throughout the night, we had to flag him down for every request or refill; he was completely cooperative, but not attentive. He did the bare minimum; at no time did he check in to see how we were, ask how our food was, or find out if we wanted anything else.

A little background here: all five of us are socialists, and are well aware of the struggle for workers' rights. Many socialists will support workers' rights unconditionally. So at the end of the night, when I suggested an adequate but not generous tip, one of my friends pointed out that restaurant servers are underpaid, and that the tip should not be contingent on the quality of service. I was caught off guard by this view, but becoming involved in activism in general has taught me to challenge and question the same old opinions I have held for many years. Should servers be given a standard tip, regardless of how they perform their duties?

• Consider other professions: lawyers, doctors, teachers, non-commissioned sales people, plumbers, and construction workers, to name a few. All are paid a standard salary - some with performance-based perks (as a private school teacher, I received some pretty nice gifts at xmas and year-end). But none are dependent, daily, on their customers' - or anyone else's - behaviour, for their pay. Why should restaurant work be any different?
• Servers' tips are frequently divided, with shares going to other employees who don't have contact with the customers. Should cooks or dishwashers be punished because the server might be incompetent?
• Should a worker in a shitty job in a shitty workplace be punished for being unable to smile? The right-wing viewpoint that anyone in capitalist society can climb to the top doesn't jibe with the reality of the worker living below the poverty line (often an immigrant, or a single mother - or both) who works two or three jobs to make ends meet, and doesn't have the time or resources to hit the pavement to find something better.

• There is a class of worker - typically actors or college students - who may also need their money for basic living expenses, but who come in with certain expectations and perhaps a sense of entitlement as to what they "deserve" out of life. This is a gross generalization, but what I refer to is the type of person who can easily look for a different line of work if need be. They are not desperate to make ends meet, and often their income is blown on luxuries. A number of people I've worked with spent much of their disposable income on recreational drugs. It is often this type who seem to think the tip at the end of the meal is mandatory, rather than voluntary. That very attitude is something that gets my back up, and leaves me struggling to decide how much to pay at the end of the meal.
• The system is imperfect, but so are many of our society's structures. Those who take on a job as a restaurant server know at the outset what the payment system entails, and have to realize that the gratuity portion of their income is never guaranteed.
• If every customer paid a full 15% to every server, regardless of quality of service, it would remove any incentive for servers to do their jobs well.

Back to the case of my recent pub night: it could be that management erred by not ensuring enough staff were on duty, in which case it is the management that should be blamed for poor service, and not the servers. (It seemed to me that the restaurant was well staffed.) But a short-staffing situation can be partly rectified if the server explains the situation to the customer, which I have witnessed on occasion, and a warning to the customer can be very good PR: it sets up the customer's expectations in advance, calls attention a difficult situation, and prevents the build-up of resentment through the stay.

This past weekend, we had an annual Pride pub meet (at the same pub every year). The place is always busy on Pride Saturday, and there is never enough staff. Yet a friend commented on the fact that he has noticed how the staff are always cheerful despite conditions, and the service is always more than adequate. In addition to being gay-friendly, they are always efficient and more than accommodating to help us squeeze a large group onto their busy front patio. For this kind of service, I am always happy to tip generously. Shouldn't there be a distinction for this kind of service?

In thinking this through over the last week or so, what I realize is that there are two situations: the underpaid worker who needs the tips for actual survival, vs. the young, able-bodied person who seeks a server position with the specific intent to earn part of their income tax-free, and is not willing to adjust behaviour to the often heavy demands of such a job. It's not that hard to recognize the distinction between the two. I already make a point of generously tipping the former in most cases, although I'd still have trouble leaving a full tip if the service were really nasty. In the case of the latter, though, I am not convinced that anyone deserves to be given the free "pass go and collect $200" card.

I don't think we should follow tradition for its own sake. In an imperfect system, I think I've settled on a happy medium. But I'm open to other ideas...